There’s a lot here to unpack. Worth a very careful read!
Heroquesting begins with Time, and the division of the Mundane World from the Gods World. In the God Time, there was no division between the worlds of men and gods, between Life and Death, or body and spirit. The events and deeds of the God Time made the cosmos and established its patterns. The Gods War introduced the power of Death, which separated all with violence, death, and entropy. Reality was fractured. The eternal gods would have ceased to exist but for the Cosmic Compromise, whereby the gods voluntarily abdicated their free will within the temporal world rather than lose all into the maws of nonexistence. The gods remained eternal at the cost of being limited to their God Time patterns. Heroquesting is the means by which mortals can interact with the events of the God Time.
During the First Age, such men and women could fulfill their potential only with the established cults. A considerable amount of cult secret activity is devoted towards defining their god’s place in the mythic geography and exploring nearby events and neighbors. Associated cults often share events and unimportant secrets, with each other, but in general every religion kept its experiences on the Hero Plane to themselves. Only a few Brithini claimed to know everything, and to record it in Zzabur’s Blue Book, whose original is long lost beneath the Neliomi Sea. The few real fragments of this book found have proved alarmingly accurate. Most people are glad the rest is lost.
Arkat Chaosbane was the first individual to discover heroquesting outside of a specific cult myth. He underwent several secret initiations (and excommunications) which gave him an unusual transcultural view of the secret world of myth. His personal experiences gave him clues which he followed, exploited, and taught to others. He finally established a cult which preserved the secrets of heroquesting.
Arkat’s heir, the Dark Empire, was a widespread, loosely organized body of city states, families, priesthoods, and special interest groups. Upon his apotheosis in (c. 500) the benefits and problems were divided among loyal lieutenants of the great, solitary hero.
The activities of the Dark Empire qualified its adherents as a Malkioni heretics. A holy war destroyed the cult of Arkat, driving its followers underground. Though the Arkat people attempted to destroy all their records in the Great Fire of Clarity (c. 715), much of their knowledge and Heroquesting techniques passed into the hands of the God Learners.
The God Learners systematically explored the spirit plane, at the same time exploiting it without regard to its consciousness or purpose. In the centuries of their rule, they made substantial changes, even to the dreams of nations. At the time of their demise a poet wrote:
“Too late, too late/
to save the dreams/
all lost forever down the Great Sink.”
During most of the Third Age heroquesting was considered evil, because the God Learners were so enthusiastic about it. Cults purged themselves of unusual rites, denounced certain knowledge, and destroyed records. A general religious conservatism resulted in a stunted understanding of the religious experiences offered by each deity.
Only the Lunar Empire actively pursued the subject. The Pelorian mystical geography was almost virgin territory since the area was never actively part of the God Learner’s mythic synthesis. The Red Goddess, an immortal orphan resurrected by ambitious mystics, opened her own way into the spirit world. The Lunar pantheon is largely made up of mortals who obtained divine status and replaced the Old Gods. The Lunar philosophy urges each person to seek their own heroquest, and the highlights of their history are lit by individuals who combined material and spiritual success.
The processes of the Lunar Way seemed to contradict the Great Compromise, and in response the ancient gods of nature and time inspired many of their number to rebel against their hidebound cult authorities, and heroquest thoroughly, arming themselves to challenge the Red Goddess. The resultant battle of Castle Blue in 1246 resulted in the acceptance of the Red Goddess into the world as a deity. It was like an amendment to the Great Compromise.
From then on, the forces of the Red Goddess expanded, always grating upon the anti-chaos sensitivities of the rest of the gods. Although the gods had been beaten into resignation, many humans did not accept the Red Goddess as natural. They felt cheated by the outcome and consciously sought to arm themselves as fully as possible for another fight rather than being summoned, almost unprepared, as they were before. They have been preparing Heroes.
Now, in the last years of the Third Age, the social and religious fabric of society is dissolving. Bold individuals are carving niches for themselves, some in this world and some in the spirit world, and some in both. They are learning to be Heroes.
Cosmic tensions have recently been exacerbated by the actions of the Red Goddess: she has gotten so close to destroying Orlanth that the very fabric of the universe is threatened.
Prophets have predicted everywhere that a great spiritual battle is soon to take place, and that it will be preceded by many skirmishes. This time everyone is ready: the Hero Wars have begun.