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Thursday, September 8, 2011

L5R Cosmology: Of Void and Dragons

In this installment, we briefly step away from discussions about the kami (sort of) in order to blow your freaking minds. Helmets may be necessary.

Rokugani theology holds that there are five elements which comprise the world and affect the lives of mortals. You have already met four of them, and in addition to their expected physical qualities they also embody certain mental qualities. They are:
  • Air is enigmatic and mercurial in all things, and represents an individual’s capacity for empathy and intuition. Those who are aligned with the element of Air possess superior instincts and speed of reaction. Those who are at odds with Air are physically sluggish and oblivious to the nuanced behavior of those around them.
  • Earth is eternal, unchanging, and unmoving. It is the element of endurance and resistance, and represents an individual’s ability to withstand whatever trials arise. Those who are aligned with Earth have tremendous fortitude and resolve, while those who are at odds with Earth are frail and weak-minded.
  • Fire is the element of dynamic change, energy, and destruction. It is the element of motion and illumination. Those who are strong in the element of Fire are great warriors, brilliant scholars, or possibly both. Those weak in Fire are physically uncoordinated and sluggish of thought.
  • Water is the element of rapid change and alteration. It is the inexorable force that can carve mountains over thousands of years and the capricious storm that batters a ship one instant and gently carries it to its destination the next. Those who are strong in the element of Water possess incredible strength and perception. Those who are weak in Water are slow to move and possess dulled senses.
(Copied from the Legend of the Fire Rings RPG, 4th Edition)

All of this is quite understandable and familiar to our western minds. The fifth element, however -- the element of Void -- is anything but simple. There are many ways to explain the concept of Void, but the simplest I have found is just to look at a cup.

As you look at the cup, ask yourself this: What makes it useful for holding water? Is it the cup itself, or is it the empty space in the middle where the cup is not? Without that space, the cup is just a piece of ceramic, incapable of holding anything. The places where it isn't a cup are what make it useful. The nothing makes it something.

Now look again. Is the cup truly empty? Or is it filled with a limitless ocean of invisible air kami? You could have the Dragon of Air curled inside of your teapot and you'd never know. But just because you can't see it doesn't mean it isn't there.

So the cup is simultaneously empty and not empty. The nothing which makes the cup a cup is actually filled with other somethings. This concept that nothing is something, and something is nothing, is what we call the Void. It's all very quantum, being and not being at the same time, except that unlike in Schroedinger's experiment, looking at it doesn't collapse the waveform.

Void is a bit like the Force, in that it's everywhere and surrounds everything. It's where all the other elements meet, and therefore it touches and encompasses all of them. In a very real way, Void is the incarnation of all of the other four elements simultaneously, because Void exists where they blend into each other: a cliff (air and earth), a beach (earth and water), and a volcano (fire and earth) are perfect examples of Void.

But as I have said earlier, every element is comprised of an infinite number of spirits, and their gestalt is what we call an Elemental Dragon. So if Void is the perfect unity of all four elements, and is itself an element...

... then yes, that means there is a Void Dragon, and it is not only a separate entity in its own right, but also and simultaneously the gestalt consciousness of the Air, Earth, Fire, and Water Dragons. One might do well to call that truly immense and alien intelligence god.

And you'd be right, because the Dragon of Void is also (actually, simultaneously, and yet somehow wholly separate from) the O-kami, Lady Sun and Lord Moon, the divine incarnations of yin and yang.

Whom I shall explain in my next post.

1 comment:

  1. And... Now there's a normal blogger comment window, instead of the Disqus comments.


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