14 October, 2008

Rookwood

This morning I decided to take a quick drive around Rookwood Cemetery, the largest working cemetery in the southern hemisphere.

This has caused me to revise some ideas for some concepts I've been working on.

It's a common anthropological theory that funerals are a ritual for the living, not for the dead. Visiting graves is a similar concept that helps the closure of a persons life within the space of their cultural footprint. Those who are more influential within a family draw descendants to their graves, those who have a wider impact on the community (through fame, wealth or other influence) draw visitors to their final resting place beyond their families.

Visiting the Chinese part of the cemetery was a truly interesting part of the journey. I don't know enough about the origins of chinese funeral rites (whether Buddhist or Taoist), but I do know that they believe in many hells. People are believed to spend time in these hells to atone for their sins in the mortal world, before reincarnating or passing on the a higher plane. Time in these hells can be reduced by descendents burning "hell money" which effectively ransoms the soul, shortening the duration in hell between reincarnations.

It's an interesting idea that is similar to the Purgatory of the Catholic faith, or even the concept of Grey angels in Kaballah (where white traditional angels bring goodness, black angels[demons] bring punishment and misery, and Grey angels bring misfortune that may be overcome in the mortal world to atone for the sins of previous stages in your life).

Driving between sections of the graveyard I thought of numerous concepts that could be useful to a game, or to a cosmology. The intersections of the Jewish section are marked with huge paved "Stars of David", the Russian Orthodox section has gravestones marked in Cyrillic, the chinese name both husband and wife on the gravestone even before both parties have passed on (the surviving member covers the letters of their name in a red paint...I'll need to look into this tradition more carefully if I'm going to use this concept in a work of speculative fiction or a game).

Parts of the garveyard are so old that the graves seem to blend in with the landscape, other parts have a palpable energy about them.

One part of the cemetery has a roadway with jewish graves on one side of the road, and chinese graves on the other. I immediately thought of a war between fighting spirits of each faith. But the problem here is that sects within each faith believe in reincarnation.

If spirits do linger in such a place, why would they do so?

If the spirits have moved on, what happens to the energy invested by mortal descendants. If modern physics has begun to establish parallels where belief fuels reality, then what happens to the expended hell money, the incense, the prayers if their recipient is no longer present to accept the blessing?

I was reminded of certain concepts in the old World of Darkness game "Wraith the Oblivion", reminded of how I'd love to expand some of those ideas in my game "Tales".

As I left the cemetery, I was also reminded of the fact that the cemetery is completely surrounded by at least two "rings of iron". Railway tracks border three sides of the cemetery, with a complete ring of track encompassing both the cemetery and a few nearby suburbs. Additional parts of the Sydney rail network form a second complete ring around the cemetery. (The standard network map doesn't show the goods lines that criss-cross the commuter network). A track even led into the cemetery for many decades, with four stations, leading from the Mortuary/Regent St. Station in the city, and with tracks leading toward another cemetary called the "Field of Mars".

I'm seeing some great potential for a game about ghosts and the afterworld here. Now it's just a case of doing it right, or working out how to best incorporate these ideas into my other concepts.
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