X is for Xerces – Mythic Mondays

By H.A.Guerber (The story of Greeks) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By H.A.Guerber (The story of Greeks) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“God” Emperor of the Persians

Whether Xerces should be included in an array of gods rather comes down to how one defines god. In this case, divinity is defined as “can do anything he likes, regardless of the sensibleness or otherwise”

Historically, he’s your basic emperor. Mythologically, he’s a megalomaniac with supernatural capabilities at the least. Calling your elite troops Immortals, and your bureaucracy a priesthood will sow the idea that you think of yourself as divine. We can’t be sure how he thought of himself; only the propaganda he allowed to be circulated about him. There are suggestion that he may in fact have been a Zoroastrian.

Story – the Hot Gates

The Persians sent an envoy to Sparta. “If we conquer your province, your gold will be ours, your cattle slaughtered for our feasting, and your women will fill the hills with their lamentations”

The spartans returned a single word

Because of the boldness of the Spartan land army, and the strength of the Athenian Navy, Xerces was counselled by his advisors not to invade Greece. Because he was headstrong, and considered his armies invincible, he invaded anyway.

Sparta was far from the front lines, and most of the Persian threat fell upon its ancient rival Athens. Sparta’s damos, its council of citizens, voted not to fight.

King Leonidas saw further than his fellows, and knew that sooner or later, the Persians would need to be fought. It was better to fight with allies on ground of his choosing, than alone before his city.So he went to fight with his 300 personal guard. And they marched to Thermopylae, which was a pinch in the mountains. The Spartans and their allies need to hold the Hot Gate mountain pass for long enough for the Athenian navy to come up with reinforcements.
Two days passed and the thousands of troops, including the Elite Immortals were blocked there.

On the third night, seeking the wealth the Persians so vicariously displayed Ephialtes betrayed the Greeks, and showed the Persians a hidden route through the mountains.

With troops both in front and behind him, Leonidas and his 300 warriors could not hold, and all were killed. The death of their king goaded the Spartans into war with Persia, and they began their march.

With little to impede them, the Persians overran Greece, and burned Athens to the ground. Once the Greeks had united their scattered forces, their combined might pushed back the Persians back to the Hellespont, and the straight to Asia.

Shortly after, the assassination of Xerces diminished the Persian threat.

In your Games and Stories

Xerces is a powerful human but not truly a god – so he can’t directly exert divine power or grant spells. However, he and his bureaucracy are experts in the more mundane ways of making it appear that divinity is at work – why do you need Befriend if anyone in power is ordered to treat you with respect? Can fireballs be substituted with weapons of war? Remember here Arthur C Clarke’s Law of Technological Superiority – any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. High priests might in fact be studied wizards – or engineers

True followers of Xerces are likely restricted to the most fanatically nationalistic Persians. There may be many knees forcibly bent, but few who truly believe. Therefore, anyone who is outside the Empire likely has some ulterior motive in declaring themselves a devotee of the God Emperor.

Within the Empire, public holidays dedicated to the Emperor are likely to disrupt travellers’ intentions. If you need to buy food, but today is a fast day; if you don’t fall to the ground as the statue of the Emperor goes by – you’re likely to upset the locals. They may even decide to denounce you to the priesthood as a heretic…


W is for Woden – Mythic Mondays


Odin, der Göttervater, Carl Emil Doepler, 1880

Odin, der Göttervater, Carl Emil Doepler, 1880

We haven’t deliberately left kings to the end, it’s just that the tail end of the alphabet has less names – and Woden, or Odin as he’s better known, graciously stepped aside for Osiris.

Woden is ruler of the Norse gods, the Allfather. He is the master magician amongst the Aesir, and leads them in battle. His servants, the Valkyrs, choose those dying warriors who are honored with a place in Valhalla. Where there is fighting, feasting, and apparently, opera.

The varied names come, as by now you will have figured, from the local interpretations. Wotan is more German and emphasises his role as a war-god, Odin more Saxon and more a god of knowledge, while Woden is both Saxon and English and is a name connected especially with royalty; although all the name variants come from the same Proto-Germanic root.

Almost any part of Norse society could be found following one of the aspects of Woden, and many of the Norse royal houses claim descent from him – he seems to have taken a leaf out of Zeus’s book here. He was patron of skalds, protector of travellers and healers, and the last appeal of justice.

Whilst we’re with the North-folk, a quick language primer. Viking is a verb – to go raiding by sea. Whilst the first invaders on British shores were Vikings, that’s a descriptor no more racially indicative than saying they were soldiers. The settlers who came later were of the Angle, Saxon, Jute or Dane races, and were generally not Vikings.

Although the Tarot isn’t really from the Northlands, Woden has a strong association with the 12th Arcana – the Hanged Man. Suspended from his feet to gain inspiration, the Hanged Man’s tale and Woden’s are virtually the same.

Story of the God – Gaining Wisdom

Woden knew many things about the world, but the thing that he most knew was how incomplete his knowledge was. He knew that Ragnarok – the end of the world – was coming, but he needed details to plan his fight. So he set out to seek wisdom

He walked and he walked and he walked the whole length of Midgard, until he came the the edge of Niflheim.

There was a branch there of Yggdrasill the World Tree and Woden tied his feet to it.

He hung there for nine days and nine nights, and at the end of his meditation, he had conceived of the runes, so that man could communicate and cast magic.

And he knew almost all of the past, and almost all of the present, and the ravens Hugin and Munin came to him and went about seeing all things for him. But still the future was dark to him.

So he walked and he walked and he walked, until he came to a deep pool. And this pool was called Mimir’s well.

There lived the Norns with their father Mimir – Wyrd, Verdandi And Skuld. Of the threads of the lives of men, Wyrd would spin it, and Verdandi measure its span, and Skuld would cut it off with her shears. And between these tasks they would take water from the well and water the root of the World Tree which grew there.

The knowledge they had of past and present and future, the Norns would not give up lightly. They told Woden that he would have to trade for it.

He had nothing to trade but himself, and so he gouged out his eye and dropped it into the well. And because he had damaged his mundane sight, he was granted visions of the future. We can still see his given eye in every pond and puddle, whilst his good eye shines in the heavens to give us light and heat and hope.

Now Woden was better armed to protect gods and men from the ravages of Ragnarok, he returned to Asgard to contemplate what he had seen.

In your games and stories

In any political game, it is not easy to tell by looking who is a Follower of Woden. Disciples of Freya might wear a wheatsheaf, Children of Thor wear his hammer, but there is no clear sign that someone worships the King of the Norse, given how varied his followers are. He protects and guides everyone, unless you commit the crime of Not Being Norse

As a master of magic, Woden’s priests and paladins might wield all kinds of spells, but the most common would be divinatory or sensory spells, and some devotees, most commonly women, would be likely to learn Seidr – the art of reweaving fate. Woden traditionally wields a spear, and rides an eight-legged horse, so that might influence the weapon choices of his adherents – and as the weather-god, Woden is a likely god to grant lightning bolts.

Temples to Woden frequently featured shrines to the other Aesir, and even to heros like Siegfried and Beowulf. So guardians of such places are more likely to be fierce warriors than fantastic beasts – particularly given that many shrines to Woden would be within the mead-hall. So not only fierce warriors but drunk fierce warriors.


V is for Vulcan – Mythic Mondays

Vulcan. Marble, reception piece for the French Royal Academy, 1742 by Guillaume II Coustou

Vulcan. Marble, reception piece for the French Royal Academy, 1742
by Guillaume II Coustou


It may be cold, but Vulcan would never let that slow him down, so we haven’t either.

More than just Hephaistos reskinned, the Roman version of this god owes a lot to the Etruscan god Sethlans, and also to the Cretan god of the natural world Velchanos. As usual,it looks like as the local peoples are conquered, the Romans take aspects of their gods and weld them onto their own deity. This may be rather the other way about, hence the name sticking around.- Hephaistos is more about the beneficial aspects of fire; Velchanos is the master of natural disasters. Prayers to Vulcan – particularly on his feast day, in mid- August – tended to take the shape of ‘please don’t let my house burn down’ than any appeal for aid with construction.

His principle forge is located beneath Mount Etna, but all volcanoes are his domain. Temples to Vulcan were typically located outside the city limits, since most featured a forge and hence the risk of fire. The biggest was within Republican Rome, but had been outside the gates of the rome of King Titus, who is supposed to have built the temple.

As usual, the tale is adapted from the original – I’ve incorporated elements of a different myth to show how Talon was made. Few tales mention Vulcan, despite his importance to the pantheon, and even fewer feature him as a major participant.

Story – The Bronze Man

The Olympians held their collective breath, as Hera bore Zeus another son. Three days and three nights she struggled in labour, and the child when finally born was crippled in one leg.

Horrified at what they had produced, Zeus cast the infant Hephaistos down from Olympus, and he landed on the island of Lemnos. When he was launched he was an infant god; by the time he finished landing, he was the size of a small child.

A fisherman had sailed away from home to trawl the rich fishing grounds near Lemnos. With the storm and earthquake of the god’s landing, he had caught no fish, so had room for a foundling child. The fisherman took Hephaistos – who could say nothing but his own name –  home to the island of Crete, and handed him into the care of the king, Minos.

Because of the volcano that had sprouted at the core of Lemnos, they called the child Vulcan, and he lived in the palace with the royal children. From the very beginning, he learned all the smith-lore that the Minoans had, and all their craft.

When Vulcan was grown to a man, he decided to make a great work to thank his foster family. The Minoans were great sailors, but they had little by way of an army. So Vulcan resolved to make a force whereby the Minoans could safely sail away, leaving Crete in the hands of the Bronze Man.

He began with bones like the bones of the hills, carved from granite.

The bones he covered with flesh of the finest bronze – copper from the mountains, and tin from the edge of the world.

Into the veins of the creature, Vulcan poured living lava, to warm and to animate.

He inserted the heart of a bull, so that his creation would be strong and vigorous.

Lastly, he told the automaton to wake, and gave him the name Talos. And Talos woke, and went to guard the beaches of Crete.


The Argonauts had sailed far when they came to the coast of Crete. As ever, the great bronze man patrolled the beaches, and they could not land. Cunning Medea went in a little boat to shore

“Hail Talos, faithful servant! I am sent by the gods to reward you with immortality. This vial contains ichor, which flows through the veins of Zeus and Apollo, and Hephaestus your father. All I need do is pour it into your veins and you will live forever”

“My veins are sealed by a single bronze nail, in my right heel” said Talos. And he lay down on his front so that the witch could take out his nail, Perfidious Medea let out all the lava within, but did not replace it, and the bronze man lay dying on the beach

The Argonauts not only took advantage of this treachery, but took the body of the bronze man onto their ship, as trophy and as plunder.

Without their staunch defender, the Minoans were quickly defeated by the boatload of heroes. One of their number, Amphidamas, stayed behind to rule Crete, and so the crew was diminished by their victory.

After they sailed away, the people of Crete rose up in revolt against Amphidamas. The new king declared that each home should make a statue of Talos, and bury it beneath their threshold. In this way, the spirit of Talos would continue to defend the people of Crete.


In your Games and Stories

Spells granted by Vulcan are likely to fall in three broad categories. Instant making – creating weapons or armour; superior crafting – creating magically empowered items; or burning things – hands, enemies, cities.

He is almost certainly followed by blacksmiths, but other crafters might pay homage too – especially any who use fire, from cooks to shipwrights. Seers who inhale volcanic gases might also be amongst his worshippers, but these would likely be rarer. Strangely, there might be a handful of bards in the congregation, playing brass instruments, since Vulcan is supposed to have made the first trumpet as a gift for Apollo

Temple complexes to Vulcan are likely mostly protected by their environment, featuring lava and fire trenches that are both numinous and protective. Creature defenders tend towards salamanders who can withstand heat, or magically protected strong beasts – lions, bulls, or bears.


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.


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.


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….


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?


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?


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?


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.


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