"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.

Sunday, September 1, 2019


Heroquesting is a key characteristic of stories set in Glorantha.  Glorantha heroes can journey to the mythic realms and bring back some of the magic of the Gods Age.  Heroquesting is a magical act wherein the quester can transform herself, her community, or even her gods.  It is the source of the most powerful Gloranthan magic...

Jeff Richard, HeroQuest Glorantha


MANY OF US already know the story.  The people of Jrustela followed the teachings of the prophet Malkion, who taught that there was only a single, transcendent God, and that this being set in motion a universe that conforms to immutable and impersonal laws.  Understanding those laws, and applying them, was the basis of their sorcery.  During the imperial Second Age, the Jrusteli ruled the Middle Sea Empire, dominating the costal regions of both the northern and southern continents.  This brought them into contact with a wide variety of cultures, most of which had either animistic or theistic worldviews which the Jrusteli considered both primitive and ignorant.  

One of the many paradoxes of the Jrusteli then is the sobriquet they became known by; the "God Learners."  

It is impossible in Glorantha to simply dismiss the presence of gods and spirits.  The Jrusteli knew they existed, but saw them more along the lines of plant and animal life.  Such beings were merely products of the immutable laws of the universe, which were properly embodied not in the gods but in the Runes.  The storm god Orlanth, for example, was passionate, proud, violent, and impulsive for the same reason a human being attuned to the Runes of Air and Motion would be.  All things in Glorantha were bound to the Runes, they dictated the shape of existence, not the deeds of petty gods.

The Jrusteli then came to see gods and their myths as another form of flora and fauna, specimens to be studied, quantified, catalogued, and ultimately used.  Here they earned the name God Learner, for every culture they encountered they would delve into the local myths.  Their ultimate goal--like 19th century scholars of comparative religion in our own world--was to form a unified theory of myth, a "monomyth," if you will.  Glorantha being Glorantha, however, the God Learners did not confine themselves to mere philosophy.  They tested their theories out in the field.

The most infamous example of God Learner experimentation was the "Goddess Switch."  By God Learner thinking, if this goddess had the Runes of Earth, Fertility, and Harmony, and that goddess had the same Runes, then local mythology aside they must in fact be the same goddess.  They were interchangeable.  The analogue would be saying that Osiris and Christ were really the same figure, because they were both resurrected gods, or that Loki and the Native American Coyote were the same.  Yet the God Learners tested their theory and "switched" the goddesses, making the worshippers of Dendara worship Ernalda instead and vice versa.  The results were catastrophic.  In one region, all marriages started to fail.  In the other, trees stopped bearing fruit.  Widespread famine occurred.

To finish this cautionary tale, the whole of Nature eventually rose up against the God Learners.  Jrustela was shattered and sunk beneath the waves.  The oceans of the world were closed so that no ship could sail upon them.  The God Learners had played with fire and ultimately gotten burned.

We need to ask ourselves "why?"


To answer that question, we need to sink into a bit of our own God Learnerism here.  We need to postulate our own sort of unified field theory.  Unlike the Jrusteli, we do so fully aware of the "Your Glorantha Will Vary" principle, and emphasis this is just a possible answer.  A model, if you will.

I started thinking about this as a graduate student two decades ago.  It was a sort of thought experiment to integrate what I was learning with something I loved (Glorantha).  At the time I was studying under two mentors who were perfect for Gloranthan thought experiments; Alf Hiltebeitel had studied under Mircea Eliade--whose ideals had tremendous influence over Greg Stafford--and Seyyed Hossein Nasr was (and is) one of the foremost Perennialists in the world, meaning that the Gloranthan world view was not a thought experiment to him but an actual reality.  From Alf I got a very clear idea of Eliade's work, and from Nasr a first-hand look at someone who accepted the notion of a divine or sacred plane that informed the reality of our own.  

The model that best explained to me then the "sin" of the God Learners, and how Gloranthan reality might work, was ironically a very God Learner one.  It came from Hebrew Kabbalah, which would have pleased the followers of Malkion immensely, I think.

Essentially, Kabbalah postulates four worlds or "planes" of existence.  Each of these correspond to one letter of the Divine Name YHVH (Yahweh).  

The highest world is Atziluth, which we might call pure potentiality or being.  This is the "stuff" of existence.  Shapeless, formless, without conditions or definitions of any kind, in Gloranthan terms we might call this Chaos (though the Dragonewts and Kraloreli might prefer "Silence" or "the Void").  

The next world down is Briah, the world of Archetypes.  These are the building blocks that start to shape and define the pure essence of Atziluth.  Kabbalah put the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet here, because in the Torah God "speaks" the world into existence.  If Atziluth is pure Mind, Briah is Language, the ability to form thoughts as words.  In Glorantha, the Runes clearly fall here.  We have several stories of how the Runes emerged from Chaos, and how in doing so began to shape the world.

Yetzirah comes next, and this is the plane of Formation.  Atziluth is pure mind, Briah provides the mechanics of thought, but Yetzirah is where the actual thinking occurs.  This is where the Runes interact, combine, and make shapes. In Glorantha this is the Gods Age.  The interaction of the Runes establishes the patterns of the mundane world.

Which brings us to Assiah, the physical world.  The world we see around us.  It is the product of the three realms above it.

Let's illustrate this with an example...the article you are reading right now.

I possess a mind, and had the potential to write anything I wanted...a love letter, a poem, a cookbook, an article on Gloranthan metaphysics.  That is all Atziluth.

I possessed a symbol set to shape my thoughts.  In this case, the English language.  That is Briah.

I sat down and organized by thoughts, used letters and words and grammar to shape them, and spent a morning sitting here typing them.  This is Yetzirah.

You are reading this finished article.  It now exists, brought into existence by the steps above.  That is Assiah.

The simplest analogy is to regard Atziluth as the blank page, Briah as the letters on that page, Yetzirah as the writer writing on that page, and Assiah as the final written product.

In Glorantha, Chaos is clearly the origin and author of all being.  The Runes emerged from it.  What makes Chaos dangerous on the Mundane level is that it is undefined.  It exists with rules or definitions.  Thus, when Chaos bleeds into the world bypassing the two middle planes it destroys shape and order.  It recreates the undefined potentiality of its pure state.  

The Runes emerged from Chaos and form the language by which the world can be expressed and defined.  The Gods Age, "myth," is the process of defining the world.  The Inner World of Time is the finally result, what was created through that process.


Let's imagine the mundane Inner World of Glorantha as a Wikipedia article.

The article "as is" is what everyone experiences and sees.  Heroquesting is, in a sense, going in and editing that article.  Even if you go in an change the wording of s single sentence, but keep the same meaning ("He was born in Pella in 356 BC and succeeded his father Philip II to the throne at the age of 20" to something like "Born in Pella, 356 BC, at just the age of 20 he succeeded his father Philip II to the throne"), the fact is you have now participated in the article, changed it, and been changed by it.  Reality has been altered.  The world just shifted a fraction.  Heroquesters do this by going in and following the footsteps of the gods.  They are not changing the meaning, just the "wording" by their presence there.

The more radical heroquests are when you go in an deviate entirely.  Say you change Alexander's birthplace or age when he succeeded his father to the throne.  This is a radical departure and you have just made a major change to reality (this is the whole current plight of out society and "fake news").  The difference between our world and Glorantha is that by entering the Gods Age and re-editing, you can potentially alter Alexander's birthplace.  You've changed the world.

To shift arenas for a moment, let's consider Hamlet.  If you are an actor, taking on the role of Hamlet means following the script.  You embody Hamlet and your own performance alters the role.  You yourself are changed by the experience (some of Hamlet is now part of you), and the world has been changed (your performance added to the interpretations of the character out there).  This is the standard heroquest.  The God Learners, on the other hand, went in and switched Hamlet with Romeo thinking it would remain the same play.  

This is the mistake of the God Learners.  They understood, correctly, that the Runes are the foundation of reality.  C and A and T makes "cat" in the same way Earth and Fertility and Harmony makes "Ernalda."  But they failed to understand that usage and context matter as well.  "Minute" might be spelled identically to "minute" but one means sixty seconds of time and another means a small quantity of something.  Ernalda and Dendara might indeed have been composed of the same Runes, but their myths (usage, context) rendered them quite different.  They are not interchangeable.  

Malkioni sorcery, by skipping the entire "Yetzirah" level of the gods and going straight to the Runes, can indeed produce similar magics to Ernalda by manipulating the Earth, Fertility, and Harmony Runes, but the fact remains that Ernalda's deeds during the Gods Age "wrote" the world and defined what it is.  You cannot go back and change her deeds without changing what is "on the page."

1 comment:

  1. Well, more than that. The amending God-Learner is themselves part of the great web of meaning and life and cannot stand like the One God above the fray. Even if they are on the GodPlane or HeroPlane when they make their amendment to reality when they return they find themselves changed by the change they make and like a careless time traveller can't tell if things were always the way they were or if there has been a change.

    Can you say 'feedback loop' Arkat? I knew you could...