One never needs look far from the loveliest flower to find the worms fatting on the buried dead below, providing for beauty’s banquet above. Such truths are known to the gods. There can be no light without darkness, no life without death, no good without evil. As one of the First among the gods, these truths are held as virtues to glorious Desna, Song of the Spheres. She knows and teaches that a thing of beauty to your eye may be a wretched affront to mine. Beauty and horror can exist simultaneously. Beauty and horror can be the same.
But do not let any deceive you that beauty and horror are equals. One need not endure the pain of rent flesh to marvel at the glitter of a finely-honed blade, nor should you be forced to endure the ache of loneliness just to enjoy the peace of solitude. Learn, Desna teaches us, that enjoyment and delight in the pleasures of life is not a sin. You need not pay for bliss with shame, and you should not fear the horror that lies within all beauty.
For so Desna learned herself when she woke the abominable Gossamer King from his shrouded dreams.
In those earliest of days, long before the first of us dreamed our mortal dreams, the gods were still young and they still had much to learn. The worlds of worlds had yet to hang in the firmament, and the First of those Worlds was still being woven as Desna drifted, dreaming and delighting, through the In-Between.
In that time, the Ethereal Plane was no Ghost World, for no lives had yet been lost to mortal souls. Nor was it a Space Between Spaces, for the worlds of reality had yet to be forged. It was first, and yet remains, the In-Between. A place not fully dreaming, yet neither fully awake. Such sights Desna beheld In-Between tugged at her heart and would inspire her in time to light Cynosure itself at the heart of the Cosmic Caravan.
And so when, in her rapturous wanderings, the Song of the Spheres came across a glistening shape drifting alone, she became entranced. Here was a splendid ovoid of shimmering silken strands, each twined length sliding and singing against its kin and bright with more colors than any mortal eye would ever behold. Desna could see that the shape was a shroud of woven lengths, yet the strings had no beginning and no end, as if it had simply formed at once as a single impossibly tangled length.
Desna was not content to simply look upon the shape, and so she settled upon it. It was warm to the touch, and its smooth surface compelled the hand to slide along its pleasing textures. And as she held the shape, she knew it was but a covering, a shroud that held an even greater wonder within. What mysterious marvel lay shielded from view by those few thin layers of silk? What unbeheld revelation waited within this strange traveler through the flickering void? Desna knew of the brutality of evil and the rancor of wrath, for such awfulness has existed from the beginning. She knew, even as she tugged at the strands and worried at the weave, that something this entrancing could also be something equally awful, yet she paid those nagging thoughts no mind.
She opened the Gossamer King’s cocoon, and as Ghlaunder emerged, Desna knew sorrow and regret for the first time.
Ghlaunder crawled from quiescence: eyes and mouths—eyes that were mouths; legs and tongues—legs that were tongues; hunger and hate—hunger that was hate. Ghlauder seized upon the Song of the Spheres. She brushed aside those starving stalks and slashing teeth, yet more were there to vex voraciously, for Ghlaunder had waited for eons, and in eons, hunger has much time to compel. As Ghlaunder fed in desperate gulps, as it glutted upon Desna’s divine grace, its wings unfurled and there Desna beheld glory again. For the Gossamer King’s iridescent wings held the same shimmering beauty that had caught Desna’s eye before his wakening.
Desna could not bring herself to destroy Ghlaunder, yet she knew he was a great hunger whose presence would bring pain and suffering. And so Desna drew upon her might and banished Ghlaunder from the In-Between, and the Gossamer King was hurled from the Inner Sphere to fester far beyond within the Outer Rifts, a place more accepting of his countenance now that his shroud had been forever torn.
Desna left the In-Between soon after, and in the creation of the worlds of worlds, she would find much more to remind her of the beauty of reality, yet always the Gossamer King’s lesson remained. Even in great beauty could dwell great horror—and in great horror one might find great beauty.
The Gossamer King lives still. His faithful infest the neglected cracks of society, and they see the face of god in the rasping kiss of the chewing maggot or the thirsty work of the supping leech. Yet do not doctors use maggots to save the living from gangrenous wounds? Have not physicians used leeches to reduce the swelling of inflamed flesh?
Desna’s faithful are not alone in the constant fight against the cults of those like the Gossamer King, but Desna today is the first to point to her mistake of releasing this evil into reality not as something to be ashamed of. It was a chance to learn. It is always better to live, to make mistakes, and accept the challenges discovered as opportunities to grow, to teach, and to do better than to suppress and forget.
And while the sight of a devotee of Ghlaunder clad in the faith’s most sacred raiment—a thousand thousand sucking mosquitos worn together as robes—certainly turns the stomach, is there not something of beauty in how each of those gossamer wings shines back the twinkling starlight from the night skies above?
About the Author
James Jacobs is the Creative Director for Pathfinder. While he was there at the beginning of Golarion’s creation, many of the deities worshiped by that world’s heroes and villains had already existed for decades before. Goddesses and gods like Desna and Rovagug, Sarenrae and Abadar, Achaekek and Zon-Kuthon first established their faithful among PCs and NPCs alike in James’ home campaign in the late 80s and early 90s. Sharing them with the world as deities of the Pathfinder setting, seeing players and creators come to love and hate them (and in some cases cosplay as them), has been a career highlight.
About the Windsong Testaments
On the northern reaches of Varisia’s Lost Coast stands Windsong Abbey, a forum for interfaith discussion tended by priests of nearly twenty faiths and led by a legacy of Masked Abbesses. At the dawn of the Age of Lost Omens, Windsong Abbey suffered as its faithful fought and fled, but today it has begun to recover. A new Masked Abbess guides a new flock within, and the Windsong Testaments—parables about the gods themselves—are once again being recorded within the abbey’s walls. Some of these Testaments are presented here as Golarion’s myths and fables. Some parts may be true. Other parts are certainly false. Which ones are which is left to the faithful to decide.
The Windsong Testaments: The Beauty of Horrors
Thursday, October 17, 2019