Advances in the Kenning Game

Extremely rough draft -- comments welcome!

Kennings: From Two Terms to Three

As You Like It is a subscription metaphysical library here in Seattle. Membership as of this writing (March 1997) costs about US$20 a year, and subscriptions by mail are encouraged for people not in the Seattle area. Their complete catalogue of some fifteen thousand volumes is available on the Web. Gail Sullivan, a member of the Bamboo Garden, created their Web page, and she will be performing a linked Bliss-Member Game based on "Library" there on the same occasion, and Mark Line will also be performing a "Library" Waldzell Game. The point of the exercise is to display recent advances in glassbeadgaming and to show the ability to convert among gameforms in an approach toward the Inter-GBG Protocol.

The "Library" Game

The Hymn of the Pearl

(Interpreted and abridged by John Richards ( )

When I was a little child and dwelt in the Kingdom of my Father's House, and delighted in the wealth and splendour of my Father, my Parents sent me forth from the East, our Homeland, with provisions for the journey ... They took off from me the Robe of Glory which in their love they had made for me, and made a covenant with me, and wrote it in my heart that I might not forget it. And they said unto me, "When thou goest down into Egypt and bringest up the One Pearl which lies in the middle of the sea, and which is encircled by the fiery dragon, thou shalt put on again thy Robe of Glory, and shalt be next in rank to thy brother in our Kingdom." So I left the East and took my way downward, and came into the land of Egypt. I went straight to the dragon and settled down close by his inn until he should sleep, so that I might take the Pearl from him. I clothed myself in their garments lest they suspect me of coming to steal the Pearl. But they ingratiated themselves with me, and mixed me a drink with their cunning, so that I forgot that I was a King's son, and served their king. And I forgot the Pearl for which my parents had sent me. My parents beheld what had happened to me, and they grieved for my sake. And they wrote me a letter saying, "From thy Father, the King of kings, greetings. Awake and arise out of thy sleep, and perceive the words of our letter. Remember that thou art a King's son. And behold thou art living in bondage. Be mindful of the Pearl for whose sake thou didst depart into Egypt. Remember thy Robe of Glory that thou mayest put it on again." I awoke and arose from my sleep, and I remembered that I was a King's son, and that my free-born soul desired its own kind. And I remembered the Pearl for which I was sent into Egypt, and I began to enchant the dragon, which I charmed to sleep, by the power of my Father's name. And I seized the Pearl, and returned to my Father's home, and put on my Robe of Glory.

             (Earth Pearl)
knowledge =  -------------

(Earth Pearl)     (dragon child)
-------------     --------------
     Sea              mother
         (Sun silver)

Every term a kenning, self-similar like a fractal.

Knowledge is the Pearl of the Earth, when perceived in terms of the Sea (in the "Hymn of the Pearl"). A hoard is a dragon's eggs, when perceived in terms of mothers and motherhood. Gold is the silver of the Sun, when perceived in terms of the Moon.

Say "when perceived in terms of" rather than "when seen in terms of". The former is more modality-neutral, as Suzette Hadin Elgin suggests one's communication must be if one does not know the preferred sense modality of one's audience.


In "The Hymn of the Pearl," what does the pearl represent? At first glance, since this is a Gnostic myth, it might seem to represent gnosis. But, when one looks closer, gnosis seems to be better represented by the covenant written in the protagonist's heart and by the letter sent by the parents. Thus the pearl might be better seen as knowledge of the material world, what one can gain on Earth: the lessons we were sent here to learn, involutionary knowledge as opposed to evolutionary knowledge or gnosis. We go diving deep into the sea of matter to find knowledge which cannot be got anywhere else.

Perhaps the dragon in the Hymn is the Serpent that winds up the Thirty-Two Paths of the Tree in the Qabalistic diagram.

Does the dragon represent Sleep? And when the protagonist enchants the dragon, is Sleep being put to sleep? Shades of the Necronomicon: "And with strange aeons/ Even Death may die."

The protagonist can only rule over the Kingdom in the story after obtaining the pearl because the Kingdom contains the Earthly plane or Malkuth (Hebrew for "Kingdom").


Telesmatic Images

The "Library" game can be built up into a visual image for contemplation. One can hold the visual image in memory as a ritual hieroglyph of the game, even represent it graphically in some medium: painting, drawing, computer graphics. This bears some similarity to both "telesmatic images" from magickal practice and images from "memory palaces" as in the ancient and medieval Art of Memory whose greatest practitioner was Giordano Bruno the occultist.

Telesmatic images, in the traditional use of the phrase, result from the attribution to Hebrew letters of visual imagery appropriate to an angel or god. Thus, if the letter aleph is represented by a white robe and the letter beth by a flaming crown (say), then an angel whose Hebrew name contains the letters aleph and beth would be pictured as wearing a white robe and flaming crown. This makes the image of the angel easier to visualise, the better to invoke the angel.

In the Art of Memory, one builds up vivid visual images representing an abstract concept one wants to remember and "places" them in loci in a "memory palace" (a large building, imaginary or remembered, that one has already put some work into visualising in detail). Thus, continuing in a medieval vein, to remember the concept of grace, one would imagine a concrete visual image of a graceful woman, or perhaps a friend named Grace. If one is memorising a theology text and comes across the proposition that grace is freely given by God, one might visualise a hand coming out of a cloud, offering up your friend Grace.

In both cases, vividness is the quality sought for to make the image easy to remember and hold in imagination. So with the telesmatic images used in the Kenning Game. They are the "kenning equations" literalised or embodied.

Unify the kenning as much as possible by choosing similar images in different kennings wherever possible -- for example, "dragon with pearl" and "dragon with hoard" in the Library game.

Perhaps the creation of telesmatic images is an inexact art, not a formulaic science. Telesmatic images represent what Magister Ludi Joseph Knecht might call the "pedagogical" or "psychological" side of the game. One can shape a kenning with an eye toward a beautiful telesmatic image, hence lean toward the psychological side in one's game design. Perhaps we should concentrate on psychologically beautiful games for the moment. More formally beautiful games can come when we have more formally beautiful rules.

A globe of the Earth, resting on top of a pile of gold that shines with the liquid light of the Sun. The whole is encircled by a jealous dragon swallowing its own tail; the dragon ignores the gold and stares fixedly at the Earth, the most valued item in its hoard. One approaches and cracks the Earth globe like an egg: within rests not a yolk but a precious, translucent pearl.

Each image in the kenning should be represented symbolically and distinctly.

The denominator of the kenning should be represented in the telesmatic image in a way that suggests its similarity to the numerator and yet highlights the latter's uniqueness on its own terms, contrasting it in some way to the former. Thus, in "Library", the gold (the denominator of the primary kenning) is pictured, but the "Earth-Pearl dragon-egg" is given the place of honour.


Formal moves in the Kenning Game must be footnoted. One must include a reference to an original or a notation that the moves is original to the game. In the footnote, one must include a bibliographic citation and the actual quotation or musical theme, etc. itself -- so that, as Hesse says, one builds the theme or quotation into the game. This can lead to a multimedia presentation of the sort Charles Cameron has suggested, or could be presented as performance art. We are told that Castalian games sometimes included preparatory concerts and so on, presumably relevant to the game in question.

The bibliographic citation can use the Bliss Classification System for compatibility with Gail Sullivan's Bliss-Member Game.


In kenning equations, the ASCII or Roman alphabet form is Lojban, including lojbanised foreign terms. In informal games, the participants' native language may be used. Graphically and for meditation purposes, however, the writing system of the culture in which the concept originated or is deemed to have attained its most perfect form is used. Thus, in ASCII, the Chinese philosophical term wu-wei (non-doing) would be lojbanised, but in a calligraphic or multimedia game, the Chinese ideogram would be used. Similarly, the Egyptian term ka (roughly, "soul") would be transliterated into Lojban if one needed to use the Roman alphabet, but in a calligraphic game one would use the hieroglyphs. For the Hebrew Malkuth ("Kingdom" or "Earth") one would use the Hebrew alphabet, and so on.

This should lead to an interesting and eclectic visual appearance.

In pronunciation, the original language is preferred; however, for mathematical, notational, and formal terms, as well as ordinary-language concepts, Lojban is used.

Variables in Kenning Equations

Allow names and variable to stand in for complex concepts or whole artworks. Imagine we have a game of the form

A : B :: C : D

Now suppose that


B = (A D) / C

says quite a lot (and might even be developed into a nice little paper): "Kant's notion of innate perceptual categories is, when perceived in terms of the English Civil War, the equivalent of the Restoration Period to Hume's 'bundles of perceptions' thesis."

This game doesn't say why, though. Is the usurpal of the soul from its central place in metaphysics considered to be in some way illegitimate? Or is Kant's thesis conceived of as in some way "reactionary" or "counter-revolutionary"? Further elaboration of the kenning equation by recursively substituting kennings for each term, in the normal manner, would make the game author's position clearer.

Imagine that we are using a formal language with brief glyphs for each of A, B, C, D, and so on, and that we do elaborate the game further as suggested. Suddenly it becomes quite plausible to have a fantastically complex game formula jotted down on an index card to carry in one's pocket, as Knecht did with his game from school in Hesse's novel.

Maiden : Mother : Crone :: Brahma : Vishnu : Shiva

Maiden = ((Mother/Crone) Brahma) / (Vishnu/Shiva)

"The Maiden is the Brahma of the Mother and Crone, when perceived in the context of Vishnu and Shiva."

Concentrate on pedagogically beautiful games for the moment. More formally beautiful games may come when we have more formally beautiful rules.

What a kenning really is, the fourth term of the kenning from which the kenning is derived, is missing from a Kenning Game, just as Who we really are is absent at our Root. In this way, a kenning is also a riddle. In fact, "Library" could be presented in reverse. Solve et coagula: present the telesmatic image first, then analyse it in terms of the kenning, and boil everything down to its quintessence: the term library.

It's solve et coagula in either direction, in fact.

Images must be somewhat consonant.

whale : house :: bone : strut


whale : sea :: horse : road

are both somewhat classical, but (bone house) and (sea horse) represent different aspects of the concept "whale," the former stationary or beached and internal, the latter in motion and seen from the outside.

Ron Hale-Evans
Founder, Center for Ludic Synergy
Gamemaster, Kennexions
Charter Member, Bamboo Garden of Seattle

Kennexions GBG | Center for Ludic Synergy

Ron Hale-Evans

Last modified: 23 September 1999