On the Nature of Prophets

Back when I was reviewing Deep Space Nine, I alluded to my theory about the Bajoran Prophets, but didn't go into detail, which of course led to my promising I would at a later date. Late enough for ya?It's a theory that attempts to explain how they see the universe, especially their apparent linearity despite their claims of non-linearity, as well as their relationship to both the Bajorans and the Sisko. In a nutshell, it is this: The Prophets perceive time as simultaneous the same way we perceive space. With one look, they see all of time much as you can look at the entire room you're in. This is a useful metaphor to understand just what is going on inside that Wormhole. I'll use it often.

So let's take as a given that for them time is the same as space. What happens when something linear comes into contact with them? Imagine someone adding a television to your room. It is now different both spatially and in function. Now imagine putting a tv in my room at any point in time makes it so you've RETROACTIVELY ALWAYS had a tv in your room. That is the nature of the Prophets' existence. So for example, they existed without knowledge of linearity until Sisko showed up, and then they were ALWAYS aware of linearity. Why did they then have that conversation about linearity with Sisko? Because that was "how they installed the tv". If they hadn't gone through the motions, they would not know about linear existence (and then would ask, cue paradox).

Here's a question: When did they send the Orbs to Bajor that gave them their colorful monicker? Answer: It's a "when" for us, but it's a "where" for them. Think of the world of the Prophets (the Wormhole and areas of space they can survey from it) as a continually updating reality. They meet Sisko (they now have always met Sisko), they send a vision to Bajoran clerics about that event in what we call the past (which for them is a perpetual present). If we could be made aware of the timeline as a single room, we would see that they put the Orb on a certain shelf. As linear beings, we call that shelf the past though the information comes from another corner of the room which we call the present or future. Just as they've always met Sisko, they've always sent an Orb that told of Sisko. So any event inside the Wormhole immediately changes History.

This is a crucial point: When we watch DS9, we're watching the ultimate updated reality. When Sisko reaches the Wormhole, he's already living in a timeline that contains the Orbs, the Bajoran religion and indeed, his own "mother" (more on this later). One could imagine a timeline without all those things, but that history was changed by each successive incursion into the Wormhole by us linear beings.

The Pah-Wraiths
When the Prophets manipulate history, it is for a reason - to prevent the Pah-Wraiths from gaining the upper hand, for a Pah-Wraith victory means a retroactively evil universe. When did the Pah-Wraiths arise? Probably at the same moment the Prophets got interested in linear beings. Some wanted to guide the Bajorans, others wanted to dominate them. As soon as war erupts in the Wormhole, it is an eternal war (there has always been war and will always be war). We cannot imagine such a thing (a state of perpetual and simultaneous war), but in any case, it would seem the exile of the losing side into linear space reboots the Wormhole, meaning there is eternal peace in the "Temple". As beings confined to linearity, the Pah-Wraiths have the same limitations and powers as humanoids, and freeing them could once again cause problems for the Prophets (eternal war, or a retconned evil universe in which Bajorans are "satanists" and Sisko is not the Emissary). Many of the measures undertaken by the Prophets below are to prevent just such a Pah-Wratih victory, including creating a linear champion to fight the now linear Pah-Wraiths.

The Prophets' Greatest Hits
The Prophets have no interest in linear beings, including Bajorans. They meet Sisko and become interested, sending out probes (Orbs) to explore the space outside their Wormhole. Of course, the Orbs don't all go to the same place/time, so most reach Bajor's past. They nature means Bajorans can use them to peer through time (it's a two-way probe), and thus Bajoran mysticism is created. Since we're always watching the updated timeline, Sisko learns of Bajoran religion BEFORE entering the Wormhole. Don't worry, Bajoran religion plays no real role in getting Sisko to the Wormhole - the Cardassians still occupy Bajor, Starfleet is still called in, the Wormhole still discovered.

Crossover: Only important because it links the Bajoran Wormhole with parallel timelines (see also The Visitor).

A good example of the Prophets putting something on the wrong shelf. Though Akorem Laan enters the Wormhole first from our point of view, he is still not the Emissary. From the Prophets own words, he seems to have been plucked from his place in time FOR Sisko, the strengthen his belief that he is the Emissary. As the first linear being they meet, and the man thus responsible for their status as gods etc., they choose him as their champion. One of the criteria to be this champion is that he must believe he is an instrument of the Prophets, and so this test. The return of Akorem Laan to his time creates the only Prophet retcon the viewers (and characters) are privy to. Suddenly his unfinished works are finished (and always have been). That Kira is allowed to realize this change in the timeline could be divine providence or one of many temporal anomalies that must crop up around the Prophets (DS9 effectively has an excuse for doing time travel/paradox episodes).

Rapture: After Sisko discovers the lost city of B'hala, the Prophets grant him the ability to see "the big picture". I won't say "the future", because Sisko refers to it as more than that. Is he in fact in contact with himself post-What We Leave Behind (by which I mean with his consciousness)? The visions prevent him from completing his Starfleet mission, which would have meant he'd have probably been assigned elsewhere and not been present when needed to fight the Pah-Wraiths, as well as been the unfortunate cause of Bajor's destruction at Dominion hands. Once again, the Prophets meddle in the destiny of both Bajor and Sisko.

Sacrifice of Angels
The Prophets destroy the Dominion fleet (put it on a far shelf? in the back of the closet?). Their only goal is to prevent Sisko from dying, which would put the Pah-Wraiths back in play. Again, while this is simultaneous with everything else experienced by the Prophets, linear beings living outside the Wormhole can throw a spanner in the works and cause history to be changed. Sisko has free will. The Prophets do not so much lay down a path for their Emissary as see it stretching before and behind him. They see him dying without their intervention, and decide to change history for themselves by removing the Dominion threat.

Far Beyond the Stars: The most extended Orb experience ever. This is another test for the Emissary in which the lesson is that Sisko is both the dreamer and the dream. In the context of his role as Emissary, I believe this presages his eventual evolution as a Prophet himself and that he is, in effect, also part of what is affecting his destiny. If at the end, Sisko is a Prophet, then he has always been a Prophet, so is one of those guiding his destiny even at this juncture. He is the manipulated and the manipulator. This experience is transcendent for Sisko, allowing him to open his mind to such possibilities.

The Reckoning: A Pah-Wraith and its Prophet warden exiled along with it fight a pitched battle using Jake and Kira as hosts. If the Prophets win the battle, Bajor will know a Golden Age - a retconned timeline in which there has NEVER been evil? The battle takes place in linearity so as to keep the war out of the Wormhole. It is unknown how this single victory would have affected Prophet and Bajoran history, unless the Wraith was the "Satan" who seduced all the other "devils". Taking it out of history might well have prevented the creation of other Wraiths, but I'm speculating more than usual here.

Tears of the Prophets
Dukat, Emissary of the Pah-Wraiths releases a Wraith into an Orb (definitely a two-way thing), which restarts the eternal war and closes off the Wormhole. We're not suddenly in a timeline where the Prophets are in a state of constant war, so perhaps closing the Wormhole is a defense mechanism to prevent its influence from changing history on the outside, preserving what they have already wrought (Bajoran religion, the Emissary, etc.). If the Pah-Wraiths win, no doubt they will reopen the Wormhole and let the universe be transformed.

Image in the Sand/Shadows and Symbols
This is a biggie. In these episodes, Sisko learns that the Prophets arranged his birth. There are two good reasons they might have wanted to do this. First, I have to say that I'm quite sure Sisko would have been born either way, and in fact, was. There is a Ben Sisko who encountered the Prophets way back in that original Orbless timeline. In THIS timeline, Sisko is an important instrument in the war against the Pah-Wraiths (a war that never happened in the Orbless universe) and his existence must be insured. One reason might be to prevent the Pah-Wraiths from interfering with his birth. Since there have been at least two "Wars in Heaven", the Wraiths most definitely have shared the Prophets' timeless existence, and though anything they might have done before the original war was doubtless erased from history, the second war certainly gave them access to the Prophets' favorite shelves. By having a Prophet present at the birth, the Pah-Wraiths would have to win that war in order to undo Sisko's birth (which wouldn't matter anymore anyway). The second and more likely reason is to make Sisko part-Prophet, another of those necessary criteria to be their perfect champion (and indeed, accede to Prophethood). Since we usually see only the ultimate result of the Prophets' manipulations, Sisko has always had a Prophet mom, and has always been half-Prophet. Looking back at the series, this has allowed him to be a natural receptor of the Prophets' visions and wishes, as well as more magical abilities like those seen in Rapture. And if that makes Jake a quarter Prophet, it might have allowed him to survive the ordeal of The Reckoning (justifying Sisko's faith).

These episodes also feature a sequel to the Far Beyond the Stars vision, though this time a seduction sent by the Pah-Wraiths (further proof their place in the Wormhole gives them more Prophe-like powers). Sisko also notably finds an Orb by digging where his baseball coincidentally fell. Of course, there's no coincidence when the ball falling and the Orb being buried have a reversed causal relationship (the Prophets buried it there because the ball falls there - simultaneous experience).

Penumbra/'Til Death Do Us Part: The Prophets warn Sisko that if he married Kasidy Yates, he will know nothing but sorrow. They know he is destined to leave her, enter the Wormhole and become a Prophet. Furthermore, if he has always been in the Wormhole, they know his sorrow quite intimately. They're trying to change history so that one of their own is not perpetually struggling with that sorrow.

What You Leave Behind
Sisko ensures the permanent imprisonment of the Pah-Wraiths and is taken into the Wormhole to become a Prophet. In other words, to have always been a Prophet (they already made sure he had the proper genetic heritage). This completes the circle and Sisko has "dreamt himself". Since the Prophets experience things simultaneously, we could reason that once they met Sisko (and outside factor not part of their simultaneous existence), everything else fell into place. They went round to work creating Bajoran religion, fighting a war with the exiles who would become the Pah-Wraiths, building up their champion and welcoming him into their bosom all simultaneously. Any action undertaken by the Prophets can only be understood as a state of being and something a part of them are doing at all times since all times are now. If there is an element of linearity (or at least causality) in this, they learned it from Sisko in that initial meeting. Meeting Sisko CAUSED them to start thinking on linear terms, the only way to effectively deal with the outside world they were interested in exploring/guiding.

We Are of Bajor
One last thing: One of the Prophets' most pregnant statements is "We are of Bajor". Another is telling Sisko that HE "is of Bajor". What does that MEAN? By the end of the series, we know Sisko and the Prophets have something in common. They are all Prophets, residing in the Wormhole and guiding the Bajorans. Being "of Bajor" could simply mean that. Another, more interesting, theory is that the Prophets could be the ultimate evolution of the Bajorans. Far future Bajorans who have transcended their linear existence (see numerous TNG episodes for the possibility of humanoids evolving into energy/god-like forms) and built the Wormhole (we're often told it is artificial) as a place to experience this new existence. Part of that experience is the ability to manipulate the timeline and updating one's own self by guiding one's past. The Bajorans dream themselves. Their own future reaches back and founds a religion that perhaps updates their present (future/eternal) selves to ever-heightened nirvana. Did one of those retcons cause them to forget they ever were humanoid Bajorans?

I've read a couple books from the DS9 Relaunch, but not enough to know how they affect this theory (thanks for not spoiling). In any case, as far as canon goes, this is my best guess as to what is up with the Wormhole aliens.

P.S. Sorry 'bout the word count.


De said...

Wow. This is a terrific article (I gave you a Twitter shout out). I'm curious about a couple of things:

1. Where did the Prophets come from? They had to originate somehow. Have they been part of the universe since the beginning?

2. Have you read the Millennium novels? If so, what is your take on the events therein?

Siskoid said...

1) See the We Are of Bajor section.

2) I have (some while ago), but I didn't research them again for this article, sticking to the television canon only.

Matthew Turnage said...

Thanks for a great article. Your theories about the Prophets' effect on history (what happened always happened) mirrors my own, but your room analogy is much better than anything I could have come up with. I'll likely be stealing it in the future.

I never really thought of Sisko's ultimate role as Prophet (and thus he was always a Prophet) tying in with the "dreamer and the dream" idea from "Far Beyond the Stars." That puts that episode in a new perspective for me. I look forward to rewatching it with that in mind on my next pass through DS9.

ticknart said...

That time=a room analogy is wonderful. I've always had trouble in discussions explaining why so much happened in the past if the first time Sisko met the Prophets was in the present. I'm going to use your shelves from now on, thanks.

As to your relaunch sort of question, without spoiling anything, Fearful Symmetry has a little part with Sisko musing over the discovery of the wormhole and the nature of multiple realities, in a really clever way, but nothing that contradicts the show, if memory serves.

It seems to me that the relaunch people are more interested in the nature or the Mirror Universe, for now, than the Prophets

(Personally, I wish they'd get back to the somewhat symbiotic relationship between Cardassia and Bajor. But I've never been a huge fan of the Mirror Universe.)

Anonymous said...

Very nice!! I do love it when you talk about DS9. (Your episode reviews were my introduction to your site; I have no idea how I found them, but once I did I went and re-read every last one of them.)

Was there in fact an original Orbless timeline? Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey -- it may well be that a self-sustaining time loop is its own justification and its own excuse. One possible stable configuration involves a Benjamin Lafayette Sisko being born on a distant world and the triumph of the Prophets; another possible stable configuration might involve the Pah Wraiths coming out on top, or the Prophets and Wraiths not interacting with linear folks at all. One stable timeline or another must emerge, simply because unstable ones fall apart.

Docteur Mi said...

I still don't get the Sisko has 2 moms thing.

Since you're saying there was a Sisko (full human) for the 1st encounter with the Prophets, in a first timeline, then another (half human-half prophet)in a second timeline... BOGUS!

Why not see it as a God/Jesus analogy.

The Prophets need a linear time champion. The take one of their own, who will be born as a human, raised as a human, then after his work is done, is rejoined in the wormhole. But unlike Jesus who knew he was the son of God, Sisko doesn't know it initially. He is too limited by his human form, and is too far away to receive influence from the Prophets. When he arrives on DS9, he is in closer contact with the Wormhole and has his first contact with his Prophet brethen. You can go on from there.

Anonymous said...

There's another possibility too that we are prone to overlook: none of this actually makes sense. Heresy, I know; but a person can drive himself mad wondering how Hannibal Lechter got ahold of that pen, when the reality is, not even the writer has an answer for that.

I certainly don't mean to come off like I'm "above" this sort of discussion -- you do not want to know how long I've contemplated out how a Bajoran space program could even work with just light ships -- but "there is no explanation" is sometimes the correct answer, when all else fails.

Siskoid said...

Doctor Mi: Your theory omits the Prophets' discovery of linear existence and so doesn't work. God/Jesus analogy (DS9 version): God sees Jesus is doing good works and spreading the word. God goes back in time and makes Jesus part-divine. Now Jesus can save the human race by being resurrected, which a pure human could not have done.

Anon: If there's no explanation, there's no article to write. Ergo, there is an explanation.

Anonymous said...

Whoa. Inside the wormhole there is no linear time, right? Then what about all the times a runabout is in the wormhole and linear-time beings are doing linear-time things like holding a conversation or watching their warp bubble slowly collapse? Are they bringing a pocket of linear time with them, which is so completely hostile to the Prophets' timeless existence as to pose some sort of potential threat? If someone here on earth were to be carrying a container of Different Physical Laws, I would not want it within 100 miles of me.

Perhaps this speaks to the threat that the Prophets insisted Sisko posed in "Emissary", though not to any of the other timey-wimey issues.

De said...

When I asked about the origins, I wasn't, as Doc Brown put it, "thinking fourth-dimensionally." It all clicks now.

Another question I have is this: If Sisko hadn't been introduced to the Prophets yet, then how did that monk on DS9 and Kai Opaka know he was the Emissary? Do you think it was just a strong hunch derived from prophecy or an Orb experience or something else?

Siskoid said...

What we see is the updated, revised and retconned timeline, not the original. So in this one we do see a Bajoran religion that includes an Emissary foreseen by the ancients through the Orbs.

In the original timeline, Sisko was never told about his emissaryship, and if the Bajorans had a religion (they probably did) it wasn't that one. It nevertheless didn't prevent him from entering the Wormhole and causing the revised timeline.

Austin Gorton said...

Fascinating, fascinating stuff. I absolutely love your room analogy. And the idea that Sisko became a Prophet, hence was always a Prophet=he's the dreamer and the dream adds a whole new dimension to my favorite DS9 episode I'm embarrassed I never considered myself.

As I begin to rewatch the series with my wife (her first time!) I have a feeling I'll be returning to this article more than a few times.

Siskoid said...

You know, it was a revelation to me too. When I started compiling this article, I went through every significant Prophet appearance, and it included FBTS. The connection not made when watching 7 whole seasons came up when looking at only the relevant few.

Nerys Ghemor said...

I was wondering...you point out the possibility of a stable timeline where the Pah-Wraiths came out as the winners. I can't help but noticing that in TNG's "Parallels," we see a universe where the Bajorans are aggressive and warlike, and have conquered Cardassia. The episode does not say what the Cardassians were like prior to the attack, but there is a Cardassian ensign on the bridge, which does suggest that there is something that at least some of them are seeing in Starfleet, and that Starfleet sees in them that is in congruence with their ethics.

I actually write fanfic for that particular AU, and in it I had the Pah-Wraiths come out on top except for a small minority "cult" that worships the Prophets. The Prophets are still trying to act, but not without a lot of help (and at least in my own work, it seems that the Cardassian deity Oralius, whatever she is--whether she is a discrete entity like the Prophets or an "Aslan" of sorts I haven't gotten into--has taken point in the battle against the Pah-Wraiths where perhaps the Prophets cannot). In a lot of ways, your theories seem like they could play into the setup of what happened in that particular AU.

Figuring out what to do with the Emissary is something I've been wondering about, for that AU, and according to your theories, would you say that a universe where Sisko is not born, or did not go into the wormhole, is the most likely reason? (Which could explain why Cardassia turned into the focal point, too, and it seems Oralius is leading the fight--there was no Emissary to do it.) Does that make sense at all?

Unknown said...

Somehwat like "the end of eternity" rules but on steroids.


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