How can The Darkhold and the Book of Vishanti help us to better understand the Holy Bible?
The newest MCU entry of Dr. Strange and MoM hit theaters a few weeks and - people got me sweating. We need to address that Wanda is a bad person. Like - she’s not one to emulate. I see so many people putting her on this weird momma pedestal and like… no. We need to talk about his. As someone who is now the parent of two precious and wonderful bebes, I need to be very clear that this is not a movie about protecting children. It’s a movie about being corrupted beyond belief.
How can we learn from the lesson of the Darkhold and Dr Strange? Will I manage to get through this without absolutely getting myself canceled for hating on a Marvel movie? Let’s talk about it.
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Matthew 4:1-10 (NRSV)
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ”
So first off, what is Doctor Strange 2? Well, it’s not the title first of all. The actual title of the movie is Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.
Y’know, like MoM
And it was released on Mother’s Day weekend.
Anyway, this movie is the latest in the 4th Phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the 28th total film in the franchise. Whoa.
Because of all of the story to tell here, it may be best to go ahead and put a spoiler warning for the entire MCU, because with 28 films, I’m bound to spoil something
The basic gist of the story follows a new hero we’ve never seen in the MCU America Chavez - who can open portals in the multiverse using her mysteriously patriotic-shaped powers.
Because of this power, she is being hunted down by creatures that we don’t get to know anything about at any point in the rest of the film.
Throughout the multiverse, Chavez has been drawn to the aid of Avenger Stephen Strange, the sometimes Sorcerer Supreme, although their relationship is spotty at best
Things come together when Chavez ends up in our pocket of the multiverse with our Dr Strange that we’ve been with in the MCU.
Through a series of events, Chavez and Strange discover that former Avenger, current former ex soccer mom twice removed, Scarlett Witch Wanda Maximoff is also on the hunt for Chavez’ superpower so that she can take her power
A thing which has never been addressed in any superpower plot thus far. Why is no helping Hulk? Or taking Cap’s strength and giving it to Falcon? NO. No hot takes. *eye twitch*
Anywho - Wanda is now wanting the multiverse hopping power in order to go find a universe where her two precious boys that never actually existed can be hers
This begins a wacky adventure filled with cameos and uncalled for scenes (yes I said it) involving superheroes being murdered gruesomely in a PG-13 film
At the end of it all, the story being told in Dr Strange isn’t about Dr Strange or Wanda or America Chavez, it’s all about one other thing in the story
So what is that? The Darkhold is a grimoire of ooga booga booga scary spells written down in history by a demon. If you watched Wandavision, then you know this was the book used by Agatha Harkness - omg why didn’t SHE take Wanda’s powers in her sleep if power sapping is just an option here? NO HOT TAKES.
Whatever - Agatha had the book all along and Wanda ends up being allowed to take it for herself after committing genocide on a small town and reversing it.
Anyway, the book is bad and is often used in other multiverse by a darker version of Dr Strange, who ultimately ends up using it for evil, because of the whole necronomicon thing, ya get it
The Book of Vishanti is the antithesis of the Darkhold and is the maguffin of the film that Chavez and Strange are on the hunt for throughout.
So that makes me want to take the argument to ultimate good and ultimate evil, but that’s not really it. I think the Darkhold speaks to something entirely else in our human nature.
Bear with me here, but what if the Book of Vishanti and the Darkhold aren’t two separate books, but the same book? Before you get to the comment section - no, I don’t mean that this was a comic book line or actual canonical thing. They are separate things in the canon of Marvel comics. But just bear with me
In the film we have some lines traded back and forth about the spellbooks. The Darkhold is seemingly quite accessible. Agatha gets her hands on it, several Stranges get their hands on it, Mordo has his hands on it at one point.
But what of the Book of Vishanti? According to Strange, it’s a fairy tale and completely unreachable. Except it was reached at least once by the now-dead corpse Strange.
Why make the thing so tough to find? Why is it so difficult to reach the book of Vishanti? And why is it so easy to find the Darkhold?
Well, while we get to see a lot of what the Darkhold can do, the only thing we really get told about it is the haunting line that ‘the Darkhold exacts a heavy toll.’
Okay, so let’s look at this thing from a birds-eye view and take the physicality away from the thing.
The Darkhold is evil, offensive dark magic. It’s easy to access and it asks a lot of its users. It’s tricky, like a genie offering traps and bait. It’s magic, through and through, but it consumes it’s users in the end and eats them alive from the inside out.
Now the Book of Vishanti is good, white magic, meant for defense and protection, and healing. It’s impossible to find, only being captured by those willing to give up everything. It can only be found with a journey, wisdom, friendship, companionship, working together, and loyalty. And, even when it’s found, it’s fragile and delicate and susceptible to the harsh cruelty of the Dakrhold.
With that spectrum in mind, and considering that these are two sides of the same coin known as magic spellbooking, let’s turn to our scripture for today.
In this passage, we find Jesus at one of his lowest moments. RIght before he plans to kickstart his ministry, he enters into the wilderness as a means of centering and contemplation to begin his journey.
For forty days and nights he goes without anything to eat or drink, fasting to be in that moment fully present.
And then, at the end of the road, just before the thing is done and when he couldn’t be more deprived, the enemy approaches and begins to tempt Jesus with the things that Jesus would want most
First the enemy says that, if Jesus is the Son of God, he should turn the stones in the desert into bread so he can have some nourishment.
Jesus quickly comes back with the retort that man doesn’t live by bread alone, but by the words from the mouth of God.
Undeterred, the enemy says that Jesus should prove that he is the Son of God by throwing himself off the cliff, because angels would surely catch him before his demise as he plummets.
Jesus again refuses and says it is wrong to test the Lord God
Finally, the enemy offers Jesus a taste of the enemy’s estate as he looks over a kingdom like Mufasa and offers to give it all to Jesus, if he would only bow down and worship the enemy
This is the last straw as Jesus finally calls him out by name and name and says to get away from me, Satan, for it is written to worship only God
So what’s going on here? Is this just some epic Biblical battle between the pureness of Christ and the antithesis in the form of the enemy? Well, yeah - but it contains another important thing we have to note.
Jesus grew up a Jewish man in a Jewish community following Jewish laws. He read the law and the prophets, he knew the famous scriptures and stories of Moses and those in the lineage. He understood the Pharisees - even if he would come to disagree with them. He was on the same intellectual level as those deeply immersed in the scriptures of the time.
So, when was the last time you got into an argument with a Christian about some kind of moral truth? Odds are, at some point, one or both of you in the argument likely came back to quoting the Bible at some point. Honestly, even if you’re not Christian, so much of the wisdom of Jesus is colloquial at this point. You may have used scripture anyway.
We use those scriptures because we have a written code that we try to live by - we have teachings, we have rules and codes on conduct. While the Bible as we know it didn’t exist, Jesus had these same sets of laws and codes to argue with.
So when the enemy comes up and starts tempting Jesus with using his Messianic superpowers to satisfy his hunger, Jesus does what any good Jewish reader would do - quotes the scriptures of the time. He drops a selection from Deut and calls it a day.
And that’s good - end of story. Scriptures always have the right answer, right?
Well, guess not… because then the enemy uses the scriptures too and applies a selection from the Psalmist, egging Jesus into proving his authority as the Son of God.
So here we have our binary - Jesus used scripture, the enemy used scripture. Neck and neck.
This is where we end things in Dr Strange, the good and the evil are balanced and levelled out. We have the Darkhold and Vishanti, Scarlet Witch destroys Vishanti, Wanda destroys the Darkhold. Balanced - as all things should be (Thanos quote)
But Jesus doesn’t end the story there. In retort to the enemy, Jesus drops another fire scripture and says God won’t be tested.
The enemy then backs off of the scripture and tries to offer Jesus power, but Jesus still doubles - no triples - down and quotes another selection of scripture to disavow the enemy and scare them off for good this time.
See - Jesus wasn’t interested in levelling the playing field, he was going to knock it out the park. It’s the difference between a deep understanding of scripture and shallow application of one twistable scripture.
What’s important for us to consider is that the scripture was used for both bad and good. Both sides of the same coin found in the same book that we consider holy.
This is a portion of the reason that, in the UMC, we consider scripture to be infallible, but not inerrant. It is God-breathed, but it is still very capable of being twisted and morphed by human hands for ill will.
But what does this actually mean for us today?
Whether you think there is any weight to Vishanti and the Darkhold being the same book, I hope that this has at least opened you up to the possibility that good and evil are capable of coming from the same source. The key for us as concerned and willing and curious Christians should be our diligent study of the scriptures and our being more aware than ever to those attempting to twist scripture against the truth within it.
It takes a lot of work, but the start is just immersing yourself in the Bible, in particular the sermons and teachings of Jesus, because Jesus is the through-line that speaks to the rest of scripture.
Also, understand that the ultimate goal of Jesus is not a level playing field, death has been defeated already, sin has already lost it’s sting, the battle has already been won. Our call now is simply to share the love offered in Christ. We don’t need to fight Jesus’ battles, we just need to love the children of God into a relationship with Jesus.
If you must use the war analogy from the Bible, let the Bible serve as the armor of God and less as the knife of Peter. There may come a time for the sword of truth, but I’m always wont to default to the embrace of a well armored friend.
So whether you are a soccer mom, Dr Strange, Dr, Strange, Dr Strange, or Dr Strange, I hope that you know that you are always, always, always welcome at Checkpoint Church, no matter what multiverse.
But if you are a literal corpse, bring some Febreze or something. Thanks in advance.
God loves you.
We love you.