R is for Raijin – Mythic Mondays

The god of thunder, Nitenmon Gate, Taiyuin-byo Shrine Photograph by Michael Reeve

The god of thunder, Nitenmon Gate, Taiyuin-byo Shrine
Photograph by Michael Reeve

R is for Rajin – or as you probably know him, Raiden.

Japanese god of thunder and lightning, he is one of the children of the divine pair Izanami and Izanagi, who birthed many gods, and the eight original islands of Japan. He carries drums from which he conjures lightning, and his more human form is of an old monk with a straw hat

Japanese parents sometimes warn their children to guard their bellybuttons from this god. Apparently he likes to eat them, although this is more likely a characteristic of his demon counterpart, Rajiu, who appears as a wolf or fox.

Japan has a weird relationship between the spirits of Shinto – in which faith everything has some kind of animus, called a kami – and the later Buddhism – in which even demons can find enlightenment. Rajin has an important job, issued by Siddartha (‘the’ Buddha, or more accurately the first Enlightened One) – guarding the Dharma – a collection of poems, parables and discourses, which comprises one of the major holy texts of Buddhism. How effective is the lightning god as such a guardian? Well, the texts haven’t been lost yet…

Raiden turns up in all kinds of pop culture – dozens of cameos in video games, animes, even in a female form in Joss Whedon’s Angel – but he’s probably best known for his starring role in the Mortal Kombat series. Again, this week’s story isn’t original myth, but has its roots in the mythical character, with a lot of influences from pop culture images.

Story of the God

Raiden sat in the centre of the Todai-ji temple, straw hat pulled far over his eyes. However much he meditated, he could not change the truth. And he could not see a way forward.

The Lord of Outworld had stolen the Dharma. Without it, men would find it much harder to achieve enlightenment. Some would never be able to without the guiding counsel, written by the first of the 28 Buddhas.

The abbot of the monastery came to the god as he sat before the altar. “You have been here for three days, what troubles you?”

“I cannot ask the eight gods of elemental forces. We have already failed. I cannot ask the spirits of small places. They do not have the power. And I cannot ask the parents, for they are sworn not to meddle in the affairs of Earth.”

“Then, Lord, there is nothing for it. You must seek the aid of men.”

The Lord of Lighting raised his head, and quirked a white eyebrow.

“All men feel pride, if they are skilled in martial arts. Appeal to their pride, and you will find the most skilled warriors.”

So it was proclaimed that there would be a tournament, to find the most skilled warriors in the world. Many came from China and Japan and even from far-off America. There was even a woman. As they fought under the watchful eyes of the Lord of Combat, some won, some lost, and some died. At last there were but eight left.

And the Lord of Lightning cast an enchantment, that the whole force was transported to the demon-infested Outlands. And because they could not otherwise return, they fought the demon-folk.

There was the demon Shan Chi who was a sorcerer and caster of illusions;and he was beaten by the American Johnny

There was the demon Okame who was a succubus; and she was beaten by the woman Sonja

And there was the demon Orochi who was a many-headed dragon; and he was beaten by the Shaolin monk Liu Kang

And there were many other demons, each with their own form, and the Eight Warriors fought and defeated them all.

At last they came to the palace of the Demon King. And in the centre of his palace was a combat arena. On the one hand were the Holy Eight Warriors and the Lord of Lightning. And on the other hand was a demon horde, led by their King

“Dishonourable cur! Will you not fight one-on-one?” screamed Lord Raiden

“I’m a Demon – what exactly did you expect?” boomed the Demon King

And seven of the eight fought, with Lord Raiden. And the eighth, seeing that all were distracted by the fight, drew on the way of the ninja, and stole the book of the Dharma from the throne where it was. And the ninja read aloud from the 7th Discourse, where it says that Man is the last life before Nirvana, and man who dies with honour ….

The floor of the arena opened, and became a portal to the Realms of Men. And because of the inspiration of the book, the demons could not pass through.

So came home triumphantly the Warriors of Men. But Lord Raiden was to get no rest, for he must ever guard the Dharma from demons and evil men, who seek to turn its power to their own ends.

In your Games and Stories

Many settings have the god of lightning and thunder as evil, or at the least neutral but violent. A benevolent lightning god is the perfect patron for fighters of evil forces; whether armed with swords, bows, or even arcane magics. He might even bestow elemental magics on his followers.

Shinto shrines might feature a statue of Rajin, but they would be unlikely to be full of treasure and guarded by monsters. Monasteries on the other hand, might have ancient holy books, special weapons or armor, or finely crafted artworks; and be guarded by little old men with brooms.

What is the Dharma? When you need to consult it, how do you choose to defeat Raiden, and whatever other guardians he is currently employing? You could fight him, try to persuade him, or even sneakily steal it. When you have it, who else is seeking it – and will now pursue your protagonists?

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Q is for Quetzalcoatl – Mythic Mondays

Quetzalcoatl, as depicted in the 16th century Codex Magliabechiano .

Quetzalcoatl, as depicted in the 16th century Codex Magliabechiano .

The Feathered Serpent is god of the wind and learning. He serves as a messenger between worlds, and as the guide for vision questing.

As with many of the Mesoamerican faiths, Quetzalcoatl is a composite of disparate local gods. Some of his assumed roles are then parcelled out to his close relatives. His twin brother Xolotl takes his role as messenger to its logical conclusion, as a psychopomp – a guide of souls to the afterlife.

Rather a lot of what we know about the Mesoamerican faiths – principally Aztec, Tolmec, and Mayan – is extrapolated from limited archeological evidence. Much useful data was deliberately eradicated by European conquerors.

The latter part of the story is now believed not to actually be Aztec myth, but to be a misinterpretation, written later by European scholars, who were inclined to see the Aztecs as brutal savages. Politeness on the part of the king was, in that society, a show of dominance – think of an extension of ‘cool guys don’t look at explosions’ – or the icy politeness of the classical Bond villain. So in calling Cortez divine, Moctezuma was actually insulting him.

Story – the Herald of the End Times?

When the world was made, the gods needed a great source of energy to power the world. So they made the sun, but it was incomplete. It needed a god to go into it to give it his lifeforce.

There was the First Age, and that sun was the Jaguar Sun Tezcatlipoca

During this age the people were giants, and ate acorns.There was a fight, the sun was damaged and Tezcatlipoca in his rage sent jaguars to kill all the people.

There was the Second Age, and that sun was the Wind Sun Quetzalcoatl

During this age people were made again, in the size they are now. But in one of his rages, Tezcatlipoca turned all the people into monkeys and Quetzalcoatl send a hurricane to blow the monkeys away.

There was the Third Age, and that sun was the Rain Sun Tlaloc

During this age they tried again to make people. But the king stole Tlaloc’s wife, and in his grief Tlaloc refused to send the rain, and drought killed most of the people.

There was the Fourth Age, and that sun was the Water Sun Calchi

During this age, Tlaloc’s sister tried to be the sun, but she was too heavy, being gravid with many children. So the sun fell out of the sky, and flooded the earth, and most of the people died.

And there was the Fifth Sun, which is the sun we now have. This is the shy god Nanahuatzin. He nearly didn’t become the sun, but his naughty brother Tecuciztecatl pushed him, and fell after him, and got badly scorched. Now he lives in the moon, still burning, and nursing his burns.

At the beginning of the Fifth Age, Quetzalcoatl chased the demon Huitzilopochtli away into the sky, with the promise that he would return to aid his people when he was needed.

And the sign of the ending of the Fifth Age was the return of Quetzalcoatl, not in his form as a feathered serpent, but in the form of a man with pale skin. In the meanwhile, the people should do all they could to sustain the Sun in his great labours. In particular, they should cover their great places in gold to reflect the sun’s light further, and they should sacrifice lives to sustain the sun in his work.

The city of Tenochtitlan had been successful in its wars, and had sacrificed many enemy warriors to strengthen the sun, and their gold was taken and clothed the city, and the king, and the priests.

And one of the warriors was scouting in the forest, and he saw in the distance a group of half-men half deer – or so he believed them to be. We know that the men were Spanish, and riding horses, and that their leader was called Cortez. And the warrior brought the pale man to the king Moctezuma.

The Aztec people welcomed the Spanish, thinking that they were the people of their god. The Spanish explained that the Aztecs. So the king set his scholars to work to learn the language of the god people. The scholars soon gained understanding of the meaning of the Spanish demands.

And when the Spanish asked for gold to be brought, a mighty pile of the precious metal was assembled in front of the Temple of the Sun. What more natural than that the god’s people would require his substance in the world?

In celebration of the return of the god, Moctezuma held a great sacrifice. But the Spanish, not realising the importance of sustaining the sun, slaughtered the Aztec people and priests and lastly the king, butchering him on the top of the temple.

And the Spanish took the gold and sailed away, leaving behind them the ruins of the city Tenochtitlan. We call the place Mexico now, but there can still be seen the site of one of the greatest misunderstandings of all time.

In your Games and Stories

The mythical city of El Dorado, the bustling metropolis of Tenochtitlan – temples to the Aztec gods were vast and grandiloquent. Whilst not literally built of gold (it’s too soft) they would likely be gilded and filled with treasures. Exploring them could be either whilst they were operational – in which case be careful not to be caught and offered as a sacrifice, or as ruins – anyone for Indiana Jones?

The other thing the Aztecs are renowned for is their ball game. They used it as a means of selecting the best of their warriors to sacrifice, but it could equally be a war-substitute, or a selection for some dangerous mission. Are the gods invoked in the arena, or is the one place they cannot influence – and why?

Quetzalcoatl as a patron could grant all kind of sensory spells, from darkvision or echolocation, to clairvoyance, to vision questing. He is likely to be worshipped by mystical scholars – particularly those of the Things Man Was Not Meant To Wot variety.

An interesting set of adventures could be set in the times of one of the other Suns. What are the people like? Could you save them from their catastrophe  – and should you?

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P is for Phoebus Apollo – Mythic Mondays

Apollo as drawn by Rosalba Carriera [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Apollo as drawn by Rosalba Carriera [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ok, I’m cheating. I don’t know enough gods that begin with P – given that we’ve used Neptune (aka Poseidon) for N I’m short on good stories. There are far too many gods that begin with A – Artemis, Athena, Ares, Apollo and Amphitrite in Greek myth alone. So in order to fit to a neat alphabet, we’ve needed to look at some gods under their other names, or their assorted titles.

Apollo is an easy one to do this to, because he has so many roles – and the Romans loved handing out titles to the gods for each of their responsibilities – often where the principal gods had assimilated the worship of older deities. Phoebus was one of the most common titles, meaning “lightbringer”

He is god of the sun, healing, archery, hunting, athletics, music and the arts, military scouts and prophecy. He inspires the Oracle at Delphi, and slew a great monster there, Typhon. He is also responsible for plagues and famines – or preventing them. He is the defender of flocks, and by extension colonists – the Colossus at Rhodes was a great statue invoking his protection for the colony. He ruled over various Games – both athletic and dramatic competitions, most of which were festivals to Apollo and another god – the Thargelian Games was devoted to Apollo and Artemis, whilst the Olympics were dedicated to Apollo and Zeus.

Despite this wide range of domains, Apollo doesn’t feature in all that many myths.  Even where he does show up, it’s often in cameo, fulfilling the plot role of Gandalf – to give the quest and quickly leave, in order for the heroes to complete it.

So this is one of the few tales in which Apollo has a starring role. It’s another one of my blends of myth and fiction, but I claim the tradition of the Greek playwrights who first recorded these stories – where detail was insufficient, they made it up, based on the characters involved. After all, such dramas were originally part of the worship of the Greek gods – designed to convey the stories of the gods to a largely illiterate populace. As patron of the arts, Apollo must surely approve!

(if you want to read more about these early Greek dramas, start by looking for Euripides and Thespis – as in thespian)

Building the walls of Troy

Troy was little more than a village when Laomedon came to power as its king. There were a profusion of bandits in the area,and the town could not prosper unless they could protect their wealth. The king sent his daughter Hecuba to consult the Oracle, and she returned with instructions for a great sacrifice. For many days the town was not visible from the beach for the smoke. Through the smoke came a trio of builders, who promised to build the highest walls the folk had ever seen, in three days – but only if they were not watched.

The whole town went to the hills above the city to camp for the duration. And for three days, all they could hear was a strange music, of lyres and drums and voices, punctuated by a roaring sound as of the earth shaking

For two days, all was well. The people trusted to the compact their king had made. But the king’s daughter Hecuba, being ever curious, sneaked away on the third day to spy on the builders. She hid in a place she had played as a child, near where the great city was being constructed. And this is what she saw.

Apollo played his lyre, which had been made for him from a tortoiseshell by Hermes, and the stones danced into place.

Poseidon waved his trident, which controlled all the seas, and mud from the sea floor mortared the stones together and Artemis breathed on the spaces in the walls and the great wooden gates grew in their places.

And in three days the walls were builded, strong and tall, with watchtowers and gates and guard rooms.

The first of the builders stood on the beach, and declaimed to all the people, who had gathered there to see their new city

“Because most of your people kept their compact, the walls are strong, and will not fall whilst ever you possess the Palladium. Because Hecuba spied on our work, I prophecy that there will be a time when your walls will not avail you, for the enemy will walk through the gates with your blessing”

And the three builders vanished, whereby the people knew they had been visited by gods. So on the spot where the prophecy was spoken, they built a temple complex with shrines there to many gods, and kept there the Palladium, which was the form of a statue to Athena. And indeed, the city did not fall until Odysseus stole it, many years later, when the city welcomed the Trojan Horse into its walls

In your Games and Stories

Spells granted by Apollo are wide ranging – priests might be generalists or might be a sub-cult of specialists – Specialists in healing might follow Apollo’s son Asclepius, whereas combat support might be more a cleric-ranger than cleric-fighter and might follow his archer aspect Aphetor. Animals associated with Apollo, suitable for summoning, are lizard, wolf and raven.

Apollo had a monotheistic cult (more usually rendered Apollon) Interesting political shenanigans might ensue between a polytheistic cult and a monotheistic one – one being god of most things and the other god of everything. One being open to “your sun god is basically our sun god” and the other evangelizing that they have the only true path.

Followers of Apollo are likely to be as diverse as his aspects. You might come across a fellow believer willing to help you, but equally a vizier type character might be opposed to your protagonist without necessarily being evil. Think Cardinal Richelieu – he genuinely believes that his gaining power is good for the French State. And he may even be right.

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O is for Osiris – Mythic Mondays

Osiris and his family - a statue from the 22nd dynasty (photo by Guillaume Blanchard)

Osiris and his family – a statue from the 22nd dynasty (photo by Guillaume Blanchard)

 

Osiris is God of wheat and resurrection – this may seem like a strange combination, but to the ancient egyptians it was obvious: they buried dead wheat in the expectation it will live again, as a new crop. Most of the worship of Osiris focused around this dichotomy, that the Lord of Life is also the First Mummy.

The Ancient Egyptians divided the land of Khem – which either means Egypt or the Earth – between the warring brothers of Set and Osiris. Horus inherits Khem from them both, just as man inherits the earth from the gods, and Pharaoh was seen as Horus’s regent, invested at coronation with divine authority. Whilst Set was seen as dark – the god of the desert and the storm – he was also seen as the might of the Pharaoh

Osiris, however, is the gentler brother. He is usually shown with a crook and a threshing flail – not only for his connection to farming, but also as the shepherd of men – the example that men are supposed to follow to live moral lives – and on death, Osiris rules paradise, and is only joined by the righteous.

Early communities of monks – although very different from communities we would recognise today – shared a ritual meal of unadorned bread, in order to identify themselves with Osiris and gain part of his immortality. Such Houses of Life became centres of healing lore and may have been the earliest hospitals.

The story this time is less of a ‘known tale’ and more a composite from what we know about burial practices. Isis may or may not have written the Book of Going Forth – which tends to be known as the Book of the Dead. It seems poetically appropriate for her to have written it, so I decided she did.

Descent into death

As has already been told, Osiris was treacherously slain by his brother Sutekh. After conceiving him an heir, the falcon-headed Horus, Isis went to bury her husband.

At this time, people set the bodies of their loved ones to sail down the Nile to the sea, where their ka – their immortal souls – became the crew of the ship that carries the Sun.

But Isis had a dream that she should not set Osiris on a boat, but carry him instead into the desert. She wrapped him in cloth she had woven with her own hands and laid him on a bed of rocks. She sent word to everyone who grieved at the death of the Lord of Life, that they should come with a stone to place on the tomb.

And they came. Each with a burden suited to his stature – the rich and powerful brought mighty slabs, and the poor brought handfuls of pebbles. Each was piled into a great pile, and such was the wisdom and skill of Isis, that the body was not crushed.

For forty days she stayed there, and dreamed the journey Osiris took. Then Isis rose from her place by the pyramid, and went forth and wrote down all her dreams, in the book that has become the Book of Going Forth, telling how to make such pyramids, that the souls of the mighty would serve Osiris in his kingdom of the Dead, and fight with him to defend the world against the Outer Darkness. Then she walked back into the desert, and left her son to rule in Khem.

Osiris walked a long walk, through all the places he had known in life. He came at last to the great throne of the Goddess Ma’at, who is Justice.

She asked him his guilt in the crime of murder

She asked him his guilt in the crime of theft

She asked him his guilt in the crime of sacrilege

And so this went on all day, as the goddess asked Osiris to name his guilt of 42 crimes

As the sun set in the Underworld, as it rose in the world above, Maat plunged her hand into the chest of Osiris, and plucked out his heart.

“If your heart weighs less than my feather, you will be permitted to stay in Aaru, which is paradise, But if any guilt weighs down your soul, you will be consumed by the monster Ammit, and your soul will go down into Duat, which is hellish.”

Osiris’s soul was weighed and came out as light as the feather. And his journey was ended, that he became king in Aaru, and daily battles to preserve the world, for it is the kingdom of his heirs and his people.

In your games and stories

Temples to Osiris were grand and complicated – often resembling a small province, when one includes the supplying farms, sacred lakes, outlying shrines and so forth. But temples are not the best source of dungeons in Khem. Burial chambers – whether pyramids or the catacombs inhabited by less royal people – were protected by all manner of curses and traps. Looting them could be worth it, as even quite poor people took many goods with them to the afterlife.

The priesthood would have been agricultural managers, and societal planners. Ancient Egypt had many people who were described as ‘priest’ but few of them would qualify as clerics, and they had almost no traditions of paladins. Temples were guarded more by tradition than monsters. Osiris might grant his priests all kinds of spells of healing, but allied to this are the secrets of raising undead, particularly mummies.

Animals associated with Osiris are locusts and scarab beetles, but also all kinds of food animals. For priests who choose spells of fertility, a well-timed stampede of cattle can be just as dangerous as any lightning blast.

Fans of egyptian fiction might be interested in next month’s piece from Jigsaw Fantasy, the Sivatag Desert

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Clashing with the Naga Demon

An image of a Naga from “The Thirty Seven Nats” by Sir Richard Carnac Temple

 

Most creatives know that November is National Novel Writing Month1)Which is rather misnamed, given its international involvement (NaNoWriMo) – but relatively few know of its younger brother: National Game Design Month, or NaGaDeMon

I’ve decided that a good time to talk about the pair is right at the center of the month2)Or a few weeks before the start of the month, but my time machine is out of fuel. so that’s when this is going out.

But first, as this blog has mainly been home to our Mythic Mondays posts I should give a little irrelevant context3)If you want to skip it, simply go down to the next footnote along:

N is for Naga

Naga are a category of powerful beings in a variety of Indian and south asian mythology and folklores. Spread over such a wide area, the tales of Naga come in many forms, with only one definitive trait – their serpentine nature.

Though Naga are often depicted as evil, or even demonic, this is far from universally true as many Naga’s actions veer towards the helpful – whether they are many-headed water guardians or malevolent shapeshifting serpents they are universally both powerful and dangerous, imbued with strength and venom.

Tale of a Naga – Samudra Manthan

Indra, King of all Deva, was riding upon his elephant when he happened across the great sage Durvasa Muni. Out of respect for Indra’s position the sage offered him a gift, a special garland that had once belonged to Great Shiva.

Indra knew that he was considered an arrogant god, and so he decided that he would not immediately wear this great gift, but instead he set it aside upon his elephant’s tusk. His elephant, Airavata, saw that Indra wished to prove himself humble, but he knew that that humility was false – and so he took the garland from his tusk and threw it upon the ground.

Durvasa was enraged that Indra had allowed such a thing to happen to a religious offering, and so he cursed Indra and all of the Deva to weakness and frailty. Due to this curse, the Asura (the Devas age-old enemies) were able to overcome the Deva’s defences, and conquer their realms.

In desperation the Deva went to Vishnu and requested his aid. He offered them an opportunity to acquire the Nectar of Immortality, while overcoming their hated foes, and they eagerly agreed.

In order to obtain the Nectar of Immortality they had to churn the Ocean of Milk that lay at the pole star, and this would require two great armies to achieve. But first they would require tools to do so.

As a churning stick they used a mountain, but to turn this mountain they needed a great rope – and following Vishnu’s advice they asked Shiva for his necklace. This necklace was Vasuki, one of the three Kings of the Naga, and possessed of a great gem embedded within his head.

As Vishnu had foreseen the Asura insisted on standing at the head of Vasuki where they could be close to the glittering gem, while the Deva followed his advice and took hold of the Naga’s tail. As they churned the ocean, Vasuki began to exhale sharply, and from his mouth came the most virulent poison in all of creation.

The Nectar had only begun to form when the Asura collapsed, overcome by the venom – but as the Deva began their collecting they soon found that they too were being overcome. Indra, realising that his people were now in even graver danger, rushed to Shiva and asked for his aid.

Though he knew how destructive the venom was, and that it could kill even gods themselves, Shiva chose to inhale it all to protect the rest of creation. Only the intervention of his wife Parvati saved Shiva from death, by preventing him from swallowing the poison. Instead, the poison sat in his throat, eating away at it until his throat turned blue.

Back to Games and Stories

With our little diversion concluded, I’d like to get back to the topic at hand – NaGaDeMon.4)If you are skipping the story, click the up arrow by this footnote

At Artemis Games we’re generally somewhat perfectionist about our products, and as such we have no real intention of making a full-fledged game in a month – we’re just plain not good enough to meet our own standards that quickly without just reskinning someone else’s work.5)While we have made games that quickly for Concept Cards they were mostly variants of standard playing card games – fun extras, but not something we’d have been happy releasing as a standalone game.

But that’s not to say we aren’t participating – neither NaNoWriMo nor NaGaDeMon are about making a complete final product from scratch, they’re about getting things a few stages forward.

This month me and Loz are each focusing on a different project. I have brought Clash of Blades back, written up its rules in full, and intend to have the first two base decks ready by the end of the month.

Meanwhile Loz has taken on a rather different project, currently codenamed Clash of Brains6)It originated from someone mishearing Clash of Blades, a semi-cooperative game in which the players are psychics surviving in a zombie-infested college, each with their own bonus objectives but all seeking to put down the apocalypse before their precious (and powerful) brains become more Zombie-Chow.

We’re nearing a thousand words, so I’m going to call it here, but I’ll be back with more information on both projects when they’re further along.

In the meantime, join us on Facebook.

Be Well

-Ste

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References   [ + ]

1. Which is rather misnamed, given its international involvement
2. Or a few weeks before the start of the month, but my time machine is out of fuel.
3. If you want to skip it, simply go down to the next footnote along
4. If you are skipping the story, click the up arrow by this footnote
5. While we have made games that quickly for Concept Cards they were mostly variants of standard playing card games – fun extras, but not something we’d have been happy releasing as a standalone game.
6. It originated from someone mishearing Clash of Blades

N is for Neptune – Mythic Mondays

Poseidon, God of the Sea by Genzoman

Poseidon, God of the Sea by Genzoman

 

Neptune is god of all the waters – seas, rivers and springs. He also has jurisdiction over horses, and by extension, travellers. For the Greeks, Poseidon was one of the most important gods – the brother of Zeus. and key to their coastal and island world.To the Romans, Neptune was less central – being a land-based rather than marine economy. But he was honored by certain segments of society – in particular, there was often a shrine to Neptune in any fort occupied by cavalry.

Like all the Classical gods, the Roman Neptune accepted sacrifices. He was honored as one of only three gods who accepted bulls (the others being Mars and Apollo) His temples were often found by springs and wells, or in tandem with Mars, or Minerva (with whom he made the first chariot), or as part of the three brothers of Earth Sky and Water – Pluto, Jupiter, and Neptune.

Possibly because of his multiplicitous origins – as a fusion of the sea gods of Sparta, Athens, and the Etruscans – Neptune has many spouses, and hundreds of children. This can be seen as symbolic of many rivers reaching the sea, each with their own guardian spirit. Wikipedia lists eighty, and other sources suggest more. There is also some indications that he may have also had male lovers.

The story I’ve chosen has Neptune (actually, Poseidon, but the two are closer than most Greek / Roman pairs) as an antagonist, but as well as being the father of monsters, Neptune also had a role as a protector from them. He is almost alway pictured with a trident, with which he was said to stir up storms or earthquakes, or calm them with the pommel end.

Story – Hubris Doesn’t Pay

Perseus was flying across Greece, carrying the head of the Gorgon Medusa in a bag. As he flew low over one coastline, he saw a figure by the sea. Thinking it to be some statue, he swooped down for a closer look. As he drew near, he saw the statue move as the cold waves sprayed over it, and he saw that is was no statue, but a young maiden, chained to the rocks.

“Why are you chained out here?” asked the hero.

“I am Andromeda. My mother, Cassiopeia, is Queen here. She boasted that I was more beautiful than the Nereids – the daughters of Neptune. To punish her for her arrogance, Neptune sent a monster to ravage our settlements and eat our people. We consulted the Oracle, and the only way for the monster will go away is for me to be sacrificed to it”

Perseus felt that this was most unfair. He sat and talked to the maiden, calming her fears, and receiving her promise that he would battle the monster, but she should look away from the fight. Andromeda tried to dissuade him, but heroes are hard to persuade.

As the monster appeared on the horizon, Andromeda closed her eyes, sure that the monster would tear Perseus apart, and not wishing to see such a horrid sight. Perseus, being careful to avert his eyes, drew forth the Gorgon’s Head. It still retained its powers of petrification, and the sea-monster was turned to stone. Taking good care not to see it himself, he stowed the Head in its bag.

He drew his sharp sword and split the chains binding Andromeda.

“Come” he said “there is no need for you to go home to a family who would see you die to protect their own cowardly lives”

And the hero carried her away, with his winged sandals, and lodged her with some peasant folk he trusted, before continuing with his quest.

In your games and stories

Whilst temples to Neptune were relatively simple affairs, sacred areas included coves and caves – underwater grottoes that would make excellent dungeons – assuming you can breathe water. Expect to find a wide array of monsters – some beastly and some sentient. Treasures might be anything that has been shipwrecked – from Spanish doubloons to the Antikythera mechanism

Neptune’s followers were anyone who depended on the sea – not only fishermen and sailors but pirates! Not all pirates are from the Caribbean, there are stories of piracy from the Classical world (Julius Caesar was famously captured by pirates, and his escape and punishment of them is the beginning of his path to greatness) all the way to modern day pirates smuggling guns and drugs.

Spells he might grant would include summoning of sea creatures or water breathing, and water control. As Lord of both the sea and horses, he is also master of all kinds of spells of travel – from phantom steeds to flight to interplanar travel.

Neptune himself is powerful, but he has whole tribes of people at his command – nereids, merfolk and tritons. Any of these could appear as protagonists, antagonists or support characters – what strange wares might a merman merchant carry?

For a city that might be blessed by Neptune, check out The Floating City jigsaw piece.

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(Re)Introducing Clash of Blades

rapierfight

Clash of Blades was the first of Artemis Games projects, beginning even before the Concept Cards line launched, but it has lain fallow for some time. Work has now recommenced, so I’d like to introduce it to all of you.

What is Clash of Blades?

At its core Clash of Blades is a two player card-game about swordfighting, where the players use careful timing to dodge and parry their opponents strikes, while trying to sneak their own in under their opponents guard.

The ebb and flow of combat is captured by the games unique mechanic: each card played takes up a certain number of “ticks”, representing the time it takes to perform the move – and the time it takes to get back into position afterwards.

You and your foe play simultaneously, so every tick counts – you can slide in with a quick lunge while they’re recovering from one of your parries, or be more ambitious and play a heavy strike in the hopes that it will leave them reeling.

If this sounds like something that would interest you, follow the updates here through Specific Feeds. Clash of Blades information will be appearing occasionally, alongside the pre-existing Mythic Mondays posts.

Be Well
-Ste

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M is for Morrigan – Mythic Mondays

Morrigan alights upon the dying Cuchulain Photo by Kman999 - Kman999 on Flickr, CC BY 3.0

Morrigan alights upon the dying Cuchulain
Photo by Kman999 – Kman999 on Flickr, CC BY 3.0

We’re back with the Celts, who love their goddesses in threes. There are three goddesses of Ireland – Eriu, Banba and Fotla. Three goddesses of fertility – Brigid, Boann, and Etain. And three battle goddesses. Morrigan is sometimes one of these, and sometimes the sum of all three. Her sisters are Badb and Macha.

Modern witches tend to clump all these goddesses into a single triumvirate – the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone. Not all sets of three neatly fit, but there are enough similarities for wiccans to represent the primal forces in this simpler fashion. In this way, they seek to conflate goddess-aspects from many pantheons, to better understand them.

Morrigan is the Crone aspect, signifying mortality and Fate. She is also, in her favorite form of the raven, the chooser of the slain of the Celtic battlefield, combining the roles of both the Norns and Valkyries

Most of the Celtic priesthood – the dru-vids, the Oaken-wise – would worship whichever deity suited their needs, or the needs of their king-host. Dedicated priests were rare, and the Celts saw their gods as merely a more advanced race than humans. Druids were responsible for communicating with the people of Annwn, the Celtic Underworld and Fairyland – not only gods, but any soul which had passed on, and not returned to a new life. Morrigan was appealed to for luck in battle, and in her role as psychopomp, to appeal to souls resident in Annwn

Story of the God

When Maeve stole the cattle of Ulster, all the men but Cuchullin were struck by a weakness. Cuchullin was only immune because he was only half a son of Ulster – half of his heritage was divine, being a son of Lugh.

So Cuchullin stood at the ford where the great river runs which borders Ulster, to fight against the champions of Maeve in single combat.

The Morrigan in the guise of a beautiful blond girl, came to offer him her love, and her aid in the battle. But Cuchullin rejected her.

So she went away and changed into the form of an eel. At the height of the fight. she tripped him, and he wounded her, but he won despite that.

So, Morrigan came again in her guise as a wily red headed girl and offered him magical aid in the battle, and her loving embrace. But Cuchullin rejected her.

So she went away and came back in the form of a wolf. At the height of the fight. she scared cattle over him, and he wounded her, but he won despite that.

For the third night, Morrigan came in the guise of a dark haired beauty, offering strength for the coming battle, and loving rest in her arms. And again Cuchullin rejected her.

So she went away and came back in the form of a red heifer. At the height of the fight. she led a stampede of cattle over him, and he wounded her, but he won despite that.

So, after the battle Morrigan appeared in the form of an old woman bearing the three wounds he had given her, and leading a cow. So Cuchullin knew that what faced him was one of the Tuatha de Danann. She offered Cuchullin a draught of milk, and he blessed her for it. His blessing healed her wounds, and in return she had nothing but the prophecy of his death.

“Had I known you, I might not have rejected you”

“You would have, for it is in your nature to be stubborn. And it is in this that your death lies, for in rejecting help, you rejected that which might have saved your life”

And so it came that a mighty army came, and one man could not stand against it. Whilst the Ulstermen recovered in time to save their country, it was not soon enough to save Cuchullin

In Your Games and Stories

As the weaver of Fate, Morrigan might give clerical spells of divination, and inspire works of craft – great swords, mighty shields, or tools to aid in foretelling the future. All the Celtic deities have a connection with song, so her followers would number bards as well as druids and clerics. Whilst her battle-aspect would imply her to be a favorite of fighters, few wished to incur her notice, preferring Ogma, Lugh or even Brigid

Castles belonging to followers of Morrigan would tend to be defended by puzzles and traps rather than monsters – unless you count hordes of fey warriors. Seek her in hollow hills and remote crags – or in Annwn, the Celtic Fairyland.

Morrigan could also appear in a political tale, in her role as outsider and observer. She might well know secrets unavailable elsewhere. But what price will the Lady of Fate require for her aid? Perhaps, like the blood-price for the Sons of Tuirenn, it will sound innocuous and be the source of a whole adventure to find.

If you’re looking for more Fae Fantasy, join Artemis Games Jigsaw Fantasy Patreon and put in your vote.

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October 31st is for Samhain – Mythic Mondays

Jack-o'-lanterns - Photo from William Warby

Jack-o’-lanterns, a present-day incarnation of ancient tradition – Photo by William Warby

So, seeing as Halloween falls on a Mythic Monday this year, I thought I’d step aside for a week and cover a little bit of the mythic significance of the Celtic New Year.

The end of the harvest, the start of winter – Samhain was one of the two nights when ancestors could return to Earth (the other being what is now May Day)

To thank the ancestors for their guardianship of the fields, some of the fruits of the harvest were set aside for them. Apples, beer or cream were common, with cakes or biscuits for those who had no harvest but their labour. Lords would feast their households, providing for the whole community out of respect for the powers of nature that had provided the harvest.

It became traditional for people who could not provide their own feasts to disguise themselves and accept the spirits portion on their behalf. This also applied to the newly betrothed or married, who had no harvest yet in their new home.This tradition was taken to America by Irish emigrants, and became Trick or Treat.

The name Hallowe’en is from the Catholicized All Hallows Eve – the following day is a day to pray for all those who have gone to purgatory. Some churches still have a potluck supper around this time, to share food with those who have less. Some schools share food with the elderly, and many folk use the onset of winter as a reminder that hard times can affect anyone.

Of course, not all spirits who return are benevolent, and the Jack O the Lantern was an invocation set to watch for malevolent ghosts and scare them away.

So, now ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggedy beasties haunt the night when the walls to the Underworld grow thin. So, take care tonight, and perhaps leave the ancestors a little something?

Story – The Shapeshifter Duel

Some witches excel at shapeshifting, and the duel between them is called certamen. There was once a witch who wished to kill a Laird, but the Laird rarely left his castle.

But one day the Laird went to help one of his tenants with the lambing. On a snowy hilltop, the Laird and the Witch met.

“I have you now!” Said the witch.
“I will duel you for the lambs, for the people and for my life” said the laird.

She became a duck and Claimed the pond
And He took the shape of a hound and fetched her

She became a trout and Claimed the stream
And He took the shape of an otter and caught her

She became a star and Claimed the sky
And He took the shape of a thundercloud and muffled her

She became a rose and Claimed the earth
And He took the form of a bumblebee and stung her

Finally, the witch became her own form
And the Laird resumed his own shape.

“By what power have you Beaten me?” asked the witch

“By the power of three things – My land, and my people, and my God.
And by these things, I banish you.”

And the witch was gone, and not seen again

Editors note: We’ve mentioned Certamen previously, with respect to Gwydion Gwyn

In games and stories

Different folk celebrate different festivals, so think about the folk in your story. What feasts do they celebrate?. Is New Year in the depth of winter, or in Spring?. Most communities, however urban, recognise the farming year, and have some kind of festival for planting, growing, harvesting and winter. Common also are national recognitions – the king’s birthday, Guy Fawkes Night, Bastille Day.

Fantasy festivals might be dedicated to any of the gods we’ve covered, and any published god might have such a day. When crafting a world, or a nation, don’t forget saints and national heros – the Day of the First Emperor, or St Patrick’s Day. Borrow from real-world festivals to offer details. Perhaps Pelor’s followers dance a maypole in Spring. Perhaps Offler has a Crocodile Day, when everyone brings food to appease the holy crocodiles. Perhaps Raiden sponsors a midwinter storm festival – lock your doors and fast until sunrise.

Consider:

When is this – summer, winter, all week, an hour at dusk, a minute at 11 AM?

Who has this festival – the whole community, just followers of Hera, just hobbits?

If it’s the whole community, how do devotees of the god feel about this?

What does the festival looks like – Diwali lights, Eid Fireworks, Jack O Lanterns?

What are the smells and sounds – Incense reminiscent of many ceremonies from Catholicism to Shinto, or Chinese New Year firecracker smoke?

What do people eat – feast or fast? Unleavened bread, Diwali sweets, nothing between sunrise and sunset?

What do rituals do people do – Confess their sins, wash, dance, sing, kneel, wave flags?

What taboos are enacted or redacted – women are free to have sex, curfew after dark, slaves served by masters?

How does the festival end? Sunrise, when the bell tolls, when everyone drunkenly passes out?

If you want more detailed festivals for your game, join us at Jigsaw Fantasy and vote for our pieces on religions, races, or cultures.

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L is for Loki – Mythic Mondays

"I am the giant Skrymir" by Elmer Boyd Smith

“I am the giant Skrymir” by Elmer Boyd Smith

L is for Loki – and for Loz’s birthday, which would be why this week’s Mythic Monday is in fact a Tuesday.

Loki would doubtless approve of the departure from routine for he is the Norse god of all things odd. Trickster, shapeshifter, wizard – he is the archetype for scalds – living by his wits.

Loki was rarely worshipped in his own temples – his cults would generally be based out of a shrine in temples to Thor or Odin, or occasionally Freya. His priests were consulted for the workings of Fate – Loki is sometimes seen as a lover of the Norns.

Currently, the picture in most people’s head is of Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of Loki, from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s worth remembering that Loki is different to his fellow Aesir – whether you take the option that he is a Vana – the Norse proto-gods – or a Jotun – or even just that he is marked by his experiences. So anyone who complains that Hiddleston is too dark to be a Norseman, needs to think about why Loki looks different.

Of course, how Loki is perceived – as a friend and helper, or as a foe, rather depends on where in the narrative you look. Loki is rare amongst gods in that his character develops – from the slightly naughty trickster to the leader of the armies of Ragnarok.

Story of the God – Be Careful What You Proclaim

One day, Loki, being bored, suggested to Thor that they might go exploring in Thor’s chariot. With their friend, Hjalfi, they rode across the mountains, drawn by four goats.

They found themselves at a mighty castle, as night was drawing on. At the gates was a giant, who named himself as Utgarda.

“No-one may stay at my castle unless they perform a feat!”
Loki boasted of he and his companions, that he could eat faster than any other, that Hjalfi was faster than any other, and that Thor was stronger than any other.

“Let us try you!” said Utgarda

So a trencher was set for Loki and one of the giant’s people, Logi. It was filled with meat, and each began to eat, and they met at the middle. However, Loki had eaten only the meat, whereas Logi had consumed the bones and the trencher as well.

Hjalfi was set at a race against a figure called Hugi. Three times they raced, and three times Hugi beat Hjalfi.

So Thor offered a drinking contest, and a great horn was brought. Three great draughts drank Thor, but he was unable to finish it. Angered, Thor offered to fight anyone there. Utgarda offered only his old nurse. Try as he might, Thor could not wrestle the old woman to the floor.

Utgarda laughed, and all went to bed. The three travellers slept in a wide bed, which appeared soft, but they slept restlessly.

Loki woke in the morning, and stood at the gates of the castle.

“Show me truth!” he proclaimed. And truth he saw.

He saw that he had competed against Wildfire, that Hjafi had raced against Thought, that the draughts of ale Thor had drank were the sea, and had caused the tides, and that the woman Thor had wrestled was Old Age, whom no man can master. And the bed they slept so restlessly in was the bed of the sea, and they had caused great waves. And the castle was no castle, but a mountain.

And Loki told the others what he saw, and they returned to Asgard a little wiser.

In Your Games and Stories

Loki is a trickster, but he is still a Norseman. He might grant spells of concealment or illusion, but he also might give you strength to fight when your tricks go wrong. His association with ice giants – the Jotun – gives him access to all kinds of elemental magics, particularly cold-based ones.

There might not be many temples to Loki for dungeon-delvers to explore, but as a father of monsters, his priests might defend their homes and castles with all kind of beasts – in particular wolfkind or dragonkind.

Many of the Norse myths feature Loki as a trouble stirrer – see Balder – and either Loki himself, or his adherents – priests, warriors or scalds (bards) – could show up in any story to cause chaos. However, Loki also sees much through his magics, so such meddlers might also have information useful to adventurers.

 

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