In my last article, I discussed the origins of the name Sephiroth, from it's roots in Kabbalah. But Sephiroth is not the only thing in Final Fantasy VII that is referenced from religion and mythology. In this article, I'd like to look at the summons, and their origins in various cultures and religions the world over.
As you know, the first summon we find is the Choco/Mog summon. This summon refers to Final Fantasy itself. Over the whole of the Final Fantasy series, two creatures make frequent appearances. These are the Chocobos, giant birds that we can ride and race (featured heavily in Final Fantasy VII) and the Moogles, small creatures that can do many things from save your game, to sell you things. This first summon is simply a reference to the Final Fantasies that came before FFVII.
The second summon we find is that of Shiva, a powerful Ice-based summon. The name Shiva finds its origins in Hindu mysticism. Shiva is the Hindu god of Transformation, often called "The Destroyer", although the figure has a strong creative element as well. The figure is often depicted carrying an axe, which is used to sever the ties between the material and spiritual worlds.
The third summon is Ifrit, (also spelled Efreet), and this summon has two possible origins. The first origin can be traced to Arabic, where Ifrit were considered to be the second most powerful type of Jinn. The Jinn were beings whose veins flowed with fire, rather than blood, and were considered demon-like creatures. The second origin is hazy, and has to do with vampire occult - in which the Efreet were fire wielding gargoyles.
The lightning-based summon Ramuh, like Shiva, has his origin based in Hindu mysticism. There is an Indian poem about a hero called the Ramayana, a brave individual who becomes king. When this individual becomes king it is revealed that he is the god Vishnu in his seventh incarnation, which embodies chivalry and virtue.
Our fifth summon is Titan, and he has his origin based in ancient Greek Mythology. The Titans were the giant divine beings that preceded the Olympian Gods, and the children of Uranus (the sky) and Gaia (the Earth).
Odin, and his horse, Sleipnir, have their origins in Norse Mythology. Odin is best known as the Norse god of War, although is also referred to as a god of Wisdom and also of Death. His horse, Sleipnir, is depicted as having eight legs, although it is difficult to see if these are shown in Final Fantasy VII, or if there are six (as commonly claimed).
The seventh summon, Kjata is a hard one to find the origins of. The most likely origin I have found is that of Arabic mythology, and is tied to Bahamut. Kjata, (or Kujara) is a bull, who travels atop a giant fish, supporting the Earth on his back.
Bahamut, our great dragon, has it's roots in Arabic mythology - but not as a dragon - as a fish! Bahamut, in Arabic mysticism, was a giant fish, floating in a never-ending sea. Bahamut indirectly supports the Earth, having Kjata on his back, who (as mentioned in Kjata's section) is supporting the Earth on his. It is also commonly considered that Bahamut is "The King of Dragons".
Our ninth summon is Alexander, which most likely references to the Greek "Alexander the Great". Alexander is often depicted in the Final Fantasy series as a giant robot, or a machine. Common theory is that this is because at the time of Alexander the Great, his army was the biggest war machine of the ancient time.
Number Ten is Neo Bahamut. See the reference for Bahamut; I do not feel there is more that I can add here. Same will apply to Bahamut-Zero, I'm afraid. There are no additional theories regarding the great dragon (or even the large fish).
Leviathan can trace his origin to the Bible, where it is depicted as a monstrous sea serpent, and was symbolic of evil in the Old Testament. "In that day Jehovah with his hard and great and strong sword will punish leviathan the swift serpent, and leviathan the crooked serpent; and he will slay the monster that is in the sea" It can also be traced to Ugarthic mythology, as a serpent called Lotan, which could change the world by eclipsing the sun or moon with it's body.
The myth of the Phoenix, our twelfth summon, can be traced to many ancient myths, but in the end it falls to Egyptian mythology. It was a splendid bird, with fire-red feathers (often depicted as actual fire) which was sacrificed to the sun god, Ra. In Arabic mythology, the Phoenix was not sacrificed, but builds it's nest before it dies, and sets it on fire, dying in the flames. From the ashes, a new Phoenix is born. This cycle of death and rebirth is shown in Final Fantasy with Phoenix's reviving abilities.
Hades is well known, and draws his origins from Greek mythology (he is also known as Pluto in Roman Mythology). Both the lord of the Underworld, and sometimes the name for the Underworld itself, Hades is synonymous with Death.
Typoon is a difficult one to find, and draws it's origins from the same places as Chupon from FF6. From Greek Mythology, Typoon was the terrible offspring of Gaia and Tartarus. The gods were apparently terrified of this creature, which had many heads, drooled lava, and had poison dripping from it's eyes. Typoon was eventually beaten by Zeus, who imprisoned the creature in a mountain.
And our final summon, and the most powerful, is the legendary Knights of the Round (often shortened to KotR). This summon draws it's name from Welsh Mythology, and the tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The Round Table was chosen as there was no "superior" position at the table, and in that way, all the knights that sat at it were considered equals.
And there we have it, the origins of the names of all the summons in Final Fantasy VII. As you can see, they come from a number of different cultures and religions, and some are more well known than others. I hope that you have enjoyed reading this article as much as I've enjoyed researching and writing it, and I hope that it answers at least some of your questions regarding Summons.
~ ChibiTaryn, April 2003