Whoosh! Issue 60 - September 2001

By S. Night
Group Therapy Project
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
6440 words

Page Two

Xena: The Friend(ly) Ghost and the Bard in Mourning

Gilbert and Sullivan refugees
Japanese ghost lore is pretty creepy.

[22] There is a great deal of lore on the various forms of Japanese ghosts. I will not try to examine that lore, because that would be a topic of a completely different thesis, but shall instead try to use a more general concept of ghosts.

[23] The word "ghost" derives from Old English gast and means a disembodied spirit or soul. According to scientifically inclined websites dealing with paranormal phenomena, ghosts are theoretically the remnants of what was once a human being. They are everything that living creatures are, but without the vehicle we call the human body. They exhibit all the mental attributes of a living human, such as thought, conscience, emotions and emotional needs, morals, calculation, ego, personality, and everything that makes up the human psyche. For the purposes of this article, the manifestations of Akemi, Ayako, Miyuki, Yodoshi, and Xena in the teahouse will be called "ghosts".

[24] These ghosts are subject to physical harm, including stabbing (Miyuki), dismemberment/beheading (Yodoshi), drowning (Akemi), and (spinal?) trauma (Xena). Moreover, they seems to operate with other limitations of their power and knowledge, that I will describe later. In contrast, the vaporous creatures that escape from Yodoshi's decapitated "body" are "souls", who pass into another plane of existence, free of the physical limitations of the world inhabited by living people and ghosts. While the word "spirit" is used interchangeably with "ghost" in the story, I will reserve that term for a very special instance that I will describe later.

[25] When Xena makes the transition to a ghostly existence, she is initially naked. Nothing from the physical world can accompany her to this realm. She is subsequently clad in a kimono of red, as opposed to the white of the other ghosts in the teahouse. It is tempting to think of Western symbolism expressed by Isaiah:

"Though your sins are red like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool" (Isaiah 1:18),
the innocent ghosts of the teahouse, unwilling (with one exception) slaves of Yodoshi are pure, but Xena, because of her past guilt, is scarlet.

[26] Since the garb here is Japanese (kimono), the Oriental meaning of color should be used to interpret the symbolism. While white is associated with purity, it is also associated, especially in combination with black, with death. For example, in the final episode of M*A*S*H [broadcast February 28, 1983], Klinger [Jamie Farr], who initially tried to escape the army by cross dressing, proposes to Soong Li [Rosalind Chao, who would later portray Keiko O'Brien in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine] by offering her one of his old wedding dresses, and she responds "You want me to wear a funeral dress?") Thus when Xena asks Akemi "I've been in the Underworld before, but it never felt like this. What's going on?" her former student replies that the ghostly bodies are "an illusion projected by Yodoshi. While we are under his power, we must obey his will". The ghosts of the teahouse wear white because they are dead, and as such, under the control of Lord Yodoshi.

[27] Xena, in contrast, is dressed in red. A color that symbolizes strong emotion. Red is the color of love. Xena has become a ghost not out of subservience to Yodoshi, but for the love of her friend Akemi, and perhaps, out of her even deeper love of her bard, because she died alone to prevent a greater tragedy ("I'm sorry, Gabrielle, I couldn't tell you. You'd have tried to stop me, and then we'd both be dead.") As far as Xena knows, she is forever cut off from her bard (this will be demonstrated shortly). Gabrielle, however, does not know this yet, and she enters the first stage of mourning - denial - for the friend whom she cannot find on a battlefield that is filled with blood. "Xena is alive! Do you understand? She is alive!", she proclaims to Kenji.

[28] Upon a cue from his confederate Miyuki, Yodoshi is summoned. All of this is instructive because it indicates that while Yodoshi may be all-powerful in this realm, he is not all-knowing. He must be summoned when he is needed, and he is displeased to see Xena proclaiming her love through her garb. Yodoshi is determined that Xena will be there only on his terms and he cruelly strips her of the offending garment. The warrior, rendered naked before her tormentors in both the real world and the ghost world, professes her servitude in order to put the soul eater off his guard. Yodoshi again shows his lack of omniscience by accepting this ruse.

[29] Now Xena begins to put her plan to destroy the monster into action. She runs into the least expected, but most welcomed, presence in her existence: Gabrielle! After they embrace in mutual joy, the warrior princess appears to be the more surprised. "What are you doing here?", she asks. Which is to say, unlike her other experiences in the Underworld, she can interact with someone who is still, as far as she knows, alive. When her inability to grasp the chakram demonstrates what has really happened, Gabrielle progresses to the next stage of mourning - anger - as she accuses Xena: "How could you let yourself be killed?"

[30] Then comes an exchange which expresses, simply and beautifully, the assurance we all seek in tragedy: Gabrielle speaks from the depths of her soul: "You're my whole life, Xena. I won't lose you." and we embrace the truth of Xena's earnest response, "You won't lose me." The bard is, however, still in mourning, and expresses anger again in her next encounter: "Harukata, don't you come near her!" She can still interact with Xena as a ghost, but she is not sure that she will be able to do so if the ghost killer were to free her soul. Therefore, she clings desperately to this tenuous link with her soulmate.

[31] Only when she is sent on her new mission, to bring her beloved warrior princess back to life, does Gabrielle suspend her mourning. True to the title of this adventure, Xena and Gabrielle prove to be each other's friend in need: Xena (giving her bard the sacred katana): "Good luck, old friend." Gabrielle (burning the body that she has wrested from Xena's killer): "You will return to me, my friend."

The Redemption of Love

[32] While Gabrielle is on her mission to retrieve Xena's body, of which I have already written above, let us return to the teahouse in order to understand more of the limitations of the ghostly state of existence. Yodoshi, as mentioned above, is not all-knowing. When he responds to Xena jingling the anklet, he is first pleased to see the ghostly inhabitants all dressed in white, until he sees Xena's face. "Where is Miyuki?" he cries, obviously not privy to the knowledge that his erstwhile thrall has been freed by Harukata. This is not the last time he exhibits his lack of global knowledge of events or of intentions of his minions, because he later reacts with a surprised "What? My own daughter?" when Akemi tries to dispatch him with the Ghost Killer's katana.

[33] Moreover, he does not have total control over the souls in his domain. After Yodoshi flees the teahouse, minus his right arm, Harukata expires in Xena's arms (I assume that Akemi is tending the body of the recently beheaded Kenji during the interchange, and that Ayako, while taken out of action by Yodoshi, has not been freed from her ghostly state). Neither the monk nor the ghostkiller appear as ghosts at the door of the teahouse. If they are not ghosts and Yodoshi has not swallowed them, there is only one other possibility -- their souls have escaped and joined their Ancestors. Undoubtedly, they have brought new information to those Ancestors, who, according to Japanese tradition, have the status of demigods. The information? Two brave and worthy warriors from the West have together saved Higuchi from the monster Yodoshi, and one of them has even suffered an honorable death in order to save the souls that Yodoshi has enslaved.

[34] This may be important food for thought for the Ancestors, and they may be reconsidering a previous decree, but more on this later.

[35] During the battles on Mt. Fuji, Gabrielle faces both the challenge of the disgraced Morimoto, and the challenge of the sunset deadline. This last challenge, pardon the pun, is a double-edged sword. For if Gabrielle brings Xena back to life too soon, the warrior will not be able to destroy Yodoshi and her primary mission will fail. Thus, when Xena lies injured (paraplegic?) in the snow, the bard must make a choice between (1) retrieving her friend's ashes in order to restore Xena to her side, or (2) risking exceeding the deadline in order to help her friend to accomplish the greater good.

[36] Gabrielle chooses her path again. She rushes to help her friend in need, who once more is attired in the color of love. Gabrielle is in indigo blue armor, symbolizing loyalty, and the water that she will soon imbibe from the fountain and give to her friend, although she risks losing her comforting presence forever by doing so. It is the water from the fountain of strength that restores Xena's spinal cord, as it previously restored Yodoshi's severed arm. It is the reciprocated love of Gabrielle, symbolized by the tender kiss of life, and her willingness to risk the fulfillment of that love for the good of the lost souls, that finally removes the last vestiges of dishonor from the warrior princess. This allows her to rise again wearing not white, nor red, but the armor that she recently buried.

[37] Gabrielle gives her last weapon (save the chakram) to Xena to assure the success of her mission. She then hastens to fulfill her own mission and does not permit Xena to tell her something -- the same thing, I suspect, that Xena will tell her when Gabrielle is about to pour the ashes into the fountain of strength. Xena does not want her friend to endanger her life on the sheer cliff face if the effort will prove ultimately fruitless. From this attempt on Xena's part to explain, I assume that either she has already been told about the need for vengeance of the lost souls, or has deduced it herself, before the final encounter with Yodoshi.

[38] Another bardic interlude will illustrate the point that I am about to make:

Ayako, alone in the teahouse, dipped the linen cloth in water and scrubbed again at Kenji's blood, that still stained the shoji screen.

She sighed. Their attempt to overthrow the tyrannical eater of souls had failed. She would be constrained to keep luring more souls to the teahouse to satisfy her master's horrible appetite -- unless, she shuddered, he chose to devour her soul instead.

Once more, she reached towards the shoji and her hand passed through it.

She gasped. The paper had not torn, yet the shoji seemed to pass right through her wrist, and both her hand and the panel - indeed, the entire tea house - were evaporating like mist.

Her heart leaped. Yodoshi was destroyed! She was free! As she shed her ghostly form and began to spiral upward, she cried out with rapture: "Ancestors! I am coming to you!"

[39] Xena, finally, is now purely a warrior for good. The last vestiges of her dishonorable past have been expunged and her honor has finally been redeemed. When Yodoshi is finally destroyed, the imprisoned ghosts, like Ayako, are released as souls. Yet, Xena retains her form. Her ghost is gone, but her spirit remains. The disclaimer implies this, jokingly,: "Xena was permanently harmed during the making of this motion picture but she kept up her spirits".

[40] The soul of Akemi rejoices in the presence of the warrior spirit: "You've redeemed me! You've redeemed them! You've redeemed yourself!" Xena replies "Go in peace, Akemi. We'll meet again one day." Xena herself realizes that she is now not simply a freed soul like her former student. She is now in a special state. She is no longer a ghost, who can be seen by everyone, but rather (as of the setting of the sun) a spirit like Ephiny's in THE LAST OF THE CENTAURS, visible only to Gabrielle. The bond, in this case, cannot be one of Amazon heritage, for as we have been told ad nauseum, Xena is not an Amazon.

[41] The bond can only be one of pure, unselfish love, expressed so beautifully in Gabrielle's kiss of life, and her willingness to jeopardize her own mission, to regain the presence of her soulmate, in order that her soulmate might succeed in her mission to save tens of thousands.

Do Not Believe Everything a Ghost Tells You

Roughly translated, it reads 'Xena is a big sucker'
There were a lot of gaps in Akemi's information.

[42] Akemi has apparently already revealed to Xena, at some time, that the souls of the 40,000 are barred from the next world, even if they are freed from Yodoshi. But as we have already established that even the powerful ghost of her father was not all-knowing, it is certainly reasonable to postulate that Akemi might not have been in possession of complete information on the state of affairs in the world to which she is only now ascending for the first time. For who would bar the souls, and before that, Yodoshi, from the next world? I would suggest that such rulings would be in the hands of the inhabitants of that world: the Ancestors.

[43] Why would the Ancestors bar the souls of destroyed Higuchi from the next world, and leave them as victims for Yodoshi? I have nothing to cite as support, so here I must accept this rule of the Xenaverse as a given. Yet, I can speculate on a reason. The Ancestors have barred the souls because they perceive that they behaved dishonorably (by blocking Akemi's ashes from being buried). Then were killed dishonorably, by a drunken mercenary ("Where's my money!?") who, head shaved in mourning (a custom in the orient, seen most recently in the survivors of the massacre of the royal house of Nepal, but never practiced in Japan) had the temerity to attempt to place the ashes of a patricidal child in their shrine.

[44] Akemi, imprisoned by Yodoshi, has not been able to tell the Ancestors that Xena restored her honor. Nor have the erstwhile lost souls been able to petition the Ancestors to admit them to the next world because the one who caused their demise has proven herself honorable, and has saved their own descendants from an ignominious fate. Poor Xena only has the information that Akemi shared with her before these latter-day events took place, and now Akemi cannot amend the information, because she is beyond reach. Xena sincerely believes that "for those souls to be released into a state of grace, they must be avenged. I must stay dead." In the words of a selfless hero of the 23rd century, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few -- or the one." [Spock, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan]

[45] Gabrielle picks up her mourning from where it had left off with anger: "That is not right! I don't care! You're all that matters to me." and, tragically, neither Xena nor she can know that she is probably quite correct! It is no longer right that Xena must die to avenge the souls of Higuchi.

[46] The third stage of mourning, sorrow, now takes center stage: Xena, now mourning as well, weeps: "Don't you know how much I want to let you do this?" her voice cracks as she utters the heartbreaking realization: "I can't come back. I can't." Gabrielle cries in misery: "I love you, Xena. How am I supposed to go on without you?" and Xena reaffirms: "I'll always be with you, Gabrielle. Always." Love transcends death as the sun sets on our heroes.

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

[47] However, Xena will not only be with Gabrielle in spirit, she will be with her again in reality. It is inevitable. In order to prove that, I will leave our grieving bard and her soulmate for a moment, and step outside of the Xenaverse.

[48] While I fully acknowledge that The Powers That Be can state that they have created Xena, and while I can accept that they therefore feel they have the right to do anything they wish with her and her friend, I must point out a postulate that has been proven over the centuries: literary characters have a life of their own. The Powers That Be did not create Xena or Gabrielle; rather, they gave birth to the characters, and as any parent of real children will tell you, your control over your offspring goes steadily downward from the moment of birth. Xena and Gabrielle have a life of their own now, and will continue.

[49] Whether my theory about Xena's expiation of her sin, above, holds true, or there is some other reason given for Xena not having to remain dead, she will, by some means, be made incarnate once again. Surely, she and Gabrielle have enough friends (and enemies) in high places to engineer such a resurrection, and Lucifer has grudgingly admitted (YOU ARE THERE) that Xena has escaped his clutches for good.

[50] How can I be so confident that The Powers That Be will inevitably do this? Because there is adequate precedent for this. A notable instance took place only a little more than a century ago to no less a person than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who "delivered" a warrior for good (and his faithful bard) in 1887. After seven "seasons", Dr. Conan Doyle (he didn't become Sir Arthur until 1902) put an end to his literary child, Sherlock Holmes, in The Final Problem (1894) because he had grown tired of the character. The fans, who knew better, clamored for more, and the armchair detective returned to Dr. Watson (who had been left forlorn by his friend's "death") in 1905, in The Empty House.

[51] Citizens of the Xenaverse, take heart, our Warrior Princess, like Spock (a more recent, but no less significant, instance), will live again!

[52] Sentiments of this sort put me into the state in which my spouse will often observe me, sobbing, with tears flowing down my cheeks, after watching a video or a favorite episode of Xena or Star Trek. My companion in life will invariably comment: "But it isn't real!" No - but it could be real, and although Xena sagely observed in PARADISE FOUND, "If there's one thing that I've learned it's that anything that looks too good to be true usually is," here I must differ from our hero: sometimes something is too good not to be true. If we were to chain ourselves only to that which was proven to be true, we could never soar with our dreams. The Xenaverse is a dream, and it is impossible to say how many hearts have been touched, moved, and inspired by that dream. Since it has such a far-reaching effect, how could it not be real?

[53] Some have expressed disappointment that Xena and Gabrielle only observed a sunset, during which the ghost Xena made the transition to spirit Xena, and did not walk together into it. But in fact, they have, and do, and will walk into the sunset (Mattie and Annie - SOUL POSSESSION), or ride into it on a horse (WHEN FATES COLLIDE), or in a taxi (SEND IN THE CLONES), or on a motorcycle (Tropical Storm and its sequels), or on a scout ship of the United Nations Extraterrestrial Navy (ooops, haven't finished writing that one yet - strike that).

[54] Like Holmes and Watson, like Gilgamesh and Enkidu, like Kirk and Spock, Xena and Gabrielle represent something much larger than the characters themselves. They represent friendship, and love - the love that transcends death, the love to which we all aspire.

[55] There is nothing more real than that.

Fade to Black

[56] Although the Xenaverse and its inhabitants are real, they are, alas! excluded from our dramatic vantage point, and the tragedy that we know will someday be rectified by The Powers That Be is still very real for our forlorn bard. She has now progressed to the last stage of mourning, resolution (as she smiles tenderly at the urn in her hands), but she still needs an answer to her last tearful question "How am I supposed to go on without you?"

[57] These last few words are directed to her, and to those who love her, from one who knows from personal experience that death is not a loss, but a transition from a physical body to the heart of the one who mourns. The transition still leaves an ache that will not, and should not, go away:

Most faithful of friends, you will go on - with the love and the ache of Xena's presence in your heart - both as a bard, and when necessary, as a warrior. You will, I am sure, adopt an apprentice - perhaps Eve/Callisto, after Xena's offspring has secured her own redemption by spreading the word of Eli - so that there will always be a force for good in the world, even after you are gone, and reunited with your beloved soulmate on another plane of existence.

[58] "Gone?" the gentle reader may ask. Am I saying that sweet Gabrielle will die, as well? Since even the latest events in the Xenaverse take place during the reign of Caligula [about 1,960 years ago], I think we can say with some certainty that she already has - we simply have not yet found the scroll that describes her final days. Yet we already know in our hearts that, whether she meets her physical fate on the field of battle or, quill in hand, at her writing desk, her ashes will have been commingled with those of her soulmate. No doubt, their common urn reposes to this day, and forever, in an honored niche in the mausoleum at Amphipolis in accordance with her final wishes [THE ABYSS].

[59] Indeed, if one were to stand at the entrance of the tomb in order to glimpse the urn, one would be standing on the very spot where Gabrielle first told Xena, on the day that their friendship began, "You're not alone" [SINS OF THE PAST].


S. Night S. Night

S Night is a hopeless trekkie & xenite, and in view of the fact that the quote from the final episode of M*A*S*H is from memory, is old enough to know better. Especially since half the time it has taken to get that old has been spent in school.
Favorite line: Xena: "Be careful, Palaemon, we all eventually become what we pretend we are." [I sure hope so] BLIND FAITH
First episode seen: Tail end of a rerun of SINS OF THE PAST caught when trying to record Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, when the local station shifted the schedule to accommodate a sports event, and I did not reprogram the VCR. I cannot make this up.
Least favorite episode: MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS

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