Werewolf the Apocalypse Rage Across St. Louis
umbra: Latin: shadow. A complete shadow (as of the Moon) within which the source of light (the Sun) is totally hidden from view.
The Umbra, also called the Spirit World, the Shadow, or the Velvet Shadow, is a realm existing alongside, and yet separate from, the material world. Some, like the Void Engineers, consider it an alternate dimension.
The term “Umbra” is generally used, particularly by werewolves, to refer specifically to the “Spirit Wilds,” or Middle Umbra. However, there is much more to Umbral cosmology than this.
The material world is the world we are all familiar with: people live in cities, connected by highways, eat at O’Tolley’s, and watch TV. Crime happens in the silence between police sirens. But this is only the tip of the iceberg.
The Near Umbra collectively refers to the three Umbrae and the Gauntlet. Though each infinite in scope, they are all contained “within” Earth: the boundary of the system is Earth’s atmosphere.
Separating Earth from the Umbrae is a membrane known as the Gauntlet. Some humans almost manage to get close to the Gauntlet in times of bliss, meditation, or creativity: this state is known as the Periphery.
The Gauntlet is thinner in places such as a haunted graveyard or the wilderness, and thicker in places such as laboratories and shopping malls. The relative strength of the Gauntlet determines the ease with which one can cross it, or “step sideways.” The Gauntlet is usually treated as a single phenomenon, when it is actually sort of three Gauntlets in one: one separating Earth from the Astral Plane, one protecting from the Spirit Wilds, and one blocking access to the Underworld.
Directly “overlapping” the material world is a portion of the Umbra known as the the Penumbra. The Penumbra mirrors physical reality, but reality as it is “supposed” to be. Though divided, the two were once joined. The spirit world still touches the material one, for were it gone completely, Earth could not sustain life. Powerful actions on the physical plane send emanation into the spirit world. The most powerful of these psychic emanations ripple past the Penumbra into the Near Umbra, where they create whole realms. Such Realms often form based on a single idea or collection of legends. For example, the Nazi camps created hellholes with pits leading to Malfeas or Atrocity Realm, the atomic bombing sent the psychic reflection of dead zones into the Thousand Hells of the Yama Kings.
In the Penumbra, a toxic waste dump site will swarm with malevolent Banes, a city will be covered in cobwebs woven by Pattern Spiders, and a grove of trees will stand taller and wilder. A volcano eruption or a flaming factory could give birth to Fire Elementals.
The appearance of the Penumbra seems to be based on the viewpoint of the viewer. Werewolves will see it in a more animistic fashion, with an immense Moon dominating the sky (the Sun, conversely, tends to be much smaller), and everything represented by a spirit.
Although directionality when discussing Umbrae is an exercise in futility, if we were to step and look at the universe from a four-dimensional perspective, then this may apply.
That said, if one were to go “up” from the Penumbra, one would reach the Astral Reaches, also called the Astral Plane, the Astral Umbra, the High Umbra or the Upper Umbra. The Astral Reaches are the realms of thought, of idea, of concept. This is the Umbra most frequently traveled by mages.
The High Umbra or Astral Umbra is a place that can broadly be considered a reflection of the consciousness of the entirety of humanity. It can be divided into the Vulgate (a region where various common ideas (e.g. invention, love, or hand-to-hand combat) form small microcosmic realms that interact frequently with one another as human ideas and beliefs change), the Spires (a region where major abstract ideas such as War or Love form sizable realms), the Courts (where major societies such as the Mount Olympus of myth and the Court of the Hindu pantheon, gods included, can be found), and the Epiphanies (a realm of ultimate abstraction, unattainable by most mortals). Interestingly, while certain afterlives (such as realm that are apparently the Christian Heaven and Hell) seem to play themselves out here, evidence suggests that they are not populated by the souls of the dead but instead by beings who exist as a fundamental part of the realm.
The Middle Umbra
Unlike the High Umbra, the Middle Umbra is not organized hierarchically. Instead, it is divided into a series of discrete realms of physical reality divided by gulfs of relative emptiness and pockets of spirit activity. Roads between realms vary considerably (moon paths). Realms in the Middle Umbra usually have their own Gauntlet and many are apparently infinite in their own private scope. While many realms in the Middle Umbra resemble the abstract realms of the High Umbra, the important distinction is that the realms of the Middle Umbra exist independently from the consciousness of humanity, while the High Umbra does not.
Realms found within the Middle Umbra include:
- Abyss (also called the Chasm)
- Aetherial Realm/Reaches
- Atrocity Realm
- Battleground (also called the Realm of Fighting Spirits)
- CyberRealm (also called Dystopia)
- Goblin Jungle
- Hy-Brasil (also called the Arcadia Gateway)
- Legendary Realm
- Mountains of Heaven
- Pangaea (see Shenti below)
- Summer Country (also called the Gardens of the First Age)
- Tiger Lands
- Umi (also called the Dragon Kingdom of the Sea)
- Wasteland (see Shenti below)
When going “out,” or “sideways” from the Penumbra, one would attain the Spirit Wilds, or Middle Umbra; hence the term “stepping sideways,” so popular among the Garou. This is the Umbra most frequented by werewolves, and is the Umbra of spirit, of essence.
The Underworld is rightly named such, although it is also called the Afterworlds, the Lower Umbra, or Dark Umbra. It is home to the Restless Dead, the Wraiths who still cling to the world because of something left undone. Very few have the desire to travel here. This is the Umbra of memory: emotion invested in things which no longer exist. Even Wraiths themselves can be said to be creatures of memory and passion — although whether it is the memory of those still alive or of the Wraiths themselves which keeps them alive is unknown.
There is a gravity of sorts in the Underworld, but it has nothing to do with mass. Instead, all things are drawn inevitably to Oblivion, the end of all things.
There are several zones which pass through the Near Umbra. If the Near Umbra can be seen as a triple-layer cake, zones exist as slices into the cake. An ant walking across a layer might keep walking over a slice, or he might travel into the slice. So it is with zones. An individual could walk travel through the Astral Reaches without ever knowing she has just stepped through a zone, or she might enter into the zone and find an entirely new realm of existence within.
The most well-known of the zones is the Dreaming. The Dreaming exists in a similar fashion to the Umbrae, yet somewhat separate from them as well. There exists the Near Dreaming, the Far Dreaming, and the Deep Dreaming. Either within the Deep Dreaming or further beyond it lies Arcadia, the fabled home of the fae.
The Digital Web
The Digital Web is a sort of extension of the Internet, but unlike the Internet appears to have no basis in hardware: it is a network without servers or cables. Most remarkably, anyone (even mundane humans) with the right equipment can interface with it. While holistic immersion is possible, only certain mages are capable of it. Entire digital realms exist within it, and it is considered by many the “new frontier” to be conquered.
Not one but a series of versions of the theory of the existence of a Hollow Earth. Superficially similar to the types of realms seen in the Middle Umbra, the Hollow Worlds are noteworthy because they can be reached by mundane humans through use of certain subterranean passages, mine shafts, and unremarkable elevators. Furthermore, some argue that the Hollow Worlds constitute an entirely different type of Umbra, and call it the “Inner Umbra”, claiming that if Earth is a theater and the world beyond the lobby is the Umbra, the area backstage is where the Hollow Worlds can be found. In any case attempts to cross the Gauntlet into the Hollow Worlds invariably fail, baffling most theorists on Umbral topography.
This mysterious region seems to migrate through all parts of the Near Umbra, causing localized hallucinations that are at once impossible and highly personal. Victims of the Mirror Zone have described unexpected encounters with past lovers, dead enemies, and other personal relations, as well as having witnessed those around them apparently exhibit radical changes in personality. These manifestations only last a short while (leaving the victim disoriented and often leading to misunderstandings with others who did not experience the zone), but can be highly confusing and potentially dangerous if the hallucinations prove hostile.
This strange region permeates the Near Umbra, connecting all places to all other places through a series of small tunnels. Most notably, almost all supernatural, magical, and technological phenomena simply cease to function within this region. Guns won’t fire, werewolves lose their spiritual Gifts, and mages can’t alter reality. The one exception is abilities that allow a person to cross a Gauntlet — by traveling to another place in the Null Zone and passing back through into the Umbra, a traveler will enter another locations, seemingly at random.
These roaming scenescapes can be discovered in any part of the Umbra and overtake a traveler’s senses to display some event of titanic proportions repeatedly until the Vista moves on. Events might include the Big Bang, Armageddon, or some other moment of catastrophic creation of cataclysm. The trapped viewer is safe from the effects of the Vista, and cannot affect them. Were it not for the disappearance of those individuals trapped within, they would seem nothing more than a roving holistic hallucination.
The Horizon, like the Gauntlet, separates two levels of reality. Where the Gauntlet separates the material world from the Near Umbra, the Horizon separates the Near Umbra from the areas beyond.
The First Horizon can be said to map physically to the edge of the atmosphere.
- Accidental College of Mercury
- Autochthonia (also called the Great Machine; see Shenti below)
- Balador Pleasuredome
- Darkside Moonbase
- Gernsback Continuum
- Seasonal Realms
- Victoria Station
- Yenosia (also called Null-B)
The True Horizon, also called Etherspace, occupies the Umbral space between the edge of Earth’s atmosphere and the asteroid belt. The rocky planets floating through Etherspace (the alleged “inferior” planets) each manifest a Shard Realm within Etherspace, composed entirely of one of the nine Spheres of magic. The Shard Realms are so purely the essence of a given Sphere that they are largely incomprehensible and unlivable. Fortunately, each Shard Realm casts a “shadow” on the First Horizon (or at least used to, pre-Reckoning) called a Shade Realm. These Shade Realms are much more comprehensible and survivable, although this should not be taken to mean safe by any definition of the word.
Additionally, some of the planets have their own Umbrae, although these tend to be somewhat more limited than those of Earth.
The Far Horizon is what most mages refer to when they mention “the Horizon.” It maps physically to the asteroid belt, and is incredibly dangerous to pass. Safe routes through the shifting energy barrier and massive asteroids used to be mapped, but post-Reckoning these routes are no longer reliable.
The Deep Umbra, also called the Deep Universe, is a vast realm outside Earth’s Umbral space. It is largely an immense void. Alien creatures beyond imagining exist in the empty areas between stars, and bizarre planets whirl around foreign stars.
The outer planets (the gas giants and Pluto) are within the Deep Umbra.
Locations in the Deep Umbra
- Charybdis (see Shenti below)
- Copernicus Research Center (also called the Cop)
- Paradox Realms
The Shenti are regions representative of the three resonances (Dynamism, Stasis, and Entropy) and are arguably the homes of the Triat (the Wyld, the Weaver, and the Wyrm). The true hearts of the Shenti appear not exist in any particular place, instead existing apart from the rest of the Tellurian and reaching out to touch many places.
A realm of constant creation and raw power, Flux appears to exist in many places at once. Its reflection in the Spiritual Umbra (also called Flux, as well as The Radiance) pulses with the energies of the Wyld. Pangaea is said to be touched by Flux, accounting for the realm’s uncontrollable nature. Charybdis, a swirling vortex in the Deep Umbra, is said to absorb the detritus of the universe and ‘recycle’ it back into Flux. Given the Wyld’s inconstant nature, however, concrete locations associated with Flux is few; more commonly, the energies of Flux pass over an area, causing rapid change and general chaos, then move on.
The home (some say prison) of the Wyrm is a realm assembled from the tatters of fallen bits of the Umbra, woven into a patchwork that defies both attempts to map and to tame it. Home to Malfean Nephandi, servitors of the Wyrm, and other noxious beings, Malfeas is a realm whose constant growth is the only way to overcome its constant internal disintegration. Malfeas is said to be related closely to the Labyrinth of the Tempest (some say they are one and the same), and the Wasteland is an extension of Malfeas that reaches into the Near Umbra. Malfeas also touches innumerable small blights and cesspools through the Umbra and many of the more unpleasant regions of the Astral Umbra, spreading discord and decay in its wake.
The Pattern Web and the Great Machine
The ubiquitous sign of the Weaver’s influence, the Pattern Web refers to an apparently infinite network of threads composed of raw spirit-stuff and controlled by the Weaver. According to some, these webs are the scaffolding of reality, though their absence in some areas of the Umbra suggests that reality can exist without them. More likely, these webs are the Weaver’s presence, defining and clarifying the Tellurian. Though primarily found in the Middle Umbra, the Pattern web appears to touch most parts of the Tellurian (including the Digital Web) as well as lead to some unknown central mass, believed to be the Weaver itself. Many theorize that this logical heart of the Pattern Web is the Shenti of Stasis, but this has never been proven as no mortal being has successfully reached the Web’s center.
The Shenti of Stasis also manifests a powerful presence in the form of the Great Machine (called Autochthonia by the Technocracy), a massive technological structure that is in a constant state of self-improvement. While it seems unlikely that Autocthonia is the Weaver, it may be one of the Weaver’s “Incarna” or avatars. Ironically, one of the Technocracy’s most important Constructs may be inadvertently built into the hide of one of the fastest-growing spiritual beings known to exist.
The Bygone Umbra
Some realms and aspects of the Umbra no longer exist, or are no longer accessible in the same ways. The Gauntlet has historically grown stronger and thicker as civilization has developed into its modern form, and this has led to the Umbra being increasingly isolated from Earth. At the same time, parts of the Umbra have withdrawn into themselves, and can no longer be found. Whether this process occurs through artificial exclusion or natural withdrawal is unclear. Finally, some aspects of the Umbra, built artificially in the past, simply have not stood the test of time.
Changelings say that their home country is a place called Arcadia, a now unreachable place of pure dream. Faeries, they assert, are the dreams of humanity made manifest, and Arcadia is the heart of those dreams. The facts, however, are difficult to determine (a) because changelings, by definition, are not ‘true’ faeries, but a sort of faerie/human hybrid adapted to dealing with the mortal world and (b) because Arcadia itself has been impossible to reach or even detect for a very long time (fae scholars mark the Black Plague as the first moments of the Shattering, the process by which Arcadia broke away from Earth’s Dreaming).
Mount Qaf and the Web of Faith
Considered by many mages to be the key to winning the Ascension War, Mount Qaf was the so-called Correspondence Point allowing access to all parts of the Tellurian, the perfect junction point for the flow of information, travellers, and power. The Ahl-i-Batin are credited with discovering it, and used it as the architectural keystone for the Web of Faith, a network through which information was transmitted at enormous speed during a period spanning the 8th century to the 13th century. The Web of Faith itself collapsed as a result of infighting, crusades, and the weakening of magical places of power, but its foundations remained, discovered by the Difference Engineers in the 1950s, thanks to whom it became the Digital Web. Access to Mount Qaf itself was lost at roughly the same time, but the Digital Web appears to continue to take advantage of its unique properties.
The Paths of the Wyck
For thousands of years, spiritual travel wore trails through the Periphery. This so-called Paths of the Wyck behaved in a manner similar to the trods still found in the Dreaming, but allowed even mundane humans to “walk” into the Umbra, sometimes by accident. Such paths figure prominently in mythology (examples including Orpheus’ trip into the Underworld and Rip van Winkle’s apparent stroll into a fae celebration). These paths began to fold in on themselves, either due to the reinforcement of the Gauntlet or the spread of Banality, the force of disbelief that also harms changelings. Today, while a small number of other paths that lead into the Umbra remain open, the Paths of the Wyck themselves are gone forever.
The Dark Kingdom of Obsidian
In ages past, when mankind as a whole did not journey to other continents, each region of the world had an associated domain in the Tempest. The Americas, particularly South America, had an underworld as rich and complex as that of the living. At the beginning of the 16th century, this empire seemed in ascendance as its ranks were flooded with the angry dead, prey to disease and war brought from Europe. The “Third Maelstrom”, which had just come to a close, left the Shadowlands relatively free from obstruction, and European renegades revolting against Stygia fled en masse to the Dark Kingdom of Obsidian, only to discover that its afterlife was as enraged as its living counterpart was decimated. The resulting war saw great atrocities, the most significant of which involved causing the enemy capital city to be swallowed by a massive Nihil, drawing into the Labyrinth. Though scattered pockets of the Obsidian Empire remain, the bulk of that wraithly race was destroyed, leaving the territory vulnerable to invasion by Stygia.