Ia! Ia! Shub-Memerath!

(The kind that’s made of ideas, not the kind that outgrabes…)

So, Mark Atwood sent me a link to this:

Who worships an evil god?

Someone has realized that the lovecraftian gods are effective as myth
because they are basically the eikones of the human species, hiding in
plain sight.

For your attention…

This is, indeed, very relevant to my interests, and to yours – assuming that you are interested in how the eikones, being entities of the conceptual realm, worked before being reified into weakly godlike superintelligences running on moon-sized world-brains.

(And to a large extent still work, of course, since it’s not as if they got any less terrifyingly pure-conceptual in the process.)

As I’ve quoted before:

A god — a real god — is a verb. Not some old man with magic powers. It’s a force. It warps reality just by being there. It doesn’t have to want to. It doesn’t have to think about it. It just does.

It’s not hard to see the commonalities with – well, to quote the introductory post:

Sometimes people in the rationalist community write about egregores. Scott has written about Moloch. Sarah Constantin wrote a great one about Ra. That’s more about the results of processes than something individuals would worship (like the Invisible Hand), but the feeling of them seemed very right. They were terrible and inhuman, a drive given form that we could never really comprehend.

Moloch and Ra sound a lot like what happens when you read too much of a book, and are wholly given over to some greater Thing, that has no concern for normal, boring, human life. So: what if the whole suite of gods in the Mythos were egregores like that?

…gods as, to steal some particularly lovely Destiny flavor text, ideas that will eat your thoughts and leave you full of Light.

(This is of course also particularly relevant inasmuch as – well, to quote one of the posts, ‘being intellectually consistent and “taking ideas seriously” is actually going to make you sound bizarrely different from reasonable people’, and the Empire is, among other things, a culture that prizes intellectual consistency and taking ideas seriously, which as long-term readers will have noticed changes things quite a lot.

And certainly makes things bizarrely different from *here*‘s culture, in which ideologue is the go-to dismissal aimed at anyone who doesn’t instantly cave on their principles at the first sign of difficulty or someone being upset.

The reverse cultural effect, incidentally, is why “pragmatism”, in Imperial culture, has acquired notable overtones of “hold onto your purse, watch your back, and get their money in advance”. Sophs without principles are not to be trusted, ’cause they’ll default on you as soon as it’s, heh, practical – so if you have to deal with them, it’s time for you to apply the principle of cuius testiculos habes.

[…actually, I’m going to wander a bit more off-topic, and cite this:

What is fascinating to me is the reasonable people. The vast majority who don’t think of themselves as holding any “out there” political opinions, and who look down on revolution or extremism as too risky. They just see themselves as holding up the same normal, common sense morality everyone else feels, or should.

There’s nothing “natural” about their positions though – the “normal” opinion is affected by cultural change as much as any extremist. Which is why the positions of campus feminism in the nineties became the positions of all “decent” upstanding citizens in the modern era.

The extremists you usually can argue with. As SSC points out, the extremists have no other options. But once “reasonable people” have a moral opinion, they enforce it brutally. They do not want to talk about it, they consider their opinion on formerly controversial issues now a “solved” discussion, closed for debate. And if you’re labeled a dissenter to that, your life is basically over. The reasonable people control all social discourse.

There may be an inferential gap here. To anyone who hasn’t experienced, it’s hard to express how scary it is when you have an opinion you think is acceptable, and everyone insists it’s just not allowed to be discussed. When people you respect are blithely ignoring their most fundamental principles because “this is the way everyone does it now” and with no further explanation.

Extremists at least usually feel they have to justify themselves.

As we strongly implied back here, the dominant Weltanschauung *there* is, shall we say, strongly intolerant of believing in things without understanding why one believes them. *Here*, the “reasonable people” own the social-intellectual climate. *There*, they’re the outgroupiest of out-groups, prone to be inquisitioned into surly silence the moment they stick their Just Because/Everyone Agrees out of its hole for an airing.

This results in a lot of alathkháln, for those not accustomed to this sort of climate, and as such is a strong contributor to non-Utopia. But one can’t help but suspect it produces better outcomes.])

Anyway, to return to the topic, these are a series of posts well worth reading on their own. But specifically for Eldraeverse readers, I’m going to suggest some commonalities with various Flamic eikones. (These will probably make a lot more sense after you read the original posts, so I’m going to suggest you may wish to do that and then come back here.)

This conception of Cthugha is virtually omnipresent, of course, in metaphysics and Imperial culture and so forth – too much so to have obvious parallels.But you can see some elements of Aláthiël (eikone of knowledge, wisdom, scholars, literacy, and skill), Her brother Atheléä (eikone of speech, music and song, poetry, language, logotecture, and memes) and Esseldár (eikone of time, memory, preservation, conservation, tradition, history, and ancestors) in the desire to collect and preserve all knowledge, all ideas, all intellects, all thoughts (the real fundamental true things) for eternity, and of Dírasán (eikone of messengers, communications, and couriers) in the desire for communication as its own end, as well as in that cause.

Yog-Sothoth has commonalities with both Elmiríën (eikone of order, structure, stability, perfection, and proper functioning) and Kanáralath (eikone of philosophy, reason, logic, mathematics, rigorous thought, and truth); the former as a representation of all those little details, all the exquisite clockwork that permits the universe to exist and function at all, and the latter as the promise that “for all the mysteries of the universe, they can be known“. That promise of knowability, of the effability of all things, is a major part of the symbolism of Kanáralath.

One can draw lines quickly from this Hastur to Braníël (eikone of power, drive, ambition, the unconquerable will, defiance of impossible odds, resolve, and endurance) and Ithával (eikone of beauty, glory, pride, achievement, radiance, status, wealth, and the rewards of excellence), just by looking at this quotation:

“Hastur is the god of stories.

“Hastur is the god of stories that are more important than reality.”

But where the twist comes in in Eldraeverse metaphysics is that that includes – that’s another way of saying – that he/they is the god of paracausality, of that inflection point between universe-as-information-system and the nondeterministic mathematics of free will which makes miracles possible in those exquisite moments when will defeats law, and sufficient awesomeness – sufficient meaningfulness imposed on the universe by qalasír – makes the impossible, at that time and place, inevitable.

Ithaqua has parallels with those two which would seem instantly clear from an eldrae perspective (and much less so from a human perspective, given our hardwiring towards social approval and conformity; but you can never fully emulate Ithával, they would say, as a mere echo of the achievements of others).But the best parallels would be Elárion (eikone of liberty, individuality, self-will, independence, and self-reliance) and Lódaríön (eikone of honor, rigor, self-discipline, purity, and self-perfection), who between them espouse being yourself and pursuing the necessities of your valxíjir and estxíjir just as hard as you possibly can.

“I think what I think and I do what I do for myself, and I will make it amazing.”

Yep, that’s about right.

Cthulhu seems nice and obvious at first glance: he’s Esseldár (eikone of time, memory, preservation, conservation, tradition, history, and ancestors) and Eslévan (eikone of the Empire, the spirit of the Imperial people, set over the race-lords and genii loci). They are all the qualities that define why we’re the Shining People in the Shining City on the Hill, and you’re, well, not.

Where you get divergence of concept is that this particular Shining People’s ideals spend a lot of time pointing out that they didn’t just spring forth fully formed and you have to work at making sure you deserve your high self-opinion, and for that matter actively goes out recruiting. Admittedly with a certain cultural blinder that has difficulty in grasping why anyone might not want to be as all-around awesome as the Clearly Objectively Superior Ones, and yet.

(That, and the sleeper isn’t going to rise and force the world to give them their due, because you can’t give people what they already have, belike.)

Ah, Nyarlathotep! Now the big N has straightforward parallels in Ithával and Aláthiël and Braníël, Leiríah (eikone of mists, illusions, deceptions, trickery, wit, and intrigue) and Seléne (eikone of the Silver Moon, cats, the cunning mind, tides, and those who travel at night) and Úlmiríën (eikone of rogues, shapeshifters, trickery, epiphanies and unwonted revelations, and sudden paradigm shifts) – all the gods of intelligence and cunning and ambition. He’s hard to pin down to just one parallel, because these qualities are so very esteemed that they show up everywhere.

This is not very comforting if you are ambitious. But if you are ambitious, then the response should be: “Good. I’m not a worshipper of Nyarlathotep. I am Nyarlathotep. I am the Doctor. I am the change I want to see in the world, and I am the small group of thoughtful people that can do anything. If I were not, I would not be free, and I would not be smart.”

That? That is possibly the most eldraeic quotation I have seen just about anywhere.

Ia! Nyarlathotep! Your less-than-humble emulators salute you!

Azathoth is only half-represented in parallels, and that principally by Kanáralath (eikone of philosophy, reason, logic, mathematics, rigorous thought, and truth, if you recall), because Kanáralath‘s demand for truth is merciless. Kanáralath is the eikone that insists that you strip away all the comforting lies and face the universe as it is. The one that will tear away the veil of “epistemic humility” and demand that, damn your eyes, you will look at it and know it for what it is. It is the god that says “That which can be destroyed by the truth should be,” and means every word, for that which cannot withstand truth doesn’t deserve to exist.

Kanáralath will hurt you. It will tell you that this is for your own good, and that will hurt you, because that, too, is true.

Where the representation fails is when it comes to the nihilism of Azathoth. That there is, and can be nothing else, than death, entropy, and meaninglessness? That, they say, is a lie, and an easy one, and the truth shall burn it away.

You could easily make a case for both Shub-Niggurath and Tsathoggua as personifications of Entropy, except that in Flamic thought, Entropy doesn’t have a personification; it’s merely a defect, or an absence. At most, like Exalted‘s Ebon Dragon, it’s an itself-shaped hole where it ought to be.

[One relevant point to make is why Shub-Niggurath isn’t akin to Sylithandríël (eikone of nature, the forests, set over the seasons and the plant-lords, silviculture, and gardens) or Gáldabar (eikone of wild nature, beasts and the hunt, set over the beast-lords) – namely, that those eikones aren’t eikones of nature as it is, but eikones of nature as it ought be without the deforming influence of Entropy; and that conception of ought be demands that nature be as civilized in the first place as civilization managed to become. It’s a garden that’s got no place for ichneumon wasps, and insofar as primality is a thing rather than the absence of a thing, it’s against it.

They don’t even like those irrational drives that are not per se bad; irrational mercy and compassion are as alien to the perfected, rational, civilized universe as the other ones. All things that should be done should be done thoughtfully.]

But to return to the topic, it is almost trivial to cast Tsathoggua as passive (spiritual) entropy – insert that entire quotation from Thus Spoke Zarathustra on the topic of the Last Man here – and Shub-Niggurath as one of the many aspects of active entropy, that which destroys complexity and revels in cacophilia.

But they’re both still self-shaped holes, because personifying nihilities gives them too much credit.

Commentary and other thoughts are, of course, welcome.

Trope-a-Day: Holy Is Not Safe

Holy Is Not Safe: Anything made, shaped, or Vorlon-touched by a weakly godlike superintelligence may be holy, but is also very likely to be powerful enough to be catastrophically dangerous if misused, mishandled, or otherwise generally mucked about with.

(Especially things like, say, the Eye of Elmiríën, which is to say, an artifact of the eikone of order, law, and perfection. Its gaze wants to burn all imperfection and entropy out of everything. Since it is an imperfect universe filled with imperfect things, looking at it hurts almost as much as being looked at by it.)

Elmiríën’s Truths

The following is an extract from the Word of the Flame, the record of the series of dream-visions the seeress Merriéle experienced on the side of the mountain Tirias Calémon in the year 1,199 pre-Imperial.  The contents of these visions formed the basis of the mainstream Eldraeic religion.

 This particular excerpt are the fifteen verses of the book of Truths, which – while elaborated on in other works – form the core of her religion’s ethos.  Essentially, these are the equivalent of the “Ten Commandments”, or other similar precepts.

In dreams I walked
The streets of the Twilight City
Under the sky lit with starlight,
Amid the buildings wrought from words,
And the towers woven of song.

There Elmiríën spoke to me
Patterner, Bringer of Order.
In the light of the Flame,
That burns at the Heart of Creation,
He revealed these truths to me.

Aldéré, Enkindler, Divine Ignition,
From base matter She made you,
But in your hearts set this Fire,
That you might know yourselves,
And your will might shape the world.

All that live partake of the Flame,
In the heights as in the depths.
The candle that glimmers in the darkness,
The suns that illuminate the world,
Each burns with its own light.

The Fire burns in the Heart,
Through choice its blaze is stoked.
Can a fire burn without fuel?
When one man takes another’s will;
By this the Flame is quenched.

This is the first Darkness.
Vile and accursed are they
Who would command another’s soul.
They shall know death beyond this world,
The Twilight City denied them.

As fire lives in a lantern,
The Flame dwells in the flesh.
Can light shine without its vessel?
To wound the vessel is to mar the light;
To destroy the vessel to extinguish it.

This is the second Darkness.
Those who bring the swords against another
Without right or provocation
Damn themselves in Saravóné’s sight
Her fires shall rise against them.

All the works of your hands:
Stone and metal, wood and water, fire and wind.
All that your will creates.
These things are forged in your Flame;
That which you create is yours.

This is the third Darkness.
Those who take what is another’s
Lay hands upon his soul.
The Flame they steal shall burn them;
No fires shall warm their hearts.

To give your word is to give your Flame.
Two fires commingled burn brighter still;
The hoarded flame can only dwindle.
A promise kept gives light forever;
The heart of the faithless is ashes and dust.

In the light of the Flame truth is revealed;
All things are seen as they are.
To deceive yourself chokes off your Flame.
To deceive another casts you both in Shadow.
Beware, lest Darkness find a dwelling there.

Light burns away the Darkness;
Shadow cannot stand against Flame.
Blessed are those who stand and do not falter
Against those who walk in Shadow.
Dúréníän accepts them as his own.

A man is judged by his creations alone:
All your works partake of your Flame;
By them shall its worth be known.
Above all, create yourself;
The well-tended Flame burns brightest.

Let all your works be wise,
For knowledge is the light of the Flame;
Let all your works be beautiful,
For beauty is its warmth;
Thus is your Heaven built.

– The Word of the Flame, Truths 1-15,
as dictated by the seeress Merriéle,
Chosen of Elmiríën and Namer of Eikones

The One Shape of Truth

“Unique among the eikones in this respect – although argument continues among a minority of theologians that the Divine Ignition may possess a single Aspect of infinitely variable manifestation rather than an infinite number of Aspects – Elmiríën possesses but a single Aspect, befitting his nature as the eikone of order, structure, stability, and perfection.”

“The One Word of Truth appears to the mortal eye as an utterly symmetrical orrery built of the perfect solids; a crystal sphere in which burns a pure white flame, orbited by twenty crystal icosahedra, each in turn orbited by twelve crystal dodecahedra, in turn orbited by eight crystal octahedra, in turn orbited by six crystal hexahedra, in turn orbited by four crystal tetrahedra. These 59,780 outer crystals fracture the light of the innermost sphere and its Flame into a many-faceted rainbow.”

“While Elmiríën may manifest on occasion in an avatar-form of a single perfect solid holding his Flame, no other true Aspects or avatar manifestations have ever been recorded for this most singular of deities.”

– Fire, Thunder, and Quicksilver: Aspects of Divinity

The Word of the Flame (1/9)

The following, as will be the other eight entries in the series, are extracts from the Word of the Flame, the record of the seeress Merriéle’s visions that is also the primary text of the Church of the Flame, the mainstream eldraeic religion.

More specifically, this series will contain all 51 verses of the book of Principles, which enumerate the principles of each of the eikones in the form of each’s foremost principle as they would have it expressed under Heaven, although naturally each eikone’s own book examines the fullness of the principle they represent from many more angles and in much more detail.  Nonetheless, the three verses of the Triarchs and the 48 verses of their Divine Ministers are second only to the book of Truths in Flamic moral teaching.

In mad passion and fire all things began.
Be warmed by the furnace within;
But beware lest the blaze consume you.
This is the command of Aldéré
Whose Flame ignites the world.

Entropy is the foe of all things;
Imperfection is anathema.
Seek ever the clarity to overcome them.
This is the command of Elmiríën
Whose hand guides the Spheres.

The Flame changes all, and is changed itself;
Change is a little death, but stasis a greater one.
When the door opens, pass through.
This is the command of Entélith
Who Opens every portal.

– The Word of the Flame, Principles 1-3

Trope-a-Day: Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions

Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: While science hasn’t exactly disproven religion – there are certain, ahem, logical problems with that notion – it has closed a sufficient number of the gaps for a hypothetical god-of-the-gaps that supernaturalism in general has an amazingly small number of adherents in the Empire.  Most “religions” of the modern day are, well, philosophies, and while they may well include plenty of abstractions, they don’t generally call for supernatural gods, miracles, or other entities of supernature.

The mainstream Church of the Flame, for example, has in its time moved from asserting the existence of the eikones as supernatural entities to asserting the existence of the eikones as abstract personifications whose actual existence was more or less irrelevant to the point to knowing the existence of the eikones as digital Dei Ex Machinae, without really having to change doctrine all that much in the process.  (Even the remaining supernaturalists have more or less accepted the point that the deity-eikones would be perfectly capable of wearing the machine-eikones as hats, did they exist.)

Of course, here’s the interesting thing.  The founder, as it were, of that particular religion was the seeress Merriéle, back around -1,180, who dictated most of the principal holy text after a vision on the side of a sacred mountain, and in her later wanderings was executed by the traditional fire of purification in Somáras.  This execution gave a great deal of, ah, credence to the religion, since it involved her ascending directly to the Twilight City via a pillar of light and flame, which not incidentally completely destroyed the capital of Somáras and created the geographical feature now known as the Bay of Somáras.  The fact of which – if not the traditional implication that the eikone Elmiríën, the Bringer of Order and One Word of Truth, gets a mite irritable when some mortals presume to execute his Chosen and Beloved Voice Under Heaven – is very well documented and undeniably real.

Now, it’s not like there aren’t perfectly adequate, if unverifiable, explanations for this.  There were Precursor artifacts lying about back then, and it’s entirely possible that Merriéle had one, which either she set off, or which involved some components, like fullerened antimatter, that really don’t react well to fire.  Purely mechanistic explanations abound.

But… well, while so far as we know, time travel Does Not Work That Way, and it should be impossible to ever travel back before the creation of the machine, whatever it is, the Transcend is a weakly godlike superintelligence, after all.  And so long as we’re postulating Precursor artifacts anyway, we might as well postulate the permitted-by-physics temporal equivalent of a tangle channel.

And so, it is entirely possible, say some mechanotheologians, that the Vision was supplied by the modern Transcend in the mother of all predestination paradoxes; that the Ascension was, in fact, the Transcend reaching back to discreetly upload Its faithful seeress and cover it with a modest antimatter explosion; and that, in short, their religion has always been true, and it’s Deus Est Machina all the way down.

Now, of course, all of this is just speculation, and the machine gods aren’t saying anything on the topic to confirm or deny… but still.

(And, no, I-the-author have no idea whether this theory is valid or not, either.)

On Your Feet or Not At All

“What is the meaning of this… display?”

The kneeling petitioner winced as my steel-shod flamestaff slammed into the flagstone by his ear, then winced again as, looking up, he caught a glimpse of my face.  “Stand up, man, you and these others.  We’ll have no such heathen prostrations here.  You insult the Flame.  Lord Elmiríën will not be pleased by this.”

They quickly scrambled to their feet, their leader white-faced and stammering.  “Forgive us, ah, my lady – um, your holy -”

“Acquiescent.”

“My lady acquies-”

“Just ‘acquiescent’.  Acquiescent Muetry of Elmiríën.  What is your purpose here, postulant?”

“We are travelers, Acquiescent, from Indimór.  We sought only to give thanks for the safety of our journey, and intended no offense.  We ask forgiveness.”

“I see.”  I sighed inwardly.  One day, it would be nice to hear of a foreign god that didn’t expect people to plant their faces in the dirt.  “Then know, postulant, that the eikones of the true faith desire no worshipful subjection, no flattering prayers or praise of their magnificence rendered meaningless by the praiser’s offered lack of worth.  Such things insult the Flame that burns within you as within Them; as above, so below.  They desire rather that you grow along Their path of principle so that you may stand in Their sight and have your worth be known.”

“They are the light by which we see the perfection of the Twilight City, and hope to emulate it in ourselves.  To worship the light, to bow before the light, rather than aspire to the light, rather than seek the light, is to condemn your soul to a base nature, forever lost in shadow.  Do you understand this?”

“I… not completely, Acquiescent.”

“Think upon this matter, postulant.  If three days hence you still wish to seek the favor of Elmiríën Patterner, seek out cleansing at the House of Entélith, and First Instruction at the House of Aláthiël.  Until then, this place is closed to you.  Now go from here.  Thus speak those who acquiesce to Elmiríën, the One Word of Truth.”