Going Backwards To Go Forwards
In contrast with many other popular video games, Bloodborne doesn’t reveal most of the game’s story in its cinematic cutscenes. While these scenes are beautiful and do provide you with crucial clues in solving the mystery, they are not the only pieces to the puzzle. There are hidden details buried within item descriptions, environmental details, character dialogues, and more that one must pay close attention to in order to unravel the story of Yharnam.
If you don’t want to ruin the Bloodborne story explanation for yourself, don’t read any further. There are spoilers to follow. At the same time, there’s a tremendous amount of the story that isn’t covered in this explanation so it won’t ruin it completely, but will reveal quite a bit.
To understand what’s happening in Yharnam, it is difficult to start from the perspective of the character that the game places you in. All of the events you experience in Bloodborne are predicated on an extensive past. So if you really want to understand Bloodborne, the best place to start is as far back in the timeline as the information provides, which is the time of The Great Ones.
AGAIN, SPOILERS AHEAD. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!
The Great Ones Evolve Beyond the Third Dimension
The oldest conscious beings in the realm of Bloodborne are The Great Ones. These mystical beings are not entirely understood, but one of the most unique features the story divulges is that the consciousness and existence of a Great One transcends time, space, and death. Unlike humans, their consciousness is not three dimensional, but rather exists at the level of a higher plane.
“Master Willem looked to beings from higher planes for guidance and sought to line his brain with eyes in order to elevate his thoughts.”
Since the player fights and slaughters a few of The Great Ones throughout the game, it can be inferred that they do experience a certain type of physical existence. But this is not always the case.
“The keepers who mind the slumbering Great Ones, gained eternal life…”
“The Queen lies dead, but her horrific consciousness is only asleep, and it stirs in unsettling motions.”
If the Queen and the keepers can transcend death, then it is likely that The Great Ones also evolved their conscious existence beyond the limits of life and death as we understand them in the third dimension.
The Great Pthumeru Ihyll Chalice reveals that, “…early Pthumerians were mere humble guardians of the slumbering Great Ones…” From this it is known that to some extent, they co-existed with the Pthumerians. It is possible that “slumbering” implies that the Great Ones left their bodies to hibernate in this reality while their minds ascended to higher planes.
Only a minority of Great Ones were left behind or abandoned, as we are clued in from the augur of Ebrietas description, “Use phantasms, the invertebrates known to be the augurs of the Great Ones, to partially summon abandoned Ebrietas. The initial encounter marked the start of an inquiry into the cosmos from within the old labyrinth, and led to the establishment of the Choir.”
This is also suggested by the choir garb description, “Members of the Choir are both the highest-ranking clerics of the Healing Church, and scholars who continue the work that began at Byrgenwerth. Together with the left behind Great One,they look to the skies, in search of astral signs,that may lead them to the rediscovery of true greatness.”
But before understanding the Healing Church and the Choir, there is an unresolved issue. Once the Great Ones ascended, the Pthumerians were left behind with whom and/or what remained.
The Pthumerian Queen Partakes in Blood Birth Ritual
Despite the fact that Queen Yharnam has allegedly been long dead since the time of the Pthumerians, she makes several appearances throughout the game’s story. One of the places Queen Yharnam appears within the game is as a boss in the final layer of the Great Pthumeru Ihyll Chalice Dungeon. Kill her and she will drop the Yharnam Stone, which reveals:
“The Queen lies dead, but her horrific consciousness is only asleep, and it stirs in unsettling motions.”
If it is possible for the Queen’s consciousness to transcend death, that suggests she was involved in a ritual birth process involving a Great One. When Queen Yharnam appears in game, she is wearing what appears to be a white wedding dress that is bloodied and torn in the center of her abdomen. This is indicative of a complication during the birth process and leaves a rather important question unanswered. Who is, or was, Queen Yharnhm’s baby? Was it a Great One? Or do the blood stains indicate a human death?
While it is still unclear exactly why she is wearing a wedding dress, the ring of betrothal may give a clue as it states, “In the age of the Great Ones, wedlock was a blood contract, only permitted to those slated to bear a special child.” The blood stains on the dress seem to suggest that giving birth to a “special child,” or perhaps Great One, was so physically strenuous that Queen Yharnam lost her own life in the process. Yet somehow, her consciousness also ascended past death.
The Pthumerian Civilization Collapses
The chalices tell us that, “The old labyrinth was carved out by the Pthumerians, superhuman beings that are said to have unlocked the wisdom of the eldritch Truth.” While we are not handed the eldritch Truth directly, we are given many clues, one of which being the cosmic eye watcher badge:
“Badge of a member of the Choir, elites of the Healing Church. The eye signifies the very cosmos. The Choir stumbled upon an epiphany, very suddenly and quite by accident. Here we stand, feet planted in the earth. but might the cosmos be very near us, only just above our heads?”
It can be inferred the Choir’s epiphany is the same secret eldritch Truth known to the Pthumerians. While the notion that “the sky and the cosmos are one” may seem almost meaningless at first thought, it is indeed the game’s core secret and without understanding it, the game is an endless maze.
The secret is that the Great Ones, though at first seen to both the Pthumerians and Yharnamites as Gods from the heavens to be worshiped, are not actually Gods at all. The Great Ones ascended their consciousnesses into higher planes of existence and it is possible for humans to do the same. The revelation was that there were undeniably other dimensions that could be crossed, and if this is where their worshiped Gods came from, then they had been fools to be their servants instead of searching for their own ascension to greatness.
“While early Pthumerians were mere humble guardians of the slumbering Great Ones, their descendants felt entitled to name themselves a leader.”
However, the Pthumerian civilization did not decline when the early Pthumerians were “mere humble guardians.” It is only after the Pthumerians began to carve out the old labyrinth and form the Chalice Dungeons that they started to endanger their society. It is suggested that the Pthumerians efforts to control the elements, summon the Great Ones, transcend dimensions, and acquire greater forms of consciousness and power is what lead to their demise.
We can also note here that Pthumerian sounds uncannily similar to Sumerian, which is one of the first human civilizations. Is Miyazaki perhaps making commentary on our world and society through drawing a parallel, or just using the name?
Humans Discover the Chalice Dungeons and Willem Founds Byrgenwerth
After the demise of the Pthumerian civilization comes the rise of the human civilization. Judging by their clothes and technology, these humans’ timeline likely evolved in a fashion similar to our own. However, the humans in Bloodborne discovered the Ancient Pthumerian labyrinth of the Chalice Dungeons.
In the Chalice Dungeons, humans uncovered remnants of all sorts of strange ritual artifacts. The grotesque materials used for rituals included remnants of both Great Ones and Pthumerians. Humans were intrigued by their discoveries and needed to study what they had found. In order to do that, a school needed to be founded.
The most useful information in the game about where the story of Yharnam begins is probably from the NPC Alfred. When he is encountered for the first time near the entrance to Old Yharnam, he has this to say:
“Byrgenwerth is an old place of learning. And the tomb of the gods, carved out below Yharnam, should be familiar to every hunter. Well, once a group of young Byrgenwerth scholars discovered a holy medium deep within the tomb. This led to the founding of the Healing Church, and the establishment of blood healing. In this sense, everything sacred in Yharnam can be traced back to Byrgenwerth.”
Byrgenwerth is essentially a college devoted to understanding the mysteries from the artifacts that were uncovered in the old Pthumerian labyrinth of the Chalice Dungeons. The head of this college, as noted by his title of Master or Provost, was Willem.
While people are free to form their own opinions on Master Willem, the Madman Hood does give us this clue about the nature of madness:
“Truth oft resembles madness, inaccessible to the dull of mind. Those who go mad are merely thoughtful souls who failed to reach any conclusions.”
In the game, Master Willem is regarded as one of the wisest scholars to have ever lived by some, and as a fool thought to have been driven mad from his research by others.
Master Willem Discovers the Eldritch Truth
It is likely that Master Willem did not go mad but rather uncovered the eldritch Truth. Those around him were not able to see where he was coming from because they literally lacked the eyes to do so. In his studies, Master Willem realized that the Great Ones operated in parallel dimensions on higher planes of reality and consciousness as is confirmed by the item Great One’s Wisdom which says, “At Byrgenwerth, Master Willem had an epiphany: ‘We are thinking on the basest of planes. What we need, are more eyes.'”
In pursuit of those eyes, Willem sought communion with the Great Ones through secret rituals in order to obtain his one third of umbilical cord which informs us that, “Provost Willem sought the Cord in order to elevate his being and thoughts to those of a Great One, by lining his brain with eyes. The only choice, he knew, if man were to ever match Their greatness.”
Once Master Willem attained the wisdom and insight he sought, he decided that the burden of the eldritch Truth and the horror that it inspires within mankind should be forbidden. With the help of Rom the Vacuous Spider, ascended kin of The Great Ones, Master Willem engaged in a ritual to obscure the eldritch Truth from all those around him, as well as to further cement the separation between dimensions. He then became reclusive and refused to share his secrets with his followers.
One of which was named Laurence, who became so frustrated with Master Willem, he decided to abandon him and Byrgenwerth to form the Healing Church, which is shown in the vision after the Vicar Amelia boss fight.
Laurence Founds the Healing Church
A note in the Cathedral reads, “Place your hand on the altar’s sacred covering, and inscribe Master Laurence’s adage upon your flesh.” His title of Master implies that he is not only a high ranking member of The Healing Church, but most likely the head and founder as well.
From the choir garb, we know that, “Members of the Choir are both the highest-ranking clerics of the Healing Church, and scholars who continue the work that began at Byrgenwerth. Together with the left behind Great One, they look to the skies, in search of astral signs, that may lead them to the rediscovery of true greatness.” If this does not throw suspicion on the true motives of an organization that chooses to call themselves the healing church, then perhaps we should examine the description of the white church hat. It says:
“Attire of special Church doctors. These doctors are superiors to the black preventative hunters, and specialists in experimentally-backed blood ministration and the scourge of the beast. They believe that medicine is not a means of treatment but rather a method for research, and that some knowledge can only be obtained by exposing oneself to sickness.”
The most unsettling part of that description is: “Some knowledge can only be obtained by exposing oneself to sickness.” Actually, it’s the entire basis for a conspiracy theory. The antidote item description reads:
“Small medicinal tablets that counteract poison. Used to treat ashen blood, the baffling sickness that ravaged Old Yharnam long ago. These tablets only provide short-term relief. The ashen blood ailment eventually triggered the spread of the beastly scourge.”
The conspiracy is about the level of involvement the Healing Church had in learning from the disease or even creating the diseases, as well as if the Healing Church treated ashen blood with blood ministration despite knowing that causes people to transform into beasts, otherwise known as the beastly scourge.
While the exact dynamics are unclear, one thing that was clear was that once the beastly scourge broke out, there was a dire need for hunters.
Gehrman Creates a Workshop for Hunters
It is widely known that Gehrman is the first hunter, but where did he come from? One of the only clues the game gives us on this crucial question is a few words from Gehrman himself which he mutters while he sleeps in the Hunter’s Dream:
Oh, Laurence… Master Willem… Somebody help me… Unshackle me please, anybody… I’ve had enough of this dream… The night blocks all sight… Oh, somebody, please… “
From that line, we can guess that Gehrman is not only an acquaintance of Laurence and Willem, but also an old friend. This means that it is probable that Gehrman, like Laurence, was also one of the original Byrgenwerth scholars. This quote gives insight into what Gehrman is really feeling, despite his cheery tone when speaking to the player. Long ago, Gehrman founded the Hunter’s Workshop as a means of combating the beastly scourge. Despite knowing that the beasts he was slaying were formerly the citizens of Yharnam, Gehrman had the grit to do what was necessary in order to make life safer for the rest of the town’s citizens.
Gehrman Creates the Hunter’s Dream
Warning: Bloodborne Ending Spoilers To Follow
It seems that Gehrman was not satisfied with spending his life being a mere hunter. In the Abandoned Old Workshop, the player uncovers a one third of umbilical cord. This one reads:
“A great relic, also known as the Cord of the Eye. Every infant Great One has this precursor to the umbilical cord. Every Great One loses its child, and then yearns for a surrogate. The Third Umbilical Cord precipitated the encounter with the pale moon, which beckoned the hunters and conceived the hunter’s dream.”
If Gehrman possessed a one third of umbilical cord then it would seem as though, similar to Master Willem, he sought to use it to ascend his consciousness to higher planes and potentially evolve into a great one. Perhaps Gehrman, as he honed his skills of the hunt, had a grand epiphany. One of the in-game notes reveals that, “When the red moon hangs low, the line between man and beast is blurred.” Gehrman could have figured out this connection and sought to slaughter the Moon Presence as a way to permanently stop the cycle of the red blood moon.
To understand Gehrman’s role, we must consider the game’s multiple endings. If the player does not consume three one third of umbilical cords, Gehrman will offer to take the player’s life. If the player accepts, there is a cutscene showing the sun rise over Yharnam.If the player refuses, Gehrman becomes hostile. Upon Gehrman’s death, the player interacts with the Moon Presence, also known as the pale moon or Paleblood as indicated by an in-game lore note:”The nameless moon presence beckoned by Laurence and his associates, Paleblood.”
The Moon Presence picks up the player, apparently inducing paralysis or some sort of weakness, as the scene reveals the hunter now sitting in a wheelchair, in place of Gehrman.In his earlier quotes, Gehrman reveals he is trapped within the Hunter’s Dream, an alternate reality which has now become his nightmare. In this ending it becomes clear that Gehrman was also paralyzed by the Moon Presence and trapped within the Hunter’s Dream as its prisoner, pet, or surrogate child.
In the third and “true” ending, the player consumes three one third of umbilical cord items. Then, after slaying Gehrman, the Moon Presence is unable to paralyze or incapacitate him/her. In fact, a white light bursts forth from the player and repels the Moon Presence. The player then kills the Moon Presence, the game presents the message, “NIGHTMARE SLAIN,” and the player awakens as a baby Great One in the Doll’s hands.
In this interpretation, the character’s role is that of the savior. Gehrman knew that to defeat the Moon Presence, you would need not only the mental fortitude to uncover the mysteries of Yharnahm without going mad, but also the physical strength to slay the Moon Presence. The Hunter’s Dream would have essentially been a test/deathwish constructed by Gehrman that he intended to perpetuate until he found someone great enough to slay the Moon Presence. This explains the countless graves in the Hunter’s Dream as well as the fact that the hunters in Yharnam also remember the dream. They were given the same proposition and opportunity by Gehrman but failed to overcome the challenges.
Well, that’s it. If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! It was long, but hopefully worth it. Let us know what you think in the comments.