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The random off-topic thread has made me wonder what exactly is the mental and spiritual status of hollows in the souls universe.

Humanity and the mind seem to be interlinked to its spirituality, with horrid post-life mutations occuring to the tainted, subdued and converted alike. But what is the hollow in that scenario, and where does it sit within the realm of physical and spiritual mental health of souls?

Tagging @dn1nd and @TSMP for answers! (many more too but notifications break if I do too many)
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That's a very important question, but very hard to pin down.

Here's how far my ideas have evolved:

A: Dark is in fact evil.

However, there's several paths to that conclusion, each changing the details slightly.

1) Dying causes one to hollow, hollowing means the loss of "souls"
"Souls" refer to the Christian soul, the innocent, benevolent part of a person.
When it is lost, the host loses his goodness, turning him into a sociopath.

2) Darkness follows the loss of "fire".

What is Fire?

I believe hollowing, due to the fading of the flame, is symbolic for what happens to society and humans when things go bad.
The fire represents things like excitement, glory, youth, euphoria and self sacrifice.
When it fades, societies decline, people grow bored, lackluster, mean, and "hungry".
It gives rise to dark thoughts and dark deeds.
So many of these cursed souls journey forth, seeking to rekindle their flame.

"The question is, why exactly do humans turn more and more animalistic as the fire fades? - ThisBirdDoesntFly"

I already answered that question.

The fading of fire means the fading of comfort, hope, love and good things in general.
Fire fading is the equivalent of subjecting a human being to maltreatment, humiliation, grief, pain, hopelessness,...
Under these conditions, people may become more monstrous, more animalistic.
The dark infested zombie is a dramatization of this phenomenon.

3) Darkness represents "the world of the dead". This concept is derived from Berserk.
In Berserk, the world of the dead is slowly merging with the living world, causing horrible possessions.
The dead in question are fiends, a manifestation of "the hungry dead" or "the evil dead".
Possessions cause one to become monstrous, deformed and violent.

There's also a lot of mythology that connects evil and death in some way.

4) Darkness symbolizes one turning towards "The Dark Sun".
The Dark Sun is one's inner darkness. Deifying it leads one to become psychopathic and narcissistic.
Dark Sun Gwyndolyn, a coldhearted narcissist, would be a manifestation of this logic.

"… Hrg, rg… Arrrgh…
… Finally, I have found it, I have!…
… My very own sun… I am the sun!…
…I've done it… I have…
… Yes, I did it… I did!…
…Ohh, ohhh…

Ahh, it's over…
… My sun… it's setting…
… It's dark, so dark…" - Infected Solaire, when he wears a creature very similar to Gwyndolin's helmet.

5) Darkness represents "the untermensch", the low side of humanity, the shadow people.
It's the side of humanity that should be kept under control, ruled over, subjugated by the nobler "fire" side.
In this sense "Darkness" refers directly to criminality and one's own "wrong" desires.
Gwyn and his ilk would then form the master race that rules over the impossibly sinful "humans".

Such ideas may help explain the use of the term "Human Dreg" in Dark Souls 3.
Humanity may have been meant like this since DS1, where you could sacrifice Humanity to the Bonfire.
In order to resume human form in DS1, you have to sacrifice Humanity to the bonfire.
So this is a Dreg, an “evildoer”, that you sacrifice in order to redeem yourself.

There's something to drawing parallels between Souls and arianism, still need to flesh it all out though.

6) Darkness represents madness, rather than evil directly
In practice this isn't too different from the above, but it substantially changes the moral perceptive.
The mad hollows still behave like monsters, but perhaps they are unaware of any moral wrongdoing.
Though they commit evil deed, they are not evil, they lack the necessary insight to be evil.
Perhaps they no longer feel pain, perhaps they are so far gone that they have stopped being human beings.
Perhaps they're more like puppets, robots controlled by dark forces.

B: Darkness refers to a breed of spirits that aren't inherently evil, just misunderstood.

It's characters like Agdayne that lend hope to such ideas.

Human. Do not produce light.
Light, and all those who bear it, are unwelcome in this place."

"I am Agdayne. Guardian of the crypt.
Countless dead rest here in peace. Cradled by the comfort of dark.
Light only agitates. We have no need for it here."

"I am a Fenito. We weave death, and watch over the dead.
This task was granted to me by the one who gave us the first death.
Countless souls rest here. Some of them from ages long ago.
Some were rich, others poor. Some wise, some dull, but now, they are all just dead."

"Did you come for him? The one called Vendrick.
You will find him deeper inside.
Many castle servants and the like have come to fetch their lord.
But they rest here now, put to death by the King's own guards.
Perhaps he's not in the mood for company."

"In the past, humans were one with the dark.
The former King of Light…He feared humans. Feared that they would usher in an age of dark.
How queer, you humans. How you go on, never separating truth from fiction."

"This place is welcome to all, provided due reverence is shown.
Death is equitable, accepting. We will all, one day, be welcomed by her embrace.
Tell me what you desire. Show me reverence, and I will lend you my hand."

Item descriptions like that of Deep Protection and Deep Brailly Divine Tome, do suggest a point in time when things weren't all bad.

"The deep was originally a peaceful and sacred place, but became the final rest for many abhorrent things.
This tale of the Deep offers protection for those who worship amidst those horrors. - Deep Protection"

"Intended to teach divine protection to the deacons of the deep,
but later, dark tales were added to its pages, such that it is now considered a thing profane. - Deep Braille Divine Tome"
Last edited by Rakuyo on Thu Dec 08, 2016 3:47 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Here's another citation, a conversation about hollows between myself, Knight_of_Mirrah and Skarekrow13

"The Rotted Greenwood is a great, hollow, animated tree. This means it's at least like the Bed of Chaos.
The Bed of Chaos is a living tree that's hollow and contains a demon.
It is of course related to fire.

Swamps and blight tend to be related to pyromancers.
Pyromancers live in swamps, pyromancy produces poison spells (hexes do that too, but w/e)
The Rotted Greenwood attacks by dropping poisonous fruit.
This certainly resembles the strange growths in the Farron swamp, though those don't drop.

The Great Hollow is found in Blighttown, in the swamp of the heretical pyromancers.
All kinds of "Great" trees or roots can be found in the Demon Ruins and Lost Izalith.
Warmth, gained from the Mound Makers is a pyromancy.

Hedrick wears "Sunset" armor.
One one hand this could refer to the night or the eclipse.
On the other hand this could refer the "the Sun traveling through the underworld" = night.
This is an important myth in Aztec mythology and Egyptian mythology.
It creates the image of "fire" in the "underworld" of the "dead".

If not for the purpose of making pyres, the mounds could form a seedbed for Greatwoods.

Knight_of_Mirrah wrote:While we're all giving our take on the mound makers, I may as well give my own opinion.

The important thing to remember is that they're referred to as Mad Phantoms. Hodrick himself says something to the effect of "If you feel your sanity slipping, etch this on your heart." He repeatedly talks about hollows and madness, and I think this is what the whole covenant is about. I believe the Shackles of the Gods refer to the curse of the undead. Aldia refers to the curse as such a few times through SOTFS. Throughout Dark Souls 2, we're told that the only way to stop hollowing is to claim the throne and link the fire. In this sense, we're shackled because we're a slave to the desires of the Gods. Either link the fire or lose your mind. It seems the Mound Makers believe, probably more out of desperation than anything else, that the shackles they claim can somehow stave off hollowing. This, to me, explains why Mad Phantoms can attack literally anyone. Lucatiel tells us, as the curse begins to consume her mind, that if she could save herself by killing you, she would, and what do you get from Pickle-Pee for a Vertebra Shackle? Lucatiel's mask. Why they believe this, I'm not sure. Could have something to do with them being crazy.

I'm not 100% sure on this, but it suits my head canon just fine as I see enough evidence to support it.

"I believe the Shackles of the Gods refer to the curse of the undead."

I can offer some enlightenment here.

If you wish, I shall grant the art of Lifedrain,
the legendary power of the Dark Lord.
It can preserve your humanity while Undead,
and cast off the shackles placed upon your brethren." - Darkstalker Kaathe

It's more straightforward than you think.

Lifedrain will completely drain the victim of "Souls".
Without Souls there is nothing to hold back the wild humanity within.
The victim will become ravenous, unshackled, this is in a sense a liberation.

You say that they claim shackles to stave off madness, but this is not the case.
They actually worship "Hollowness", with each shackle their "family" grows because there are then more Hollows.
Perhaps they just want to be insane, kind of like Navlaan in his alter ego.
Perhaps, like the Curse-Rotted Greenwood they want to be "incubators" for something big and dark.

Knight_of_Mirrah wrote:
While that does hold up, to a degree, there are a few problems with it. You have made me alter my idea slightly though.

Firstly, Kaathe is a very unreliable source. Not only that, he's opposed to the linking of the flame. For him to cast off the shackles placed upon the undead would be simply to stop them from being forced to do just that. I don't think anyone would really consider a hollow free in any sense.

Secondly, the language used by Hodrick doesn't sound favourable towards the idea of shattering the shackles. Quite the opposite. First, he warns us that the shackles are fragile. Then he tells us that should we feel our sanity slipping, we could join the mound makers. He offers us the use of the Pit of Hollows to pile up our victims "for that will form your anchor" The vertebra shackle is just that. Another shackle to either bind us to the Gods, or this new family we're creating.

I don't think Hodrick believes this will work forever, or maybe he doesn't believe it will work at all, because he does say that someday we'll all be mad, and goes on to say that when that day comes the victims will be your family. Perhaps it's really just about comfort when that day comes. The description of Warmth, a Mound Maker pyromancy states "They feared separation from the Gods, and sought a familial bond, perhaps leading to the creation of this flame of harmony."

Again, to go back to the example of Lucatiel, she feared the loss of herself. It could be about just not being alone in madness. The Mound Makers seem to be a covenant that's terrified of whatever they believe awaits them.

I can elaborate.

Kaathe is indeed not a reliable source. "Cast off the shackles placed upon your brethren." is so vague it's deceptive.

On the one hand it means "liberation" which is positive, on the other hand it means "hollowing" which is negative.

This is a form of freedom. King Allant claimed his subjects were better off dead than living, better mad than sane.

"Surely you have seen for yourself… the pain and suffering that fills this world! But fight poison with poison. God is merciful, and so, created the Old One. The Old One will feed upon our souls, and put an end to our tragic realm of existence!"
"I have had enough of this rotten world."

"You fool. Don't you understand? No one wishes to go on…"

This state of being may be related to "moksha", being liberated from a sense of self.

Moksha may also mean embracing Śūnyatā (emptiness).

Coming back to the Mound Makers' Shackles and hollowing: Wolnir also sought shackles.

Wolnir is a hostile skeleton covered in dark aura, he may be already hollow, so why the shackles?

The hollows don't fear going hollow, they fear The Abyss.

The Abyss contains a darkness much deeper than that of one's personal humanity.

They feared this darkness, so they sought anchors, so they could remain hollow in this world.

This is similar to psychopaths trying to deal with the fact that they're going to hell.

skarekrow13 wrote:If we're using "shackle" to mean "connection to a preferred existence" then I think we can apply it to most everyone in the game. I'd agree Wolnir sought shackles to prevent the Abyss from taking him, but he sought it in a different way than the mound makers. He sought it through religion. Yes, he tried to force the answer out of religion by what appears to be stealing relics. But his path took him toward that direction, which is reflected in his use of miracles (at least with his sword).

Lucatiel sought a shackle to her existence via her brother. She feared the loss of self, and hoped the family connection would be her anchor.

Gwyn sought a shackle in the flames, so that the world he helped to shape could remain anchored.

Every covenant seeks a different token to promote their connection and anchor themselves similarly.

These are some excellent points and show very deep analysis. I reply mainly to add that a term defined more broadly will always add more possibilities to it's interpretation and use. So I do agree in principle that Wolnir sought shackles of a kind and even went down a similar path to the Mound Makers, but so do most NPCs and characters in the game. The theme is a consistent "The world is collapsing around us" and survivors will find some connection they'd like to retain or "shackle" themselves to.

I think it's important to weigh specific behaviors in context which is why I brought up the various meanings of "mound" earlier. When using general terms and motivations, it again seems true that Wolnir and Mound Makers do share a common theme (create mounds).

But examining specific behaviors shows contradictory paths. To reiterate, all of the Mound Makers are forming a collective pile in one location, with no barriers between their collection. They are trying to make all beings connected into one. The Old Mound Maker even sacrificed himself on the pile to be closer to his "family." Wolnir is doing the exact opposite. Firstly, there's no reason to think in the first place that he created mounds himself. It would appear more likely he just set up shop in a burial place. So he's "around mounds" not necessarily creating them. Second, he is not attempting to make a deeper connection with his victims and calling them "family." He is characterized as a conqueror and seemingly portrayed as very self centered. He didn't just conquer other lands. He took the symbols of the other kings (crowns) and ground them into dust.

Ideologically, Wolnir appears to be systematically attempting to erase other kingdoms and proclaim himself as "The One High Lord." He seeks a path toward ascending only himself above all others. And when the Abyss came, his motivation went from ambition to terror. Seeking anything that would keep him anchored to his present condition.

The Mound Makers on the other hand believe they are bringing the world closer together and see everyone as equals. Even...especially actually...their victims. This is why killing an ally is not seen as "sinful" or "wrong." Being added to the pile brings us closer to each other. Rather than fear a change in their present condition, they actually seek a change. Where Wolnir wanted to avoid the Abyss as his motivation, Mound Makers seek their Gods with their actions. Again going back to the Old Mound Maker, he sacrificed himself to the pile and even offered a gift for his family. A gift that will help the person finding it ALSO sacrifice themselves if they desire.

That certainly adds a human touch to it.

Consider tough, in Berserk it is stated that the evil dead are attracted to warmth.

A mound could serve as an anchor to a group if it was magically endowed.

Should these mounds be pyres, then they could be Bonfires.

Bonfires do indeed shackle the undead to them.

Be warned, the truth may not contain much in the sense of "warmth".
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I always figured the human mind would wither at each death, eventually leading to loss of any rational thinking and the hollow starts to act by pure instinct. He'll do whatever his basic and most prominent emotion tells him to do so. In our case, its fear, and fear leads to attack anything and everything around you in order to survive, the most basic aspect of human life.

But ^ this is much better :P

However, I'm a bit bugged by that evil x good idea. I think DkS is much more complicated to be boiled down to that. Darkness not always necessarily means evil, or fire good. I believe what makes the DkS human so special is his ability to balance those two powers within themselves.

"Heat and cold,

Life and death

and of course, Light and Dark"

Dying not always means losing your "fire". I think that because most hollows have fiery, glowing eyes. The abyss would be a representation of pure darkness, however.
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IMO, Souls lines up with Taoistic doctrines & concepts. Dark and Fire, and it's associated agents line up with the nature of Yin and Yang respectively.

As for the Hollow, I can't say much for the physical/mental health. It is illustrated in the opening of DS1 they are part of the primordial state, that Fire & Dark give rise to one another, and to humanities nature. Whether one attaches morality to the two sides is a distinction between Taoism and Confucianism.

Like Taoism itself, the emphasis is on The Way, or The Path, that is, the Hollow, and our journey through the world itself.

Western religion is presented antagonistic more often than not, and is not elevated above the cycle.
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From Dark 1 I used to think of it as a loss of purpose. Simply that a person loses whatever guiding force tells their compass to point "this way." For a certain pyromancer, he pins his purpose on the evolution of his passion and flame. He will only hollow when given hope which is later dashed. His inability to continue breaks his compass so to speak. This admittedly simple explanation does actually hold up well for most any character in the game though.

Lucatiel throws a wrench in those gears those, so if you assume that the DS2 team actually...I dunno...spoke with the DS1 team (many of whom were likely the same people), then Lucatiel might be a more direct answer.

For the record, before you read any of the rest of this rant, it should be pointed out that Lucatiel is the only character in the series whose story arc actually shows the PROCESS of hollowing. It's my belief she's intended to be a lesson on the curse itself. Here we go...

Her story seems to be a reflection on the curse of continued living carried to the extremes. In our real lives, as we age we are often faced with diminishing mental capabilities. Memory to some extent is a common loss for everyone. I don't have the studies to link to and I'm too lazy to try to find them, but recalling my psych days in college I seem to recall there being substantial evidence that in time many of our memories actually decay and are replaced by reconstructions based on evidence. As in, you're not remembering the vacation truly, you're remembering the facts based on pictures and the stories about the vacation you've told over the years.

Another theory which I think has evidence is that every time you remember something, it changes slightly from a neurological standpoint. Essentially the process the brain uses inherently creates a small restructure each time it happens. Over time these changes accumulate.

So in short (which I'm not good with) memories and the mind change and are lost over time. This is similar to the idea of things decaying. However, it is different in that the memories decay only. The brain itself stays healthy but remolds itself ever so slightly on a constant basis. This is important because the undead and unkindled are essentially...

Cursed to live forever.

Aside from immolation in the First Flame or the like, you will continue anew every time you die.

Looking at Lucatiel, we can see that she has a purpose throughout the course of her story arc, but is still gradually hollowing. She is the only character I know of in which we see some of the process. Most NPCs are snap changes. One exchange is a fully functioning NPC and the next encounter they're hollow. She's different with each exchange which is noteworthy. And what seems to change the most over our time with her?

She's losing her memory.

Right before she disappears to presumably hollow, she struggles with even who we are and what we're doing. So if in a normal lifespan we can see a significant amount of memory loss due to perfectly ordinary brain processes, what would happen to a person cursed to live for uncountable lifetimes? What if the trillions of teeny tiny unnoticeable changes to our brain from normal use accumulated over a much greater span?

Some interesting Lucatiel dialogue as she essentially narrates her own hollowing:
"My memories are fading, oldest first. Curse is doing its work upon me" Third dialogue

"Loss frightens me no ends. Loss of memory, loss of self. If I were told that by killing you, I would be free of this curse...Then I would draw my blade without hesitation; I don't want to die, I want to exist. I would sacrifice anything, anything at all for this. It shames me, but it is the truth. Sometimes, I feel obsessed...with this insignificant thing called "self". But even so, I am compelled to preserve it. Am I wrong to feel so? Surely, you'd do the same, in my shoes?...Maybe we're all cursed...From the moment we're born" Fourth dialogue (interesting she hints being born might be the start of the "curse" she's experiencing).

Hollowing might be nothing more than the natural progression of extremely old age.

I'll spoiler something contrary to the memory theory below, however there is at minimum a correlation between memory and hollowing. Lucatiel directly provides us evidence of this.

To answer the question (Jesus...finally), there's evidence to me that it has nothing to do with spiritual nothing or the like. It could be the perfectly natural outcome for an extended life. Physiological in nature rather than spiritual. If I were to guess, I would say I do still think there's a "lack of purpose" component. Focus and the inner compass can fight it. What this means then is it can be a variety of changes as it depends to a great extent on the nature of the individual we're asking about. Some want power. Others want to help. Some want a cure. So my best guess is that old age is "the curse" and the effects can be slowed or sped up depending on the person's ability to continue on with purpose, regardless of what the purpose is.

Here's why Lucatiel might be really good evidence of the loss of purpose concept. This would mean memory loss is symptom of hollowing as she gradually loses hope of finding her brother which also makes sense.

Lucatiel appears to have come to Drangleic in search of her brother. However, this is only briefly mentioned, but it's as good a guess as any. She also hints it could be she's looking for a cure for herself like we are. Anyway, at some point she mentions her brother is likely here and expands on his importance.

She disappears (like she suggests he did) right before WE find him. She mentions in a previous conversation she's never beaten him. "Not once." Her final location is unlikely a coincidence. My theory has always been that she found him first.

One important question: As an undead, where would one return if killed?

The last bonfire visited right? What if Aslatiel continued his winning streak against his sister? Would that be the final thing she needed to finalize her own hollowing? Her own brother, gone hollow to the point where he attacked and possibly "killed" his own sister.

What hope would she have left after THAT?

Her dialogue even expresses her expectation of the end. It takes effort, but she recognizes us, but oddly does not mention anything about her brother or her journey which she has previously been pretty open with. Something seems to have changed at this point and she evens gives us what turn out to be farewell gifts.

"Who are you...Oh...No...Forgive me...I know you...Yes, of course. How goes your journey? I know not what you seek in this far-away land...But I pray for your safety. Please, take these. Consider this thanks, for keeping me sane...My name is Lucatiel. I beg of you, remember my name. For I may not myself..."

It's true her memories are fading throughout, but it's always stuck out to me the timing of her final collapse.
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It's not a stereotypical good vs evil story, I agree with that.
But the more I think about, the more I see the worlds of Souls as fundamentally hellish places, with very little good and tons of evil.
The occasional good is a miracle, and evil is the law of the world. Which would fit, if the worlds are indeed a form of hell.


What do you think of the following:

The world is hell - or - life is fundamentally "suffering". (the latter is a buddhist truth)
Therefore death or "madness" offer an escape from pain and suffering.
King Allant of Demon's Souls actually put that philosophy into practice.
"Śūnyatā" means emptiness, and is considered a buddhist form of Nirvana, and a realization of the ultimate truth.
So "hollowing" and "death" might be, in a perverse sense, a realization of this buddhist truth.
It could explain why those on the path of the dragon meditate, why they turn to stone, and why Miyazaki says Dragons are void of life and pain.


I agree that the games are fundamentally about death, and also the broader concept of "finiteness".
Human beings realize that they aren't important, that they're weak, that they fall short. It frightens them.
However, I don't think Souls is about the ramifications of eternal living, beyond "It's all a horrible curse!"
These facts about memory are really specific, and they're basically overshadowed by the larger of theme of death, dementia and finiteness.

I do agree that loss of purpose plays an important role.
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Rakuyo wrote:That's a very important question, but very hard to pin down.

Here's how far my ideas have evolved:

A: Dark is in fact evil.

Wouldn't that mean the PC is innately evil since we are presumably the decendant of the furtive pygmy, wielder of the Dark Soul?

I imagined hollowing to simply be the empty shell that's left behind when the envitable degradation of the curse finally eats away the last bit of ones 'humanity'. The fading of the flame to me, seems like a representation of life's inevitable end, and facing that which most (if not all) beings fear; the loss of our existence to the unfathomable void of non-existence, or simply the loss of one's existence for one that's potentially worse.

Some embrace that change which is neither inherently good nor evil, and some fight it desperately. The PC's choice to link the flame being our contiued struggle to hold on to our current existence no matter how miserable it may seem, or let it fade out, accepting the peerless dark and whatever it may bring.


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I assume that after someone dies and become undead, they do not age anymore. Kinda like wolverine. but every time they die, they lose a part of their humanity (expressed by literally losing humanity in DkS1), therefore slowly forgeting what is like to be human.

Lucatiel doesn't know what a humanity does. At some point, (if I remember correctly) she will give you a human effigy, saying that she has no idea what it does. That's so tragic because that's the exact thing she needs to stop the hollowing progress. I know we are mute and all but, why didn't we tell her what it does? lol
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Maybe using humanity to restore yourself is something unique to the Dark Soul? Has there ever been an instance where someone besides the PC uses humanity in the same respect?