Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for ZOOMORPHIC ANGELS II



Well, here we are at the end of April 2012's A-Z blogging challenge.  Last year's final post, Z is for Zoomorphic Angels, is my second most popular post of all time, so, I'm revisiting the subject this year.  If you missed it, I recommend going back and reading that one first (linked above) and then coming back for this year's.

Unlike the anthropomorphic ("human-shaped") angels that dominate the occasions of hierophanies or angelic visitations to humans in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, there are two species or classes of angels that are definitely zoomorphic.  These monstrous angels are the cherubim and seraphim (note the plural forms in Hebrew end in -im).  While we do not have Hebrew images of these creatures, we know do have the Phoenician images that were made for Egyptian and Assyrian markets, and the images made with a visual imagination dominated by Egyptian and Assyrian conceptions seem to have been the same images that were sold in Israel by Phoenicians. 

The cherubim get a lot more references than the seraphim, which I believe are only clearly and explicitly referenced in Isaiah.  The image at the bottom of the page, found in nearby Syria, has the requisite six wings and holds a serpent in each hand (check biblical references below).  In addition to the images in the archaeological record and the rather idiosyncratic descriptions in Ezekiel,  we can tell that the cherub is like a winged bull, sphinx, or griffin because YHWH is pictured as using one as a mount in the book of Psalms.  Celestial creatures of this type were popular in Mesopotamia and called karibu/kuribu, "intercessor."  King Hiram of Byblos had cherubim flanking his throne and incense altars have been found in Taanach and Meggido flanked by them.  It is not surprising them that they are said to have flanked God's throne and the Ark of the Covenant.  The parallelism of Psalm 18 may suggest that they were associated with the winds.  It is clear that both cherubim and seraphim were "angels of the presence," but they do not seem to have the messenger function of anthropomorphic angels.  I can't help but feel that the Bible does not make full use of the potential of these monstrous angels.  Why don't we ever seem them tearing into the enemies of God's people?  Maybe the God of Israel really does not have as bloody tastes as others of us do.  Certainly, in mythopoesis that was inspired by scripture, that's how I see myself using zoomorphic angels.  Maybe their occurrences in liturgical and mystical contexts instead of smiting contexts should be telling us something that I have yet to pick up on.



Scripture References
Genesis 3:24
Exodus 25:18-20; 37:6-9
Numbers 7:89
I Samuel 4:4
II Samuel 22:11
I Kings 6:23-28; 8:6-7
Psalms 18:10; 80:1
Isaiah 6:2-6; 30:6 (cf. Num. 21:6-8; Deut. 8:15)
Ezekiel 1:4-28; 10:3-22; 28:14,16

Syrian Figure from Tell Halaf

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Taijitu, Yinyang, and D&D Alignment


It's always fun when your readers are interested in something you are interested in, and perhaps even more fun when it's a reader that you know.  Perspicacious comments are pleasing!  So I was happy to see Paris' comments on Y is for YINYANG, yesterday.  Initially, he notes that the principles of motion and interactive arising would make it "challenging to equate Yang to Law and Yin to Chaos without describing a cosmology in which the one eventually changes to form the other."  He then goes on to reflect on an aspect of Pathfinder's Golarion setting to do just that.  There are a few responses I'd like to make vis-a-vis Paris' comments that I hope might develop what I have in mind and perhaps shed further light on my understanding of Yin-and-Yang and the Great Dao.

First, Yin and Yang are not opposing forces (I note, Paris, you said "supposedly").  They are complementary opposites, and so can only be in opposition of a very special kind.  This fits with a Neutral view of a threefold alignment universe.  The proponents of Law and of Chaos each take their side to be the the rightful whole, and the other side its destruction, which itself needs to be destroyed (in ways keeping with its alignment).  Neutrality would view all things as arising from the interaction between Law and Chaos, with both being necessary.  Balance would not be a stasis between them, but needful disintegration of order and ordering of chaos.  While forces and individuals who side with one against the other would resist every instance of this, those who understood its necessity would work for the best outcomes and overall balance.  So a cosmology in which Law and Chaos were constantly in motion, rising and falling, would be a feature of what I was envisioning.  I take it that Law and Chaos do give rise to one another, and that like any of the pairs of complementary opposites in my example chart below, if one were to dominate   it would be detrimental.  Like the perspectives of Confucianism and Daoism themselves, one might argue that Chinese civilization flourished when the two were in harmony.


YIN
YANG
Low
Wet
Female
Soft
Cold
Dark
Unseen
Negative
High
Dry
Male
Hard
Hot
Light
Seen
Positive

I have some passages from the Daodejing (Tao Te Ching) in mind as I write this.  Sadly, my two translations were destroyed last year and this semester I taught out of the class anthology without replacing them, therefore this post does not have the quotations I would have liked to use.  Let me finally note that, for such a system to work from my point-of-view, Good and Evil in their moral or ultimate senses could not be sorted as Yang-Yin.  I believe that philosophical Daoism agrees with me here, as well.  Maybe I will revisit this topic at some future date and include some quotations.  I also noted that at least one other A-Z blogger this year shared my interest.  Yay!

Those lucky South Koreans and their awesome flag...

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y is for YINYANG

Posting unexpectedly from out-of-town. It helps one discover how much one hates the iPhone blogger app.

Yinyang, or yin and yang as we tend to say it in English, is the theoretical complementarity of opposites in Chinese tradition such as Daosim and Confucianism. It is famously recognized (though hardly ever correctly named) in the taijitu (great power diagram) symbol.

The symbol has been used in mythopoesis by author Robert Jordan. The symbol could be used by gamers who play with a three alignment system, especially one where they do not equate Law and Chaos with Good and Evil. Law as Yang and Chaos as Yin would make the taijitu the perfect symbol for Neutral alignment. I've been playing around a little for how I might use this in my Ygg setting. More to come on that, soon.

Friday, April 27, 2012

X is for XENOPUS LAEVIS



Xenopus laevis.  A biologist immediately knows the importance of that name, but perhaps many mythopoets do not, as I did not.  However, our fellow rambler and Holmes expert is happy to help you, as he did me, here.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is for WONDER

Tarantulla Nebula from the Hubble Spacescope, Courtesy of NASA.


One of the basic human responses is wonder.  It's an inner state, a mood or attitude, that seems to have an accompanying emotion that can be very intense.  There are also certain thoughts that go along with it.  The external universe elicits these thoughts with its size, beauty, complexity, and simplicity.  But just as we know from our own internal experience that the seen has unseen behind it, so we suspect that the external universe hides even as it expresses mystery.  I'm not sure if WOW! is a thought or not, but the inner state produces questions, so we often use it as a verb and say, "I wonder what/if/etc."

Why is there something rather than nothing?  Why are these the somethings that are and not some others?  Wonder is a crucial part of religion, philosophy, art -- and especially fantastical fiction.  We express our sense of wonder in science, in worship, and in the sub-creation of worlds that have the inner consistency of reality.  What other animal wonders?

Here's wishing you all the wonder you want, and then a bit more to surprise you at just the right moments.

J is for PSEUDODRAGON


Just checking to see if everybody is awake!  The W  entry will be coming later, but I wanted to share that I am enjoying finally getting around to read what Steven Brust is famous for, instead of what I appreciated him for.  In any event, after giving in to all the recommendations of this series and having finished the first two, I've come to like it more than I thought I would.  But I think there are more little hints that this started as a D&D game than just that a supporting character is a Jhereg.  Which is, by the way, a better name for a little dragon than pseudodragon, which has always bugged me as an adult.  Any other Brust recommendations out there?  I hear a rumor that he's going to be getting some attention in exalted realms soon...more to come when I can talk about it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V is for VERISIMILITUDE









 is for VERISIMILITUDE



I have said before that I believe Tolkien's  "On Fairy-Stories" (1947) is one of the most (fine, I really think the most) important pieces of theory for the practicing mythopoet.  He gives us the concepts of sub-creation and secondary belief to describe the enchantment of mythic literature (or fairy-stories).  The sub-creation enchants its readers by eliciting their secondary belief (in contrast to willing suspension of disbelief).  The secondary belief of readers in a sub-creation depends on its verisimilitude.  Verisimilitude is what elicits secondary belief and thus enchants.  Without it, fantasy falls flat.  Understanding Tolkien's point about verisimilitude, and then pondering deeply what it might mean for you and your audience, in particular how to sustain and not strain or break it, is worth your time if you haven't done it.  If you don't have a copy of it in something that you already own, get yourself a paper or electronic copy right away.  Read, ponder, repeat.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U is for URBAN SETTING II


Due to losing some family storage, I've recently had to go through a lot of old things (see my Nostalgia post).  I came across the remnants of what was once a mighty collection of illustrated children's books of the better kind.  The collection was shared between my daughter (the child in question) and myself (for use in the classroom in my previous incarnation -- okay I shared the books with my students as well, but they were taught to be careful with books from Dr. Obscure's Special Collection).  Sorting through them, I kept a few for myself, a few for my daughter, and the rest went to the shelves of Half Price Books.  Among those that I kept were two really cool books -- A Seaport through History: from the 10th Century BC to the 20th Century and A Central American City through the Ages: San Rafael.  These books by Hernandez, Ballonga, et al. are out of print and appear to have been published under somewhat different names by different publishers.  They trace a fictional Mayan city and  a Low Countries seaport through their histories, showing maps and cross-sections, with relevant information about them that would be enviable in a game setting book.  The fact that they are historical and yet fictional would make them perfect for just such a purpose, so I intend to eventually use them for just that.  It looks like there is at least one more book they did together, so I'm going to try to remember to keep an eye out for the one on the Islamic city.

Note that I just snuck in a Tomeful Tuesday, which we haven't had in a while!  Finding good material for an urban setting in unlikely or perhaps just new places, especially for cheap or free, is quiet satisfying.  I've used old National Geographics in the past, but I really like that the unique characteristics of these two books, and that they have the feel without the danger of being recognized as real places.  What resources have you found for creating urban settings?

U is for URBAN SETTING

"Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."

"A great city is, to be sure, the school for studying life."
— Samuel Johnson

The city.  Urbs.  Civitas.  Polis.  There is something powerful about the packing of places and teeming of characters that make it rich for the imagination to inhabit.  Thus it is one of the settings that I love, even for fantasy adventure.  It's not because I eschew variety: the hamlet, the wilderness, and -- especially the Underworld -- all have their charms.  But a well-drawn city matches the well-done Underworld in my book.  Dickens' London (to choose one London), lives for me and it is one of the Londons that I love; Rutherford's is another.    McCullough's late Republican/early Imperial Rome likewise seems a real place with its own distinctive character.  I'd like to find fiction set in Venice and Florence that do the same for those cities in the Renaissance.  It's been a long time since I read much Ann Rice, but I think I'd probably say her New Orleans, and perhaps to a lesser extent her Paris, read well.  The Thieves World novels made Sanctuary breathe and roar and spit.  In game settings, the Free City of Greyhawk, Waterdeep, and Golarion's Absalom (for sale here) are intriguing cities that promise strong sense of place. 


What cities do you love?  What materials from fiction or gaming deliver a city in its stones and in its soul to your imagination?  What are the touches that make the city seem a unique, living place?  Are there equivalences of the double decker bus, the little black cab, the red phone box, and the red royal post box?  How do you go about city building in your secondary creations?  I would love to hear your thoughts, examples, and recommendations!

Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for TAROT


Regular ramblers know that, in spite of being an old fogy who never got into any of these new-fangled card games, I am still fascinated by card decks.  I created a way for generating classic fantasy role-playing characters using a standard card deck.  (The world wasn't as impressed as I was, but what-ya-gonna-do?)  I've emoted about my love for Paizo's Harrow Deck and the old Deck of Many Things.  So I was always looking for a good deal on a Ravenloft Tarokka deck or a tarot deck.  Well, I finally got the tarot deck the day before T!  (The artist is David Palladini.)  I got a great deal at Lucky Dog Books.  (I'm still working on forgiving them for closing their old Paperbacks Plus store in Lakewood.  So many great memories in that place over the years.)

I wish I had some cool new idea to share, but I don't.  I started playing around with a use for the tarot during gaming, but it is still in the early stages of development.  Therefore, I'll share the picture of my deck in action and promote my old post (linked as "card deck" above), Paizo's Harrow, and Charles Williams' The Greater Trumps.  Don't hate me for one day of show-and-tell and sell.  ;-)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

S if for SAGE

The images of Zeno of Citium and Confucius provide two strongly contrasting images of the sage from two classical societies that valued the wisdom of the wise, while disagreeing internally over the nature of wisdom and the man who wielded it.  The sage is important in the real, external world as the rare possessor of valuable knowledge.  They have a correspondingly high place in our internal and secondary worlds.  For Jungian investigations, you will want to look under the term senex.  Both as teachers and as figures, their value extends beyond their lifetimes.


Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world?


1 Cor 1:20















Correspondingly, the sage has had an important role in fantasy role-playing, as well -- both in the primary world of the player or gamer, and in the secondary world of the game or characters.  There is the sage who knows the way of gaming, and so dispenses wisdom to the gamers.  The late Jean Wells was one of the original sages, dispensing wisdom in our Dragon Magazine feature, Sage Advice.  There are also sages as NPCs in the game itself.  They serve as an expensive resource for characters who need help solving a problem with knowledge to which they have no other access.  They can also serve as a nice plot device for GMs who want to present players with an option for play.

Sages to the Seventh Power
If one sage is good, then seven sages must be awesome.  Many cultures have thought so.  Sumeria had theirs.  Ancient India had the saptarishi.  Pre-Socratic Greece had their seven sages.  Three Kingdoms China had their Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove.  Finally, there is the fascinating case of the fictional Seven Sages of Rome, a cycle of early European romances that appear to have Sanskrit, Persian, and Hebrew origins.  This makes me want to create my own council of the wise!

Friday, April 20, 2012

R is for ROBINSON CRUSOE

Defoe's 1719 novel, an early example of the English novel, entered my imagination at a young age thanks to my mother's provision of nicely illustrated children versions of classic novels.  It also made an impression on G. K. Chesterton, whose importance for mythopoets I have treated before.  But unlike the elements of the story that my youthful imagination was taken with like cannibals, pirates, friendship, and black-powder, Chesterton was taken with, of all things, Crusoe's accounting of items salvaged in chapter IV.  In other words, with little more than a list of goods.  For Chesterton, it is a poem reflecting the truth of our world.

In chapter IV of Orthodoxy, "The Ethics of Elfland," he writes,
I really felt...as if all the order and number of things were remnants from Crusoe's ship.  That there are two sexes and one sun, was like the fact that there were two guns and one axe.  It was poignantly urgent that none should be lost; but, somehow, it was rather fun that none could be added.  The trees and the plants seemed like things saved from the wreck: and when I saw the Matterhorn, I was glad that it had not been overlooked in the confusion.  I felt economical about the stars as if they were sapphires (they are called so in Milton's Eden): I hoarded the hills (116).
...there had come into my mind a vague and vast impression that in some way all good was a remnant to be stored and held sacred out of some primordial ruin (118).
I never appreciated the salvaging of goods when I read Robinson Crusoe, though it did make more of an impact on me when I saw the Swiss Family Robinson movie.  But after reading Chesterton, I find it unforgettable.  Even while I take more of a mythic approach to the story of the Fall than Chesterton did, I believe it resonates with me just as much.  It also suggests part of the truth behind humanity as homo mythopoeicus.  Our sense of wonder at the things that are and the things that are not find one mode of expression through the sub-creation of secondary worlds.  In On Fairy-Stories, Tolkien traces this to the doctrine of the imago Dei: God created beings in his image, that is, image-making creatures.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Thanks and Welcome!


There have been a number of comments and additions to the roster of Ramblers lately that I have not been as quick to acknowledge as usual.  Thank you to everyone for the support!  I appreciate your follows and comments (even if it takes me a while to get around to them).  Please accept my welcome to Mythopoeic Rambling.  I hope you'll explore the Page Tabs, Blog Archive, and Labels to get a lay of the land and find new resources for your own imaginings.

Q is for QUEEN MOTHER OF THE WEST

Hsi Wang-mu or Xi Wangmu is a Chinese goddess of death, immortality, and the Western Paradise.  She is described in the HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion as having a leopard tail, tiger teeth, a spool-like headdress, sitting on K'un-lun mountain by a sacred tree preparing the elixir of immortality and being accompanied  by the jade hare, the three-legged bird, the toad, the nine-tailed fox, and in some accounts, an armed guard.  She hosts feasts at which seekers are served the peaches of immortality. 

I'm having trouble finding images that fit that description, but check out the following for some other ideas.  Check out this site for not only other illustrations, but the most information I found about her online.  I do not have enough expertise in Chinese religion to judge that online article by Max Dashu, but it is fascinating and packed with details and suggested interpretations of the evidence regarding this goddess.  Yumiyu's illustration is here.  Izabeth's is here.  A more modern looking illustration that looks like it may go with a video game is here.

A number of goddesses have caught my attention during this year's challenge. This one seems to combine a number of elements of Chinese religion, including the alchemical and perhaps the shamanic.

The association between the West and Paradise persists in forms of Pure Land, whose Western Paradise is overseen by Amitabha, or the Buddha of Infinite Light (known in Japan as Amida Butsu).






Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for PALADIN, Part 2

This post is my second meditation on the paladin.  For last year's, see here.


"Don't deny your rowdy nature, paladin.  And don't take advice from old people."

from season 1 episode 25, "His Hero."



Pendleton Ward had included plenty of hints in previous episodes of Adventure Time.  Finn had previously referred to his alignment and his inability to act against it.  In episode 23, he refuses to kill a Neutral creature, as he will only kill evil ones.  In episode 24, he tells Bubblegum he can't beat up the Ice King for no reason.  "It's against my alignment!"  The kind of character that worries this much about not transgressing against his alignment is, of course, a paladin, so RP gamers watching had known that Finn was a paladin before the old lady calls him one in episode 25, and before Ward explicitly acknowledged the fact in an interview on Wizards' Dungeons and Dragons website.



The name derives from a Roman term for a palace official, and thence came to be applied to Charlemagne's Twelve Peers, and later to all chivalrous heroes.  Gary Gygax (Supplement I: Greyhawk 1976 -- spelled out further two years later in the PHB) took the term for such a paragon of knighthood and added to it the sanctity of the ideal crusader -- a crucial development that goes beyond even the importance of the Christian identity of the Twelve Peers contrasted against the background of their Saracean foes.  This development gave games from D&D and its descendents, including WoW, the name for their holy warrior classes, when the obvious term in the West would have most likely been crusader.  Perhaps the denigration of that name mitigated against its effectiveness as a choice.  It is interesting that the original uses of the name would have better suited it as the name of a member of a royal order of knights bound to a king -- such as Finn and Jake play in season 2, episode 3, "Loyalty to the King" of Arthur's Knights of the Round Table.  But perhaps the later, especially those devoted to the Quest of the Holy Grail, will help us to bind the two concepts together, with paladins being Lawful in so far as they are bound to a king or other divinely ordained ruler of law and Good in so far at they are devoted to their deity.*  This could provide a fun source of tension as well for the character, when there is the potential for loyalty and holiness to come into conflict.

As Adventure Time so bluntly points out, the paladin uses violence for ends that are both lawful and good: in particular, the protection of the weak.  For more on the chivalric code, see here and here.  Crafting a bipartite code for a paladin that spells out in one part his duties to his leige lord (or lady) and in another, his duties to his heavenly Lord (or Lady), would go a long way towards world and character building, whether for fiction or gaming.

In addition to Mallory's Morte d' Arthur, I'd rewatch  Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven, although I did not like the director's cut which seemed to step away from the fine line of showing the good and bad on both sides and towards being obviously anti-Christian.  Therein are examples of the holy warrior struggling to be bound to both God on one hand and to his King and kingdom on the other.


* Let's not pass up the opportunity to link this Lawful Good entry.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for OMPHALOS

From the Greek word for navel, the word was used to describe the navel, the boss of a shield, and the center of the world.  A conical stone was used to mark supposed locations (see example below).

Omphalos from Delphi*

This mythic conception of the omphalos seems to be identical with the idea of a world pole or axis mundi, which can be conceived of as an umbilical cord or as a phallus.  The center of the world is important as a cultic site and as the point of entry into this world in origin myths.  In your world creation, starting at the center is useful and natural way of delimiting a culture or civilization both in terms of both physical and mental geography.  I would consider having it as a marking a portal to the underworld or, if I was using something like the Yggdrasil as the axis mundi, I'd have it be a planar gate into the pathways between worlds/planes.

* More here.

Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for NOSTALGIA

Nostalgia

NOSTALGIA

1: the state of being homesick : homesickness
2: a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition; also : something that evokes nostalgia 

Origin

New Latin, from Greek nostos return home + New Latin -algia; akin to Greek neisthai to return, Old English genesan to survive, Sanskrit nasate he approaches
First Known Use: 1756
© 2012 Merriam-Webster, Incorporated

Sunday, April 15, 2012

M is for MIRROR, MIRROR


I know it's Sunday off from A-Z, but I just got back from taking the wife to see Mirror, Mirror.  Not exactly opening week, I know, but it's hard to get to the movies during tax season.  Now, you know from my weekly watching of NBC's Grimm and ABC's Once Upon a Time (not to mention my review of the disappointing Red Riding Hood) that I am a sucker for fairy tale re-tellings.  Almost as much of a sucker as I am or beautiful brunettes and dwarfs.  Which this movie has.  Also, if you can't bear to not know, it's got two more things I'll put in the bottom as a spoiler in green font.

Now, while I much prefer a dark retelling to a comedic retelling, I still give a recommend to Mirror, Mirror.  It's fun, filled with the both the new twist to the familiar and the predictable.  It's also a feast for the eyes.   While it may not be the most brilliant comedy, it's not a painfully bad one (like most), but good enough to work a as whole.  If you love Bollywood, be sure and stick around through the credits.  If you hate Bollywood, get up and scoot at the beginning of the credits.



Spoiler: Dude! It has Sean Bean and a tatzelwurm!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

M is for MACGUFFIN

It's my impression that the term MacGuffin is going through a period of increasingly inaccurate usage to mean: the object of the quest or really important object that drives the plot.  Originally, I take it, the term was invented to apply to such an object where the nature or identity of the object itself did not matter.  You could exchange the Maltese Falcon with the Siamese Cat and change the figure from black to pearl and the source from Templars to a Wuxia order and it wouldn't matter in the least. 

If the artifact itself matters a lot, then it seems inaccurate to call it a MacGuffin.  Reportedly, there is some disagreement on this score.  Hitchcock famously said the audience doesn't care what the thing is, but Lucas and Spielberg seem to think the audience should care.  I take the Sampo and the Golden Fleece to be MacGuffins.  But things like Sauron's One Ring and Holy Grail matter a great deal to the audience and the elements of the story itself beside simply the action of the plot, which would not make it more accurate to call them something else.  They are Plot Devices, but they are also important to setting and characterization in critical ways.  The term Meta-plot Device appeals to me, but it may resonate too strongly with the usage of metaplot to be useful.  What would you call such artifacts?

For quality time with Wikipedia and TVTropes, check these links:
MacGuffin: Wiki; TVT
Plot Device: Wiki, TVT

The Squeaky Wheel

Remember this post?  

Signs are that oil may be forthcoming.  

Stay tuned!

Friday, April 13, 2012

L is for LUST and LOVE Goddesses

Well, I've already blogged about the Sumerian Inanna, but she's just the first in a long line of goddesses who have LUST and LOVE in their divine portfolio.

In Babylon, she was known as Ishtar.  In Canaan, as Astarte (I haven't done the requisite research, but I really wonder if Anat and QDS [the Holy Lady] are not just other names for Astarte in Canaan).  She is famous in the Greek-speaking world as Aphrodite, but the Romans called her Venus and by that name she graces the night sky both at its beginning and end.  Some of these early figures put war under the aegis of the goddess of love, reminding us of the saying, "All is fair in love and war."  Maybe the Greco-Roman mythology makes this same connection by means of the love affair between Venus and Love.

Lesser known figures are Benzaiten (Benten) in Japan and the Aztec Xochiquetzal.  I'm surprised that there are not more heterosexual divine couples sharing this domain, such as Rati does with her husband Kama in India.

More common is the male fantasy of divine women fighting over who gets it.  In Egypt, Hathor and Bastet cat fight over it.  In Scandanavia, it's Frigg and Freyja, and the former gives her name to the sixth day in English's Friday.  In Yoruban religion, Oshun gets competition from the Mami Wata.

Turning from real world examples to goddesses in gaming, I was always surprised by how Love got short-shrift in the core D&D pantheon.  I think this was redressed in the Forgotten Realms by multiple figures, although, as I've said before, I'm far from an expert in the Forgotten Realms.  I was not surprised that Paizo made up for this lack of attention in their world-building.  In Pathfinder's Golarion, they follow the trend noted above by splitting the field and giving lust to Calistria and love to Shelyn.  (For images, see here and here.)

For the goddess in my own mythopoesis, I like the idea of keeping lust and love together, and adding in luck.  This follows the example of Benzaiten, and I think makes sense.  Perhaps Lakshmi also comes close to combining Lady Luck and Lady Love.  Is there anything that feels more dependent on luck than getting lucky?  Or, to put it another way, doesn't everyone want to be lucky in love?  I'll keep working on it.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

K is for KNOWLEDGE

People make all kinds of claims, constantly.  The ability to analyze claims and exchange them in fair and civil ways does not seem to be thriving.  Instead, shouting slogans flourishes.  Maybe that makes philosophy not only a faint hope, but a public service.

Epistemology is the study of the nature and conditions of knowledge.  Western philosophy since Plato (or Socrates -- not sure we'll ever know which) has, by and large, offered a classic epistemic package that may be summed up thusly:


Belief that is True and Justified is Knowledge.  K = JTB.

On this understanding, when people claim to have not beliefs but knowledge, they are confused.  They have beliefs, and are attempting to bypass the asked-for account that presents a rational account for the probability that their beliefs are both True and Justified.  They're either unconscious of what they are doing or they are intellectual cheats if they simply assert there knowledge against your belief.  Putting adjectives in front of them, like say scientific knowledge versus religious belief, only dresses up the attempted epistemic crime.  While you may be practically justified in having a belief you can't give an adequate justificatory account for, when arguing, account for the claim or shut up.  Don't just assert with more force.

The classic epistemic package: may it live another few thousand years at least, triumphing over postmodern, politically-dominated, and post-colonial BS excuses for epistemology -- and over Gettier-type objections.  Hears to hoping we all grow in knowledge.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

J is for JEZEBEL


Sexy.  Promiscuous.  Proud.  Defiant.  Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 16 - 2 Kings 9, see also), who has entered our speech in the phrase, "painted Jezebel" and has a woman's magazine named after her, has passed from being the evil Phoenician Queen of an evil Israelite King, a biblical symbol of idolatry, to a cultural symbol of the desirable, tempestuous, powerful siren.  She appeals to that part of men who are torn on that particular horn of the mother-virgin-whore trilemma.  Hey, she inspired Robert E. Howard to bad poetry!  There are, of course, plenty of women trading on the Jezebel image in our media culture.  They're female Bryons: mad, bad, and dangerous to know.  In other words, they have plenty to recommend them in the crafting of narrative if they are handled with a bit of sophistication to keep them interesting.  I think of Diana Villiers in the Aubrey-Maturin novels: she certainly has some of Jezebel about her character, although O'Brian develops her beyond the Jezebel aspect to make her interesting.  It's been a long time, but I wonder if I wouldn't also think of Colleen MacCullough's Servilia Caepionis.  You wouldn't want to handle this in a heavy handed, predictable reversal, like a Western's harlot with a heart of gold, but flashing the obvious signal for the stock character and then filling her corset out with some unpredictable and complicated curves (okay, sorry for the possible visuals) could make for an enjoyable, textured subversion of the trope that would keep the reader guessing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I is for INANNA

If you are unfamiliar with the goddess Inanna, I recommend giving her a look.  She is a Sumerian goddess, much of whom seems to have been assimilated into the Akkadian Ishtar.  Her journey to the Underworld has been reconstructed due to a greater availability of the fragmentary sources and the subject of much treatment.  For a popular/scholarly reconstruction and treatment, see Wolkstein & Kramer's book.  It is not known with certainty if the Old Babylonian image below is of Inanna/Ishtar, Ereshkigal, or Lilitu/Lilith.

© Trustees of the British Museum, Used by Permission.

Monday, April 9, 2012

What would you get with $10 of DriveThruRPG?


It's not just a hypothetical question.  It's one that the Idle Red Hands recently made me come to grips with.  I've mentioned the podcast in my Listening feature before, and now I've added them to my regular podcast rotation and have been enjoying them a lot -- in spite of the fact that the first episode I tried didn't please me.  They were having a Leave Us a Comment for a chance to win $10 on DriveThruRPG Contest, and of course I thought, "Fact chance, me leaving a somewhat gripey comment."  But while those fellows may have red hands, they have a relatively clean conscience, because they let the dice lay where they fell and rewarded my Obscure person with $10 on DriveThru.  Sweet!

Oh the dilemma!  Which purchases from my wishlist to choose?  I finally went with these:
  1. Finwicket's Bestiary: Along the Faerie Path from the Clockwork Gnome
  2. "Create a Religion in your Spare Time for Fun and Profit" by M.A.R. Barker
  3. Sutra Magic (from Rite Publishing's Jade Oath)
Yeah, good stuff.  A balancing act between Pathfinder stuff, Old School stuff, and the stretching of the gaming dollar that turned out well.  Thanks again, Idle Red Hands!

Check out their series on Warriors or Pantheons, my two current favorites, or follow your own interests (I'd skip the OSR episode, though, since it is really about the failings of one particular game.  Perhaps it will save you money, though).  There are nice nuggets tucked away even in the episodes I was less interested in, and the crew sounds like a good group of guys one can easily imagine hanging out and gaming with.  I hope you'll give them a try, leave them feedback, and tell them who sent you.

H is for HERO


Stories catch heroes like honey catches flies.  With all the varieties of stories, we have evolved simultaneously many different types of heroes and heroines.  In the most general sense, a hero is a protagonist, that is the (or a) main character with whom the audience identifies and who is in conflict with the antagonist (or villain).  In its original Greek usage, a classical hero was semi-divine human (in other words, a demi-god), such as Heracles, Theseus, or Perseus.  Even the Greeks weren't satisfied with the classical hero alone and quickly followed him up with the tragic hero.  If you think adding anti-hero to the list and calling it a day covers the field, you haven't sunk nearly enough time into thinking about the field of heroism.  Start in the shallow end with the introductory articles in Wikipedia and in TVTropes, and then get ready to lose hours of the day and maybe even some of your comfortable hours of sleep for starters, for you've skipped over many kinds of heroes, only to land in anti-hero land which also has a diverse population of types, and have a lot of catching up to do.

Once you have of populated a goodly list of hero types, then you can ask questions about the necessary structures and elements that have been proposed by modern theorists from Carlyle to Raglan to Propp to Campbell.  So much for simple courageous self-sacrifice for the good of others in the struggle against evil!  As long as human nature and our understandings of good and evil remain complex and placed in diverse contexts, we are likely to continue to tell complicated stories of heroes that develop the options for heroism in ever more baroque patterns.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

CHRISTOS ANESTI!

Resurrection, Dieric Bouts, c.1455, Norton Simon Museum

Wishing you a happy Easter: May the joys of this season bless all!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

G is for GOLARION

My favorite published gaming world these days is Paizo's Golarion.  While I enjoy building a world from scratch, from my own starting points and with carefully chosen elements (with input from players, of course), I also enjoy the richness of a well-designed world made by the cooperative labor of many imaginations.  Golarion is a high magic, polytheistic, kitchen-sink world that is the work of many designers and authors.  You can play in it, run it, or just read about -- moreover, you can read stories set in it by good authors.


If you are unfamiliar with Golarion, Tracy has written a series of introductory posts on it at Troll in the Corner.  The PathfinderWiki has over 6,000 articles detailing the world that are freely available.  And the mountain of material from Paizo continues to grow.  If you want a descriptive dip of the toe into Golarion, grab the Inner Sea Primer.  If you're a fan of fantasy fiction, then check out the Pathfinder Tales line.  You can start with the Web Fiction for free, but I don't think you get the full experience until you try a novel.  Any of them are good, and you can check out the blurbs and reviews for indications of what is up your alley, but my recommendation for a first would still be one of the two authored by Dave Gross.  And not just because he writes about my favorite character, Count Varian Jeggare. Okay, maybe partly...

Also, if you are a fan of the Lovecraft mythos, you will enjoy Golarion as a game world as it includes lots of nods towards Innsmouth.  Lovecraftitis has not, as yet, infected the fiction.  It will be interesting to see how long that state of affairs will continue.

Friday, April 6, 2012

To My Fellow Blogspot Bloggers

Dear Brilliant Colleagues,
For days, I have been trying to comment on your entries for their utility, inspirational value, cleverness, and so forth.  Every time, posting the comment fails.  No amount of restarting or signing out and back in has made it where any of my comments successfully post.  I think that it is not merely those who have the security feature turned on, but also those who require one to be signed in to comment.  I encourage folks to open up comments.  Yeah, I agree, anonymous comments are annoying, but I think over all it will increase your feed back and anonymous comments will still be a small minority -- and spam even rarer.  At least, that has been my experience.
Wishing you the best,
Theodric the Obscure

F is for FOURTEENTH OF NISAN


Exodus 12
 1And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt saying, 2“This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you. 3Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house: 4And if the household be too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbour next unto his house take it according to the number of the souls; every man according to his eating shall make your count for the lamb. 5Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: 6And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. 7And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. 8And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; his head with his legs, and with the purtenance thereof. 10And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire. 11And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD's passover. 12For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. 13And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt. 14And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.’”


Thursday, April 5, 2012

E is for EBENEEZER


Most people in the English-speaking word, I wager, would be completely unfamiliar with the name Ebeneezer if it were not for Charles Dickens' Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.  Dickens, however, got this perfectly fine English name from the English Old Testament.  In origin, then, it is a Hebrew name and one likely to have been popular among the somewhat Puritanically inclined segment of the English population given its relative exoticness and lesser popularity.  The origin of the name, however, is what is of interest for us.

The Standing Stones in Gezer, Israel

The name means "Stone of Help."  There were two locations that had stone memorials raised in Canaan/Israel with that name, mentioned in 1 Samuel chapters 7 and 41.  These stones or massebah may have been pillars, stele, cairns, altars, or perhaps even odd naturally occurring stones that served as a landmark in various cases.  They were often given theophanic names celebrating an appearance or act of deity.  Identification of memorials stones set up by earlier Israelite heroes may have later fallen afoul of idolatrous associations, especially as cultic centralization increased in the period of the kingdoms, but earlier strata of the Old Testament seem to accept these as perfectly acceptable expressions of Yahwism.  The practice, of course, resonates with the practice of various forms of stone memorials of religious and geographic significance in other cultures.

Markers such as these in the production of narrative or gaming worlds are useful as landmarks and for world-building atmosphere.  Readers or players develop associations with background stories and character events, while description works the enchantment that weaves the sense of concrete place.  So pick a place, create the stone or stones, and explain how they got there, when, why, and by whom.  Who knows?  At some point in contemporary time, the characters themselves may mark a spot, raise a pillar, and exclaim, "hither by thy help I come."

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

D is for Dispensation and Degenerate Age


Schemas of history are not unique to religion.  For example, one popular schema divides history according to whether the years in question precede or follow the Age of Enlightenment (roughly 1650-1800).  We hear of Ages of Stone, Bronze, and Iron from historians and of Triassic, Jurassic, or Cretaceous from paleontologists.  The most famous chronological distinction is perhaps BC/AD, which is explicitly religious -- though there is also AH, which counts years from Mohammad's flight to Medina.

The term dispensation has long been used in Christian speech to denote not only the period in God's economy belonging to the Incarnation, but other distinctions based upon the Fall of Man, the Flood, the giving of the Law to Moses, and so forth.  It is not unique, as might be thought, to those versions of Protestantism that call themselves Dispensationalist -- who have, however, earned the sobriquet by their taking such schematizations to baroque levels of detail and controversial levels of doctrinal importance.

Common to many schemas of history is the notion of a Golden Age.  In Buddhism, for example, the Siddhartha Gautama's life was a Golden Age, followed by two ages in which his Dharma could thrive.  A third, much longer age -- the age we are currently in -- is mo-fa or mappo: the Degenerate Age of the Dharma.

I suggest using the idea of dispensations such as the Degenerate Age of the Dharma in the sub-creative act. When turning your mind to mythopoesis, try this question: What are the events that define the history of this world?  You can ask this question both from a normative point-of-view (What are the events that really define the history of this world?) and from a descriptive point-of-view (What are the events that define the history of this world from within the point-of-view of a given culture?).  Defining the ages of your world will give you a history to work within, and describing them from the point-of-view of cultures within your world will help create those distinctive cultures, religions, and so forth.