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Magic, faith and Gods of Law

Thanks to Brad and everyone else at GW Bristol for a good chat/signing/cup of tea on Saturday morning. It was excellent, as always, to catch up with Gav Thorpe, who seems to have a terrifyingly long list of projects whenever I speak to him. As ever, I’m struck by how informed, intelligent and just plain nice Warhammer fans are – it’s always a pleasure to discuss the background, where it’s going, where it’s come from, and what’s keeping people talking in the gaming groups.

As it happened, we spent far too long chewing the cud about magic in Warhammer – one of the most interesting – and suggestive – areas of the background. Obviously, there’s overt magic, such as a Bright Wizard taps into. There’s also sorcery – the power mortals are gifted by the Dark Gods. The link between the two is close, though in the case of magic mortals may only master one strand (or ‘wind’), whereas sorcery is a more free-form power. Both of them ultimately reside in the bubbling madness of Chaos at the roof of the world, whatever the Empire wizards think is going on.

The interesting stuff, though, is faith. There are explicit rules for this, and it crops up in the fiction from time to time. It’s a much subtler power, this, and the origins of it are far more obscure. As far as I can tell, when a warrior priest invokes Sigmar, there are three theories as to what’s going on:

1. He’s imagining it. Sigmar was a mortal, and died a long time ago. As a result, the extra boost he gets from faith is actually psychological.
2. Sigmar really is a god, and of a unique kind. Warrior priests and others really do get gifts from their deity in the form of blessed weapons, etc. The rest of the ‘gods of law’ (to use the old expression) are also unique entities with their own identity and history.
3. The warrior priest really does get an effect from all those prayers, but he’s mistaken about where it comes from. Sigmar, to the extent ‘he’ exists, is just an avatar of Khorne (who doesn’t care where the killing comes from, as long as it happens). Shallya is an aspect of Nurgle, and Ranald one of Tzeentch. All the gods are really just aspects of the four big chaos powers – everything reduces to Chaos in the end.

My guess is that option (3) is the most popular at the moment – Chaos is responsible for an awful lot in the Warhammer world, and there are strong hints that all deities ultimately have their origin in the Chaos powers. But my own preference is slightly different. I like the idea that Sigmar and the rest have a unique identity, a presence in the world of magic all their own. I think there’s room in the Warhammer world for magic from a variety of sources – it doesn’t all have to come from Chaos. Consider, for example, the gods of the High Elves. They existed before the coming of Chaos into the world, as did the magic-using Old Ones. That suggests there’s room for some sort of pantheon independently of the Chaos gods. And although Chaos is one of the coolest aspects of the Warhammer background, it’s not the only good thing in there.

Of course, we’ll never know exactly what’s going on with magic, and what the origins of the gods are. It’s shrouded in confusion, rumour and blind faith for a reason. Which leaves plenty of room for debate and for speculation, which is exactly how it should be.

Categories: Warhammer Fantasy
  1. 22 June, 2010 at 10:02

    I always took the third idea to be the sort of concept that the “enlightened” minds of the Old World would come up with in their ignorance of what is actually going on. (It is often theorised by old world scholars that Khaine and Khorne are likely the same god after all).

    Most of that idea is born from the fact that “Chaos did it” strikes me as boring though so I need to account for the views aired in the background material whilst dismissing them. As whilst on the face of it Chaos being everything and what not and even if you win you lose is dark, grim and foreboding and fits the warhammer vibe of a world on the brink of destruction. It just strikes me as devaluing the struggle being undertaken for milllenia to not fall off said brink which is a shame.

    I view the Chaos Gods as more akin to parasites at the moment. The other gods exist created to an extent by the faith in them impacting (for the lack of a better term) the warp. Thus creating a sort of chicken and egg cycle whereupon it’s hard to say if a god did something to help it’s followers or if it’s followers did something through faith which reinforces their belief. The chaos gods then turned up and are feeding on all the faith and emotions and actions. Khorne doesn’t care who is doing the killing or why, it doesn’t mean Sigmar is an aspect of Khorne, merely that Khorne is exploiting Sigmar’s faithful and there isn’t much that can be done about it.

    It suits my mood at the moment to think that the chaos gods in Warhammer Fantasy are opportunists to some extent, taking advantage of the collapse of the polar gates to feed on a world prepared by the old ones to provide much norishment to them.

    • chriswraight
      9 July, 2010 at 20:58

      Yeah, that’s interesting. It’s also prompted a thought that hadn’t occurred to me before. In 40K, there’s an explicit idea that the Chaos Gods were *created* by mortals’ emotions and drives (the most obvious example being Slaanesh). Now, if I’ve got it right, the Chaos Gods in WHF turned up from outside the world, and so existed in some form prior to mortals (in the Warhammer world, at least) having had a chance to create them. That’s a situation that would slot right into your parasite idea.

      Which doesn’t mean that I agree with it, of course. 😉

  2. Entomophobie
    22 June, 2010 at 23:11

    #3 = Heresy!

    = )

    By the Order of Light, this theory have been whisper into the ear of lost intellectuals by Chaos cultists.

    • chriswraight
      9 July, 2010 at 21:00

      So burn me.


  3. 23 June, 2010 at 02:54

    Good stuff, Chris!

    As an aside/furthering of your thinking, I think revealing things to consider are:
    – The Maw (which seems to have physical extent)
    – The Horned Rat (which seems to might be sometimes physical)
    – Sotek (which is very supposedly real)
    – The Old Ones (who were presumably real in as much as being super-magicy and of mortal bodies all at ones?)
    – The Nehekaran gods seen in the Nagash books (who very much had very obvious ‘effects’ on their believers)

    Adding in the 40k-style of the Chaos Gods (Chaos Gods are an inherent part of the warp we presently experience; the warp wasn’t always like we see it today/modern-40k [cf: Slaanesh]) then I think there’s room for a guarded statement of “It does all reduce to Chaos, but Chaos is a lot more than ‘just the four gods'”.

    Or, to take Ben Goldacre’s approach, say “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that”.

    It is certainly possible that it is all Chaos, I can see why that is tempting. But then adding to or explaining that in any depth seems (in my imagination, at the moment) to lead to disappointment. (‘Oh it’s all Chaos, but Chaos is good gods too. So it’s all just…stuff. Stuff happening. And maybe gods, but they just happen too.’- As you can see, it loses something when told like that.)

    Nevertheless, it’s an interesting topic and one which has played on my mind heavily whilst reading the ToL books, for example.


    • chriswraight
      9 July, 2010 at 21:00

      Yes, I’m with you, I think. I’d like the gods of law, Sotek, Nehekara, etc., to have some unique sources of power. At the least, it would be a shame if everything collapsed totally into some aspect of the Chaos powers.

      I like this metaphysics stuff. In fact, I can feel a novel pitch coming on…

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