Seven Souls and Seven Soldiers

The ancient Egyptians postulated seven souls.

Top soul, and the first to leave at the moment of death, is Ren the Secret name. This corresponds to my Director. He directs the film of your life from conception to death. The Secret Name is the title of your film. When you die, that’s where Ren came in.
Second soul, and second one off the sinking ship, is Sekem: Energy, Power, Light. The Director gives the orders, Sekem presses the right buttons.

Number three is Khu, the Guardian Angel. He, she or it is third man out…depicted as flying away across a full moon, a bird with luminous wings and head of light. sort of thing you might see on a screen in an Indian restaurant in Panama. The Khu is responsible for the subject and can be injured in his defense – but not permanently, since the first three souls are eternal. They go back to Heaven for another vessel. The four remaining souls must take their chances with the subject in the land of the dead.

Number four is Ba, the Heart, often treacherous. This is a hawk’s body with your face on it, shrunk down to the size of a fist. Many a hero has been brought down, like Samson, by a perfidious Ba.

Number five is Ka, the double, most closely associated with the subject. The Ka, which usually reaches adolescence at the time of bodily death, is the only reliable guide through the Land of the Dead to the Western Lands.

Number six is Khaibit, the Shadow, Memory, your whole past conditioning from this and other lives.

Number seven is Sekhu, the Remains.

-William Burroughs, The Western Lands.

The above lengthy quote was taken from the last novel by William S. Burroughs, The Western Lands. It was published in 1987 and is the third part of a trilogy that essentially summarizes Burroughs’ life, his philosophy, and his literary and cultural influences. From reading Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, The Invisibles, and various interviews over the years, I found that Burroughs was a significant influence on his work. It was pure happenstance that I was reading both The Western Lands as well as Seven Soldiers around the same time. I was also listening to a lot of Material, an avant-garde funk band whose 1989 album Seven Souls features William Burroughs reading sections from the novel. But now that I think about it, was it happenstance or was it something else? This is Morrison and Burroughs we’re talking about so it’s hard to dismiss magical calling outright. The texts and music could very well have acted as a kind of sigil charged with meaning and connections.
So I set out first to connect the seven souls of man with the Seven Soldiers of the story:

Ren–Zatanna
Sekem–Frankenstein
Khu–Shining Knight
Ba–Klarion
Ka–Bulleteer
Khaibit–Guardian
Sekhu–Mr. Miracle

Ren–“Top soul, and the first to leave at the moment of death, is Ren the Secret name. This corresponds to my Director. He directs the film of your life from conception to death. The Secret Name is the title of your film. When you die, that’s where Ren came in. This more or less corresponds to Zatanna, at least with regards to the director aspect. It’s Zatanna who ultimately unites the seven soldiers into a single purpose, though they themselves don’t know it.
Sekem–“Second soul, and second one off the sinking ship, is Sekem: Energy, Power, Light. The Director gives the orders, Sekem presses the right buttons. I put this with Frankenstein. He was brought into existence with energy.
Khu–“Number three is Khu, the Guardian Angel. He, she or it is third man out…depicted as flying away across a full moon, a bird with luminous wings and head of light. Sort of thing you might see on a screen in an Indian restaurant in Panama. The Khu is responsible for the subject and can be injured in his defense – but not permanently, since the first three souls are eternal. They go back to Heaven for another vessel. The four remaining souls must take their chances with the subject in the land of the dead. The flight aspect is analogous to Shining Knight, simply because of the horse. She also sustained the odd injury or two and her appearance (with the bound breasts) is of someone wounded.
Ba–“Number four is Ba, the Heart, often treacherous. This is a hawk’s body with your face on it, shrunk down to the size of a fist. Many a hero has been brought down, like Samson, by a perfidious Ba. The treacherousness of Ba follows with Klarion, who takes control of Frankenstein and becomes the leader of the Sheeda, also, the animal/witch-folk connection with the familiars as well as the Horigal beast that is a combination of the two.
Ka–“Number five is Ka, the double, most closely associated with the subject. The Ka, which usually reaches adolescence at the time of bodily death, is the only reliable guide through the Land of the Dead to the Western Lands. Alix Harrower, before she became the Bulleteer, was a teacher. Specifically, she was a teacher for autistic children. Very much a guide for children lost within themselves. This in addition to her looking after an infected Helen Helligan (if that’s not a Silver Age name I don’t know what is) and helping her to stop her sister’s marriage as well as taking care of Sally Sonic by driving her to the hospital, make the Bulleteer/Ka connection seem a little more logical (well, as logical as something like this ever can be).
Khaibit–“Number six is Khaibit, the Shadow, Memory, your whole past conditioning from this and other lives”. Guardian is, if nothing else a man haunted by his past. However, he overcomes his doubt to become a true hero.
Sekhu–“Number seven is Sekhu, the Remains.” Mr. Miracle. Dead, buried, but risen again.
Ok, so what does all of this mean? Well, I think, just as the seven souls are part of man, the seven souls represented by the seven soldiers are combined, the soul of the DC universe. Of course the question has to be asked: why not the big three, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman? They, more than any of the other characters, are the heart and soul of the DC universe as we’ve been told so many times.
Well, for me the true soul of the DC universe lay with its secondary and tertiary characters. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are icons, known all over the world and known independently from their comic origins. The DC universe is populated with so many diverse types of characters, from the silly to the horrifying. What DC is all about as a created universe can be seen in these seven little-known characters.
Zatanna/Ren/The Director: The voice of direction and continuity. Sometimes this voice can get lost or the director loses sight of the goals or objectives. But in the end, the course is set and all doubts are cast aside.
Frankenstein/Sekem/Energy, Power: Strength, Determination, Will. Physical and mental characteristics required of all heroes. Frankenstein does not stop in his quest to destroy the Sheeda. He pursues them to Mars and one billion years into the future. Also, it doesn’t hurt that Frankenstein is a resurrected character, both from the dead and from obscurity. But more on that in a bit.
Shining Knight/Khu/Guardian: A knight is symbolic of a quest, and like the characteristics mentioned above, a hero without a quest to fulfill isn’t much of a hero. Also confounds our expectations and adds a crucial element to the superhero mythos by having a concealed identity.
Klarion/Ba/Heart and animal instincts: Klarion is guided by instinct and a whimsical, care-free attitude. Like the others of his race, he has a close relationship with his animal familiar, a totem from which he can draw great power. Like so many other heroes in the DC universe, this connection to an animal is important both for the strength it gives as well as its power as a symbol.
Bulleteer/Ka/Guidance: The Bulleteer is unabashedly feminine and embodies all of the characteristics of the classic hero: strength, compassion, beauty, and wisdom. She is the embodiment of the feminine superhero archetype, though she fights against it at first. After all, it was the fetishization of that archetype that led to the death of her husband. But like all heroes, she accepts her calling in the end.
Guardian/Khaibit/Memory, Legacy: Jake Jordan inherits the mantle of the Guardian, a trait unique to the DC universe, where heroes can retire and pass on their legacy to a younger generation. Jake Jordan is also a haunted man, haunted by mistakes he made in the past and tirelessly works for redemption
Mr. Miracle/Sekhu/The Remains, Death, Sacrifice, and Resurrection: Sacrifice is expected of all heroes. So often the ultimate sacrifice, death, is called upon for a story. But true heroes hardly ever stay dead. Occasionally a hero will die and pass their legacy on to another, but more often than not, the hero simply rises from the dead and continues fighting. Shilo Norman inherited the name of Mr. Miracle, and in his story he makes the ultimate sacrifice for the good of humanity, only to rise again.
In conclusion I just want to thank you for reading this far. Seven Soldiers had a profound impact on me as I’m sure you can tell. In it, Grant Morrison has crafted a near-perfect statement on the possibilities of superhero comics as well as its rich history, and has done so using characters that, while largely unknown or forgotten, embody all of the archetypes of heroic fiction–the soul of the DC universe.

By David Faust