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"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."


Lost, child? Don't be afraid. You can navigate by using the side bar to the right, under the picture of that curious fellow. Read about what has been written, and what is being written, by looking over the Blog Archive or "Things Lurking in the Dark." Be sure to check out the novella, "Unquiet Slumbers," posted in its entirety, and coming soon, "But Smile No More." - ALM

Thursday, August 22, 2013

GOTHIC and GOTHICKA: A Look at Victoira Nelson's New Book



Gothic [ˈgɒθɪk]
adj
3. (Literary & Literary Critical Movements) (sometimes not capital) of or relating to a literary style characterized by gloom, the grotesque, and the supernatural, popular esp in the late 18th century: when used of modern literature, films, etc., sometimes spelt: Gothic



For the last twenty-five years of my life I have been playing with a dark jigsaw puzzle.  Perhaps you have seen the pieces strewn across the entries of this blog; religion, occultism, dreams, horror, imagination, the fantastic, the macabre.  I've never met Victoria Nelson, but having just finished her fascinating new Gothicka (Harvard University Press, 2012), it is clear that she has been playing with the same puzzle.  Gothicka shifts back and forth between literary criticism and spirituality, tracing the origin of "Gothick" (her spelling) as a post-Enlightenment genre of fiction and following its shadowy trail through Western society into the present.  She leaves no stone unturned as she tries to understand how the genre came to be, how it has grown into a thriving subculture, and where it might be leading us.     

Generally said to have all started with Horace Walpole's 1764 The Castle of Otranto, Gothic fiction is the precursor of the modern horror tale.  Like all genre fiction it is littered with certain tropes; the innocent young heroine, a dark and menacing stranger, grim family secrets, brooding and ancient architecture, and the power of the past to act upon the present.  But the black heart of the Gothic isn't these trappings.  It is about the intrusion of the supernatural into a rational and ordered world.  I think it is important to emphasize this because it is what separates Gothic from fantasy fiction.  In fantasy, the supernatural belongs.  It is part of the fabric of the setting.  In the Gothic, the supernatural is the iceberg and rational reality the Titanic.

Nelson clearly places the Gothic into historical context.  It appears during the Enlightenment, a period in which the earlier, medieval view of the world--a supernatural hierarchy ruled by God, administered by angels, and seeped in magic and miracles--has by and large been shattered.  To the medieval mind the world was supernatural and mysterious; to the minds of the Enlightenment it was something ordered and rational.  Reality could be studied and understood.  The Gothic emerges to preserve that earlier world view.  It seems to suggest that maybe we are wrong...maybe the world is irrational after all.  This is why we call it Gothic, a name that conjures up the Dark Ages.  In the Gothic story, scratch the surface of the modern world and the medieval is there looking back at us.

Which, of course, explains the disproportionate presence of Catholicism in the Gothic tale.  Roman Catholicism and medievalism are inextricably linked in the Western mind.  The Church dominated that era.  Thus whether it is The Amityville Horror, The Conjuring, The Rite, The Exorcist, The Last Exorcism, or even the classic vampire tale ('Salem's Lot, Fright Night), it is to Catholicism and the trappings of Catholicism that people automatically turn in the face of the supernatural.  When was the last horror film in which you saw a Baptist minister summoned to cleanse a haunted house?  A Lutheran pastor?  Deep inside, we understand that these newer protestant sects have no power over the intrusion of the Dark Ages back into our lives.  It has to be the Church that was there.

Gothic fiction thrived in the 19th and 20th centuries in the vacuum created when the supernatural was banished from daily life.  People now continued to experience the supernatural in the pages of fiction or on the silver screen.  But as we drew closer to the 21st century, something unexpected began to happen to the Gothic, and this is the core of Victoria Nelson's book.  Since the 1960s the monsters have been undergoing a transformation.  The Witch became the beautiful Samantha Stevens, the feisty Willow Rosenberg, the ladies from Charmed.  The Werewolf became sexy hunks like Jacob Black and True Blood's Alcide Herveaux.  And the Vampire, from True Blood to The Vampire Diaries and Twilight, is the brooding heartthrob.  And across the board they all had one thing in common...the transformation of the human being into something larger, greater, "higher."  The monsters of Gothic fiction stopped representing states of damnation and became instead paths to ascension.

None of which is as strange as it seems.  Again, we must remind ourselves that in the medieval imagination nothing, not even Satan, was as terrifying as God.  It was God who sent the Black Death, it was God who watched you at all times, it was God who would punish you if you disobeyed.  God, as the ultimate representative of the supernatural was terrible, awful, and inexplicable.  It was wise to be "God fearing."  But at the same time, God was the gateway to the numinous, to transformation, to becoming something greater than your self.  Horror and awe go hand-in-hand.  

Modern religions have been increasingly about the evolution of the self into a state of godhood.  The doctrine of salvation from above has become one of self-transformation.  We see this in Scientology, Mormonism, and Christian Science.  We see it in newer occult movements like Thelema, Satanism, or some schools of Wicca.  And we see it happening in the heart of the Gothic.  The shock and terror of the supernatural breaking down the walls of ordered reality has given way to possibility...to the notion of escaping the rational world into a higher state of potential and power.  Where once the Vampire was the ultimate state of damnation, cast forever from the grace of God, in the absence of God he becomes a transformative savior figure who offers liberation from human frailty and death.

It is clear that in the Gothic genre and the subculture it has spawned, Nelson sees a kind of emerging spirituality.  Though she mentions Anton LaVey several times in the book, in many ways she echoes exactly what he envisioned.  This is particularly the case when she discusses "Primary Believers" (religious practitioners who inhabit an ultimately supernatural world) and "Secondary Believers" (people who suspend disbelief and enter into a supernatural world temporarily).  This is exactly what LaVey believed his new religion to be, a society of Secondary Believers who experience the supernatural as self-created and self-transformational psychodrama.  I suspect the Church of Satan is a precursor of the kind of experience she sees Gothic heading for.

There is a lot going on in this book, too much to sum up here.  For me, reading it was a sort of validation for things I've been trying to express for years.  I would strongly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the Gothic, in horror, or the supernatural. It was a gripping, highly informative and provocative read.              

  



   




Friday, August 2, 2013

ZEALOT: Some Thoughts on Reza Aslan's Book



It would have been impossible to have written a book like Reza Aslan's Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, without it generating a bit of controversy.  For starters, there is that title.  Today, we hear the word "zealot" and think of Osama bin Laden.  It has landed in the same category as "fundamentalist," "fanatic," and "extremist."  Sure enough, the dictionary tells us a zealot is a person who is fanatical and uncompromising in pursuit of their religious, political, or other ideals.  If you read a bit further down, however, you come across the older, original meaning of the word;

a member of an ancient Jewish sect aiming at a world Jewish theocracy and resisting the Romans until ad 70.   

Hmm.  Someone advocating a universal "Kingdom of God" who challenged the might of the Romans.  Sound like any biblical figures you know?

But here is where it gets really controversial...for some people, at least.  Aslan's book is a meticulously researched, highly readable study of 1st century Roman Judea and the historical figure known as Jesus of Nazareth.  It is not, however, about Jesus the Christ.  This is not to say that Aslan sets out to prove Christianity is all wrong or that Jesus was just an ordinary man.  He is very careful not to do that.  Rather, he is trying to write a modern history of Jesus, a concept that did not exist when the Gospels were written.  He points out that the authors of the Gospels had no intention of relaying historical facts, but rather were attempting to convey spiritual Truths as they understood them.  The question of his birthplace is a good example.

All four Gospels call him "Jesus of Nazareth," and agree he was a Nazarene.  It was common practice in an age when people lacked surnames to specify your birthplace in this way  to avoid confusion (in fact, of the many 1st century charismatic leaders in Judea who claimed to be the messiah there was even another "Jesus," Jesus of Ananias).  The author of Luke, however, tells us Jesus was actually from Bethlehem, and concocts a story that his contemporary readers would all have known was absurd.  In this tale, the Romans call for a census that requires families to uproot and return to the place where the head of the household was born to wait there and be counted.  It is ridiculous of course, and the Romans never did anything of the sort (how can you take count of persons and property when the property was left behind?).  But the point is Luke's Roman audience would have known it was not factually accurate, but it did explain how Jesus was born in Bethlehem in fulfilment of prophecy (Micah 5:2).  Matthew goes even further and adds another absurdity, having the family flee soon after into Egypt to escape Herod, who is killing infants in the area.  This also never happened, but in fulfils yet another conflicting prophecy that the messiah would come out of Egypt like Moses (Hosea 11:1).  Contemporary readers would likely have also known this was not a description of real events, but the ancients were not as unsophisticated as we like to think.  They understood that something could be inaccurate but also reveal a Truth.

Aslan's book, then, is not an attempt to reveal that Truth but rather to be factual accurate.  It is not debunking the biblical narrative, but relating the facts as we known them.  There is the Jesus that people accept as Truth--the Son of God, the peacemaker who died for our sins--and there is also Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew who existed before Christianity, and of whom all written accounts we have come from decades after his death.  By sticking to the facts that all accounts agree on, and comparing them to what we know of the period, a very interesting figure emerges.

1st century Roman Judea was a volatile, violent place about to be completely and literally wiped off the map in 70 C.E.  Under the Roman occupation, the local peoples saw their culture and values under assault by foreigners and foreign ideas.  Essentially a theocracy (the word was actually invented to describe the ancient Jewish state), it was a land divinely ordained, giving to the Hebrews by their God.  How then could something ordained by God be taken away from them?  The answer was, it couldn't.  A messiah would emerge and drive the Romans out.

Interesting word, that.  Messiah in ancient times meant a "king."  David, for example, was a messiah.  Under the Roman occupation it came to mean the "true king" rather than the false puppets the Romans had installed, a king anointed by God who would restore the old Jewish state (the "Kingdom of God").  Under Roman rule there were literally dozens of men claiming to be that messiah, and nearly all of them met with the same fate.

It is a simple fact that the Romans reserved crucifixion for one crime and one crime only; sedition or treason.  It is also a fact that they placed a sign over the victim's head to announce the nature of his treason.  Though the English translation for those who died alongside Jesus is "thieves," this is in fact a mistranslation.  A closer word would be "bandit," and it meant people who hid in the hills like modern Al Qaeda fanatics, robbing passerbys to fund their campaign against the state.  The Romans never crucified simple "thieves."  Nor was the charge levelled against Jesus a joke.  To the Romans, at least, "I.N.R.I" was his crime.  He had claimed to be King of the Jews.

Given that fact, it becomes clear that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by the Romans for the crime of defying Caesar.  The bit about Pontius Pilate being reluctant to kill Jesus and forced into it by the Jewish establishment is almost comical.  The historical Pilate had nothing but contempt for the Jews and ordered hundreds of crucifixions, and actually had to be scolded by the Emperor Tiberius for going out of his way to antagonise the Jewish people.  He was eventually recalled for his treatment of them.  After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., however, Christianity was fast becoming a Roman religion, and it became necessary to soften the Roman involvement in his death.

Looking back at Jesus as one of the men crucified for the crime of claiming to be the messiah, Aslan examines his life and doings in this light.  What emerges is a fascinating picture of a revolutionary, quite possibly a disciple of John the Baptist who would eventually take over and expand his movement after John's arrest.  From his birth (possibly as an illegitimate child--when he first returns to Nazareth the locals call him son of Mary, which meant only one thing in a culture where "son of" was followed by the father's name) to his terrible death, Aslan retraces his steps, and it is a gripping account.

In the end, the most controversial thing about Zealot is how uncontroversial it really is.  There is little in this book that I was not taught twenty years ago studying the history of early Christianity. It does disturb some sacred cows, but doesn't attempt to butcher them as Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens night have.  Aslan is not out to rob you of your faith.  He simply presenting the facts as academics have done time and time again before him.  But Aslan has a knack for breathing life and passion into what otherwise might be dry and dusty history, and Zealot is a surprising page turner.  Further, its theme--a fundamentalist religion that feels it is under attack by foreign influences and changing times--is as relevant now as it was twenty centuries ago.

Highly recommended for those interested in the historical Jesus, believer or non-believer alike.     






  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

IN THE SHADOWS OF LOVECRAFT COUNTRY


I have this adorable green Cthulhu plush toy; well, two actually.  One is a proper stuffed animal, with floppy wings and the cutest little face feelers.  The other is a large, soft pillow shaped like the Great Old One's head, complete with tentacles.  What Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) would make of his most famous creation--a titanic mass of world-destroying alien horror--reduced to something that elicits the same response as puppy dogs and kittens, I don't know.  But he is certainly in good company.  Bram Stoker's arch-vampire helps children learn to count on Sesame Street, and Mary Shelley's manufactured monster is now a berry-flavored breakfast cereal.  Lovecraft has joined a rather curious pop culture club.

How do old monsters go from horrifying to huggable?  Part of the problem might be overexposure.  When Stoker penned Dracula in 1897--or when Le Fanu wrote Carmilla a quarter century earlier--readers must have been terrified by the notion of beautiful young girls mysteriously experiencing blood loss and wasting away.  Today, however, there is hardly a single person out there who wouldn't immediately know to stock up on garlic and religious accessories at the sight of two puncture marks on a victim's neck.  Vampires (or more politely, as Buffy put it "Undead Americans") are as common as the common cold.  If fear of the unknown is the greatest terror humans can know, how could we expect vampires to still be scary?  Lovecraft's monstrous alien thing is in the same boat.  We've seen him in comics and video games, RPGs and CCGs, and he's been Cartman's best friend in a Totoro-inspired South Park.  He's become so well known that every four year he runs for President on the slogans "No more years" and "Why vote for the lesser evil?"

But there is something deeper going on here.  In Danse Macabre, his brilliant analysis of the genre, Stephen King described the work of the horror writer as 'psychic judo,' seeking the psychological weak spots of the reader and striking at them.  The problem is, weak spots change.  Sometime towards the end of the 20th century for example, vampires stopped fleeing from crosses.  Then they stopped being 'evil.'  They became sex symbols.  And having eventually lost all credibility they started to 'sparkle.'  This is because society changed.  For the Victorian reader, the most horrifying thing conceivable was being eternally 'damned' and denied the grace of God.  They didn't see vampires as 'immortal,' but rather forbidden from ever entering Heaven.  But if you remove God, damnation, and the soul from the equation, vampires suddenly become attractive.  They sleep all day, party all night, and live forever.  There is no longer a downside.  In an age of Botox, plastic surgery, and endless hours in the gym, who wouldn't drink a little blood to look like the cast of The Vampire Diaries?

Frankenstein is a similar case.  In 1818, the idea of man playing God was radical.  Nearly two centuries later we've split the atom, walked on the moon, and mapped the human genome.  Playing God?  Been there, done that.

And then there is Lovecraft.  In his youth, Howard lived in a universe consisting of a single galaxy, still run by a benevolent God, and following the nice and tidy laws of classical physics.  The world was widely considered a few thousand years old.  In his lifetime, Einstein and his ilk turned Newton inside out, Heisenberg completely reshaped what mankind knew or was even capable of knowing, the world became millions of years old, the universe billions, and our galaxy was just one of countless others.  We went from being God's favorite ape in a neat and tidy cosmos to a microscopic speck of dust in a universe run by chance.  Well...at least that is how it seemed. Lovecraft's weird stories zeroed in with laser-like intensity on all this uncertainty.  He wrote of man's insignificance, of the immeasurable age of the cosmos, of our civilizations being just brief blips in the endless Aeons of time.  This was heavy stuff for its day.

The problem is, most of us have gotten used to these ideas.  There are still flat-earthers who--like four-year-olds covering their ears and chanting "I can't hear you"--deny science and try to live in fantasy land, but reasonable people far outnumber them.  We know the universe is billions of years old and bigger than we can wrap our heads around.  We know the planet was not created for our benefit and just as there were dinosaurs before us there will be something else after.  We've digested this.  And because of that, Cthulhu doesn't pack the same existential wallop.  Hermey the wanna-be-dentist had pulled the Abominable Snow Man's teeth, and now he plays nice with Rudolph, Yukon Cornelius, and the gang.

Ironically, the stuff in Lovecraft that still 'works' isn't the cosmic horror, but the nasty stuff critics have always condemned him for.  The underlying racism and xenophobia common in his work continues to be a psychological sore spot for people today.  In both Europe and America, a fear of invading "primitive cultures" (we politely call them "developing countries") undermining our way of life still exists in the hearts of many people, a fear that Lovecraft would have merrily responded to. And while few people continue to advocate racial purity--as Lovecraft did--the Westboro Baptist Church and Justica Scalia's "argle bargle" of a dissent show that a pervasive fear of "unnatural" and "deviant" sexuality still abounds.  This is yet another area of discomfort Lovecraftian fiction exploits.  And most obvious of all, Lovecraft's fear of religious mania and zealotry remains as pertinent now as ever.  Millions of people live daily with a deep seated fear of foreign religions, and we have all seen the extremes that belief can drive people to.  For all these reasons stories like Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth, an insane basket of xenophobia and sexual deviancy and alien religion, continue to push our buttons, even if The Call of Cthulhu does not.

These themes in Lovecraft, mixed with more common ones such as nihilism, body horror, and fear of death, continue to strike those psychic pressure points.  Yog-Sothoth and Shub Niggurath and Great Cthulhu may have lost their original punch, but it is hard to match the degenerate shock and horror of The Rats in the Walls.  There is still gold in them thar hills of Lovecraft country, if one knows how to pan for it.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

THE WHOLE OF THE LAW, Some Observations on Thelema


Here is the official story.  Do what you will with it.

While on honeymoon in Cairo, the young bride of one Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) fell into a sort of trance, and started telling her husband that the god Horus was trying to get in touch with him.  Crowley had been, prior to all of this, l'enfant terrible of a magical order known as the Golden Dawn, but he had retired from the magical arts and was at the time a practicing Buddhist.  His wife, by contrast, had no esoteric background or knowledge, and he was understandably irritated by her ramblings.  He took her to a museum and challenged her to point out who was trying to reach him, sneering to himself as she blindly walked right past all the well known images of Horus.  But straight she went to a small, painted funeral stele, and pointed excitedly.  Sure enough, it displayed Horus (Ra Hoor Khuit), as well as two other deities, the Egyptian star goddess Nut (Nuit) and Behdet (Hadit) the winged solar disc.  She insisted this was the source of the voices calling to her, and Crowley, who had been raised in a strict Christian sect and had been called by his mother "the Beast" and "Antichrist" for his rebelliousness and rejection of her faith, couldn't help but notice that the museum exhibit number of this little wooden item was number 666.  It was enough to convince him to listen to her.

Following her instructions, Crowley locked himself in his bedroom between the hours of noon and one o'clock on three successive afternoons, April 8th, 9th, and 10th.  There he sat down at his desk, pen and paper ready.  And there, the story goes, a voice dictated to him Liber AL vel Legis, also known as The Book of the Law.  He always insisted it wasn't in his head.  He heard it from over his left shoulder, from the corner of the room.

This book, and the message it contains, is absolutely central to my world view.  Though I dislike the word "religion," and agree with Crowley that it has no place in discussions of Thelema (the philosophy arising from The Book of the Law), if I had a religion this would be it.  But part of the reason I call myself a Thelemite is because it asks me to believe nothing, including the origin story I just shared with you.  Did the gods reach out and dictate this book to Crowley?  I don't know.  I do know, however, that he himself was convinced of this.  Crowley was a skeptical polymath, relentlessly self-critical, and kept meticulous diaries.  It is clear from them that he rejected The Book of the Law, and was initially dismissive of its claims.  He refused the role it assigned to him for years.  But the more he studied the book, the harder he tried to reduce it, the more convinced of its authenticity he became.  It became crystal clear in his mind that The Book of the Law had been dictated to him by an intelligence greater than himself, and it was his firm conviction that his life mission was to bring the new law to all.  I for one and glad he did.

So what exactly is in this book?  For starters it is divided into three short chapters, each dictated over the space of one hour as Crowley furiously scribbled them out.  We know this because those pages are preserved, and photos of each one are included in every copy of The Book of the Law for all to examine.  These are not the golden tablets of Joseph Smith, conveniently whisked away by angels after he translated The Book of Mormon from them.  Each chapter was dictated, through a messenger named Aiwass, by a different deity.  Like the Christian Trinity, however, these three gods are part of a whole.  The first is Nuit, the goddess of infinite space.  The second is her counterpart Hadit, the tiny spark of the infinite within each of us.  The third is Ra-Hoor-Khuit, the Crowned and Conquering Child of theirs who governs the space between them.  Think of Nuit as the circumference of a circle, Hadit as the center, and Ra-Hoor-Khuit as the radius and the area (everything in The Book of the Law is intensely mathematical, and it is riddled not only with mathematical conceptions but hidden codes and encryptions).  Another way to regard them is with Nuit as the Universe, Hadit as our own individuality and consciousness, and Ra-Hoor as how we interact with the world around us.

Aside from this cosmology, which is in itself actually key to the rest of the message, The Book of the Law is declaring a New Aeon and a new Magickal Formula for humanity to live by.  That takes some explaining.  For starters a "Magickal Formula" is simply an observation of reality and a prescription of how to interact with it.  "The early bird gets the worm," "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," "E=MC2," and "pi" are all examples.  They reflect our understanding of how things work, or how they should work.  Thelema postulates beyond this that there are bigger, all-encompassing Magickal Formulae that govern entire stages of human development, also known as "Aeons."  Crowley discusses three of these, and given the Egyptian origins of Thelema, he uses Nile gods to label them.

The Aeon of Isis governed human prehistory.  It was the time of our hunter-gathering ancestors, and its chief Magickal Formula was the Great Mother.  Chiefly concerned with "where does life come from," the answer seemed to be from women, and the earth.  Women appeared to spontaneously bring forth life, as did the land itself, and both produced food from their bodies.  Archaeological evidence abounds demonstrating this ancient cult of the mother, from massive breasted fertility figurines to skeletons buried in the fetal position as if returning to the Great Mother's womb.  

With agriculture came a new formula, and a new Aeon.  Crops were produced by the seed, incubated in the soil.  This led to the conclusion that the male seed, semen, was the source of human life as well, with women merely as the incubator.  This was an idea that lasted well into Roman and medieval times.  Further, the importance of the sun in the cycles of nature and the growing season moved the focus from Terra to Sol.  The new formula was God the Father, Lord of Light and Life.  Believing to have the mystery of where life came from solved, attention turned sharply to "what happens after death."  The answer came from the Solar Father; the sun dies each night and rises reborn.  This became the formula of the Father God cult.  By obedience and worship to God the Father, like him we will rise from the dead.  This was the central teaching of scores of antique mystery religions, from Osiris to Christ.  Crowley chose to name this Aeon after the former.  With this Aeon of Osiris authority moved from matriarchal families and tribes to patriarchal states.  It lasted until the dawn of the 20th century.

The Book of the Law initiates the Aeon of Horus.  For the egyptology-impaired, Horus was the son of Isis and Osiris, and just as the first Aeon was the Mother's, and the second the Father's, the New Aeon is that of the Child.  Humanity is no longer ignorant of the facts of life; we understand conception requires both egg and sperm equally.  The union of opposites becomes  an essential Magickal Formula of the Age.  We no longer believe the sun dies and is resurrected; we know it is always there, and that the rotation of the planet creates the illusion of solar death.  Thus we can discard all this resurrection nonsense; even "death" can be dismissed.  Nothing "dies," and the molecules of our bodies--forged in the hearts of stars countless millennia ago--are simply translated into something else.  Death comes from the erroneous conclusion that we are separate from the Universe.  The end of bodily life does not erase suddenly the role we played.  The effect we had upon the world endures forever.  We are part of the fabric of being and this never ends.

Dispensing with the question of birth and the fear of death, Thelema asks us to focus on the most important spiritual question; "how should we live?"  It provides us with an answer, the new Magickal Formula of the Aeon of Horus.  "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law."

Perhaps nothing else in Thelema is as poorly understood, or as central, as "do what thou wilt."  Thelema is the Greek word for "will," and the very definition of a Thelemite is one who seeks to discover and do his or her will.  By "will" we mean True Will, and it is nothing less than what you are meant to do with your existence.  Will is not assigned to us by an external God; we are not to do God's will but our own.  The time of the Father, like the Mother, has passed.  We are to take responsibility for ourselves now and move out on our own.

For the Thelemite, "every man and every woman is a star."  We are each the center of our own solar system, the source of our own light, the sole sovereign of our own existence.  But at the same time we are clustered into galaxies, and each of us has a trajectory we are moving on through space.  Your Will is that trajectory, determined by your position, composition, and disposition.  It is always natural to you.  You are drawn to it, you are good at it, it comes naturally and feels right.  It is not a chore, though it may not be easy.  The Thelemite works to find his or her Will and then do it as best as they can.

But there is a corollary to this Law of perfect freedom; "...thou hast no right but to do thy will. Do that, and no other shall say nay."  The Law does not say "do whatever you please." You are required to do your Will; if you are gay it is wrong to try and force yourself to be straight.  If you are a gifted painter it is wrong to force yourself into accounting or medicine to please your parents.  Trying to make your life easier by not doing your Will violates the Law.  Further, no other may say "nay."  The only sin, The Book of the Law tells us, is restriction.  Any action that restricts another person from doing his or her own Will is "evil."  Rape, as a violation of another's sexual Will, is evil.  Theft, as a violation of a person's livelihood and therefore ability to do their Will, is evil.  Murder, the greatest violation of Will imaginable, is evil.  It may be that on some occasions, stars collide when following the course of their Wills, but in general the evils of the world arise from people not doing their Will.  It is no one's Will to walk into a classroom and murder innocent children.  It is no one's Will to force themselves on someone.  We must do our Wills and leave others to do theirs.

Connected to this concept of individual sovereignty and individual Will is that of individual deity.  This brings up the debate whether or not Thelema can be called a "religion."

The three chief divinities of The Book of the Law are not properly objects of worship in the way that Yahweh or Allah or Vishnu are understood to be.  Nor do they answer prayer.  Indeed they are not even objective entities so much as personifications of concepts.  Hadit is the spark of consciousness and individuality within us, and Nuit is the manifest universe around us.  They are "divided for love's sake," for the joy of reunion.  We are meant to intact with each other and the world as we might with a lover.  The "worship" of Nuit then, is to live joyously, and Hadit is in reality the "worshiper."  Ra-Hoor-Khuit, the product of the interaction between the self and the world, is the embodiment of Thelema.  He embodies how we are to live, and is not to be worshipped, just followed.  

But the notion of a personal god is not entirely absent from Thelema.  In fact, Thelema takes the word "personal" quite literally.  Rather than the individual forming a "personal relationship" with a single divine being, as worshipers do with Christ or Krishna, the Thelemite has his very own "personal god," a link between the self and the ultimate level of reality.  This is not unique to Thelema; it is an extremely ancient and widespread concept.  The Greeks believed everyone had their own god, or daemon.  The Romans called it the genius.  Thelema includes this type of being in its cosmology as well, calling it the "Holy Guardian Angel." There is no clear consensus on what exactly its nature is, however, and even Crowley went back and forth when trying to pin it down.  He would at one time call it the "Higher Self," only later to insist that it was not that, but a being in its own right.  For example, he came to think that Aiwass, the intelligence that dictated The Book of the Law to him, was his own Angel, and possessed intellect and awareness far beyond his own capacities.  Fortunately, the Thelemite is not required to have any preconceptions concerning the nature of this being, he or she is only required to seek it out and form a union with it.  This is perhaps the closest Thelema drifts towards religion in the conventional sense, but there are so many other facets of the system at odds with religious conventions it is hard to feel comfortable using that word.

Aside from the absence of communal prayer or a shared deity, it is forbidden for any Thelemite to attempt to interpret The Book of the Law for anyone else.  One must read the book and interpret it for oneself, period. This makes any sort of church or congregation, wherein uniformity is encouraged, problematic.  Further, nothing is to be taken on "faith;" Thelema insists on a policy of scientific illuminism wherein the "method of science" is put towards "the aim of religion."  If there is any truth to mystical experience, it is argued, then it must respond to the application of the scientific method.  Mystical states must be reproducible by anyone using the correct formulae, regardless of ideology or "belief."  Crowley wrote in his kind to students, Liber O;

"In this book it is spoken of the Sephiroth and the Paths; of Spirits and Conjurations; of Gods, Spheres, Planes, and many other things which may or may not exist. It is immaterial whether these exist or not. By doing certain things certain results will follow; students are most earnestly warned against attributing objective reality or philosophic validity to any of them."

This system of scientific illuminism, which Crowley termed "Magick," is closely intertwined with the philosophy of Thelema in a way religion is not.  The Book of the Law refers to magical rites, but refrains from using the word "religion" at all.  So while Thelema does indeed occupy the psychology space in my being that religion might occupy for others, I am more comfortable referring to it as a "path" or "system" than a religion. "...our system is a religion," wrote Crowley;

"...just so far as religion means an enthusiastic putting together of doctrines, no one of which must in any way clash with Science or Magick...call it a new religion, then, if it so please your Gracious Majesty, but I confess I fail to see what you will have gained in so doing, and I feel bound to add that you might easily cause a great deal of misunderstanding, and work a rather stupid kind of mischief."    

The question, ultimately, resides with the story back in Cairo.  If you think Aiwass was an objective being, if you think Ra Hoor Khuit really has taken his seat on the throne of the gods, if you think Crowley really was chosen to deliver a divine mandate to mankind, you are very likely to look at Thelema as a religion.  Indeed, I have known many Thelemites who do.  If you tend to think as I do, that the elementals, gods, demons, and angels conjured by Magick all dwell as disparate facets of our own psyches, one is less inclined to regard it as religion and more as a system for psychological development and a guide for living.  In a way it all depends on the question of Aiwass.  As psychologist, occultist, and former secretary to Crowley Israel Regardie wrote in The Eye in the Triangle;

“If Aiwass was his own Higher Self, then the inference is none other than that Aleister Crowley was the author of the Book, and that he was the external mask for a variety of different hierarchical personalities… The man Crowley was the lowest rung of the hierarchical ladder, the outer shell of a God, even as we all are, the persona of a Star… He is the author of The Book of the Law even as he is the author of The Book of the Heart Girt with a Serpent and Liber Lapidis Lazuli, and so forth. …these latter books reveal a dialogue between the component parts of Crowley. It seems to me that basically this Liber Legis is no different.”

I am inclined to side with Regardie for several reasons.  The first and chiefest is my own thirty years of dealings with Magick and twenty with The Book of the Law.  I know full well how real these entities all can be, and frequently they do demonstrate knowledge and power that I would consider beyond my own capacity.  Indeed, the summer I retired from the world to perform the Abramelin Ritual (the operation to achieve the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel) very nearly tipped me the other way into believing full on that I was dealing with discarnate entities independent of my own mental processes.  This experience was intimately connected with The Book of the Law, and like Crowley I teetered on that line between skepticism and belief.  I have been struggling the subsequent eight years to put that summer into words, but suffice to say it was Crowley--and Liber AL vel Legis--that talked me off the ledge.  The first was the quote from Liber O I mentioned above, the second was Crowley's commentary on one of The Book of the Law's most inspiring verses; "Every man and every woman is a star.  Every number is infinite; there is no difference."  Crowley wrote of this in The Law is for All;

"This is a great and holy mystery.  Although each star has its own number, each number is equal and supreme.  Every man and every woman is not only a part of God, but the Ultimate God.  'The Centre is everywhere and the circumference nowhere.'  The old definition of God takes new meaning for us.  Each one of us is the One God."

If we are stars, then, all the spirits would seem to be the planets and moons and comets that compose our systems.  They are independent to a degree, but dependent on our gravitation and light.  This is not to say that our common, daily consciousness is the "star" either.  In fact I think it is probably our Higher Self that is the true center, and that the idea of ourself we have constructed from experience and cultural inheritance is just more debris in orbit around that center.  Magick, and Thelema, is about shifting the seat of your consciousness from those moons to the actually sun.

For this reason, I hold the view that in that Cairo hotel suite Crowley did indeed experience a revelation from the deepest center of himself, not a religion, but a liberation from religion.  "It is our Work to overthrow the slave-gods," as Crowley wrote.  

But does this make Liber AL vel Legis more or less remarkable?  Obviously I side with "more."  If Crowley's New Aeon was not, in fact, yet another dictate from yet another god, it was something all the more amazing: the deepest parts of a young man in 1904 who somehow saw the entire 2oth century spread before him.  For the Book accurately predicts wars on a scale never seen before as the old ways of kings and gods and faiths clash with the new way of freedom, personal responsibility, and independence.  It predicts the rising equality of the sexes and the acceptance of personal sexual preferences.  It sees a massive redefining of what religion means.  And it calls for a spirituality that in no way clashes with reason or science.  If Crowley was not the message bearer for yet another god, he was a visionary.  And in that there is the promise that we can be too.  So I close with a quote from his Confessions;

"I admit that my visions can never mean to other men as much as they do to me. I do not regret this. All I ask is that my results should convince seekers after truth that there is beyond doubt something worth while seeking, attainable by methods more or less like mine. I do not want to father a flock, to be the fetish of fools and fanatics, or the founder of a faith whose followers are content to echo my opinions. I want each man to cut his own way through the jungle."


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

SINCLAIR HOUSE, Opening Lines

"...It was not the kind of place that anyone was ever meant to live in.  Not permanently.  It had never been anything but a summer home, a place to pass a few lazy months in before going back to the life waiting for you elsewhere.  No one had ever looked at Sinclair House, in all its long years, and thought to themselves how great it would be to move in and raise a family there.  It had never seen a Thanksgiving or a Christmas, never been kept awake at night by a crying newborn.  No child had ever grown up there and then fled the nest.  People had died there--a lot of people--but no one had ever actually lived there. Not before us. And that wasn’t by choice.  It just sort of happened to Jenna and I, like finding out you have cancer or getting hit by a car...."

- Sinclair House, Chapter One

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

ARMISTICE 2 (The Major Races)


Alfaeri (Elves)

The Alfaeri (sing. Alfaer) are extremely long-lived. Three or four centuries is not uncommon.  They do not do well in human civilization however, often sickening and dying after two or three decades of living outside the Ghostwood. They are taller than humans, and more slender, with slanted eyes and pointed ears.  Their skin is smooth and hairless, except for what they have on their heads which is worn long.  In their "natural" state their skin, hair, and eyes are all milk white, but they have the curious trait of "Reflecting."  In other words, their coloration slowly adapts to match their environment.  Because most live in the Ghostwood, their hair and eyes have turned forest green, and their skin has a pale emerald tone.  Those who live in human cities tend to turn a sort of unhealthy ashen grey.  

They are, as a race, extremely xenophobic. Most Alfaeri never leave their forest, and humans are never permitted there.  This ancient arrangement was called the Great Compact, and it was not violated for nearly twenty centuries.  It’s exact purpose and origin is lost to Humanity...and if the Alfaeri remember the cause they are tight-lipped about it.  When the Theran Imperium finally did break the Compact, the Alfaeri responded by bringing mankind to its kness.  

Little is known of their lives in the Wood.  They are said to live in wandering troops that migrate through the forest with each changing season.  In the summer and autumn they dwell high among the tree tops, in cottages of living wood.  In the winter they retreat to stone mansions under the forest floor.  In spring they live on the forest floor, sleeping out on the grass.  All of this may well be nonsense, however, and their are rumors of an Alfaeri city deep in the very heart of the forest, a city whose crystal spires have never been seen by Men.  The occupants of this city may well be the Alfaelaur, the “High Alfaeri” that others of this race sometimes refer to.  Human scholars are divided on whether this city, or its people, really exists.  The way the Alfaeri refer to them makes them sound like gods, leading some to dismiss them as myth.  Others though speculate they are the creators of the Ghost Ships and the Wyrmholes, and responsible for some of the earth shattering magics that brough the Therans to their knees.   

The common or "Low Alfaeri" are skilled hunters and woodsmen.  Unaffected by heat or cold, they tend to wear little clothing, and instead adorn their skin with elaborate tattoos.  They have no shame of their bodies, and often forget how their nudity can cause embarassment (or other emotions) in Humans and Khablyn.  The Alfaeri cannot stand the touch of iron, which causes them physical pain.  They are highly skilled with the use of the bow and spear, and can move silently and almost invisibly through the Ghostwood.  

The Alfaeri "religion" is subtle, highly refined, and difficult for humans to understand.  They seem to believe in the existence of two forces, Being and Nonbeing, which they call Light and Darkness.  All things that exist are emanations of the Light, but eventually Fade.  The source of the Light, "Ilshuhar," never Fades however, and the Alfaeri believe that by seeking this source they too can rise above impermanence.  They refer to the Old Ones as Hu'ilshuhar, "Those That Found The Light."  They are very jealous of their language, and keep it as much as possible from other races, but some who understand Alfaeri say they refer to Humans as “Darkbringers,” whatever that means.

Dwergar (Dwarves)

The Dwergar (sing. Dwer) are an ancient race, proud, deeply religious, and slow to forget either friend or foe. In the elder days they ruled much of Ehra, but the war of the Old Ones shattered their cities and drove them into hiding below the earth.  They remember the Old Ones as giants and titans, elemental incarnations of earth, wind, fire, and water (many are thus skeptical Q'osh is what he claims to be...they remember the Old Ones as being much, much larger).  They also believe that their ancestors were taller, but centuries underground diminished them to their current stature.

The average Dwer stands just about five feet tall, but weighs about two hundred and fifty pounds because of their thick bones, dense muscles, and heavy frames.  Males wear elaborate beards, braided and adorned with gems and precious metals.  Dwer women do the same with their hair.  Their bulk is enhanced by a preference for heavy garments and leather armors.  They live three times as long as the typical human, but Dwer women are seldom able to bear more than one child.  All Dwergar are dark-haired, with grayish-brown skin.

The Dwer believe that the universe began in Chaos, personified by a goddess they call Telom.  Pictured as a giant, monstrous hybrid of snake and lion and eagle, Telom endlessly gave birth to the misshapen elemental Titans.  One day, quite by chance, she gave birth to a perfect specimen, the Maker.  The Maker slew his mother and created the Dwergar, in his own image, to assist him in shaping the world.  To them, the highest ideal then is Making, the imposition of Order on a Chaotic world.  The Titans made war upon the Maker and created the Khablyn to devil the Dwergar.  The have been eternal enemies since before history began.  The Maker saved the world by luring all the Titans away, so that their war would not destroy What he had made.  He speaks to the Dwergar by sending prophets known as Singers.  There have been Seven.  The Seventh Singer was Jor, who appeared to lead the Dwergar to freedom after the Khablyn enslaved them. The Book of Jor is currently the most sacred Dwergar text.

Dwer society is rigidly structured, divided into five castes (Kizkuk, or "callings").  From lowest to highest, these are the Sellers, the Servers, the Soldiers, the Shapers, and the Speakers.  A Dwer may be born into any of the Kizkuk, but at the age of thirty-six (early adolescence) is taken before a Speaker who assigns them to the caste they will spend the rest of his or her life in.  The Sellers are merchants, who are the lowest caste and yet ironically often the most wealthy.  They are considered to contribute nothing useful to the Making, except to trade goods with Outsiders.  Above these are the Servers, who cook and clean and tend to the needs of others.  They are like the servants and slaves of other races.  The Soldiers are next, and are the martial class.  Above them are the Shapers...craftsmen, carpenters, engineers, masons, and smiths who are said to be reflections of the Maker itself.  Above these are the Speakers, the religious caste who commune with the Maker and speak Dwergar law.  

Humanity

Humanity came to Ehra from across the Dusksea.  They came out of the west in waves, a scattered and broken people, settling along the coasts and slowly moving inland over several centuries.  They called themselves "the Children of Talanis," which is both the name for their fabled island empire and the Moon Goddess they once believed bore them.  According to their most ancient legends, this goddess gave birth to them over the space of one year, each during one of her full moons.  Thus there were Thirteen Tribes of Talanians.  Together they formed a great civilization.  This ended when the Angels, celestial servants of the Seven Gods, rebelled against their masters, seeking to usurp the Heavens for themselves.  The Angels promised the Talanians immortality if the humans sided with them.  Persuaded by the Thirteenth Tribe, the matriarchal Witches of Talanis, humanity chose to ally themselves with the rebels.  But the Angels were subsequently defeated, and in wrath, the Seven shattered Talanis and sank it below the waves.  Refugees from twelve of the tribes made it to Ehra; the thirteenth was somehow lost.  Prophecy recounts at the End of Days this Lost Tribe, the Witches, will come to Ehra at last and bring the wrath of the gods down on mankind once more.   

The exiles eventually founded twelve kingdoms.  The greatest of these was the Republic of Thera, called "the Light of the West."  In 1003 AE (After Exile), the Virgin Priestess Kelesta was born here, and at the age of 12 was called by the Sun God Arrash to be his Bride.  Arrash revealed himself to be the One True God, of which the other six were just "Rays" or emanations.  Through Kelesta, he promised to redeem humanity from their Fall.  Kelesta worked great miracles, healing the dead and raising the sick, before the priests of other deities conspired to destroy her.  Assassins were sent, but on the Day of Fire, as the attack on Kelesta commenced, her attackers were consumed instantly in flame and the temples of all six other gods across Ehra instantly burned.  Kelesta ascended into Heaven that day to be Arrash’s mediator between himself and man, and the One Church was born.

The High Pontifex of the Church crowned First Consul Adaros the Emperor in 1172, and Thera began to war on her human neighbors, seeking to bring them under the yoke of the True Faith.  By 1824, she had succeeded.  That was four hundred years ago.  Today, all humanity is still united under the One Church, though secret cults to the other gods remain.  Since the Alfaeri War, Thera has been struggling to maintain her grip over the other human nations.  Whether or not she will succeed remains to be seen.

The Twelve Nations of Ehra bore the names of the original tribes, which in turn are names of the full moons in a year.  They are in order--from the first full moon after the winter solstice forward:

The Wolf - Ulfa;  The Bear - Byeor;  The Hare - Hara;  The Ram - Ara;  The Stag - Serca;  The Ox  -  Vaxa;  The Lion  -  Thera;  The Eagle - Eyora;  The Fox - Vulpa;  The Raven - Corsa;  The Boar - Isha;  The Owl - Hora;  The Serpent - Malfa.
    
In terms of appearance Humanity is a diverse species.  Coloration depends on the "season" of the race.  The Winterborn--the Hora, Ulfa, Byeor--are fair-skinned with hair ranging from blonde to light brown. Their eyes are often blue.  The Summerborn--the Vaxa, Thera, and Eyora--are brown skinned with the Therans being the darkest of all.  As a consequence of their rule, dark skin, hair, and eyes is considered more "refined" among humans.  Being pale is something of a disadvantage (indeed the Thirteenth Tribe of Malfan Witches were said to be albinos).  The Springborn Hara, Ara, and Serca have a sort of yellowish caste to their skin that tans easily to honey brown.  Their hair and eyes are usually black.  The Autumnborn Vulpa, Corsa, and Isha have light brown complexions and tend to have light brown or even blondish hair.  The Vulpa, of course, are famous for their red hair and green eyes.

Khablyn (Goblinfolk)

The Khabyn are of roughly human height, with greenish skin, short legs, and long arms ending in clawed fingers.  Centuries of dwelling beneath the earth has made their eyes sensitive to bright light; outdoors they usually wear lenses black glass over their eyes for protection.  They have excellent hearing, however, and long pointed ears.  They like to adorn these with elaborate piercings.  Females shave their heads, but males wear mohawk hairstyles.  The wealthier and more important the male, the higher his hair crest is, with low class males having barely more than a fuzzy line down the center of their scalps.  Khablyn teeth, like their bones, are black.  They are known to file these teeth and keep them sharp; indeed, calling someone "blunt tooth" is a grave insult to them.

They are a pragmatic, even cynical race that believes all life is a game.  Their gods are called the Zyshulnagra, "Those Who Cheer and Jeer," and they believe these beings fashioned the mortal races for entertainment.  The gods watch the doings of mortals and place elaborate wagers on whether their current favorite succeeds or fails miserably.  Thus their culture is filled with gambling metaphors.  To them, the only purpose in life is to seek pleasure, avoid pain, and accumulate as much wealth and power as possible.  At their funerals, the community will decide whether the deceased was a "winner" or a "loser."  

The Khablyn practice polygamy, and the more wives, concubines, and offspring--bastard or otherwise--a male possesses the more of a "winner" he will be.  One wife is always the Primary, ruling over the other consorts and controlling the pursestrings.  Curiously, only Khablyn women ever develop a talent for magic, and it is unclear whether males like to refer to their wives as "Witches" for their arcane prowess or tendency to put their husbands on an allowance.

Having been at war off and on with the Dwergar from time immemorial, the Khablyn have an elaborate and refined contempt for this race, made all the worse by the fact that after the Return (to the surface) the Khablyn were able to build and empire while the Dwergar barely scratched a living from the soil.  There is an entire style of comedy, Dvargrik, which is in essence "dwarf jokes."  

Since the Return the Khablyn have become wealthy and somewhat decadent.  They had the good fortune to arise in the southern Lands of Silk and Spices, easily taking them from the Wilderling tribes there.  They became fantastically wealthy trading with the Therans, and used that wealth to invade the Ashen Wastes were the Dwergar lived.  For two centuries they tried to break the spirit of the Dwergar, who eventually through off their yoke through prolonged guerilla conflict.  Many of the Khablyn merchant princes dream of retaking the Ashen and teach the "dust eaters" a lesson.

  

   

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

ARMISTICE 1


When Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition was first released, I was asked by a friend to give it a try.  I was never a big fan of D&D; that sort of generic high fantasy just wasn't my cup of tea.  But I started brainstorming some sort of campaign framework, thinking of some logical reason that would throw all sorts of sentient races together.  I had several ideas but nothing really "caught" me.  Then I thought of one of my favorite television programs, Babylon V, and almost immediately everything fell into place.

Thus the Armistice Campaign emerged as a fantasy version of B5, but as Tolkien phrased it "the tale grew in the telling."  I should stress, actually, that it was really just the background that I lifted from J. Michael Straczynski's brilliant sci-fi epic.  The campaign storyline itself didn't follow the show, and in order to make things interesting, I had to change a lot of what the original program was about.  Most important was to make the "Vorlons" and "Shadows" mysterious again by redefining what they were and what they stood for if i wanted to keep the players guessing.

I didn't stick with 4e very long; D&D still wasn't for me.  But I liked the campaign idea, and vowed to adapt it into something I could use with any other system.  My personal preference would be Savage Worlds, but I wanted to put it out there for people to look at and use as they wish.  I'll be posting the results of that here, starting with the first instalment now.

"Armistice," in a Nuthsell

Key Concepts
* The Old Ones
* The Great Compact
* The Dwergar/Khablyn Conflict
* The Wyrmholes/Ghost Ships
* The Alfaeri Surrender
* Ambassador Q'osh

In the mists of prehistory, the continent of Ehra was ruled by the Old Ones.  The Younger Races who now dwell there have very different ideas about what these beings actually were...gods, angels, titans, etc.  All accounts agree that the Old Ones warred with one another and then disappeared; the nature of the conflict and the victor remains unknown.  The Alfaeri say it was a battle between Light and Darkness, the Dwergar speak of it as a struggle between Order and Chaos.  The Khablyn tell of it as a war between the Haves and the Have-Nots; and the humans insist it was all about Good versus Evil.  Whatever its nature, it changed everything.

The Dwergar and Khablyn were both driven underground by the conflict, and would spend centuries warring with each other over resources in the deep places beneath the earth.  The struggle cracked the dimensions, bringing the Alfaeri here from their timeless Otherworld and trapping them here.  And the war of the Old Ones sank the island nation of Talanis beneath the sea, driving its human refugees to Ehra's shores.  

For a time, the surface of Ehra was left to just the humans and Alfaeri, with the Wilderling tribes in the more remote and inhospitable places.  In this early age, for reasons Men have long forgotten, the Great Compact was formed.  The Alfaeri isolated themselves in the confines of the Ghostwood, and around this massive forest erected standing stones all inscribed with the same warning; The Gift of Humans Who Enter the Wood is Death.  For nearly a thousand years the two races had no contact with each other, and many humans began to believe the Alfaeri didn't even exist.

In the meantime, both the Khablyn and the Dwergar returned to the surface world, driven from their subterranean empires by a new horror...the Spawn.  A hideous infection, this plague twists its victims into monstrous, undead forms.  Countless Dwergar and Khablyn were transformed into hideous mockeries of themselves, hunting for flesh in the dark.  To escape infection, the Clean (uninfected) came back to the surface, and were forced to re-adapt. The Khablyn adjusted faster, seizing the Lands of Silk and Spice from the Wilderling tribes there and evolving into a powerful and wealthy nation.  The Dwergar were forced into the Ashen, a desolate wasteland.  Unable to regain their former strength, the long-standing enmity between Dwergar and Khablyn led to a surface war that ended with the Dwergar as a client state of the new Khablyn empire.  It would take them two centuries of bitter guerrilla war to regain their freedom.

It was the rise of Thera, meanwhile, that ultimately brought humanity to its knees.  This city-state, the birthplace of the Virgin Priestess, began to exert cultural and political influence on its neighbors in the decades after her Ascension.  The Theran Imperium rose to become the strongest human power since Talanis sank below the waves.  It's success against the Wilderlings emboldened it.  Looking to extend the Imperium's naval power, Imperator Theodocius made the mistake that cost him his throne.  He ordered vast swaths of the Ghostwood to be cleared for timber, breaking the ancient compact between Men and Alfaeri.

Those who argued that the Alfaeri were extinct--or had never existed--were rapidly proven wrong.  Overnight, outside hundreds of human cities and communities, weird archways of stone appeared out of nowhere.  These were the mystic Wyrmholes, portals opening to the Sea of Shadows, an extradimensional plane consisting of an inky black ocean under a leaden sky.  Alfaeri Ghost Ships, pale vessels with prows shaped like dragons that float a yard or so above the ground, could navigate this alien sea, allowing the Alfaeri to cross vast distances in just hours.  Again and again the Alfaeri Host struck at humanity, Ghost Ships suddenly pouring from the Wyrmholes, burning cities to the ground and leaving nothing in their wake.  Slowly, unstoppable, they made their way to the heart of the Theran Imperium.  At the Battle of the Line, the last human legions gathered outside the gates of Thera, waiting for the Alfaeri Host.  When it came, it was in numbers greater than ever seen, and with terrible sorceries.  It seemed as if this would be mankind's last day.

Inexplicably, the Alfaeri suddenly retreated. An ambassador was sent three days later to discuss the terms of their surrender.

The Alfaeri proposal was a strange one.  In cooperation with humanity, they would build a new city, an outpost in the middle of the wilderness.  Here, ambassadors from across Ehra would be sent--Human, Alfaeri, Dwergar, Khablyn, and even from the Wilderlings.  The purpose?  To ensure peace. As an incentive, the Alfaeri would share the arcane art of building Ghost Ships and Wyrmholes with other races, bringing the continent together.  Their motivation for this goodwill gesture remains a mystery to this day.

And as shocking as the Alfaeri surrender was, something far more earth-shattering was to come.

The Armistice Outpost was built on the River Aer in Targan Vale, and might have failed and passed into obscurity if not for something wonderful and terrible.  For among the ambassadors sent there, an unexpected entity took his place among them.  Ambassador Q'osh was a towering creature eight feet high, completely encased in delicately etched, silvery armor and draped in purple robes.  He did not walk but rather floated silently over the ground.  The air vibrated and trembled around him.  When he spoke his voice sounded like thunder echoing from miles away.  And he claimed--impossibly--to be one of the Old Ones.  News of this shocked the world, and immediately Armistice became the center of attention.  Pilgrims flocked there hoping to just catch a glimpse of this wonder.  All races invited sent ambassadors as asked, hoping to glean some advantage or sect from this ancient being.  Armistice was the new center of the world.

Next time, we start to look at the Great Races.