VILLAIN OR HEROINE, satan or savior, the Red Goddess is one of the most compelling figures in the rich tapestry of Gloranthan mythology. Born inside the mortal world of Time in 1220 ST, she was the result of a ritual undertaken by seven conspirators in direct violation of the Compromise that separates the realms of the divine from the mundane. Beginning life as a mortal girl, she would later ascend into the heavens wrapped in a massive ball of stolen earth, a living goddess contained in the newly formed Red Moon. In her wake she left a spreading empire, a demigod son, and a new form of magic whose nature has led some to embrace her teachings and others to despise them. At the heart of her controversy lies the ancient terror of Chaos.
Yet what does this all mean? What is the Red Goddess trying to do? In HeroQuest Glorantha, Jeff Richard writes;
Lunar magic was created by the Red Goddess and so can only be summoned by those with the Moon Rune. Her devoted followers say it is the fourth form of magic, a healed syncretic expression of the old ways of magic. Her vociferous enemies claim that Lunar magic is Chaos disguised with a glamour. (HQG p. 179)
I would like to suggest that both opinions are true, and to make sense of this, we need to get into the metaphysics of Gloranthan Chaos.
Chaos erupted into the world—Theyalan mythology tells us—during the Gods War. As Glorantha’s deities fell to fighting and killing each other, the Order that held the cosmos together was threatened. The Unholy Trio, a conspiracy of gods that some might suggest foreshadow the Seven Mothers who opened the way for the Red Goddess to enter the world, worked together to bring Chaos into creation. It came in the form of Wakboth, known as both the Devil and the Doom of the World. Wakboth was the living embodiment of the Chaos Rune, which is associated with “entropy, evil, corruption” (HQG p. 18). He nearly undid the whole of the cosmos until a last ditch effort by the surviving gods bound him—and them—in the Web of Time.
Since then, Chaos in Glorantha has been a source of unspeakable horror. Woven into the fabric of Time alongside all the other Runes it brings mutation, madness, rot, and taint wherever it manifests. The cults that embrace Chaos are amongst the world’s blackest, and most sane people shun it. The Red Goddess, however, chooses to embrace Chaos alongside all of the other Runes, and in doing so claims she is “healing” the world. How could this be?
The answer lies in what came before Glorantha. We are told that everything started with the Elemental Runes, each of which emerged from each other. Darkness emerged first, Water from it, then Earth from Water, Sky from Earth, and Air from Sky. The other Runes all appeared in the midst of this process.
Yet assuming that there was no Element before it, what did Darkness emerge from? The answer is intriguing;
The most ancient Rune, the First Born, the Waker from the Void, from whom all other Elements were born or descended. Darkness was the first Element to arise out of the Primal Chaos. (HQG p. 14)
The implication here is that all of the other Runes emerged from Chaos, which naturally makes little sense. Chaos is the primary force of annihilation and corruption. It doesn’t make, it destroys. The “Devil is in the details,” if you pardon the pun, and the phrasing here is significant. Darkness is the Waker from the “Void,” and emerged from “Primal Chaos.” This equates the Void with Primal Chaos, and suggests that “Primal” Chaos and Chaos are not the same thing.
Among our own world’s most ancient scriptures, the Rig Veda tells us;
In the earliest age of the gods existence was born from non-existence…in that age their was neither existence nor non-existence, no realm of air, no sky beyond it… (Rig Veda, Mandala 10)
The Torah mirrors a similar idea in telling us that in the beginning the world was תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, tohu wa bohu, “without form and void.” This Void, neither existence nor non-existence, is identical with Glorantha’s Primal Chaos.
To wrap your brain around this concept, and how a universe could possibly emerge from nothingness, lets do some simple math.
Zero is “without form and empty,” yet it is also the only number you can reasonably call “infinite.” Think of Zero as the sum of all paired opposites; -n + n always equals it. Any number, added to its opposite negative number, is Zero. Genesis goes on the talk about God creating the world by separating things; light from darkness, night from day, the waters above from the waters below, etc. If we were somehow to add these things back together—light plus darkness, day plus night—we would arrive back at Zero again.
Primal Chaos, the Void, contained all the Runes and all the world in a potential state. It was Darkness and Water, Harmony and Disorder, Life and Death. It was a nothingness that hadn’t been separated yet. The Rune we know as “Chaos” cannot possibly be the same as this Primal Chaos, because Chaos must exist in opposition to Order. Entropy and Corruption cannot exist without something the break down and corrupt.
ILLUMINATION AND THE LUNAR WAY
Illumination is central to the Red Goddess’s teachings. Long condemned by its detractors as “Chaotic,” Illumination is actually association with the Infinity Rune (HQG pp. 203-204). As pointed out above, Infinity is by definition synonymous with Zero, Primal Chaos, the Void. “Nothing is eternal.” “Nothing lasts forever.” Illumination liberates the individual from all dualities and all opposites. An Illuminate could master the powers of both the Life and Death Runes, Truth and Illusion, etc. Again, this is because they are attaining the “zero” state in which all opposites come together. In this way we can see Gloranthan Illumination as something similar to the extinction of self in Buddhist and some Hindu traditions, in which there is no longer any division between subject and object.
This is the object of the Lunar religion, and its Sevening Rites lead the initiate to Illumination. Yet you cannot reach Illumination—a state of Primal Chaos that enfolds all dualities—without embracing Chaos, the entropic and corruptive force. From the Lunar point of view, there is a distinction from mastering Chaos in this way and in being corrupted by it. This is made clear in the Lunar religion’s deepest secret, the Quest of the Red Goddess. When the Goddess first enters God Time she encounters Wakboth the Devil and he defeats her. Later, she encounters Nysalor (the deity who taught Illumination in the Second Age) and is Illuminated by him. When she next encounters Wakboth, she conquers him. The Lunar Way is drawing a distinction between being the victim of Chaos and its master.
The ultimate goal of the Lunar Way then has to be the attainment of a state of consciousness of Primal Chaos. Embracing Chaos, like any and every other Rune, is a necessary part of this.
COMING SOON: In honor of Chaosium’s #WeAreAllUs celebration of the life and work of Greg Stafford (running from October 10 to October 31st), my group and I will be running back-to-back game sessions revisiting the classic “The Cradle” scenario, rewritten for the campaign. The new version will appear in two blog posts here. And stay tuned for my upcoming Jonstown Compendium contribution, Rites of Passage, which will look at adulthood initiation rites across several Gloranthan cultures. This will include guidelines for designing your own as well as several ready-to-play examples (Orlanthi, Esrolian, Dara Happan, Uz) for both HeroQuest Glorantha and RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha.
Great musings here. I particularly like your equation of Zero to Primal Chaos! 😈😇ReplyDelete
Yes please. This is amazing. As a Newbie to Glorantha seeing this kind of writing just gets me hype for the world.ReplyDelete