Allisa of the Mists

When the church in the 80s decided to eject some D&D players, they actually had a point. Fantasy roleplaying did turn out to be occult and pagan recruitment to some extent. I’ve found 40-year-old ‘magickians’ with groups still running. (Of course there are atheist D&D groups eager to fall in with Dawkins as well.)

When it came to art, few doubted that the 80s TSR illustrators upped the game, especially the ‘big 3’ — Clyde Caldwell, Jeff Easley, and Larry Elmore. “Larry Elmore’s covers are really astonishing, and TSR had to have known his cover art sold a lot of books!”, remembers a gamebook reviewer. With an eye for the mythic, however, most of it is not terribly sophisticated. “Strong man fight big monster,” sums up a good 70%. For the ladies, it turns out that showing thigh is somehow a major part of the adventuring skillset. But occasionally, just occasionally, something different seems to happen.

I had entirely lost interest in these games when I saw the cover of Forgotten Realms Adventures, a painting by Clyde Caldwell known as Allisa of the Mists. This is a couple of decades back now. I bought the book, thinking maybe I’d play again someday, but have never even read it. I just liked the cover. As Caldwell himself mentions, “the image became an icon for Forgotten Realms”. I hauled it out recently and, with an eye primed for the mythic, noticed some interesting stuff.

As with any interpretation of a mythic (or mythic-style) symbology, you need to look twice: once as a person, and then closely at the symbols. In Allisa of the Mists, (with apologies for the dilapidation of my copy):


… we see a foreground figure, a woman, who looks at us with a certain prideful and challenging appraisal. In contrast with many D&D ladies (especially Caldwell ones) she is fully clothed — perhaps an effect of moral majority censorship, I don’t know. She rides a horse which on closer inspection proves to be a unicorn. Behind her, in the misty moonlight, rise two large towers, portcullises open to reveal orange interiors. The effect of the whole, for me, was always something like: “Are you worthy to enter?” (Not a bad way to sell a book.)

So let’s look closer. What do we see?

The armour is gold, the alchemical symbol of achievement and victory, and the helmet is winged as is Athena’s, occasionally. Wings represent intelligence and spirit; weapons, mastery. A horse could be solar or lunar, here the golden light suggests solar. Unicorns have tended to represent sexual and moral virtue. Mastery, intelligence and victory through sexual ‘virtue’ or power represents an enlightened one, one who has been through kundalini, sitting masterfully astride her own animal nature.

But the background shows a moon that is pale, mysterious and misted. The realm in which this figure moves is not solar but watery and a little shivery. Compare the image, too, with the Rider Waite Moon:

The second chakra is associated with the element of water. It is also very much associated with the kidneys, linked to the water element in Chinese medicine. The kidneys’ colour is dark or black — observe the towers, one on each side. The water element also covers fear, and therefore courage. The kidney caps release the fire of adrenaline as these towers release their inner glow : orange, the colour of the second chakra according to Glenn Morris. This Allisa is a figure who knows the way through this watery realm, the second chakra realm in which you risk paranoia and terror (“trust is a hard-earned commodity,” says Glenn) and she challenges you to find it if you are worthy. She could indeed be considered an Athena, an encourager of wisdom, or perhaps an image of the achieved Superconscious Mind itself.

How much of this went through Caldwell’s awareness? None I’m sure. But the subconscious mind is a strange thing. I’ve long believed something was influencing Gygax — I mean the platonic solids as dice, come on! And as mentioned, many whose imagination was struck by such images went on to meditate or cast circles. Glenn himself used to say D&D was fun for learning strategy. He recommended playing mages or clerics if you planned to learn about the non-physical experientially.

Are you worthy to enter?

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6 responses to “Allisa of the Mists

  • Chris Jensen Romer

    Hullo. I don’t know if you are familiar with Greg Stafford’s Glorantha ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gloranthaand ) the role-playing games it has inspired or he he has written, but Greg is a practising shaman and I seem to recall him saying he founded Chaosium based upon a Tarot reading. In relation to the ant-D&D backlash, you may be mildly amused by my small parody here — http://jerome23.wordpress.com/2010/03/06/join-dadd-dawkinites-against-dungeons-and-dragons/

  • Jason

    I enjoyed that parody! (And had no idea when I visited you that you had anything to do with RPGs BTW. I only visited on the recommend of my friend Nemo.

    Yes I certainly know about Stafford. In fact I remember thinking what a crazy idea that was at the time, that he ‘was a shaman’… you live, you learn.

  • Danielle

    Hello Jason. I enjoyed reading your interpretation. It feels right on from the perspective of the Five Elements theory. I know my metal energy could benefit greatly from this image as a way to capture the possibility of holding strength as a woman, in this such way.

    I used to play D&D with my two brothers when we were young. Often, I was the Dungeon Master. Doesn’t surprise me that I chose that role given that I’ve guided many in meditation as an adult in a yoga class, or during a healing session.

    I wonder how it would work out if one were to use the realm of D&D in a role-play to heal wounds that were caused by dark forces unseen to man’s eye, using the potential of the characters as a way of tapping into the archetypes we hold within our inner consciousness; evolving our shadow self and the wound…hmm.

    • Jason Wingate

      Hi Danielle!

      Your comment brings a grin! So many seem to have caught onto D&D as that way in.

      That Jungian healing approach is actually something Greg Stafford (inventor of Runequest, shaman, mentioned by CJ Romer in above comment) has talked of. There was a short-lived little magazine called inter*action which featured non-lunkheaded roleplaying commentary, and I remember Stafford talking about actual examples of players using the game to resolve subconscious stuff, sometimes without even being aware of it.

      Personally I’m not sure I’d want to trust my healing to a d20. :) But the concept of self-actualisation is definitely inherent in the idea of getting experience to move up levels.

      I’ve thought about what I’d play now, if I did. The selling points of the vaporware game I came up with were:

      a) You’d begin as unable to control your behaviour but experience would allow you to absorb the shadow.of fear and go towards mastery, that would be part of the point.

      b) The campaign theme would be a small community trying to survive, so the values would be about ecology and finding a place for multiple different types of people etc.

      There was more, can’t remember… have no time to play in any case, plus real life has a lot more interesting spiritual imagery these days! But some of that old D&D art was so funny, I remember the primitive days with great foundness, you know, some of this stuff!

  • Danielle

    Jungian pyschology is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to navigate healing of the subconscious. Course, having the ability to be present in the body while channeling processes of these fantastical imaginaries or the shadow self, archetypes, can pose a challenge. Unless, of course, one has an appropriate guide. Master of the art of healing…or “Master” of the dungeon… ;) [Sorry, couldn’t help myself.]

    Thanks for the flashback of the “primitive days”. Hahaha…as I say, laughter is good medicine, especially in the early part of the morning. Makes for a playful unfoldment of what’s to come in the day.

    Fun to play with fantasy – nice game plan – but, like you said, real life is much more interesting. Course, how “real” is it?? As real as we create it…

    • Jason Wingate

      I figured you liked Jung from the archetype/shadow language. He’ll feature next post as one of three major psychologists you don’t learn about in most psychology courses.

      I guess laughter is the basis both for Glenn and Mantak, in the form of the Smile meditation to open a session. Mantak’s is more about the body structure, whereas Glenn’s is about eliciting psychological resources. One can combine those.

      A nice one in Glenn’s Smile is to allow your subconcious to bring up the last time you completely cracked up with laughter, then substract out the situation so you just have the feeling, and take it through your system, put into saliva, and swallow. (You do that with other resources too eg. self-respect, love. This in itself can transform someone.) People who do Glenn’s Hoshin meditations or K.A.P tend to giggle a lot and have gonzo senses of humour.

      I like it in Mantak’s T’ai Chi vid where he tells everyone to come up and feel his butt to see how you move your hips, “but don’t worry, I won’t put the gas on you.” That’s a catchphrase in my house.

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