[Glorantha]Re: [HeroQuest-RPG] The limits of Myth (was Apple Pie and Characteristic Mythology?)

From: John Hughes <john.hughes_at_anu.edu.au>
Date: Sun, 22 Feb 2004 14:08:09 +1100

Gedday Jon :)

While this is straying into Gloranthan Digest territory (this is the 'applied' campaign list, the Digest is the 'theory' list where all threads go to die) I think the distinction you make is an important one, and one that has real consequences for **campaign** heroquesting. (Nervous glance over shoulder to omnipresent moderators, bowl of fine mead poured upon the altar of the triple deity Gra-Ni-Jeff).

I'll also post this reply to the Digest.

Your suggestion covers similar ground to a piece I wrote for TOTRM #20 called 'Masks of the Goddess', which uses the goddess Vinga, her cult, and her myths as an example to explore applied Heortling mythology. Its now online at


The basic campaign question is, how far can a myth be wrong before it becomes useless? How far can the structures of a myth be played with before its basic thread collapses? Can we say anything more beyond, 'the dice don't lie?'

In one sense, (theistic) Glorantha is composed of mythemes. The world is made of story. Myths aren't just vehicles for defining and constraining social meanings, they are in some sense the basic patterns of being, the laws that shape the world. Mythos is Logos! In my Glorantha, myths are patterns on the heroplane, they are quanta of being and meaning. They are more than culture creating/sustaining, they are in a sense *reality* creating/sustaining. True myth always points beyond itself and beyond the limitations of the society that hosts it - and this I think, is one of the key points you are advocating. Any telling of a myth, any reduction into mere words, will always be partial and incomplete. Hence mystery, hence Devotion. Mythology is the art of meaning, and devotion is the turning of meaning into action. When allied to rituals, myths become gateways to magical power. Heroquesting is the gateway for incredible power, experimental heroquesting is a bit like playing with bits of plutonium: its usually deadly, but has the possibility to unleash incredible energies for good or ill (and given the general pessimism of Gloranthan history, usually both).

We know that different clans have different versions of myth, and that variant myths often swap locales, characters and even deities. This, coupled with the little we know about experimental heroquesting, suggests that some sort of structural congruity rather than identity is what is important, that myth is essentially a concatenation of categories: you can substitute almost any red-headed woman at key points in the myth, almost any hillfort will do when pressed (narrator and dice willing of course: *any* heroquest is difficult, any mythic substitution is deadly dangerous. Any any major dude will tell you: 'Experimental heroquesting: Just say "NO"'. Which is of course par for the monomythic course: our model is Joseph Campbell, with a liberalising touch of Claude Levi-Strauss.

Heortlings don't seem to have trouble with competing or conflicting versions of myths, and have never seen a need to institute central religious authorities to guide and legimitise religious and mythic expression the way the Darra Happan and western churches and centralised cults do. 'Let one thousand flowers bloom', is their unvoiced motto. Their criteria, as I note in the article, is whether or not the rites associated with the myths *work* - whether the yellow grubs stay away from the lettuce or the ale doesn't go stale after four days. Their view of myth is extremely sophisticated, but it is *not* comparative/reductionist. To quote Greg:

"A fact of mythology is that every meaningful tidbit has more than one meaning. Lhankor Mhy says, 'Mythology is the art of Meaning.' The spiritual being sees the meaning, and the devotee sees then beyond that to a new meaning. Every answer is a clue to the next meaning. The devotee is not lost, for his practice defines his selected true meaning, and he need only hold to it as the stable point in an otherwise shifting set of ideals."

But for us as GMs, we still don't have many criteria *besides* levels of difficulty to help us decide what will work and what will not. The 'can-do' ethic of campaign play makes us pretty flexible, and this is coupled with the meta-knowledge that with the coming of the Hero Wars, the barriers of possibility are everywhere breaking down. Do myths really exist for everything? Can a sufficiently powerful group of questors stretch a myth indefinitely, or is there a breaking point?

What sort of campaign guidelines can we apply?

Somewhere I have a list I pulled together of in-culture Heortling insights into heroquesting. I must drag this out and post it.

>The secret of mythology is surely that myth alludes to occult and mystery.
>In this way it conveys something of the numinous.

Definitely Digest material. :) Gloranthan myth is more than sacralising story, it is in some way a commentary on and reflection of the basic structuring of reality. Glorantha has its own rules of myth, and I think that wholesale transplatation of rw-theories and analogues can sometimes be misleading.

Your other key question seems to be how much myths *implicitly* reflect the biases, blind spots and cultural biases of the tellers. In the real world this is easy - and your Greek example is a good one. There are key themes in greek myth: the gods indifference to individual human life, the divine concern with justice and vengeance, though on a longer time scale than humans can comprehend, the necessity for humans to learn their own limitations, and their incomplete understanding compared with that of the gods. That last one doesn't seem to be a feature of Gloranthan myth! - or does it? :) We can also see the myths evolve over time - the gods become more abstract as we jump from Homer to Vergil, and certain themes become more important - say the growing interest in a positive afterlife as we approach the Christian era.

Can we see these themes in Heortling myth? Well yes... the obsession with, and horror of, kinstrife is a one example. But does it creep into the story through human transmisssion, or is it a feature of the raw myth itself? For me, that question is unanswerable. YGMV.

>Of late Gloranthan
>mythology contributed seems to me to place too much emphasis on current
>institutions or conditions, or on the origins of those things. This sort of
>story has a tone of something that is all very comfortable and apple-pie.
>But I personally don't think myth is really like that. Often it is
>challenging, frightening, or even (and perhaps especially) subversive. Also,
>framing mythology in this style is much more interesting from a gaming and
>story-arc point of view.

Well, as a community of myth-writers imagining a fantasy world, we're all beginners. Most of our myth-making is campaign focussed. After all, Gloranthan myth is primarily a template for action. Praxis over Doxis. It's hard enough enunciating the basic story patterns, without reflecting the deep structures or cultural themes.

But to your basic point - Yes! Yes! Yes! Do we need more subversive, disquieting myths? Yes! Are there entire classes of myth whispered in dark corners of the hall, far from the ears of the godar? Most definitely!

Perhaps we can begin by listing some of these Heortling themes and their corresponding blind spots. Stay tuned. :)

The cost of normal herodom is heavy: you become a channel for terrible energies and attitudes. The cost of subversive herodom... brrrrrrr. This could be the beginning of an entire new Gloranthan subgenre.

Terrible secrets, terrible costs. Places no one dare go, powers gained at unspeakable, hideous cost. Broken gods and multilated powers. Dread rites in the blackness of a dark moon. Heroplane paths tred at a terrible cost to body, mind and soul. Deep secrets from the dawn of history. Deeper secrets from before the dawn of history. Incest and kinstrife. Mutilation and madness. Where's my Lovecraft adjective generator? :)

This has started off as theory-heavy, alas, but the outcomes I hope can be very practical and campaign-friendly.



(I now begin the count to see how many posts we get through before someone mentions the God Learners and the thread fractures among well-established lines. :) )


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End of Glorantha Digest Received on Sun 22 Feb 2004 - 06:57:04 EET

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