In our time, nothing has been assailed against as much as “truth”. Once a word used to describe that which is indisputably fact across all places, times, and persons, and which can be verifiably demonstrated, or conjectured upon to provide a solid basis for its claim, nowadays, the word has now been reduced to nothing more as a declaration of fact from an individual perspective. Instead of turning to proven theses, emotional ramblings and personal testimonies become the norm for determining it; logical reasoning is seen as a stick in the mud to progress, especially on the grounds of so-called “political correctness”. No matter how right or realistic one’s statement is, it cannot be acceptable unless one’s feelings approve of it. Hence, people will say “What’s true for me is not true for you”, or quote the hilariously self-refuting “Don’t push your beliefs on me.”
This idea that truth is something solely internal, known as subjectivism, has its place in both Modernist theology as well as a plot point in Little Witch Academia. Modernists, having dismissed the supernatural role of religious development, employ this to attribute its source as merely a mutable human feeling – thereby rendering Catholicism as just one spectrum of truth among many others. Meanwhile, Atsuko “Akko” Kagari ambition to become a witch stems from a devout cherishing of an idea of magic powered from within one’s subconsciousness, a maxim which she shares alongside Shiny Chariot; thus, generating the conflict which becomes a stumbling block in front of her goals.
Akko: Character Analysis
Born to ordinary human parents, at the age of six she witnessed a magic performance hosted by her favourite entertainer, a witch named Shiny Chariot; is instantly wowed by it and remains stuck with a positive perception of her throughout. One of the things she acquires is a belief in the motto “A believing heart is your magic”, building into a misguided notion of magic as something that can be unlocked from within oneself. She enrolls into Luna Nova despite having little to no experience, simultaneously obtains an item known as the Shiny Rod, an item once cherished by her idol, en route to the destination, and finds company in Lotte Jansson, a Finnish girl who loves faeries and Sucy Manbavaran, a Filipina who enjoys making dank potions and causing pranks, as well as gaining the scorn of prodigy Diana Cavendish.
Her commitment to Shiny Chariot’s legacy, compiled with her distaste for learning the theory behind magic as archaic, makes her into the scorn of her peers and the target of their ridicule as she struggles and consistently fails to launch various spells. Under the tutelage of her mentor, Ursula Callistis, this attitude begins to change. She takes Akko under her wing and teaches her a better grasp of magic fundamentals, and coupled with rigorous study and practice, her skill as a witch begins to manifest over time. Characters like Lotte and Diana also introduce her to other ways in which its special value is demonstrated to others – and with Professor Croix, the dangers of a system powered by emotion. Over time, her growing proficiency leads her one step closer to unlocking the secret of the Shiny Rod, which, far from being a tool of performance art, wields a great power within.
Akko’s struggle in the initial episodes is a byproduct of her flawed philosophy, which views the truths of her practice as utterly self-experiential, void of any higher, ethereal boundaries that hold it together, thereby making it at the service of the user, bending to their every will and whim – a sheer description of subjective principles. Her unorthodox treatment of magic shows parallels to the Modernist attitude toward religion and the divine, where they become subject to the tinkering of man and the whims of current society: the name given to it known as vital immanence.
Modernist Components #2: Vital Immanence
Pope St. Pius X’s encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis established Modernism as coming from a need to synchronize the Catholic Faith with modern trends of thinking, rather than resistance. Chief among these concerns is explaining the origin and development of religion. To resolve this, the Modernist answers by defining vital immanence: since human conditions will, and always will be in a constant state of flux, it follows that truths embodied in religion must also be subject to this change and vary from age to age and civilization to civilization. Thus, what is true there must show signs of adaptability in order to be recognized as such, and its development must stem from a person’s consciousness realizing the need of something divine, making their experience the core of religious belief, independent of other natural and supernatural factors.
Religion… must, like every other fact, admit of some explanation. But when Natural theology has been destroyed, the road to revelation closed through the rejection of the arguments of credibility, and all external revelation absolutely denied, it is clear that this…therefore, be looked for in man; and since religion is a form of life, the explanation must certainly be found in the life of man. Hence the principle of religious immanence is formulated. Moreover, the first actuation, so to say, of every vital phenomenon, and religion, as has been said, belongs to this category, is due to a certain necessity or impulsion; but it has its origin, speaking more particularly of life, in a movement of the heart, which movement is called a sentiment. Therefore, since God is the object of religion, we must conclude that faith, which is the basis and the foundation of all religion, consists in a sentiment which originates from a need of the divine.Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis (1907), pgh #7
Vital immanence is the magnum opus of Modernist thinking, and one of the most dangerous methods of apologetics employed by them. It is the sum of their rejection of the existence of the supernatural alongside rationalist thinking; with this they explain away how Christianity can be so self-contradicting, yet true at the same time: because it runs off from “a believing heart”. Using this system destroys the divine foundation of Christianity, making it completely dependent on subjective interpretation, allowing Modernists to get away with claiming:
- The divinity of Jesus Christ was realized through Himself, and led to His elevation as God – not because He truly was God in the flesh, but by His followers’ decree
- Dogma can, and ought to evolve depending on the needs of the populace and their conditions, regardless of how previous generations viewed it
- The liturgy should incorporate the needs and customs of various peoples, or they will not be able to connect to it (basically 95% of Novus Ordos)
- The Church, Papacy, the Sacraments and Sacred Scripture hold no divine significance or characteristic; all were developed to satisfy a human response for hierarchy, symbolism, community or rule
- The existence of God must be proven from within humanity, not by cause/effect or philosophical inundation; faith is a mere human impulse and not a supernatural gift
- Since all religion depends on human experience and transmission, all of them must be true by default, and only falsifiable if the original experience is defective
Vital Immanence: Deforming Akko’s Reality
“A believing heart is your magic” is undoubtedly a repackaged vital immanence in substance, and is proven by Akko’s practical application of its theses in some form:
- After getting a hold of the Shiny Rod, she says in episode 2: “Now that I have this thing, I bet I can cast any spell I want!”, trying to cast a flying spell on her bed, the failure of which leaves her confused. In the same episode, she attempts to entice a statue to move with her wand, telling a concerned Lotte “I know I’ll succeed if I believe hard enough!”. This also does not succeed, in part due to her limited knowledge of the subject at hand. It doesn’t help that she’s a character who mostly acts upon impulse and not reason.
- When she and her crush, a royal named Andrew Hanbridge, discuss a nearby soccer riot, her solution is to use magic to stir up people’s sentiments, and procure an easy ticket out of strife: “If only people would watch Shiny Chariot’s show, they’d be thrilled, laugh, get emotional, and put all their anger and differences aside!… After that, the world will be at peace!” The response of others, rather than practicality, are the norm by which Akko validates magic; it is void of any special substance, only a purely natural means to an end
- Her esteem of Shiny Chariot; she becomes the sole inspiration and the one thing that keeps her determined to progress as a witch, as seen in episodes 16 (“When I grow up… I want to be just like Chariot! I want to spread happiness through magic just as she did back then!”), and 21 (“My biggest reason for chasing the Words is just to meet Chariot.”). In her heart, she has no doubt that Chariot’s experiences are true because of the mark it left on her; therefore, it must be this route where rests the only way magic can survive.
I can’t help but hear the exhortations in Pascendi echoing as I look upon how far Akko’s immanentization of what is meant to be supernatural goes, that it clouds her worldview. Consequently, no one takes her goal seriously. For example, Andrew is left speechless in episode 6 when Akko casts a metamorphosis spell on him, and he is left baffled to how it will be useful, when moments before she made an impassioned plea on convincing him of its merits. Fafnir, a dragon in episode 5, merely scoffs at her intent on reviving magic, for she only has passion but no principle to uphold it. The message is profoundly clear: anything which bases itself only on emotional output will be prone to contradictions galore, and eventually is doomed to collapse on itself – just as one Abraham Lincoln said. What good is something which is solely reliant on human sensitivities? Vital immanence, in presenting an anthropocentric vision of religion, destabilizes and strips it of any real value in authority or reliability as a vehicle of truth, and is susceptible to this.
Therefore the religious sentiment, which through the agency of vital immanence emerges from the lurking places of the subconsciousness, is the germ of all religion, and the explanation of everything that has been or ever will be in any religion. The sentiment, which was at first only rudimentary and almost formless, gradually matured, under the influence of that mysterious principle from which it originated, with the progress of human life, of which, as has been said, it is a form. This, then, is the origin of all religion, even supernatural religion; it is only a development of this religious sentiment. Nor is the Catholic religion an exception; it is quite on a level with the rest; for it was engendered, by the process of vital immanence, in the consciousness of Christ, who was a man of the choicest nature, whose like has never been, nor will be.Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis (1907), pgh #10
Vital immanence – and Modernism in general, therefore – is the chaotic antithesis to discerning the character of truth of the Gospel. For this does St. Augustine dictate: “‘If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.” In contrast, the Catholic Faith, which has always, through its timeless transmission of the Gospel and work of bringing people to Heaven, offers a consistent, empirical, and objective framework of moral values and purpose. It acknowledges God, the unchanging, Eternal Good and the author of life as by which our understanding of right and wrong come from. His existence can be discerned through inspection of the material world, and in doing so makes faith an act of reason as opposed to a subconscious reaction. Its claims to truth can be analyzed through the lens of history, philosophy and natural analysis, and the theology based on a theocentric perspective to us, as opposed to a vice-versa development. With this in mind, it becomes our sure, infallible map to living our earthly days, which can never betray nor deceive us.
Akko Conquers Subjectivism
Fortunately, Akko learns of the folly of her outlook, but in the darkest way possible: Professor Croix, in the latter half of episode 22, uses the anger of the soccer riot to fuel energy for her powers, and, potentially, execute it for dark purposes – to which Akko objects; but can do little, since Croix’s plan, in light of Shiny Chariot’s maxim, is valid anyways. If that wasn’t enough, she exposes Professor Ursula as Shiny Chariot, and reveals her role in perpetuating that evil. For the most of episode 23, Akko breaks down, basically turning into an agnostic towards magic; downhearted, depressed and at a loss how to explain what transpired. In fact, what comes out as most beneficial to her is one which Professor Ursula tries to teach her: the Seven Words of Arcturus, which include tomes such as:
- Noctu Orfei Aude Fraetor (Strive for your ideal place)
- Phaidoari Afairynghor (Work hard towards the things you dream of)
- Arae Aryrha (Do not compare yourself to others, but do what you can only do)
- Mayenab Dysheebudo (Have patience)
- Sybilladura Lelladybura (Preserve traditional values amidst the modern)
- Lyonne (Be grateful)
- Phasansheer Shearylla (Learn to connect with others)
As with Sacred Scripture, and the immutable, divinely inspired dogmas of the Catholic Faith (Tradition), these words possess an origin dating back to antiquity, are supernatural in nature as Ursula explains in episode 15, possess an intrinsic sacred worth, and thus objective. Their meaning does not change with time, which makes them an excellent guide for Akko’s character development. Her goal throughout the duration of Little Witch Academia is to seek out how she can use their meaning in her life, rather than redefining the words based on her deeds. In doing so, these Words become the source of her abilities, and is what changes her for the better. Her life gets in order, and in having a stable foundation to follow, and lo and behold, in the series finale, the Shiny Rod finally activates its fullest form, which allows Akko to accomplish the goal she sought so much, but at a greater scale and impact than she had imagined. It is acknowledging objective truth which, thus, brings about goodness, Akko learns.
Little Witch Academia demonstrates the infeasibility of a sentiments-only outlook to one’s ideals, concluding the same as Pascendi for Modernist notion of religious experience. Akko allowed herself to be deceived into thinking that feelings were all she needed to survive in her current climate, but instead this gave way to despair and confusion when challenges arose. Only when looking objectively, embracing its supernatural inherency as supplied by the Seven Words of Arcturus, was she able to succeed in self-guidance and find a firm peace to her doubts. Likewise, vital immanence in its attempt to synchronize religious truth as a human construct, the logical consequence being: if everyone were allowed to invent their own beliefs and have it validated as truth on account of not offending them, then we can no longer know what the essence of truth is. Moreover, if we tried to convince others without sound ideas, but only appealing to emotion, try as we might: we will hardly convince them, and likely leave discouraged. To cut it bluntly: if everything is true, nothing will be.
Here it is well to note at once that, given this doctrine of experience united with the other doctrine of symbolism, every religion, even that of paganism, must be held to be true. What is to prevent such experiences from being met within every religion? In fact that they are to be found is asserted by not a few. And with what right will Modernists deny the truth of an experience affirmed by a follower of Islam? With what right can they claim true experiences for Catholics alone?… For on what ground, according to their theories, could falsity be predicated of any religion whatsoever? It must be certainly on one of these two: either on account of the falsity of the religious sentiment or on account of the falsity of the formula pronounced by the mind.Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis (1907), pgh #14