We who are born of the planet, with her we speak. Her flesh we shape. Unto her promised land shall we one day return. By her loving grace and providence may we take our place in paradise.A poem about the Cetra
The Cetra, also known as the Ancients (古代種, Kodai-shu?), are a race of people from an ancient civilization frequently mentioned in Final Fantasy VII, although few Ancients are actually depicted in the game. The Cetra look identical to regular humans, but are deeply spiritual in nature. According to Sephiroth, regular humans are former Cetra who forsook their migratory nature to form permanent settlements millennia ago. The Cetra's special trait, which appears to be genetically passed on through their family line, is to interact with the lifestream and the planet in what some call "talking to the planet".
Knowledge of Cetra is poor among the general public in the original Final Fantasy VII, with Cid Highwind asking if it is "some kind of disease" when the party discusses it. In Final Fantasy VII Remake, the Cetra and their knowledge of the planet are better known by the wider population, as Barret states that the Ancients are mentioned in planetology books as being the original stewards of the planet, able to commune with it. Additionally, the Shinra Building has a holographic presentation accessible to the public that attempts to recreate what the Cetra civilization and culture may have looked like thousands of years prior to the events of the game.
One of the world's first civilization, this race of people were capable of hearing the voice of the planet. Few records of them remain, and most information has been lost. They are still of great interest to Shinra, however.Final Fantasy VII Remake loading screen
The migrations of the Cetra were a planet-reverent pursuit of the fabled promised land conducted by traveling and cultivating life. The Cetra could commune with the planet, an ability regular humans lost once they gave up their close relationship with the planet in favor of leisure and convenience.
The Cetra could guide the flow of the planet's spiritual energy, this being the means by which they cultivated life on the planet's surface. The Crisis Core Complete Guide states the Cetra are said to have opened up lifestream veins to make the land fertile; a demonstration of this power is shown at Aerith's house, as one of the few, of perhaps the only, place in Midgar where flowers and vegetation flourish in abundance.
The Cetra served as the planet's caretakers until their race was nearly reduced to extinction by an extraterrestrial shape-shifting entity. The alien arrived some 2,000 years before the events of Final Fantasy VII, crash-landing on the northern continent within a meteorite. The impact site became a massive crater that would come to be known as the North Crater, a wound to the planet that would not be healed for thousands of years.
The creature approached the Cetra and those who were taken victim were infected with a virus (hinted to be genetic material from the creature itself) that mutated them into monsters. A small band of unchanged Cetra mounted a final assault on the being they referred to as "the Calamity from the Sky", sealing its body at the alien's point of arrival, the North Crater. Two thousand years later the alien would be excavated by Shinra Electric Power Company scientist Professor Gast Faremis, and be mistakenly identified as a Cetra and would be named Jenova.
Ifalna was among the last known living Cetra, and her daughter Aerith is believed to have been the very last (though she is only half-Cetra, as her father was an ordinary human). Because Sephiroth kills Aerith at the Forgotten City while she is praying for Holy, the Cetra are believed to be extinct.
While the party can find the spiritual manifestations of some Cetra in the Temple of the Ancients, which take the form of creatures with bulbous purple bodies and long beards, Aerith explains they are simply "spirit bodies" left aeons ago to protect the temple, having lost their true forms. They don't have minds of their own and lost their ability to speak, but can still communicate with Aerith.
One possible reading is that the Cetra are an alien race that migrates from planet to planet, supported by a line Sephiroth says during Cloud's flashback in the English version of the game: "This Planet originally belonged to the Cetra. Cetra was a itinerant race. They would migrate in, settle the Planet, then move on..." However, this line may be subject to translation issues and an ambiguity in translation between "land" and "Planet".
Elsewhere, the game's script states through Aerith that the Cetra were born on the planet of Final Fantasy VII: "The Cetra were born from the Planet, speak with the Planet, and unlock the Planet". Hoshi o Meguru Otome presents the act of "returning to the promised land" that Aerith describes as an allusion to the return to the lifestream, it being the promised land of the Cetra.
Behind the scenes
In the early plans for the Final Fantasy VII story, Cetra were different from what they ended up in the final version. Final Fantasy VII Ultimania Omega reveals that in the early story drafts Cetra, or Ancients, were an extinct race, who were said to have written the Book of Jenova—a book detailing the unknown workings of the human brain—and the race who created Materia.
According to legends, Ancients could use magic without materia, and had an advanced magical civilization. It was believed that the race of regular people also existed at that time, and that there were wide-ranging exchanges between them, or that the non-magical people were made into slaves. Due to the belief that Ancients could use magic inherently, it was rumored that people who harbor supernatural abilities are their descendants.
The Cetra manifestation in the Temple of the Ancients resembles a typical Black Mage, albeit with a long white beard. The spirits protecting the Temple of the Ancients have forgotten how to speak, but in an earlier version the spirit in the room where the player can first buy items from it spoke with an accent sounded like from a rural Japanese area, saying "welcome" and "come again."
Cetra is an ancient stringed instrument, similar to a lyre.
The name may also derive from the Latin cetera, meaning "the others".
- Crisis Core Complete Guide Keyword Collection (Accessed: April 08, 2020) at The Lifestream
- Final Fantasy VII, Ifalna: That's when the one who injured the Planet... or the 'crisis from the sky', as we call him, came. He first approached as a friend, deceived them, and finally...... gave them the virus. The Cetra were attacked by the virus and went mad... transforming into monsters. Then, just as he had at the Knowlespole. He approached other Cetra clans...... infecting them with... the virus...
- Early Material Files Worldview & Terminology – p. 523-525 of the Final Fantasy VII Ultimania Omega (Accessed: April 08, 2020) at The Lifestream
- Final Fantasy VII: The Unused Text - Part 8 (Accessed: April 08, 2020) at The Lifestream