Monday, October 23, 2006

Contemplating the Tarot

One major aspect of the World of Elthos has to do with Astro-Cosmology of the deities, known as 'The Elkron'. The Elkron are divided into several groups with subgroups. There are the Celestials, and the Archetypes. The Elkron who correspond to the stars are the Celestials, of which there are twenty four. The Celestials are divided into to two groups, the 'Elder Celestials' and the 'Young Celestials'. There are also for each Tarot Card one Entity each, known as The Archetypes.

Among the Celestial Elkron there are twelve Constellation Celestials, and twelve Planetary Celestials, the inner and outer circle, who comprise the Elder and Young Elkronic Houses of the Cosmos, like the Titans and the Olympians of Greek Mythology. The Elder (Constellation) Elkron correspond to the Zodiac Signs, while the Young Generation (the childern of the Elder Elkron) correspond with the Planets. In the Universe of Elthos there are twelve Planets all together, which includes the Sun, which is counted in Elthosian Astrology (as in Earthly Astrology) as a Planet for Astrological purposes. There is one additional planet in the Elthos Universe is named Elkor, which happens to be the true home of the Elkron - a planet which in our own Universe has whispered of as "Planet X", a planet of deeply eccentric orbit and gold-flecked atmosphere, as well as a race of most ancient and powerful of Beings, who are called the Celestial Elkron. These Supernatural Beings have great powers, far beyond those of men and their peers in the World of Elthos. Yet it is not to be imagined that the Elkron have infinite powers. They are also limited. There is only one Elkron of unlimited Power and that is the Un-named Creator Elkron who is beyond all others and the Father of the Elthos Universe.

The other race of Elkron are known as 'The Archetypes', who correspond with the Tarot, however, and are specifically linked to Humanity, having been born of the Subconscious Realms of Men over the Eons, and include as their foundation a reflection of the Celestial Elkron, through whom mankind was originally crafted.
Thus the Archetypes are themselves relatively new Elkron in the Universe of Elthos.

There are twenty four Archetypes representing the twenty four elements of the Human Soul. There is a direct correspondence between the twenty four Archetypes and the twenty four Celestials, for all life of our kind is based on the same intrinsic physical, mental and spiritual Foundation, regardless of our exact origin or relative Power. Thus, Men are not really so very different from the Elkron, in some ways.

Nevertheless, to balance the Universe between Men and the Celestials the Great Spirit slowly crafted the powerful and mysterious Archetypes, who embody the spiritual attributes that map out the high and low ground of the Human Soul, leading ever onward along the path toward that final resting place, Enlightenment.

You may notice that there are 22 Major Tarot, and 24 Archetypes who correspond to the Tarot. In order to adjust the system to incorporate a full set of correspondences I have taken the liberty to add two new Tarot cards in the Major Arcana of Elthos, to make the total of twenty four Archetypes. Some may object to these liberties on the grounds that the "real" (Earthly) Tarot has only 22 Major Arcana. I respond by reminding that we are not talking about Earth, but of Elthos, which is located in a very different Universe from our own. The purposes for which the Tarot are used in Elthos require that there be twenty four. And thus, there are two new Archetypes/Tarot Cards: The Unicorn and The Dragon. These cards each Represent an Archetype who dwell within the depths and regions of the Subconscious Mind and the Id. As said, each of the twenty four has one corresponding Celestial of which it is a reflection. And to all of these are associated all of the vast array of entities within creation so that the wise might have guide posts by which to mark The Way, and lights in the sky by which to see the Depths of Truth of Elthos, and perhaps beyond.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

On Role Playing Games as a Shamanistic Journey

In whatever festival, the Fool always played an indeterminate role, somewhere between good and evil, and somewhere between the actors in the battle and the audience, often burlesquing the activity of the actors, as well as the emotional reaction of the audience. He was an interpreter, a shamanic character who moved between the worlds of the stage and the audience. He identified with both sides, and yet belonged to neither.

- “Fire in the Head”, by Tom Cowan, p. 62

This passage reflects upon an idea that has been rolling around my head for a few weeks now that I have begun to explore the space of Shamanism in medieval and ancient literature.

Is it possible that the Gamesmaster could play the role of Shaman Guide in the Player Character’s exploration of their Worlds? In the case of the actual Shaman Guide, where the Shaman acts as the interpreter moving between the stage and the audience, we might see such a reflection. The Fool at the Festival being spoken of in the passage is presented as a character in a play being shown to an audience. The Fool plays the interpreter of the Actor’s Actions to the Audience, often mocking or satirizing the Actor’s motives and the consequences of their actions to reveal moral truths underlying the Play’s story line. If we superimpose on this the activities of the standard Role Playing Game we come to some interesting analogs.

The first is that in the usual RPG there is no audience. Or rather we might say that the Players are the audience. The Player Characters are the Actors. The Gamesmaster might be said to play the role of the Fool, or Shaman Guide through their World, as well as in some sense the Director or Play Writer. So the intrinsic structure of the event is somewhat different, but in the essentials it could be constructed as an analog, though some effort would have to be made to make this work out.

The wise fool, as we know him from Shakespear’s plays, had precedents in the poets and seers who served Celtic chieftains. Enid Welsford, in her study “The Fool: His Social History and Literary History”, points out that in ancient Celtic tales the poets and seers were often called Fools. Like their later counterparts in royal courts, the chieftains valued the poet’s insights and respected his ability to satirize (satire is a “twilight” literary form, somewhere between truth and falsehood, seriousness and silliness). Like the shaman, poets were respected for more than their storytelling talents or their ability to entertain. They had special vision and wisdom; they had magical powers. Welsford notes that “the Fool is a creator not of beauty but of spiritual freedom.” The same is true of the poet.

- “Fire in the Head”, by Tom Cowan, p. 65

My question is, could the same be true of the Gamesmaster? And if so, how would it be possible to conduct a Shamanistic Journey via a Role Playing Game? I’m not suggesting that this would be easy. I’m not suggesting that Role Playing Games are currently constructed with this effect in mind. However, there are enough similarities between the Storytelling magic of the Shaman’s Journey, and the act of Role Playing, that it might be possible. And if so, would it be worthwhile to explore further this space? At least in relation to Shaman Characters within a Role Playing Game?

This concept, perhaps, opens a doorway into the possibility of exploring the deeper realms of the mind and spirit via RPGs, which might be ventured by Gamesmaster’s and Players who have the intention to allow themselves, or actively are seeking the experiences of a form of “spiritual freedom” which RPGs can and often do facilitate. The experience which we call in the RPG world “immersion” may be a reflection of just that process. We feel that we have actively entered into another World. What is the nature of this Other World? In most cases it is the World that the Gamesmaster has invented. Therefore the nature of that World is of paramount importance to the quest of finding ourselves Immersed. We can be immersed, after all, in almost any kind of World (or what we might think of as mental-spiritual space). If the Gamesmaster’s own inner world is filled with demons, then we might find our Player Characters exploring Hell and its domains. If the Gamesmaster’s inner world is filled with angels we might find our Player Characters exploring Heavenly places, and meeting with Angels and on Holy Quests. Thus, as Players we are either repelled or attracted to certain Worlds. This, if the thread holds true, would then be more of a reflection of our own inner worlds – we are attracted to those Worlds which “make sense” to us, and repelled by those which don’t. And so, Gamesmasters may already be conducting Shamanistic Journeys with their Players without necessarily recognizing them as such. While on the other hand, depending on the mood, proclivity and intention of both the Gamesmaster and Players, the game may not take on that aspect at all. I could see this in the case of the standard Dungeon Crawl, where the dungeon is created as a series of rooms, numbered and assigned treasures, and provided with randomly selected monsters from the Monster Manual. The group in this case may really only be interested in a few basic RPG functions – the slaying of monsters, the acquisition of treasures and the accumulation of experience points with which to “level up” and achieve more Skills and Powers. Yet, if we look deeply, might we not see even in this seemingly mundane RPG adventure, the hallmarks of greater themes in literature – and in the magical effects within these Adventures hints of the Shaman’s Journey? And if so, how much further along might we be able to travel on those ancient paths if we are aware of the underlying spiritual memes by which we are operating?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Berzerkers of Odin

The earliest surviving reference to the term berserker is in Haraldskvæði, a skaldic poem written by Thórbiörn Hornklofi in the late ninth century in honour of King Harald Fairhair, the famous ruler of Norway. The poem was preserved by Snorri Sturluson. In this poem, Harald's army includes a warrior gang of berserkers fighting under his name at the battle of Hafrsfiord. In it, they are described as Ulfheðnar = "men clad in wolf skins". This grounds a connection between bears and wolves in Norse warrior culture and the common assumption that the word "berserker" itself originates from men wearing the skin of the bear. Snorri Sturluson goes on to mention berserkers in the Ynglinga saga: "his [Odin's] men rushed forward without armor, were as mad as dogs or wolves, bit their shields, and were as strong as bears or wild bulls, and killed people at a blow, but neither fire nor iron told upon themselves" (Ch. 6). Berserkers appear prominently in a multitude of other sagas and poems including The Saga of Hrólf Kraki, many of which describe berserkers as ravenous barbarians who loot, plunder, and kill indiscriminately.


Berzerkers were Odin's Warriors. As men who could transform into the spirit of wolves or bears, aquiring their strength and/or ferocity, they were feared greatly by the more civilized peoples who lived in or near Europe before the 1100's. They were known to savage and destroy friend and foe alike. Women and children had to be kept far from them. They were, in a word, fearsome.

In creating a World in which I have an area of the world devoted to Norse myth I am exploring Berzerkers from the historical and mythological perspective. It appears they were a form of Shaman who, at the height of their powers, could commune with the Otherworld King, Odin, and transform themselves into wolves or bears. There is some mention of them being able to do so even physically, and so there is a question as to whether or not Berzerkers are to be linked to Lycanthropes (werewolves). At any rate they were deeply spiritual (though not in the flower-lovey-dovey way people use that word currently) and were principally believed to be possessed by the animal spirits of the wolf or bear. What does this imply for World Weaving a land in which Berzerkers thrive? What would that region be like? For this my sources are 'Beowulf', and the Islandic Sagas such as 'Egil's Saga', as well as 'The Nibilungenlied' and 'The Kalevala'.

It was a wild land of lawless warfare and high magic. Fascinating indeed.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Size Does Matter

It occurs to me that my recent posts have been too Loooooooooooong(!!!). So I have decided to create smaller posts that encapsulate my ideas briefly. I think shorter posts with simpler sentence structures will be more readible.

Here's an example from LRPGSW:

On Sansho the Bailiff

One of the aspects of role playing game adventures that has interested me lately is the idea of literary stories that break out from the common mold of Adventure Tales (ie - we slayed the dragon and got the treasure), in order to explore the world from other emotional angles. I'm reflecting on this after having seen the classic Japanese film "Sansho the Bailiff", directed by Mizoguchi. It is an adventure story, but one which is very poignant and sad. Each event in the film juxtaposes the quest for the Just Life, with the effects of that quest in an Unjust world. It is a suitable theme, no doubt, for at least part of a RPG World. What would be fascinating would be to run a game where the Characters meet a fate so poignant and sad that one walks away from the story (the Game) a bit choked up and perhaps even tearful.

The study of the vast realms of human emotion is something too that would lend itself to more literary RPG Worlds.

Yet to World Weave such adventures, to Gamesmaster them well, and to Play them well, all would require uncommon seriousness and dedication to Role Playing as an Art, rather than as a Game, necessarily. Does your experience reveal any RPG Stories (games played) that have had true emotional content?