Gods, Truth, the Little Stuff....

From: Peter Larsen <plarsen_at_mail.utexas.edu>
Date: Sat, 30 Sep 2000 10:17:54 -0700

Andrew Larsen says:

> I sure this may outrage a few people on the list, but I think the Red
>Goddess is corrupt. That's certainly the perspective on the Lunars in RQ2,
>and while I like a lot of the stuff that's been written on the empire and
>exploring how it thinks, I retain the sense that the Empire is based on
>corrupt principles.

        I have to disagree with you. If the Empire is automatically wrong, it reduces a (potentially) complex background of political and religious conflict to melodrama. Yes, the Empire is full of cruel, corrupt, evil people; but so is Sartar. For example, I like Jane William's take on Agrath as a suspect opportunist. The bold and free Heortlings are also, for the most part, pig-ignorant (goat-ignorant?) and trapped by traditions. The Empire is simulaneously a threat to the fabric of the world and a solution to its considerable problems.

> Either Chaos is inherently evil or it isn't. Either the Orlanthi are
>right and the Lunars are wrong, or vice versa. The two cultures hold
>incompatible beliefs on this issue.

        There's always the possibility that they are both wrong. My feeling is that chaos is neither good nor evil, but it is transformative and those transformations tend to be corruptive. There's a brief essay in one of the TotRM, I think, about chaotics being driven to assault the world because the world constantly pains them. Chaotics tend to be destructive, and the message "Nothing is true, all is permissible" is usually corrupting. But the message itself is not evil.

        On the other hand, I think you are correct with heroquesters being alive in Hell. If only because there is much more possibility for pathos and horror that way.

Graham Robinson says:

>Lets be clear on one thing - the gods do not give straight answers to
>questions, there is no one clear truth in Glorantha, and even if it were, no
>one would tell the mortals about it.

        I know I said I was going to drop this, but it's been bugging me so: I have less trouble with big differences, like creation myths, than with small differences like doctrinal disputes. I suspect that the gods are essentially masks place over something essentially incomprehensible. Furthermore, the god's "memories" of the Creation, Green Age, etc. are not necessarily clear (Brian Stableford's "Werewolves of London" series used this to very good effect), and their impressions, subjected to human interpretation, are even less precise. In other words, we have a situation where identical data, processed by identical methods by different cultures, gives very different answers. This has some conceptual problems but nothing that can't be handled by misdirection and not looking at it too closely. Besides, this really big conceptual material rarely impacts daily life; it can be fuzzy because it is usually far away.

        I can even accept the idea (after some squirming) that there can be multiple gods for the same thing. In some cases, this is obvious. I don't think anyone has a problem with different gods of basketry in Teshnos and Peloria. The bigger and more universal gods are more troublesome. (Is Humakt Death everywhere? Does Yelm shine in Pamaltela? If Pamalt and Orlanth played checkers, who would win?) They way to deal with this is to assume there is some unreachable reality behind the myths. The question, then, is not "Which is the sun, Yelm or Elmal" but "Which is the better sun?" Or, in the case of Yelm and Kargzant, "who responds to our priests/shaman?" The various magic types (Theism, Animism, etc.) are so different in their perceptions and understandings that, having accepted this division, the rest seems like small potatoes. I'm not entirely happy with this (Yelm wan't the Emperor before the 1st Council, but he was afterward?) but, again, it can be kept out of the way most of the time ("That fancy thinkin' stuff is best left to the priest who know the right answers, son; you don't want Hrut the Uroxi noticing you, do you?").

        However, I do have trouble with gods' interpretations of themselves. I can imagine that Elmal would claim to be the sun, if asked. I can also imagine that Elmal could be "convinced" that he was really the sun's charioteer or some similar thing to allow Yelm and Elmal worship to coexist. However, I find it hard to believe that one worshipper can call Elmal and get "I am the One True Sun" while another worshipper gets "There are many suns." That's too subjective for me. The West avoids this (and gets the juicy possibility of doctrinal disputes, heresies, and inter-creed crusades) because the Invisible God doesn't answer directly (or, at least, not very often). This has been a problem for me since a game I ran back in (um, Andrew help me here) 1981. We had a bunch of Humakti who ahd become entangled in a complex web of deceit and chaos-worshippers. They had tried their level best to behave with strict honor, had observed their oaths and rules, etc. but were accused of all sorts of things by the temple hierarchy. I was all set for some good inter-cult feuding when a smart player said "well, let's use Divination." It stopped me cold. 20 years later, I could probably weasle my way out of it (or avoid the situation in the first place), but it would still be weasling.

>Glorantha is NOT a scientific world, and scientific ideals do not apply. It
>most certainly fails the reproducability axiom. Myths are not linear,
>histories more than 1600 or so years old are not linear. Insisting on a
>single creation myth or a single truth about anything is, in my opinion,
>being too reductionist and literal.

        Some rules of logic have to apply, or we can't talk about it in any meaningful fashion. To quote Carl Fink:

>I don't mind contradictory "primary sources" particularly -- I'm a
>pseudo-academic by avocation, I know all about the need for
>confirmation and analysis. I object to the idea of INERADICABLE
>contradictions, because, as I said, they make things implausible.

        Anyway, that's what I've got so far. I'm sorry I started this, but my thinking is a little clearer on the issue, so perhaps it was good, at least for me.

Peter Larsen

End of The Glorantha Digest V8 #36

Powered by hypermail