Friday, January 30, 2015

Weekly Update 1.30

Disclaimer: This is being written about a project that is in progress, what is an attempt to give you a glimpse of the process of making the game and abilities and powers discussed in this blog my not work as described here.

Hello! So this week, John is in California doing a show so he wasn't able to attend the meeting this week. Anne sent him off with a binder of blessings to work on while he is on the road, which included the Devotional Blessings. But because I haven't been able to talk with him this week, I don't have a concrete update for you. I did however get to talk with Anne who had the following to share.

That is the review copy of Children of the Sun, she's busy reviewing and correcting printing errors so that the final books can be printed. The novel is now a physical thing!

So while I don't have a blessing update, Anne and I did spend some time working through your questions, presented here without further ado.

The Hindu Divinity Sphere mentioned that Hindu Heroes could choose to be it possible to be an Avatara of a God who is not your patron, thus following in the footsteps of Hanuman (Touched by Vayu, Avatara of Shiva) and Savitri (Touched by Surya, Avatara of Sarasvati)?

This will most likely be possible at higher levels. I want to be able to say more, but this is currently in the process of being finalized. I will revisit this at next week's meeting.

If you were not working on this project and instead looking at it from the outside what kinds of questions would you be asking?

This one is a tough one, they're constantly surprised, but at the same time empathize with the fact that they're working from a place of having all the answers. Many of the questions they're expecting would would have unsatisfying answers like "You'll see when you see the system."

From their JSR days, they're used to answering edge case questions based on everyone having the rules in front of them. So they're currently (between finishing the core book) bracing for the flood of questions when the book is in your hands.

In some stories the Gods aren't always the most interesting characters, I for example really like Utgard-Loki of Norse mythology. What kind of support do you see having in the future for players interested in these kinds of characters or chosen of them?

It's a matter of taste as to who the most interesting characters are in a story. Out of the gate there will not be a lot of official support for heroes of non gods. But the line as to what is and is not a god can get a little blurry sometimes. Ultimately the decision will be between you and your GM when you want to have a patron that is not one of the "official" Hero's Journey gods.

Heroes in stories tend to fall into distinct heroic archetypes or Aspects, that broadly cover the kinds of characters in a story. From a more literary perspective do villains or antagonists have their own separate arch-typical character types that broadly represent the kinds of opposition the hero might meet in a story, or do they fall into the same patterns as hero's?

Villains definitely fall into their own archetypes, but right now Hero's Journey is focused on just that, creating a hero's journey and archetypes of a hero. In the future John and Anne might explore villainous archetypes, but for the time being Hero's Journey is focused on the heroes of the story. Villains will follow the NPC creation guides.

What is your favorite Pantheon that nobody seems to have ever heard about?

If you have followed Anne on their previous blog she has a fondness for the Hittite Gods and their legendary tantrums. But honestly, there are so many pantheons that they just haven't had time to explore.

Modern understanding of Time is very different from how ancient peoples understood time. Are there and good myths related to time and how ancient people understood it?

In the ancient world the perception of time tended to fall into two broad categories. Cyclical and a binary "Now" and "Then". Mexican mythology tended to view time as a cycle, whereas let say Native Australians viewed time in terms of now, when things are happening, and the Dreamtime when their legends occurred.

As for stories, it is difficult to pin down stories that demonstrate these viewpoints and to separate what is a literal depiction of time and what is just using figurative language to describe its passing.

If all of the pantheons got together and had a beauty contest how badly would it end? Would Baldur win? Would Earth survive the resulting war?

Beauty, as always, is in the eye of the beholder. Just look at what has been considered beautiful over the last 100 years, heck, just the last 20. I'm just talking about things from my western perspective. My point is that there are so many gods of beauty, and so many perspectives as to what is beautiful.

There are gods of beauty that are secure in their beauty, they are others... who are not. But sadly there are little to no stories when two pantheons have decided to have a beauty contest, so it is only in our own stories where we are left to speculate, and this blog is not going to enter that fray... It's just dangerous.

Whew! That was more than I've written in a while, thanks for the workout. That's it for this week!

Have a great weekend, and I'll talk to you next week when it's February!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Update 1.23

Disclaimer: This is being written about a project that is in progress, what is an attempt to give you a glimpse of the process of making the game and abilities and powers discussed in this blog my not work as described here.

Hello! So before I jump into the update, I wanted to talk about questions. So, while the forum questions have been pretty quiet, I wanted to let you know that we have moved the time of our weekly meeting (where I get these updates) to Wednesdays at roughly 6:30 EST. This means that the deadline for asking questions has moved to Wednesday. I do a check the forums and my email just before the meeting.

So on to the count for blessings which is now at...

5 out of 10

As I said earlier this represents groupings of Blessings for the purposes of this tracker. Progress on these rarely move along a strictly linear path, for instance John had to focus on double checking checking some probability math to ensure that a particular system worked as intended. For the record it checked out. But progress still continues and we're about halfway there!

Anne continues to work with the Graphics Team on page layouts, she has also secured an ISBN number for the Core Book. The ISBN is that barcode on the back of a book that registers it as a book that exists and tells you things like edition, publisher, where it's from, etc.

We're really close to the finish line, any way you slice it, it is only a matter of weeks before the book goes to the publishers to become a physical (or digital) thing.

So that's it for this week! Have a great weekend, and I'll talk to you next week!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Pillars of the Universe

Today's question takes us back to the misty past of obscure Greek Titanes myth: North, East, South and West, the Greeks have Titans for each cardinal direction. Could you tell us about them? We totally can, and they're a pretty fun topic for exploration - let's hear about the four brothers of Kronos!

Ancient Greek descent lines always start with Khaos, the primordial tangle of unformed potential from which manifested the most ancient of the gods: the sky father Ouranos and the earth mother Gaia (among several others, but let's not get into the ocean and abyss branches of the family at the moment). Gaia and Ouranos both produce various children in a variety of ways (including together, with other partners, and just parthenogenically while they're doing their own thing), but among them are the first generation of Titanes, including the infamous Kronos. Kronos has several siblings, and among them are the four brothers that represent the poles or axes of the earth: Hyperion, primordial Titan of the sun, Iapetos, primordial god of mortality, Koios, primordial Titan of the stars, and Krios, primordial god of springtime and growth.

While we have a good general idea of the function and ideas behind these Titanes, we don't actually have a ton of information on their specifics; their worship primarily took place long ago, in the archaic periods of Greek religion, and very little sign of them has survived to be poked at by modern-day archaeologists. They appear in myth only twice in any majorly relevant way; the first is when, as Kronos' brothers and supporters, they reach out from their four corners of the earth to hold down Ouranos' limbs, allowing Kronos to castrate and defeat him with their help, and the second is when they again support Kronos in his battle to overcome the usurper Zeus, which they ultimately lose and are punished for by being cast into the pit of Tartaros.

Very cheerful stuff, as most early cosmological Greek mythology is, right? The four brothers, like a lot of other early Titanes, are more representational deities than personified ones; they represent ideas and concepts, and like their parents and siblings are part of the ancient Greek understanding of the structure and function of the universe. As the four directions, the symbolically cover and represent all of the known universe, and as the four pillars that were created by earth and heaven, they support it and contribute to its structure simply be existing. Not bad for some barely-remembered, highly cosmological dudes!

Most of what we know about each of the brothers is gleaned from the etymology of their names, the functions of their most closely related family members (especially their children), and the side mentions of them in various Greek sources, where they're usually used as poetic devices to describe something going on in a different story.

Hyperion is probably the most famous of the four (at least, he's the one who somehow managed to survive in a truly confusing form in a recent Hollywood movie), and while he's often characterized as a god of the sun, it's likely that he had a more ancient and less focused role as the god of all light, including the sun and various other sources of illumination. He was the pillar of the east, not coincidentally the direction from which the sun rises and lights the world; Diodorus Siculus claims that he was the first of the Titanes to understand the movements of the heavens, which is how he came to be the lord of the sun, moon, and stars, and why they were ever after subject to him. The same source also mentions his interest in the seasons that the movement of light created, so some scholars suggest that it's possible he was an ancient god of time's passage, or at least of calendars and measurement of time by light. Even his name is associated with light - literally, it means the one above, referring to the fact that light comes down from his lofty vantage point.

Hyperion's family members are all part of his light theme, which shouldn't surprise anyone who has ever looked at Greek mythological relationships more than casually. His wife is usually said to be Theia, his sister and a Titanid of light herself; her name means to see, and she was most likely envisioned as the goddess of clear air or atmosphere that allowed light to be seen (the opposite of smoke, fog, or other obscuring agents). One of the Homeric Hymns calls Hyperion's wife Euryphaessa, but since that name means brightly shining and Euryphaessa appears nowhere else in any Greek sources, most theories currently consider it a byname of Theia's, not a separate goddess. It's worth noticing that crochety old Hyginus claims that Hyperion's father was not Ouranos but Aether, the primordial Titan of the air, which similarly connects the ideas of light traveling through air to be seen.

The children of Hyperion reinforce his status as lord of light: they are Helios, the younger Titan of the sun, Selene, the Titanid of the moon, and Eos, Titanid of the dawn. (Pausanias also lists a god he only calls "Titan" as one of their children, but for the most part scholars are pretty sure he's just talking about Helios.) Since he is the original primordial god of light, it only makes sense for his children to be expressions of that light, appearing as the various celestial powers that shower illumination down on the world.

Compared to Hyperion and his (admittedly very tiny in the grand scheme of things) fame, Iapetos is one of the best-kept secrets of the original Titanes, which is probably mostly because we aren't entirely sure what he was about, exactly. His name means roughly he who pierces, and this, along with his close connection to all of humanity, has led some scholars to believe that he was a god of mortality, originally creating all mortal life and then overseeing the limits at which it must be ended. This role was very obviously taken on by the Moirai much later, but Homer's description of him sitting beside Kronos as a danger in the pit of Tartaros suggests that he was somewhat feared or ominous. Like his other three brothers (and Kronos too!), he was most likely in some way a primordial time god, in charge of things like the cycles of the natural order and the correct running of the universe, and since he has no obvious connection to time in a more cosmic sense like his siblings, it's not a huge leap to think he was instead concerned with time as it related to the mortals who were created from his line.

Iapetos is associated with humanity time and time again, both obviously and in a more roundabout, symbolic way (which is of course how Greek poets love to do). Most directly, he is the original ancestor of all living human beings in earth Greek myth; he is the father of Prometheus, who was in turn the father of Deukalion, the first naturally-born human being, who began the lines of humanity, all of which is notable since where the other Titanes of Iapetos generation are all about natural phenomena, Iapetos and his offspring apepar to be all about humanity and civilization instead. Iapetos' direct children bear this out - they are Prometheus and Epimetheus, the brothers who represent foresight and hindsight, ingenuity and cleverness alongside regret and mistakes, epitomizers of early Greek thought when it came to human qualities and sympathies. Both of them are highly involved in the creation of Pandora, the first human being, and the unleashing of the ailments of the mortal world through her. Iapetos is also the father of Atlas, who is not particularly connected to humanity but who is a major force among the Titanes and the guardian of the four brothers in particular. (In fact, we mostly know that Iapetos was the original pillar of the west because of the fact that Atlas takes that role over for him later... although some scholars would like to point out that since the sun sets in the west, it might also have something to do with Iapetos' status as the ender of things.)

While we know way less about him, Hesiod and Apollodorus also list a Titan named Menoitos as a son of Iapetos; all we know about him is that he was full of wrath and power but that Zeus struck him down for daring to challenge him, and that he now appears occasionally in accounts of the underworld Hades as the shepherd of the dead. His connection to dead people also reinforces the idea that Iapetos has something to do with lifespan, death, or otherwise ruining it for mortals.

Moving on, then we have Koios, who sometimes carries the grandiose titles "Axis of the Heavens" or "Lord of the Northern Pole". Strongly associated with the northern pole and the pole star (fun fact: it's called the pole and pole star in English from the word Polos, which is one of Koios' by-names - literally, we named poles after him), he's both an obvious shoo-in for the job of the northern pillar of the world, and also almost by default associated with the stars, since as the fixed point of the north he almost can't help but be read as a star or star-controller himself. Because of this connection to the stars, scholars theorize that he might also have been associated with oracles and prophecy, since the practice of reading omens in the stars was one established far back in the mists of Greek antiquity. His name is sometimes translated as meaning questioning one or curious one, which might also refer to the practice of seeking enlightenment from the heavens.

Like the other Titanes, Koios' children carry on his legacy and become ever more specialized and unique powers in his same area of influence. His offspring are two daughters, Leto and Asteria; Asteria is associated with stars, and her daughter, Hekate, with the night and moon, while Leto is the mother of the celestial twins Apollo and Artemis, who eventually take over the roles of sun and moon deities from the older Helios and Selene. In each case, Koios' connection to the heavens is apparent in his children; and his status as a possible god of oracles is also pretty obvious, with both Asteria and Hekate associated with prophetic knowledge and dreams, and Apollo eventually becoming the preeminent god of prophecy through his oracle at Delphi. Koios' wife, Phoibe, is also possible associated with both stars and forecasting the future from him, and her name was passed down to become a title for both Apollo and Artemis in various cults.

And then finally we come down to Krios, who is the most enigmatic and uncertain of the bunch (and that's saying something!). No one is quite sure what his name means, although the best guess available is that it means ram, which would make sense since his most common scholar-reconstructed association is with the seasons and especially springtime, when the constellation Aries (the ram in question) rises in the southern sky. Nonnus also refers to the idea of Krios as being associated with the constellation Aries, in a passage in which Helios (representing the sun) refers to Aries as the "navel of the universe" and claims that he begins springtime when he reaches him. Obviously, this leads to considering Krios the southern pillar, which makes sense since it's the only one left anyway.

Like the other Titans, Krios' children mostly reinforce the theories about him; one of his sons is Astraios, god of stars and inventor of astrology, which reinforces the idea of Krios as a star-god himself, and while another son, Perses, appears to be about war and destruction rather than having anything to do with stars himself, he married Asteria (the starry daughter of Koios) and was the father of the celestially adept Hekate. Pallas, a Titan god of warfare, seems like more of a stretch, but he was specifically associated with the late spring season in which the Greeks preferred to wage war, which again might connect him to his venerable father. Pallas is also notable for being the father of Nike, who goes on to be famously winged and ubiquitous in, like, all Greek sculpture ever.

And that is about what we know about these dudes. As described in the Titanomachy, the brothers were defeated, along with Kronos, and hurled into Tartaros by Zeus, where they are imprisoned in the dark pit forever (although occasionally Kronos is said by some writers to have been allowed to move to the Isles of the blessed - no such luck for these four, though). Because they're such ancient cosmological figures and represent the points of the universe, they have in the modern-day gained several small planetoids/moons/asteroids named after them, keeping their names alive, even if only for the astronomy nerds among us.

Incidentally, I know you didn't ask about them, but the four wives of these Titanes - Theia, Klymene, Phoibe, and Eurybia - are complementary universal powers in their own right. In one theory, since so many of the Titanides seem to have connections to oracular pronouncement, it's thought that all eight of these ancient beings did; the male Titanes might have been connected to the mystery oracles, revealers of the cosmic secrets of the world, while the female Titanides might have overseen the prophetic oracles, learners of things yet to come. Like everything else when it comes to these folks, though, it's all (fiercely argued-about and academically-backed-up) conjecture.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Heroes Calling Heroes

Hey, a little content question! We aren't getting a lot of these since they normally go through Cameron, but we're happy to answer a few here and there. This one reads: Probably not in the core book, but in a future supplement or some such thing, will there be official rules on having PCs being God-Touched of gods that were former PCs? Like in Scion, creating a character whose divine parent (birth or adopted) was Sangria?

Good news, friend - although we have not given any guidelines for creating custom gods to act as the patrons of Heroes yet, the core book does in fact note that you can totally play Heroes of gods that are not in the book, provided you and your GM work out what benefits they should provide to you. (You'll have to wait for the book to find out what those benefits are, though!)

For most folks, that means that you can be a Hero representing Iris or Karttikeya, or any other major or minor god who wasn't in the core book's first offering of deities, or that you could even play as a Hero of a pantheon not yet in the official game line, as long as you square it with the GM. But there's no reason it can't also mean that you could play as a Hero of a deity who was in fact a Hero themself in previous games - anything your players and GM are comfortable with is golden as far as we're concerned!

It's most likely that we'll do some expanded material on creating new divine patrons and Heroes calling their own God-Touched representatives in future supplements, but don't let the lack of official material stop you right now!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Weekly Update 1.16

Disclaimer: This is being written about a project that is in progress, what is an attempt to give you a glimpse of the process of making the game and abilities and powers discussed in this blog my not work as described here.

Hello! Hopefully you've had an excellent week. John and Anne have both recovered from their ailments and have gotten back to work digging through the blessings chapter, which leads us directly to the numbers...

Which now stand at...

3 out of 10


4 out of 10

Progress is being made, but there was some argument about whether or not it was three or four. When I'm giving estimates I tend to be a pessimist so my official line is three. John says they're at closer to four. Anne would have weighed in, but unfortunately was unable to attend the weekly meeting. So this week you have a Choose Your Own Adventure status update.

Regardless of how you count, this means (if you've been following twitter) that the Devotional Blessings are done, and now they're about halfway through the Aspect Blessings. Once Aspects are complete, all that remains is the Sphere Blessings and then it's off to the publisher!

There was a question on the forums this week which came from Rasmus.

What's your stance on streaming Hero's Journey? Is it okay? What restrictions would there be? 

The short answer is: Stream to your hearts content!

The longer answer is:

We would love to hear about your experiences with Hero's Journey. Seriously in whatever media you want to use, let us know about it!

You, the person reading this blog represent our core group of players, you have been following the game during its development through its ups and downs. You're awesome for doing it and we genuinely humbled by your devotion (no pun intended) to this game. This year, after the game releases, we're going to be working on getting the word out. But one of the best ways to get the word out doesn't come through us, it'll come through you talking about your experiences with Hero's Journey.

We want to keep an open dialogue with you as much as possible, so let us know both the good and the bad. We can't wait to have those discussions.

So, again, at this time there are no restrictions, if you want to stream your game go for it! Just let us know about it, because we want to see it too!

So that's it for this week! Have a great weekend, and I'll talk to you next week!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Queen Mother of the West

Yesterday was a long and gruelling day of edits, so here's a Wednesday goddess post on a Thursday, better late than never! A question came in asking for today's topic: Oh great guru of Mythology, enlighten us about the wonders of Xi Wang Mu, please! You got it, friend!

Xiwangmu - or Xi Wang Mu, Xi Wangmu, Hsi Wang Mu, and a few other romanizations of her name - is the Queen Mother of the West, the keeper of the Tao, the goddess of righteousness and the giver of prosperity. Although she is an extremely important goddess in modern Taoism, as the guardian of the Tao itself, she is also ancient; she predates any of the formally organized Chinese religions, and inscriptions on ancient artifacts suggest that she may have been worshiped as far back as four thousand years ago.

As an ancient goddess, it's hard to tell exactly what Xiwangmu represented or did, since we have very few records of that time period, but we know that she was incredibly important. Inscriptions refer to her as the mother of the west or the guardian of the west, sometimes in contrast to a guardian of the east (the identity of whom has been lost to time), implying that she is the gatekeeper or overseer of half the world. The Shan Hai Jing, which is both an ancient geography text and one of the oldest textual sources of Chinese mythology, says that she could cause plagues and blight crops if angered, which might explain why her sacrifices were of such high quality that we're still able to find and puzzle over them millennia later.

She had various sacrifices offered in her name, most likely in a request for protection, and was considered fearsome and even terrible, depicted with tiger fangs, a panther's tail, and sometimes even fur or claws. Later, after she was adopted into the Taoist pantheon which wanted to "civilize" her for its own purposes, she became more commonly depicted as a graceful lady sans-teeth, but even then she sometimes appears accompanied by tigers or panthers, reminding those who see her of her ferocious origins.

(Interestingly enough, the language used to describe Xiwangmu by the Shan Hai Jing is gender-neutral, so it's difficult to tell what gender, if any, her older incarnation might have been presumed to be. The term wangmu specifically means one's paternal grandmother (with a secondary meaning suggesting that she is deceased), so this is why we generally presume that she was always female, but the fact that this very old text doesn't clearly say one way or the other is some food for thought.)

Xiwangmu's role as the Queen Mother of the West (a term that means both "queen" and "mother" of the west, not "queen mother" in the sense that we sometimes use it in the west to refer to the mother of a king) in Taoism usually involves her ownership or understanding of Tao and the scriptures explaining it; in various myths, it is Xiwangmu who created or discovered the Tao Te Ching, and who then passed it down to those precious few members of humanity who were deemed worthy to understand and perpetuate it. Laozi, the mortal philosopher who wrote the TTC, is often said to have received it from Xiwangmu herself, who allowed him to visit her so she could explain it in person and then sent him off to bring it to humanity; later myths that seek to elevate Laozi as the author of the TTC sometimes reverse this story and claim that he went to her home to share it with her, but in either case, she is certainly central to the entire idea. In fact, she is so central that she becomes a gatekeeper of that enlightened knowledge, deciding whether or not to bestow it on various famous mortal heroes who try (and usually fail) to meet her standards for righteousness, intelligence, and general not-being-jerksness.

For example, the story of her doomed romance with king Mu of the Zhou dynasty, a mortal king desperately seeking enlightenment, has remained perennially popular. Mu was a powerful warrior king who conquered most of his neighbors, drove away the attempted invasions of the Huns, marched into and captured even his allies' kingdoms when they insulted or snubbed him, and basically ruled most of the known world with a fairly competent fist. He eventually decided to turn his eyes toward the mysterious west, and while traveling happened to pass through Xiwangmu's kingdom, where she welcomed him and gave him a banquet. He was immediately smitten with her, and she with him, both impressed by the other's obvious awesomeness at ruling everything and everyone. Because he knew that she could bestow upon him boundless wisdom as well as immortality, he wooed her with great fervor and gave her various important national treasures of his kingdom that he really probably shouldn't have given away, but when messengers arrived to tell him that one of the kingdoms he conquered was rebelling, he left immediately to go put down the unrest. Xiwangmu warned him that if he left now he would never achieve immortality, but his love of his own power proved too strong, and he left to go die old and unhappy as a ruler while she remained in her paradise. (Much is made sometimes in Chinese poetry about how heartbroken she was that he left, but it kind of sounds like he got the way worse end of that breakup.)

Although the search for immortality through Xiwangmu is framed in that story as possibly being a product of her great wisdom and connection to Heaven, which she could have shared with Mu, she also has a very concrete and famous connection to eternal life: the Peaches of Immortality, which allow those who taste of them to live forever. Depending on the version of the story, sometimes the peaches, which Xiwangmu grows in her own private heavenly orchard and shares with only the worthy, are simply magical and confer other benefits on those who eat them, while immortality actually comes from an elixir only Xiwangmu knows how to make out of them, but either way, both mortals and gods have a great reason to want to respect her and her awesome fruits regardless of her philosophical powers.

Xiwangmu's ability to confer immortality on other people causes quite a few problems in Taoist mythology, although this is not strictly her fault - rather, it's the fault of all these immortality-seekers who keep coming to her house, raising a ruckus, and then somehow being surprised when she tells them they're not worthy. Most seekers of the magical fruit are turned away, with Xiwangmu ruling them unfit to even see it, let alone eat it, but of course the greatest of shenanigans are always perpetrated by other gods. The peaches are no exception, much to Xiwangmu's (presumably eternal) annoyance. Of course, she holds banquets for the gods to come and feast on the peaches, thus remaining young and vital, but some gods just aren't satisfied with her largesse.

In one myth, the hero Hou Yi, an archer without compare who had already saved the world from overheating thanks to shooting down the extra solar birds that were cluttering up the place, climbed the nigh-unclimbable Mount Kunlun to reach Xiwangmu and beg her for some immortality for himself and his wife. Since he had been so heroically impressive, and he managed the mythically almost impossible feat of getting to her in the first place, Xiwangmu agreed and granted him two doses of immortality, one for each of them. Unfortunately, this all went tragically wrong when Hou Yi got home, although how exactly depends on the teller of the story; in some, he hides both doses but doesn't tell his wife what they were, which leads to her discovering them and curiously consuming them, while in others she knows what they are and eats both to make sure she has enough immortality for herself, and in still others she overhears him planning to withhold her dose from her and takes the initiative to beat him to it first.

In any case, the wife, Chang'e, eats both doses of immortality and becomes super mega OVER immortal, which causes gravity to no longer affect her so that she goes floating off to the moon, unable to stay on the ground, while she and her husband sob and reach for each other and everything is generally tragic. In some versions of the story, Hou Yi dies shortly thereafter of grief, while in others he returns shamefacedly to Xiwangmu and she allows him to become the sun god so he can pursue his wife who is now the moon goddess, presumably rolling her eyes all the while.

The other, and most famous, altercation involving Xiwangmu and her fruits is with the ever-exasperating Monkey King, Sun Wukong, whose shenanigans are thoroughly detailed in the Xi You Ji (better known to us as Journey to the West). Once he had been allowed into Heaven, the gods had to do something with him, so he was appointed Guardian of the Peaches, a post that they hoped would keep him out of the way of everyone and unable to do much harm. Unfortunately for Xiwangmu, he turned out to be smarter than she had anticipated, and realized what the peaches he was guarding actually did; he immediately gorged himself on one, and then when he was about to be caught as she arrived to gather peaches for the annual feast of the gods, he hid inside one of the peaches to avoid her. Needless to say, she was not amused once he was discovered, and he was fired from his post pretty immediately.

While there are about a thousand other stories of dudes annoying Xiwangmu with requests for things and then proving unworthy of them when she actually pays attention to them, her most important role doesn't usually have a lot to do with them; rather, she is considered especially related to women, since as the queen of heavenly ladyness she is the most transcendent of women herself and embodies the Taoist female principle of yin. Scriptures claim that she is the goddess of women especially, and that all women who correctly find themselves on the path of Tao (or are even just giving it a good try) are in her care.

In fact, some scholars have made studying Xiwangmu's link to women specifically their lifelong work; there are tons of mentions of her in poetry, prose, and manuals for the behavior of women throughout Chinese history, and in contrast to later Confucian ideals of women as quiet and submissive to men, she comes from origins in which she was savage, powerful, and very clearly the boss of any dude foolish enough to bother her. It's no wonder that she appeals to worshipers of Shenism, Taoism, and Buddhism alike, or that she's such an enduring character in so many tales.

So, if you journey in the west and you choose to seek enlightenment and immortality, be careful who you ask it from. Xiwangmu will listen, but she won't put up with even an ounce of shenanigans, and many who come before her unworthy end up returning to their lives much more unhappy than if they had never come at all.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Mythology of the Ainu

Someone tried to pull a fast one on us today with this question: More of a cultural question than a mythic one, but do you have any information about the Ainu people to share with us? General "information about a whole ethnic group" is a pretty big topic and outside the scope of this blog, especially since we're not members of that group ourselves, but we'll bring it back home for you and talk about Ainu mythology a little bit. Because it's awesome!

For those who haven't encountered them before, the Ainu are the indigenous people of the northern island of Hokkaido in modern Japan, as well as several other islands heading up toward the tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula. They were thoroughly conquered by the Japanese during the nineteenth century, with their land confiscated and a large portion of their people enslaved or forced to assimilate to Japanese culture, and remain a marginalized group to this day, one that is not officially recognized in Japan as an official ethnic identity (they are officially considered Japanese rather than a separate group) but which struggles on its own to maintain its traditions and culture in spite of a few centuries of being immersed in someone else's.

As often happens when a people is conquered, this means that a lot of Ainu history and mythology was lost; it was largely orally preserved, and with the Japanese discouraging Ainu people from practicing their own religion in the hopes that they would hurry up and assimilate into mainstream Japanese culture, many of the more ancient practices and beliefs were lost before they could be recorded. But some of it has been recorded, and not only by crusty old white dudes who investigated Ainu folklore for their own entertainment; Ainu people, too, have recorded their religious beliefs over the years, and some still practice their rituals and keep their traditions.

Ainu religion is all about spirit - not just the spirits of living things, but the spirits of all things, which are indestructible and eternal and always full of energy. Like many other animist religions, they believe that natural features such as storms and mountains and plant life have their own spirits, which animate them and keep them a living part of the world, and that that life energy can never actually be destroyed, just moved or converted into something else as those things decay or are destroyed or are combined into something new. And while all human beings of course have their own spirits as well, the highest order of spirits are the kamuy, the gods whose powers can move the universe. (Incidentally, if you're wondering why that word is so close to the Japanese kami, it's most likely because they probably have similar root etymology, just like the Greek and Latin languages have theos/deus as close cousins!)

There are a good number of kamuy, too many to list out and go in depth into, but here are a few Ainu gods that you might see in the landscape of the frozen northern reaches of the islands:

Chikap is the god of prosperity and plenty, and often appears as a massive owl, one who weeps tears that are precious metals and oversees all the Ainu lands with his great unblinking eyes. As a god of the earth who oversees its fertility and bounty, he is famous for ending famines and helping humans who have accidentally stopped performing the correct rituals and sacrifices figure out what they're doing wrong and correct it so that the crops grow again.

Then there's Pekerchup, the radiant goddess of the sun, who is the patron of women and children and the universal symbol of purity and innocence (especially in the sense of sexual chastity). According to myth, she was originally the goddess of the moon, but only for a single night; when she saw all the adultery and unchaste behavior humans got up to under cover of nightfall, she was so horrified that she begged her brother Kunnechup, who was at the time the sun god, to switch places with her. He agreed, and she became the sun goddess, whose welcoming rays of morning light are so sacred that it is respectful to avoid stepping on any sunbeam that falls inside your home lest she be hurt by your behavior.

The goddess Fuchi is the divinity of heat, light, flame, and especially the hearth, which is considered her sacred seat and which must never be allowed to fully go out lest she be driven from her place. Because she is in every home, she is extremely important as the connection between the worlds of mortals and the gods, allowing worship and blessings to pass between them, and like many other such gateway gods around the world was often called upon first in any sacred ritual so that she could open the way for the other gods to respond.

Kim-Un, the god of bears, is uniquely important because of the extreme importance of bears in Ainu religion; they were considered gifts from the gods and inherently spiritual creatures that were provided to live symbiotically with humans by sharing their flesh and hides, and therefore Kim-Un is intensely important as the god who decides when and where and how many bears are in play down below. Every yearly bear sacrifice reports to Kim-Un about how well the humans treated them and whether they are being properly appreciative of their gifts, and if he feels that the bears aren't being respected, he withholds them until the people do better.

There are also at least two water deities - Waka-Ush, goddess of fresh flowing water and friend of humanity, who helps them ensure that they can survive on her rivers and draw fish and other sustenance from them without too much difficulty, and Repun, god of the sea, who is a god who appears half the time as a fun-loving youth with a harpoon and the other half as a giant orca, representing that he can share the bounty of the seas with his people if he wishes, but that if they abuse it all the terrifying power of the sea and its predators can come down upon them.

There are plenty more Ainu deities, but that's enough to start on for today, I think! It's a fascinating religion and one that could be very interesting to explore in HJ, especially if you're interested in the interplay between different east Asian religions and their historical interactions.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Weekly Update 1.9

Disclaimer: This is being written about a project that is in progress, what is an attempt to give you a glimpse of the process of making the game and abilities and powers discussed in this blog my not work as described here.

Hello, it's been a quiet week on the forums in this first full week after the New Year. Work continues on the Blessings Chapter, albeit slowly. So where are we?

We are sadly still at 1 out of 10 on the list.

First and foremost, we want to use this update keep you in the loop on how things are moving, even when things are not going as fast as we'd like. The past week has seen Anne and John taking turns battling the plague. Anne went down for the count first and John followed as she recovered. During that time not a lot of work happened.

As of Tuesday John was back to work, so I hope to bring you better news next week.

Although even with the illness Children of the Sun got sent to the publisher in order to become a physical novel! If you are interested in seeing a preview of the first chapter and haven't already checked it out, I highly recommend doing so.

Finally, the Hero's Journey Gift Exchange. Thank you all for participating! Some of you have contacted me regarding delays in sending your gift, which I have passed along to your targets. If you've had a delay and you haven't contacted me, please do so. Thanks!

Finally, thank you all for your continued patience, I'll talk to you next week!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Goddess of the Crossroads

It's Wednesday, and it's been a while since we got to spotlight an awesome mythological lady! We have a request today that says Since there is a shortage of questions, I have one; what do you have for us on the mighty Hecate? Well, let's see what we've got!

Hekate is one of the "old gods" of Greek mythology; she is most certainly an important power of the universe and a major figure who appears in myth alongside the other gods, but she's not one of the Olympians and there's always a feeling that she doesn't quite belong among them. As the daughter of Perses and Asteria, ancient Titanes of destruction and the heavens, she is of the same generation as Zeus and his siblings, and likely older and more cosmic than they are in the grand scheme of the aged gods. She is referred to as a Titanid herself in a few sources, so although she appears alongside the younger gods now and then, we never quite forget her more ancient character.

Mythologically, Hekate does a lot of very neat things that make her simultaneously frightening and unsettling, but also important and unignorable. She's a liminal goddess, meaning that her domain is the crossroads and the spaces between normal places, including between life and death, the world and the underworld, night and day, and other divisions humanity normally sees as between scary/bad and comforting/good. As an underworld goddess, she appears in the myth of the kidnapping of Persephone as one of the denizens of Hades who seems to come and go as she pleases and not to answer to that realm's terrible lord, and as a goddess of the crossroads, she stands in its center, looking in all directions at once as a threefold goddess, holding blazing torches to light a traveler's way or withhold her guidance so that they stumble onward.

Hesiod makes a point of telling us that Hekate didn't have to side with the gods during the Titanomachy, but that she chose to, thus earning Zeus' undying love and devotion and a bushel of presents for her timely aid. Not only did Zeus not take away from her any of the dominions and territories she held when she was one of the Titans, allowing her to retain the same control over the universe she had had since time immemorial, but he also gave her the unheard-of gift of a portion of each of the three realms of the Greek universe: the heavens (his own domain), the sea (Poseidon's domain), and the earth (usually assumed to mean the underworld, Hades' domain, since traditionally in Greek myth the "earth" is the mother goddess Gaia and other gods have no power over it), which she still holds, free of any authority the three rules have over the rest of their kingdoms. Hesiod says more than once how much Zeus loves and honors Hekate, and although we have few details on her exact actions during the war against the Titanes, we must assume they were hefty to have won this kind of adoration from the gods that she chose to support. The Titanomachy wasn't her only outing against the foes of the gods, either - Apollodorus records that she fought in the Gigantomachy and defeated her enemies with blazing torches, symbols of her role as one who leads or lights the way between places.

Hekate doesn't often interfere in the stories of the other gods, but when she does, her old role as a Titanid somewhat exempt from the normal rules applied to other deities often allows her to be a sort of odd goddess out, doing and saying things seemingly completely independently (and sometimes when it's very annoying for the other gods who can't really do anything about it). In the story of the kidnapping of Persephone, Hekate is the only deity other than the all-seeing sun Helios who hears Persephone being kidnapped, and the only one who ever goes to her aid, seemingly risking Hades' wrath by informing Demeter of the kidnapping and leading her to Helios for corroboration. The Homeric Hymns later mention that Hekate became Persephone's companion and confidante in the underworld; later retellings occasionally claim that it was Hekate who tricked Persephone into eating the pomegranate seeds that trapped her there, but these seem to be semi-modern inventions, since all the ancient Greek sources we have always credit Hades with coming up with his own shenanigans.

It's impressive that Hekate appears to give zero fucks about Hades or his possible anger in this story; even Zeus himself can't invade Hades' territory or force him to hand Persephone over, and Demeter would never have even known what happened to her daughter if Hekate hadn't blown the lid off the situation and made it uncomfortable for everyone. But then, Hekate answers to no one, including Hades, and if she truly owns a portion of the underworld itself as her divine and Titanic birthright, there may be literally nothing he can do or say to her, since she may have just as much right to make decisions and swan around the kingdom as he does.

Hekate's connection to Persephone is more than just coincidental; both are figures associated strongly with youth and virginity, with Persephone as the maiden representing springtime and youthful beauty (often referred to by the title "Kore", meaning simply "maiden" or "young woman") and Hekate as the divine virgin who is associated primarily with feminine power and who never has any real connection to any men. Since Hekate is a figure associated with women and maidenhood, both through her connection to the moon and her independence from any male authority, Persephone in a sense falls under her protection, which may be one of the major reasons that it's she and no other deity who recognizes Persephone's distress and comes to her aid. Some modern worshipers of Hekate, especially followers of some branches of Wicca, love to use Hekate as a symbol of all women in her triple form, making her three "sides" equal to the European concept of the triple goddess or witch ("maiden, mother and crone"), with Persephone as the maiden, Demeter as the mother, and Hekate herself as the crone, considered the "old" iteration thanks to her connection to magic and wisdom. This is mostly fairly modern religious theory, but European religions love some symbolism of three, and Hekate as a threefold goddess is super easy to fit into that mold; and there are some hints of an established triad involving Hekate in ancient Greek myth, although in that case it was her, Artemis, and Selene, and they represented the three stages of the moon as its lunar goddesses (waxing, full, and waning... which of course you could also interpret as maiden/mother/crone if you wanted to!).

Scholars have occasionally tried to connect Hekate to male gods as consorts, or argued that she isn't really a virgin goddess and that the idea is just a sort of accidental association that rubbed off on her from Artemis, who is also a moon goddess, but most such attempts are pretty thin. The most popular choice for a reconstructed consort is Hermes, which isn't too surprising, since he's a god of crossroads, travel and showing-the-way himself, but the idea hinges on only two sources, both of which do not name Hekate directly but rather use another name, which scholars sometimes guess might be an epithet of Hekate or obliquely referring to her (Pausanias names a "Daeira" as having been the mother of a hero with Hermes as the father, but also call her an Okeanid, which seems to point to someone else, and a much later Roman account claims that Hermes slept with a virgin named "Brimo", which is occasionally a by-name of Hekate but also just means "terrible" and has been used for multiple goddesses, including Cybele, Demeter, Persephone and the Erinyes). Diodorus claims that Hekate was Kirke's mother, but this is most likely a poetic device designed to connect the two since both are famous for witchcraft and female power (and the same story is given elsewhere but with the names of different female nymphs and divinities as her mother instead).

It's actually kind of surprising how much staying power the theory of Hekate not really being a virgin deity has, and it's most likely because of a couple of different factors. One is most likely the fact that most Greek deities do have consorts when they aren't explicitly said to avoid them (like Artemis and Athena), and while Hekate is referred to as "maiden" in the Argonautica, there's no specific myth describing her vow of chastity the way there is for figures like Hestia. Another is probably because putting her with a consort would, in ancient mythological terms and also crusty scholarly terms, "control" her by giving her a masculine power to balance/keep her in check, and some scholars are alway going to insist that goddesses always had that and that no ancient peoples ever respected unattached female divinities. (You can't stop them. We've tried.)

In fact, that idea of Hekate as a "frightening" female power - more frightening than the other Greek gods, anyway, all of which are kind of unruly and dangerous to their constituents - is part of the reason that in the medieval period and now in the modern day, she's associated so strongly with one of the most scary, negative female European myth tropes ever: the witch.

Talking about "witchcraft" in connection to Hekate is always sort of weird, because our modern conception of witches and witchcraft in the west is heavily influenced by centuries of medieval superstitious nonsense and the heavy influence of the Catholic Church, none of which would have applied to Hekate when she was being worshiped in ancient Greece. There's a whole lot of weird sexist bias tied up just in the phrase "witchcraft" itself, which is always directed at women, who are far more often demonized for magic-use in history than are men, who might be described as using "sorcery" or "wizardry" or a lot of other less immediately evil-connoted language. The ancient Greek word most often used to refer to Hekate and her realm of specialty probably translates most closely to simply "magic", but she's been through a couple thousand years of dudes writing about her and what she means and how ladies have evil moon-blood in them etc., so here we are.

Hekate is totally famous for sorcery and witchcraft, though, so what does that mean in ancient Greece? In part, it means intense herb-lore; examples of Hekate being a "witch" often include describing how she can create poisons and potions from plants and natural substances, which then allow her to work her will on those who consume them (Diodorus gets really excited about this, again because he's intentionally drawing a parallel between her and Kirke and Kirke is of course famous for herb-lore of her own). The Argonautica (and later Euripides, who was probably drawing from it) is also very clear that Medea, another famous Greek witch who slings spells and curses like nobody's business, worshiped Hekate as her patron and drew her power from her, implying that such witchy powers must be Hekate's to give and grant, and that they include bewitching others' minds and levying prophetic curses. Ovid later also claims that Hekate and her worshipers were given to magical incantations, although it's possible he was beginning to add some of his own Roman conception of what "witchcraft" is about. He's not alone; people have added to the idea of what Hekate does, based on what they think witchcraft is in their time period and culture, pretty much ever since.

A lot of later ideas of witchcraft attached to Hekate in the ensuing centuries don't really apply to her ancient Greek character; for example, she was considered a virgin by the Greeks, so medieval ideas of witches entrapping men with their evil evil sexiness and sucking power out of them through sex don't exactly make much sense when applied to Hekate, who needs a male figure to "give her power" about as much as Zeus needs a pet frog to give him permission to use thunderbolts. Trying to go all the way down the rabbit hole of medieval European ideas of witchcraft, how they apply to Hekate, and what kinds of things her original form might have more accurately been about would take way more time than we have here on this blog today (but there are totally books out there if you're interested!).

But the idea of Hekate as a terrible and frightening figure, that's all 100% real, regardless of the exact reasoning. She is a Titanid who survived the defeat of her fellow deities and is held in peculiar and unassailable esteem by all the gods, including Zeus himself. She owns and administers with sole power huge swaths of the universe, in every place that is otherwise an inviolate "kingdom" belonging to male gods. She is the goddess of magical powers and necromantic oracles, of ghosts and the darkness of the night, of shapeshifting and the uncertain, frightening place that are not really place at all, only between places. And she pretty much does whatever she wants, and has never shown any signs of being stopped by anyone.

Among the Greek gods, Zeus and Hera may be the King and Queen of Heaven, and the various celestial and underworld gods rulers of their own realms; but Hekate is the Queen of the Night, and no one is ever foolish enough to disrespect her power and influence.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Novel Preview

Hello, Cam here with an out of schedule update. I promised that when it was ready, we would post the first chapter of Children of the Sun, the first full-length novel written by Anne, and here it is! If you don't want to read the rest of this  preamble, just scroll down, but this is one of the Kickstarter rewards that I was most excited about. Without further ado, the first chapter of Children of the Sun:

Friday, January 2, 2015

Weekly Update 1.1

Disclaimer: This is being written about a project that is in progress, what is an attempt to give you a glimpse of the process of making the game and abilities and powers discussed in this blog my not work as described here.

Happy New Year! We have survived the holidays and are going full bore on finishing the Core Book.

Anne posted a great update on New Year's Eve on the Kickstarter page. If you haven't, I'd definitely recommend checking it out here.

Over the holidays there were some questions regarding when you can expect to have the book in you hands. While I wish that I could give you a solid date it would only be an estimate. What I can do is you another countdown of milestones before the book goes to the printer.

So what's left?

The Blessings Chapter

It's a huge list right? But contained in that one item is 600 individual blessings. These have all been written, but still need to be edited for clarity and balance. So for his and our sanity, John has broken this task into ten groups of about sixty blessings each.

So where are we on that list?

1 of 10

He finished that first section was done over the holiday week. John estimates that he'll be able to tear through about two to three a week. I will be updating this countdown each week. After the chapter is done, the layout team will then have to make sure the chapter is ready for the printer. That may take a week or two.

I won't be giving any dates here, but I will let you do the estimation math for when you can expect the book to be on its way to the printers, the design team will also be adding bookmarks to the PDF.

In the meantime, Anne has finished the novel and it is in the editor's hands! Once it's had it's final editing pass we will be posting the first chapter here.

I didn't see any questions that weren't answered on the forums, but if I missed one, let me know and I will ask next week.

Thank you all for your patience, and have an amazing year!