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Essay the nature of the gods


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I’ve thought for many years about this and still can’t fully articulate it. So I thought that I’d try to start here...

When a Gloranthan uses their god’s magic they become their god. Mostly, we see this as the person participating in a fraction of their god. I don’t. I see them as actually becoming their god, with all the consequences that implies for the god.

There are a lot of issues with what I’ve just stated. And eventually, I’ll get to (some of) them.

First, I see this extending right back to the beginning of creation. The initial forces are very abstract and completely impersonal. After those initial interactions, the Runes arise - almost personality free and intellect free. Then the primal Gods, with a little intellect, choice and personality. Then the Gods that are worshiped, with personalities, choices, intellect and more human stories.

What I think is is happening is that the powers, the bundles of powers that we call the gods, and the personalities are entirely separate things, though deeply linked. I think that beings with personalities find ways to invoke those Runes and, by invoking them, embody them. However, it’s not permanent. This is hinted in the mythology of Orlanth, where at different times he has different names. My premise is that each one of those, and many more, is a separate being, a separate personality, that found a way to invoke the powers of Orlanth, and extend them slightly. Orlanth became them and they became Orlanth.

Vinga, a female personality, took up the the bundle of powers we call Orlanth and exercised them better than any of her brothers ( cousins, clansmen, tribesmen, nation, whatever ) and became Orlanth. Or Orlanth became Vinga.

This continues after Time.

The most famous case to my memory is Alakoring, who quite fundamentally changed the nature of Orlanth by making him more of a ruler and less of a first among equals. Less famous but as important and at the same time, Renvald Meldeksbane also changed the nature of Orlanth (but apparently less permanently).

How does it work? The key is identification. Some people are better at identifying with their god. It doesn’t matter whether this is because of ancestry, nature, luck, power, necessity, determination, a combination of all of these, or whatever.

So what does this theory do for us?

Well to me, it starts to explain how the God Learners were able to achieve the damage they did. They would search out devotees and priests of a god and find someone that was powerful and that they could manipulate. This manipulation would not be coercion or corruption, more likely naivety or greed. Coercion or corruption would lessen the identification of their victim with their god.

Having found their choice, the God Learners would offer a contest (a heroquest challenge) that they could genuinely lose. And then ‘cheat’ based on the personality or circumstances of their victim.

So, for the Goddess Swap, they offered a contest to two different senior priestesses, one in each land (likely, it was many more than just two, because the GLs could, and probably did, lose some). During the contest, the GLs would help their opponent identify more completely with their goddess. And then switch the basis of the contest in a way that their opponent could not resist. Perhaps a personality flaw that was consistent with the identification with the goddess. Or perhaps by posing a dilemma that was completely outside the domain of both the goddess and the priestess.

One part of their cheat was likely their RuneQuest Sight that allowed them to precisely identify the runes the opponent could manifest and which Runes they might be more vulnerable to.

Maybe the GLs even had magic that helped their victims identify more deeply with their gods and goddesses. And few devotees or priests could resist that...

Having won the contest, the GLs could the offer back the lost powers, on the condition that the priestess would relocate to a foreign land. As the priestess was her goddess, the two goddesses would have switched lands.

Similarly, this is how Tatius and the Lunars killed Orlanth.

I can pick some holes in my theory. First, some people seem to be genuinely powerful without that level of identification. Yes, and that’s OK to be independently powerful. Second, this doesn’t explain spirit worshipers that well (but with the right twist it might), and doesn’t explain sorcery at all.

In the meantime, I’ve already written a lot and power is rapidly draining from my iPad - maybe it’s the Doom Guardians coming for another God Learner...

--

Becoming the god - well yes and...
If defeated (or if unusually successful) then the level of identification matters. Not just personal identification but the communal belief or communal investment (power, treasure, etc) that the identification represents some wider community. Tatius 'killed' Orlanth in a very wide area because he could arrange ritual defeats of many Orlanth priests across a vast area, even if only symbolically by banishing worship from all towns and cities. This could impact Esrolia and Prax because they looked to Sartar and/or Heortland for Orlanthi leadership, even if only unconsciously.

At the start I mentioned powers and bundles of powers and then didn't much explain. Initially, the first personality to take up a power might express one Rune. Over time both the original personality and successors refine the expression of those powers and, particularly if successful or widely emulated, they expand the powers into bundles.

What gods know - gods know a little of what each of their communal worshipers know (which for a great god can add up to a lot), more of what their initiates know etc. They know this from when their worshipers use their magic. Basically, a Spirit of Retribution is self-imposed. This is also my explanation how the regional and local variations of the gods arise - a god does not always have global knowledge, so what their local or regional worshipers do shapes them.

Behind all the accumulated beings that make up the god, there is still a primal something with it's own agenda. This something, let's call it the core god, can be roused to give dreams and visions to those who will become heroes - or dead or insane.

It works both ways. As a worshiper uses more of their gods' magic, they take on more and more of the agglomerated aspects of their deity. If they resist this, then they lessen their identification.

Until a worshiper becomes illuminated... and then an illuminate can hide knowledge from their god.

Edited by Charles
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On 10/20/2019 at 9:10 AM, Charles said:

First, I see this extending right back to the beginning of creation. The initial forces are very abstract and completely impersonal. After those initial interactions, the Runes arise - almost personality free and intellect free. Then the primal Gods, with a little intellect, choice and personality. Then the Gods that are worshiped, with personalities, choices, intellect and more human stories.

This depends on how much you follow the humanist way of anthropomorphizing the runes and deities, or the already implied personalities in the Elder Gods and Celestial Court runic powers and elements sophontomorphized in other (possibly lost) earlier ways, like the dragon/dragonewt way, or the Elder Giants (Man Rune?). Possibly a fire entity population like the bird (gryphon, centaur etc.) entities of the first half of Yelm's 100,000 year reign, before he deigned to make humans. We know that a lot was lost to the Chaos invasion, possibly entire runes from the original Glorantha (at least Form Runes, though maybe even some Element or pair of Powers).

The Malkioni/Zzaburi claim quite a great amount of intellect for the Erasanchula, including those of the Srvuali and Powers. As for personality, that is evolving as the Celestials (including the Elder Gods) interact with one another, and as they create more precise offspring.

The only truly impersonal forces are the greater chaos entities that entered through the rift - Kajabor, Krjalk, possibly others of the same ilk.

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On 10/20/2019 at 9:10 AM, Charles said:

What I think is is happening is that the powers, the bundles of powers that we call the gods, and the personalities are entirely separate things, though deeply linked. I think that beings with personalities find ways to invoke those Runes and, by invoking them, embody them. However, it’s not permanent. This is hinted in the mythology of Orlanth, where at different times he has different names. My premise is that each one of those, and many more, is a separate being, a separate personality, that found a way to invoke the powers of Orlanth, and extend them slightly. Orlanth became them and they became Orlanth.

The powers/runes behind the gods already have temperaments since their conception, as far as I can discern. A great deal of contributing factors to  the personalities that the cult entities we know as gods have are intrinsic to the runes (trying to avoid the term "powers" here as it has multiple meanings).

The earliest deities aren't necessarily as abstract as the myths extracted by the God Learners make them appear. Each rune is a passion (or set of passions into which later generation expressions of those runes may specialize), not just as a rules mechanic in RQG.

Perhaps this can be illustrated by the Sea Myths, which appear to be quite well expressed. So let's look at the Sourcebook and at the creation myths in Missing Lands for all manner of "unnecessary concepts and complications" which tend to be ignored by the God Learners and your almighty GM looking for singular truths, but which contributed to the downfall of the God Learners (the Malkioneranist bunch, the researchers of Theism rather than pure Malkioni truths).

(Both God Learners and EWF suffer from unclear definition of those terms. Each have a nascent stage - the colony of Jrustela prior to the Abiding Book, and the kingless Kingdom of Orlanthland; an early stage that somehow continues through to the downfall - the Malkioni sorcerers doing great things inspired by the scripture of the Abiding Book, and the draconic mystics pursuing individual dragonhood through dragonewt-taught or -imitating methods; and a later deviant stage co-existing with the remnants of the middle stage - the Malkioneranist God Learner Collective and the Third Council with many of its short cut methods. With both these empires, the fall was affecting both the middle and the later stage adherents, with differing severity.

The God Learners obsessed with Malkioni truths are a different bunch than the God Learners obsessed with Theist truths.)

The deities underwent specification and multiplication, to the point when they created or gave birth to significantly less divine entities that would contribute to their power by other means than purely being the thing.

The activities of the deities - their myths - become the masks through which the cult entities are identified.

Just yesterday at the Kraken Jeff and Robin had their Elmal - Yelmalio debate about divine identity and different expression thereof. As all of the Kraken panels were professionally recorded by Thoumy, expect to see this come available online in the near future. (A good thing, as I missed some of those due to other activities.)

Jeff argues the identity of the many Cold Suns - naming Elmal, Yelmalio, Kargzant and Antirius as different expressions of the deity that will be presented as Yelmalio in RQG Gods and Goddesses of Glorantha. Omitting the original name of the sun entity worshiped e.g. by the Impala Riders of Prax, the role of Yamsur - probably yet another entity in the mix, Halamalao (aldryami Yelmalio - the name is lifted from Shannon Appelcline's Aldryami book published by Mongoose for identification purposes) and possibly Ehilm, Ralian god of the sun and flames, and refusing to draw the Teshnan mess into this. (To clarify: Jeff is refusing. Wait for the panel video...)

On 10/20/2019 at 9:10 AM, Charles said:

Vinga, a female personality, took up the the bundle of powers we call Orlanth and exercised them better than any of her brothers ( cousins, clansmen, tribesmen, nation, whatever ) and became Orlanth. Or Orlanth became Vinga.

Vinga is an expression of a great many of the bundle of temperaments the entity we call Orlanth possesses and adds the expression of the female body with quite a lot of the baggage and a limited amount of the bounty. Possibly the female gender, more likely a male-like gender we call Vingan (one I would never apply to people with male not-female sex, but to any of the other three combinations of not-male, male, not-female, female).

This could be anything - a sex-changed (but still bisexual) Orlanth, a daughter of Orlanth, an agglomeration of heroines striving to become like Orlanth, (a daughter/mainly female archetype of) Ernalda acting like Orlanth, or an entity out of a merger of parts of Orlanth and Ernalda resulting in this mix without any birthing or indeed sexual procreation involved but reknit from the threads that the two of them make. And none of these are really mutually exclusive, either. Add personality through the varying importance of certain myths of this entity (or a very similar entity maybe differing by only a few strands of identification) in the local cult to arrive at the deity.

(That's another thing Jeff emphasized in the Elmal-Yelmalio panel - that there are basically three cults of Orlanth which all relate to Orlanth but which express the entity behind it quite differently, emphasizing a political relationship of the cult of Yelmalio with the cult of Orlanth Rex in Sartar, but leaving open all manner of different relationships with the cult of Elmal. Or, to paraphrase Jeff, learn about the hipster urban cosmopolitean cult of Yelmalio and the backward, extremely crusty cult of Elmal in and near Sartar. Not Prax, though. Again, look out for that video to come online.)

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Charles, your ideas remind me of a concept in the Elder Scrolls universe (itself strongly inspired by Gloranthan metaphysics) called Mantling.

Mantling is one of several identified forms to achieve apotheosis in the Elder Scrolls (the world itself is called Nirn, but I'll go with the franchise name for recognizeability). It involved invoking the identity of a god to such a degree that one melds with them, effectively becoming that god themselves. Possibly changing the identity and personality of that god permanently.

It it summarized like this:
"Walk like them until they are forced to walk like you."

And sometimes like this (in the particular esoteric way of Elder Scrolls "deeplore" texts):
"[O]ne and one, eleven, an inelegant number. Which of the ones is the more important? Could you ever tell if they switched places?"

Anyway, this aside, I think there is a very fertile field here to explore to what degree divine personalities and practices are static, dynamic, and so on. The idea of the Compromise would imply that the core identity and agency of gods is static since the Dawn, however whether this is truely factual is arguably up for debate. Additionally, there is the question of whether indeed many of the acts ascribed to the gods themselves in the God Time where done by that god/rune-in-itself, or whether they indeed were carried out to a large extent by worshippers identified as them (ie. effectively "mantling" their god). There's even the possibility that the "active-self"/"ego"/"personality" of gods is not an original quality of the runes they spring from/are, but that this is some kind of superstrata applied entirely by the efforts/influences of worshipper, successively over generation and millennia. God is the way he is because we thought he was like that and we made him like that, as it were. Heretical to rune-purist grognards, perhaps, but then we are engaging in some theoretical God Learning here, so why not.

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