"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.

Monday, October 8, 2018


It gets a little academic in here.  I pray, gentle reader, you don't mind.  Numbers marked with a (*) are footnotes.  


GLORANTHA is not Earth. It is not a "fantasy" Earth or even a "mythic" Earth. Yet like all pieces of imaginative fiction--a genre encompassing but not limited to fantasy, horror, and science fiction--Glorantha is composed of undeniable "echoes" of Earth, reflections that by looking at help us come to better understand ourselves. This is one of the principle functions of imaginative fiction, going all the way back to mythology itself.

Thus while Glorantha is strange it is also familiar.  It is a flat world under a sky dome, the underworld stretching darkly beneath it...but isn't this the Earth the Aeneid or the Bible describes? At dawn in Glorantha the sun emerges from the gates of the east to journey across the heavens, and at dusk descends through the gates of the west to journey through the lands of the dead...but similar journeys were made in the myths of our own ancient Greeks or Egyptians.  Mighty Orlanth, one of the chief deities of the setting, was a formidable warrior chieftain, a thunderbolt wielder charged with staving off chaos and sending life-giving rains to fertilize the earth...but this puts him among gods like Indra, Perun, Tarhunt, or Thor.  Like our own image in the looking-glass, when we look at Glorantha see ourselves, but simultaneously like Alice's journey through the looking-glass everything is different.

In fact, with Glorantha we often feel we recognize what we see but at the same time can't exactly place it.  It is often much easier, in other fantasy worlds, to recognize exactly what we are seeing. In Dragon Age's Thedas or Warhammer's "Old World," the reflections of our world are much more apparent.  "Orlais" in Thedas and "Bretonnia" in the Old World are undeniably reflections of France; the names sound French, the cultures come off as (at least stereotypically) French, and the location of the nation on the map is essentially where France should be (bear in mind Thedas is basically Europe turned upside down).  Just look at the map of the Old World below and you can easily guess which terrestrial nations "Tilea," "Estalia," and "Kislev" mirror.  Turn Thedas upside down and the connection between the Roman and Tevinter imperiums becomes clear.  

Warhammer's "The Old World"

Dragon Age's "Thedas"

In Glorantha, this is seldom the case.  A notable exception is Kralorela, an ancient nation on the eastern shores of the continent of Genertela.  Kralorela is clearly a reflection of China, Korea, and other East Asian civilizations.  It is probably the easiest Gloranthan culture to associate with something terrestrial (outside of that homage to Toho Co. Ltd known as Loral).1*  But the vast majority of Gloranthan cultures are impossible to identify in this way.  

Move to the opposite side of the continent.  The Western regions of Fronela, Ralios, and Seshnela immediately remind us of Europe; the predominant religion reveres a single creator God whose mechanistic, clockwork world is governed by immutable laws of nature.  There was a single Prophet who revealed the laws of this God to the world.  There are sects squabbling over what these laws really mean.  But the longer we look, the less sure we really are.  From one angle we see Christendom, but from another Judaism, the Islamic world, Zoroastrianism.  We know we recognize it, but from where?

Glorantha's northern continent, Genertela

The answer lies in Glorantha's very foundations.  She is not that interested in terrestrial geography, history, or culture.  Glorantha only reflects such things to the extent that they support her main purpose, the reflection of terrestrial mythology.  My suspicion is that Kralorela mirrors China so strongly because--as an ancient and mostly isolated region--China's mythologies were so self-contained.  But Western monotheism?  This was born in the Near East, spreading like wildfire.  Protestantism, Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy trace back to the same sources as Sunni and Shiism, right back to Zarathustra and his Magi.  All of this gets reflected in the "myth pool" of Western Gloranthan culture.  We are not sure exactly which terrestrial culture we are seeing because we are seeing so many at once.

All of which brings us to the titular question; "where on Earth is Dragon Pass?"


Located in south-central Genertela, Dragon Pass has been the center of stories set in Glorantha since White Bear and Red Moon. If you have played RuneQuest, Hero Wars, HeroQuest, King of Dragon Pass, or 13th Age Glorantha, you have likely visited there. You know of the barbarian kingdom of Sartar and its struggle against the occupying forces of the Lunar Empire. You have heard of the mountain ranges that are titanic, sleeping dragons. You are familiar with Kero Fin, the tallest mountain in the world. Paradoxically, we know more about Dragon Pass than anywhere else in Glorantha...and yet it is one of the hardest regions to "place" on the map of our own world. Who are the Sartarites reflections of? Is there anywhere in out own world like this mountainous, contested region?

When I first visited Dragon Pass back in 1982, the Sartarites were described to me as "vikings without ships."2*  This was a common perception back then.  Dragon Pass was vaguely northern European, with storm-worshipping barbarians fighting an empire.  For American teenagers, it was the easiest association to make.  We had studied the Roman invasions of Germany, Gaul, and Britain, and of the little mythology we knew, thunderbolt-wielding Orlanth (the chief god of the Sartarites) seemed far more Thor than Zeus.  

It never sat right with me though.

I fell in love with mythology long before I met Glorantha.  In grade school, I was seldom far from my battered copies of the D'Aulaires' retellings of Greek or Norse myths.  Other kids had Batman and Spiderman.  I had Hercules and Jason.  I was eleven the first time I set foot in Glorantha, and recognized it all immediately.  But even then--a decade before mythology would become my academic career--I knew about gods like Vedic Indra and the Slavic Perun, enough to make me question why my gaming group so easily assumed Orlanth must be Thor.  I went along with it, though, and it wasn't until I was running RuneQuest in college that I started to think more deeply about where and who Dragon Pass might be reflecting.  

As a graduate student I was in Washington DC studying Sanskrit and Indology,3* but my real passion was the mysterious Proto-Indo-Europeans, or "PIE."  A hypothetical people, their supposed existence in the late Neolithic and early Bronze ages answered a great many questions.  For starters there was the linguistic evidence, what we call the "Indo-European" languages.  Given the rules of linguistic "drift," the slow changing of words over time, it is clear that many languages in Europe and central-south Asia came from the same source.  Counting in counting in Sanskrit, for example, is eka, dva, treeni, chatvaari, pancha while ancient Greek is ena, duo, tria, tessera, pente.  It's easy to see the correlation. 

Another strong piece of evidence is the existence of epic literature across the Indo-European language spectrum.  The Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, Eddas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, and others are all epic poems that sing of gods and heroes and wars.  Further, they contain the same stock phrases. "Imperishable fame," "the wheel of the sun," "cattle and men" (used to describe wealth, as in "he possessed many cattle and men"), and "the wine-dark sea" turn up repeatedly.  There is the suggestion here that these stories were passed down from the same source.  Countless generations of oral tradition preserved the stock phrases even as the stories evolved as the cultures grew apart.

Of course for me the most persuasive argument was the mythological. The Indo-European cultures shared remarkably distinctive deities and myth patterns.  There was, for example, always a dichotomy between two "father" deities.  On one hand there was an aloof, all-seeing father associated with the sky, mystery, and creation (Woden, Ouranos, Varuna).  On the other there was a father figure--usually his son--associated with thunder, rains, cattle, chieftains, and family (Thor, Zeus, Indra).  This second deity was usually the most worshipped, as the first was too distant and unapproachable.  Everywhere we find him he wields the thunderbolt, sometimes in the guise of an axe or hammer, sometimes as the three-bladed vajra.  He was the model chieftain for the culture, the model father figure, the model warrior.  

In other words, he was Orlanth.

The more I learned about the PIE, the more they seemed like my beloved Orlanthi.  From all the evidence we had gathered about them we knew they were pastoral famers who saw cattle as the measure of wealth, who had a strong oral tradition of heroic sagas and worshipped a storm god, who tended to see the ideal ruler as a war lord rather than a hereditary king. Even in the migration patterns of the Orlanthi I saw a reflection of the Indo-Europeans.  Looking at a map of the Orlanthi in Genertela, after a few cocktails you might be forgiven for thinking your are looking at the Indo-European Yamnaya or Corded Ware.    

Orlanthi Dispersal in Genertela

Indo-Europeans in Europe

PIE Homeland and Migrations

By the time my dissertation was finished,4* the Orlanthi as a reflection of the ancient PIE peoples was firmly fixed in my mind.  And that meant for me Dragon Pass could no longer be "northern European."  Just as the Orlanthi originated in Dragon Pass and then fanned out across Genertela, the Indo-Europeans originated somewhere to.  Dragon Pass became, in my mind, the Caucasus.5*


Quivins...or the Caucasus?

If we compare Genertela with Eurasia, Dragon Pass and the Caucasus occupy roughly the exact same south-central position.  Each is the crossroads of a continent, a mountainous region that gave birth to storm-worshippers.  There are many other intriguing parallels as well.

A modern village in the region.

We have mentioned the Lunar Empire; like all Gloranthan cultures it is a "myth pool" and this particular one combines the mythic images of several ancient empires.  It is easy to see the Romans in the Lunars, but the Indian Gupta dynasty is evident as well.  Indeed, with roots going back to Mohenjo-daro and Harappa (Dara Happans), a mythic history that describes a Solar dynasty replaced by a Lunar one, and a supreme battle goddess who brings enlightenment and salvation to those who love her and rains destruction on her enemies (it is difficult to read about Durga in the Devi Mahatmya and NOT see the Red Goddess) the correlations between the Gupta and the Lunars are strong.  Of course we also see the Achaemenid Empire as well in things like the Lunar "satrapies" and the iconography of deities like Yelm.  This Persian empire is in many ways a better "fit" for the Lunars, more Bronze Age than the Romans and far more "exotic." 

I bring this up because the Caucasus was where the Achaemenids were stopped.  In 513-12 BCE Darius I led a campaign there, but it is unclear from the "satrapy list" of Herodotus whether or not the Persians were able to hold it very long.  Evidence suggests some of the kingdoms here remained under Persian rule a brief time, and others sent tribute, but that in short order Persian rule was thrown off.  The Persians expanded across the ancient world, but the mountainous Caucasus and the storm-worshippers there were the wall their expansion ran into.

Which sounds to me quite like what happens in Dragon Pass.

There are several other interesting parallels worth mentioning.  The first has to be Mt. Elbrus.

The tallest mountain in Genertela is Kero Fin, the mother of Orlanth who towers over Dragon Pass.  The tallest mountain in Europe is Elbrus, who towers over the Caucasus. The ancient Persians associated it with Mount Qaf, the mythical highest mountain in the world.  She is called, in fact, "the mother of all mountains." Avestan tradition associated Elbrus--and the Caucasus region around it--with the battleground of the Saoshyant, an eschatological hero who would conquer the personification of Evil and remake the entire world.  This sounds more than a little like Argrath's war against the Evil Empire.

Interestingly, Elbrus has two peaks.  The second of the two is actually said to be a sleeping dragon.  This certainly sounds more than a little like the mountain ranges one finds in Dragon Pass.  And irresistible to fans of Greek mythology, the Caucasus was also home to ancient Colchis, the destination of the Argonauts and the home of Medea.  It was in the Greek imagination a land drenched in magic, and, of course, a breeding place of dragons.  The Persians associated it with dragons as well.

As a side note, the Orlanthi, who associate with alynxes the same way many peoples associated with dogs, would be pleased to hear the terrestrial Caucasus is home to an indigenous species of lynx.

Finally, it must be pointed out that just south of the Caucasus lies Mesopotamia, the urban center of the ancient world.  The fertile lands between the Tigris and Euphrates gave rise to great city-states like Nineveh, Uruk, Sumer, and Babylon.  This region mirrors nicely the lands just south of Dragon Pass, Esrolia, the urban center of central Genertela.  While elements of Esrolia's culture strongly reflect Minoan Crete, it is hard to look at a city like Nochet--whose population rivaled Babylon's and not think of Mesopotamia.  The adjacency of this "holy country" next to the Caucasus is another strong case for comparing that region and Dragon Pass.


Glorantha resists the kind of one-for-one identifications that are possible in some other fantasy worlds.  Primarily, as discussed, this is because her cultures are more reflections of belief systems and mythic themes than actual terrestrial civilizations.  Praxian nomads are not Native American plains tribes nor Arabian bedouins, but something in which we can see shades of both. But in addition to this, Glorantha is now more than 50 years old, and over time she has evolved into something more her own. The description of Western Malkioni society in 1990's Genertela: Crucible of the Hero Wars reads far more "dark ages Europe" than the description in 2014's The Guide to Glorantha.  As a setting she has, quite simply, grown up and formed her own identity.

But Glorantha would not resonate with us, she would not mean anything, if she did not mirror the world we know.  To the extent that she has succeeded to captivate us for forty years testifies to the extent she reflects our own faces.

The Indo-Europeans are--just like any Gloranthan culture--a construct of sorts, a "myth pool."  In creating the Orlanthi, I don't think there was really any need for Greg Stafford to fuse together multiple cultures and myth streams as he did for peoples like the Lunars or the Malkioni, because with the Indo-Europeans, scholars had already done that for him.  Orlanth reflects any number of historical thunder gods the same way as his equally imaginary counterpart, Dyḗus Phtḗr (a hypothetical PIE name meaning "sky father") does.  He is Thor, and Perun, and Zeus, and Indra and Jupiter simultaneously...and none of them at all.  Remember, Gloranthan cultures are mirrors...and we each see something different when we stand in front of the looking glass.  Your Glorantha will vary.

In "my" Glorantha, the Orlanthi of Dragon Pass have more in common with ancient Colchis, Media, or Iberia than the Norse or the Celts...but the case in Fronela and Loskalm is different.  In Dragon Pass, iconography shows Orlanth with a vajra.  In those northern regions he bears a hammer or an axe.  In "my" Glorantha, the Lunar-Sartar conflict is more 300 than Braveheart.  I like my Lunars Persian with a strong Gupta India twist.  Again, yours will vary.

And thank Orlanth for that.


1* Though technically Gamera was Daiei Films and Kong was RKO Pictures

2* Actually my first RuneQuest GM told me to think of them as "vikings without ships or Men of Rohan without horses."

3* I was lucky in my mentors.  As an undergrad I studied under Thomas Coburn, whose Encountering the Goddess: a translation of the Devi-Mahatmaya and a Study of its Interpretation and Devi Mahatmya, The Crystallization of the Goddess Tradition are highly recommended to any devotees of the Red Goddess out there.  As a grad student I studied under Alf Hiltebeitel, whose Gods, Heroes, and Krsna: A Study of the Mahabharata in relation to Indian and Indo-European Symbolisms and The Ritual of Battle: Krishna in the Mahabharata might change the way you think about Argrath.

4* The Lotus and the Lioness, Sacral Kingship in the Mythologies of Durga and Sri.  I guarantee it will put even the most desperate of you insomniacs out there to sleep.

5* There are competing theories as to where, exactly, the PIE originated.  Marija Gimbutas, for example, places them just north to the Pontic-Caspian Steppes.  You can probably guess which theory I subscribe to.  


  1. I've long thought of Sartar being more than a little like Urartu, for the terrain, location, and big bad neighbor...

  2. scrivenerofdoom@gmail.comMarch 7, 2019 at 3:22 AM