Outgrowing That Which Feeds You: Bloodborne & Mythos



“Master Willem was right. Evolution without courage will be the ruin of our race.”

...

(YHARNAM, 18XX. The moon is red.)

(On risers, THE CHOIR stands straight in their pale robes. Their palms are clasped together in reverence, their eyes closed. They sway in melancholy unison. In front of them stands THE HUNTER, and opposite THE HUNTER stands a blood-drenched madman: LAURENCE, THE FIRST VICAR. He breathes loudly, almost snarling. THE HUNTER is silent.)

THE CHOIR
(chanting) Once upon a time, a stranger came to our good city Yharnam. Behold! Cometh, from foreign lands, the good hunter and their blade true! Cometh, for paleblood, into ribs they peel back lined with stars in their marrows! Cometh, the four pale horses — cometh, pestilence, upon thy homes and thy bodies! Sick — the foreigner, sick!

THE FIRST VICAR
(resigned) The beastly scourge was never mine. From where, I know not; the immolation of the old blood was a soaring eagle from its nest of granite and marble. From the old blood I first knew the hallowed taste of a human heart — my own, oh it was my own — and I remember it hissing and spitting, teeth in the ventricles and bile in the chambers that beat, warm and sharp in my convergence. There is no eclipsing of the moon.

(LAURENCE holds his left arm close to his chest and clutches it to him with his right fist, white-knuckled.)

THE FIRST VICAR
(increasingly frantic) He told me to fear it. He sat there in his throne of sinew and tendons and it creaked and it groaned and it shrieked and he, blind, porous, opened his spittle-lips and he told me to fear it. By the gods, he shrieked! Fear it Laurence, fear it! How dare he tell me to fear the very thing that saves us!

(THE HUNTER is silent.)

(Out from the fold emerges LADY MARIA like a ghost. Blood seeps from her neck and from her chest, staining her leather clothes, once brown, a night-black. She points upon THE HUNTER in what could be called fury.)

LADY MARIA
Hunter, there, head upon a rock-stone plinth — ye, who crawl through the coiled intestines — ye, worm! Hunter! Will you be anything more! The leech which crawls from the lake of black mud moves with its mouth and its serrated teeth; the leech who consumes the moon’s reflection upon the cold, cold sea does so in communion!

THE FIRST VICAR
Without the gods who will we be? Ye foreign beast that gnaws at our bones and who drinks our blood ‘til it writhe with tainted being wishes itself to eat the moon. We are small things — we are but small things — we are but worms! If we cannot grow limbs what will we become! If we cannot, without our mouths, bite and chew and swallow the eucharist of the gods then are we not but beasts?

LADY MARIA
(shrieking, borderline hysteric) LAURENCE, WE KILLED HER CHILD!

(Almost too eagerly, MICOLASH, HOST OF THE NIGHTMARE crawls up from the musician’s pit and hobbles, posture easy, alongside LAURENCE and MARIA. His head hangs slumped and heavy with a cage of iron.)

HOST OF THE NIGHTMARE
(amused, giggling) Laurence my friend, Laurence my dear, dear, friend, you ask a thing of incredible violence. Unashamed violence, unabashed violence — violence of the highest order! To drink blood one must first tear open one’s bosom, and to gnash apart one must first grow claws, and to grow claws and fingers and eyes (always more eyes) one must first invent the universe!

THE FIRST VICAR
Her child is the key!

LADY MARIA
Her womb was stolen! Her abdomen lays now, flayed!

HOST OF THE NIGHTMARE
In flaying it we can see her veins! The eyes that grow, bubonic and distended, hollow with sweet tissue and wide with shaking, trembling pupils!

THE FIRST VICAR
The blood is salty-sweet!

THE CHOIR
The sky and the cosmos are one! Are we not all things?

THE FIRST VICAR
Who will save us if they do not bleed?

HOST OF THE NIGHTMARE
The stars, are they not alive? Is flesh, warm, not alive? Does it not pulsate in our hands? Are the fluid mineral rock-spires of the nightmare not living? Are they not our salvation? Violence, my dear Laurence! Does it not save us? Is the heart you so greedily gnaw not so sweet?

LADY MARIA
Tell me, tell me now! Are the pillars of the nightmare not scaffolded with bone, painted with blood, woven with intestinal walls? Are all things not eaten — bitten, and consumed? Your lies, those sickly, poison things — are the worlds not writ with your deeds?

(The crescendo is nigh unbearable. THE HUNTER, still, remains silent and wide-eyed.)

...

To talk about Bloodborne, you must first talk about H.P. Lovecraft.

His works, though dubious in ethical quality, are repeatedly and constantly cited as a pillar of the eldritch and cosmic horror genre. (Though he was only one of many authors.) In the mythos which he builds, a picture is painted of a truly cynical world. There are many such incomprehensibly named, unable to be understood horrors that lie, constantly, just beyond our ability to understand. Physiologically we cannot even begin to process the true extent of the terrors of the universe. There are beings out there that view us as we view ants — small, unimportant, simple.

Lovecraft, in essence, believes that true horror lies in that which is not understood. And he believes, furthermore, that more horror lies in which that is unable to be understood. In not being able to understand it we remain helpless to it. And subtle horror, the kind that digs silently into you with its claws and refuses to leave, is being helpless.

Is it terrifying to you? Not only complete indifference by the cosmos, but helplessness in the face of it?

Well, there is a fact about Lovecraft that completely and wholly recontextualizes the incredible and visceral horror that he feels about a hissing, anti-anthropocentric universe, and it is that he was horrifically bigoted. The sheer insularity of his life is not unexplained (beyond being a white gentile man in Rhode Island in the early 1900s, of course); both of his parents were institutionalized and he had quite the hermit-esque life. His belief in Anglo-culture superiority and his insular life consumed each other and fed on each other like an ouroboros of racism and bigotry.

Knowing this, it is undeniable that the incomprehensible, arresting horror of indifference and nihilism that Lovecraft fears so potently is, in fact, people of color. The perceived fragility of the perceived superior white race.

And knowing this, there is undoubtedly a sour taste in your mouth at Lovecraft’s mention.

To talk about Bloodborne you must first talk about Lovecraft because Bloodborne is inextricably bound with Lovecraft’s mythos. The mythology he constructs is quite unlike a mythology at all — and the same quite goes for Bloodborne itself. Rather than fables woven into the blood-blanket of a people, a writ testament to heritage and history spun through the loom of story, the harrowing eldritch fear of these worlds is ineffable, it is pieced together, it is actively hostile (or, perhaps it is indifferent, but the human mind is the one actively hostile) to comprehension. In some of his work Lovecraft ponders at a whole universe created within a Great One’s dreaming mind (and, by extension, a whole universe so mutable it vanishes upon their waking); Bloodborne, similarly, constructs a world where universes physically exist upon tiered pillars. Planes of existence crawl around and amidst each other, burrowing down, reaching up; and these planes, too, are constructed by the dreaming minds of beings more culpable than ours. (Though, interestingly, the dreams and nightmares of Bloodborne do respond, if ever so subtly, to the minds of men. But that is a note for later.) The whole Fishing Hamlet that resides, suspended in agony, in the Hunter’s Nightmare of Bloodborne’s DLC is inherently an homage to Lovecraft’s Innsmouth. The constant sense of the beyond, the alien, the cosmic, is woven into both. Bloodborne, though it bears the aesthetics of a gothic horror and begins as one told straightforwardly, veers partway through into a constructed world that came from the cosmicism of Lovecraft. That is why one must talk about him first.

However, to talk about Bloodborne properly one must step past the bounds of Lovecraft. Bloodborne is, in a sense, as a body of work, a being ascended beyond the capability of Lovecraft. While the horror of Lovecraft stemmed from a self-fed hermit-bigot fear of the world, Bloodborne transcends it and instead introduces a genuine commentary on society and the power and violence that stems from its brokenness.

Like a flowing current, Cthulhu and Bloodborne diverge. And the divergence begins with something as simple as this: the protagonist of Bloodborne is an immigrant.

Bloodborne’s protagonist — let us call them the Hunter — no matter what you create in the character creator, is an outsider. They are a foreigner. They have arrived to the horrifically xenophobic city of Yharnam in search of an obscure and strange thing. (Paleblood.) They are attacked by villagers, caught up in the bloodlust of the hunt, for their foreignness. They are hurled insults, they are called plague-ridden, they are told to leave by words and knives and pitchforks — and this is done to them because of their foreignness.

There is solace. Gilbert, a “fellow outsider,” as he puts it, also came to Yharnam seeking the miracle cures of the healthcare Yharnam’s church was said to provide — and he too was shunned, and even as you speak to him he lays bedridden and dying, even the old blood unable to save him. He understands your plight; the Yharnamites, it seems, are always this way.

The city of Yharnam is a dying society. It is a broken society — inherently, from the top to the bottom. And now it is being consumed by the beastly scourge: a disease that is turning Yharnamite fathers, children, neighbors, friends into werewolves and other such horrible beasts. As you learn more about the situation (you gain insight — you line your brain with eyes — you turn mad as you cannot go back to what you once knew — inextricably changed) you realize that the very miracle cure that you and Gilbert came for, the old blood, is the propagator of the disease. The very blood that Yharnamites worship and imbibe in so enthusiastically, believing it a point of communion with the gods, is the very blood that drives them to beastliness and violence. These hunts that the Hunter must become complicit in to survive in a city of shut-tight doors is, in itself, a way by societal structures to maintain the status quo. The very xenophobes that smell your foreign blood clinging to you like a heady scent have veins that course with wretched violence. Yharnamites consume each other and feed on each other like an ouroboros of hatred and xenophobia.

The two rivers of cosmic horror diverge further. More akin to the straightforward gothic horror that Bloodborne begins as, Bloodborne is deeply concerned with violence. However it does so very much in the same breath that it discusses madness, or perceptions thereof.

In the world of Bloodborne, humans are rather insignificant. They are smaller beings. (Though, they are larger beings to others.) Despite this deep, Lovecraftian concern with an indifferent and incomprehensible cosmos, the game nonetheless centers its emotional core and the driving forces of what you (as the Hunter) must contend with around the horrible, indiscriminate cost of deeply embedded violence. As mentioned before, Yharnam is fundamentally broken. It reached its current state with violence. It was even born with violence.

Allow me to, quickly, regale you a story (as if this is a proper mythos). The Healing Church of Yharnam, which provides the old blood to its thirsty citizenry, was born from the experiments from an institution called Byrgenwerth. Long ago, the first Hunter and his apprentice were hired by Byrgenwerth, whose noses caught wind of a small hamlet on the sea, a fishing village, that supposedly reeked with the influence of the Great Ones. When they ventured there, they found the villagers strangely transformed, and upon the coast there, washed up on the sand, lying dead, was the Great One Kos. She was a mother. And she was dead. (Perhaps whalers from the village harpooned her ‘til paleblood crashed like foam in the waves. Perhaps she was dead already by the time any human eyes beheld her.) Those of Byrgenwerth had torn through the town, viciously and violently, stealing skulls and wrenching them apart looking for eyes. (They believed the cosmic — what they perceived as the holy — laid in the eyes.) And now, at the end of a path of indescribable horror (a violence) they had found her.

They desecrated Kos’ body. They ripped her own orphan (thin, sickly, but above all her own child) from her womb.

It was in the name of ascension. That is what the academics of Byrgenwerth wanted; they were so horrified by knowledge — that is, knowledge that humanity was perhaps one ant of many in a vast and great universe, and that in that vast and great universe humans were not great at all — that they wished to ascend. They wanted to make humanity More. Perhaps in some eldritch-facsimile of real-life eugenics and genetic superiority, they wished for the divine.

Laurence, the First Vicar of the Healing Church, was a student at Byrgenwerth when he found the old blood in the cavernous ruins of an old civilization. He, too, wanted to ascend, and when he beheld the old blood, he realized (the revelation coming to him like the stab of a cosmic sword, the ruinous epiphanies of eldritch revelation), he knew: one must consume the divine.

He drank the blood.

...

As aforementioned (in the rivers), though Bloodborne is deeply concerned with violence, it does so (an oxbow) very much in the same breath that it discusses madness, or perceptions thereof.

In the classic and known manner of academia, the lore of Bloodborne is cracked and fragmented to the point that if one goes lore-hunting, by the end of their search (by the time they have collected all the pieces the game hands them) they feel more starved than they did knowing nothing. This is deeply fitting. It ties the player into the in-universe scrambling search for more (more, more). The player is following in the footsteps of Byrgenwerth. This is not unique to Bloodborne — other games of FromSoftware’s are tightly and carefully designed to be hard to understand — but Bloodborne is the most obtuse out of all of them.

The in-game function of insight and frenzy follows this manner, though it is less an implicit-woven design that affects the player and moreso a programmed status effect that affects the Hunter. Insight, translated to game mechanics, is a number. It goes up whenever you lay your eyes on a new (particularly eldritch) area and whenever you lay your eyes on a boss, and also when you consume items such as Madman’s Knowledge, Great One’s Wisdom, or any of the Cord of the Eyes. (More on the Cords in a moment.) After you reach certain levels of insight, you are able to physically perceive more of the world that the Hunter is trying to make their way through. After your first dose, a plain doll that resides within the dream-plane the Hunter is bound to comes alive and offers you her assistance — gain more, and strange, apparition-esque enemies begin to crawl from the ground and join the hordes already hunting the Hunter — gain even more, more, more, and you see these huge, many-limbed, many-eyed, classically eldritch Great Ones called Amygdalae that cling to the sides of the high gothic spires of Yharnam like spiders.

When you kill Rom, the Vacuous Spider (once a woman, now a Great One, on the will of the Cord) the red moon begins to descend, and it seems as if any barrier of comprehensibility between what could be perceived beforehand falls completely. The Amygdalae can be seen regardless of mechanical insight level. The city, wholly, goes mad.

But that is not the important part of the Amygdalae. The important part is that the Amygdalae you see around town are always perched on centers of worship.

...

This is the largest point of difference between Bloodborne and Lovecraft. The rivers are farther apart than ever. It is this: Bloodborne is concerned. Bloodborne is deeply concerned. It holds great emotion. The universe may not, but it does. It worries deeply and with all of its might. It frets and it fears.

The Amygdalae are all perched over centers of worship because people pray to them. To recall Bloodborne’s own words: “The Great Ones of the nightmare are sympathetic in spirit.” The Amygdalae listen to the prayers, the fears, the concerns, the words of even the unpleasant, xenophobic Yharnamites. When the memory of the Fishing Hamlet massacre was buried into the Hunter’s Nightmare, it was created from the fury of Kos and the love she had for her own child, and forevermore the wrongs that the Hunters enacted, the violence Yharnam society wrought on its own people, would be rendered as an allegorical scar. Nightmares, though formed by the Great Ones, are shaped by people — even just the Hunter, who is tormented by monsters bearing likeness to beings they trust. When Bloodborne wants you to feel, it is for the women who find themselves bearing sudden and inexplicable eldritch births upon the rise of the full moon, it is for the mothers who lost their children (and there are many) — Bloodborne wants you to feel deep mistrust over the societal institutions that Yharnamites do not question because those institutions were born of and maintain societal violence. The serpent of the city of Yharnam bites and, though it feels pain, it continues to chew, as if it can gnaw it out. In the game, there is a mechanic called rally where, if you are injured, retaliating with vicious quickness at your assailant (bowing to your beastly urges) regains your health, as if you are reinvigorated by the spilling of their blood. The crux of beastlihood is that all these people look within themselves and see great and horrific capability to render and be complicit in horrific, discriminatory violence; they look at it and see it and behold it and it is so terrible that they deign it foreign. Terror is human as it is cosmic.

The Hunter can eat the Cord of the Eye — the umbilical cord of an eldritch birth. The connection point between parent and child. That hallowed thing. You can eat it. All three-thirds of it. Through eating it the player can obtain the hidden ending — Childhood’s Beginning — where the Moon Presence is slaughtered (nightmare slain) and all that is left of the Hunter (that foreigner) is a small eldritch being, lying on the ground, for the plain doll to pick up. This is implied to have happened with Rom, the Vacuous Spider, who imbibed on part of the umbilical cord of the Orphan of Kos and, for her troubles, was rendered a placid creature, unable to defend herself, perhaps even unable to properly think (she is, after all, called “vacuous”) and stuck unceremoniously on the bottom of a lake. Master Willem, head of Byrgenwerth, gatherer of eyes, sits in his rocking chair, unable to speak, and watches the moon’s reflection in that lake.

Is this what the scholars want? Is this that divinity they so desire? If you have any pets or other animal companions, I ask that you think of them. The two of you are very different in many ways, the faculties of your minds intrinsically different. And yet, despite the lack of understanding, and despite any possible miscommunication of what the other wants or needs, there is genuine feeling between the two of you. In an indifferent and violent world we can certainly still feel. In an indifferent and cruel world, the Hunter’s failure was inevitable, but they still are. You still are.

There is so much more to Bloodborne — messages on the temptation of violence and religious fanaticism and motherhood and children — but in the lens of the writing of the man that Bloodborne is so often compared to and is, artistically, the thematic child of: this is the point of zenith. Those Byrgenwerth scholars wanted to escape the flaws and rough edges and violence of mankind, and in trying to do so, merely propagated what they wanted to escape. Much akin to men like Lovecraft.

Bloodborne as a child has grown a better thing than the father. For a game in which every story within it is a tragedy and everyone is actually quite helpless against the circumstances they are in and all the institutions are rotten and everyone dies and everything sucks, it is existentially somehow quite optimistic.

...

(THE HUNTER and THE WOLF convalesce, looking at each other in the water. THE HUNTER looks down; THE WOLF looks down too; their feet meet as a mirror. One is the reflection of the other. The sallow-pale moon trembles like a sick dog in the black sky. THE CHOIR watches in silence.)

(With a sudden and vicious violence, THE HUNTER and THE WOLF rear back, teeth bared, and surge forward to attack each other with a distinctly savage violence. Warm hearts are pulled out of ribbed and pulsating chests, eyes are torn out of their chalice-sockets and eaten, like warm towers, bitten and chewed like sacrament.)

(THE WOLF collapses. THE HUNTER dislodges their serrated blade from its neck. The crack is sickly. Like a cosmic baptism THE HUNTER is immolated, ferric, in dripping pale blood.)

THE CHOIR
(accusatory, wailing) BY THE GODS — OH, BY THE GODS! THERE STANDS THE BEAST! THAT HORRIBLE BEAST FROM BEYOND THE PALE, THAT FOREIGN, STUNTED THING! THE BEAST WHICH HAS SLAUGHTERED ITS PREY!

(THE HUNTER makes exit, STAGE RIGHT. The curtains fall.)




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Floréal CCXXX / 2022 © Pleurodelinae. Writing is mine. Bloodborne is by FromSoftware games.