IMAGINE WITH ME, if you will.
In the dark of a central Eurasian night some five thousand years ago, under the light of a full moon, a group of adolescent boys are taken from their homes and their beds and brought to a sacred enclosure. Stripped naked, their faces are painted with a mixture of charcoal and fat. After a night of ritual ordeals that test their courage, their strength, and their stamina, the boys are pronounced "dead." They go into the Underworld and meet their ancestors, who bring them back to life not as boys but as young men. The holy men of their clans wrap them in the skins of wolves (and in a descendent of the tradition later on, bears), and banish them. They are now landless, clanless, and must go into the wilderness--perhaps for a year, or maybe even five--to survive by raiding, stealing, and their wits. They are permitted, even expected, to perform lawless acts like murder, rape, and theft. When the ordained period of time expires, they are expected to set aside these ways, settle down, and either return to their communities or establish their own. No longer outlaws, they are warriors of the clan who enforce the peace.
These lawless wanderers are called the *kóryos, or in simple English, the "warband."
I have long maintained that while we can draw on historical cultures to help us imagine the peoples of Greg Stafford's Glorantha, it is probably a mistake to think there are any actual parallels. The Orlanthi barbarians are not ancient Germans, or Norse, or Greeks. The Lunar Empire is not Rome, or Persia, or the Hittites. Rather, Glorantha is (in the words of its own creator) based on mythology. The Lunars are therefore the mythological "Empire," with all that entails. Their invasion of the Orlanthi nation of Sartar could be seen as the Romans invading Gaul or Germania, but it just as easily--and accurately--could be read as the British in Afghanistan, or the Soviets in Afghanistan...or yes, even the Americans in Afghanistan. Glorantha is based on mythological currents, themes...not historical details or (gods preserve us) the modern obsession with "accuracy."
The Orlanthi are based on the myth of the "barbarian," but it is important to note not just any barbarian, a very specific kind. The Pentans are the mythological "horse barbarian." The Hsunchen are sort of Mesolithic and Neolithic "primitive barbarians," etc. The Orlanthi, by contrast, clearly embody the Proto-Indo-Europeans or PIE peoples, who are themselves completely mythological. Scholars have hypothesized their existence, and contructed bits of their language, based not on any real archaeological record, but on linguistics and mythology. There is a general feeling that they existed, but the debate rages on over where they originated and who they originally were. The ancient peoples of the Caucasus, of Anatolia, or the southern Russian steppes are the usual suspects, but I just prefer to think of them as the Orlanthi.
The reason it is so easy to imagine the Orlanthi as Celts, Germans, Greeks, or ancient Indians is because of this PIE connection. There is enough linguistic evidence that we can identify a vast Indo-European language family that stretches from Ireland to the Indian subcontinent. Both the names "Ireland" and "Iran," for example, likely derive from the same PIE root meaning "the people." Again, this is itself a kind of myth because it cannot ever be proven, but the evidence is there. As Gloranthanphiles however we are much more interested in the mythology, and here again among the descendants of the PIE peoples we find surprising consistency. The clearest example of course is the chieftain god, the thunderer. Indra. Zeus. Thor. Tarhunna. Et cetra. All the linguistic and mythological evidence paints the picture of an ancient people organized into clans, who saw cattle as wealth and worshipped a thunderbolt wielding chieftain god.
But there is another feature of PIE culture that brings us back to Glorantha and to the topic at hand.
* * *
19th century scholarship imagined the spread of the Indo-European languages through the vehicle of invasion. Under this model, the ancient PIE were a sort of hyper-martial warrior people who poured forth from their homeland in a ceaseless tide of conquest. The idea was so pervasive that the PIE word *arya ("the people," and again the root word of the names Ireland and Iran mentioned above) became embraced by the Nazis as a sort of mythological justification for their own land grabs.
Today, it is all widely regarded as nonsense.
Instead, many scholars point to the *kóryos to explain the spread of Indo-European languages and religious practices across Europe and the Near East. It works a bit like this: a group of young men are banished from their tribe or clan in the form of a warband. Landless, without a home or a people, they are encouraged to raid, pillage, and plunder...but only other peoples, not "the people," not your people. And so the wild *kóryos head out (originally, we think they rode out and that being on horseback gave them the tactical advantage, but the model applies just as easily to their descendant vikings who sailed out) to terrorize other people. But these are not armies. They are bands of young men. They went out amongst neighboring cultures that often appeased them with offerings to avoid bloodshed. The *kóryos mingled with these people, fathered children amongst them, and many times settled there. They then raised these children in their ways, and when the time came these boys went out and repeated the cycle. After thousands of years, it spread a myth, a language family, and a tradition across much of the Eurasian continent.
Shadows, memories, and remnants of this practice long out-lived the practice itself. The civilized and settled Athenians practiced the ephebos tradition, where adolescent boys lost their familial status and where given the role of guarding the borders of their society. They wore black tunics in times of war, with "blackness" (the Underworld, the ancestors, and masking) being a common*kóryos theme. Among the Spartans they were called krypteia, encouraged to raid cattle and plunder amongst their neighbors. It is said that Taras was founded by such Spartan young men. In ancient Ireland, the fianna were young men expected to spend half the year in the forests and wilds raiding and hunting. The Vikings, of course, fit the model closely. Many scholars believe the*kóryos often had an older and more experienced leader guiding them through the process, and this we see in the Viking practice of sending young men out on three-year raiding voyages under an experienced guide. In ancient India, boys were sent out into the forests to survive on their own and their leader was selected by a ritual dice match...something any reader of the Mahabharata will immediately recognize as the exile of the Pandava. All these traditions--the persistent stories of cattle-raiding and the like found from the Indus to northern Europe--are speculated to have their origins in the ancient *kóryos.
* * *
The Orlanthi are a mythological re-imaging of the PIE. More heroic. More idealized. But in Greg's stories of Orlanth, the pattern is clearly there, albeit missing some elements.
The *kóryos, for example, were associated with the dead. During the time of their exile, they were "dead" to their people. We believe they masked themselves because of this, painting their faces black or wearing wolf or bear skins (wolves and dogs are associated with the Underworld in numerous Indo-European cultures). Being "dead" they rode with their ancestors, and the widespread Celto-Germanic tradition of the Wild Hunt has its roots in the idea. Being "dead" they had no fear of dying, something evident in later berserker traditions. Conversely, because they rode amongst their ancestors and were roving bands of young men, they were also powerfully associated with fertility and lineage. The Roman tradition of lupercalia, an orgiastic festival with animal sacrifice, men roaming the streets looking for women to assault, and associated with wolves was believed to be necessary to ensure fertility the upcoming year. There is a tension between the*kóryos--the young unmarried men--and the older, married, established men. The latter embody "society," while the younger are in a liminal transition space, not children but not men. They are outsiders, wild, sowing their oats, and a threat to the establishment. Their energies are necessary to continuing the line and ensuring the next generation, but at the same time they pose a threat to the men running the show.
Many of these elements are softened somewhat in Greg's Glorantha by necessity. No one really wants to play a roleplaying game where you get brutally kicked out of your village and need to go out killing and raping...and if you do, well, I will leave that there. But looking at the stories in works like The Book of Heortling Mythology and elsewhere, the*kóryos wink back at us. Orlanthi and his brothers undergo a harrowing initiation ceremony. Their father is killed. They go out into the world living by their own wits, fighting, raiding, attacking the settled empire. Eventually, Orlanth makes the transition from wild and rebellious youth to settled farmer-king. He goes from being a liminal outsider to the very embodiment of order and tradition. This is exactly what we see with the *kóryos.
Those of you who have read or played Six Seasons in Sartar and/or The Company of the Dragon probably know exactly where I am going with all of this. Way back in primary school, learning long division, my teacher drummed into my head the value of "showing your work." I suppose I am doing that now and tipping my hand.
In these books I am retelling the myth of the*kóryos, modified of course for modern sensibilities and Glorantha. Under the hood it is the exact same engine. A group of newly initiated young people--male, female, and non-binary this time--are rendered landless and clanless in Six Seasons in Sartar. They go out into the mountain wilds of Sartar and form a warband, living by their own wits, raiding, fighting, and warring in The Company of the Dragon. Again, because we are talking mythology here and not accuracy, they are doing it to overthrow an "evil empire," but they are a roaming warband nevertheless considered bandits and thugs by many.
The Seven Tailed Wolf is about the end of the *kóryos tradition, the part where the warband returns home and builds a new community. The company comes home (or builds a new one) and finds themselves thrust into the position of running and defending it. Of course, because this is heroic fantasy, there will be a twist, but I am still following the myth.
Which I suppose would be my word of advice to those starting to GM or write for Glorantha. Always stick to mythology. Avoid the pitfalls of modern "fantasy" and look back at the classics instead. I am proud of the fact that Six Seasons in Sartar is the Jonstown Compendium's best selling title, and that The Company of the Dragon is nipping at its heels, but I cannot take credit. My suspicion in sitting down to write these stories was that Glorantha fans would respond to them because they were rooted in myth...even if they were not familiar with the exact myth I was retelling. The currents run so deep that no one needed to be familiar with the *kóryos to resonate with them. Shadows of the story remain in so many myths and stories that we know the story before it is told. It resonates in our blood. Sure, the word "novel" means "new," but we are not writing novels here. We are gaming. In gaming, and especially Gloranthan gaming, it is fruitful to reach back into the past.
As the old adage says, everything old becomes new again.