Thursday, 19 June 2008

Brides of Rokar

Hmm... well, I wasn't intending this to become a daily thing, and I don't suppose it will stay that way for long, but here we are again. I'm going to post some thoughts on Loskalm soon (honest), but it struck me today that there's something in what I've already done that's kind of relevant, as it shows my approach to things. I'm referring to Seshnela, and the perennial question of "where do baby wizards come from?"

To re-iterate the problem, the existing published material on Seshnela, and its dominant religion, Rokarism, makes two statements (though not, it has be said, next to each other):

  • People always belong to the same caste as their father
  • The wizard caste is celibate
The question, obviously enough, is how to reconcile these two statements. A few years back, somebody (and I'm sorry, but I forget who) posted on one of the discussion lists, proposing a solution that ended up being called the 'Brides of Rokar' theory. It seems to have become sufficiently embedded in the thoughts of the fan community as to be what is sometimes called 'GAG', or Generally Accepted Glorantha. I hear it all the time, whenever I discuss Rokarism with other fans. It runs like this:

There are places in Seshnela where women are brought up in more or less closed communities - nunneries, essentially. And, while the great majority of wizards are, indeed, celibate, a small number have the duty of having sex with as many of these women as possible, keeping them pregnant to keep the supply of new baby wizards flowing.

Now, I don't much like this theory, and have used a different one in Heroes of Malkion, with further elaboration and explanation in Kingdom of the Flamesword. I'll not go into it here, since I wouldn't want to give away everything in the book, but what might be useful is an explanation of why I ditched what it seems a large number of people take to be the truth.

Firstly, of course, it's not a retcon, since the 'Brides of Rokar' theory has never been officially published as canon. But that's not reason enough in itself to stamp on GAG, especially if a number of people like the existing explanation - as it seems they do.

But, well... it just doesn't sit right with me. Firstly, what are these places actually going to be like? Quite frankly, they strike me as being rape camps. The women don't get any choice in what they do, because the implication is that they are the daughters of the previous generation of Brides, raised from birth in the closed community, for the sole (or, at least, primary) purpose of making babies. Now, I could see the Fonritians doing that - it's not so different from a harem - and maybe some other cultures, too, but the Rokari?

See, the Rokari place a really big value on celibacy. The wizards, in particular, are not supposed to be corrupted by thoughts of lust. Yet some of them, apparently, get to have sex with dozens of women on a fairly regular basis. Sure, they're probably not supposed to enjoy themselves doing it, but let's be realistic! At the end of the day, what the theory is saying is that, ultimately, the Rokari system is based on hypocrisy. They preach celibacy, while relying for their own survival on its opposite.

Now, you might say, "well, what's wrong with that?" But I wonder if people would propose the same thing for the Heortlings - that Heortling society, for instance, depends upon some of the Storm Voices actively worshipping chaos, or practising secret murder? Not that this happens from time to time (as it surely does), but that Heortling society will literally fall apart if a small minority of the priests don't regularly murder their opponents or bow down to Ragnaglar. I doubt many people would propose such a thing, yet they're happy to have Rokari society based on something directly opposed to what they espouse. (The Rokari, incidentally, have nothing against murdering their opponents; it's a strange sense of priorities they have...)

I think it's a 'familiarity breeds contempt' thing: we find it easier to believe that monotheistic religions are somehow fraudulent or hypocritical than polytheistic ones. But I don't think that this fits. For one thing, the Rokari are rather more scary if they actually believe what they're doing is right (and a lot of it isn't very nice, let's be honest). For another, they're a mainstream - perhaps the mainstream - Malkioni religion. One of the big ones, a major culture, on a par with the Heortlings or the Dara Happans. Of course they practice some hypocritical beliefs, since they're only human, but their whole system shouldn't rely on one. If there are cultures that that's true of, they're probably marginal - Ramalians, Borists, and so on, spring to mind. But for a major culture like this, I think their beliefs should be consistent. If it's important that your wizards be celibate, then, dammit, they should be celibate. Some of them will fall from the path, but, on the whole, they follow their own religion.

Why should they be different, just because they're monotheist?

So, yes, when writing Kingdom of the Flamesword, I have tried to look at things from their perspective, and to make sure that what they do is justifiable in their own eyes. The Rokari religion is not particularly pleasant to 21st century eyes, but it should at least be consistent, and not rely on something that denies its own truth.


Dr Moose said...

Fascinating subject, and one I hadn't thought about at all. I look forward to more ponderings with interest!

Nick Brooke said...

The "Brides of Rokar" came from the fertile mind of David Hall, back in the day.

JRevell said...

And there was me thinking that he was the one who came up with the germ of the idea I did actually use! Unless he came up with both, of course, which is always possible...


Nick Brooke said...

This Digest post is the source, I think.