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People hear this phrase and their eyes glaze over, the boredom taking hold even before they read any further. There may be flashbacks to a dreaded college philosophy course, nightmares of confusion and befuddlement. But, the topic is not as boring or complicated as it may seem. It can actually have relevance in our lives, especially if we wish to live according to the Gorean philosophy. Metaphysics forms a necessary starting ground for our exploration of Gorean philosophy.
Metaphysics is a dark ocean without shores or lighthouse, strewn with many a philosophic wreck.
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of reality, or more properly what we understand to be the nature of reality. Metaphysics touches on many aspects of the world around us including such matters as the nature of our minds and bodies, life and death, the existence and nature of god, the rules of space and time, and the structure of our world and universe. Though the exact origin of the word metaphysics is unknown, it is a discipline that extends back to the ancient Greeks. The term was created from the Greek words meta ta physica which can be translated as after the physics or beyond nature. There is a compilation of works of Aristotle that has been called The Metaphysics but Aristotle himself never used the term.
When we analyze the world of Gor, we will discover numerous different metaphysical stances, most often contingent on ones culture and social status. The metaphysics of the different barbaric cultures often vary from each other, as well as from the civilized cities. And even within the cities themselves, there is a significant gulf between the metaphysical beliefs of the High and Low Castes. Despite the substantial metaphysical differences between the peoples of Gor, there is some uniformity as well. There is even one metaphysical belief that permeates all of these diverse peoples, a belief that is vital to the basic philosophical principles of Gor. And it will be this metaphysical belief that will possess the most relevance in our own lives.
The known metaphysical beliefs of the peoples of Gor does not cover all of the potential areas that metaphysics could cover. There are gaps in our knowledge of their metaphysical beliefs, though such gaps do not bear much significance for our understanding of these matters. What primarily exists on Gor is a collection of metaphysical beliefs that have originated some time in the distant past and which now are accepted as truth. There appears to be little debate or questioning of metaphysical beliefs by the inhabitants of Gor. Tradition maintains a firm grip upon Gorean society and it is rarely questioned. Thus, there is little, if any, progress in metaphysical thought. The same metaphysical beliefs, relatively unchanged, appear to have existed on Gor for centuries.
We shall explore a number of these metaphysical beliefs, comparing and contrasting them between the various cultures and societies on Gor. But we shall not address the reasons why these beliefs have been accepted. That is more appropriate for when we later discuss epistemology, the philosophy of the nature of truth and belief. We shall simply present the metaphysical beliefs of Gor, describing the beliefs without analyzing much of their origin. We shall also discuss the relevance of these metaphysical beliefs to our own lives and how they possibly effect ones decision to follow a Gorean philosophy.
Let us start our discussion with the Gorean concept of god. The prevailing belief on Gor is that the mysterious Priest-Kings are gods, extremely potent deities who rule over Gor. This polytheistic religion is presided over by the Initiate Caste, a priesthood that assists in the perpetuation that the Priest-Kings are actual gods. Many common Goreans pray to the Priest-Kings for their favor or intercession. They will attend ceremonies held in special temples, where a white railing separates the Initiates from the rest of the congregation. The High Castes though are more likely to see the Priest-Kings not as actual gods but more as very powerful allies, though still in a more dominant role over the Goreans due to their superior power. Few people doubt the existence and great power of the Priest-Kings. The Priest-Kings themselves do not require worship from Goreans, seeing the Initiates as an amusement. They only require obedience to their Technology and Weapon Laws. There are very few Goreans who understand the true nature of the Priest-Kings.
In general, the Priest-Kings are not viewed by Goreans as either omniscient or omnipotent. But, they are seen as possessing vastly superior intelligence and power to all other Goreans. An example of that power is the Blue Flame, the mysterious punishing fire that incinerates those who are seen as opposing the will of the Priest-Kings. Though a violator may avoid the wrath of the Priest-Kings for a short time, maybe up to a year, thus showing that the Priest-Kings are not omniscient, the violator will be caught in the end. Other powers of the Priest-Kings, more traditional godlike powers, are portrayed in the ancient myths of Gor. For example, the Priest-Kings are said to be the creators of man, having made him from mud and the blood of tarns. They are also said to be responsible for making women beautiful so that men would desire them. In addition, they are said to be the source of the first Home Stone, a gift to Hesius, a famous hero of Ar.Thunder is said to be the Priest-Kings grinding flour. ???
The Wagon Peoples are more animistic, praying to the Spirit of the Sky, though they too accept the existence of the Priest-Kings. They may respect the Priest-Kings but choose not to worship them. Instead, they give their worship to the Spirit of the Sky. In their own creation myths, rains falling from the sky created the earth, bosk and Wagon Peoples. The rains were seen as a gift from the sky so they adopted the Spirit of the Sky as their deity. Interestingly enough, only men of the Wagon Peoples are permitted to pray to the Spirit of the Sky and they do so only when armed and mounted. They act toward the Spirit as would a warrior to his Ubar. In their beliefs, two main items are considered holy, the bosk and martial prowess.
There is also a tiny cult, only briefly mentioned within the books, that worships the sun as a god. This cult is likely a more primitive one and not something likely to be found within the civilized cities of Gor. Some of the other barbaric cultures, such as the jungle tribes north of Schendi, may have their own beliefs about gods but they have yet to be described in the books. In general, the more primitive the culture, the more likely that their beliefs will be more animistic.
Most Goreans do not believe in immortality, either physically or spiritually. Death is final. There is no worry of a heaven and hell. Though death is often called journeying to the Cities of Dust, this appears to be more a euphemism than a belief in an actual place one travels to upon death. The Initiates are the primary exception to this belief, as they accept that immortality is possible, though only by following a strict regimen that constitutes part of their Caste Codes. This regimen reflects much that was followed by the ancient Greek cult of the Pythagoreans such as abstaining from meat, alcohol and beans. The regimen also requires a study of mathematics. By this strict regimen, only Initiates, who are all men, can possibly earn immortality. Thus no woman or non-Initiate can ever achieve immortality. Many Goreans do not accept that Initiates can attain immortality. They simply accept that immortality cannot exist for anyone.
The Red Hunters of the arctic areas also believe in immortality, though their belief is very different from that of the Initiates. The Red Hunters believe in transmigration and reincarnation, that a soul will be reborn into another body after their death. They accept that both animals and people can be reborn, and even into different forms. An animals soul could be reborn into a person and vice versa. This immortality is not limited to a specific segment of the Red Hunters but is applicable to all of them. This belief extends to cover even those who are not Red Hunters. In addition to this belief in immortality, Red Hunters also believe that some men can transform themselves into animals at will and that some animals can transform themselves into men at will. The Red Hunters see little difference between men and animals.
It is unknown whether the people of Torvaldsland believe in an afterlife or immortality. Part of it would depend on how much they accept of Norse mythology which includes the concept of Valhalla, a place where brave warriors go upon their deaths to await the final battle of Ragnarok. It is possible that this belief may be held in Torvaldsland but we cannot be sure.
(The ramifications of a lack of belief in immortality or an afterlife will be discussed in a further essay dealing with a discussion of good and evil.)
The existence and efficacy of magic, in various forms and methods, is widely accepted across all of the cultures and societies of Gor. Wizards and sorcerers are believed to possess wondrous powers that can be used beneficially or maliciously. They are thought to be capable of such powers as reading thoughts, becoming invisible or transforming people into animals. For the most part, such wielders of magic are feared by the general populace. The highest-ranking Initiates are also thought to be capable of casting powerful magical spells and rituals. Thus, such Initiates can also engender great fear in the populace. Consider the following reference to the perceived power of an Initiate:The religious conditioning of the men of Gor, based on superstition though it might be, was as powerful as a set of chainsmore powerful than chains because they did not realize it existed. They feared the word, the curse, of this old man without weapons more than they would have feared the massed swords of a thousand foemen. (Tarnsman of Gor, p.206)
The belief in magic touches many Goreans, in diverse ways. Rune and luck signs, inscribed on a variety of items from belts to weapons, are common in the barbaric lands such as Torvaldsland and the Barrens. The Wagon Peoples use such magical items as amulets, talismans, philters, potions, spell papers, wonder working sleen teeth, powdered kailiauk horns, and colored magic strings. The Gorean belief in magic extends to a belief in some mystical creatures as well such as the djinn, griffin, and tarntauros. The southern island of Anango is thought to be the home of skilled wizards and bizarre creatures and plants. A Woodsman, before cutting down a tree, will first speak to that tree to seek its forgiveness and to describe what the wood will eventually be used for. Ships are seen as living things so all ships have eyes painted on them, to help them see their way.
Divination, in a multitude of types, may be the single most common form of magic accepted and practiced across Gor. Even the least superstitious peoples of Gor still lend some credence to divinatory prowess. Many people, including members of the High Castes, will seek out a divinatory guide before they commence any major undertaking. The haruspex, who divines the future from the reading of the internal organs of a sacrificed creature, is a common sight on Gor. The Wagon Peoples, who rely often on haruspexes, once sacrificed slaves for their rituals though only the Paravaci tribe now continue to do so. In Torvaldsland, male slaves, called thralls, were also once sacrificed in such divinatory matters but that practice has been discontinued.
The Red Savages of the Barrens have a more sophisticated metaphysical belief system concerning mystical matters. For one, they feel that both dreams and reality are real. Thus, dreams are taken quite seriously. They also believe in a spiritual realm called the medicine world, a place of magic and power. Through dreams, one can travel to this medicine world. Dreams can also allow you to speak with the dead, to speak with animals or to travel vast distances. The Red Savages feel that sometimes the real world and the medicine world co-exist, becoming one. This can allow matters from the medicine world to travel to the real world. Medicine masks may be created as a focus for magical power, a means to summon the assistance of those from the medicine world. In a battle of Red Savage wizards, the ultimate test to prove who possesses the most potent magic is simply a determination of victory or success. The outcome of a battle will determine which wizard was more powerful. The Red Savages also highly value truth, believing that ones shield will not protect in combat you if you lie. It will turn aside at a crucial moment in battle, leaving you exposed to your enemy.
The civilized cities of Gor present a special case in metaphysics, depicted in the dichotomy of the Double Knowledge. The Double Knowledge consists of the First and Second Knowledge, held respectively by the Low and High Castes. The First Knowledge consists of a series of lies and falsehoods, concerning the nature of reality, that are taught to the Low Castes when they are children, from the time they are in the public nurseries. The High Castes are taught the Second Knowledge, learning the truth about the lies taught in the First Knowledge. It is said by some that the Priest-Kings may possess the Third Knowledge, a greater set of truths than those known by the High Castes. This has some truth to it as the Priest-Kings are aware of things that most Goreans are not, though the Priest-Kings do not refer to this body of information as the Third Knowledge.
The First Knowledge teaches that Gor is a flat world, not an orb, and that it remains stationary in space. If one sailed far enough on Thassa, they would fall off the edge of the world. It also teaches that there are no other planets in the universe and that the stars are not other suns. Gor is said to be unique in the universe. In addition, it states that the planet Earth does not really exist and denies that Goreans originally came from Earth. Low Caste people simply believe that Earth and its various countries are far-off lands on Gor, barbaric places far from the civilized areas of Gor. They are also taught that the Priest-Kings are gods who must be worshipped and that magic does exist and can be a deadly danger. Low Castes believe that sorcerers can gain power over people if they know your true name so they adopt use-names in public to conceal their true names and protect themselves. They assume that the High Castes avail themselves of use-names as well, though the High Castes do not do so. Another part of the First Knowledge is that the Low Castes are taught that a Gorean city will come to dire peril if a Low Caste person ever becomes the leader of the city. There are likely other falsehoods that are part of the First Knowledge that have not yet been described in the books.
The First Knowledge is a fabricated metaphysics, a series of lies about the alleged nature of reality. These lies provide the foundation for the basic beliefs of the Low Castes. The truth about these matters could be discovered by members of the Low Castes if they delved into the libraries of Gor. In general, the libraries are open to anyone, even those of the Low Castes, and they contain the truths about Gor and the universe that are concealed from the Low Castes. But, as illiteracy among the Low Castes is very common, few can avail themselves of the libraries. It is unknown whether when one raises their Caste, from Low to High, if that person is then specifically taught the Second Knowledge or not. It would likely be shocking to these individuals to learn that their reality had been composed of a series of lies.
But, even the High Castes, with their Second Knowledge, are often unaware of all of the truths of their world. For example, few know the actual reality of the Priest-Kings and Kurii and still others know little of Earth beyond the fact of its existence. Still others, despite their acquisition of the Second Knowledge, continue to accept the efficacy of magic. For example, many High Caste members still accept the validity of divination. Others still accept that the Initiates may possess magical powers. Part of this is fueled by the attempt of the Initiates to fabricate their own metaphysics for all those outside of their Caste. The Initiates want to be seen as intermediaries to the Priest-Kings and to be seen as possessing vast powers. Thus, they try to perpetuate the myths about them. As Goreans know that the Priest-Kings do exist, they do have some fear that maybe the Initiates might know something about them. Part of this is also due to the powerful Priest-Kings who prefer to keep the Goreans in the dark about certain matters, such as the true nature of the Priest-Kings. Thus, deception often lies at the heart of many metaphysical beliefs on Gor.
(We shall return to the topic of the Double Knowledge in a future discussion on Gorean political philosophy. In brief, the Double Knowledge, as well as other aspects of Gorean society, has been inspired by PlatosThe Republic. If interested, you can review Platos comments on the ideal city and see their connections to Gorean society.)
Finally, we come to an underlying metaphysical belief that is common to all of the peoples of Gor, from the civilized cities to the wild lands of the barbarians. This metaphysical concept deals with the basic concept of man. Man is viewed as an intrinsic part of nature, different from the animals only in his ability to reason. Goreans do not believe that man can be separated from nature. It is too integral to mans entirety. It is seen as wrong, as Earth often does, to try to separate man from nature. This metaphysical belief serves as a basis for much of Gorean society, also acting as a foundation for the basic principles of the Gorean philosophy. This belief is such a linch pin to Gor that without it Gorean philosophy would essentially be baseless.
How do all of these metaphysical beliefs of Gor impact on us, especially if we wish to follow a Gorean philosophy? Which of these beliefs should we or must we accept if we desire to follow the philosophy? Can we safely ignore all of these metaphysical beliefs? Can we substitute our own metaphysical beliefs?
In general, much of the metaphysical beliefs of Gor are of little value or need to those who wish to follow a Gorean philosophy. Too much of the Gorean metaphysics are based on ignorance or blatant fabrications. Some of those beliefs were created simply as a means of social control, a method of maintaining power over the masses. In addition, there does not seem to be much exploration of metaphysical issues on Gor. Most of their metaphysical beliefs are simply accepted, a part of an ancient tradition. And for the most part, an acceptance of Gorean metaphysics is not a prerequisite to following Gorean ethics. The metaphysics are mostly separate from the foundation of ethical concerns. But, there is one metaphysical concept that stands above the others, beckoning to those who do wish to follow a Gorean philosophy, especially in the area of ethics.
Man is integrally linked to nature. It is this metaphysical belief that stands as an underlying basis for much that we call the Gorean philosophy. It is a principle that is as relevant for us as it is relevant on Gor. It is also a belief that many on Earth have broken from though there are some circles that are returning to such a belief, such as those in the field of evolutionary psychology. It is the acceptance of this nature of man that provides additional justification for the validity of Gorean philosophy. Though you could technically follow a Gorean philosophy without accepting this metaphysical belief, such a denial would make little logical sense. Unless we accept that man is an intrinsic part of the natural world, it is difficult to consider following a philosophy that is based upon that concept.
Can we use our own metaphysical beliefs with the Gorean philosophy? Will our own metaphysical beliefs conflict with Gorean ethics? When we consider these questions, we must carefully examine our metaphysical beliefs and exactly how they would fit into Gorean philosophy. We must look for any potential conflicts and if there is a way to resolve such matters. We have already noted that there are a variety of metaphysical beliefs that exist on Gor, some opposed to each other. Thus, we can see that there is no single metaphysical belief system that is required for the Gorean philosophy though there may be individual beliefs that are necessary, such as man being an integral part of nature. We can then note the possibility that we could import our own metaphysical beliefs without conflict. But, we should examine each such matter on an individual basis.
One of the most significant metaphysical beliefs that is of concern to those who wish to follow a Gorean philosophy in their lives revolves around the issue of God and religion. Can one be a Catholic, Jew or Buddhist and still follow a Gorean philosophy? We have already seen that different Gorean cultures believe in different gods. Thus, on the surface there would not be a conflict with the Gorean philosophy to believe in your own God. You could also believe in such matters as angels, demons, heaven, and hell without a real surface conflict. What might cause a conflict though would be the particular tenets of any organized religion you chose to follow. Those tenets might be in opposition to certain Gorean ethical positions. But, those tenets are generally not considered metaphysical issues but are more akin to ethical dictates. The same would apply to belief in an afterlife. Such a belief is unlikely to conflict with Gorean ethics, though the means of achieving heaven might. As can be seen, our basic metaphysical beliefs are unlikely to cause problems but it is the greater details that might, details that are not actually metaphysical beliefs but are based upon such.
We should also note that the Gorean philosophy does not necessitate a belief in any god. Though the High Castes might accept the existence of the Priest-Kings, they do not see them as necessarily gods. Worship of the Priest-Kings is not a prerequisite to the Gorean philosophy. Atheism and agnosticism can easily fit within a Gorean philosophy. What is important to realize is that Gorean ethics are not based upon theological concerns, unlike our own ethics that are generally based upon a Judeo-Christian tradition. Gorean ethics are more similar to those of the ancient Greeks or those espoused by Nietzsche, who was himself inspired by the ancient Greeks.
(The connection between Gorean ethics, ancient Greek ethics and Nietzsche will be explored in a later essay. The lack of a theological basis for Gorean ethics is a crucial element in Gorean philosophy.)
Most of the other metaphysical beliefs that we may hold will often have little impact upon the Gorean philosophy. The science of physics is broadening our concept of the nature of reality all the time, offering many new metaphysical beliefs. In fact, many of our sciences are touching on these matters. Yet, our new metaphysical knowledge will generally not impact on Gorean ethics, except to raise ethical questions that the Goreans of the books never had to face. But, that does not mean that Gorean ethics cannot be applied to a new problem. As will be seen in a later essay, Gorean ethics can be quite flexible in handling new ethical questions.
The world of Gor contains a wide variety of metaphysical beliefs, many of which run
contrary to our own metaphysical beliefs. And for the most part, Gorean metaphysics can be
safely ignored even if one wishes to follow a Gorean philosophy. For example, there is no
need for the Double Knowledge on Earth. In addition, we can often substitute our own
metaphysical beliefs without sacrificing Gorean ethics. We can believe in any God we
choose. But there is a single Gorean metaphysical concept that shines as a beacon to the
rest of Gorean philosophy. Accepting that man is integrally linked to nature is a major
step in moving toward a Gorean philosophy. It is also not unique to Gor. It is a
metaphysical belief that has been accepted on Earth in the past and which is still
accepted in the present by some. But it is still essential to Gorean ethics and quite
significant to those who wish to follow a Gorean philosophy.
A metaphysician is a blind man in a dark room - looking for a black hat - which isnt there.