Girl in the Machine
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Faith, Creation, Resurrection

Beyond the blood and the rust and the Saran-wrapped burn victims of Silent Hill, the eerie dogma of the Order permeates everything. A cult as twisted and complex as the town itself, the Order's faith is directly involved with the existence of the series's signature monsters and terrifying Otherworld. While its tenets are heavily rooted in the Christianity of Silent Hill's original settlers, many of its key players -- including its deity -- are female. From the Holy Woman sect to the canonized Jennifer Carroll, the Order is awash in sacred femininity.

As many religions have done in the past, the faith of the Order originated from a blend: specifically, that of the aboriginal Native Americans and the Christian settlers that invaded them and set up camp in a place that would eventually become Silent Hill. The members of the Order were always a minority, however, as they eventually faced terrible persecution under the Christians. It's unclear why the Order's god is female (perhaps the natives worshipped a goddess?), but it isn't farfetched to suspect that this was one of the many factors involved in the Christians mockingly naming her Samael, a title typically thought to be the true name of Satan.

Along with the persecutions came martyrdom, ironically bringing the Order even closer to its Christian roots. There is a statue in Rosewater Park that's dedicated to the slaughtered Jennifer Carroll, who in her death was elevated to Saint Jennifer, a true servant of their god. From Jennifer's canonization stems the Order's Holy Woman sect, in which Dahlia of the original Silent Hill is a priest.

The Order's god as a woman has always fascinated me. In many ways, she acts just like her derivative Abrahamic god, and could have very easily been male. The caveat, I suppose, is her resurrection, a "second coming," if you will: she must be physically born into the world. While reproduction is central to this process, it is interesting that there is no man involved in the process; a ritual impregnates a girl with god, and, in the series, this has been instigated twice by other women (Dahlia and Claudia).

Women are saints, and their god is a woman -- is this a matriarchal organization? Surprisingly enough, no. There are both female and male priests, and no clear hierarchy that orders them. Interestingly enough, there does appear to be a bit of a divide in the sects: Dahlia is the only specified member of the Holy Woman sect, and the only specified members of the Valtiel sect are men.

Valtiel: an angel, an attendant of god. The Valtiel sect was founded in his honor by Jimmy Stone, and, instead of focusing on the Holy Woman's ritual for resurrecting god, the followers of Valtiel seek the fulfillment of the 21 Sacraments, kicking off the plot for Silent Hill 4. Even a male "host" is used in this process. It is important to note, however, that Valtiel is a vassal of god, not her replacement, and the end goal of the 21 Sacraments is indeed her revival. I'm not certain if the gender divide was done purposely, but it does open some fascinating doors.

So, if the Order celebrates womanhood so much and in such an unusual environment, and if all the (genuinely faithful) cult members want is the second coming of their god so Paradise can be delivered, how did everything get so horribly fucked up?

Let's consider the effects of Silent Hill itself. So many horrible, hateful things happened there, and the mind easily shapes the world around you. The many paintings and teachings about the Order's god differ greatly from how they actually appear -- Valtiel the red angel is actually a scrabbly butcher who chokes nurses; God herself looks like a corpse. Based on the grisly hatred used in the ritual to nurture god in Silent Hill 3, we can only assume that the world will be just as fucked up if the god does come back and gets her way. It's the effect of the town, cursed since the Christian settlers first arrived and attacked its original inhabitants.

It's vital to remember that The Order has real power in the world of Silent Hill. Its tenets actually exist, from the incarnations of god to the angels (Valtiel) to the saints (Jennifer Carroll) to even god herself (albeit in a twisted, mutated sort of way). So, perhaps at one point, god really did look kind and nurturing and Valtiel was a sprightly little angel helping her along the way.

In the end, god is weakened and warped by human thought, like so many things in Silent Hill. The hatred and cruelty provoked by Claudia (and Dahlia) twists her. The persecution by the Christians, and even that of the Native Americans themselves changed everything. Though the Christians dubbed God as Samael, Dahlia refers to her as such in a powerful example of the evil becoming truth, not just in mind or in theory but in actual living, breathing reality.

Silent Hill is defined by the Order, and probably would have stayed a nice little lake town if not for the fear and acrimony that drove them to mutate their own god. It presents a very new take on women's roles in religion, and how everyone -- both male and female -- weaken and suffer while trapped in their own enmity.

(Thanks to Zone of the Gamers for the amazing pics.)

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