Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling remarks from my mad, muddled, meandering mind.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Lookin' for Lore: The Guardians of Gaia

The Lore behind the Guardians of Gaia is based on Jewish Kabbalistic folklore regarding Golems. (Kabbala is also the origin of the term "Cabal" used for player guilds in TSW.)

Let's define a few terms:
Shem (sounds like shame) (Hebrew):
Shem sometimes means 'fame', or renown . . . A more common meaning of shem in the Bible is "the essential reality of who someone is." Some theories came forth during my reading of this piece on Beyond the Veil Take 49 last night, that the shemot (plural of shem) we potentially receive as reward for battling the Guardians might be the actual essence of the guardian, that made the larger creature animate. In TSW, shemot are found contained in genizahs.

Genizah (gheh-NEE-zah) (Hebrew):
A storage area in a Jewish synagogue or cemetery designated for the temporary storage of worn-out Hebrew-language books and papers on religious topics prior to proper cemetery burial. In medieval times, Hebrew scraps and papers that were relegated to the genizah were known as shemot or "names," because their sanctity and consequent claim to preservation were held to depend on their containing the "names" of God. In TSW, the genizahs received as a reward for defeating each Guardian contain various items of varying value.

Golem (GOH-lum) (Hebrew‎):
While not part of the formal game, as a result of their Lore and connection with Kabbala, many players refer to the Guardians as golems (not to be confused with Gollum of Lord of the Rings fame). In Jewish folklore, a golem is an animated anthropomorphic being, created entirely from inanimate matter, usually clay. In many ways, Adam, the first man, was simply a golem until God breathed into him the "Breath of Life." Holy men are able to animate golems by writing a shem (as a word of power) on parchment or a tablet and placing it inside the creature.
Altneushul—rear, with the ladder to the attic genizah visible
The most famous golem narrative involves the Golem of Prague from the late 16th century. The Lore Honeycombs mention this golem obliquely, conflating the story with that of a golem of Chelm, Poland. Though the folk tales vary, they generally agree the intended use of the golem was to protect the Jewish Quarter in Prague from antisemitic violence. The tales end after the golem has run amok and has to be destroyed. Its pieces are stored in the attic genizah of the Altneushul (Old-New Synagogue) in Prague.

"Golem" is often used today in Modern Hebrew as a metaphor for a brainless lunk or entity who serves man under controlled conditions but is hostile to him under others. The term passed into Yiddish as goylem to mean someone who is clumsy or slow. These descriptions certainly fit the big, lunky, Guardians of Gaia, that the Council of Venice and the various Secret Societies feel are a danger not only to the Filth they are supposedly there to combat, but also the the human world.

As for the names of the Guardians themselves, apparently they have roots in Ancient Mesopotamian. "Nasiru" obviously means "Guardian" or something similar, and the individual names probably relate to their material, (e.g., Lava, Sand, Water, Ice, etc.) but I could not figure out what language they are supposed to be. I was unable to find translations myself, but it would be interesting to see the sources the Funcom team is using to establish the in-game lore.


  1. Great write up. I love how TSW pulls lore from so many sources.

    1. Thanks. I totally agree on your sentiment. When I started doing these pieces for BtV, I had no idea the rabbit holes I would end up going down. They've really done an awesome job.

  2. The best encapsulating translation for "shem" is "name," at least biblically. One's name is also one's fame or reputation - for example the builders of the Tower of Babel set out to complete the tower to make a "shem" for themselves - a name or lore or reputation. So - in that sense, I disagree with the writer on your link.

    The best way to explain it is that Hebrew works as a conceptual language. The two letters that form "shem" are actually a root concept that extends to lots of words and definitions. For example, the same root lettering extends to the words for: announce, hear, and listen. Because that is the root concept in action.

    Other fun Hebrew trivia - iirc, depending on how you date the manuscripts, the Zephyr may actually have been a creature from Hebrew mythology adopted into Greek mythology.

    1. I'll let you have that debate with Mr. Penton, since I have neither studied, nor do I teach, Ancient Hebrew.

      I also once attended a class where the waters above and below the firmament were suggested to be a reference to the particulate flow of the Solar wind around the earth. Is that true? Doesn't really matter in the end, does it? Just interesting trivia, next to precepts like the Gold Rule, etc.

      What I do know is many passages of the Bible make little sense to the modern reader (much like Shakespeare), but would have been plainly understood by their original audiences.

    2. Yeah I have a handy picture somewhere showing what you are talking about with the waters. Never thought about it encapsulating solar winds, but now that I'm looking at it again, I can see where that would come from.

      No debates with Mr. Penton I don't think, its more a quibble because I don't think the distinction between name and renown needs to be made. In Ancient Hebrew, they are one and the same. Separating the translation like that separates the concept and takes you further away from original meaning, imho.

      Speaking of: yes, yes, yes to the original audience thing. The biggest one is that there is tons of humor hidden in there that gets lost in translation. Some of those we have figured out...but there is a lot that is still a mystery.