"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."

THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Saturday, October 5, 2019


In the midst of Silence, there was in me spoken a secret Word.
But where is this Silence?  Where is the place where the Word  is spoken?

Meister Eckhart 

There are two paths: one leads to servitude, the other to Liberation.  Their principles are “I am this” and “I am not this.”  Man is bonded by the former and liberated by the latter.

Kulārava Tantra


RID YOURSELF right now of the modern notion of consciousness. If you proceed viewing consciousness as mere electrical activity in the matter of your brain, you aren’t entering into the spirit of things.  Depending on your point of view, it may or may not be true; in Glorantha, however, it isn’t.  

I am going to kick off the discussion then by quoting a lengthy passage written by my mentor, Seyyed Hossein Nasr.  Bear in mind he would scold me for being lazy, but this is a blog, not an academic paper, and he sets the table nicely for us;

When we turn to the sacred scriptures of various religions, we discover that in every case the origin of the cosmos and of man is identified as a Reality which is conscious and in fact constitutes con­sciousness understood on the highest level as absolute Consciousness, which is transcendent and yet the source of all consciousness in the cosmic realm including our own. Furthermore the “in the beginning” is understood not only as belonging to the past but also to the present moment which is the eternal now. That is why “in the beginning” must also be understood as “in principle” as the Latin translation of the opening verse of the Gospel of John asserts, “in principia erat verbum.” Whether we speak of Allah who commands things to be and they are, or the Tao, or the Word by which all things were made, or Brahman, we are speaking of Consciousness of an ever-living and present and this truth is made especially explicit in Hinduism where the principial Reality which is the source of all things is described as at once Being, Consciousness and Ecstasy. Nor is this unanimity of vision of the Origin of all things as identified with consciousness confined to sacred scriptures. Both Oriental and traditional Western philosophers speak of the same truth. The Agathon of Plato is not only the Supreme Good but also supreme awareness of the Good, and nous or intellect, so central to Greek philosophy, is of course inseparable from consciousness. Islamic philosophers consider being to be inseparable from knowledge and therefore awareness, and consider cosmic levels of existence also to be levels of knowledge and awareness. As for Hin­duism, in its worldview the existence of a thing, even a rock, is also a state of consciousness.  (Nasr, “In the Beginning was Consciousness”)

Nasr is telling us then that from the Traditional viewpoint, we might view all of existence as a Mind and everything that exists as thoughts within it.  Further, our own consciousness is a Microcosmic reflection of this Macrocosmic Consciousness.  This has to be made clear at the onset, if we are to understand how a change in consciousness could correspond to a change in being.  If we are to understand how Gloranthan Dragonewts change and evolve as their consciousness changes, then we need to start here.

Imagine the Universe as mind and all the rest as narrative.  Then we can begin.


FIRST LET US DRAW a line between the Dragon of myth and the dragon of folklore.  No; it was not a mistake that only one of those was capitalized.

The folkloric dragon--and I am going to lump into this category the quasi "historical" dragons reported by the likes of Herodotus, Flavius Philostratus, and Claudius Aelianus--is a strictly local phenomenon.  It is essentially a beast, albeit a big one, and exists mainly for pious knights or virgin martyrs like Saint Margaret of Antioch to slay.  There is often a religious component to this.  Slaying the dragon is a metaphor for conversion (though for the Greeks and Romans it was more a case of "civilizing" than converting, as dragons invariably inhabited untamed regions).  This is not simply a Western conceit however; here in Japan, an hour south from where I write, villagers once sacrificed maidens to the dragon of Enoshima until a wandering monk converted it to Buddhism.  After that, it was the island’s beneficent patron.

The mythological Dragon is an altogether different creature; Níðhöggr is an existential threat that gnaws at the roots of the World Tree.  Jörmungandr encircles creation.  Marduk slays Tiamat and from her fashions the entire universe.  Vritra swallows all the waters of the world until Indra kills it and releases them.  Apep is the a threat to the entire cosmic order, and Sìhǎi Lóngwáng—the “Dragon King”—is the Lord of all Waters in four forms (the Azure, Red, Black, and White Dragons of China).  These are not convenient monsters for a knight errant to prove their mettle against, they embody deeper forces, universal things.  If they are fought they are fought by gods, because their power and status is like unto divinity.

A subset of the mythological Dragon deserves special attention.  In myths found from India to Scandinavia the story is oft repeated of a Dragon—or serpent—and a Tree.  Usually there is also a Woman, or Women, involved as well.  This is a story about consciousness, or more specifically, about transforming consciousness.  In it, the Hero comes to the Dragon and the Tree to be changed from one state of being to the next.

In northern Europe it is Odin.  The Tree is Yggdrasil, the Women are the Norns, the Dragon is Níðhöggr.  Odin hangs himself on the Tree for nine days and nights to gain possession of the Runes.  In Greece it is Jason.  The Tree is in Colchis, and holds in its branches the Golden Fleece (χρυσόμαλλον δέρας).  The Women is Medea.  The Dragon guards the Tree.  Jason enlists Medea’s aid to bewitch the Dragon and steal the Fleece, an act which transforms him into a King.  Also in Greece we find Herakles, who goes to the Garden of the Hesperides where stands a Tree holding the apples of immortality.  Here the Dragon guarding it is Ladon, and the Women are the Nymphs to whom the garden belongs (Ladon, interestingly, is the Greek name for the Canaanite Dragon Lotan, whom the Hebrews called Leviathan).

There are scores of other versions, but the one most familiar to us is related in the Book of Genesis.  It is also the most unusual.  While the other versions of the tale have the Hero claiming victory and ascending to a higher state, Adam comes to the Tree and the Dragon (here a serpent) and is seduced by the Woman into descending and losing his immortality.  The reasons for this reversal are unclear, except perhaps to underscore the fact that the Hebrew God alone dispenses life, death, and immortality.  It cannot be won, only given.  

There is more to be said on stories of this type, but we are here to discuss Glorantha, not terrestrial mythology.  Those interested should look here for a fuller discussion of the Dragon and the Tree.  For our purposes here, we need only sum up the following points;

  1. Dragons can be divided roughly into folkloric and mythic varieties.  The former are local phenomena, while the latter are cosmic in scope.  
  2. The cosmic variety of Dragons are often associated with transformative myths, in which those approaching them find their consciousness and/or state of being altered in some way.         


GLORANTHA CONTAINS both categories of dragon mentioned above--as well as a third we will arrive at shortly.  It calls the dragon of folklore a "Dream Dragon," and the mythic Dragon a "True Dragon,” and connects the two in a fascinating new way.  The True Dragon is a titanic thing, several kilometers in length.  Equal in power to a god, they remain unbound by the Compromise that prevents Glorantha’s deities from operating freely in the mortal world.  They are, however, completely disinterested in the world.  Most True Dragons have left Glorantha, passing beyond the mortal world and the Gods Age, into the Void.  Those who remain seem to do so solely to keep an eye on their egg nests, where new dragons are bred.  They sleep, time passing all around them, eventually becoming part of the landscape.  Yet while they sleep...they dream.

The dreams of Dragons can be terrible things.  The negative aspects they have transcended—avarice, hunger, rage, greed—manifest as physical entities.  These are more the kind of dragons we think of...hoarding treasures, burning villages, kidnapping maidens.  They are far smaller than True Dragons, and infinitely less powerful, but still among the most dangerous entities a Gloranthan might encounter.  Because the sleep of True Dragons can last millennia, these Dream Dragons can ravage for centuries.  

The word “transcended” in the previous paragraph brings us to the third type of dragon in Glorantha.  We are speaking now of the immature dragons, dragons that have not yet attained True Dragon status.  They form a race called Dragonewts.

Dragonewts “hatch” from carefully guarded egg nests.  Once the occupant leaves the egg, the empty vessel then “heals” and waits to be used again.  For Dragonewts enjoy a form of serial immortality; if the egg’s former occupant is killed or dies, its spirit returns to the same egg and is reborn again.  This happens countless times, as the immature Dragon evolves through four stages or forms.  The first three are roughly humanoid, in both size and shape.  The fourth stage less so.  By adhering to codes of “Right Action,” and practicing increased detachment from the world, the Dragonewt may eventually evolve though these stages into True Dragon form.  Having been liberated from the world, it then leaves it for the Void.  To the Dragons, the material world is an Illusion to be Liberated from.  Born into the Web of Time, they spend countless lifetimes trying to disentangle themselves from it.

While the Dragons do not seem the embrace the first Noble Truth of dukha (“life is suffering”), they do seem remarkably “Buddhist.”  They reincarnate endlessly and seek liberation from this cycle of rebirth; attaining True Dragon status (buddhahood) they leave the world for the Void (nirvana).  Some remain behind to help others (boddhisatvas).  They practice detachment and the concept of Right Action.  I could continue—and will later—but for now it is enough to draw the reader’s attention to the parallels.  

Now, the Draconic quest for “liberation,” and the change in consciousness and state that it brings, closely mirrors Illumination.  In fact, speaking with True Dragons can induce a “transformative mental and spiritual state called draconic consciousness” in other species—such as humans—as well (HeroQuest Glorantha, p. 206) that is for all intents and purposes identical to Nysalorean Illumination and the Sevening path taught by the Red Goddess.  In Kralorela—a human nation ruled by a True Dragon—draconic mysticism is an established and widely practiced path to enlightenment, and the Lunar Empire and Kralorela mirror each other in intriguing ways.  Both have a wide variety of religions and spiritual paths, but with the overlay of a mysticism endorsed and embodied in the Imperial personage above all of these.  

And yet, there is a crucial distinction between Illumination (Nysalorean or Red Goddess) and Draconic Consciousness, and a puzzle that we need to address before we can claim to understand the relationship between the two.  The heart of it is this; in Illumination there is the “taint” of Chaos, and further, an imbalance that seems to necessitate the rise of a counterbalance.  Nysalor’s presence in the world necessitated the appearance of Arkat.  The Red Goddess’s appearance in the world necessitated the rise of Argrath.  Yet Chaos does not seem to cling to Draconic Mysticism in the same way, nor does the presence of a True Dragon (such as the Kralorelan Emperor Godunya) seem to trigger the rise of a counterbalance to fight it.  Illumination and Draconic Consciousness seem fundamentally the same, and yet the former demonstrates and instability that doesn’t plague the latter.  We need to ask ourselves “why?”

The answer, appropriately, lies in a question.  Why do True Dragons leave the world?


IN OUR discussion of Illumination, we referenced the Four Worlds system present in terrestrial mystical schools like Kabbalah.  A fuller discussion is there in the previous essay, but to summarize, this model has existence originate from Nothingness through a series of descending levels.  

The highest level is simultaneously Nothing and thus potentially Everything.  Imagine a blank sheet of paper.  “Nothing” is on it.  And yet that means it could become a love letter, a suicide note, a laundry list, a sermon, math homework, a drawing, or just doodles.  In that emptiness is contained infinite possibility.  In Glorantha this is Primal Chaos.

From this emerges basic and fundamental principles, like numbers or letters of an alphabet.  In Gloranthan terms, the Runes.

These fundamental principles then combine and interact in infinite combinations.  Think of using the letters of the alphabet to write with, or numbers to perform calculations.  This level in Glorantha is the Gods Age.

The final result—the written story, the solved calculation—is the material world, or in Glorantha the mortal world inside of Time.

Now, there is a stunning uniformity in the myth structures of Glorantha that we do not necessarily find in those of our world.  This might be the result of God Learner meddling, or Stafford’s own sense of symmetry.  In the model above, the Runes emerge from Chaos, the Runes combine and interact, and the world is created.  But the Dragons mirror this in their own Mysticism.

Their system begins with Ouroboros, who is essentially the embodiment of the Void, as it contains every possibility within it.  Again, I urge the reader to consider the concept of Zero (which seems apt here as Ouroboros like Zero is a circle).  Zero is simultaneously Nothing and Infinity, as all numbers and their opposites are contained within it (0 = n + -n).

From this highest level emerge the Cosmic and Ancestral Dragons, with occupy a position in Draconic teachings not unlike the Runes. Below them are the True Dragons, who like the occupants of the Gods Age remain timeless, followed by the Dream Dragons which exist in, and are bound by, Time.  Again we see here a pattern of the Infinite becoming the Cosmic, the Cosmic becoming the Local, and the Local becoming the Individual.

Yet a striking difference in the two models stands out here.  In the broader Gloranthan myth cycle, the pattern is separation.  The Runes separate from Chaos, in some cases violently.  Darkness, for example, said by many to be the first Rune to emerge, is renowned for its Chaos-fighting powers primarily because it was the first to fight its way free.  This pattern of separation echoes again and again in the Gods Age, as deity turns against deity and eventually against Chaos.  The ultimate separation occurs between the Gods Age and the mortal world of Time.  The assumption here is that the four levels of reality we outlined really exist and are distinct from each other; Orlanth has the Air, Movement, and Mastery Runes, but he is a distinct entity from them.  A follower of Orlanth can embrace his powers, but he is not identical with Orlanth.

The Draconic model is entirely different.  There is a chain of descent into the world, but never a separation.  At each level of reality there is a Dragon, a single race that forms a continuity back to the Infinite.  In a sense, every Dragonewt is already a True Dragon and already Ouroboros.  Any appearance otherwise is the result of Illusion.  Indeed, all of reality is itself an Illusion, because there is really only Ouroboros, only the Void.  All of the levels below Ouroboros are essentially “unreal.”  Thus while the Illuminate achieves a higher state of consciousness by uniting opposing forces in herself, the Draconic mystic dismisses the very existence of those opposing forces.  There is no separation and never was. The Illuminate performs an operation that looks like n + -n = 0 to get back to Primordial reality, while the Draconic mystic realizes that nothing on the left side of the equal sign was ever real and we never left Primordial reality.

Stafford intentionally or accidentally (I suspect the former) mirrored in Illumination and Draconic Mysticism the terrestrial differences between liberation in the Hindu tradition (specifically Advaita Vedanta) and in the Buddhist tradition (specifically the older Theravada tradition).  

Advaita means “non dual” (and is a classic demonstration of Indo-European languages at work; “a” being a common prefix for “not” in English—atypical, asymmetrical—and “dva” looking suspiciously like the English “two” or “duo”).  Originated by one of the Indian subcontinent’s most famous religious philosophers, Shankara (788-820 CE), it has its roots in the much older Upanishads (rooted in the late Bronze Age).  Basically, in a gross over-simplification, the goal of Advaita is to overcome duality and realize that individual consciousness (atman) is the same as Cosmic Consciousness (Brahman).  The individual moves from “I am myself” to simply “I am.”  All of reality becomes a part of him. 

The Theravada tradition takes a much different approach.  Instead of identifying oneself with the All, it instead tasks the practitioner with embracing the concept of “I am not.”  It’s not embracing Oneness, but rather Nothingness.  Advaita wants you to realize that your individuality is an Illusion; you are in fact the Supreme Self.    Your consciousness is identical with the Consciousness from which the universe originates.  Theravada, on the other hand, pushes things further; it wants you to understand that Self is an Illusion as well.  From Therevada’s point of view, the Self cannot be “Supreme” on the simple grounds that if Self exists, it logically suggests a co-equal and opposite Not Self exists.  “I am this” automatically implies “I am not that.”  Clinging to the notion of a Self is a form of attachment.  Liberation means letting go of everything.      

Here we reach the dilemma both Nysalor and the Red Goddess faced.  Both tried to become the All.  They believed they could reach the highest level of reality by embracing everything, including Chaos.  Yet despite preaching a doctrine of liberation, neither was able to “let go” of the world. Both ruled governments and attempted to expand their hold over more and more of the world.  Both proselytized.  Both involved themselves in politics.  Both had enemies.  The Red Goddess, a particularly egregious offender, had the audacity to think she could be both Life and Death, Chaos and Order, and that cyclicity was some sort of solution to the problem of containing contradictions.  Yet in her, these polar forces remain polar.  She cannot possibly reconcile the opposites within her so long as she continues to acknowledge their individual essence.  So long as Life is Life and Death is Death, they always remain opposites.  You have failed to unite them.

The Dragons, by contrast, let go of everything.  Reaching the highest levels of consciousness, they depart Glorantha altogether for the Void.  To their minds, you cannot free yourself from the world by grasping it harder and harder.  And you cannot reach a timeless and perfect state by cycling Life and Death in yourself.  You need to recognize that cycles, and Life, and Death...are delusions.  They do not exist.  To be free of the world you must leave it behind.

Nysalor and the Red Goddess, by contrast, reaching up into ultimate reality, got right back down into the muck.

It is this contradiction, this paradox, that doomed both the Red Goddess and Nysalor.  You cannot remain “in” the world and still be Nothing.  Unable to overcome the most basic classification of subject and object, their presence in Glorantha necessitates the existence of an opposite to balance the equation (everything must be Zero, so if you insist on being n there has to be a -n.  They created Arkat and Argrath, for the same reasons that the Gods War happened.  The minute minute you become an action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction.

Which is why, of course, True Dragons leave the world.  If you want to attain the highest level of existence, you cannot cling to the lowest.

I suspect it also explains the existence of Dream Dragons.  Those few True Dragons who stay in the world seem to do as little as possible.  Most simply sleep.  Again, they are minimizing the counterbalancing forces their presence causes by remaining uninvolved.  Yet such a presence cannot be ignored completely, and the sleeping True Dragons create their own opposites, the Dream Dragons that embody all of the qualities the True Dragon has purged from itself.  Yet Dream Dragons do not trouble True Dragons the same way Arkat troubled Nyslaor because the sleeping True Dragon remains detached from the world.  The world does not push back against the True Dragon, because the True Dragon is barely pushing at all.  This is not simply very Buddhist, it is very Taoist as well.  


SO WHERE does this leave us, fellow travelers?

For starters, I think we need to recognize Illumination as an inferior form of Draconic Consciousness.  Sneaking off a draft of this essay to Jeff Richard he shared with me his thoughts on Argrath as an Illuminate who in the end achieves Draconic Consciousness, which I have to agree with.  Argrath exists in opposition his entire life; he is defined by his antagonism to the Red Moon and her manifestations.  Yet in his travels and trials he becomes more.  He reaches Zero by defeating the object of his hate and changing the world in the process.  The end of the Third Age comes when n and -n cancel each other out…just as the First Age did.

If you are running Illuminated characters at your table, you might wish to consider this.  Is their Illumination Nysalorean?  Lunar?  If so, feel free to give them a counterbalance, and make it stronger the more they pervert their Illumination to interfere in the mundane world.  If their Illumination is Draconic…they should not wish to interfere in the world.  Power, empires, proselytizing…these have no meaning to them.  If you have truly been liberated, you have no need to remain in the mud of the world.

Jeff also pointed out to me that from the Draconic point of view, Truth and Illusion are the same.  He is right, of course…but Life and Death are also the same, as well as Disorder and Harmony, Luck and Fate, etc.  The Draconic embrace of Zero necessitates this, as does in a sense simple logic.  Hot and Cold are both temperature.  Up and Down are both direction.  They seem opposite but are in fact Yin and Yang.  Categories of the same thing.

Hopefully this has given you something to chew on.  Let me know your thoughts. 

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant, Andrew! You've framed draconic mysticism and its relationship to Pelorian illumination in new and interesting ways. Truths beyond truths. Your ideas would seem to place Sekever in the role of temptation, not opposition, to the dragon emperors. I like that. I also better understand the rise and fall of those outsiders, like the God Learners and Sheng, exposed to Kralori teaching. Thank you.