Phantasms and Cosmic Knowledge (Bloodborne Lore)
Bloodborne and I have a bit of a unique relationship, wherein I have become rather intrigued by the whole plot and the game refuses to give me straight answers without the song and dance of me lore-diving and trying to piece it together with critical thinking—which is akin to doing a jigsaw puzzle blindfolded while fending off an army of tentacles.
The gist of the plot of Bloodborne is that humans attempting to evolve to the level of the Great Ones have caused a level of ‘oh crap, we’re all going to die’ that you rarely see in a Victorian-era setting. So much that the good ending has you being under the care of a porcelain doll who is the closest thing to human comfort you’ll get as you splatter the street with blood and go mad. The latter is what I particularly want to touch on in this lore theory of mine.
Now, one aspect of Lovecraftian Horror is that humans are inconsequential and there are things so much bigger than us in the universe that the human race can be blinked out of existence with a single thought and there is nothing we can do about it. This is primarily because they exist on such a high plane of existence that even trying to grasp their forms will drive you out of your mind. Yet the allure of evolution drives people to keep trying to do so despite knowing that via different mediums.
In Bloodborne, there’s a stat called Insight that measures just how great your ability to comprehend the world and the eldritch elements that infest it is. It factors this in gameplay by changing how your character perceives the world. The enemies have extra eyes and powers, invisible creatures become visible, you can hear music playing where there is none, and even the cries of an infant Great One become audible. Its description reads as follows:
The Insight stat represents the depth of inhuman knowledge. Needed to ring a special bell, but induces frenzy.
Defining Knowledge as either ‘facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education‘ or the second definition that is ‘awareness of familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation‘ works well given that there are largely two ways for a player to increase their Insight stat.
The first is to encounter places, enemies, or events that are special in some way. You are personally bearing witness to something that pushes the boundaries of how you see the world, so you can’t ignore it anymore. It’s like having different filters removed one at a time, and once you start recognizing a pattern it becomes harder to forget it exists or ignore it.
The second is to consume an item that houses some form of eldritch knowledge or existence, such as Madman’s Knowledge, Great One’s Wisdom, and a One Third of Umbilical Cord. In these cases, you’re ingesting different things that contain either parts of Great Ones or Phantasms. It’s this method that interest me the most, so we’ll focus on that.
My theory is on how Phantasms give you access to eldritch wisdom in. Spoilers ahead for Bloodborne and Dresden Files (Book Series) by the way.
What are Phantasms?
Phantasms are a species of invertebrate creatures that either have arcane properties or allow for humans to interact with the Great Ones. They were first discovered in the tombs beneath Yharnam by prospectors, working under the Healing Church’s orders. However, the existence of the Augur of Ebrietas and the Empty Phantasm Shell in Byrgenwerth leads me to believe they may have also been involved as well.
There are several species of phantasms, but only a select amount of information is given to the player in the game about them. We know that some species are symbiotic nature, in that the inhabit something and in turn give that object their blessing. One such item is the Blacksky Eye, whose description reads as follows:
Soft eye blessed by a phantasm. They were discovered through Byrgenwerth’s contact with the arcane, but in the end revealed nothing.
Deep within the eye lies a vast stretch of dark sky that rumbles with an endless meteor storm. The slightest rub of the tiny orb, and the rock will tumble and soar.
As the description explains, the eye that has a couple of phantasms living inside of it and have turned the eye itself into a portal. It’s connected to a plane where an endless meteor storm rages around, so the moment you give it a little rub a nice and compact meteor from space hurls through the eye towards your foe. It’s great.
Likewise, we know that some, if not all, phantasms are drawn to the cosmic flora—lumenwood and lumenflowers. The evidence we have is that the Choir, a faction of the Healing Church dedicated to studying the Great One that they found, has established the Lumenflower Gardens and we can find the Lumenwood Gardens inside of the Astral Clocktower. Likewise, there’s the description of the Milkweed Rune:
Those who take this oath become a lumenwood that peers toward the sky, feeding phantasms in its luscious bed. Phantasms guide us, and lead to further discoveries.
In the game, discounting the Pearl Slug, we typically only see two different variety of phantasms: those who act as bridges between two points or those that contain eldritch knowledge.
Bridges to Other Planes
Phantasms that act as bridges are those that connect the world around them to another plane of existence. The Healing Church and Choir have attempted to evolve themselves using these Phantasms at some point in the past but failed. The description of A Call Beyond goes into further details about one of these attempts:
Long ago, the Healing church used phantasms to reach a lofty plane of darkness, but failed to make contact with the outer reaches of the cosmos. The rite failed to achieve its intended purpose, but instead created a small exploding star, now a powerful part of the Choir’s arsenal. At times, failure is the mother of invention.
In this instance they ‘reached a lofty plane of darkness’ instead of the Cosmos. There are a number if different dream worlds that you go through in the game, different planes of existences like the Hunter’s Dream and the Hunter’s Nightmare that are sort of stacked on top of each other. The planes that the phantasms can reach seem to be among even higher layers that the Player can never reach, but the Cosmos is most likely the highest plane of all.
Incidentally, the existence of multiple planes of existence also explains why you can still summon Ebrietas’ tentacles, even after you’ve slain her in the waking world. Certain creatures can move from one plane to another, such as the serpent that can be summoned by Madara’s Whistle. Most likely the phantasm that is used connects the player to a dream version of Ebrietas who will use her tentacles to attack.
The second kind of phantasms commonly seen are what I’m going to refer to as Knowledge Phantasms. These are the ones commonly found in items like Madman’s Knowledge and Great One’s Wisdom. Rather than acting directly as a portal or conduits to the cosmos, they contain knowledge that has been attained by the former host. However, the only ones who can truly grasp the eldritch truth directly are the Great Ones, or the Kin of their kind. If a human tries to while uninitiated, that knowledge will drive them mad—as described in the Madman’s Knowledge item:
Making contact with eldritch wisdom is a blessing, for even if it drives one mad, it allows one to serve a grander purpose, for posterity.
Posterity, in the context of the previous quote, means for the future generations or descendants. The knowledge these people received drove them to madness and death, but that knowledge persists even after death in the form of Knowledge Phantasms that nest inside of the dead host’s skull. And the Healing Church, or at least the upper echelons, must be aware of it as well since you’re given Madman’s Knowledge from Adella for telling her about a safe place and she mentions that ‘an upstanding member of the Church’ would find use for it.
There’s a piece of literary fiction out there that does something similar to this called Dresden Files. The protagonist Harry Dresden learns that he is essentially pregnant with a Spirit of Intellect that’s incubating in his skull, due to an act of love from the shadow of a fallen angel. The spirit is basically a psychic entity that spends several years growing inside of his head, giving him constant migraines as it matures. Eventually it reaches the point where it has to be delivered or else it would burst out of his skull and kill him.
In my opinion, this breed of Phantasms are basically spiritual beings of sorts. Almost like thoughtforms, or partially existing within a dream realm. Rather than having an initial physical form, they are born out of the knowledge of things that are too alien for the human mind to fully comprehend and survive after the host dies within their skulls.
When you crush the skull, the phantasm is forced out of its current shell and settles into the closest mind that can process it. So not only does it exist as a vessel for the knowledge, but it also acts as a tool for you grasp even more knowledge by interacting with the brain and allowing your senses to comprehend it as well—they become Insight.
This may also suggest that the factions of the Healing Church may even be intentionally exposing people to the eldritch truth as they did the old blood. By letting their mind be overwhelmed and then harvesting the phantasms to glimpse at different bits of knowledge safely, they can gain more Insight in a relatively safer manner. However, I can only state it as an opinion rather than a fact.
So, in conclusion, insight is the ability to perceive the world around you with cosmic knowledge. You gain it by encountering things that slowly whittle down your sanity or through contact with a phantasm. Phantasms are drawn to lumenwood flora and through possessing objects they can grant them knowledge or connect them to other planes of existence. Phantasms may also be born of cosmic knowledge itself as thoughtform beings that eventually seek out hosts.
A pretty barebones theory on how phantasms relate to cosmic knowledge, I know, but it’s what I have in the end.
Thank you for reading.