U i for Uenuku – Mythic Mondays

 

The Te Maori Exhibition, with an image of Uenuku. Click for source.

The Te Maori Exhibition, with an image of Uenuku. Click for source.

 

Uenuku is the Maori god of the rainbow

The Maori word for New Zealand is Aotearoa, which is the Land of the Little White Cloud. Many gods, and the myths we tell about them, are shaped by the environment of the people telling those stories.

Norse myth has the world emerge from ice and fire. Classical myth has the world born from a watery Chaos. For the Polynesian Island people, gods are often either mountains or clouds. If you look at images of the island groups, they appear out of the sea as mountains shrouded in clouds. Some of these gods are grumpy – which is not surprising when you recall that this whole area is volcanically active.

Prior to the arrival of European settlers, the Maori had no written language, so all of their stories were passed down orally. As such there is no canonical version of their stories – modifying the tale to suit the listener is very much in the tradition of these bardic people.

Story – the Mist Maiden

Uenuku had sailed far in his canoe when he saw a magnificent island. He paddled into a convenient bay and drew his canoe onto the beach

“I wonder what the fishing is like here” he mused

And he set lines and caught a large fish, so that he ate very well that day, and he slept in his canoe.

When he got up in the morning, he looked at the sunlight and thought it would be a good day for hunting. So he went upstream, where instead of game, he found a pool where a beautiful girl was washing her hair.

“Come eat with me, pretty girl” said Uenuku. They sat and ate and talked for a while, and then the maiden told Uenuku that she had to leave, but that she would return the next night.

And so he went and slept in his canoe, and returned to the pool, where the maiden was waiting for him.

The pretty girl explained that she was a mist maiden, and she was only free when the mist rose – at night, or early in the morning. And so for some time Uenuku fished the evening tide, and spent his nights with the mist maiden, and they came to fall in love.

She consented to marry on the condition that he not tell anyone about her. So they lived in harmony, each night Mist Maiden would return, and each dawn she would leave. When a little girl was born to them, Uenuku realised that he had been away for a whole year, and that his tribe would likely think him dead. So he resolved to go home for a visit.

When he beached his canoe in his home village, everyone gathered around to welcome him. They had given him up for lost.

When he told them all he had married, the tribe were excited.

“So, you must show us this wife of yours”

“But her home is in the sky – each dawn she must go”

“She cannot know that it is dawn if you block up the windows. Then you can bring her her to us, and we will all know your happiness”

Uenuku went home, and to please his tribe, he blocked up the windows. But Mist Maiden knew when the sun rose and escaped through the keyhole, which he had neglected to block.

All alone, Uenuku set out to search for his wife and child. After many years of searching, when Uenuku was bent with age, Rangi the Skyfather took pity on him, and changed him into a rainbow. Now he lives in the sky with his family. But the rainbow does not come down to earth to visit, since the only people he might want to see would be his tribe, and he doesn’t want to visit them anymore.

In your games and Stories

The Maori carved wooden sculptures to house spirits, and Uenuku is housed in a spiral-headed post, which could be carried with the tribe as they migrated from island to island. Perhaps in a more fantasy version of our world, floating temple ships bearing such sculptures ply the seas. They would be likely guarded by tribal warriors, and be a storehouse for the treasure they had accumulated – more likely books than gold. Whilst in our world the Maori relied on oral tradition, in a fantasy world they are just as likely to be literate as any other population.

If any god in this collection were to grant the Befriend spell, Uenuku is a good candidate. He might also make available sensory spells, which he might have developed to help him find his lady-love. Conceivably, he might petition the Skyfather for weather control, but that’s more likely to be a direct appeal.

You might meet Uenuku earlier in his story than his divinity – as a fellow questor. He is the kind of character whom one meets in computer RPGs with an exclamation point above his head – the beginning of story arcs. Perhaps he needs the protagonist’s help, to aid in his search, or perhaps he has seen things in his travels that will help with the current quest.

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T is for Tiamat – Mythic Mondays

T is for milk-and-two-sugars – no, T is for Tiamat, Sumerian goddess of primordial chaos.

Austen Henry Layard's 'Monuments of Nineveh, Second Series' plate 19/83, London, J. Murray, 1853

Austen Henry Layard’s ‘Monuments of Nineveh, Second Series’ plate 19/83, London, J. Murray, 1853

The Mesopotamian worldview is obsessed with water.One can understand why – in a part of the world where there is limited fertile land, and therefore control of water supply is the definition of power, the gods are going to be wet. Tiamat then is the personification of the primordial waters of the sea – uncontrollable and frequently angry.

She does have a role as a creator – mating with the sweet waters to create the younger gods, but this is as an adjunct to her primary role. For most gods, I would add something here about their worship, but Tiamat wasn’t worshipped so much as feared. Avoided. A turn- round- three- times- and- touch- wood if you mention her name kind of fear. And yet, the myths have her die at the earliest age of the world, so why should she be feared now? Perhaps because she is such an imminent personification, she can never really be fully banished from the world.  

I’m going to be a bit D&D specific for the next bit… TSR got Tiamat all wrong. The Monster Manual gives her alignment as Lawful Evil, so she can rule over chromatic dragons. She only shows herself as a dragon if she feels like it – she’s more likely a sea serpent or even a waterspout (see, there’s that Sumerian obsession with water again) But you can’t stat such a changeable creature, so I guess she was always going to be D&Different.

As usual, today’s tale is a blend of myth and fiction. The original has many more characters, whose role is to be the different kinds of destruction. I’ve simplified the story – and omitted the dozens of interim stories about how Marduk gets his names – partly because such tales are often an excuse for ‘we conquered you, so your god is our god now’ Most of the gods we recognise benefit from, or are victims of, such syncretization. This would be in part because the characters we know are only those that were recorded – in many cases, long after the tales were formulated.

Story

Tiamat is the serpent and the sea. In the time before men ruled the world, when all was new, she and her children created and destroyed at a whim, and the world cannot stand such chaos,

Of the younger gods, the bravest was her grandson Marduk. And Marduk resolved to gain from her the Tablets of Destiny, which gave her much power to destroy. But he knew that she would not give up the tablets short of death.

And Marduk went from place to place to collect the things he would need to kill the serpent. In each place where he stopped to rest, he performed some feat that won him a name. Fifty places he slept, and this is why he is called Marduk of the Fifty Names. Each settlement gave him a name, and with it a little of their power.

In a place to the North where all is cold, he was given shards of ore to make a sword

In a place to the East, on the edge of the sea, he gathered water from a spring that sprang from the depths of the earth

In a place to the West, in the deep desert, he learned the art of making a sword whistle through the air

In a place to the South where all is hot, he took the shards to a volcano, and made himself the sword, and quenched it in the water, and he named it Shu Hada Ku, the Supreme Bright Weapon.

So Marduk went to the centre of the earth, where Tiamat raged, and there he fought to control her. For three days and nights he fought, until Shuhadaku pierced the monstrous throat of the goddess.

He took the sword and carved her into pieces. He placed her ribcage overhead to support the heavens. Her blood became the thrashing seas, and her eyes he placed nearby, to weep forever down to the sea. The left eye was called Tigris and the right eye was called Euphrates. Her great tail he placed in the sky, and we now call it the Milky Way.

The Tablets of Destiny he took with him, and went we know not where. Some say he walks the world still, using the power of his names and the power of the Tablets to right wrongs, destroy monsters, and banish evil.

In your games and stories

Tiamat does have a historic connection with dragons, but the mythological goddess is ruler over (and probably mother to) all kinds of monsters. Expect a place blessed by her to be very well-guarded by fierce creatures – many of which could be chimeras. From snake-lion-goats to scorpion-centaurs, chimerae (the form of the plural is debatable depending on your adherence to classical language forms) are monsters with a mix of parts.

Chaos is an excuse for cultists! Since Tiamat doesn’t really have priests or paladins, her followers are likely to be insane cultists, looking to bring the end of the world. Not so good for protagonists but great for opposition.

Of course, she’s not a current goddess, but a dead one. My spell checker objected to the word “deicide”, but it’s a perfectly valid way to describe god-murder. Under what circumstances might one be able to kill a god? Does one need to create disbelief in it? Must one use a particular weapon? Does one need to be another god? And why do your protagonists feel it necessary to go to such lengths, upsetting the cosmic balance, and leaving a domain with no god….

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S is for Sedna – Mythic Mondays

Image of Sedna by Leann Fraoigh released under CC-BY-NC-SA

Image of Sedna by Leann Fraoigh released under CC-BY-NC-SA


This goddess is another composite, from the First Nation tribes of the far North. She appears in various forms from Alaska to Greenland, amongst the Inuit and Aleut peoples. Other names for her translate as “Mistress of Sea” or even “Big Bad Woman”

She appears in one of three guises – as a purely human form, as a half fish, and as a half seal. She has strong associations with sea mammals – in some versions she is the mother of them all, in some she merely has control over them. She frequently has long ratty hair – reminiscent of seaweed. In some versions she is beautiful, in others she is an old hag.

The principle creator for that part of the world is Raven who makes many things with his powerful gaze. So, I have chosen him to be the spirit whom she marries to gain her divinity.

Story of the Goddess

Sedna was a mortal woman who lived with her father, who was a good hunter. She never lacked for food or warm furs, and so was very comfortable at home. Many Inuit men came to ask her hand in marriage, but she refused them all.

One day, a handsome stranger came to the village, who had black eyes and black hair. Eventually, Sedna agreed to marry him, and went with him to his house, which was on an island with no one else but seabirds for company

“Now, I will care for you and love you in this house. There are but three rules here. You must eat only the food I bring you. You must wear the clothes I have provided for you. And lastly, but most importantly, when I leave the house, you must not follow me” said the husband.

For a time, Sedna was content. Each day, Husband left the house, and she stayed indoors so that she did not see where he went. Each day, he returned with food for her – sometimes the fish and meat she was accustomed to, sometimes exotic foods from far away.

In time though, Senda became jealous. “I’ll bet he has some mistress somewhere – that’s why I must not spy on him” she said to herself, and she resolved to follow him the next day. She had learned a little magic from her father, and used it after breakfast to make herself invisible.

Husband left the house and Sedna crept after him. When husband reached the shore, he didn’t climb into the little boat, but went to the clifftop and bowed his head. Great black wings sprouted from his shoulders, and he swooped away, leaving Sedna to recoil in horror, that she was married to something that wasn’t human.

When Husband returned that evening, she was standing on the steps of their house waiting

“What are you, that you grow wings and fly away from me?” she howled

“Ah, my love, I am Raven. The food I was feeding you was to turn you into a goddess to live beside me and help me to make the world. But now that you know, I cannot turn you. You must forever live as part of this world and part of the next. So I will set you to rule over the sea, where you can be both divine and mortal in parts. The souls of those who pass on at sea will be your people, and the animals of the sea will be your servants. And sometimes I will come and fly over you, and renew you, and will still love you, despite you disobeying me.”

And Sedna sank into the sea, and became the ruler of it. Sometimes, when she is content, the sea gives up its bounty easily, and men prosper. But sometimes, when she rails against her fortune, the sea tosses and turns as she wails, and men die to feed her despair.

In your Games and Stories

Sedna does not have temples per se, but there might be shores where she is particularly reverenced. Perhaps underwater grottos house creatures loyal to her, who guard all the treasures lost to the sea. Given the right access, one could even explore her ocean-bed palace.

Sedna is not so much worshipped as feared, She might not be followed by many living folk, but ghosts and undead might well constitute her ‘people’ She might also be appealed to by those who have lost loved ones to the sea – to whom she might conceivably grant spells, from sea creature control to invisibility to necromancy.

The story here features a mortal becoming a god. Does your storyworld allow for such apotheosis? Perhaps your protagonists are seeking to become gods – or to stop someone else from achieving this? Do the current gods welcome help, or are they jealous of their divinity?

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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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