The lore of the Soulsborne series is generally “solved” a few weeks after the release of the newest games. We end up with a vague consensus, and then there’s just the continual work of augmenting that in order to get to a “correct” interpretation. However, there’s a sedimentation effect that comes with the initial solving, and Bloodborne‘s lore seems relatively settled between the speculation of “The Paleblood Hunt” and Vaati’s explanation of the game’s lore. If you haven’t beaten the game, or you haven’t read and watched these, or you don’t want Bloodborne‘s lore spoiled for you, you should stop reading here.
I have begun many experiments in the wake of my piece on Dark Souls and easy mode from a little while back. One of those was digging back into Bloodborne and beating it in cooperative play, and thanks to some really great anonymous hunters and Twitter friends, I finally completed it a week or so ago.
In that easy mode piece, part of my argument hinged on the lore. I find Bloodborne fascinating in a narrative and conceptual sense, but the act of playing it can be a real chore. I called for (and still want) an easy mode that would allow me to get the former without the friction of the latter. All of that aside, I got what I wanted–I got all that lore! Steeped in it and more than halfway through a replay, I now have Opinions About The Lore of Bloodborne (As Is My Right).
The conclusion that the Vaati lore video comes to about the grand plot of Bloodborne is this: the Hunter’s Dream and the paleblood hunt that it enables is a longform method in order to facilitate you killing Mergo’s Wet Nurse to assert the dominance of the Moon Presence in some kind of cosmic game. That’s mostly fueled by the action funnel at the end of the game: when you kill the Wet Nurse, the Hunter’s Dream catches fire and Gehrman tells you that your job is over. Whatever the purpose of this iteration of the Hunter’s Dream was for, it is fulfilled, and the “dawn” ending has you coming out unscathed (the second ending has you taking over as guardian of the Hunter’s Dream, and the third has you wriggling into the position of an infant Great One. More on that in a bit.)
I think that most of that is true, and I wanted to take a few minutes here to do some speculation about a well-loved and important fulcrum of lore from the game in order to construct a different narrative about what is happening with the hunt, the Hunter’s Dream, and the relationship between the player, the Moon Presence, Mergo, and Oedon.
The Moon Presence, Oedon, and Mergo are all Great Ones. They’re Lovecraftian entities that are coextensive with the material world, the world of dreams, and the cosmos itself. They seem to have rankings in power, and they seem to have age. Much like humans, they are all unique beings, and despite all being Great Ones they are not unified in their desires.
Oedon is the formless Great One who exists only in speech (the creator of the Caryll Runes is the only one to have contacted it) and in blood.
Mergo is Oedon’s child that it had via impregnating Queen Yharnam, the Pthumerian Queen who can be seen after the fight with Rom and before the fight with Mergo’s Wet Nurse.
The Moon Presence is the being that created the Hunter’s Dream and, as I will try to demonstrate, the Yharnam that we experience.
I do not believe that the Yharnam we play the game in is the Yharnam of the “waking world” that the Doll mentions so often and that we received our initial blood ministration in. While it’s pretty clear that there’s a layering and interconnectedness to the dream world that we access throughout the game, I find it really hard to accept or understand how the Yharnam that we play in could remotely be one in the material world, and it all has to do with a timeline.
It is impossible for all of the events that take place in the game to occur in the timeframe that they would have to if the Yharnam we play most of the game in is materially real. There just isn’t enough time for dungeons to be excavated, Great Ones to be talked to, Old Yharnam to be lived in and burned while the Healing Church and Byrgenwerth duke it out for methodological supremacy. Then you still have the experiments of the Choir, the complete creation of all of the grand gothic architecture in “new” Yharnam that is crafted around the Healing Church’s political supremacy, and the timeline of Old Hunters.
For some characters, like the Vilebloods and Martyr Logarius, it seems like the plot has taken hundreds of years. For others, like Father Gascoigne, it seems like a couple decades at the most.
I think that the Yharnam that we play the game in is a composite version of Yharnam created by the Moon Presence that “borrows” from the material world in the same way that the nightmare and dream world “borrows” from the dreams of characters. It seems fairly certain that the relationship the Gehrman and the Moon Presence have is based on some kind of deal around the Doll (replicating his former apprentice Maria) and the Hunter’s Dream. Yharnam is a “snapshot” of the world at the moment that deal was struck (with some augmentations since its initial creation) in the same way that the Hunter’s Dream is a “snapshot” of the Old Workshop (with some augmentations).
I think this interpretation is useful and helps smooth out some timeline problems, but it brings another question with it: why would the Moon Presence want this? We know that there have been Hunter’s Dreams in the past and that the graves that line the HD are those of previous hunters who have done the same thing the player is doing over the course of the dream. If they succeed in the mission given to them by the Moon Presence, they’re let go back into the material world; if they fail, by which we can assume they will never develop the skill to continue, they get dumped back into Yharnam (Eileen the Crow might be of this type).
The Moon Presence is running a simulation, over and over again, in order to find an agent that will kill Mergo in the “unsimulated” layer of the Nightmare of Mensis. It’s unclear what makes this time important–Mergo is the child of Queen Yharnam and Oedon hundreds or thousands of years ago. The question of Bloodborne really is “why now?” for these cosmic beings, and my assumption is centered on the School of Mensis. Only now, with the huge amount of power given over Mergo in the Nightmare of Mensis, is Mergo able to make the transition from baby Great One to a full-fledged one.
Maybe the Moon Presence is jealous. Maybe there’s only room for so many beings of this sort in the universe, and the elevation of one is a cataclysmic event for that species. It’s unclear what the reasoning behind the Moon Presence’s simulation-running is. But it’s success does have effects.
Every Great One loses its child, and then yearns for a surrogate.
From a lore perspective, this line might do more work than any other in the game, and it’s hard to find an interpretation of the game that doesn’t build itself out from some reading of this line.
Mine is no different, but I take a less literal approach. Many interpreters of Bloodborne go to great pains to take this line as literally as possible: Mergo must have been stillborn and yet still present, the coming of the blood moon is an attempt to find a surrogate mother to either bring Mergo into the Yharnam or to create another child, and so on.
I read it a different way, and with all of the preamble I have given here, I’m just going to lay out what I think has happened over the course of the game assuming that one has used the three umbilical cords in order to create a “whole” umbilical cord that allows one to fight and defeat the Moon Presence. So here it goes.
Bygenwerth, the Healing Church, and the School of Mensis are all very deep in their respective channels of research into the Great Ones. Byrgenwerth are the stereotypes of scholars, and they’re totally enrapt in learning the Truth and growing eyes on the inside. The Healing Church is consolidating power, experimenting, and trying to manage the beast plague that they’ve accidentally seeded into their city. Neither of those organizations are paying much attention to the School of Mensis, who has not only successfully contacted an Great One in Mergo, but have partially constructed a fully-fledged research nightmare alongside a strange half-Great One in the Brain of Mensis.
During this moment of crisis, alone and replaced completely by the apparatus of the Church, Gehrman builds a doll to replace his student Maria. Using a third umbilical cord secreted away (perhaps from the corpse of Kos), he attempts to call out to an Great One to help with animating his doll into Maria. The Moon Presence hears this call, and it takes stock of the situation in Yharnam. It sees others of its species engaged in sympathetic acts, and for reasons unknown to us (and appropriately unknowable to us), it binds Gehrman in a pact. It creates its self-interested Mergo Murder Simulator, and it puts Gehrman in charge of it. By giving the old hunter exactly what he wanted, it damns him for a very, very long time (the rare voice clip from Gehrman confirms–he’s shackled to the dream).
Gehrman becomes the manager of the Yharnam simulation. He and the doll will live in the Hunter’s Dream funneling hunters toward Mergo in the hope that some hunter, at some point, will kill it.
Oedon knows that this process is happening. It knows that it will lose its child, and it knows that it will desire a surrogate. Being a Great One outside of our understanding of time and space, it sees what the Moon Presence has done in order to cut off Mergo’s sustenance from the School of Mensis. Oedon knows that it will lose its child just like all Great Ones do.
And so it creates its surrogate in the player. In a cosmic political maneuver, Oedon deploys his formless essence to create his surrogate child. The pregnancies at Oedon Chapel and Iosefka’s Clinic are not, as many have read them, yet more lost children, but rather they are means of creating more umbilical cords for the real surrogate to gain access to the power they would need in order to truly ascend.
The process of playing Bloodborne is one of playing through the Moon Presence’s simulation designed to facilitate the death of Mergo while also accumulating so much of Oedon’s essence that you become the child that Oedon wanted all along. When the Doll tells you that she can hear the ancient echoes in you, she really means that she can sense the bioaccumulation of Oedon’s essence in the player’s body. The Doll knows what is happening even if the absent Moon Presence does not.
This interpretation squares with 90% of other interpretations of the game, but this is the kind of grand, metaphysical battle that gives justification of Bloodborne‘s mechanical loop (in the same way that Dark Souls‘ Chosen Undead and the collapse of time and space justify its mechanics) and allows us to keep all of the other narrative pieces.
And those are my thoughts about the lore of Bloodborne.