Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Mythic Upperworlds



The existence of the megadungeon as mythic underworld, and faerie/wilderness as mythic otherworld, suggests of course that there is a third mythic -world - the Mythic Upperworld.

What is the mythic upperworld? The touchstones in fiction that occur to me are Zelazny's Amber, Miyazaki's Laputa, Wolfe's Skai (from The Wizard Knight), possibly the realm of the Q Continuum from Next Gen, possibly also Narnia, and possibly the lands at the top of the Magic Faraway Tree - the latter three depending on how you wish to draw the line between "upper-" and "other-". Where the underworld is the abode of dark chaos, and the otherworld is the abode of the natural weird, the uipperworld is where we find that which is both literally and metophorically above and beyond us - the ethereal, the ephemeral, the unattainable, the divine.

Don't mistake the mythic otherworld for heaven. It is a place that is hard to get to, and harder still to remain in, but it is not utopia. It is a dangerous place where demigods, giants and dragons dwell. Vast wealth can be found there, if you can find it - and if you can find a way to keep yourself from falling, and to grasp what is out of reach. 

28 comments:

  1. I recently came across the term Cockaigne, also Cockayne, pronounced Kok-kane. A Medieval European myth possibly originating in England but spreading far and wide, it was the name of a 'land of plenty' that was not the Christian Heaven but rather a common peasant alternative to that place.

    Cockaigne was a realm where you would want for nothing and one could have as much wine, good food, and sex as one wished. Much more fun and less antiseptic than traditional Heaven it would seem. But if it isn't Heaven, where is it? How do you get there? An Upperworld perhaps?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cockaigne makes a good replacement for some of the more boring Upper Planes in D&D cosmology.

      Delete
    2. Interesting! It sounds a bit like what in D&D they ended up calling Arcadia...

      Delete
    3. Maybe you get there by scaling the Big Rock Candy Mountains

      Delete
    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    5. In France, a "pays de Cocagne" (cocaigne land) is a usual term for a mythic promised land (may be used in mundane context such as "the Silicon Valley is the Cocaigne land for computer nerds"). There is also the tradition of having a greased "cocaigne mast" with food stuff and bottles of good wine at the high end. Climbing an infinite greased mast seems funnier than a simple plane shift spell ^^
      Also may Valinor count as a mythic upper world ?

      Delete
    6. Yes, Valinor for definite - good call!

      Delete
  2. Kind of reminds me of Tanelorn from Moorcocks fiction, a place of peace for Eternal Champions, but also frequently endangered due to the forces go Law and Chaos hating its neutrality.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I like that it doesn't necessarily have to be a physical "up", but even just a socioeconomic "up" (although the two usually go hand in hand, see Elysium, Metropolis, most cyberpunk settings, etc.)

    I'm imagining a group of adventurer's stumbling upon the pleasure dome/forbidden city of the highest echelon of a rich foreign empire. A place where the daily rituals are so incomprehensible, the culture so opulent, and the fashion so esoteric that outsiders would almost immediately be regarded as monstrous by comparison.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I could totally see a group of adventurers playing something like the Sean Connery role in Zardoz

      Delete
    2. Definitely.

      Tekumel has a bit of this already I guess?

      Delete
    3. That one episode on Community with the meowmeowbeenz! Also, Logan's Run.

      Delete
  4. The first thing that springs to mind here is the idea of the flying city, or city in the sky - the Laputa-type setting (with or without the implications of that name), or on a smaller scale, the giant-owned castles from folk stories. Though I'm not sure if that's so much "overworld" as it is "things which are over the world".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In the Miyazaki version of Laputa I think it definitely counts as a world.

      Delete
  5. --What is the mythic upperworld?

    Ireland.

    ReplyDelete
  6. If you know spanish I recommend you the OSR bestiary 'Criaturas del Vacío Celeste'. It's basically a bestiary about 'the great islands in the sky', written with a lot of implicit setting. You may like it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sadly my Spanish is almost nonexistent. Maybe one for translating!

      Delete
  7. Reminds me a bit of mountains in Korean folklore (although probably more Otherworld than Overworld) even today if you translate "wild" anything "mountain" comes out. Mountain pigs, mountain ginseng, etc. etc.

    If I'm getting my folklore right mountains have chakra points (hyeol) where the qi/chi/ki/gi of the Earth goes up to the sky. Which can be important in geomancy everything from a lone shaman driving an iron spike into one for a ritual to a king supervising a nation-wide temple building project to better channel national gi.

    Even today pretty much all temples are up on mountains (with winding concrete roads for the monks' SUVs) and even in really built-up areas mountains are often still covered in trees/parks. Rich areas are generally on low flat land, often near rivers and what buildings there are on higher areas are often poorer (with a few exceptions).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The same is true in Japan - anything wild is "mountain". Same geographically as well. I read somewhere that one of the big differences between Western Europe and Japan in terms of folklore is that for the former it's the forest that is wild; for the latter it's mountains.

      Delete
  8. Replies
    1. "create positive" = "make sure"
      "rending you off" = "ripping you off"

      I know I shouldn't reply to spam, but there's some hilarious irony here considering that replacing words for their synonyms without regard to context is probably the most obvious sign of plagiarism. It's like a 12-year-old with a thesaurus.

      Delete
    2. "Rending you off" is funny. I kind of like it.

      Delete
  9. "There are some who say that the earth, as a centre in the midst of a circumference, is equally distant from all these extremities, and is surrounded and shut in by sea, even as it is written of the third Day of Creation, “God gathered together the waters that were under the heaven into one place, and dry land appeared.” In our own times there befel a marvellous, but well-known event to prove how the upper sea lieth above us. On a certain holyday in Great Britain, after High Mass, the folk were thronging forth from the parish church, on a morning so misty that it made a sort of twilight amid the gross and watery vapours. Here, on a stone tomb within the precincts of the churchyard, they found an anchor fixed, with its cable stretched tight and hanging down from the air. The people stood in amazement; and, while they were disputing among themselves of this matter, at length, they saw the rope move as though men had been labouring to weigh the anchor. When therefore, for all this straining at the rope, the anchor yet clung to the tomb, they heard through the foggy air as though it had been the cries of sailors labouring with all their might to raise an anchor from the deep. Soon, when they found their labour to be in vain, they sent down one of their fellows, who, as skilfully as any shipman of our own, appeared hanging to the rope and descending with alternate interchange of hands. When, however, he had torn the anchor from the tomb, he was caught by those that stood around, in whose arms he gave up the ghost, stifled by the breath of our gross air as a shipwrecked mariner is stifled in the sea. Moreover his fellows above, judging him to be wrecked, after an hour’s delay, cut the cable, left their anchor, and sailed away. In memory of which event the iron bands of the doors of that church were forged, by a cunning counsel, from that anchor; which bands are still there for all men to see. Here again is a still more marvellous testimony. In the county of Gloucester is a town named Bristol, wealthy and full of prosperous citizens; from this port men sail for Ireland. It befel upon a time that a native of Bristol sailed to Ireland, leaving his wife and children at home. Then, after a long sea-voyage, as he sailed on a far-off ocean, he chanced to sit banqueting with the mariners about the hour of tierce; and, after eating, as he washed his knife over the ship’s side, it slipped suddenly from his hands. At that same hour, at Bristol, the knife fell in through the roof-window of that same citizen (which men in the English tongue call dormer) and stuck in the table that was set before his wife. The woman, marvelling at so strange a thing, was dumbfounded; and, laying aside this well-known knife, she learned long afterwards, on her husband’s return, that his misfortune had befallen on the very day whereon she had found it. Who, then, will now doubt, after the publication of this testimony, that a sea lieth over this earth of ours, whether in the air or above the air?"

    Otis Imperialia - Gervase of Tilbury

    ReplyDelete
  10. An example of this concept may be found, if we aren't to arrogant to search for it there, in the early minecraft mod The Aether. Heavenly, but not good, and definitely dangerous.
    https://minecraft.gamepedia.com/Mods/The_Aether

    ReplyDelete
  11. Kind of reminds me of the special levels you get in some of the Mario games when you complete the ordinary ones?

    ReplyDelete