Helvetii DevBlog #3: Myth upon myths, and before Switzerland

Hello friendos !

It’s been two weeks and it’s tuesday. You know what that means ! It’s a new Helvetii Dev Blog !
I hope y’all enjoyed the last one. Truth be told, there’s a lot more to say about the intricacies behind the mechanics and I feel like I’ve only grazed the surface. But as development goes on, they will also get more defined and I’ll get back to them in due time !

But right now, and as promised, it’s time to reach to the other main inspiration behind the game, and that is the story behind the Helvetian tribes and a few of the myths surrounding them.

This subject is pretty vast so, again, this will be kind of an introduction to the matter rather than a full-blown exposé (plus despite my research, I am not historian myself). I also need to keep some material for certain bosses and enemies which will be closely tied to said lore !

In any case,talking about this game and the lore inspiration behind it raised a few eyebrows with even some of my local colleagues. The story of the Helvetii is not a very well-known one, and seldom mentioned even in our own history classes (in fact I have little memory of ever learning about them before this moment while I was at school.) Granted, the Helvetic tribes are a story before Switzerland, and doesn’t reach most of the country too (The eastern parts of the country may have different origins)

gleyre_charles_romans_under_the_yoke

“Romans passing under the yoke”(1858) by Charles Gleyre. The painting depicts a defeated roman legion, with warchief Divico overlooking the procession

“The Helvetii, fiercest of the gauls”

The Helvetii were not a single tribe, but rather a group, or confederation, or celtic tribes spanning through Gaul, spanning from the west of the Geneva Lake to the upper reaches of the Jura region, and into even what would be called the Swiss-german territory of Bern and Basel (approximately).  Some of the tribes were for instance the Tigurini (from where Divico hails), the Rauraci,  or the Tugeni.

Written history references them mostly between around 110 BC to 50 BC. First for fleeing the migrating the northern tribes (at least, it is speculated) under Orgetorix, the current chieftain. Secondly mostly during the Gaulish War, with the back and forth between the Helvetii tribes and Julius Caesar.

After that, the history of the Helvetii becomes succinct at best. Caesar refers to the Helvetii during his time against them as one of the fiercest enemies he has faced. Granted, it is widely speculated that the reason for this “praise” is mostly to make his own accomplishment shine through even more (And Caesar has quite a few amusing stories regarding his ego).

This is why digging through the history of this agglomeration of tribes was somewhat of a fun and curious exercise. Even in Switzerland, this long-gone part of our history is seldom mentioned. We’re way closer to the myth of Switzerland (the Grütli, the battle of morgarten, William Tell and other stories who may or rather may not have really happened according to our historians).  And it has proven to be quite tricky to find conclusive information about the actual myths, beliefs and stories around the Helvetii.

In fact, if one wants to look at them, they might try their luck with stories of their other celtic cousins.

unnamed

“Mythology of Ancient Switzerland” by R. Christinger and W. Borgeaud, probably one of the most important book for my research

Quite frankly, if we’re looking at the Helvetii alone, the information is pretty sparse. Most of their recorded history comes from Roman testimonies and a few isolated things here and there from Gaulish sources. However, it is by looking at the larger picture of what composed these tribes and their “cousins” that we get to see a larger picture of the various beliefs and mythologies behind not only the Helvetii but Celtic and Germanic tribes at large…and even far off cultures like early Indian culture.

“Mythology of Ancient Switzerland” not only details the observation and old beliefs of the men and women who treaded here millenias ago, but correlates the different cultures who, despite having no real connection between them, seem to all fall to similar beliefs. How many cultures embraced their own version of “Epona”, the horse protector deity, spanning from Ireland to Greece and India under different names. Similarly, all cultures seem to have deities related to the hunt, water, fire, and many things that seemed a necessity or just a huge part of the life of women and men at the time. While it doesn’t always give precise information on detailed mythologies, it allows to narrow down similar myths that touched these different cultures due to their environment.

There are, for instance, a few theories on a “Bear cult” that spanned across celtic/Gaulish regions. The veracity of such findings is still being discussed today, but there are numerous hints found through the entire swiss territory.

ladybear

Dea Artio, the bear lady

“In 1832, we found in Muri, near Berne, two small statues belonging to an ensemble that, once reconstituted, presents itself thus: a base that bears the inscription “deae Artioni Licinia Sabinilla; a sitting woman holding a cup in the right hand and with an altar on its left, mounted with a basket of fruits. Across it, an oak from which a big bear is descending to face the woman-deity, relatively smaller in size”

Bear divinities, like many other of their kind, span multiple cultures. What makes it interesting for the Celtic tribes and the Helvetii is that a lot of their culture was also borrowed from the Greek, including their language which can sound oddly similar at times.

“What can the oak mean ? Maxime de Tyr says that an elevated Oak is akin to a statue for Zeus: “The celts honor Zeus, the celtic representation of Zeus is an elevated Oak”” We do know that druids took a lot of interest in oaks. It would then be presomptuous that the Oak represented in the statue found in Muri would just be an ordinary representation of a tree

From here on out, you can also look at similar myths like the northern berserkir, which in a way is a variation of the traditional werewolf (in berserkr, ber = bear, and serkr = skin/envelop/shroud).

How it translates into my work is that I carefully look at the distinct “needs” of these tribes and how they relate to it. Once the reading is done, I then try to create original concepts based on these notes, with a particular “celtic/Gaulish” touch based also on visual research. Then repeat the process. What is interesting in all of this is not much the “why” but more of the “how”, which helps to add more depth to even benign scenes.

Divico, the warchief, but not necessarily the hero

It’s hard already to find conclusive information on the Helvetii belief system. It’s even harder to find out about some of the personalities. Among the few that come up often, we know of Orgetorix (Warchief from 100 BC), Nammeios, a druid and envoy, and Divico, who notably defeated the roman legion under Lucius Cassius, Piso, and Publicus, sent by Caesar to root the Gauls from the lake’s shores.

He then got his ass kicked by Caesar years later during the Gaulish wars, trying to join Bibracte and the rest of the gaulish tribes.

There isn’t much known of Divico, the actual man, apart that he was apparently a pretty fierce warchief (there’s also apparently a statue of him in the federal palace in Berne, but I’ve never went to check). Hence my research had to be a bit different on him.

Eventually, I stumbled upon the book “The Helvetii Saga” by Pierre Latrigue.

What is interesting in this book is the depiction of not only Divico but the Druid Nammeios, another of the rare named figures of that time who will also be present in the game. In Latrigue’s book, Divico is painted as a somewhat ruthless individual with a mind driven by conquest, while Nammeios is a more grounded, calm individual.

It is not to say that this depiction of Divico will be the same in the game (especially because the Divico from the game will be younger, and less “experienced”), but the contrast it offered with the usual golden depiction of such figures was interesting enough for me that it offered a suitable mould for the character in itself.  Some of the events he participated in will also be a part of his backstory in the game itself.

But as far as I’m concerned, my own take on Divico will be an in between the “official” version and Latrigue’s version.

From Celtic to Germanic, and slightly anachronistic

loetschental-rro-als-tschaeggaetta-61653

Tschaggata masks, part of a traditional getup for a carnval in the valleys of the Lotschental

I am almost at the end of this blog (yes yes I know, it’s been a bit long isn’t it ?) but as a final word: While there is a lot of material among celtic mythology to work with,I think that, as also a celebration of more modern swiss myths, occasionally picking among other cultures such as germanic ones, and even more “out-of-place” things will also help Helvetii (The game) into forging its own mythology around the mythology.

One of the great pleasures of this game is unearthing and reworking old legends and showing them to the world. There are certain things, like the Tschäggätä of Lotschental which would find a nice place among the beasts and darkness of the Helvetii world. And the idea of bringing this to people outside the country brings me great joy

Each enemy, boss and location will be built around old myths with a new coat of paint. The reinvention of the Helvetii mythos is not only an exercise in creativity but a good way to show fellow countrymen and others the treasures we have slept upon for a long time now !

And some of these creatures won’t be too pleased by you awakening them

 

%d bloggers like this: