How does Arthur Harrow’s scales tattoo work in ‘Moon Knight’?

ethan hawke moon knight
Image via Marvel Studios/Disney Plus

Warning; this article contains mild spoilers for Moon Knight episode one

Moon Knight episode one firmly set up Ethan Hawke’s Arthur Harrow as the antagonist he seemed to be in the first trailers for the series. Now that we’ve had our first long-ish look at the charismatic cult leader, fans want to know just what is going on with the man’s ink? Harrow’s seemingly interactive body art provided one of the more gruesome scenes in the show, so just how does that thing work?

Warning: Spoilers follow below

The audience is introduced to Harrow well before he meets Moon Knight or his alter ego, Steven Grant, in a creep-inducing scene that sees Harrow ritualistically fill his shoes with broken glass and then place them on his feet and walk on them. Steven’s first exposure to him is after he inexplicably wakes up near a European village and encounters Harrow among his followers. Two people come up to Harrow, requesting to be judged.

Harrow then performs a macabre ritual, invoking the name of Ammit, the crocodile-headed Egyptian deity called the “Devourer of Souls.” The ritual seems to approximate the ancient Egyptian Judgement of the Dead, performed in the afterlife by the jackal-headed Anubis, god of the dead. Anubis would weigh the deceased’s heart in a set of scales against a feather of Ma’at, goddess of truth and morality. If the heart was pure, it would weigh less than the feather, and the deceased would pass into the underworld of Duat and immortality.

If it weighed more than the feather, however, the heart was thrown to the demoness Ammit who would either devour it or through it into a lake of fire.

Harrow tells his first supplicant that he is “A brave man, wanting to serve our goddess even before she wakes.” Harrow then places his walking stick — which is topped by two crocodile heads facing away from each other — between the man’s hands. He grasps them as the cane sways like a pendulum while invoking Ammit, saying, ” I judge you in Ammit’s name with but a fraction of her power.” a tattoo of scales on his forearm, the beam of which is, like his cane topper, two crocodile heads, begins to actually move as if weighing something. Harrow then smiles at the man, proclaiming, “This is the face of a good man!”

The second person to ask for judgment is a different story. He repeats the ritual, but with a different result. When the woman who has been judged says she has been good her entire life, Harrow replies, ‘ I believe you, but the scales see everything. Perhaps it’s something that lies ahead.” Harrow then declares, “Ammit has decided.” The scale on his arm turns red, and the woman dies — destroyed, or devoured by, presumably, Ammit, the “Eater of Hearts.” As the woman’s body is carried away past Steven, he sees that she has aged years in the few moments before her death.

While it isn’t stated explicitly, it becomes apparent that Harrow uses his tattoo and cane as media to channel Ammit’s power. The ritual also seems to be a way to separate the true believer “elect” members of his cult from mere followers.

Near the end of the episode, Harrow confronts Steven directly at the museum where he works, performing the very same ritual on him. When Steven accuses Harrow of killing his follower, Harrow responds, “I only told her what millions more will soon learn,” indicating he intends to judge far more people than just his followers. Harrow then performs the ritual judgment on Steven, only to find his scale tattoo simply won’t stop moving.

Whether this is due to Steven’s multiple alter egos or that, as Moon Knight, he is both pure and unpure, remains to be seen, as does Harrow’s plan to judge the world.

Moon Knight Episode Two will air April 6 on Disney Plus.