INTROSPECTIONS ON PERFECTION

First title in the Eldar Path trilogySince the release of Path of the Warrior I have been asked a number of questions about Eldar culture, war, the Aspect Temples and many other things concerning the pointy-eared inhabitants of the Craftworlds. I’ve rounded up a few of them, which I will answer over the coming days, but the real purpose of this post is to invite Hamsterites to ask any further questions in the comments section.

A caveat: None of this is necessarily ‘official’. I’ve been working on Eldar in a variety of forms over the years and my answers are based on some of my extrapolations and interpretations over this time. They are my take on Eldar and nothing more (and depend upon the value you wish to attach to my opinion!). Feel free to posit contrary theories in the comments.

Another caveat: Please try to keep questions relevant to themes and issues raised in Path of the Warrior. This is to keep the questions within the sphere of subjects I have already thought about – in the following two books, Path of the Seer and Path of the Outcast, I’ll be delving into Eldar psychics, Harlequins, space travel and all sorts of other things in more depth but I haven’t necessarily formed my own opinions and answers on those yet.

The last, and most important, caveat: There are contradictions in the established Eldar background. A good example is the nature of Eldar Exarchs and whether they become meshed with their armour. In most cases I have used the most recent Codexes and material, but I have also taken a few liberties for the sake of storytelling. In doing so I have probably created new contradictions. Sorry about that…

Question for the day, from Xisor:

“ Exarchs are Exarchs because they’re ‘trapped by Khaine’. Taking Eldar overlap of myth and actual ‘scientific/precise’ language, is the nature of ‘becoming an exarch’ related to the continued existence/pull of the god?”

Right, let’s get started with some nice theology/ metaphysics! First off we must decide how much of Khaine as an entity is a mythological analogy and, because of the funkiness of the warp, how much a reality. At a basic level, as with all myths and belief systems, the Eldar gods are analogies. Khaine is a representation of the murderous passion and destructive potential that exists within every Eldar. As such, his continuing existence is simply a reflection of the Eldar’s continued need for aggression and violence (mainly to protect themselves in a hostile universe).

It is explicitly stated that Eldar can become trapped on any Path, so for those of the Path of the Warrior this is described as being trapped by Khaine. Are healers who do not move from their path trapped by Isha? Are Bonesingers trapped by Vaul? From that standpoint it might simply be a feature of the Eldar language that the state of becoming an Exarch is simply described in these terms; a linguistic shorthand.

However, this leads one to wonder why it is the Eldar believe that the other gods were slain when Khaine survived, as they still need healers and engineers but do not require the continued existence of Isha and Vaul to explain this. Which brings us to the Avatars…

I would say that the continuing existence of Khaine in the form of the Avatars is a chicken-and-egg situation. For much of the time this fragment of psychic energy given material form is inert. The Avatar sits dormant until the call to war, so it must be assumed that it has only a small effect upon the Eldar in this state otherwise they would be in a state of permanent, violent agitation. As described in the background, it appears that the process of awakening the Avatar is begun from within the Avatar itself, and is completed by the Exarchs and Warlocks with the sacrifice of the Young King. What first stirs the Avatar?

The Avatar’s throne is connected to the Infinity Circuit of the craftworld, itself a gestalt psychic intelligence of the living and dead Eldar; each is also a sub-network of the massive Eternal Matrix that exists alongside the webway connecting all of the craftworlds together on a faint but potentially powerful psychic level. That the Infinity Circuit is mainly powered by the psychic energy of the dead may be important here. The death of the Eldar gods, their removal from the warp, may be a euphemism for the withdrawing of the Eldar psychic presence from the warp into the semi-material world of the Infinity Circuits. Whatever powers were once represented by Isha and Vaul. Kurnous and Lileath, no longer exist as part of the diminishment of the Eldar following the Fall.

For reasons of pure survival if nothing else, the Eldar needed to keep their god of war; their intrinsic capability for violence. This manifested itself in the forming of the Avatars as a lodestone for their violent tendencies. The psychic gestalt of the Infinity Circuit exists on a level beyond the material and so can work as an early warning system for oncoming conflict. It resonates with the minds of the Eldar, so as Farseers and Exarchs, and other Eldar, become troubled to a certain level, even on an unconscious plane, the Infinity Circuit will pick up on this and respond by stirring the Avatar, thus signalling that war is approaching and the Eldar need to prepare.

In ‘real’ terms, I see it like this. When the Fall happens and Slaanesh is created, the psychic energy of the Eldar, as represented by the mythical gods, clashes with the newly born Warp Power. Obviously within the context of the mythology, this conflict would be represented by Khaine, their god of war. While the Eldar die in their billions, a small fragment of their surviving warp presence manages to protect a few, becoming manifested as the Avatars of Khaine.

What does this mean for the Exarchs? For this we have to go back to Asurmen and the founding of the shrines. In my version of events, the Avatars were born active to some degree; that is, they exerted their warlike influence over the Eldar, protecting them against the birth of Slaanesh. However, Khaine’s continued presence (that is, the continuation of the capability for extreme rage and violence within the Eldar psyche) would soon become as much of a peril as the emotional free-for-all that led to the Fall. The Avatars were feeding on and being fed by the Slaanesh-Eldar conflict in the warp. They needed to be put in their place, and this meant that the Eldar had to learn to control their warlike instincts.

This brings us to Asurmen and the first Aspect Temples. Asurmen was able to create the first path, that of the warrior, which through ritual and practice allows the Eldar to suppress their violent instincts until needed. To do so, Asurmen first needed to embrace his violent nature rather than fight it from outside, mastering his urges with pure willpower. In order to spread the teaching of the path, he recruited the first Exarchs, Eldar capable of performing the same feat of will. This teaching, the Path of the Eldar, will always require instructors for following generations, and thus there must always be a few Eldar willing, unconsciously but probably guided by the Infinity Circuit as hinted at in Path of the Warrior, to embrace their warrior nature in order that they can pass on the techniques of control required for the Eldar to keep their violent tendencies at bay; also to continue to promulgate the martial prowess required to keep the Eldar alive in a universe that seems determined to destroy them.

In summary, the Exarchs exist to contain the continued influence of Khaine on the one hand, but also to ensure Khaine’s continued existence. A rather distasteful but appropriate analogy can be made with a Champion of a Chaos God. A Chaos Champion requires the input of warp energy from his chosen deity to continue to achieve his goals, while the Chaos Power he serves requires mortal followers to continue to propagate its existence. The Eldar need to be able to fight but not be consumed again by violence, and so between them the Exarchs and the Avatar exist to act as a valve mechanism for this destructive behaviour.

More later…

Published in: on September 23, 2010 at 1:46 pm  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for this, very informative indeed.

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  2. 1) There still remains the ultimate dichotomy of those Asurmen and those first Exarchs/Phoenix Lords opening up the Warrior Path, yet being unable to leave it. How can they truly teach Eldar control over their destructive urges when they themselves have become locked into them (and thus indirectly shown they have failed in using their willpower to master their urges)?

    2) Although you briefly touched on the Eldar necessity of engineers and healers, you digressed and didn’t return to the question of why then there aren’t Avatars of Isha or Vaul? Surely one could argue there is a greater need than ever for engineers and builders to replace what was lost in the Fall. The Craftworlds themselves stand as monstrous feats of engineering.

    3) This 3rd issue was raised on some forums: I had previously envisioned Eldar Aspect Shrines as far larger affairs than the “neighborhood dojo” type 1 squad shrines of the novel, instead viewing them more as Shaolin monastery affairs with multiple teachers and multiple pupils. The reason for this is otherwise how does one realistically expect the Eldar to produce enough Aspect Warriors for any large conflict? Also wouldn’t a major Titan class weapon destroying the Exarch plus suit therefore result in the total destruction of a 1 squad shrine’s history and teachings?

    4) There is one last question/issue of where Guardians then fit in if they have not yet walked the Path of the Warrior. How do they then get training in the skills necessary to both operate the equipment and control themselves in battle? Or are all Guardians expected to be ex-Aspect Warriors? Such an arrangement would seem to conflict with the idea of Guardians being all the Eldar of the Craftworld being able to be mobilized for battle, and would raise the issue of Eldar never walking the Path of the Warrior and then never being eligible for being a Guardian.

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  3. A great overview. The possibility of a psychic connection between the Craftworlds was not something I had thought about, interesting.
    As always Gav, many thanks 🙂

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  4. Wow nice, not read PoW yet but that’s some deep down stuff.

    I have a question, its a bit off topic but relevant to the current climate.

    I heard in a recent podcast that you don’t have any real influence in studio affairs any more and what with the new dark eldar codex around the corner, how do you envision the background in this book panning out. What do you think GW will do with the background (since there is very little currently) to mesh it with the rich craftworld eldar history.

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  5. Hello again Gav, i have a ton of questions! But my mind is all of a sudden blank. Like the CPU got overwhelmed and it needs to reboot or something.

    Would this Psychic connection reach out to say Rangers on distant worlds? How would that be seen/felt by the individual?

    Their equipment… i know it is psycically modified, maybe even completely manufactured that way… would that also translate to repairs in the field?

    Path of the Warrior was such a good insight and perspective… i am looking forward to Path of the Seer and Path of the Outcast… any inklings of when i might be able to get them in hand?

    I am sure i have a lot more questions… so… i may revisit to ask… 8)

    I appreciate your willingness to communicate with your readers… very enjoyable. Thank you for sharing your talents, and your time.

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  6. A very good take on the Eldar connections and gods, however ive always seen the Exarchs as a very different thing to what you are saying.
    As humans we are capable of very obsessive behaviour. Take a look at our hobby, some people are casual gamers, some are into every aspect of it, and for others it consumes their life! The read every book, memorise every codex, buy anything and everything that is released. They become obsessed with the hobby to the point that it literally takes over their lifes.
    Now, imagine this same obsession taking hold of an eldar. Their mental and emotional capacity is 10 times greater than ours. So If one of them suffers the same obsession, only 10 times greater, that would literally consume their life and they would be trapped on that path, unable to break their obsession and therefore become an exarch.
    Thats just my take on the subject anyway, hey, you said you wanted counter theories!

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  7. Wow, that second caveat is a killer. I’m quite curious about how Eldar communicate with one another (telepathy versus subtle sign language versus speech), and what the dividing line is between a Craftworld’s collective consciousness and a Tyranid hive mind; but I guess that stuff will have to wait for Path of the Seer!

    One relevant question, though: Do you think the Eldar are still capable of birthing new Exarchs, as a race? Not renewing an old Exarch, mind, but bringing a new one into existence from scratch. I assume they were able to do this at one point, but I’m curious if they’ve dwindled enough now to rule out the possibility.

    And, a semi-relevant question: Do you think there is such a thing as a healthy long-term relationship in Eldar society? And I do mean long-term as the Eldar would measure it. Given the demands of the various Paths, I have trouble imagining a pair of Eldar remaining together for longer than one or two transitions.

    And many thanks for the excellent book! I’m quite looking forward to the next one.

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  8. Very interesting indeed. I shall reread this when I am more awake.

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