Tuesday, February 28, 2023

12 Cultural Relics of the Post-Event Age

The After the End mod for Crusader Kings remains a favorite of mine, and a new version just came out. Instead of playing it (as I do not have CK3 and find those games more fun in concept than in direct experience) I have been digging through the localization files and reading up on all the fun post-apocalyptic religions. I might do something with those later: for now, the result is this.

1. A narrative hagiography of an Old World folk saint; the subject of the text, Saint Heboyé, is a cambion born of a demon father and a human mother, who wanders the world performing many miracles (typically defeating monsters, performing exorcisms, and providing aid to the common folk). Most famously, he is said to have been instrumental in the defeat of a seven-headed dragon and made a journey into Hell for the purpose of releasing souls trapped there. The illustrations in the source codex are striking, their use of color and shadow is rarely well-replicated by other scribes.

2. The common folk revere a panoply of tutelary spirits called poh-geman - brightly colored, simply drawn animals and other more exotic beings, invoked as protectors and spiritual companions of children and the household. They are believed to increase in power when gathered together, and thus it is common to amass large collections of icons, medals, especially in regions where Old World artifacts are still easily found.

3. The Saga of the Wars of the Firmament are a series of oral and written traditions detailing an ancient war and the cosmic conflict that drives it. The heavens have been thrown out of alignment by human sages confusing the powers of light and dark for good and evil, and the resulting imbalance leads to an all-consuming war that lasts for generations. While the main storyline follows the family tree of the Walk-the-Sky Clan, dozens to hundreds of narratives have been dedicated to minor or side characters. It is expected that any decent orator will focus their telling according to their preferences, revealing aspects of the wars in new ways.

4. The gongfarmer brothers Marius and Aloysius are extremely popular stock characters in comedic plays. Most famously they rescue the Princess Persicia of Amanita and her handmaid Bellis from the clutches of the Tarrasque, and are accompanied by a rotating cast of secondary characters: Asinus Conagus the great ape, Bufo the Amanitine majordomo, Catena and Séamus the warriors, and the rival gongfarmers Virius and Valerius.

5. In a tiny village in the hills, it is customary to greet guests with a plate of steamed pork dumplings and the phrase "It is my hope that this meal will not be forgotten."

6. A gorgeously illuminated and perfectly transcribed manuscript of _The Last Unicorn_. Not a period is out of place. Unfortunately, a long period of unpopularity for Old World Nglesh texts has led to the book meant that no copies were made for several generations, and now the book is now so old that it's uncertain if it can survive the copying process.

7. The mystery cult has been appearing in the cities around the Great Lakes in recent years. They wear black robes, black masks, wield swords with no tip, and wear no tunics no matter the chill. They claim to be a penitent order, here to expunge sins from those who submit themselves to their practices. They hold their holy text in extremely high regard, and spend significant time in analyzing it. They are rivals to a school of mendicant knights, who worship the sun and aid those in need.

8. Saint Ripli's hagiography is a simple one; a common laborer, she was shipwrecked on an island with a company of soldiers. Finding a destroyed village, she learns from the single survivor (an orphaned child) that a demon stalks the island. Most of the soldiers are killed by the monster, but Ripli is able to injure it with fire before performing the exorcism that casts it into the outer darkness. Her cult has drawn recent controversy after refusing to comply with decanonization of their patroness (the St. Louis papacy has declared that, as Ripli did not actually call upon any divine aid, she does not classify as eligible for sainthood.)

9. A vast, amorphous, syncretic collection of deities, each representing one or more fundamental Powers of the world and demonstrating mastery of those phenomena. In traditional stories, each of these gods has a human form and name that they use while living among mortals, taking on their epithets only when exercising their Power. Exist in many loosely-defined pantheons and complicated family trees, with the three most popular being the Gods of Justice, the Marvelous Gods, and the Once-Men. Constantly warring against each other and rival villain-gods.

10. Pilgrims from certain rural communities will travel on foot to the center of the Yellowstone Eruption Zone (called "Murder" by this particular folkway). Groups are always nine in number (an auspicious number) and the pilgrimage itself is referred simply as "Going and Returning. If possible, a ring will be thrown into the caldera - symbolizing the breaking of one's oath sworn to the Lord of Worldly Evils.

11. An executable program titled "Dwarf Fortress v1.11" resides on the reliquary computer at St.Brendan's abbey, and it has puzzled the monks there for decades. It is believed to be a complex spiritual practice or meditation aid, wherein one takes the role of a god caring for an uncooperative people. God willing, the monastery's second windmill will be completed soon and the expanded electricity budget will allow the reliquarists more time to unravel its mysteries.

12. Belief in beings from other worlds is commonplace and the source of many cultic practices. It is a widespread claim that these godlike beings arrived in "flying chariots like silver wheels" to witness the wonders of the Old World and pay homage to the great works of the ancestors.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

MSF: Kara Koren and the East

To the inhabitants of the Hespermont, everything east of the Magelands tends to blend together. The great plains of Kara Koren, with their herds of megafauna and bison-riding nomads, are treated as a distant monolith; simplified out of practicality in the common fate of far-away things.

But of course, Kara Koren and the eastern lands are just as diverse as their western neighbors, and they shall be our subject today.

(This post is built off of this old setting I had written some time ago. Not initially MSF, but it was easily integrated.)


The Lands Under the Sky

In the west, Kara Koren borders the Magelands and the Eostremont. To the east its boundary is the Brown River, past which is Ghan. To the south it touches the Thermodon Plains, the Blackwine Sea, the Heartlands, the Empty Quarter, and the uppermost foothills of the Tiger's Spine. To the north there is the great tundra of Vaal Gahn and the lands of the Udoretz, and further still there are ever-frozen Dhuam and the nameless floes at the crown of the world.

It is singular in neither geography nor climate (possessing in turn steppe, savanna, desert, taiga, forest, riverlands and hill country), but on the whole it is vast and flat. Large cities are found mostly in the Twin Lakes region, along the major rivers, or near those aquifers that can support them. Political alliances and confederations are fluid, often subtlety defined, and guided by the ease and necessity of movement (and thus to the outside world, often either coalesced into generalities, or pulled out of their surrounding contexts and portrayed as more independent than they are. The Twin Lakes and the Hollowhorn are still considered the representative polities of Kara Koren, as leftovers from when the Second Empire extended the status of foreign state to those two parties alone and lumped the rest into barbarians. The malice might have faded, but the issues of categorization's influence on imagination remain)

Regardless. Listed here are some places of note from across Kara Koren.

  • The Twin Lakes - Called Dawn and Dusk, the Twin Lakes and the rivers that feed them have served as the basis for the larger sedentary civilizations of Kara Koren for millennia. Presently, the leading confederation is the Belted Hunter Tent (traditionally, chiefs would gather in tents with the stars painted on the interior roof for everyday tasks, and this has carried over to modern governmental practices.)
  • The Hollowhorn - A long-dead volcano rising out of the steppe like a sleeping god. A sacred place for all the peoples of Kara Koren, the villages at its base are appointed neutral territory where wars might be ended and differences settled. Here the great Greybeards hold council and the wisest among them are permitted to climb the mountain; few even among those might descend into the dark of the lava tubes and visit with the Last King as he sleeps and dreams.
  • Grand Zaratan - A turtle 200 cubits across trawls a lazy circuit around Dusk Lake. He is more ancient by far than any of the peoples now living there, and even the sages who lead his cult say that he descended into misty senescence long ago. A tiny temple is built on his back, and fishermen will pull their boats beside him and light a candle for his intercession.
  • The City of Teeth - An ancient walled city with a deep aquifer. Has been used as a trade stop for centuries by travelers on the Long Road. But the wells and caravanserai are all outside the walls, and the traders avoid its ivory-tiled gates even as they hang open. Those who enter the city, naturally, do not come out.
  • The Endless River - A river that flows in a irregular loop some fifty miles across, having neither source nor mouth.
  • Ödtyqat - An immense canyon system just north of the Heartlands, carved by wind and water over millions of years. Famed for its incredible beauty. Its genius locii, the King of Many-Colored Stone, permits only a few visitors to make the trek down into the bottom of the canyon.
  • The Graveyard of the Great-Grandmothers - The oldest and most sacred resting place of the steppe mammoths. Humans are not permitted within miles of the site, an edict enforced by a seven-generation curse. Folktales persist of the Oliphaunt Sage having once paid his respects there.
  • The City of 1000 Skulls - For reasons long forgotten, the cliffs and boulders of these hills along the river have been carved over generations into vast skulls. Many are large enough to serve as houses, though the inhabitants have a tendency to carve whatever stones are on hand, down to tiny pebbles, as further decoration.
  • The Temple-Mound at Annu-dath - A prehistoric burial complex, covered over with soil and built atop of again and again until it became an artificial hill visible for many miles around. Many long millennia after the complex was sealed, the stone doors opened of their own accord and revealed a pallid, blind creature not entirely alive, that stood in the shade of the gate and declared "All are welcome; come and see". It beckoned to the darkness beyond. Word has spread far and wide. The depths are calling, and their call has been answered. Pilgrims of the blade and torch, delvers and the desperate, trudge towards Annu-dath. There is a command in their souls to go deeper.
  • The Sage's Tree - A gnarled desert pine along the roadside, held by tradition to have learned the secrets of the universe from the sage Walks-on-Shells. Whatever secrets it learned were clearly not the ones it was seeking, as it's likely the most bad-tempered tree in the world. A right bastard, that tree. My cousin saw it clothesline a camel once, just because it could.
  • The Cornflower Bond - A confederation of maize-barons and water-guilds on the Long Road. Relatively new on the scene, having formed after the War.
  • The Circadean Papacy - From the carapace-encrusted basilica in Ris Tabol, the pontifex chitinous leads the small and zealous flock in worship of the enormous insects that cyclically rise from the earth. A persistent (if generally harmless) irritation to the Thermodon amazons who fight the fucking things.
  • The Nameless Towers - Dozens of square-based towers built of seamless stone. The builders are unknown, as are the inhabitants, if any; wizards of antiquity or monsters, as people presume. There are no doors, save the images of them painted on the east-facing sides in fading blue.
  • The Orrery of Ksanesklas - A hilltop observatory commissioned by the great warlord in his waning years. It has been maintained and expanded in the centuries since, and currently houses one of the largest telescopes in the world as well as an animated model of the known solar system, each planet rendered in beautiful detail on stone spheres the size of an ox.
  • The Laughing Nation - We cannot stop here. This is clown country.
  • The Salt-Bone Sea - An inland sea that dried up long ago. Salt-mining settlements pepper its margins, and occasionally some mad-brave souls will mount and expedition to the islands of the interior. Those that come back often return with carts full of fossils.
  • The Burning Place - A mine that caught on fire and simply hasn't stopped burning.
  • Land of the Bison Lord - You will know him by his silver mane and enormous horns, and if you are wise you shall pay him homage and back away slowly.
  • Sarraganda, City of Tents - A migratory city, a superfluid state. Caravans come and go, nomad tribes might stay for a season or so, the sea of bright-bannered tents crawls slowly across the open grasslands.


The Twin Lakes Civilization

Little of this civilization has survived to the modern day: Oral histories from the peoples of the region have thus far lined up with what archaeology has been able to confirm: the Twin Lakes Civilization was a sedentary magocracy, its founder was a sorcerer king most commonly known as Takal Nûn, it collapsed due to unknown reasons (sudden climate shift, mass famine, and rebellion being the most common theories), and that those peoples who migrated into the region after its collapse destroyed many of the remaining traces (considering the remnants to be cursed in and of themselves.

There are ruins to be found through the Great Lakes region and its river system, a few remaining irrigation canals, and some submerged structures beneath the Dawn Twin. From these remains, it is believed that the TLC organized itself around palace complexes - fortified civic and economic hubs with linked agricultural communities surrounding them. The largest palace complex is found underneath the waters of Dawn Twin, and a dozen other major sites have been identified - the largest being those located on the shores of both lakes or at river / canal junctions further abroad.

The TLC had developed writing by the time of its collapse, but the script remains undeciphered. Inscriptions were especially targeted during the post-collapse period, and the TLC language did not appear to have any link to the language families that now inhabit the region. The scripts currently used likewise have no connection.  

Those artifacts that survive are primarily worked stone, bone, or clay. Metallurgy of gold, silver, tin, lead, copper and bronze are relatively common, with bronze implements mostly limited to weaponry and orichalcum devoted to wizardry. Rarest of all and exclusive to weaponry is a brittle crimson metal with veins of black that, when specially treated by magical craft, was equivalent to steel. Shards of this material would be embedded in bone clubs as a weapon for elite warriors, commanders, and government officials.

It is hypothesized, but not yet confirmed, that the Twin Lakes Civilization experienced at least a partial Hell Emergence Event. At the very least there existed a sizable sorcerous class skilled both in biological shaping and the building of devices, which might have lead to widespread industrialization had the TLC not collapsed.

The sorcerous artifacts and arcane detritus of the TLC have traditionally attracted the attention of wizards, who in turn bring their own sorcerous artifacts and leave behind their own arcane detritus, and this (plus some exaggeration in the telling and focus on novelty) is much of why the lands of Kara Koren seem to have so much strangeness within them.


Peoples of the East

To the peoples of the west and south, everyone who lives in Kara Koren is buruq. This is technically true, if only because "ruq" is the root word for "person" in the most widespread plains language family; "buruq" is used as an endonym primarily in the Central and Great Lakes regions (the major cultural contacts with the Eostremont and Second Empire), but its wide spread does not mean it is exclusive.

As anywhere, there is great diversity among the peoples of Kara Koren in appearance. Most commonly their skin is brown or reddish-brown, with the shades lighter in the west and darker in the east, and their hair dark and tightly curled. Light hair is uncommon but not unheard of, and more often found in the west near the Eostremont peoples. Descended as they are from neandr and anakim peoples in the distant past they trend towards both height and broadness (enough so that peoples of slim stature are noteworthy for the difference), though they are not so large as the amazons or the wudu-wasa.

There are eleven (generally) agreed-upon culture-regions across Kara Koren, each consisting of many smaller culture-groups. They are very loose categories and typically only used by anthropologists from elsewhere (as the inhabitants of Kara Koren, having more pertinent knowledge of things, divide cultures up according to more locally-relevant criteria). References to "Korenic peoples" should not be used as indications of a singular Pan-Korenic culture: instead, it is used here in accordance with scholars of the region to refer to groups that either have a representative seat at the Law-Calling, have a common institution of Hollowhorn pilgrimage, or practice folkways according to the Horag Chat, the Way of the Great-Grandmother Mammoth, or the Practices of Greater Sky.

But the eleven will do for now. They are:

  • Western - Abutting the Magelands, the Eostermeont, and the northern Blackwine Sea. Groups from these regions will typically demonstrate a blend of cultural traits from their neighbors. Mostly settled agriculturalists.
  • Central - Those groups that inhabit the central plains of Kara Koren. Most are seminomadic or fully nomadic, living off and with the great variety of megafauna that call the plains home. The common image of a buruq nomad riding atop a bison in his colorful quilted coat and great furry hat is specifically from the peoples of this region.
  • Great Lakes - The largest group of sedentary peoples in Kara Koren. The descendants of those who migrated to the region after the collapse of the TLC, merging with the descendants of the remaining survivor-underclasses who remained.
  • Southern - Those groups that abut the Heartland. Still carry a certain amount of artistic / architectural / linguistic influence from the Second Empire.
  • Southeastern - Those isolated groups that live in the deserts that border of the Empty Quarter. Generally have little overlap with the other regions.
  • Mountain Peoples - Confusingly used for two culture families with no connection to each other. The first being those groups that live on and around the sacred mountain, which are the smallest by population. The second being the Korenic inhabitants of the northernmost reaches of the Tiger's Spine.
  • Northwestern Taigic - A region inhabited primarily by the easternmost Dayrdani peoples.
  • Taigic - General category for all peoples who live south of Vaal Gahn, east of the Dayrdani lands,
  • The Long Road - The inhabitants of the city-states that dot the east-west trade network.
  • River Peoples - Those groups that live along the Brown River or one of its tributaries. Has become generalized to include most groups that live east of the Great Lakes watershed.
  • Isolates - Culture groups with no apparent connection to any of their neighbors; if there are any connections to other groups, they will be greatly diverged in place, time, or both. Nomadic members of this group are occasionally split into their own category

Finally, a brief list of some isolate peoples.

The Hairy Men - They live beneath the hills in tangled earthen warrens. Men and women alike are covered in soft, deep brown hair from head to toe, and they go about unclothed otherwise. Their lives are, as much as can be observed, peaceful and simple - their inner depths remain well-hidden from the outside world.

The Pale Men - Stocky build, pallid skin, hair black and thin. They came from the far north, seeking to introduce civilization to the southern peoples. Their cities of black metal are like cathedrals, like hives of insects, smokestacks vomiting into the sky. The gates are open - come inside, and they will teach you their ways. They are humorless at large, and do not care for the gods or stories of gods.

Enemies of the Pale Men - None know who or what drove them south from their bitter forests; the Pale Men say nothing on the matter, and so we are left with hearsay and supposition.

The Bloody Men - Their bodies are striped with the scars, scabs, gouges of self-flagellation. They strike with violence at all other peoples of Kara Koren, demanding tribute - gold, herds, worked metal, slaves. They have no cities nor villages, nor even domesticated animals - they ride zoanthropes the size of horses, lank-haired man-things with limbs like that of a spider and jutting jaws filled with too many teeth and hands with cracked, blackened claws and yellowing, rheumy eyes. 

The Burned-House People - Perhaps once a generation or so, they will set fire to their villages and move onward, carrying only what they might take with them on their backs. When asked why they do this, the answer has always been "it is to set things right" - though in their dialect, the act of "setting things right" derives from the same root as "exorcism" in neighboring languages. 

Yamnaya - A people that live in the place called Eight Pits, located in the north-west of Kara Koren (that is, a little ways northeast of the Magelands). The pits are smooth-walled and seem bottomless, though their sides are pockmarked with hidden chambers and secretive passages carved out over generations. it is said that in the distant past the Yamnaya emerged from the pits to the surface world; now it seems that they have begun the gradual process of returning to their subterrene complexes.

Pan-De - The baluchitherium is the greatest of all Kara Koren's beasts, and it is the Pan-De alone who have learned how to domesticate the king of all creatures upon the earth. They are a nomadic people by necessity, following the migration paths of the great creatures they tend. They are merchants, mail-carriers, bearers of news both good and ill. If you find yourself in need to translation or safe passage, seek out the Pan-De; they might provide both to you.

Kûnnurat - Takal Nûn's empire is the earliest civilization known to practice the guided breeding of slave-soldiers (a practice which wizards have returned to with depressing regularity). All of Takal Nûn's warrior castes either died during the collapse of his empire or further mutated into more divergent forms (both outcomes from the sudden loss of the sustaining enchantments that kept them bound and shaped), save the Kûnnurat. The ages have softened many of the tendencies that they were once engineered with, and cultural outlets have handled the rest (diverting the advanced aggression and musth periods of the men into grand sport-wars fought amongst their clans).  

Beast Men - They wear the heads of goats and the hides of dogs and have forgone the speech of man entirely. They kindle no fires and build no houses. There are no women among their number, nor children, nor do they sire by rapine: Instead, it is said that they couple with demons of the earth during the dry season, and new among their number rise full-grown from the mud come the rains.

Men of the Moon - Silver-skinned and hairless, taller than a strong man by half. Their eyes are like obsidian, their voices are like flutes. They are accompanied by short, four-eyed men swaddled in extravagant silks.

Those Who Are Not Men - Seen only ever at a distance in the twilight: dark forms thrice as tall as an ordinary man, standing in groups of two or three, their eyes like the last embers of the sun. That is all that can be said.

Friday, February 17, 2023

MSF: Growing Up in The Hespermont

"The first breath ignites the soul. Hear the infant's war cry against this unjust world!"

The path through life is a thing of infinite fractal complexity, and anyone who says there is only one means of traversal between birth and death is a fool. And so this is only a general summary of one corner of the world, but it will suffice for our purposes now. I will be referencing Pen & Tam and their lives throughout.


You arrive in the world in the typical manner - screaming your lungs out. This will be at home, under the watchful eye and careful hands of the local midwife or witch. The latter will be able to provide more intensive care and is called in to assist with more difficult births (a caesarean section is called a witch's door for this reason). Thanks to thousands of years of refinement in the midwife's craft, complications are rare and mortality for both infant and mother is low.

The first name you'll be given is a temporary one - something intimidating, ugly or unpleasant, so as to scare away any demons that might be lurking around the home. Tam's birthname was "She Bites Off Fingers" and Bo's was "Rotting Meat Heavy With Maggots", for example; Pen never got one, as the practice isn't held in Pelai and she was several months old when she was adopted.


Seven days after you're born, you'll have your naming ceremony. This will be held either at home, the local church, or at the town lodge, and will be presided over by the community priest and one of the local folkway practitioners. Naming marks your initiation into the Great Dûn (the manudûn; the kinship community encompassing of all humanity) and the Compact (the agreement between humanity and the Folk). Naming records are typically held in the parish of your birth with a copy kept and at the county seat, though in more remote rural areas they will be hard to come by (as we saw with Maggie).

There is typically a large party in celebration.


Your early years will be spent under the watchful eyes of a network of parents, grandparents, extended family and family friends. Multigenerational households are common, and it's expected that at least one of the children (and sometimes more) will take on the home and care for their aging parents. It is common to find elephants employed in childcare (at least, when there are elephants around), as they are infinitely patient, good at leading herds, and forget nothing (We see a glimpse of this with Pen and Tam, where there is reference of Waterseeker bringing a band of children around for storytime).

Schooling - Even in rural regions it's an expected thing for everyone to have some basic literacy and numbers. Schooling is not nearly as rigid or formal as what we are put through here in our own world: the teaching-storytelling tradition of the Hespermont is extremely robust and so those who never set foot inside a schoolhouse will still find themselves on a solid foundation. Generally, pedagogy focuses on helping students understand the connections among aspects of the world, and views such knowledge as holistic instead of a series of differentiated subjects - to understand the history of a place you need to know the people of a place, the soil and the spirits and the water and the plants, and the care of it all. And to understand any of those topics, there is even more to learn.


At 11 or 12 or so, you are considered a youth - no longer a child, but not yet officially an adult. It is a time of greater responsibility and you'll undergo two major changes in your life.

First will be the official beginning of your apprenticeship - while you've likely helped out with the family trade before, this is when you are officially taken on in training, whether by your parents or by a mentor. The actual specifics of an apprenticeship vary with the trade, but whatever the field this is a period for developing skills and knowledge.

Secondly, you will be able to accompany a parent or other adult family member to meetings of the local lodge. You won't have an official vote, but you do get to participate in the discussion and you may serve as a representative for your family if no one else is available.

(Additionally, those who feel the call of Tongsi and wish to change their bodies may present themselves at the temple to begin the process.)

There is typically a large party in celebration. Your apprenticeship and schooling will continue, sufficiently blurred so that there is no real border between, for the next several years. 


As the beginning of your apprenticeship marked the transition between childhood and youth, its end now marks the arrival of adulthood. You will be charged with completing a sizable task, chosen by your mentor(s) according to what is deemed a fitting challenge for your skills (though you will generally have a hand in proposing it). For those in crafting trades this will be a capstone project, for those in other fields it will generally be working without any outside aid or guidance. The task doesn't have to be completed alone, though if it is a multiperson job you will have to take a leadership & planning role.

At completion, there will be a final appeal in front of a board of judges (your mentor, plus other adults from the community who can properly judge both you and your work.) You will make your case and answer their questions to satisfaction, you're sworn in as an adult. A party commences.

(It is possible, though uncommon to fail at the task, in which case you can re-apply after half a year to a year. The task might be repeated, a new one might be done, or the original might be continued and improved. The task itself, and even its outcome, is of lesser importance to how you conduct yourself during it - if your capstone work is a failure, but you show that you understood how the failure happened during the appeal, you will be judged satisfactorily.)

(I don't know what Tam did just yet, but Pen went out and hung out with the spirits in the deep woods.)


As an adult you may now form or join a household, marry, and have a vote in the proceedings of your local lodge. But before all of that, you are probably going to spend some time traveling around. These are the wandering years, a time to see more of the world and find your place within it.

There are generally three ways to go about it

First is the simplest - even if only for a summer, you pack a bag, take the cash your parents saved up for you, and head out. Sometimes by yourself, sometimes with a friend or two. It's often used as an opportunity to go on pilgrimage to the shrine or temple of a god you favor, or just to do a bit of touring. You'll do odd jobs to support yourself on the trip (and thus often find yourself in the company of the hobaretori

For those with a trade to practice, it's expected that you'll go and learn from masters out in the field and practice your trade on your own.

The third way is through enrollment in a university. University education is highly specialized and often tied into magical arts (not full wizardry, but certainly beyond what most people practice), and contains the least amount of travel (though most programs will involve field study of some sort).

(Pen did a pilgrimage plus some folk-work field practice, Tam did a program on wizarding studies at the university in Bensael.)


Marriage in the Hespermont is an incredibly complex topic, and in trying to write this section I find myself diverging almost immediately into discussions of tax collection, inheritance law, views on sexuality, and religious traditions. I will save all that for an upcoming post on social worldbuilding, and focus here (briefly) on the interpersonal aspects.

Marriage in the Hespermont does not have much of an economic or legal role (more on why in the forthcoming post), and is instead nearly entirely geared towards the realms of the personal, social, and spiritual.

On the personal level, it's simple as it tends to be; human beings long for emotional and physical intimacy and build ways to celebrate that on a broader social scale.

On the social level, its a function of family / clan / tribal dynamics - these things were vital in the past and are still very important in the modern day. Marriages form and strengthen alliances between groups, and increase understanding between them (exogamy has traditionally been common for this very reason - it's practical to be on good terms with the clan over the hill when the swine-things start attacking.)

On the spiritual level, marriage is tied to the gods; those getting married are assuming the mantle of the gods (usually Lu and Tubalkhan, but there are many different patrons available for those who are spiritually drawn to different dynamics) To act like the gods is a core part of the worship of the gods, and so marriage is part of this.

There's always a party. Folks in the Hespermont love having parties. 


These are the first four age-grades of your life - infancy, childhood, youth, adulthood. When your children have themselves grown to adulthood, you will be an elder, and when their children are grown you will be among the great elders.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Book Review Special: Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart

This was originally just going to be one of my bookpost shotgun reviews, but it swiftly became apparent that I had a lot of things to say about this frustrating, aggravating, obnoxious book.

Innana Lady of Largest Heart: Poems of the Sumerian High Priestess Enheduanna

trans. Betty De Shong Meador
DNF 107/191

The author opens the book with a description of a prophetic dream. A prophetic dream of Meador's, not Enheduanna. This was the first warning. It gets worse.

For those unaware: Enheduanna is, to the best of current historical knowledge, the earliest named author in human history (There's some dissent on this point. For cleanlinesses' sake I will be sticking with the attestation being accurate). She was the daughter of Sargon, high priestess of the moon god Nanna in the city of Ur, and lived in the mid 2200s BCE. She wrote dozens of hymns (that we know about), all widely circulated throughout the empire and copied down regularly by temple scribes. More known nowadays are her devotional poems to the goddess Inanna, found under the titles Inanna and Ebih the Hymn to Inanna, and The Exaltation of Inanna.

Betty De Shong Meador is a second-wave feminist and a self-described "Jungian Analyst". She is not a historian, nor an archaeologist, nor an anthropologist. And it shows (oh, does it show). She couches the works of Enheduanna (a more skilled writer by far) in her own interpretive brackets, spending over half the book giving extremely questionable historical context and following it up by placing the lens of a second-wave feminist writing in 2000 over the works of a temple priestess / government official / daughter of Sargon McMotherfucking of Akkad who lived over 4000 years earlier. It is both aggravating and embarrassing: Meador will bend the text over backwards to support her narrative of "once there was idealized matriarchal stone-age one-with-nature goddess worship but then patriarchy happened and Enheduanna's hymns to Inanna are representative of her personally rebellion against the patriarchy" and I will direct readers two sentences back to the part where I mention that Enheduanna was the daughter of Sargon "King of War Crimes" of Akkad, and was appointed to her office by her father, and whose work was widely distributed and copied en masse throughout the empire and for centuries afterward. Enheduanna was many things, many of them cool and many of them impressive, but a revolutionary against The Man is not one of them.

In light of this, Meador's translation of the poems feels incredibly shaky. Every artist comes into a work with an intention to fulfill, and Meador is at the very least upfront that she has taken liberties with the source text, but her attached commentary and its authoritative tone remove any benefit of the doubt that might have been achieved.

Example: In her brief translation of Dumizid-Inanna P, Meador uses "peg" instead of "plough", which is enlightening: few are the people with the wrong-headedness necessary to remove the agricultural metaphors from Sumerian erotic poetry (spoilers: it is all farming metaphors, because it's Sumerian erotic poetry, they loved fucking and they fucking loved farming. Lines 18-27 of Segment C are entirely focused on making butter-churning as horny as humanly possible.)

In less damning but still disappointing news, she elected to translate the chorus of HE-ZU-AM in the Exaltation as "Proclaim!" instead of "It is known!" or "Be it known!", thereby stripping the translation of the punchy matching syllables.

But the translation is of lesser importance for this review than Meador's actual words (rather than the words she put in Enheduanna's mouth) Here are some quotes. Page numbers are all from the 2000 U. Texas Press edition.

"The image of a goddess or a god taking a person's hand that appears in many cylinder seal carvings from this era conveys the notion, heretofore unknown, of an individual's personal relationship to a deity. The world is altered by this new recognition of the value of the individual human being." (76)
Now the first sentence might have some weight to it, but the second is a hell of a claim to make. Sumeria was many things, and a humanist utopia was assuredly not one of them.

"At the beginning of a new millennium, humanity still suffers as a result of the separation of spirit from matter that took place in antiquity. Yahweh's split and Greek-influenced Christianity's additions to the separation of good and evil provide divine sanction for the dark/light oppositional mentality that pervades our psychology. Dominant monotheistic religions effectively taught generations that evil is outside ourselves, with Satan over there, in others. We learned to deny our own potential for evil. The splitting of good and evil by the Hebrew, and the subsequent Christian, god was persuasively supported by the Greek system of logical, rational thought that eventually superseded the primacy of nature and myth." (85-86)


[inhales deeply]

Satan started as a lawyer. He didn't become the adversary of God until after the Babylonian Exile, because that's when cosmic dualism got introduced via Zoroastrianism (plus a whole lot of other ideas!), which was later emphasized (but not introduced) by the influence of the Hellenic world and its philosophers. Like the ideas that went into the development of Christian hell are primarily from popular non-canonical sources like the Acts of Pilate and the Apocalypse of Peter.

Meador's retroactively applying theological stances to contexts separated from those ideas by centuries. And that's not even going into the audacity of trying to say that all Abrahamaic monotheism has the same ideas about evil. It'd be absurd to claim that all the denominations of a single one of the brothers would have the same worldview (Why you gotta do my friend and brother Pelagius dirty like that, Meador? Spinoza too.) Doubly absurd when you consider how Judaism and Islam treat the subject of personal responsibility and repentance wrt moral offenses (spoilers: it's nothing like Christianity)

(Meador makes no mention of Islam at all in this book, of course, though I suspect that's a blessing in this case.)

This is someone trying to score a slam dunk against Christianity but, instead of using the many, many legitimate avenues that already exist, has decided to try for something special and new against a target they know nothing about.

Also featured a bit before this segment - taking at face value the idea of Abraham as a historical figure she can conveniently use as the thru-line between the Sumerian pantheon and the Abrahamaic traditions, which is almost as absurd as "Moses was a priest under Akhenaten". I did not include a quote because I was tired of looking at the book and wanted to return it to the library as soon as possible. But she really does hinge an argument on the least-critical literalism I've seen outside of Christian fundamentalists.

"After Enheduanna's death, the superiority of her goddess was eroded bit by bit. the disregard for the fundamental primacy of nature and the increasing centrality of conquest, war, and armies in Mesopotamian culture glorified the conquering hero and diminished the role of goddesses in the pantheon." (109)
Let me remind you that, of the three poems dedicated to Inanna as featured in this book, the first one involves her choke-slamming a mountain named Ebih. Inanna murders a geographical feature because it exists and isn't currently groveling before her. That's it, that is the entire justification. In what conceivable universe is Inanna not associated with war and conquest? Inanna is Ishtar is Astarte is Asherah is Aphrodite is Venus Genetrix the mother of fucking Rome. Sargon (you know, Big Murder McGee?) specifically gave her credit for backing his ascent to the throne and his conquering of Mesopotamia! With an army!

"Enheduanna is caught between two vast ages, the ancient one dominated by the feminine principle of the divine in matter and the emerging new age dominated by the masculine spirit in a god that eventually existed entirely separate from matter as a result of Greek-influenced Christianity." (105)
Fuck right off with this gender-essentialist spirituality bullshit. Whatever point that could have been made about the changing of  spiritual worldviews that comes with drastic technological leaps like agriculture, metallurgy, organized states, organized warfare etc gets thrown right out the window because just like a romance language, Meador insists on gendering things that have no intrinsic gender to them. And conveniently ignores the fact that Inanna was not worshipped exclusively by women (Sargon "I got here thanks to Inanna's blessing" of Akkad, remember). She was an incredibly popular goddess.

And wasn't she decrying dualist morality systems where evil is an outside force earlier?

"The story of Ebih echoes the creation accounts in the Book of Genesis" (109)
Genesis was written two thousand years after Enheduanna lived, and furthermore drew inspiration from / was a response to the Enuma Elish, which was the primary creation account of the Babylonians during the time containing the Exile. And Babylonia =/= Sumeria.

"In the Genesis account of the Garden of Eden the author..."(109)
Authors. The Documentary Hypothesis first cropped up in the 1880s, this is not new or revolutionary information. This is literally week 1 of any decent collegiate biblical studies course.

"...attempts to grapple with the problem paradise poses. Like Mt. Ebih, the paradise where [YHWH] places Adam and Eve in is eternally abundant...A snag in the plan develops when Eve is drawn to the theriomorphic goddess, Snake, who, like her Neolithic snake sisters, carries the wisdom of the sacred in the natural world. Snake beckons Eve back into their ancient alliance where cyclic dark and light are held in a unifying round. Snake in this story plays the role of Inanna, the goddess who upholds the fundamental processes of the natural, material world." (109)



It's called THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH. A story that everyone in Mesopotamia would have known - including a bunch of exiled Israelite scribes and nobles currently living in Babylon. The Serpent in Eden is the same genre of literary trick as someone using a Darth Vader voice for the Devil when he's tempting Jesus in the desert.

Instead of using that rather reasonable stroke of Occam's Razor (again, literally week 1 of Intro to Theology), Meador is projecting the snake and lizard-headed goddess figurines of the Ubaid Period (~6700-3700 BCE) forward thousands of years while simultaneously projecting backwards her own belief in an idealized matriarchal one-with-nature goddess-worship that never existed because human beings are complicated. She's manufacturing a mythos whole-cloth and has the gall to claim that it has support from the archaeological record. Write a fantasy novel like the rest of us.

Lilith is a great character and all but she was invented to fill an editing mistake.

"None of the four directions Enheduanna depicts - warrior, priestess, lover, androgyne - represent traditional female domesticity [...] [Inanna] is not the tamed wife and mother, heavy with child, her fury cooled and softened by impregnation, her protective instincts raised to shield a child." (151)


Joke aside...actually no, no jokes aside. This bit's just bad. I had flipped ahead just to see if there was any reason to continue, found this passage, and decided that there was not.

I could almost see what she is going for with the pre-ellipsis bit... but what the fuck is "traditional female domesticity"? Traditional to whom? To an American audience in 2000? To the Akkadian Empire in 2250 BCE? To medieval Hungarian peasants? To Martians? There's going to be shit tons of variation within culture groups, both geographically and over time! Meador's making an argument by appealing to the idea of monolithic cultural legacy and setting up Inanna as a counter to those quote-unquote "traditional gender roles", which are spurious fabrications to begin with. People are complex! Culture is complex! Life is complex! "Traditional female domesticity", "traditional masculinity", that shit doesn't exist, it has never existed - it's branding. It's motherfuckers trying to sell you a past that never was. "Inanna is the opposite of this thing that has no basis in reality" is not a home-run argument - it self-undermines and turns right around to say "this image I have constructed of Inanna also has no basis in reality." (which, as we have seen, it doesn't)

And then post-ellipsis (the ellipsis is a brief mention of the Sumerian mother goddesses) we get...that. And perhaps I am blind to the rhetorical device Meador is using, but it certainly sounds like a casual dismissal of great swaths of human experience and I cannot tell if she is clumsily attempting to evoke the voice of a misogynist or if she does indeed hold that position. Considering the incredible conceptual stretches Meador makes throughout the book, I don't have enough benefit of the doubt to spare for the presumption of good faith at this point.

"I'm going to combat patriarchal oppression by replacing their needle-eye restrictive view of femininity with my own, equally restrictive view of femininity" is masterclass in hypocrisy and emblematic of this book's total failure. In trying to force Enheduanna and her work into the mold of a turn of the millennium American feminist, Meador has managed to blindly and clumsily argue for the point-of-view of the patriarchy she so fervently attempts to strive against - that there is only one correct expression of gender, that personhood is intrinsically tied to the capacity to do violence and everyone else is a kind of livestock. 

Inanna is cool. Enheduanna's poems are cool. I find the whole thing inspiring. But Inanna is also portrayed in those poems as violent to the point of psychosis and Enheduanna was the daughter of Sargon "I have run out of variants of this joke" of Akkad. We can appreciate without idolizing. I might channel the Exaltation when writing about Lu, but the whole smashing-the-foreign-nations-and that's-a-good-thing bit maybe isn't what I want to port over for that particular character and theme, you know? If the current spiritual landscape is unfulfilling, by all means make your own gods - but don't try to prune the past into shape so you can claim the benefits of an imaginary legacy.

Maybe Meador was just incapable of writing clearly, in which case the book is still bad, just for different reasons.

If you want better, freely available translations, look 'em up on ETCLS. Their version of the Exaltation is more proselike, but still pretty good. My favorite remains the Hallo / van Dijk 1968 translation, which is easy to find with a wee bit of snooping.


POSTSCRIPT EDIT: It occurs to me just now that if Meador really wanted to make a case of an ancient goddess getting gradually transformed and then erased through the influence of the Mediterranean powers, she should have just written about Cybele.

Friday, February 3, 2023

500 Posts: Reflections and Escape from Bluebird Hellsite

Pages, Spreads

And so here we are. Half a thousand posts, five and three-quarters years into this enterprise. As I say every time one of these milestones comes up, I thank all of you for your continued support and readership. Through all the ups and downs - of the world, of the scene, of my personal life and my own mental health - this blog has been, on the whole, something of great importance to me.

500 is not a small number, and yet when I look at it, I can think only of what remains yet to be written. So much left to do, so much left to say. And while that is not inherently wrong, it is perhaps a bit misguided. I've written a great deal of things I am very proud of, seen ideas bloom into glories I couldn't possibly have imagined when I started. Six years ago, there was no Lu and Tubalkhan. Pen and Tam remained locked in a draft I never thought I would finish. Unicorn Meat was a series of dead-end drafts. There was very little creative output at all in those years before the blog, a long dead-dark night of the muse. And now there's no stopping it, which is much more to my liking (save the burnout of running too hard for too long - can't have it all, unfortunately)

There's been A Lot in the last six years. G+ in its heyday and its death. The Disc Horse cometh, and the Disc Horse returneth. Those once thought pillars have rightfully been turned aside. Twitter was never good and is now dying as well. Friends and acquaintances come and go and return and remain, and I know half of you half as well as I'd like and I like half of you half as well as you deserve. The world outside is a spinning plate, precariously balanced. I got a book published. I have made friends that it seems unimaginable that I ever lived without. I've gone through five jobs, four moves, two spates of unemployment, over a dozen foster cats. The plague continues. We endure. I look at what I've written and I see a mirror of my own face, and I can look at it and say "Yeah. This is good."


I turned 30 recently. Neither my father nor his father lived to see 60. (ed: I have been informed that my memory was faulty - my paternal grandfather did not smoke. It seems that side of the family has a history of cancer. Enough so that the death-before-sixty stretches back at least two more generations), and so while I might (if I am lucky and careful) be spared from that trend, it has been on my mind of late. The turning over of the year (and the prescription drugs that put my brain into better working order) has put me in a reflective mood of late. It's made me consider where I am in my life - as a person, as a person in the world. And there are some things that need put in order, I think. The inventory needs taken, the shelves need re-arranged. Time seems to slip away with such speed in its flow that I need to stop myself and really think about what all has happened in the last six years - a great deal has changed.

I do not know if these reflections will ever make their way here, or if they will remain private revelations. The future eludes us all.

My father died before I had written anything truly worth showing to him. He'd say otherwise, of course, more focused on the fact that I was devoting myself to something I enjoyed than the quality or lack thereof the work. I wish I could show him what I've been able to do.


Escape from Bluebird Hellsite is a very, very large scrapbook zine, and one that entailed considerable creative frustration - Twitter, as should surprise no one, is a terrible fucking website, and there are very, very few means of archiving the few things worth keeping on it (did you know there are two secret, completely incompatible types of pdfs? I know that now, and I hate it).

But archive I did; EBH is a curated collection of those threads and posts I had bookmarked. Not all of them, as quite a few have been lost to the ether, many did not fit in with the rest, and by page 145 or so I was sick of looking at the damn thing and just wanted to get it out the door.

Reducing Twitter usage to bare minimum has provided a significant and noticeable mental health improvement since November. I highly recommend it.


As the months settle in and my new job just becomes my job, I find myself in the grips of a creative burst that I have not felt in a long while. (46 notebook pages filled since November!) There are good things on the horizon - not definite plans (Have you read this blog? I am nothing if not incredibly consistent in not following through with anything), but the shapes of plans, that should they come to fruition will be very good indeed.

I will continue to write until I am rendered incapable of doing so. There is so much yet to do, and I am thankful for the company along the journey. Onwards to 1000.