I was ten years old when the first Kingdom Hearts game released. Suffice it to say, I knew little of depth. Nonetheless, from the opening movie, the game pulled at my sense of depth. Is this really real? Sora asks the audience as the storm clouds roll in. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but this story of an unknown boy with the power to “open the gate of the world” really resonated with me – and I wasn’t the only one, apparently. The story of Kingdom Hearts (particularly as it reaches its latter entries) is quite convoluted, perhaps the most convoluted of any gaming universe, yet the original Kingdom Hearts game enjoyed breakout success and universal acclaim. Of course, the partnership with Disney didn’t hurt, either. It may be an integral part of why this game shines.
Looking back with what I know now, I recognize something vaguely mystical and initiatory about Kingdom Hearts. And it’s no accident that Disney is an integral piece of this: from a young age, we are inculcated with the mythos of the Disney universe. To that end, it forms something of an archetypal foundation – not unlike fairy tales – through which it is connected to our sense of wonder. The world of Kingdom Hearts is deeply associated with fairy tales, and the symbols seen throughout the game are interlaced with many layers of meaning.
The Keyblade is easily the most iconic and interesting symbols that define Kingdom Hearts. In part sword, in part “Key”, the keyblade assesses one’s heart in order to determine whether they are worthy of being a “Keybearer” – one with the power to lock and unlock not only gates between worlds, but also literal hearts; the keyblade connects directly to the emotional and spiritual center of a person. The original Keyblade chooses Sora as its wielder, for while Sora’s friend Riku has a very powerful heart, Riku choose to embrace the darkness when the game begins on Destiny Island.
In many critical ways, the qualifications of becoming a “Keyblade Master” readily echo the qualifications for adeptship in any mystical scheme. Kingdom Heart’s constant reference to “the heart” of every being is essentially a question of that being’s spirit, and the spiritual power within that soul. Like an adept, a keyblade wielder must have this peculiar spiritual form of strength to prevail – in the first game, when Sora loses this spiritual strength of “heart”, his keyblade is stolen by Riku, who possesses the superior “will”. The parallels to King Arthur’s “sword in the stone”, Excalibur, are obvious. Just like Excalibur, gaining the right to bear a legendary weapon requires something extraordinary within the individual spirit.
Legend has it that only Arthur of the very pure heart could pull the sword from the stone and this corresponds to the requirement of a purified and unfolding heart centre as an essential foundation to the use of the will aspect in relation to esoteric work. Likewise the Great Invocation, like Excalibur/Arthur, works more effectively when wielded by a pure heart and motive.
As there is light, there is also darkness. King Mickey – as in Mickey Mouse, the famous Disney mascot – wields a keyblade from the realm of darkness . This key, the “kingdom key D”, features an opposite color scheme, and by using it, King Mickey helps Sora to seal the “Door to Darkness”. The two keyblades seem to reference either side of the “pillars” of light and dark often seen in Kabbalistic or Masonic images, two sides between which everything manifest is held (see the χ-blade later in the article).
Just like our world, the ancient world in Kingdom Hearts features a fall from paradise – where the greed and wanton desire of humanity breeds an influx of darkness that divides and fragments the harmony of the unified whole.
According to legend, the worlds were one and united through the light in people’s hearts. Once these hearts became filled with darkness, however, chaos resulted, and the worlds were separated. It was the light that remained only in the hearts of children that would keep the worlds in existence before they were shrouded in darkness completely.
Canonically, the Keyblade is connected to an eternal battle that any Manichean will recognize: the war of light against darkness, balance against dominance, order against chaos. This war is known as the “keyblade war”, wherein all those with the spiritual qualities of adept-ship (“keyblade wielders”) fought each other in order for their vision of reality to manifest.
In order to understand the keyblade, it is important to note that it is a sword. The symbolic value of a sword is deeply embedded in various esoteric schools. Primarily, the sword is defined by its tendencies to “divide” – parsing wisdom from folly and truth from lies, in order to “bring Light”. And what else is the light of the sword if not for illumination?
The compound word sword is composed of the two words swo (swa, swe, or swer) and ord. It comes down to us today from the Old English word sweord, and Old Norse sverð. The word swer- “to wound, to cut.” The meaning of the English ord is a “point, spear-point, spear, source, beginning, front, etc.” Ord can be found in words such as ‘order’ and even the word ‘word.’ As it is said, “the word of God is said to destroy all his enemies.
The sword is connected to the heart as it is connected to righteousness, justice, and order. This is why the highest degrees of freemasonry incorporate swords in their initiations, and it is why no knight is ever complete without the tool used to christen him by royalty. Jesus said, “I come not to bring peace but a sword” – a sword frequently portrayed as the physical manifestation of the “word” of God. The Nativity of Christianity conceals the name of its first initiation: the birth of Christ in the cave of the heart. [Personally, I doubt that the creators of Kingdom Hearts had any of this in mind while developing the game. My theory is that the symbolic status of the sword is embedded in human consciousness as a collective – that within our imagination, we intuitively grasp these universal spiritual symbols.] Christ seems to refer to the active engagement that an individual has in his or her spiritual progression and the spiritual progression of mankind as a whole. The Keyblade War is not so fantastical as it first appears; our world in mystical framework is made up of the unified product of mankind’s individual choices. To have a sword is to have not only agency, but the awareness of agency in the act of creation or destruction.
If anyone is desirous of using this ‘Sword,’ by which every wish is fulfilled and every secret revealed, and every miracle, marvel, and prodigy are performed, then speak to Me in the following manner, read before Me this and that, and conjure in such and such a wise, and I will instantly be prevailed upon and be well disposed towards you, and I will give you authority over this Sword, by which to fulfil all that you desire, and the Chiefs will be prevailed upon by you, and my holy ones will be well disposed towards you and they will fulfil instantly your wishes, and will deliver to you my secrets and reveal to you my mysteries, and my words they will teach you and my wonders they will manifest to you, and they will listen and serve you as a pupil his master, and your eyes will be illuminated and your heart will see and behold all that is hidden, and your size will be increased.
“Kingdom Hearts”, the source of all worlds, can be used for good or evil to dominate a godly power over the entire universe. In essence, Kingdom Hearts is the foundation of reality itself, which is interconnected even though it is separated.The counterpart of Kingdom Hearts is the χ-blade (depicted to the left), a “perfect union of all hearts and worlds“.
As a product of the Keyblade war, the original χ-blade was shattered into twenty pieces: seven of light (the Princesses of Heart – their souls made up of pure light) and thirteen of darkness (organization XIII, the “nobodies”). The “Seven Lights” of Kingdom hearts also refers to the seven chosen adepts or “Keyblade wielders” destined to save the world from darkness and protect the Princesses of Heart. The Seven Lights are both men and woman, the “chosen ones”.
This χ-blade will open a door—one that leads to all worlds! Then, Keyblade-bearing warriors will flock here from each and every one of them, to battle for the light within Kingdom Hearts! And just like the legend says, the Keyblade War will begin!—Ventus-Vanitas, Kingdom Hearts
What, then, is the χ-blade, if not the equivalent of the holy grail or the philosopher’s stone? Just like both aforementioned items, the χ-blade can only be forged through a variant of transcendent, alchemical processes. “χ” refers to the greek “Chi” (pronounced Kye), and references an End – or alternatively, a beginning. The crossed kingdom keys represent the Keys of Heaven (on the right). The colors featured in the keys, gold and silver, symbolize the “crossing” of the domains of both Earth and Heaven, expressed in the famous alchemical maxim, “As Above, So Below“.
When a heart of pure light and a heart of pure darkness clash with equal strength, they echo the original χ-blade. This is reminiscent of the other, Tai “Chi”, the balance between black and white, universally recognized as the yin-yang. The popularly known yin-yang reference heaven (yang) and earth (yin) , just as the gold (heaven) and silver (earth) in the Keys of Heaven.
Perhaps this helps us to explain why χ-blade seems to denote a truncation of some kind – for in the state of perfect balance, the notion of ending and beginning both cease to have meaning. The crossed domains of heaven and earth seem to indicate something inherently transcendent, beyond what is known of either alone, and perhaps outside of our ability to conceive of in general.
‘χ’… A most ancient letter. Some say “kye,” but the meaning is the same. Death… A letter that spells endings.—Master Xehanort
The numbers of “Thirteen Hearts of Darkness” are certainly peculiar. Thirteen has very mysterious properties. At Valhalla, a banquet for 12 gods was intruded upon by the trickster Loki as the unfortunate thirteenth guest. The zodiac are numbered twelve, but the nebulous thirteenth house Ophiuchus, the serpent-bearer, bares an uncanny parallel to Loki as both depict the serpent-trickster-dragon. The Last Supper consists of twelve disciples plus Christ himself. Friday the 13th is notoriously unlucky, and some hotels exclude the thirteenth floor, skipping straight to the fourteenth.
As a less official meaning to the number 13, there tends to be an association with the fabled Illuminati. 13, as the number of the serpent and a representation of “Magic”, seems to be a fitting parallel to Organization XIII. The origin of Organization XIII begins with Ansem the Wise, a sage-king reminiscent of Solomon. Ansem’s rule of the “Radiant Garden”, a “city of light”, is similar to the story of Atlantis. Once a great and enlightened center, it later falls due to the corruption of its inhabitants. Ansem’s intentions are genuine when he begins his research into the darkness – as he fears that his people will be overcome by the scourge of darkness that is prone to creep into almost any heart.
Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.
― Friedrich Nietzsche
Ansem’s six apprentices pursued their studies of Darkness with perhaps too much zeal. They constructed a basement underneath Ansem’s mansion, within which they began to perform cruel experiments upon subjects like Xehanort. Although Ansem cuts off these experiments when he realizes what his apprentices are doing, it’s already too late, and when the darkness consumes him, he assumes the name “DiZ” – Darkness in Zero.
Many of Ansem’s prior apprentices eventually become members of Organization XIII, an order that cannot help but hearken the mythic Illuminati, who in legend are notorious for their contracts with dark magicks, a power that tend to corrupt or remove its user’s heart and leave a sociopathic shell behind – the “Nobodies” of Kingdom Hearts. The nobody is what remains of a great spiritual power which has shed its soul. Nobodies are destined to walk in neither being nor non-being, inhabiting a world of non-existence between light and darkness.
13 is recognized as significant in Freemasonry, which makes frequent reference to the dismemberment of Osiris. The allegory of Egypt’s Isis, who embarks on a quest to restore her beloved Osiris, manages to gather only 13 of the 14 pieces of him. Egypt sees the number thirteen as the precursor to completion, as it is often depicted with a 13-step pyramid on the ladder to eternity, where the self discovers its source. Just as the worlds in Kingdom Hearts are split into fragments, so are the body parts of Osiris, the Egyptian God of passages and the afterlife. In Tarot cards, the number thirteen is “Death”, the number of beginnings and endings.
Organization XIII’s members have names that are anagrams of the name they used to have before becoming a nobody, but within this name is added x or χ, which as we have described is intended to allude to endings or death. If you are interested in conspiracy theories, you may recognize the number 13 as the number of Bloodlines within the Illuminati, one of which tends to included Walt Disney himself, and Disney theme parks have been noted to portray 13 as lucky rather then unlucky. Whether or not you believe the storied 13 bloodlines of the illuminati to be real, their anecdotal position is difficult to deny, which creates interesting parallels to kingdom hearts. The thirteenth bloodline of the illuminati is often known as the “seed of Satan”, as the number 13 within the bible represents rebellion and lawlessness.
Coordinated between the creators of the Final Fantasy universe and Disney, it is not so strange to suppose that the esoteric meaning in Kingdom Hearts came with some forethought. Final Fantasy as a franchise tends to rampantly feature obscure occult knowledge for those with the knowledge to recognize it, and Disney’s intercourse with Freemasonary (their legendary “club 33”, for instance) is not exactly breaking news.
As I continue with my analysis of the Kingdom Hearts franchise, I will delve even deeper into the mystical symbolism featured in its surprisingly archetypal story, which mirror the western mystery schools of wisdom. The gazing eye, the fleur-de-lys, the crown, and stars are among a few of the remaining symbolic threads within the story, and that still leaves the 7 Guardians of Light and Princesses of Hearts to be explored, along with other plot elements.
This world consists of incredible depth, which met its audience with thunder and, despite its cryptic and elusive plot, resonates something distinctly spiritual within its player, something almost completely unique to this game in its ability to be directly experienced. I have wanted to write an article on this topic for a long, long time – but the sheer magnitude of the material makes it difficult to condense into one article. In other words, I’ve been very intimidated to approach the material – where to even begin?
Although I am sure that I have done so imperfectly – I have made a start. I hope there are readers out there who find the occultism within this famous game as fascinating as I do.
(to be continued…)