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Comparative Metaphysics of the World 101

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  • Comparative Metaphysics of the World 101

    All myths are true. It’s one of those simple statements you learn in grade school, because 90% of the time, that’s all you’ll need to get through life. How did Hercules end up fighting oni in Madagascar? Well, all myths are true, you see. How did Apollo and Amaterasu’s incarnations both show up to the Golden Globes this year? Well, all myths are true, sweetie. Don’t think about it too hard.

    Then some of you get to college and you find out that a lot of people have a lot of theories on how this works, and different incarnations of different (or even the same) gods support different ones. And that’s before you get into monotheism, Fate, and whether mythic reality predates or postdates belief!

    Two of the most prevalent theories for how the pantheons and their differing metaphysics interact with the World are colloquially known as “stained glass” (or admixtural reality) and “tapestry” (or interwoven reality) models, and it’s these two I want to talk about today.

    The stained glass model argues that there is a baseline of reality. Think of it like a white spotlight being shone onto a wall. Each and every pantheon is like a pane of stained glass that is fixed in place between the source of that light and the wall. The result is that the reality we all experience is one that has been filtered through each truth, resulting in a muddy world where none of them can claim total truth while still individually being completely true. This is why, proponents of the theory claim, science works the way that it does: it’s the closest approximation we have to the truths of every single pantheon being correct in unison.

    Scions, Titanspawn, and Terra Incognitae, then, are akin to lenses that focus that light more strongly, resulting in a comparative strengthening of their pantheon’s “color” within baseline reality; when facing down a child of Zeus, the laws and cosmology of the Theoi will be favored, particularly if he is surrounded by centaurs and fighting you in the garden of the Hesperides.

    (Notably and unfortunately, a misunderstood version of this theory is prevalent in “maltheist” social media spaces: namely, that Scions give rise to Titanspawn and vice versa, and that eradicating Titanspawn as a societal problem can only be achieved by also eliminating Scions. Remove all the focusing lenses, and baseline reality will stabilize. Following the logic of this belief ultimately requires somehow closing off all Terra Incognitae and— much more concerningly— eliminating all Denizens, which, as far as actionable items go, is tragically more in reach for your average maladjusted radical than taking down Scions and Titanspawn.)

    The stained glass model is popular among Christian apologetics; a common claim in such circles is that the God they worship is the source of that baseline reality, and that He allows each pantheon to interpret his emanation as they will, acting as intercessors for the ultimate divine (as in Saint Augustine’s foundational work “City of the Gods,” in which he argues that it is permissible for Roman Christians to make sacrifices and prayers to the Theoi, given that they self-evidently act as messengers and trusted stewards of the Almighty, and thus both deserve payment for their services and have the hierarchical right to collect tribute to be passed on to a higher authority, just as a city magistrate has the right to collect the taxes of Rome).

    The tapestry model, conversely, serves as a model in which there is no pre-existing baseline reality. Each pantheon and its truth can be likened to a thread of a specific color. Viewed individually, they are nothing more than themselves— but when you step back, they all cohere into a picture, each color in its appropriate place. The World itself is a tapestry composed of all of these threads of truth, interwoven and creating greater meaning than any one could do separately.

    One branch of this model allows for the existence of “greater” and “lesser” pantheons, based on how much of the whole their color dominates. Naturally, the most clearly dominant pantheon in this branch is almost always whichever pantheon one happens to already be worshipping; follow too far down this rabbit trail and you’ll end up rubbing shoulders with some very ideologically ugly pantheonic supremacists.

    However, this can conversely cause adherents, even Scions and gods themselves, to consider different pantheons to be natural and necessary parts of a greater work. A pane of stained glass can be removed and the result will merely be a changed final color, but removing a thread from a tapestry diminishes the whole by necessity. Tapestry-based philosophy permeates the founding of the Pan-Pantheonic Institute for Cultural Harmony, for example, the famous non-profit that works to preserve marginalized faiths and cultures from being lost or overwritten.

    Monotheistic belief also works comfortably with the tapestry model, though it is commonly seen as a more liberal apologetic. Nonetheless, proponents point out, how many works of art naturally arise out of chaos? If the world is a work of art, and every pantheon has its place, then there must be necessity be a Weaver who set each part in its place. (Notably, there is a quantum-based argument for exactly the opposite: that patterns form out of the interplay of pantheons simply because patterns are the building blocks of reality, and the gods as storytellers are constantly imposing meaning and form on the extant patterns, as the best-selling pop science book The Rule of Three argues.)

    These are, of course, not the only two models. Far from it. The “palimpsest” theory (which is controversial for its implications) suggests that the baseline of reality is constantly being overwritten by later additions, with each “new” pantheon overwriting everything that had come before, inserting themselves into the story of reality. (Naturally, this then raises the question of what baseline reality looked like; major proponents of this theory are often linked to the Worms School, which insists dragons were the rulers of baseline reality and that all gods are ideological thugs who impose new meanings on reality in order to keep dragons and their servants suppressed. Every major faith can similarly attract a fringe that insists their pantheon was the original, and all others are pretenders composed of faithless, ascendant Scions.) The “conversational” theory suggests that all gods are aspects of a profoundly complex higher being, and the interplay of pantheons is nothing more than this supreme being’s way of talking to itself, or thinking, or self-entertainment. (A common nickname for this theory among detractors is “the sock-puppet theory.” Despite its seeming compatibility, it’s not widely embraced in popular Western monotheistic thought, given that it requires a radical embrace of the Almighty’s ability to possess and express contradictory attributes, to imagine that the same being could be both Bacchus and Huitzilopochtli.) The “dreaming” theory claims that the World is nothing more than a dream in the mind of some vast being, that any inconsistency is nothing more than the nonsense logic of a dream, and when that being wakes, every single pantheon will cease to exist like a soap bubble being popped. (The joke goes that the holy text of this philosophy is either “Through the Looking-Glass” or “The King in Yellow,” and you can always tell who read which one.)

    Class, your first assignment (worth 5 points) is to discuss theories of metaphysics within the World, taking into account the contents of this first lecture. Be sure to point out any that I missed, or supporting evidence you’re aware of for any of the above.

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    • #3
      In the first lesson, we assumed for simplicity's sake that Monotheism relates to a single higher being or higher truth beyond the known pantheistic gods. This is certainly the most common theory, and the general assumption of worshippers of monotheistic traditions. However, this is only one interpretation of monotheism. Here may I present to you several of the common theories regarding monotheistic entities (which are not necessarily mutally exclusive):

      Higher being model - There exists an omnipotent, omniscient higher being who has ultimate control over all of reality.

      Architect model - Some being or beings exist that created the blueprints of reality. They did not create reality, and have no hand in shaping it now, but all things unknowingly follow the pattern. Some proponents suggest that this model is not necessarily deterministic; it is possible to go against the architect's plan, and this corruption will result in the destruction of reality.

      Weaver/Fate model - Some being or beings exist that can shape the actions and intentions of all beings to their whim. This model has strong support from Scions, who report feeling the some influence or pull towards acting in ways that conform to their patron's pantheon. It has been scientifically recorded that laws of chance warp in the vicinity of scions; though whether this is the touch of Fate or some other supernatural force is unknown.

      Weave model - a single foundational set of higher truths, which could be interpreted as scientific 'physical laws', logical 'tautologies', or 'divine truths' form the vertical 'Warp' threads of the weave of reality. Pantheistic truths are the visible 'weft' threads of the weave, but could not exist without the necessary foundation; and without the pantheistic 'weft' there is not structure to the weave.

      Divine equality model - there is no supreme being greater than the recognised pantheistic gods. Monotheistic worshippers follow a god without a pantheon/pantheon of one. Apotheosis within such a pantheon necessarily results in being subsumed into the single god.

      Divine transcendence model - Many pantheons and gods have been lost and forgotten. Existing as a known god is a transient state, and all gods are on a path to transcending it. The monotheistic god is a being composed of transcended gods - an essential being, freed from the conventions, crude metaphor and limited knowledge of mortal interpretation.


      • #4
        Astronauts are warned to be careful when looking directly at the Earth.
        As sometimes the onlooker will begin to see all the mytho-cosmological appearances of the Earth at the same time. (i can't seem to think up a good name for this effect sadly)
        Which can induce severe vertigo as well as intense religious awe.
        Attempt to have a "filter effect" incorporated in the astronauts visors has failed thus far.

        Completed campaign: Scion 2nd Edition. Les Légendes Currently playing: Being a dad for a 3 year old daughter and a 2 years old son and now a beautiful new baby.


        • #5
          Just adding a thing almost in paralel to this discussion: In a chronicle I played, my character thought about creating a school for Scion children. Their Gods/parents/makers would send them there if they wished, and the idea is to raise them as Scions from the start (reason why maybe in a few cases this was not desired. Some Gods would want to make a triumphal revelation in Visitation). This discussion is something I totally see happening in classes of this school.

          What I think interesting in it is that, as Tillich proposed, "Culture is the shape of religion. Religion is the content of culture." So, when cultures change, religion follows (or the inverse). And, as OP proposes, there is not an exact or even simple answer to "how all the myths are true". To say "it's complicated" seems like an understatement, but this is certainly a good try.


          • #6
            My preferred explanation for 'All myths are true' is as follows:

            Metaphysical Salience Theory suggests that Truth is not objective, but is reliant upon the identity, observations, knowledge and expectations of the observer. All myths are true, but only the myth that is most relevant and in our minds at any one time is true to us right now. Thus, when standing before the great Templo Mayor in Mexico City, it is literally true that Tlaloc brings the rain. But when you're at home with a dense scientific text on your lap, the rain is literally just water vapour falling from clouds of evaporation. For a scion of the Teotl, being Teotl forms a part of their identity, so for them it is nearly always true that Tlaloc brings the rains, wherever they are, unless there is a more salient explanation at hand - for example, they are working with their norse friends to find out why the Bifrost is leaking.

            In this way, a group of people observing a sunrise may hold different and contradictory beliefs about the divine cause of that particular sunrise, all being simultatneously true.