Tuesday 14 June 2022

Murder at the Dawn of Time

The stories start to vary right from the start but one thing that links them all together is the killing of a brother and their butchering, the spilling out of bones and organs, as an act of creation with which reality was made.

"as the result of the original dismemberment of Yemo: his flesh usually becomes the earth, his hair grass, his bone yields stone, his blood water, his eyes the sun, his mind the moon, his brain the clouds, his breath the wind, and his head the heavens."

Probably you are so familiar with this concept from mythology that you haven't stopped to think about how utterly strange it is. But to go a bit deeper;

You are moving though a void, a placeless place 

"neither non-being was nor being was at that time; there was not the air, nor the heaven beyond it... Neither death was nor the immortal then, nor was there the mark of night and day...". 

You are not alive for nothing has ever lived nor are you dead, for nothing yet has ever l died. Neither are you immortal, like the gods, for there are none.

You simply are. Yet you are not alone for beside you is another. They are blood of your blood. A brother. Often they are the only other thing. (Sometimes there is a third and also a cow, but we will get to that later). Sometimes they are a giant, sometimes an hermaphrodite or multi-gendered being, but the one they they always are is your twin. Their name in fact is 'twin'. Yours is 'Man'.

Amidst this absolute nullity you turn on your twin, your other self, the only other thing there is, and you kill them. Then you cut them open, or since there is nothing to cut with perhaps you tear them open, and you reach into their body, steaming with blood, which is creation, and you butcher them, pulling out organs, bones, blood, tendons, hair, eyes, brain. And you cast or place these things into the nothingness and now instead of nothing there is reality. Earth, sky, sea, air, sun, moon, stars, grass and animals, all of this is built or formed from the flesh of your slain twin. And amongst all this you walk, the first man, who is also the first priest, for you made the first sacrifice and that is the nature of a priest, amidst a reality made from the corpse-flesh of you dead twin.

Of all the world creation myths, this one might be the most insanely fucked up, its also a common root or tributary concept for a bunch of cultures across the Indo-European range. For the Norse the twin was Ymir, father of giants. The Romans likely historicised their own version into Romulus and Remus, and the first romans considered themselves Remans, children of Remus, not of Romulus. In the Vedic and Persian versions the twin is Yemno, another derivative of 'Twin', and becomes the lord of the underworld, first to die and god of the dead. The killer is Manu and yes it does look like we named the species after this one guy.

"The association of Mánu with the ritual of sacrifice is so strong that those who do not sacrifice are named amanuṣāḥ, which means 'not belonging to Mánu', 'unlike Mánu', or 'inhuman'."

I think about how terrible it must be to kill your brother, the only other person who exists, the only person who can truly recognise you, and then to walk through a cosmos made of their sacrificed flesh.

It makes sense if you imagine a herding people where cattle are wealth and the most valuable and immediate source of survival. Cutting open an animal on the empty steppe, its blood steaming in the air while the butcher spreads out the parts on the hide and hands this part and that to this or that kin. Truly life through sacrifice.


There is a third guy there, and possibly also a cow. At some point the cow gets stolen and the third guy goes and steals it back. Honestly it sounds better in the original versions.

The ritual cow stealing seems to be a restoration of order motif and the third guy is the first Warrior, with the Cow sometimes symbolising the peasant or 'grower'.

So now we have a traditional proto Indo-Euopean tripartite division of Priests/Warriors/Peasants, or if we are feeling funky, Kings (Yemno was the first king)/Priests/ Warriors/Peasants.

Sometimes 'Twin' is multi-gendered or you both are, or you are somehow the same being; 

"Some scholars have proposed that the primeval being Yemo was depicted as a two-fold hermaphrodite rather than a twin brother of Manu, both forming indeed a pair of complementary beings entwined together. The Germanic names Ymir and Tuisto were understood as twin, bisexual or hermaphrodite, and some myths give a sister to the Vedic Yama, also called Twin and with whom incest is discussed. In this interpretation, the primordial being may have self-sacrificed, or have been divided in two, a male half and a female half, embodying a prototypal separation of the sexes."


Its all quite familiar from mythology, or from the mythology of fantasy. There are probably hundreds of fantasy paracosms which begin with some binary separation between different opposites.

Quite a lot of deep viscerality has been lost and we never get to see this from the first person perspective.


its quite different if you think deeply about what it would actually be like to physically destroy your own twin, your own blood, the only thing that is like you and that can know you as totally as you know them.

And to think about the blood and the guts of the matter. The butchered body cooling on the steppe, everything around you being made of the body of the sacrificed twin. Imagine what it would be like to fully believe that as your cosmic mythology - every time you look at any material thing, you are looking at the flesh of some unknowable corpse, to which you are distantly related. An uncle long removed.

Man is the first Killer and Killing is creation.

and what does it say about a culture that this primal violence lies close to its root, or what does it say about this primal self-destroying, bloody violence and butchery that it can help to form a culture that goes on to influence so much

its a pretty powerful and irresolvable moral maelstrom

The only part of current culture which I'm familiar with which deals with butchery, and especially the sacrifice and butchery of humans, is serial killer fiction 

specifically one of the first things that came to mind was From Hell, the very upsetting scene where we watch Jack the Ripper take the body of his victim apart and lay out the pieces in ritual formation while mumbling and going mad/embarking on an act of ritual magic which allows him to walk though the walls of reality

of course, if all creation is made of sacrifice, then any such sacrifice is an act of sub-creation, and it makes sense that it would act as a kind of spell or prayer - altering or sustaining reality depending on perception

Manu as a Character;

We have a shitload, really an epically insane shitload of Storm Gods, Sky Gods, Sky Fathers and their derivatives, and even more, truly a cornucopia of 'Strikers', the thunderbolt wielding hero who goes around killing monsters, releasing the waters etc.

I don't think I've ever seen a story where the Manu figure, the first Priest and the first Sacrificer, who made the world from the body of 'Twin', is even in the story, let alone the main character. 

What would that story even be like? Or that game?

Being the first Priest in a reality which you essentially part-created with the flesh of your Twin and teaching all these.. descendants? The children of Manu? Made up partly of your seed and partly of the flesh of Yemno, all about the Truth of Sacrifice and how Lord Yama, who takes the souls of the Dead in his place beyond the Canine Guardian and the River, is actually kind of the spirit(?) of your Twin, whose body made Reality and you also small man. 

(I'm still kind of tripping that we didn't change the name of the species in all that time. Must be one of those Querty-Keyboard situations where its just too much bother once you start.)

"Oh yeah say hello to the spirit of my twin on his throne below. You know he's the only reason you can die? He was the first one to do it, which allowed time and stuff to start. I killed him. We are walking on his guts atm actually. Anyway say Hi when you see him."

More Cattle Raids;

Seems like there should be a lot more cattle raiding in both fantasy and gaming. Its absolute bedrock for the Indo-European tradition and has carried over all the way from the steppe to a few centuries ago.

But when have I seen a D&D module or adventure or a computer game, or even a scene in a fantasy novel where "Hey we have to do a cattle raid. Partly to re-enact the core of our ancient creation myth but also just to steal cows." - NEVER. Not once.

More Sacrificing;

Neither have I seen (much) sacrifice in either games or fantasy. I will grant you there is the pretty-common evil-human sacrifice which the Heroes need to stop. That one is a classic. And bits and pieces of soothsaying from the Roman/Euro tradition, but its not common to see sacrifice as a thing which the protagonists are doing, or have to do, really want to do and consider not only normal but even sacred/magical. 

As the children of Manu we really should be sacrificing more. A LOT more. Gotta get those numbers up.

If all of reality is the result of sacrificing some essential meta-being, then surely lesser sacrifices can create, or change, lesser aspects of reality? After all, butchery is genesis.


  1. People don't want to sacrifice, they want their sword of bullshit +1. I try to encourage a sort of rolling (pun intended) / "pay it forward" style of sacrifice in my games- that as you give things up, it creates new and often very lateral but much more profound possibilities. I guess that's coming from a different direction in multiple regards than what you're saying, but could retroactively be made compatible.

    I am not especially familiar with a lot of this mythology, what is the context around the sacrificing? Like, Cain and Abel seems too coincidental to not have been related to this phenomena in some regard, but it also sounds different than what you're saying thematically, so maybe it is a coincidence? Are these sacrifices consensual? Were they done with the intention of creation, or was that an accidental or incidental byproduct? Do the sacrificers ever show regret or at least remorse? Are there systematic differences between the twin who is sacrificed vs. the twin who does the sacrificing?

    The All Father / Thunderbearer big-man-in-the-sky brutish god kind of figure never really appealed to me all that much, but this interpretation of it is much more powerful, of a profound loss and loneliness that comes with the sacrifice.

    I imagine this goes much deeper, it will be interesting to consider it further.

    For a long long time I've been trying to think of a kind of primordial setting, something that captures some of the psychedelic weirdness and themes of Pariah, but less rooted in the plausible realities of neolithic civilizations. This seems like it should factor into whatever that becomes if I ever do anything with that.

    Anyway ya, this has been a cool series so far that you've been doing, but this post in particular of the two (?) so far I especially like.

    1. Its not clear to me if there is any consensus (an illusory idea for a stapled together speculation of mythology, which is what PIE studies really are), about whether Manu sacrificing Yemno was a consentual sacred thing, where Yemno knew they had to die to produce reality. The eastern versions seem more 'sympathetic sacrifice' and the norse version, and roman version, if the 'historicisation' theory is true, seem more just like murder.

  2. Sacrifice can be a big part of the roguelike computer game genre. Typically, one discovers altars throughout gameplay and then either kill or break stuff on top of them to curry favor with a given deity, who rewards you with a complex set of abilities. Often, your relationship to a bespoke selection of deities (each of whom has their own preferences) is the most creative part of a given game.

  3. So first of all, I never realized how verbatim "Kill 6 Billion Demons" followed this proto-story until now. Without spoilers, the creation myth in that story is almost identical to the story of Manu. So that's cool.

    Second of all, I'm a bit unsure about the connection between sacrificer or priest to the name "Man". In Hebrew, the word for man is "adam" (or sometimes "Son of Adam"). As you might know, this same word is also the name of the biblical character. I've once read a linguistics article that said that this is probably not a coincidence, and that the name for "person" is often derived from the name of a mythological hero (the only other example they cited was Manu himself, but maybe there are more?). That might mean that Mankind is named after a hero which happens to be a murderer/priest. Maybe there isn't really a distinction and I'm grasping at straws though.

    1. I am also a fan of K6BD aye.

      Wouldn't worry about grasping at straws, the whole field of PIE studies is always edging on bonkers pattern recognition stuff and there are few ways to check or prove anything anyway.

  4. This made me realize that the division-suicide of YISUN from Kill Six Billion Demons is an echo of Yemu / Manu. Makes since since there are already so many Vedic influences on the series

    1. Interesting! I’d just been thinking that some of these posts reminded me of Kill Six Billion Demons too!

  5. 'But when have I seen a D&D module or adventure or a computer game, or even a scene in a fantasy novel where "Hey we have to do a cattle raid. Partly to re-enact the core of our ancient creation myth but also just to steal cows." - NEVER. Not once.'

    I've never played it, and I don't know too much about it, but I feel like this HAS TO be part of Runequest.

    1. It is. It's literally RuneQuest.

    2. Her Christmas Knight has a really interesting post about exactly this on his Grand Commodore blog. It is worth reading in my opinion and I think is directly inspired by a computer game based on RuneQuest. I’m not certain if it’s ok to link it (not sure what the policy is on promoting other blogs is) so if you are interested it’s from November of 2020 and is called “The Bandit Tribesman.” If I am out of line here my apologies!

    3. Excellent, thank you! Here we are then:

    4. ^Ooooo... yes, this was basically my take on KoDP and the Orlanthi in general

    5. thekelvingreen beat me to it. The Glorantha setting for Runequest has cattle raiding and trading. It's a big part of King of Dragon Pass, a strategy game where you rarely have all out war with anyone and mainly just raid your enemies to take their stuff, namely cattle.

  6. I think the reason you don't get stories with the First Priest et al as the main character is that they belong to the older generation of primal gods. They're either remants from pre-literate traditions, the gods of those people that our ancestors conquered and/or absorbed, or were just there as aetiological myths for our gods in the first place.

    Human sacrifice was out of favour in classical Greece and Rome, but there are references to it everywhere as an earlier feature. Animal scrifice went out of favour with Christianity, and the even the classically-minded folk of our day tend not to make it a big feature of their imaginings of the ancient world, so it's not surprising that you don't find it in RPGs -- not even in Cults of Prax for RQ, which always seemed like a big oversight.

    (Also, Romans refering to themselves as Remans wasn't really a big thing; I've only seen it in poetic usage, and frequently in a disparaging context (Catullus & Martial). And I think the Romulus/Remus myth is probably more about tribes than cosmology; it just doesn't jive with the basic animism of the Religio Romana.)

  7. Speaking of sacrifice, I’ve been playing with this idea recently that magic costs life force which has a direct correlation in time. Using magic ages you unless you are evil enough to use the life force of others.
    This explains the fantasy tropes of the “old wizard” and the bad guy who is still in his prime, along with human sacrifice (taking life force unwillingly, hence why the most valuable sacrifices are often the youngest…) and why elves are so good at magic (they have a lot more life force to burn)
    The scale I was thinking of is this -
    Cantrip 1 sec
    1st level 1 min
    2nd level 1 day
    3rd level 1 week
    4th 1 month
    5th 1 year
    6th 1 decade
    7th 1 jubilee (50 years)
    8th 1 century
    9th 1 millennia

  8. If the cosmos is the corpse of a sacrificed deity, would mortals' lesser sacrifices be seen on the same level? Maybe they'd just be a mockery, or a fungal bloom, or a patch of putrescence on the body of a worthier one. Maybe that's the real reason the Greeks covered up sacrificial offal with sweet-smelling fat - not to save the meat for themselves, but because otherwise they'd be swatted as the funereal flies the gods might've seen them as.

    "The only part of current culture which I'm familiar with which deals with butchery, and especially the sacrifice and butchery of humans, is serial killer fiction"

    I know you're not much for video games, but the game Pathologic is rich with these themes - it's about a town built atop and in the form of a cosmic cow, with the defilement of this cow being the impetus for its plot.

    Manu => mankind, in sci-fi you get earthlings, martians, etc., but maybe aliens have their own sacrifices & sacrificers they're named for - an herbivorous alien species named for the first of their kind to stay behind the herd and allow itself to be eaten to spare the young, old, and sick.

    Further mytho-archetype - the Queen of Heaven, Goddess of Love & War, Ashtaroth, Ishtar, Astarte, Inanna, bride of Yahweh and so on and so on - that's one you don't see too often. Might be too Mesopotamian for this series.

    1. I mean very possibly with the offal. Can you imagine being a deep believer in this stuff and your sacrifice being 'off' somehow? You would proper shit yourself for the rest of the month - "Fuck my sacrifice was FUCKED, what the hell are the Gods going to curse me with about this?"

      Is pathologic that moody Slavic/Russian arty videogame I half remember seeing bonkers youtube reviews of?

      Get ye gonne with ye Babylonian Exhalation of Ianna stuff! Chariot-riding PIE only in this series!

    2. I am very interested in the bride of Yahweh concept, if either of you were interested in exploring that one and saving me some work ;)...

  9. Cattle raiding, sacred barbecues, and sacrifice as a means of existential refurbishment; the idea that we can feel a sacred source or destination for life energy (I characterize it as the Monad; a source of the transcendent that we can feel and reach for but fail to wholly define) and that death-energy or consciousness-energy flow through all things to or from this place, vitiating the fabric of existence the way water and carrion vitiate earth, or water, carrion, earth and sunshine vitiating plants. These are probably among my to five favorite motifs.

    I don't know if it's because they have an inherent mythological significance to the human psyche, or if it's because I've seen it carried out with extreme effectiveness in the form of King of Dragon Pass, the cattle-raiding-and-subsequent-sacrifice sim par excellence - "Hey we have to do a cattle raid. Partly to re-enact the core of our ancient creation myth but also just to steal cows." <- this is KoDP to a T. You can also sacrifice prisoners, but a la the Roman model it's not considered a good proactive thing but a desperate measure. I know you try to avoid video games and I understand why, but if you ever conditionally violate that as a way of exploring an extrapolatable model, KoDP with its cattle raiding, sacrifice and heroquests to re-enact the first acts of the gods would be the one.

    To add to serial killer fiction, there's monster-butchering (rendering?) fiction a la the Witcher, Battle Brothers, most MMOs with crafting, and games like Far Cry: Primal and Green Hell. In these, new creation is indeed made from a sacrifice (though one that is often somewhat more difficult to carry out than of e.g. a lamb).

    1. I missed literally all of monsters and crafting games didn't I? Isn't Monster Hunter all over this as well?

      Am I going to have to play this cattle raiding simulation? Signs point to yes but how will I stop if its good..

    2. If you haven't done a deep dive within a couple of weeks, I'll do a video tour of the game (split between the start of the game and a fully developed clan) once I'm home from my travels in early July

  10. I feel like you should try out the king of dragon pass game. Sacrifice and cattle-raiding are both major aspects of it.

  11. 'we really should be sacrificing more. A LOT more.'

    I mean, the Feast of Corpus Christi is this week....

    Aside from that, I would second the butchery elements of video games. Other than those mentioned above, I can recall more than enough 'Slay the foe and take his biotech gun/cybernetic leg/&c' bits. And while that might be no more than the pulp SF version of (IE) Hector stealing the armour of Achilles from the body of Patroclus, the depiction can occasionally be bloody enough to warrant the comparison to butchery.

    Speaking of pulp SF, there is the evergreen 40k plot of Chaos trying to nick the precious geneseed [that is, 'sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids']. How else are more soldiers made? 'Butchery is genesis.'

  12. Aren't all heists kind of just cattle raids?

  13. I know that wolves of god has cattle raiding mechanics