SPOILER WARNING: This story includes spoilers for Act V of Genshin Impact's Sumeru Archon Quest. If you haven’t completed the Archon Quests yet, read on at your own discretion.
Genshin Impact may have the look of a light-hearted JRPG, with hangout events, cute characters in chibi form for web events, etc, but make no mistake, HoYo wasn't going for a bedtime fairy tale with the storyline.
If you've not learnt that from being made to murder a certain horseless Cavalry Captain's extended family repeatedly for varying reasons, then perhaps you've not been paying attention.
As the Sumeru Archon Quest storyline comes to a close in Genshin Impact version 3.2, we are treated to a chilling battle of intellect between the Dendro Archon Lesser Lord Kusanali, known more as Nahida, and the cunning Fatui Harbinger Il Dottore, who has come for the Gnoses.
Nahida threatens to destroy the Electro Gnosis, surmising that the “Heavenly Principles”, which have grown silent in the 500 years since the Cataclysm of Khaenri’ah, will be roused to exact destruction over Teyvat once again.
Dottore, although seemingly unfazed, knows that he has lost their mind game and gives in to Nahida’s condition to destroy all of his other segments (save for the one actually facing Nahida) in return for the Electro Gnosis.
Judging from the various voice lines that play out as Dottore remotely killed off his other selves, there were eight segments in total.
This could be viewed as catastrophic for Dottore's plans, but unbothered by his loss, the second-ranked Fatui Harbinger throws a curveball at Nahida to gain her Dendro Gnosis, revealing something that his fellow Harbinger Scaramouche said in the Unreconciled Stars event from way back in version 1.1.
The stars and the sky of Teyvat are fake.
And although we’re clueless about what went down when Dottore indulged Nahida on this information further, we have come across a very interesting point in the world of Teyvat: the Heavenly Principles.
The Laws of The World
We all know that Teyvat is governed by the body of Celestia through the seven Archons, and that the floating island in the sky is where mortals could ascend into godhood.
But much of Celestia, and its involvement with the destruction of Khaenri’ah, is shrouded in complete mystery.
What we do know of the “Heavenly Principles” is that it is acted upon by the Unknown God we meet at the beginning of the game (you know, the one that looks like The Herrscher of the Void from Honkai Impact 3rd who takes our sibling away), who calls herself the “Sustainer of Heavenly Principles”.
But what exactly are the “Heavenly Principles”?
In the world of Genshin Impact, the Heavenly Principles are what composes the natural order of the universe.
In the original Chinese game language, the Heavenly Principles is also translated to “destiny” and “the divine”. Maybe we can also call it “Fate”.
We can think of Heavenly Principles in context with the universal laws that stabilises Teyvat.
It keeps everything in order, guiding everything to its predestined paths or destructions, as well as metes out punishments to those who strive beyond the natural order.
Khaenri’ah and its people were the victims of such punishment from the Heavenly Principles, as the nation had existed without any god, and was striving further towards complete power under the machinations of the Alchemist Rhinedottir, more known as Gold and the creator of the Homunculus (and Geo 5-star) Albedo, as well the dark dragon Durin, and lastly her Art of Khemia.
The Art of Khemia played into the taboo of Alchemy: the creation of life. Gold unleashed her man-made monsters unto Teyvat in pursuit of power.
Because of this, Celestia called forth the seven Archons to fight and destroy Khaenri’ah.
If you recall the "We Will Be Reunited" teaser video, it is shown that the Abyss Twin also witnessed the Heavenly Principles wreaking havoc in a destroyed Khaenri'ah.
The Heavenly Principles’ role in the Cataclysm isn’t only delegated to its destruction, but also the transformation of its citizens into the monstrous Hilichurls that roam around the map today.
With reasons unknown, it only punished Dainsleif, the then captain of the Royal Guard and Travelling Companion of the Abyss Twin, with the curse of immortality.
Beyond destroying nations, the Heavenly Principles also guide humans and gods alike to the phenomenon of "Erosion".
Erosion, much like its scientific meaning, is the gradual degradation of a person’s mental faculties overtime. At the end of this cycle, someone who has eroded will have completely lost all sense, memory, and being.
Zhongli is the most notable character to have explicitly stated that they are undergoing erosion. Another character who has completely eroded, although not playable, is the great earth dragon Azdhaha.
The Gnoses of the Archons, which allows them to tap into power directly from Celestia, is also seen as one of the "Laws" of the Heavenly Principles.
The Heavenly Principles have been hinted to exist even before the dawning of Celestia and the Archons.
They are also known as the "Divine Laws that have existed since the beginning".
In the Fatui records that Nahida mentions at the end of the Sumeru Archon Quest, they are also known as "The First Descender" — a being originally not from their world.
Before the current timeline, various civilisations that have come and gone also theoretically followed the path set upon it by the Heavenly Principles.
The fall of the ancient race that dwelled within Enkanomiya, the Moon Sisters and their betrayal to one another, the demise of the God of Time, and the great cataclysm that saw the destruction of the Seelie race could be attributed to the work of the Heavenly Principles.
Rooted in Reality
The concept of "Heavenly Principles" can be theorised to be inspired from the philosophies of Confucianism.
To keep it short and less complicated, neo-Confucian thinker Cheng Hao believed that the existence of a “tianli” (Heavenly Principle, a divine dictum) in all things enabled humanity to “purify itself” in a spirit of reverence.
Acting with the “tianli” in mind assures a “mutuality” between heaven and earth.
But Genshin Impact doesn’t only base its world and lore-building on Confucianism. Much of its technical jargon also comes from Gnosticism, which is a collection of religious beliefs and thought systems from early Jewish and Christian sects.
Fans who have connected the dots about Celestia and its Archons theorise that the island in the sky is a reference to the “Demiurge” and the Archons reference the “Archon” of Gnostic belief.
The Demiurge is an artisan-like figure that fashioned and maintains the Physical universe, but is entirely different from the "Supreme Being", as whatever the Demiurge is and what it creates comes from pre-existing things.
In specific systems in Gnostic beliefs, the Demiurge acts as either the cause or the solution to the problem of evil, and may be antagonistic against the will of the Supreme Being.
Meanwhile, the Archons work under the Demiurge as “builders” of the physical universe, and each rule over seven planets in the material realm.
In variations of Gnostic belief, the Archons could either be seen as semi-hostile, or demonic in nature.
In fact, the known names of the Archons in Genshin Impact are Barbatos, Morax, Baal, Beelzebul and Buer (and although not an Archon, Paimon as well), don’t come from Gnosticism at all.
Instead, the developers took these Archon names from various grimoires on Demonology, the study of demons.
The Gnosis on the other hand, which in Genshin Impact is known as the divine link between Celestia and an Archon, is lifted from the "Gnosis" that is mystical or esoteric knowledge based on direct participation with the divine — gnosis is the Greek word for "knowledge".
This may seem like one heck of an info dump about a religious system, but when you think about Celestia and its role in the story so far (which is to say not a lot in a visible factor), we can assume that the statement "the sky and the stars are fake" as hinted by Scaramouche and Dottore can make a whole lot of sense, especially in the context of the Tsaritsa and the Harbingers mobilising against Celestia.
As again, the Demiurge which Celestia is based on can be seen as the artisan of the physical universe. It stands to reason that Celestia will also have the full capability of constructing a fake sky.
But... why exactly?
We'll only find out as the game further progresses, but it seems like the silence of the Heavenly Principles and Celestia's rule are hand-in-hand in hiding a grander tale, only waiting to be discovered.
Genshin Impact is currently in version 3.2, which will run until 6 December.
Genshin Impact versions 3.0, 3.1, and 3.2 will have shortened run times of five weeks instead of the usual six weeks, likely to catch up to the game's original release schedule after the release of version 2.7 was delayed back in April.
Yan Ku is a full-time dog parent, part-time (gacha) gamer, and part-time writer.