Beyond a Fighting Game: Unmasking the Origins of Mortal Kombat Mythology
The “Mortal Kombat” franchise is based on a vast mythology. It is not just invented legends but actually sourced from various world mythologies as well. This article will take a look at elements from real myths and present the most relevant aspects which appear in Mortal Kombat.
The Plurality of Realms
Mortal Kombat brings forth the idea of a multitude of realms. The representatives of each realm have to battle combatants from Outworld who want to capture and subdue all other realms in existence. In Mortal Kombat, Earth Realm is regarded as the ultimate prize, as it is the “jewel of the Universe”.
Mortal Kombat battle. (BagoGames/ CC BY 2.0 )
The idea of a multitude of realms is not new. In fact, this idea is quite ancient. The Old Norsemen spoke of nine basic realms in their mythology. Among these realms, Midgard, the Earth Realm, was the place where humans lived. As for the inhabitants of other realms, some were benevolent towards humans (such as the gods of Asgard), while others were hostile towards them (such as the frost giants of Jotunheim). All nine realms of Norse mythology were connected by the branches of the world tree named Yggdrasil.
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Norse mythology is not the only belief system speaking of other realms. Other cultures and religions also speak of gods visiting Earth from other worlds.
Yggdrasil with one interpretation of world placement. ( CC BY SA )
Reptilians and Banshees
What if a type of humanoid beings evolved from reptiles (or dinosaurs) on other planets where a planetary cataclysm did not wipe out the dinosaurs? This is the principle which the image of Reptile is built upon. On Reptile’s home world, reptiles prospered, and they evolved into intelligent humanoid beings who built an entire civilization.
Although they were strong warriors, this realm of reptiles was ultimately conquered by Outworld. Still, the theory of humanoid beings evolving from reptiles remains an interesting one. This theory is also illustrated in the Super Mario Bros franchise.
In Mortal Kombat, Queen Sindel is an Edenian, but her distinctive scream is a characteristic typical to a Banshee. A Banshee is a mythological being from Ireland. This being was said to scream very loud when a family member of one of the clans of Ireland died. Banshees are described as being women with long hair and red eyes. Queen Sindel remains known for her distinctive scream as well as for her long hair - which she can manipulate at will to fight her opponents.
Sorcery and Soul Claiming
Usually, sorcery is another term for magic. However, in Latin, sorcery is related to the term “maleficium” which refers to harmful magic, meaning “wrongdoing” or “mischief”. In Mortal Kombat, sorcery is highly associated with black magic. The master sorcerer of Outworld is the infamous Shang Tsung. He is known for claiming the souls of his defeated adversaries through his fatality (finishing move). Shang Tsung used to be human, but he learned the dark arts from the emperor Shao Kahn. As Shang Tsung has taken many souls throughout the centuries, Raiden explains that facing Shang Tsung is “facing not one, but a legion of adversaries”. The idea of claiming souls is a very old one. Demons are said to claim souls by means of the infernal pact.
Shang Tsung, as he appears in "Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe". ( Fair Use )
Another issue here is the idea of taking someone’s Chi or vital energy. In Chinese mythology, the Jiang Shi are a type of vampires who feed on the vital force of humans by absorbing it in a way like how Shang Tsung absorbs the souls of those he defeats in battle.
Illustration of a Jiang Shi ( Alisha Costanzo )
It is said that visiting Hell changes people in such a way that the individual can never be the same again. In Mortal Kombat, this is true for those who visit the Netherworld ruled by the sorcerer Quan Chi. As a result of Quan Chi’s intervention, some of the warriors of Mortal Kombat have been turned into revenants.
Revenants are animated corpses believed to have been revived in order to haunt the living. The belief in revenants is still very much alive in rural present-day Romania. Romanians call revenants “strigoi”. A strigoi rises from its grave in order to haunt its living relatives or those who have wronged it.
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Raijin and Fuujin
In Mortal Kombat, Raiden is “the god of thunder and lightning” and Fujin controls the wind. Raiden is the protector of the Earth Realm and he is like a mentor to the combatants from Earth who must compete in the tournament against Outworld.
Mortal Kombat X – Raiden. (inforumatik/ CC BY NC SA 2.0 )
In Japanese mythology, Raiden (Raijin) is the god of thunder, lightning, and storms. His origins can be traced back to the beginnings of the Shinto religion. He is almost always associated with Fuujin, the god of wind. The two are often depicted together. Fujin (Futen) is one of the oldest Shinto deities and he is portrayed in mythology as a wizard-like demon.
Fūjin-raijin-zu by Tawaraya Sōtatsu, with Raijin shown on the left and Fūjin right. ( Public Domain )
These are only a few of the major examples of the vast mythology on which the Mortal Kombat franchise is inspired. In reality, the Mortal Kombat story is much more complex and needs to be examined in more detail.
Characters from Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. ( Fair Use )
Top Image: Mortal Kombat X – Quan Chi. Source: inforumatik/ CC BY NC SA 2.0
By Valda Roric
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