For most Gloranthan religions, Chaos is something outside of the realm of gods and spirits. There are a few gods or spirits that were corrupted by Chaos or who otherwise embraced it during the Greater Darkness. The Orlanthi, Praxians, Malkioni, Doraddi, and followers of the Old Gods (animism) all agree on this.
Most celestial cults agree as well, but Yelm is oddly associated with two Chaos gods – Nysalor and the Red Goddess. Perhaps it is Yelm’s claims to universal rule, which would include Chaos along with everything. Or perhaps it is Yelm’s inability to see his own Shadow.
Is Yelm illuminated? And yet Yelmalio does not have those same associations. It is a curious link with Yelm.
Remember that in the First Wane, those Yelmites who did not accept the Red Goddess as part of the pantheon were DECISIVELY defeated. But that was over by 1300 at the latest.
It is now more than three hundred years later. The Yelm priests are those appointed and approved by the Red Emperor. The Red Goddess is present in Yelm worship ceremonies, and the cult acknowledges and celebrates the connection. Any Yelmite that holds otherwise is either:
- A raging lunatic who claims what he and everyone else experiences is false and is intent on radically changing the cult; or
- A barbarian.
For more than a century, every significant temple to Yelm in Peloria has its shrine to the Red Emperor and the Red Goddess. And they are invoked and present in Yelm ceremonies. That is the baseline for the Yelm cult in the Lunar Heartlands.
This is what was meant by the Old Gods were defeated by the Red Goddess at the Battle of Castle Blue. Yelm admitted and acknowledged her – and it is worth observing that the Tripolis Revolt needed a non-Yelmite warlord to lead it against the Red Emperor.
Note that the Roman Empire’s adoption of Christianity is very poor model for understanding what is going on within the Lunar Empire. Remember, the Red Goddess and her associated cults accept and acknowledge the rightness of worshiping traditional gods and spirits – this is more like the introduction of cults like Serapis or Dionysus into the Greek religion under the Macedonians and their Successors.Or like the Roman Republic’s adaptation of the Principality and later Dominate. Sure for the first century there were those that wanted to restore the Senate (but let’s be fair, they were a marginal force outside of the intelligentsia pretty early on), but by the time of Constantine?
I think terms like conservative are not really useful here. All cults tend to do things like they have done things in the past – you have your Worship ceremonies, your moments where you are in connection with the divine, and your list of things you get from the divine. That tends to stay pretty much the same – unless there is an experience powerful enough to change one of those factors.
So in the Zero Wane, the Red Goddess was a living person. Everything she did was new because she was doing it for the first time. The Yelm cult was also doing some new things because it was trying to get out from under the thumb of the Carmanian Bull Shahs (who worshiped an enemy of Yelm).
In the First Wane, the Red Goddess is now the Red Moon, and various cults need to figure out where to put her. Yelm is an associated deity – the Red Goddess made that so and the Yelm cult acknowledged it in the Zero Wane. When the political leadership in the Tripolis decide to rebel against the Red Emperor (acclaimed as Dara Happan emperor in 1250) a they claimed they had their own emperor who had been acclaimed at the same time but he was not powerful enough to overcome the Red Emperor.
When that claimant was finally killed in 1270, the Tripolis raised a new Dara Happan emperor and supported a barbarian warlord against the Red Emperor. By 1285, the Dara Happan revolt was crushed, and Shargash accepted the Red Goddess. After that, there are no serious challenges to the Red Emperor’s authority in the Heartlands until the nomad invasion of 1375.
The White Moon Movement is interesting because it is – as far as I can tell – entirely political and social movement, and not an attempt to change how we experience the Red Goddess.
It does challenge the Empire though. When the Red Goddess ascended as the Red Moon, her son was left behind to fill in the void left by the Goddess’ departure. The Dara Happan emperor at the time adopted Moonson as his heir and had him undertake the Ten Tests. Moonson became emperor and was able to use the resources and pillars of empire to consolidate the Red Goddess’ victory.
375 years have passed and the Red Emperor is still a Dara Happan emperor. He has made himself mightier than the Seven Mothers, brought war and destruction to foreign lands, and consolidated HIS power. The Lunar Empire is more powerful than the Dara Happan empire ever was – and that is EXACTLY the problem. The Red Goddess sought to heal the world, to bring illumination to all, but through her inspiration not through conquest.
So at any Lunar worship ceremony, there could easily be White Moon members alongside those loyal to the Lunar Empire. They experience the same things, have the same divine access, etc.
The mindless devouring maw of Chaos continually threatens Glorantha’s existence. In the Greater Darkness, existence very nearly ceased. IFWIW, Arachne Solara and the Net of Existence – these are mythic events where existence itself was able to continue due to the deeds of one who was all.
Deities such as Orlanth, the other Lightbringers, Storm Bull, Babeester Gor, Yelmalio, Zorak Zoran, Kyger Litor, and Magasta are very much defined by the struggle against Chaos. They fought terrible rear-guard battles against Chaos to continue to exist. It is not surprising that their cults hold true to that.
At a certain level, the Red Goddess is something of Wittgenstein’s duck-rabbit. Does she threaten the existence of the cosmos or does she liberate us from fear? Both can be true, depending on the viewer!
Entities like Thed, Ragagnalar, etc. are not invoked in most magical ceremonies or heroquests – unless they are specific enemies to be overcome as part of a magical defeat of Chaos. Death, disorder, and lies are all part of the cosmos – but Chaos is outside of it and antithetical to existence.
Getting back to the original thought, most Gloranthan religions hold that Chaos is “outside” of the cosmos. It precedes it, and the cosmos was formed out of the Primal Chaos. Chaos is an assault on the existence of the cosmos itself and is thus wholly different from every other element or power. To analogise, the other elements and powers are jostling against each other within the confines of the cosmos; Chaos threatens to return the entire system to where it came from – the gaping maw of Chaos.Illumination allows one to understand that is not per se evil and not to fear or hate it. But for everyone else, that is a bridge too far including for Chaotic tainted beings such as broo, scorpion men, vampires, ogres, and the like.
So regardless of how dangerous, treacherous, or even evil deities like Zorak Zoran, Eurmal, Gorgorma, Wachaza, or Gagarth are – they are “of the world” and still preferable to things like Thed, Vivamort, Primal Chaos, the Crimson Bat, or Krarsht.
There is evil and there is EVIL. And many cults that consider deities like Zorak Zoran to be an enemy and evil find him a lesser evil than Chaos.