By Jude Jones
Hyperventilating and confused, I felt my mother pass through me as she began her journey into eternity. As I caught my breath, she exhaled her last; Her cancer-ravaged body finally succumbed to sleep. Though I was holding her hand, I was alone.
I believe her spirit fled through me to hold me one last time. I do not have any proof of this hypothesis – no papers or mathematical formulas, no pictures or responses from the beyond.
Yet I still believe.
I know what I felt, yet I did not – do not – have a means to explain why what occurred, occurred. I could not – cannot – tell you why what happened, happened.
10 years later, and I’m still searching for answers so I may finally know peace. Maybe that’s the genesis of religion: the desire to describe what we can’t see through words and routines we can believe in. Maybe that’s why we create legends and deities, always magnificent and eternal: to explain that which we cannot grasp, even when what we cannot grasp is intimate, quiet and personal.
Black Panther #13 is a mediation on the tenuous coexistence between knowledge we seek to grasp and belief that sustains us when we are not able to do so.
Belief covers the gap between what we see and what we know. Where knowledge does not yet illuminate, belief bridges. Where there is still magic, belief initiates magicians. Thus, as Wakanda became more scientifically advanced, the need for belief to bridge now non-existent gaps in understanding waned.
The Wakandans are storytellers, so storytelling is how they pass on knowledge. The words of griots, passed down from generation to generation, allowed their society to build upon the lesson of the past. Wakandan magnificence is rooted in its long memory, a memory that’s literally manifested in T’Challa’s sister, Shuri. She was brought back from the dead with a connection to the fluid history of Wakanda’s past. This makes her mystical. Magical.
But it does not make her a god.
She, above all, is a scientist, and what is magic but science to the uninitiated? knowledge comes a certain arrogance towards the mystical; for it you can create magic, what use do you have for magicians?
Knowledge, you see, is the killer of Gods.
But what happens when the unexplainable occurs? When science fails to shine a light on portals appearing in the field, yielding wild, murderous creatures? What happens when knowledge cannot provide an answer?
What happens when you feel your mother’s spirit pass through your body?
“The more people believed, the stronger I grew. If I was not divine, the strengths drew from their belief made me feel as though I was…it is the faith of others that elevates (gods) beyond the mortal coil.”
Black Panther #13 finds Ta-Nehisi Coates invoking the existential horror of calling for help and being met with indifference. The Wakandan gods have gone silent, forsaking Wakanda because the people stopped believing. From beginnings born in mystical worship, the nation grew and matured. And as she matured, as she gained an understanding of the whats and whys of the world, she slowly moved from worshipping Gods to secularism, where worship is mere performance if acknowledged at all.
But today we find the Wakandans attacked by beings, horrible yet familiar, that science cannot explain. We find the Wakandans, slowly moving towards democracy because of leeriness toward their leader, unsure of whom to call for help. In the absence of reason and direction, fear and confusion fill the void.
How ironic that the gods were the first and the last to be called on. How fitting that they returned silence towards them with silence back
We ask for their help, and they find us wanting.
Which brings us back to knowledge vs belief. The comic ends on a cliffhanger; the gods, invoked by priests, end up taking the life of monster and mage alike. There are no answers, only more questions. There is more to write, other strands of subject matter, of plot and pacing better left for the next month to unravel.
A question created this comment – the very words you read here. A god created a reality. And man created a god to comfort him where knowledge does not yet exist. We did not understand what we did not – could not – know, so we created an answer.
You will ask me if I know where my mother is. If I know where her spirit lies. If I know if her spirit ever existed. And I will demure. I do not know any of this. I still find myself like the Wakandans entwined in the tension between knowledge and belief, the decoupling of the empirical from the ephemeral: still mourning, still searching for answers to questions I can’t quite articulate, only to be met too often with resounding, haunting, frustrating, debilitating silence.
I yell into the abyss; not even an echo greets be back. Yet I keep talking. I keep hoping.
I keep believing.
Thus this issue, though focused on the absence of gods, is also about the presence of humanity. For leaps of faith – both literal and in logic – define our being. And without that faith – without that belief – we would be left wanting and wandering, wondering how to best articulate the magic (both benevolent and malevolent) of this world.
I believe my mother is here with me. I believe she watches me, guides me, empowers me. Maybe even still cries for me. And while this belief may be selfish in nature – while it very well may be me trying to create an understanding where none need exist – I know that I must continue to believe.
For despite all I know, it is my belief – and all that comes with believing – that makes me human.
Black Panther Vol. 6 #13: Avengers of the New World
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Drawn by Wilfredo Torres
Coloured by Andrew Crossley
Lettered by Joe Sabino
A proud New Orleanian living in the District of Columbia, Jude is a professional thinker, amateur photographer, burgeoning runner and lover of Black culture, love and life. You can find his writing featured on Medium here!
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