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Goddess of rape?

Started by Ron Edwards, December 28, 2001, 07:28:00 PM

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Ron Edwards

As I've mentioned before, I've been running Hero Wars for the same group of three players, in good old "campaign" style, for well over a year. The players are Tod, Julie, and Maura, and I hope it's OK by them for me to acknowledge all of them as ... well, as not exactly self-effacing or shy about any imaginable topic.

One of the key figures in the events and concerns of play is Thed, the Goddess of Rape. The players' initial reaction to this concept was probably similar to most people's: "Whaaat?" It doesn't sound good, does it? Especially since "of," in that phrase, means what it sounds like - this goddess represents, facilitates, promotes, and rewards the act in question. She is one of the Unholy Trio who are the big bad guys in the Gloranthan cosmology, and her primary worshippers are the broos, or goatkin, arguably the most horrific and debased kindred ever invented in a fantasy-world.

So what's all this about "she"? How can a female figure play this kind of theistic role? On the face of it, the concept sounds, frankly, awful - mean-spirited, at the least, or insensitive to the issue, or all manner of similar things.

Well, there are three sources to go to, when one is getting hip-deep into Glorantha and especially its mythology. (1) The novel King of Dragon Pass, which is sort of a deconstructionist set of documents about the events of the Hero Wars, written way back in the seventies; (2) the RuneQuest supplement Cults of Terror from 1981, reissued in part in the 90s by Avalon Hill as "Lords of Terror"; and (3) the current material available in the Hero Wars book, Glorantha, some of which rephrases material from the other two. What do I find, in these?

Thed was a fertility goddess, who presented herself at the court of Orlanth the King. She had been assaulted by the god's brother, Vadrus (a bad sort in all myths), and "displayed her wound" as proof. The text is soft-pedalled, but indications are that Vadrus raped her and she is displaying her injured vagina/womb. Orlanth presents judgment in open-ended fashion by saying, "Name your punishment," and she chooses to inflict the crime that was perpetrated upon her onto all of reality - ie, bringing rape into the world as a theistically-supported act, which includes transforming the broos into a species that only propagates itself through this act (upon any other species). All women/beings must now fear this act; the degree of suffering and torment in the world jumps up a notch.

The story of Thed continues with her alliance and coupling with Ragnaglar (another "bad brother" of Orlanth) and Mallia, goddess of disease, such that they create a being called Wakboth, the devil. Thus the Greater Darkness begins in mythological Glorantha,

A simplistic reading of these events/myths might yield a dismissive reaction: "Bullshit - what kind of woman would do such a thing?" And, "Basically, saying that 'it's all Thed's fault' is the same-old 'Blame Eve' story." And, "The men are being let off scot-free in the whole issue." One might even peg Stafford as being an outright sexist pig, to use the terminology of my upbringing.

However, our game-play, my own thoughts on the issue in question, some careful reading of the texts involved, and much input from the female players has yielded a more complex reaction, that has turned out to be the entire thematic motor (Premise) underlying our Hero Wars game.

As I see it, the crime is Orlanth's. He does not enlist the community/society in passing judgment on the rapist! He says, "Oh, you were raped? OK, here, justice is your problem, you take care of it." Orlanth does not acknowledge the responsibility of the community to pass judgment on the rapist, as a representative of the injured party - ultimately, he does not admit that the act was itself wrong. Thed's response suddenly takes on power and meaning - she's not a bitch or villainess, rather, she rightly pegs the existing society as insensitive to, even dismissive of, the crime of rape that exists within it.

I then reviewed the literature again to make sure that I was not sugar-coating or rewriting Stafford - this was not out of a sense of purism, but rather to see whether some inkling of the conclusion was there ... and you know what? The writeup clearly lays the blame on Orlanth, not on Thed. Although it's not articulated in the terms of my above paragraph, I'm convinced that Stafford knew exactly what he was doing.

Gloranthan mythology is not wholly original. It is syncretic, incorporating elements of many, many real mythologies. Some folks have even gritted their teeth about that in frustration. However, I am unaware of any real mythos that deals with the issue of rape in the sense I've described here. Since it's a solid, sobering, and narratively-inspiring treatment of the issue, I stand in awe. In this instance, the fictional mythos of Glorantha rears up on its own hind feet and says, "I am myth, derived from none other."

One last thought. Thed is not described physically in the primary RQ or HW material (few gods are). Out of curiosity, I checked out the "secondary" RuneQuest literature that arose through intensive game-play during the 70s and 80s (and make no mistake, Glorantha has received an international workout via play that, in my opinion, is unrivalled in role-playing). A lot of it is in fanzines and fortunately a lot of that has made it onto the internet, so a search for "Thed Glorantha" or anything similar yields a lot of stuff. As far as descriptions/imagery goes, what I mainly see are fairly predictable: a goat-headed female broo, with a distended belly, and with an oversized, toothed vagina from which tentacles issue, and similar. Pretty gross.

I'm gearing up for a sequence during play in which the Thed-Vadrus trial will be revisited, via a Hero Quest. It's hefty stuff, especially since I (ahem) have a flair for GMing the surreal, emotionally-draining reality-shifting of this aspect of Hero Wars mechanics. So the physical presence/presentation of Thed pre- and post-judgment are a big deal in my preparation ... and I can assure you, it's not going to follow the model described above.


James V. West

This is fantastic stuff. I'm definitely going to pick up the other HW books I saw at the shop.

Mythology fascinates me. It seems to me that virtually every theme ever explored in prose, poetry, or games has roots in some mythology or another. I suspect that even Stafford's wonderful Goddess of Rape idea (as you describe--I haven't read the text yet) has a precursor in world mythology even if he has never read of it himself.

What I'm most fascinated with is the exploration of personal mythology. The stuff you grew up with that stuck in your head. If you wrote anything creative in high school take another look at it. I bet there are themes in there that echo something from your life history.

Now I'm derailing the thread. Oops.

Blake Hutchins

God damn, I love Glorantha.

Thanks for a fascinating write-up, Ron.