The Church known primarily as The Magisterium, is the primary antagonistic faction and the most powerful organization in the novel trilogy by Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials, represented in-universe by The Magisterium. It is a clerical and theological organization present within Lyra Belacqua's world, the 12-year old protagonist of the series.
Overview and History
Drawing parallels to the real-life structure of Catholicism, The Church has existed since the death of Jesus, who in Lyra's world, was not conceived by God, but by Gabriel the angel. Under Pope John Calvin, the seat of The Church was relocated to Geneva, Switzerland. Upon his death, The Magisterium was erected after the papacy was abolished.
The Church enforces rule throughout Lyra’s world, concealing the existence of other universes and Dust, a conscious material believed to be responsible for free thought and Original Sin. The Church seeks eliminate Dust and control adults by restricting freedom through knowledge, believing Adam defied God when he abandoned his state of innocence at Eve’s behest in pursuit of knowledge.
Inspiring fear and envy throughout Lyra’s world, The Church's aim is to make the world a better place in their own extremist view. They are reflective of aspects of real-world religions that use fear and harmful means to keep people in line or force people to submit. In their pursuit to do so, they sacrifice hundreds of people to achieve their goals via murder, torture, and concealment.
The Magisterium is made up of various councils, including The College of Bishops, The Consistorial Court of Discipline, The Society of Work of the Holy Spirit, and was associated with The General Oblation Board.
Presence in His Dark Materials
In Northern Lights (1995), The General Oblation Board (GOB) is introduced to further The Church's agenda. It was reestablished under Marisa Coulter, revealed to be 12-year old Lyra Belacqua’s mother, to prevent the accumulation of Dust on children in an effort to retain them in a state of innocence and ignorance. The agents of the GOB, known to Lyra and other children as “gobblers,” kidnap children before they complete puberty and take them to a location in the far north to undergo a series of grisly experiments known as "intercision" designed to cut children away from their dæmons before it has permanently settled into a form (a dæmon is physical manifestation of a person’s “inner self” taking the form of an animal).
The Church becomes interested in Lyra during Northern Lights. Lyra is kept safe as she is raised by the scholars at Jordan College under her uncle Lord Asriel’s guidance, who Lyra learns is her father. Knowing Lyra is destined to play a large role in the final battle, the scholars at Jordan College attempt to keep her away from the situation until they reluctantly release her into Mrs. Coulter’s custody at Mrs. Coulter's insistence. They give Lyra the last alethiometer (a truth-telling device) before her departure, telling her to keep it hidden away from Mrs. Coulter and The Magisterium due to The Church's desire to destroy it. It is revealed Mrs. Coulter wants to take Lyra in order to save Lyra from The Church. Although Mrs. Coulter is a devoted agent of the Magisterium who avidly experiments on other children and tortures/kills to further the Church’s goals, she becomes alarmed upon hearing of the Magisterium’s interest in children. Despite her loyalty to the Church, Mrs. Coulter works to protect her child, Lyra, from the Church's experiments and machinations.
The Church, threatened by Lyra’s potential role in the events to come and intent on destroying the last alethiometer she has in her possession, become increasingly more intent on destroying Lyra due to a prophecy the witch queen, Serafina Pekkala, reveals that predicts the coming of a second Eve. This child is identified as Lyra:
|“||There is a curious prophecy about (Lyra): she is destined to bring about the end of destiny. But she must do so without knowing what she is doing, as if it were her nature and not her destiny to do it. If she’s told what she must do, it will all fail; death will sweep through all the worlds; it will be the triumph of despair, forever. The universes will all become nothing more than interlocking machines, blind and empty of thought, feeling, life…||„|
|~ Serafina Pekkala, Northern Lights|
Lord Asriel works against the Church in order to further his own interests and pursuits in the knowledge of Dust, seeking and gaining access to other universes when he sacrifices Lyra’s close friend, Roger Parslow, after she rescues him from the GOB.
The Subtle Knife
The Church continues to pursue Lyra in The Subtle Knife (1997), following her through to the reader's world where she meets Will Parry. Before the beginning of the novel, the Church sends two agents to Will's world, where they begin to harass his mother, Eileen, demanding to know the whereabouts of her presumably late husband. They suspect he found a doorway created by the Subtle Knife and want to possess the Knife in order to kill its bearer and prevent Lord Asriel from accomplishing his goals. The men continue to harass Eileen and, as a result, Eileen develops dementia and paranoia, but she tries to protect the young Will from them until he realizes the danger is real. Will tries to protect his mother from the unseen enemy. The Church officials appear at Will's house several times and have the power to scare him into submission, but upon seeing Will's anger, they back down. Nonetheless, the Chruch officials know Will won't go to the police because of his fear of his mother being taken away and so they come break into Eileen and Will's house while Will is at school.
Once, the men break in just after Will sends his mother to a neighbour's house for safety. He returns home and the men come inside during the early hours of the morning, alarming Will. He comes out to tackle them but his pet cat trips one of them and Will punches a man, who falls downstairs. The man breaks his neck and dies. The other man witnesses the murder, and is about to apprehend Will, but Will escapes. He eventually makes it to the world of Cittagazze when he escapes through an interdimensional window in Oxford where he meets Lyra.
Mrs. Coulter learns Lyra is second Eve when she tortures and kills Lena Feldt for this information. She seemingly appears to still loyal to the Church and supposedly intends to sacrifice her daughter to prevent its downfall. After Mrs. Coulter’s army of specters destroy the army of witches, Lyra’s friend, Will Parry, discovers Lyra missing.
The Amber Spyglass
In The Amber Spyglass (2000), it is revealed that Mrs. Coulter defected from The Church and took Lyra to hide her away in an effort to save Lyra by preventing The Church from finding and killing her. Under Father Hugh McPhail, The Church sends an assassin, Father Luis Gomez, after Lyra to shoot and kill her but fails when she escapes the attempt. McPhail interrogates a scholar at Jordon to discover the source of an explosive force that happens during intercision. Intending to use the force arising from separating Mrs. Coulter from her dæmon to create a DNA bomb to assassinate Lyra, McPhail fails to do so. He sacrifices himself and his dæmon in a final attempt to kill Lyra when he detonates the DNA bomb arising from his own intercision, failing again to kill her.
The Church enters their last war, engaging in a battle against Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter. They both die saving their daughter Lyra by defeating Regent Metatron when all three fall through the abyss between universes. The Church is defeated. Leaderless, confused and disgraced, it soon disbands after the Authority, God, is Himself dead.