Cosmology of Dark Souls

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2021.12.06 07:40 Crazy-Legs Cosmology of Dark Souls

Even after all these years there are lots of basic questions about what's going on in Dark Souls and the fact that people are still trying to answer them is one of the strongest signs of how good these games are. Since Demons Souls, FromSoft has explored similar themes, dark and light, where comprehension and conviction meet, and they work these into the very heart of the worlds they make. Understanding how these themes and ideas underpin the structure of the world and narrative, tells us a lot about the story they are trying to tell. It's why Miyazaki talks to designers about these things before they really get started making a game.
"Especially at the beginning. About the world, life and death, and with regards to the game world, the meaning of fire and role of the Four Kings. By talking like this with the artists I found that it not only helped them to develop their ideas, but it really helped me shape my idea of the world I wanted to create."
Design works interview
No doubt Elden Ring will do the same, so in honour and anticipation of it, let's lay out a metaphysics of Dark Souls that I think will help answer some questions and maybe get our heads on straight for Elden Ring.
In the beginning…
Dark Souls plays a very subtle trick. It presents itself in the clothes of a very familiar, it dark, 'traditional' fantasy (surely a paradox?) story. We have noble knights and great deities, you might even think of Zeus when you see Gwyn hurling lightning bolts. But, FromSoft is actually borrowing from an older tradition.
Ancient Grecco-Roman belief shares a common root with Hindu/Buddhist/Jain theologies in IndoEuropean religious practice. For simplicity sake, the primarily Asian side will be referred to as Vedic, from the Rig Veda the main primary source text. Dark Souls borrows the aesthetics of the Mediterranean traditions, but uses them to hide a story and world built primarily on the metaphysics and cosmology of the Vedic systems. Souls' seems to use the Hindu idea of 3 gunas (innate properties/qualities/tendencies):
Sattva (virtue/balance/harmony)
Rajas (passion/activity/dynamism)
Tamas (chaos/inertia/destruction)
All things are made up of some mix of these gunas, they are not found in a pure state. Rather, they are underlying forces that manifest and transform the world. They come together to create the world, which also appears in 3 forms:
pradhana (root matter) - gunas in an unmixed and unmanifested state (equilibrium).
prakriti (primal matter) - gunas in a mixed and unmanifested state (agitated).
mahat-tattva (matter) - gunas in a mixed and manifested state
From here we can already start drawing parallels, but from my perspective there have been some alterations and emphasis. The fundamental gunas of the soulsverse seem to be:
Rajas - Light - disparity, clarity, focus, logic, time
Tamas - Dark - sameness, diffusion, desire, emotion, space
Sattva - harmony of light and dark
Which come together to form:
Pradhana - Grey Fog - Nothing is distinct in this state, but there is still separation and a soft peace to it. We see this in the opening cut scene, as well as the indistinct fog walls that divide and join different spaces and times.
Prakriti - Ash - Every thing is melted and mixed together, but there is still no distinction to it and it carries the implication of violence or disturbance. Ash is a common and recurring motif, particularly Ash Lake, ashen mist heart and umbral ashes.
Mahat-tattva - matter - Basically material stuff generally, but especially titanite, gems etc.
We see this in the opening of the first game. The age of ancients begins shrouded in fog, but even now, light begins to gather. "Tiny flames dance across the dark". Light is gathering, and in doing so, by creating disparity, shadow is brought into existence with it. As part of this process of polarisation, distinction permeates the world. The age of ancients is brought down by being introduced to light and time, fire and death. And what remains? Ash. Out of these ashes is built the age of fire at its height and the world we know.
Essentially, what happens is as light concentrates in one place it turns the land of indistinct fog into a cosmology similar to the diagram of umbra, penumbra and antumbra:,_penumbra_and_antumbra
You might also notice that the shape of the shadow in the diagram is quite similar to a humanity sprite. This is because to be Human is to be where the dark and light meet. Humans are when the dark soul is encircled by the white soul. Consider the soft, white penumbral edge around the humanity sprite, as well as how the souls we pick up seem to be a white flame around a core of something. Dark is tied to emotion and desire and these are necessary for life. The light souls however are needed to give energy and clarity to interact with the world and be an individual. Combining both gives you life as we understand it. Beings with both thought, desire and agency. Otherwise, what good is desire if you can't act on it? What good is power if you have nothing to use it in service of?
Undeath and the curse
From here, we can explore more of the nature of the undead, but first a bit more on the nature of dark. There are a lot of connections we could make with metaphysical concepts like Jiva and Atman, but to keep this from becoming a messy tour through Vedic philosophical schools, suffice to say the dark is seemingly infinite and seems to support the universe. Everything rests in and on the Abyss, in space. The dark in humans is a piece of the greater dark inside a shell of light souls. The dark is all the same. You can grab humanity of anyone else and use it to recover your own. There's no way to tell one drop of water from another in the ocean. It is like the fundamental, essential human nature we all share. It is the light souls around it that separate it from the rest of the dark and grant it individuality. Again consider the humanity sprite, bits of dark separated by pale, frail light. By puncturing the light soul, the dark escapes out the gap to rejoin the collective. The souls in the blood drift away to eventually be recycled and reincarnated in the process of Samsara.
But, in comes the undead curse. Gwyn heavily parallels Agni in the Vedic tradition, a grand sun god (Deva) who won the Deva their place on Mount Meru, but nevertheless feared fully enlightened humans and many of his legends have him running afoul of the great sages and rishis who could perhaps advance humans above the gods. It must be understood, in this tradition gods aren't deities as a lot of us would understand. They still live and die, but the great karma they have amassed in previous lives have granted them a divine rebirth. However, they are still trapped in the cycle of birth and death like the rest of us. It may be even more difficult for such a one to achieve enlightenment and escape the cycle, as the pleasures of the divine can provoke attachment, and the knowledge of losing such a holy position next birth can be crushing. The gods are more like positions in a celestial structure that different beings in different times will fill, than distinct entities that make up a divinity. For us, we can kind of think the soul is the god, the being currently holding the soul is just the current title holder.
Fearing humanity, Gwyn cast a seal of fire on them, branding them with the dark sign. A ring of flames that burns off any dark trying to escape. This seal is responsible for the proliferation of the undead curse. Normally, when a human died, their humanity would escape to eventually rejoin the abyss. The seal of fire prevents this, trapping the humanity inside. But as the age of fire wanes, so to does the strength of the seal. When an undead dies, some of their humanity still leaks out before the seal reasserts itself and what fills the gap is the Curse, as described by the dark sigil item. True nothingness. And what is left is a little more hollow each time.
However, I think Undeath is supposed to be representative of a step forward on the path to enlightenment. Afterall, it is closer to being liberated from the cycle of rebirth. However, Undeath was supposed to be achieved naturally by beings through meditation and practice. Channelling and focusing the pure white souls into their own personal 'seal' around their dark soul, symbolised in Usurpation of Fire ending with the pure white carona surrounding the dark moon during an eclipse. This would make them something like a sakadagami or once returner, one who only has 1 rebirth before enlightenment and may be worthy of perceiving the planes of the gods and spirits. Indeed, the undead are 'reborn' in a lot of ways, but as themselves. This also squares with Buddhist and Jain ideas of needing to unwind attachments and remove all that is contingent within them to achieve liberation. This is another reason the first sign of the curse is forgetting, it is symbolic of overcoming attachment to worldly things. But, you are supposed to have shriven yourself of attachment over many lifetimes and of your own will, not have them ripped away in an instant. What Gwyn did was sort of force this state upon people so they could serve as undead slaves to the age of fire.
This also explains the immortality of the dragons as it relates to their scales. The DS2 description of the scales links dragons to the abyss. In my thinking, humanity is the dark in contact with the light and the abyss is the pure dark not in contact with light at all. Going back to the diagram, the Dark is all of the dark generally, humanity the dark near the light and the abyss is the umbra without light at all. Unlike humans who encase their dark soul in the light soul, dragons also have some of the dark (and light too) but wrapped in everlasting stone. Consider the undead dragons we see, they are all full of holes. This allows the dark in them to seep out and the curse to accumulate, turning the dragon undead. Because the dark in dragons is walled off from the light entirely, it is abyssal. This is why a dragon is inseparable from its scales. The identity of a dragon is not bound up in souls, but the literal shape it takes, as the stone scales organise the light and dark inside the dragon to make it what it is. Or, they ensure the appropriate mix of gunas if you will. This is also why they are everlasting, even if you can kill them. The shape of the dragon remains, it's just nothing is manifested in that shape after you 'killed' it. But, as ages pass, stone and light and dark will reform the shape and it will live again. You can break the model but not the mould of the dragon. Its shape, its possibility for existence, lives outside of the cycle. And indeed, at the end of DS3, we do see the reformation of archtrees and dragons beginning.
I know what you did last Age
A strong, steady flame, produces deep, steady shadows. But a flickering one creates raging, twisted things. We can think of Gwyn's First Sin in a lot of ways. Linking the fire, branding humanity and the pygmies, etc. But what it comes down to is being unable to let go of his attachments to his world. His age had come, and it was glorious, but it was over and he needed to let go. But he couldn't. This was his stumbling block to enlightenment and he could not step over it. Instead he did whatever he could to prolong the age of fire. If there's interest, I will go over what I think he specifically did, but suffice to say the fire was linked and the age prolonged. And that did something drastic to the metaphysical processes of the dark souls cosmology.
Going back to the umbra diagram, this is what I think the dark souls world is 'supposed' to look like. Light gathers and creates a world of light and time, but also a world of dark opposite. Eventually it dies, to reform somewhere else and create a new time. By shackling the dark to the light, Gwyn basically imposed the illusion of the day night cycle, the illusion of a continuous, unbroken time. When the sun sets, and darkness gathers, it will rise again.
We can even think about our own world like this. Yes, we seem to have a cycle of day and night, but we don't really. But the sun exists in its own time. From its own point of view, there is no day and night. Just the time before it existed, when it blazed bright and when it burned out. There is no cycle there, just times when we could see the sun and when we could not, that we arrange in our mind to make an eternal cycle. We impose day and night on an ambivalent sun and moon, just as Gwyn did upon his very universe, dooming others to follow his cursed footsteps.
You can think of this as breaking (or maybe) creating the Yuga cycle
You can also think of this as convincing people their 'real' existence is only the light soul. The conscious bit of them that remembers and reasons. But we are always more than that. The conscious mind is the tip of the iceberg, resting on the vast unconscious. In more Buddhist/Jain terms, we become convinced that our conditioned existence, the experience we have of the world around us and our attachment to it, is all there is. These delusions keep us from perceiving fundamental reality, in turn trapping us in the cycle of death and rebirth, Samsara.
Gwyn 'linked' the fire by wrapping the light all the way around the dark. Encircling it in time, trying to contain everything. But as the light fades and time literally runs out, more and more slips out of the fire's grip. Essentially, he branded a dark sign on the whole world, which we see burning on the sky in DS3. The fire grows weaker and weaker, sending the shadows locked in so many seals wild. Irina and the Locust Preacher teach us that the beasts and monsters of the abyss are a product of being driven mad by the light. Just like Manus, when his grave was upturned. But dark can also be a comfort, which is why the dead are interred in dark tombs, even if they still walk. What makes the dark terrifying is that we project our fears onto it, like Irina and her bugs. If you let the dwindling fire die, the scary shadows will settle as well.
So, where does this leave us in the end? I think it shows the linking the fire ending is following Gwyn's path of being unable to let go. Letting the fire fade is acceptance of the impermanence of all things and letting go. But the Usurpation of Fire, presents another way. I think this is representative of having become the equivalent of a bodhisattva, which under some traditions of Buddhism, is one who can reach enlightenment and nirvana, but chooses not to transcend in order to help enlighten others.
This is of course a lot more going on narratively and thematically, but I think we've covered what we set out to and this has gone long enough. So I'll just leave you with some other interesting reading in the context of Dark Souls:,eternal%20existence%2C%20consciousness%20and%20bliss.&text=Birth%20is%20when%20a%20jiva,it%20departs%20from%20its%20body.,with%20neither%20beginning%20nor%20end.
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2021.12.06 07:40 Bright-Cancel-9934 ITAP of the sunset in Dubrovnik

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2021.12.06 07:40 Meremadesings I am Jesus Christ Reveals WIP Jerusalem in New Video

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2021.12.06 07:40 einrufwiedonnerhall Writing Christmas Cards feat. Faber-Castell Royal Blue, Brause and my really bad handwriting

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2021.12.06 07:40 ResidentEvil10 Did anyone here got covid, and did you get worse after you recovered from it?

I am wondering how the after effects from covid are on patients with moderate cfs/me? I am vaccinated twice with Pzifer and didn't get any noticable side effects from that. I am a bit worried since I havent gotten the 3rd vaccine and the new omicron variant out of control.
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2021.12.06 07:40 literallycbf Inheritance

I just got gifted a huge amount of inheritance. Im in my early 20’s and still studying. How can I make it grow more? What should I do? Im not ready to buy a house just yet.
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2021.12.06 07:40 quidsss DEPO HEADLIGHTS? Any recs on aftermarket headlights.. oem are $$$ and I want black housing anyways. Does anyone have experience with depo headlights, I heard the clear top coat can peel after a while

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So for many years now I will have this weird cycle of sleep where I sleep for atleast a few hours then wake up, when I wake back up and fall back asleep I have these weird lucid halfway dreams where everything is hazy yet a lot of the times it becomes a nightmare, I will slightly shake myself out of it not having yet fully fallen asleep and only like 10 minutes have passed despite feeling that the halfway dream was longer, yet I would repeat this cycle of going in and out of being halfway awake and halfway asleep
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2021.12.06 07:40 EZdubs_526 Valorant locked at 30 fps

So i play valorant on a laptop but i recently got a monitor with 165hz refresh rate. However, when i try to play val in 165hz it only works in windowed fullscreen mode. When i turn it to fullscreen it goes black screen for a few seconds and then turns into 30hz even though it says 165 on the val setting. ive searched around and tried disabling fullscreen optimization, setting the monitor as default and only displaying on it, running as administrator (not sure what this does) and nothing seems to be working. has anyone else ever had this problem or knows how to fix it?
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2021.12.06 07:40 jobsinanywhere Lil Wayne Allegedly Pulls Gun on Own Security, Police Investigating

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2021.12.06 07:40 Kratos-007 Bars in South Delhi

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2021.12.06 07:40 StormeTheCat This bag of misprinted Fritos

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2021.12.06 07:40 wikimandia Are there any upcoming goalposts?

I feel like this needs to be stickied. What's the latest expert analysis on when the WINNING will definitely begin?
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2021.12.06 07:40 canyoubreathe [PH] Accidentally skipped half of Phantom Hourglass?

Warning: VERY Long Post
Also, spoilers.

When I was 8, I received The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for Christmas and I loved playing it, but I eventually got to a point in the game where I could not progress at all (I could have but I wasn't very at video games yet) because it seemed as if I was... unprepared? As if I hadn't gotten all the equipment I needed and I just stumbled into a fight that I shouldn't be at.
I decided to create a new save file and play through the entire game (but correctly this time!) and upon progressing through the game I learned why I was struggling. In my initial playthrough, I was just exploring the seas and somehow accidentally triggered the final boss fight against Bellumbeck. At this point in the game, I had only earned two of the sea charts, I hadn't levelled up the spirits, I hadn't gotten the Phantom Sword, I hadn't gotten the Hammer, I hadn't met Jolene at all, and I hadn't even gotten the King's key or ghost key But what the weirdest thing was: I had somehow triggered the final battle for the entire game WITHOUT even entering the Ghost ship. I hadn't completed or even entered the ghost ship's dungeon, nor did I even meet the Cubus Sisters or fight them. I didn't even save Stone Tetra at all, she just appeared when I entered the Bellumbeck fight. I have no clue what the hell happened, but essentially, I was sailing in my ship and the Navigation segment where the 3 spirits direct you to the Ghost Ship triggered, and I began fighting Bellumbeck.
I somehow did an accidental any% speedrun but if it had the absolute worst time you had ever seen.

In short: I somehow skipped major points of the game, some of which I didn't know you could skip and have been confused ever since

If anyone has any idea of what happened, that would be amazing.
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