Religion in HBO's Carnivàle

Avatara - Light & Dark

 “Before the beginning, after the great war between Heaven and Hell, God created the Earth and gave dominion over it to the crafty ape he called man. And to each generation was born a creature of light and a creature of darkness. And great armies clashed by night in the ancient war between good and evil. There was magic then, nobility, and unimaginable cruelty. And so it was until the day that a false sun exploded over Trinity, and man forever traded away wonder for reason.” Samson “Milfay”


The reference to a creature of light and a creature of darkness in the opening to the first episode of Carnivàle is a direct reference to Avatars. Avatars (or Avatara) originate in Hindu mythology and are defined as “a descent, a manifestation of the divine in human form” (Parrinder 14). In other words, a reincarnation of a higher being into a human on Earth. They usually symbolize good and evil. While the term Avatar is never used directly in Carnivàle, Creatures of Light and Darkness is used instead.


Avatars work on a system of bloodlines. All Avatars are descendant from the original Avatar, a female simply known as the Alpha. To her, the original Creature of Light and Creature Darkness were born, and so it continued into every generation thereafter. The Avatar bloodlines can be compared to the lines of a royal family as follows:























An important note is that Avatars can only be male (with the exception of the original). Once an Avatar is born, all subsequent offspring in that generation from that mother are called Vectori. Since Avatars are only male, bloodlines can be cut in situations in which all offspring are female.


However, there are a couple of exceptions to the above rules, particularly in relation to the Omega and the Usher. Omega is another exception to the rule of Avatars being male. Alpha and Omega connects us to “the Beginning and the End” which leads us to belief that while the Alpha was the first, the Omega will be the last. These are the only female Avatars. The second exception is the Usher. With the Usher comes death and the Apocalypse. The exception is that the Usher can only exist once.



It quickly becomes quite obvious that Ben Hawkins is the Creature of Light while Brother Justin Crowe is the opposite Creature of Darkness. The Usher also manifests in the series and is seen frequently as The Tattooed Man in Ben and Brother Justin’s connected dreams. For the majority of the show’s run he was seen only from the neck down and with a large tattoo of the Tree of Life on his chest. The Tree of Life is from the Book of Genesis and is the tree in the Garden of Eden that bears the fruit of immortality. (Guenon 226).

It is later discovered that Brother Justin himself is in fact the Usher and the Tattooed Man symbolizes this. The Tattooed Man is always seen in a negative context. Examples of his appearance would be the chasing of character Henry Scudder (which is the dream that both Ben and Brother Justin share) and in the dream of Carnivàles’ resident tarot card reader Sophie that involves the rape of her mother.

In the second season, the Omega is also discovered. The Omega turns out to be the same girl who has also been dreaming of The Tattooed Man, Sophie. This explains Sophie’s dreams of her mother being raped in that it was Brother Justin who was her father and an Avatar himself.


As an Avataric Creature of Light, Ben Hawkins as the gift of healing. He has the power to heal as well as resurrect the dead but with a cost. In order for him to raise the dead, he himself as to take a life. As an Avataric Creature of Darkness, Brother Justin Crowe as the ability to manipulate the will of others.


Both Ben and Brother Justin are connect by their own dreams and visions. Throughout the shows run both feel a need to find one another to find out about their own mysterious powers. It is not until the end of season two that they finally encounter one another. This meeting results in the death of Brother Justin and the unconscious state of Ben. It is this scene in particular that Sophie’s abilities as the Omega are seen. Soon after Brother Justin’s death Sophie appears and places her hands upon his chest and all the corn in the cornfield around them proceeds to die. This seems very much like the description of Ben’s powers of the taking of life to give life.


The presence of a Creature of Light and a Creature of Darkness in Carnivàle is an obvious sign of a good versus evil theme in the show.

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