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Eternal Recurrence and the Kalachakra

The very name of my universe, the Eschaton Cycle, implies a cycle of recurring apocalypses over different time periods. Each of these time periods I call an era. I think anyone who’s read more than a bit of my Eschaton Cycle fiction will have some basic idea of the concept, but it’s a little outside Western mainstream thought.

My introduction on the website:

Civilization rises and flourishes, but in time, corruption grows. When the world threatens to crumble beneath the weight of its own darkness, the Destroyer arises to combat the corruption. This battle against corruption results in a cataclysmic destruction of civilization and death of much of the population, called an eschaton. Following an eschaton, the world is renewed, beginning a new era.

So, each era of the Eschaton Cycle represents a different iteration of the same world. While human civilization is always wiped out, some aspects of prior eras do persist, including certain immortal beings. Taken collectively, the eras and the stories within them represent a tapestry of retold myths, legends, and fairy tales as dark fantasy.

Numerous ancient religions and philosophies suppose the idea of cyclical history that repeats either in exactness, or more often, in a self-similar manner in which patterns play out along the same lines while specifics differ in flavor. Philosophically we call this concept eternal recurrence (after a Nietzschean thought experiment) or sometimes eternal return, a cyclical model of the universe. Within the Eschaton Cycle framework, the recurrence is not of necessity eternal and reality can collapse back into itself—there’s always that threat of everything just ending, and we see some fear of that in Gods of the Ragnarok Era.

The idea of the world being created, destroyed, and recreated comes up most prominently in Dharmic religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism), but also features importantly in Egyptian mythology, and in Greek Stoic philosophy.

In Norse mythology, we have the myth of Ragnarok ending the world, but we are told that afterwards another world will rise, presumably starting the whole process over. Ancient sources remain ambiguous about whether the exact same gods will rise again, though some few of the previous era do survive.

Not so very long ago, pop culture took a fascination with the idea of a Mayan Apocalypse in 2012, also based on somewhat similar ideas (in this case the sun dying and being recreated).

All instances of cyclical time.

The Kalachakra

The word “Dharma” means something akin to the cosmic ordering of the universe, with actions in accordance with that natural order being “good.” The natural order of the universe, in Dharmic thought, a cyclic one tied in later traditions to the idea of the Trimurti, which in turn, is the three forms of the supreme deity: Brahma (Creation), Vishnu (Preservation), and Shiva (Destruction). Each of these forms may have avatars that help fulfill their roles (especially Vishnu).

In the loosest of terms, Brahma creates the universe which lasts for a day and a night of Brahma (a kalpa or aeon). A kalpa is subdivided into a number of mahayugas, where a mahayuga represents a cycle of the four yugas (ages). A kalpa lasts for a certain number of mahayugas before the whole thing dissolves (to be recreated again later). Sometimes a kalpa is believed to be a thousand mahayugas, though I assume far less for eschaton.

The length of a yuga also varies in tradition (with some traditions having ascending and descending phases). I chose an interpretation suited for the setting.

Within the Eschaton Cycle, each era is divided into four ages (yugas) of decreasing length and increasing corruption that roughly corresponds to the mythological concepts above. Eventually it ends in an eschaton and most human life gets wiped out. Then the cycle starts again.

The Eschaton Cycle ages are as follows:

  • Satya Yuga (Golden Age) from 1 – 2400 years
  • Treta Yuga (Silver Age) from 2401 – 4000 years
  • Dvapara Yuga (Bronze Age) from 4001 – 4800 years
  • Kali Yuga (Dark Age) from 4801 to 5200 years

These year lengths are approximations as they do not match up minutely in every era. Regardless, the end of an era is effectively an almost total restart of history.

This is where we get into the Kalachakra “wheels of time,” which relates to the cycle of those ages. Robert Jordan’s famous (or infamous, depending on who you talk to) Wheel of Time series also pulls from this concept, though it diverges significantly from the more traditional take.

In Greek mythology we also have the Ages of Man, either four (Golden, Silver, Bronze, Iron) or five (adding in Heroic), which roughly equates to the Dharmic Kalachakra because it also follows a cycle of descending into greater darkness or chaos.

The word “satya” is Sanskrit for “truth,” and thus this first age following an eschaton is basically as good as it gets. Within the Ragnarok Era, this is the period of Brimir when the jotunnar rule the world. It’s not perfect, more called a golden age in hindsight than at the time. But the Vanir unmake this age and thus set the world on a course toward another eventual eschaton. Every revolution holds within it the seeds of its own destruction.

Within the Eschaton Cycle, the Destroyer serves as a catalyst for these eschatons. Whether a good thing or a bad thing, the cyclical apocalypses do renew the world. While numerous eschatological concepts and messianic figures underlay my idea of the Destroyer, in its original conception I pulled heavily from ideas of Shiva (particularly in Shaivism in which Shiva represents all three aspects of creation, preservation, and destruction) and of Vishnu’s avatar Kalki.

Kalki, the final and forthcoming avatar of Vishnu, serves to fight a cataclysmic war to end all wars against demons.

You notice the Ouroboros symbol for the Eschaton Cycle books? The ouroboros is an Egyptian dragon eating its own tail, representing cyclical time. This symbol was later used by the Greeks and, importantly, co-opted by the Gnostics (another primary inspiration for the whole Eschaton Cycle idea). It goes round and round. The dragon aspect is the chaos surrounding reality, but from which reality must emerge (over and over).

It also fits in with Jörmungandr, the Norse World Serpent. Everybody loves Jörmungandr.

The Wheel of Life

Finally, in order for the cycle to truly represent any kind of true eternal recurrence, something of an individual must also repeat in self-similar manner. This gets represented by the Wheel of Life (Bhavachakra), which is in turn a metaphor for samsara (reincarnation).

Within the Buddhist Bhavachakra we see people can get reborn into six realms, the human realm being one of them. They could also be born as demigods, demons, ghosts, animals, and so forth.

In the case of Dharmic religion, an individual rebirth represents the results of karma (action) in previous life. Rather than any third party punishing or rewarding karma, either the soul does it to itself, or the universe does it as a kind of law of action/reaction. In either case, existence in any realm is temporary. Even the so-called gods live and die and continue the cycle unless they achieve true enlightenment and thus reach Nirvana.

In Eschaton, this concept pervades, unknown to most people. Souls repeat patterns created by their own basic natures and perpetuated because they cyclically lose their memories. However, certain souls are continuously drawn to one another as friends, enemies, lovers—but always tied together through invisible connections called the Web of Souls.

Odin has thus been other incarnations of the Destroyer before and has dealt with other incarnations of the people in his life as well. He’s known and loved and hated and fought all these people before.

 

What all this means, in the end, is that history in the Eschaton Cycle is both progressing and repeating. The tapestry builds on itself, events in one era can create and alter the next, but the ouroboros keeps eating its tail, and the two wheels keep spinning.

History is merciless …

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