In this series of blog posts I’d like to explore the importance of religion, and especially faith, to the inhabitants of the dark souls world. Initially I will be focusing on Dark Souls III as the most recent game, but I would like to go back and examine the other games in this series too. See this post for an introduction and overview of faith in Lothric.
In a conversation that vividly sticks out in my mind, a friend once told me that everyone believes in something. Something that shapes what they do and how they live. This has always stayed with me, especially in regards to my own faith which I outlined in the last post. As I said there, not all faith is religious.
And this is important to keep in mind when discussing the Mound-maker covenant. There are so many examples of religious faith in Dark Souls that I can post about, but I really want to talk about this dark covenant first. To me, their beliefs really highlight how important faith is to this game, and how everyone really does believe in something.
On the surface the Mound-makers appear to be a covenant whose main goal is just to kill. Some PvP action wrapped in a bit of dark souls lore. But if we dig into this lore we see deep, desperate faith which drives the Mound-makers to invade and kill.
The Mound-makers are associated with madness – this is not a nuanced portrait of mental illness, but more a state of wildness and thoughtlessness. This is the madness of those undead who have gone hollow, who have died too many times, losing a piece of themselves each time until they eventually lose their minds too. Hoderick’s armour describes him as follows: “The sorry fool was known to wander the battlefield as a crazed ghoul, lashing out at friend and foe alike.” It seems he was once a great warrior, but through hollowing lost the perspective that allowed him to differentiate between enemy and ally. Those in the Mound-maker covenant invade as mad spirits, appearing in purple instead of the usual red for hostile players, which signals out their covenant, and their motives, as something different from other PvP groupings.
I am sure that when the Mound-makers invade and kill they are attempting to connect with other people in which they feel they cannot in any other way. The Mound-makers seem to be mainly hollows (hence the madness), and unlike the rest of the populace of Dark Souls, they do not fear hollowing but embrace it. Hollows are despised by most, and viewed very poorly, so the Mound-makers were probably shunned even before they started murdering. Undead become hollowed once they have no more hope, no more purpose, but in some gruesome inversion the Mound-makers find meaning in their hollowing and through the covenant find a faith that must bring them comfort and connection with others – even if it is all in their heads.
To go into more detail on this, let’s first look at what they gain from invading and killing: the vertebra shackles. The Mound-maker covenant item description reads: “A malformed vertebra found by the mad, with a queer symbol on its inside, proof of the shackles of the Gods.” And it’s expanded on in the description of the bone itself: “A special bone collected by members of the covenant of Mound-makers, discovered in the corpses of their victims. Only one such bone is found in the vertebrae, and the Mound-makers believe it to be a shackle of the gods.”
The most noticeable thing about these descriptions is the mention of the shackles of the Gods. What does this mean? I’ve seen various theories surrounding it, but when I first read this two meanings came to mind. Either: that the each person has a shackle or tie to the Gods and the Mound-makers wish to gain extra shackles for themselves OR that these shackles were made by the Gods, and by taking them, the Mound-maker is binding themselves to their victim forever.
I’m not sure which of these theories I lean towards the most, as I see merit in both. In relation to the Mound-maker’s views of the Gods, it is worth looking at the description for the spell Warmth, which is a Mound-maker reward for covenant participation. It reads: “[The Mound-makers] feared separation from the gods and sought a familial bond, perhaps leading to the creation of this flame of harmony.” Whatever theory about the shackles of the gods is true, it is clear that the Mound-makers feel alone, isolated and abandoned. Many may have been pious or religious people before they became Undead and feel empty without this religious connection to a higher being.
In reference to the latter theory we are told that the Mound-makers, literally make mounds from these bones, which they think of as their family. They attack indiscriminately like any hollow, but they do so with purpose for “in their minds, each victim is another connection, an addition to the family” [Covenant item description]. And to me this desperation for connection is what drives the Mound-maker faith. This isn’t killing for the sake of killing but with the intent of making a happy family. It’s hinted at in the description for the Bloodlust Katana that members care deeply about the family they have created. There’s something terribly tragic about this, albeit equally horrifying.
I want to talk a little about madness in relation to the bones collected. The “queer symbol” does not appear to obviously be a set of shackles. In fact, to me it looks more like a Rorschach test, in which the viewer’s mental state affects what they see. I am not an expert on psychosis so I won’t put to much weight on this next statement, and I want to make clear that I am not claiming that psychosis in this world = murderer. However, it is my understanding that many who suffer from psychotic illness often see patterns which they find meaning in. This sounds like a perfect description of these shackles.
These Mound-makers are becoming hollow, they have likely been pushed out from their communities and are losing their hope as well as their minds. No wonder, in this desperate state, they see this symbol and form this belief that they can help themselves and others. The covenant and its faith is sheer act of desperation.
Dark Souls is a bleak and cruel world and the fate of hollows is undoubtable tragic. Covenants like the Mound-makers and other expression of twisted faith really show the player the effect this world has on its inhabitants. ‘Desperation’ is a word I associate deeply with faith/religion in Dark Souls, and it is seen so clearly in the faith of the Mound-makers, those who turn to murder and madness in order to find happiness within their grim existence. Faith is more than going to church every week and thanking god for all the good things in life. Faith defines how you act and what you do in life -its a spiritual philosophy. And most importantly faith is what is left when everything else is gone: it’s what motivates you to carry on through life instead of just lying down and dying.
In the next post of this series I want to look at the religions, covenants and faith groups of Dark Souls III in more detail. In the meantime, please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions on how these believes function in the world of Dark Souls.
For more about the Mound-makers, watch this great lore video from Mitch L, which inspired this post.