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The History of Laran


Laran, the collection of psychic abilities exhibited by many Darkovans, did not appear instantly on the planet. In the series, Marion strives to explain why Darkover has such an abundance of telepaths when such is not the case among "normal" humans/Terrans. The explanations offered are detailed in the following two sections: first of all, the reasons for the initial appearance of laran, and then a summary of the major stages of its development.

The appearance of laran on Darkover

  • There is a plant native to Darkover, kireseth, the pollen of which enhances the mental abilities of latent telepaths. This pollen causes the so-called ghost-winds: in winter, when there is a sharp rise in temperature, the kireseth flowers almost instantly. The ever-present winds of Darkover then carry this pollen over many miles, inducing madness in both humans and animals and overwhelming them with telepathic perceptions which they are not accustomed to experiencing. These winds occur quite frequently in the series, but their devastating effects are illustrated especially well in Darkover Landfall.

  • Certain humans have interbred with one of the indigenous races of Darkover, the Chieris. This race possesses potent psychic abilities and their human descendants inherited their powers. The first contact between humans and the chieri is told in Darkover Landfall. Many Darkovans are of chieri descent, which is sometimes indicated by the presence of a sixth finger on each hand and/or by gold-colored eyes.
    Comment by F. Tassin: only part of the colonists had half-human, half-chieri children, which would explain why not all Darkovans possess laran.

  • During the Ages of Chaos, Darkovans freely engaged in genetic manipulations and carefully selected marriages (as one might breed the bloodlines of horses, for example) to develop and improve their gifts. In spite of widely varying customs in this regard (as seen in Stormqueen!), the effects of selective breeding were still felt among a large number of telepaths even during the era of rediscovery.

  • Finally, there are the matrices, blue crystals which amplify psychic energy. The first matrix crystal was given by a chieri to his human companion (during a ghost-wind), an episode set forth in Darkover Landfall. The appearance of such a device coincided with the development of psychic abilities among the colonists after the first ghost-wind. It is therefore likely that the presence of the matrices (among the colonists) induced the development of laran by enhancing its manifestations, making them powerful and tangible.

The major stages of the development of laran

The following summary is only partial and not particularly precise. For the most part it is based largely on conjecture, since many periods of Darkovan history are not covered by Marion's novels.
  • The Discovery:

    Just after the arrival of humans on Darkover, during the colonization, laran is discovered due to a ghost-wind (as explained in the preceding section).

  • The Proliferation:

    This period, which begins after Landfall and ends before the Ages of Chaos, is described very little by Marion. It is characterized by the establishment of a patriarchal, feudal society, and by an increase in the understanding of laran, forming the basis of a true science.

  • The Ages of Chaos:

    In this period, the laran-based sciences have developed to the point where Darkovans are able to do many of the same things that another, more technologically advanced civilization could. Mastery of laran enabled Darkovans to do the following, among other things:

    • fly aircraft (as well as spaceships, see The Heritage of Hastur, p. 180)
    • construct buildings and castles
    • mine ores and minerals (op. cit., p. 200)
    • manipulate genes (op. cit., p. 33)
    • creates powerful weapons of destruction (op. cit., p. 200)
    • produce electricity (op. cit., p. 198)
    In this era, most of the marriages among the Comyn were arranged so as to preserve and enhance their telepathic talents.

  • The Compact:

    The Ages of Chaos were a catastrophic time. The human cost was enormous, not only because of the extremely deadly wars, but also due to intermarriages among blood relatives which produced abnormal children. Fortunately, the Compact was adopted by Varzil the Good and the Hasturs. Its principal purpose was to forbid the use of laran-based weapons as well as mechanical weapons capable of striking over a distance (specifically, beyond arm's length).

  • The Descent into Sorcery:

    The establishment of the Compact was characterized by a significant increase in control over how laran was taught and practiced. Gradually, laran came to be practiced only in the Towers under the guidance of the Keepers, girls sworn to follow a strict, unnatural training regimen which demanded life-long virginity. The connection between sexuality and laran, and the reasons why the two activities had to be kept separate, were forgotten. The science of laran was transformed into a kind of sorcery, in which knowledge was replaced by superstitious ritual and faith. Many techniques of laran were lost.

  • The Renewal:

    Due to the efforts of Damon Ridenow, laran regained an important place in Darkovan society shortly after the rediscovery of Darkover by the Terrans. This revival, described mainly in The Forbidden Tower, was responsible for the rediscovery of some ancient learning, in particular the possibility that men, not just women, could be Keepers, and that the traditional training of Keepers could be dispensed with. However, this renewal was weakened by a number of extreme elements within Darkoven society which opposed it. In the end, the "revolutionaries" were killed before they could bring about any real change (see The Bloody Sun and The Heritage of Hastur). Even so, the foundations of renewal had been laid and, after a generation, change became inevitable.

  • Matrix Mechanics:

    Driven by the more innovative elements of Darkovan society, the study of laran underwent an important revival. Little by little, the old superstitions were replaced by a more scientific understanding. Matrix mechanics, a rational explanation of laran, was developed. However, the classes of Darkovans who followed the old practices of laran were difficult to oust and the decline of laran continued. Political marriages replaced "genetic" marriages and gradually certain gifts and techniques were lost. Furthermore, the Comyn Council resisted any change, and preferred not to see laran practiced outside of the Towers (it was more or less illegal to do so anyway, see The Heritage of Hastur, p. 244), especially after the two awakenings of the Sharra matrix (in op. cit. and Sharra's Exile).

  • The Telepath Project:

    In spite of the renewal, the population of telepaths declined, due in part to the assassinations organized by The World Wreckers. Under the influence of Regis Hastur, who had grown to become a strong ruler of a ravaged Darkover, the telepath project was an attempt to reunite all of the telepaths in the Terran Empire in order to study their abilities and give renewed hope to Darkover. The final novel in the series ends with a genuine sense of renewal, which should finally allow laran to attain its full flowering while avoiding the perversions of the Ages of Chaos.

copyright 96-99 Fabrice Rossi (
Translated by Michael J. Haas, from

source file (Last modification: Wed Apr 21 17:21:45 1999)