Sunday, March 22, 2015

Pre-Release: The Wild Beast Within: Folklore, Metamorphosis, and Motivation in From Software’s Bloodborne

This in-depth article looks at the history of transformation in folklore and what it might mean in Bloodborne.

The following content was originally created in this thread on Reddit in /r/bloodbornelore. All credit for the content of this post goes to  /u/Iosefka, with only minor changes being made to reflect the difference in format.

The Wild Beast Within: Folklore, Metamorphosis, and Motivation in From Software’s Bloodborne

Every man has a wild beast within him. – Frederick the Great
The word “therianthropy” is derived from the Greek therian, meaning “wild animal” or “beast”; and anthropos, man. It is most often used to refer to the human-animal transformation folklore that exists in multiple cultural traditions, the most well-known example of is which is lycanthropy -- from the Greek lykos, wolf. More popularly known as a werewolf, the lycanthrope’s most traditional representation has now become indelibly linked with the hotly anticipated Bloodborne and speculation abounds as to the mythical creature’s role in the game’s lore.

Bloodborne began its early life with the cryptic appellation of “Project Beast” and the role of the beast in its gameplay and lore is thus undoubtedly significant. In the IGN First 18 minute game play video (show below), we see the player character being transfused with a mysterious blood by the enigmatic Dr. Iosefka in the opening cinematic -- whether for good or ill we know not. Our character falls into a fevered trance, visited by a vision of what appears to be a werewolf arising from a pool of blood. The beast reaches for the prone body of the player with an outstretched claw – in aggression? Or is it supplication? Does this symbolize the origin of the so-called “scourge of the beast” in the tainted blood? Or it’s cure? Either way, we are left with the distinct impression that this beast, in the unmistakable form of a werewolf, must play a significant role in the story to come.

At this point, with nothing but some screenshots and a few gameplay clips, we can do little more than speculate as to what that role might be. However, delving into the history of werewolf folklore provides some interesting insight into their possible meaning within the larger storyline.

The werewolf is a common concept in European folklore, tracing its inception to sometime during the medieval period. The spread of the werewolf myth parallels the development of the belief in witches during the 15th and 16th centures (which also, perhaps not surprisingly, coincides with the period of the second black plague pandemic in Europe) and persecution of supposed werewolves was an integral part of the witch-hunts of that time.

The instructions for transforming oneself into a werewolf were varied and included such things as donning the skin of a wolf, covering oneself with a particular salve, drinking rainwater from the footprint of a wolf, or the utterance of certain magic spells. The connection of werewolves with the full moon apparently derives from Italy, France, and Germany, in whose folklore it was said that one might become a werewolf by sleeping outside on a summer night with the full moon shining directly on their face. In other cases, the metamorphosis was accomplished through a satanic allegiance, often for the purpose of sating a craving for human flesh.

The key distinguishing feature of the werewolf myths, separating it from its common features with witches and other supernatural beings of the time, is the idea of transformation as repercussion, or curse. The curse of the werewolf is considered by some sources to be a divine punishment, relating tales of men who angered God being cursed to walk the earth eternally as wolves. Those excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church were said to become werewolves. Other sources describe saints as well as members of the clergy as afflicting the enemies of the church with the curse of the werewolf. Still others grant the power of the werewolf curse to the devil himself. While modern folklore seems to regard the werewolf curse more as a communicable disease, in traditional sources those with the werewolf curse were always afflicted as a repercussion, for sins against gods or men.

Native American folkloric tradition contains reference to a creature with similar origin and characteristics, that of the Wendigo. One would be hard pressed to deny the obvious influences of the imagery of the wendigo on the design of another beast encountered in Bloodborne, The Cleric Beast. While the physical characteristics vary from source to source, all seem to agree on the common trait of the wendigo as a human transformed into beast, who was transformed into such as a repercussion for past misdeeds. Often the wendigo is said to be cursed because of an unabiding greed, but just as often the wendigo curse is punishment for the eating of human flesh.

So just what is Fromsoft trying to say to us by focusing on these beasts as transformed humans? It is difficult to say with any certainty, at this point, given the lack of any concrete information, but given the common features of two of the heavily featured enemies, one can make an educated conjecture. The city suffers under a plague called the “Scourge of the Beast” in which men are transformed into werewolves and wendigos. I would venture that the “Scourge of the Beast” is not just a random disease. It is a reckoning. And the agent of that reckoning is you.

The beast for me is greed. Whether you read Dante, Swift, or any of these guys, it always boils down to the same thing: the corruption of the soul. – Ben Nicholson

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