Marc and Steven (Oscar Isaac) are two parts of one body, much like ancient Egyptian gods.
[Disclaimer: This article is written by someone who does not have disassociative identity disorder (DID). Any descriptions of DID are cited from sources linked below. The article is written with rejecting ableism in mind; any wording or phrasing that might be perceived as ableist is unintentional by the author.]
Moon Knight is making all of us take a deeper look at people’s inner worlds with disassociative identity disorder, or DID. Steven, Marc, and another mystery personality (played by Oscar Isaac) all share the same body, and each personality has been fighting against their feelings of inadequacy. Even though they don’t want to have DID, the condition is a reality they have to face.
Marc and Steven’s journey to make sense of DID might be slightly reminiscent of other people’s journeys with the disorder. You might rebel, feel depressed, and feel like you can’t function in everyday society. But, like Marc and Steven, you actually have a relationship with ancient Egyptian gods, a relationship that can help you reassess how you view DID and your self-esteem.
A primer on dissociative identity disorder
First, let’s start with a definition of DID. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “[p]eople with DID have two or more separate identities. These personalities control their behavior at different times. Each identity has its own personal history, traits, likes, and dislikes. DID can lead to gaps in memory and hallucinations (believing something is real when it isn’t).”
When it does result in a person, it’s generally the result of trauma and used as a coping mechanism. Despite what pop culture will tell you, people with DID rarely commit a crime because of their disability. Indeed, people with DID–or any mental health condition–are more apt to be victimized by others than cause harm to other people.
The Cleveland Clinic writes that in a standard patient with DID, there will be a “core” identity–“the person’s usual personality”–and the alternate personalities are “alters.” There’s no limitation on how many alters a person can have; the website cites that some people have up to 100 alters. The alters can be highly different from each other, including taking on different genders, likes, and dislikes, ethnicities, etc.
DID symptoms don’t just include the more “glamorous” symptoms, like having alters, selective amnesia, memory loss, and depersonalization/derealisation. Other symptoms fall in line with many other mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts or actual self-harm, delusions, and possible substance abuse.
[As a statement of concern: if you have suicidal thoughts, please follow the Cleveland Clinic’s order: “You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255. This hotline connects you to a network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support. The centers support people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In an emergency, call 911.”]
If a person is diagnosed with DID, treatment includes working on addressing the trauma at the root of the disorder. Another aspect of treatment can be creating a safe space within the body to allow the different alters to work together, increasing the core personality’s sense of safety and a sense of unity. Therapy can also make a patient’s switching into different personalities less frequent, reinforcing the idea of a patient feeling safer to be the “core” personality more often.
You can hear more about this in a TODAY Show video featuring Jane Hart, the subject of the A+E docuseries The Many Sides of Jane, who talks about her experiences with DID.
Another great (and longer) video on the subject comes from MedCircle. Encina Severa goes on camera to talk about her disorder and exhibits one of her 11 alters, a small girl named Minnie.
Now let’s get into ancient Egyptian deities.
The multifaceted Egyptian gods
Egyptian gods have primary forms, but they also take on different forms of themselves. These are either incarnations or aspects of their core form. World History gives a great example of this in the ancient texts.
“Hathor, for example, was a goddess of music, dancing, and drunkenness but was also understood as an ancient Mother Goddess, also associated with the Milky Way as a divine reflection of the Nile River, and, in her earlier incarnation as Sekhmet, as a destroyer. The goddess Neith was originally a war goddess who became the epitome of the Mother Goddess, a nurturing figure, to whom the gods would turn to settle their disputes. Many gods and goddesses, such as Set or Serket, transformed through time to take on other roles and responsibilities.
These transformations were sometimes dramatic, as in the case of Set, who went from a hero protector-god to a villain and the world’s first murderer. Serket was almost certainly an early Mother Goddess, and her later role as protector against venomous creatures (especially scorpions) and guardian of women and children reflects those characteristics.”
A great video illustrating how Egyptian gods could take on different forms and incarnations is the Vintage Egyptologist’s video on The Litany of Re, in which scholars and archaeologists Drs. John and Colleen Darnell illustrate how the sun god (also known as Ra) has over 75 versions glorified in this text.
As Colleen says in the video, Re’s forms can be other gods, such as Shu, Atum, and Horus, goddesses like Tefnut, Isis, and Nephthys. Re can also be the form of The Great Cat or a “jubilating baboon.”
Even Khonshu (spelled “Khonsu” or “Khensu” in all of the Egyptology references I’m using for this article) has different aspects. First, Khonsu developed from the more ancient god A’ah, according to World History. A’ah became Iah (or Yah-is this related to the word “Yahweh”??), and then later Khonsu.
Ancient Egyptology Online gives even more insight into Konshu, writing that “he was part of a triad with Amun and Mut” (Khonsu is Amun and Mut’s child). Khonsu has a duality to him in that he can be a god who can influence fertility and healing. But he could also be a “blood-thirsty deity who helped the deceased king…catch and eat the other gods.” The Coffin Texts call Khonsu “Khonsu who lives on hearts.” However, in the New Kingdom, Egyptians worshiped Khonsu as Amun and Mut’s “gentle and compassionate son.”
Ancient Egyptology Online also writes how The Great Temple of Khonsu, commissioned by New Kingdom Ramses III (also spelled Ramesses III), features shrines dedicated to several different aspects of the god. Three of the temples the site mentions are “The Temple of Khensu,” “The Temple of Kensu in Thebes, Nefer-hetep” and “The Temple of Khensu, who works his plans in Thebes.” Also, similar to how Steven and Marc can converse within the same body, Khonsu’s different aspects can communicate. “For example,” writes the site, “the Bentresh Stela…describes how Khonsu approaches Khonsu pa-ir-sekher, a manifestation of himself in order to free a foreign princess from a hostile spirit.”
Even Khonsu’s appearance can change based on his surroundings. When associated with his father Amun, he takes the form of a young person with a sidelock (a youthful hairstyle) and “the curved beard of the gods.” He wears a crescent moon headdress and holds a crook and flail when depicted alongside Osiris. He is also shown as “a young mummiform man in the posture of a mummy,” making him look very similar to the god of creation Ptah.
Other appearances Khonsu could take include the form of a man with a falcon head with a lunar headdress, as a baboon, similar to fellow moon god Thoth, or standing on a crocodile’s back, like the god Horus. While he is mainly associated with the moon, he can also be associated with the sun when he’s “Khensu, the chronographer.” As such, he wears a solar disk headdress and holds a stylus.
The ancient Egyptian view of the soul
So why do the Egyptian gods take on so many forms? The Wikipedia entries on ancient Egyptian deities and philosophy cites several book and online sources that teach that the ancient Egyptians had a complex view of the human soul, seeing the soul as the sum of many parts.
Egyptologist Dr. Ann Rosalie David described the concept of the soul as a faceted spirit.
“The Egyptians believed that the human personality had many facets—a concept that was probably developed early in the Old Kingdom. In life, the person was a complete entity, but if he had led a virtuous life, he could also have access to a multiplicity of forms that could be used in the next world. In some instances, these forms could be employed to help those whom the deceased wished to support or, alternately, to take revenge on his enemies.”
The gods’ souls, therefore, were also comprised of many forms. For instance, the ba was “the component of the human or divine soul that affected the world around it,” or “personality” or “unique characteristic,” and its manifestation included any visible form of a god’s power. For instance, the ba of Ra (or Re) is the sun.
The ka, the “vital essence,” on the other hand, acts as a vessel to house the ba. So while the sun is the physical manifestation of Ra, depictions of Ra act as Ra’s ka, giving him a place to reside. A god could have many kas and bas, which are related to the different aspects of the god. As shown in the Litany of Re, one deity could be the ba of another, thereby making one god a manifestation of another. Gods could also be combined to create the form of yet a different god, such as Amun-Ra, Osiris-Neith, and others.
Since gods have ba and ka forms, so do people; a person’s ba is their personality, to keep it simple, and their ka resides in their body. Death occurs when the ka leaves the body, but ceremonies like the Opening of the Mouth would help a dead person’s ba also leave the body to reunite with their ka.
Why Steven and Marc’s mental health matters
We can make some inferences about how and why Steven and Marc are the perfect vessel for Khonshu, the version of the god in Moon Knight.
First, perhaps Khonshu looks for a person who would, according to Western thought, has “mental illness.” While we might perceive Steven’s condition as dysfunctional, Khonshu might see it as a sign of someone who recognizes the different facets of their soul, similar to the gods’ multifacetedness.
Currently, we’re led to believe that Khonshu chose Steven (or Marc) because they might be easier to manipulate since he is constantly at war with himself and his personalities. But Steven/Marc’s ability to recognize their different personalities might make him a better avatar for Khonshu than Harrow. Perhaps, Harrow’s unwillingness to let his mental state be what it was made it hard for him to serve Khonshu.
I’m not saying that Harrow also has DID, but he does have a mental health condition since he referenced his mental health journey in the hospital scene in Episode 4. Whatever Harrow doesn’t want to accept about himself could be the very thing that makes him unfit to serve Khonshu (apart from whatever abuse Khonshu inflicted upon him). Consequently, Harrow’s desire for ultimate control of himself might make him perfect for Ammit, who seems to prefer someone who thinks in black and white terms like her.
Steven and Marc’s DID isn’t the horrible thing they think it is. It’s actually what makes them unique. You could say that it’s their innate superpower. I think that’s the biggest takeaway from my comparison of DID to ancient Egyptian gods. The ancient Egyptians didn’t view a person as a static entity; people are ever-changing.
Even without a mental diagnosis as extreme as DID, people fluctuate from one emotional state to another. People-pleasers change parts of their personalities to fit their surroundings. A minority will try to assimilate into the majority culture of their place of residence while maintaining their original identity. Having different aspects of yourself doesn’t always mean you’re afflicted with something; it means you’re human. It also means you maintain a piece of the multifaceted infinity we all belong to–you are a microcosm of the universe.
I don’t have DID, and this article stems from my research, as I’ve written above. But I hope that Moon Knight can act as a reassuring series for people who have DID. So much of our society treats people who don’t fit the “norm” as broken. But as Marc says in Episode 3, “I’m not broken. I need help, maybe.” We all need help, but needing help doesn’t mean you’re broken. And the systems our minds create to ease that feeling of helplessness is your way of coping, of surviving something that felt unsurvivable.
As someone who has been going to therapy for my mental health, I have been slowly learning that our minds do a lot to protect us. We sometimes go to therapy to “fix” things we actually need to make peace with. Those mental patterns helped us and saved us when we needed safety. Don’t believe you’re somehow “damaged goods” if you have DID. You’re actually very resilient, brave, and powerful. And, as you’ve gathered from this post, you have more in common with the gods than you might realize.