[This is a post that explains some of the more magical/metaphysical stuff in Goda’s Slave. It’s weird and loopy and the logic is very circular, filled with paradoxes and things that make no sense. Also, since a lot of this will likely be explained progressively through Kanna’s experiences in later books (post-Goda’s Slave), technically you might say it contains spoilers for future novels. None of these spoilers will be plot spoilers, though; they only pertain to the lore. However, it may contain spoilers for Goda’s Slave.]
In Goda’s Slave, there’s a running metaphor throughout the novel–which slowly becomes more literal as the story develops: the concept of magical “snakes” or “serpents” (which the Middlelanders also sometimes refer to as “demons”) that lurk invisibly on the face of the Earth.
Various religious customs in the Goda’s Slave universe acknowledge these serpents, and there are even superstitions that have to do with how to avoid them or get rid of them–but what are they really? Goda offers cryptic clues throughout the novel and Kanna hears a creation story that explains the traditional Middlelander perspective, but ultimately Kanna is left to experience what they are for herself.
A Universe of Serpents
At first, Kanna believes that the snakes are a hallucination, but as she learns more about the world and realizes that a select group of people experience the same phenomenon–including Goda–she comes to understand them as representations of her emotions, memories, thoughts, and pieces of self-identity. In other words, they are the components that formed her human mind.
She’s partly right–but the truth is much deeper than that. Sensing this frightening truth, Kanna tries to avoid the snakes for a long time, but eventually finds that she can’t unsee them.
These snakes are actually the very threads of reality itself.
Kanna’s universe is made up of channels of energy that tend to flow in certain patterned directions, and those channels tangle together to create the world. This makes the reality appear solid at any given moment, but Kanna’s universe actually has no solidness to it because the snakes are constantly shifting, restructuring, and even self-destructing.
They are also a projection of Kanna’s mind (even though they formed Kanna’s mind in the first place; they are recursive by nature, self-creating and self-preserving). They are indeed a hallucination–but only because all of Kanna’s reality is an illusion.
The snakes have no ground to them and the energy that they’re made of has no specific shape or any properties at all. The snakes only arise to form a reality if there is a mind that will imagine them into a specific existence. In the story of Goda’s Slave, we are seeing the world–and all its snakes–through Kanna’s mind.
All objects in Kanna’s world are simply temporary configurations of these snakes–including the person who is observing them and imagining them, who is also made of snakes. Because the snakes will only take on a specific shape according to a mind that is perceiving them–but all minds are also objects made up of snakes–the snakes are self-creating in an endless cycle.
This basically means that Kanna is not merely an observer of her reality, she is actually creating it and recreating it every second. Kanna’s universe is deeply non-objective and immaterial, even though Kanna uses it to simulate an objective reality and convince herself that objects exist outside her perception and creation.
In other words, Kanna’s concept of solid reality is a self-delusion (a delusion which she also created, and then promptly forgot that she created it; she also created her own forgetfulness, so that the reality would be more convincing).
Towards the end of Goda’s Slave, when she first begins to suspect that she may actually have some control over reality through her perceptions, she is terrified by the implications.
All things in Kanna’s universe are ultimately made of the same primordial nothing that the snakes arise from, which has no individuality to it. It’s all One Thing and Kanna’s mind merely cuts it up into certain patterns (snakes) that her self-identity (another snake) has imagined according to patterns from the past, endlessly. None of this individuation actually exists, so solid objects cannot really exist.
It also means that Kanna herself does not exist. Since everything is actually the same thing, there are no separate objects or people, nor is there any such thing as self and other, so a separate being named “Kanna” cannot exist. The idea of separation is just a story that Kanna created in order to construct herself as a separate individual the same way she creates everything else with her perception (because she is a snake, made from other snakes, all of whom do not exist). In truth, Kanna is no different from that universal One Thing, and neither is anyone else.
When a snake dissolves (for example, when a person and their self-identity dies), it merely spirals back to where it came from, which is this universal oneness or nothingness. It doesn’t disappear; it merely fuses back into the nothing, where it has no individuality.
The first snake (from which all other snakes were ultimately born) was this first instance of individuation, where the One Thing performed a miracle and split itself into “self” and “other.” From then on, more snakes were born from that one, then more from those and so on, in an ever-expanding fractal.
In Goda’s universe, that nothingness or oneness is called by many names. As Lila explains, the ancient Flower Cult once referred to it as Samma. Goda refers to it as the Goddess and implies several times that Mahara (the deity that the Middlelanders worship) is merely an idol and that the “true” Goddess is actually nothing. Lila uses this same epithet, in addition to God or the godhead, but she instead tells Kanna directly that this deity is everything or oneness. (“I am you, you are me.”)
Whether everything or nothing, the point is that this godhead is non-specific and has no attributes. Rather, it is the source of all things that do have attributes, the starting point that imagined the first snakes and continues to imagine more and more, giving birth to Kanna’s universe through both Kanna’s perspective as well as an infinite array of other perspectives.
Magic and Secret Knowledge
Kanna is conscious of the snakes. This puts her in the unusual position where she can begin to discover how to purposefully influence their unfolding, instead of just helplessly watching her world construct itself based on her unconscious past conditioning. (Basically, she can now use her imagination to affect the world.)
In Goda’s Slave, this awareness is the root of all magic. Imagination is the godhead itself.
Most people in Kanna’s universe cannot even see the snakes at all. They only see the illusory world constructed by their own snakes and they take this personal world very literally, thinking that it is a solid reality (“That’s just the way things are!”)–so when they see the odd coincidences and the flow of a person who is engaging in conscious construction of the universe, they perceive that person as very lucky…or even as a witch who has magical powers.
A small group of people–by experiencing certain high-energy areas on the continent (shrines) or by eating plants that allow them to enter altered states (Flower)–have access to the esoteric truth about the nature of their reality. These people are often persecuted by establishments that wish to impose a particular perspective (a certain shape to the snakes), but because practitioners appear to have magical powers, they are adept at starting cults and religions.
Over the years, this esoteric knowledge became watered down (because it is hard to communicate in words) and formed the basis of popular religions in the Goda’s Slave universe, such as The Cult of Mahara. Ironically, the modern religion itself forbids the use of techniques (such as ingestion of Flower) that allow a devotee to experience the truth for themselves.
Some of this knowledge also survived in the form of superstitions. For example, even atheistic Middlelanders (such as Noa and Leina Bou) bathe in the morning to rid themselves of “snakes,” which they were taught are evil.
The truth is that snakes are simply conditioned patterns that cause energy to flow and re-flow in a certain way (and therefore solidify a certain reality), and while there may be reasons for someone to want to clean themselves of this and start anew, the snakes themselves are neither good nor evil. In fact, judgment of them only makes them more solid because the concept of “good and evil” is yet just another snake. Also, merely observing or remembering a snake will recreate it and make it “real”; in order for it to dissolve, the mind perceiving it must let it go by creating something else in its place.
The person must surrender to “the Goddess,” to the nothingness, to the oneness, to pure imagination.
This is basically the story of Goda’s Slave: Kanna awakening to the fact that she has created her own reality, and that in order to change the world, she must begin imagining a new one.
The sequels will concern themselves with this new world.