"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.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023


“We live among ruins in a World in which ‘god is dead’ as Nietzsche stated. The ideals of today are comfort, expediency, surface knowledge, disregard for one’s ancestral heritage and traditions, catering to the lowest standards of taste and intelligence, apotheosis of the pathetic, hoarding of material objects and possessions, disrespect for all that is inherently higher and better — in other words a complete inversion of true values and ideals, the raising of the victory flag of ignorance and the banner of degeneracy..."
Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Apocalypse Now

In my previous posts on the Cults of RuneQuest series, and particularly my last post on games, ritual, and play, I have mentioned several times the contention that the 21st century has become completely stripped of meaning. That our language itself has been hollowed out and inverted so that words like cult, psychology, esoteric, art, and even spirit now stand for the opposite of what they originally did.  My old mentor and teacher summed it up fairly explicitly in the quote above. As a species, the last few centuries we sacrificed meaning on the altar of scientific and technological advancement, a sacrifice that was never necessary, but happened because as our increasingly polarized societies demonstrate, we find it hard to keep two conflicting ideas in our heads.   

I am not a Luddite, nor am I a conspiracy theorist. I embrace the power of reason and the scientific method, and I do not think there is some sinister Deep State or Technocracy that manipulated us into the wasteland our world is becoming. No, I suspect that the change was gradual, and started small. I suspect it was not organized at all, but one idea simply came tumbling after the other in a display of small-c chaos. And to paraphrase our favorite Vorlon, once the avalanche has started, it is too late for the pebbles to vote. I think science came along and it was a Good Thing...but I also contend we have been programmed to accept that if there is a Good Thing then its alternate must be a Bad Thing. If science was leading strides forward, tradition and meaning had to be regressive.

In discussing Cults of RuneQuest: The Prosopaedia I spoke a bit about Chaosium's primary games and how they explore the issue. Games like RuneQuest, King Arthur Pendragon, and Nephilim are about worlds still pregnant with meaning. They are not the only ones, of course--The One Ring jumps out as another immediate example--but all of them are about traditional worlds in which the characters' actions resonate not just on physical planes, but moral, spiritual, and archetypical as well. They are all settings in which being something means something. The characters have the possibility to take actions that not only move the plot or change the world, but also feed the soul.

Compare this to Call of Cthulhu. Now, Call of Cthulhu is a terrific (in the original sense of the word and the modern) game, but the point is that it's a horror game, and what makes Lovecraftian horror work is "cosmicism," the author's contention that there is no recognizable divine presence, such as a god in the universe, and that humans are particularly insignificant in the larger scheme of existence. Cthulhu embraces the post-Enlightenment viewpoint, in which existing really just means "staying alive." There is no significance beyond that. There is no soul to feed, no deeper meaning to our actions. And from this comes a sense of bleak dread.

Compare this with what makes capital-C Chaos so horrible in RuneQuest. "Endless debates define and redefine Chaos, but the overriding factor is that Chaos destroys and subtracts from Glorantha and is capable of killing even the gods. (from the Prospopaedia, p. 22)." In other words, the dread of Chaos is that it has the potential to reduce Glorantha to our world, devoid of gods, and as we know from our own history, once you kill the gods the planet comes next.

Play as Recreation

Let me quote another sufi: my mentor Nasr is one, but one of my favorite musicians--former Bauhaus lead singer Peter Murphy--is as well.

The power of poetry comes from the ability to defy logic
Defy logic often
Use a metaphor and tell us that your lover is the sky.
Tell us that your lover is the sky.

When you do that
We won't believe you,
We won't believe you
Because saying so makes no sense
But we'll see a meaning.

We'll see a meaning
The other thing is the ability to be remembered.

Understand where you came from. Understand.

Peter Murphy, Things to Remember

"Mean" is a very interesting verb. There is some contention on this but the men root may be the same as mem (like the English con and com), connecting words like mental, mind, and mean with memory and remember. They all signify, naturally, to have in mind.

Now, "mean" as a noun and an adjective, "average" and "common" respectively, come to us from different roots but when you get back to the PIE we find mei, potentially the root of men and mem above. It means "to share, to exchange." There is a broader idea here of meaning as something shared, something held in common. This of course makes perfect sense, because we cannot possibly know what anyone else has in mind unless it is exchanged and shared.

But the connection between "meaning" and "remembering" in the song above is a very Traditional (capital T) idea. When someone tells you "their lover is the sky," something is triggered deep inside us. Something stirs. Reason rejects the statement, because it makes no sense. Yet memory kicks in. Feeling the sun upon our faces. Gazing up at the beauty of the stars or the moon. The sheer sense of wonder and awe of looking up into the heavens. We remember, and because we remember, we see the meaning.

"The power of poetry" lies in this, but the power of mythology as well. None of us here truly believes there was a historical figure named Icarus who made wax wings and flew too close to the sun. But we hear the story and we remember...all those times in our lives when we overreached and failed. We are reminded and we see the meaning.

Yet the connection between meaning and remembering also connects us to Tradition, to our ancestors, to the past, because the process works equally in reverse. Because you learned the story of Icarus, because it was passed down to you over thousands of years, before you overreach you might remember it, sense the meaning, and exercise restraint. 

This is precisely what was lost on the altar of progress. The myth of Icarus does not need to be demonstratively proven true to have meaning or value. Things can exist outside of the physical phenomena science allows us to understand and still be true. 

As a side note, this is what makes Glorantha's myths so powerful. They have been constructed so masterfully that when we hear the stories, like Icarus, they trigger remembrance and meaning. The Lightbringer's Quest is a completely original unique story, but whether it is Inana's descent into the underworld or Christ's, when we hear about it, we remember.  

This is also a blog about magic, but I mostly try to keep that subject and roleplaying games separate because for the most part I am speaking to different audiences. I will say this, however, to set up my next point. I have had experiences in the ritual chamber that cannot be proven by science, conversations with gods, spirits, the dead. I've had extraordinary visions. None of which I can measure, weigh, or place under a microscope. But I know, in the same way I know the story of Icarus to be true, that they were real because they contained both memory and meaning.

The question is, as I touched on earlier, the ability to hold two opposing ideas in your head.

People who lack that ability (and I contend everyone can possesses it if they chose to exercise it) will play a game and dismiss their trusty mount, their faithful squire, the NPC their character is in love with, their mortal foe as fictions. None of these are biological entities existing in physical space and possessing nervous systems or DNA. They are just "playing" a game.

The power of poetry comes from the ability to defy logic. On the other hand, if you cultivate the ability to recognize the truth of your own experience, that it can be real without being scientifically true, those NPCs all become part of your reality. They are spirits that you interact with, connect to, and learn from. Your visits to Glorantha, Arthurian Britain, Middle-earth, or wherever become genuine explorations and journeys. You are still just "playing" a game, but it has become something much bolder. "Play" is now "recreation."

This is yet another perfect example of a word hollowed out in the modern age. Today the dictionary defines it as "enjoying yourself when you are not working." Everything must now be defined in the context of our 9 to 5 existences, after all. They are the only things that give us value.

But the Latin is so clear I hardly need to state it. Re means "again" and creatio is to "create." Recreatio meant "to be restored, to recover from illness." Now, as much as I find it amusing that the modern rebranding of the word immediately implies our 9 to 5 jobs are illnesses we need recovery from, "recreation," "play," is so much deeper. It is healing. When you play games like RuneQuest, which also help you explore worlds that have not yet been stripped of meaning and made senseless, you are being healed--slowly--of the damage done to you living in the 21st century. In the myths you explore and the legends you create at the table, you are slowly restoring meaning to your life. You are "remembering" the world your ancestors once lived in. If enough of us can remember, maybe the world can be recreated. 
Understand where you came from. Understand.      



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