Monday, November 29, 2010

About burials, Chaos & Law in the Borderlands

Long time I didn’t posted, due to my almost full-time involvement into the social movement in France. So, today, I will release a text I started to write just before I vanished from this side of the blogoshpere. So, continuing my study into the Borderlands anthropology, I discovered some aspects I wouldn’t have suspected. A good remark from a reader led my on that way. What are burial customs in the Borderlands? This inquiry leads me, as one can expect, to the religious background of the Keep and the Caves.

 Two points should be noted to begin this inquiry. First, there’s no mention of graves, or a cemetery, nor any burial ground in the Keep. Second, there are coffins and sarcophagus in the Caves. The easiest way would be to say: “Keep’s graves are elsewhere, or unmapped”. This is not the solution I will adopt here. Rather, I consider the lack of grave or cemetery in the Keep should be considered as an anthropological feature. There’s No graves, no burial in the Keep.

Presence of graves in the Sanctuary of Chaos, in the Caves, is part of a more general design: Chaos is strongly associated to corruption, night, darkness, blood, evil, pain, torture, death and demons. It has nothing to do with freedom, at all. Instead, Chaos is a plain submission to a strong hierarchy, which is obviously a corrupted mockery of the Law. Here, any debate about nature of Chaos and its relationship to evil is pointless: Chaos is Evil, incredibly Evil, and death is one of its attributes. Why does servant of Chaos have coffins? For their own servants, says Gary, and it seems clear the Wight is a former servant himself. So my suggestion is that Chaos uses graves because they hope to turn undead – in the strongest sense, they seek to become themselves undeads, as a reward of their dedication to Chaos.

What do we know about the religion of the Keep? Even if almost no detail is explicitly written, it seems most inhabitants are servants of the Law. People are described as seeking champions of the Law, and being themselves law-abiding and honest. More, each day, up to 100 silver pieces are offered to the chapel, in a place where a little more than 200 people are listed to live. Even if, like I suspect, more people live in the castle than those listed, and the chapel may be a religious centre for villagers as well, this is a sign of a living religious practice. People of the Keep are pious and view themselves as soldiers of the Law, even if they’re in service of a castellan. This explains why the curate is the second influential person in the keep.

The chapel itself has an altar and seems to be a luminous place, with tainted glass windows, but there’s no mention of any statue, or any painting. So, what deity or deities could be venerated here? My suggestion is the chapel is dedicated to a unique, unnamed and somewhat conceptual deity. Unique, because the priest likes to discuss theology, which is rather a monotheist feature – a polytheist would more likely discuss about cosmology or mythology. Unnamed, because, as I already suggested in a former post, if Borderlanders consider as rude to call someone by his personal name rather by his title, this custom would likely extend to their religion. Think to Judaism, where the name of God is so sacred it can’t even be pronounced. Conceptual, because this unnamed deity seems to equates the Law, rather than being a mythological being with associated tales.

Reverse of Chaos, Law is righteousness, sun, light, good, health and life – a list of words which fits the spells the clerics can use. I will suggest that in the Borderlands, blood and death are so strongly associated to Chaos that they should be avoided absolutely, like a taboo. This would explain both why there are no graves in the Keep, and why clerics should use only maces, which are reputed to be bloodless weapons. Incineration of bodies is probably the best way to keep them from turning to undeads and to keep the purity of the citadel of the Law, the Keep. 

4 comments:

austrodavicus said...

I like it, nicely thought out.

ckutalik said...

Love these posts, but if marching against the excesses of Capital under neo-liberalism is keeping you from posting then I say duly excused. Give 'em hell and post later.

BTW I have been doing some of my own (if somewhat tongue in cheek) futzing around with the Keep here: http://hillcantons.blogspot.com/2010/11/keep-on-hyborian-borderlands.html

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She-who-must-be-obeyed said...

The rhinoceros in the room explanation.
One thing you have yet to consider about old-school gaming is that it was often written with a specific group of people in mind. Much of the happy memories my friends talk of have to do with the fact the game master wrote into the game things that brought to mind what that group had been doing the previous week. So the fact the group ran into a rhinoceros in a dungeon closet was not a random event but based on some comments made about a poster that had been placed in the mess hall that week. The folks playing the game all knew this and that made the encounter not only more fun but appropriate for that group. Now to the “bless the party” as a spell that wears out long before the first fight. That bless may well be based on something that happened in game the previously. Perhaps the player who played the cleric the writer was friends with had a habit of forgetting to bless the party in time or maybe it was only once but not long before the writing of the adventure. The fact that it got into print is probably because when he reviewed this adventure it brought back some happy memory of his friends. It is also not as jarring to the unknown reader as meeting the random Rhinoceros.