Exalted has a rich mythology behind it, with nearly infinite numbers of gods, etc. But on an unconscious level, Exalted taps into some primal elements of myth. This page attempts to explain the mythology of Exalted to new players by grounding it in a discussion of these primal elements. Each section describes one of these elements, listing what it is and why those who (generically speaking) follow or embody it find it superior to the others. The main entities that represent the primal element in Exalted are then mentioned, along with how they and their minions fit into the Exalted universe.
While these primal elements provide a useful way for players and storytellers to think about the mythology and metaphysics of Exalted, they are not official concepts in the game or used by White Wolf in any way. As the title of this page suggests, use of these elements was more of an unconscious act.
Will provides the ability to decide on and initiate action. It represents the control that can be exerted to make something happen as well as the restraint to decide not to. It implies desire, the ability to want and need. It implies choice, the freedom to do and freedom from doing.
All creatures have will to some degree, but those who embrace the will believe that the ability to imprint your desire on the universe is the only thing that separates you from dirt. It is the only thing that truly defines you, the only thing that is truly yours and, therefore, the only thing of any real value. When someone opposes your desires with their own, only the strength of your will can allow your desire to survive, regardless of the specifics of the battle. Those with the strong will have the ability to dominate those without it, though they may choose not to do so.
In Exalted, most everyone embraces will, but only one group truly embodies it: the primordials. Will incarnate, the primordials used their will to make creation, as well as servants -- the gods -- to run it. These servants eventually rebelled, defeating their creators. Those primordials who lived were imprisoned within the body of one of their own, becoming yozis.
Being essentially solidified will, within their prison yozis resemble landscapes more than creatures. They can generally by thought of as defining a space rather than inhabiting it. It is their multiple souls that take mobile form, with each soul split into still more, less powerful souls. These, in turn, can construct a type of offspring. These servants of will are known collectively as demons. The yozi's also have other agents, corrupted mortals known as the infernal exalted.
Entropy represents the tendency of all things to deteriorate over time, to become more random. It implies waste (intentional or not), death, degeneration and collapse. Entropy works at all levels, so attempts to avoid it at one level generally means it shows up in another. Entropy works on you even as you read this, with the metabolic processes that keep your body warm spewing wasted heat into the air around you, bringing the universe minutely closer to its inevitable heat death.
All things decay. Those who embrace entropy realize that, on a long enough time scale, absolutely nothing can stop it. Not only are even the most creative endeavors doomed to fade, but even the act of creating them in the first place creates entropy at some level. In the end, entropy will reign victorious over everything.
Even primordials die. Those that do, realizing that entropy even trumps will, become neverborn. Like their living brethren, neverborn can be thought of more as localities than creatures, forming the underworld -- the land of the dead. Into this land of the dead eventually came thirteen powerful souls who struck pacts with the neverborn, becoming deathlords. In addition to dominating nearly all of the ghosts in the underworld, the deathlords can create servants of their own: the abyssal exalted.
Energy moves everything. It represents vitality, power, creativity, vigor, passion, life and change. It implies both action and reaction, warmth and protection, but also danger. It is the creative impulse, the joy in a kiss, the pursuit of perfection and the glory of illumination (both literal and figurative). It is the vigor to build walls and the force to bring them down.
Those who embrace energy believe in action, that is better to either create or destroy than do nothing. They believe that only action can delay decay and that even the strongest will is nothing if it cannot marshal the energy to enact it.
A boundary separates something that is from what it is not. It represents division, duality, margins, borders and limits. It implies multiplicity, diversity, challenges to be overcome and the transition from one thing into another. It is both quarantine and the drive to see what's over the next hill. It implies motivation, evolution and revolution, as boundaries are meant to move -- pushing the envelope moves the envelope.
Those who follow the idea of boundaries believe that boundaries are all that make something what it is. An apple, an empire, even a primordial, is absolutely nothing without something outside of it giving it definition. Further, boundaries motivate you to break them. Indeed, without the ability to overcome a barrier, the action of doing so has no purpose or meaning.
Luna, the second most powerful celestial god and both male and female, illustrates boundaries better than most, the line between light and dark not only crossing his/her face, but moving each day. It is her servants, the lunar exalted, however that walk many boundaries at once. They shift effortlessly between human and animal, instinct and rationality, body and mind. They dwell between the chaos of the wyld and the order of creation. Like all exalts, they tread the line between god and man, spirit and mortal. During the First Age, they held a strange position between master and servant, generals beholden to kings. Some join thier creator in exploring the line between man and woman as well.
Causality, the relationship between cause an effect, describes the principle that there is a reason for everything. It represents fate, planning, logic. It implies time, interaction, interconnectedness, luck, coincidence, prediction and that everything that exists owes its existence to a chain of events leading exactly to the present state.
Those who elevate causality above all else do so because cause and effect, even if manipulated, still drive everything that happens. The will that caused creation itself had a cause. Even that which created cause itself had a cause. There is no escaping it. Should entropy triumph, that also will have had a cause.
Causality is embodied within Exalted by all of the gods, but particularly the five maidens. As the original weavers of the tapestry of fate (a job now left to the pattern spiders). Their servants, the sidereal exalted, are masters of causality, manipulating fate at will.
Order is not only arrangement into pattern, but also a state in which rules are followed. It represents law, pattern, sequence, clockwork, design, predictability. It implies authority, harmony, regulation, schedule, obedience, hierarchy, precision, efficiency, perfection.
Those who seek order prize perfection as the pinnacle achievement of the the mind, something that, by definition, cannot be improved. They hold that the ability to make and follow rules is all that separates higher forms of life from lesser ones, the only way to create a lasting mark on the world. Only order creates beauty out of the static.
Not all of the primoridals were slain or imprisoned. One of the two that survives, Autochthon, the Machine-God, was responsible for creating the rules and mechanisms that run creation. Like other primordials, he is more location than identity (the machine realm of Autochthonia in this case) and has multiple souls that manifest personality (known as the eight divine ministers). He also can exalt human servants to serve as alchemical exalted.
Chaos is the complete lack of order, pattern or law. It represents anarchy, pandemonium, disarray, static, unpredicibility and randomness. It implies potential, emotion, confusion, tumult, mayhem and mutation.
Those who consider chaos to be the most primal force do so because it was present before anything else. It is the potential from which all else springs. Chaos is the natural state of things and, even the most rigid, orderly systems can be disrupted by random events.
In Exalted, chaos is represented by the Wyld that surrounds Creation and from which Creation was made. The randomness of this realm occasionally gives rise to consciousness, including the realm's current masters, the fair folk.
Stasis is the state of equilibrium. It is represented by inertia, the tendency of things to stay the way they are, but also by rhythm, repeating cycles. It implies regularity but not sameness, as each time around the wheel may be different in the specifics, but in general is always similar. It implies resistance to change that, even when significantly jolted, eventually returns to a steady state.
Those who consider stasis to be the most primal force point to its prevalence and its ability to arise spontaneously, even among groups who profess to loathe and oppose it. Stasis must be actively resisted to be avoided, not once but constantly. And even then, a constant state of resisting stasis results in a stasis of its own. Any who glorify any kind of cycle (e.g. the "circle of life") praise stasis.
Gaia, the other remaining primordial, built Creation and has been seemingly satisfied ever sense. Her souls, the five elemental dragons, have bred veritable servants of stasis, the terrestrial exalted. Now that the cycle of the Empress is ending, the dragon-blooded seek not to re-envision Creation, but only to replace one monarch with another, starting the next cycle. Their primary religion is based on the idea that it is improper to act counter to the "natural order". Even the Usurpation, where they acted as agents of change, was ultimately motivated by a desire to protect Creation's status quo.
Paradox occurs when, despite solid initial premises and sound reasoning, an illogical or self-contradictory conclusion is reached. It represents inconsistency, incongruity and contradiction. It implies confusion, mystery, and incomplete understanding.
Those who embrace paradox over other primal forces do so because any given primal force must make use of some others in either practice or comparison to defend why it is supreme. All such efforts are simultaneously both correct and incorrect. Further, those who follow the other forces tend to, unbidden, manifest paradox.
For example, paradox abounds in Exalted. The strongest use of the yozi's will was to bind themselves so as to be unable to use it. The neverborn's embrace of entropy and death stems from an envy of their memories of what it was to be alive. The solar vitality that created the first age also led to its destruction. Lunars war on both the Wyld and Creation, seeking to eliminate a boundary that defines them. The sidereals, put in charge protecting causality, are largely defined by their ability to ignore it. Citizens of Autochthonia, living in order itself, are constantly plagued by random events and the chaos of war. Fair folk, embodiments of chaos, choose to organize themselves into a rigid hierarchy. Terrestrials, the staunchest defenders of the status quo, view themselves as dynamic people of action.
It is mortals, however, who most embody paradox in Exalted, as they are both the least and most important beings. The gods surpass them, even toy with them, yet without mortals, the gods would be starving and without purpose. Power in the underworld is dependent on mortal souls, yet an individual mortal soul is little more than a commodity. The terrestrials dominate mortals, yet would have nearly nothing without them.