Friday, September 22, 2017

The House of Iaso (Super Person Universe)

Existing in the shadow of more famous institutions like the Miskatonic Mental Hospital, the House of Iaso rarely enters the public consciousness.  When it does, usually after some villain or other escaped from it, the impression it leaves is fleeting.

Only those whose lives personally involve the facility, or those with a deep interest in the historical accidents surrounding an obscure psychiatric hospital, are aware that there has been a war going on for the soul of the institution almost since it was founded. At the time the fight for its soul began, it was located in an out of the way corner of England's Massachusetts Bay Colony.  (Now a part of Maine.)

The exact details of Iaso's founding were intentionally obscured because if it had been known at the time that the entire operation was the dream of a woman who had been institutionalized at Bedlam (the Bethlem Royal Hospital, then located just outside of London's walls) it is doubtful the project would have been allowed to continue.

The woman's name was lost, even secret records of the time simply call her "The Founder".  While she appears to have fled to the New World out of fear of being sent back to Bedlam, within a few years of her arrival she set out to create a more humane solution to the problem of mental illness.

She spent three years fruitlessly campaigning to create a hospital for the mentally afflicted based upon compassion and understanding.  In the fourth year she was approached by a small cult, which found her vision inspiring.

The Therapeutae of Asclepius were devotees of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, and his five daughters.

Iaso, the goddess of recuperation from illness, was chosen to be patron of the original ward.  Iaso was chosen over Aceso, goddess of the healing process itself, because healing can be associated with painful, or even violent, acts (such as setting a bone) while recuperation was seen as more evocative of the peaceful methods the founder and the cult envisioned.

When the facility consisted of some small wooden buildings on land that no one had wanted (it is located in a swamp) this vision was followed with varying amounts of success.  The success drew attention, which at first was seen as a good thing.

The heightened visibility of the House of Iaso allowed for greater funding and allowed the House to better attract talented practitioners.  Initially it was believed that the only drawback was the need for increased vigilance in keeping the religion of the original staff a secret.

Two unforeseen problems arose.  First, those who did not wish to deal with violent individuals would pronounce them "lunatics" and ship them to the House of Iaso.  Second, those who contributed to the increased funding often had strong opinions about what should be done with that money.

Thus the unending battle for the soul of the House began.

The ownership and oversight of the House has changed many times, with it currently being a quasi-governmental hospital.  It has never been settled whether the House exists to help people with actual mental illnesses or serve as a dumping ground for those the traditional correctional system finds vexing.  It has never been settled whether the House is a place for gentle healing or cruelly oppressive extreme measures.

The statement "That's how they do things at Miskatonic" has two very different meanings within the House of Iaso.  To some it is an invitation, or even exhortation, to do the same thing within the House.  To others it is a chilling warning that doing or considering the same is morally questionable or even downright evil.

In recent decades the House has had to adapt to accommodate people with various powers.  While its holding areas can't rival those at Miskatonic, they are better equipped than the average detention facility, and certainly better than the average mental hospital.

It is generally (though not exclusively) the case that the dangerous patients are sane people who never should have been sent to a mental hospital, and the ones who actually belong are not dangerous.  This does not mean that the powered population is composed entirely of criminals who were dumped into the House by a prison system that didn't want to deal with such things.

Being one third Virginia Creeper or the partial reincarnation of an angel of death can lead to some difficulties in the mental arena.  The House is well equipped to help such people, though whether they will actually do so depends in large part on the current political climate and whom the governor has appointed to oversee the institution.

It has never been the case that the good elements of the House of Iaso were completely suppressed, meaning that there have always been people getting the kind of care and aid they needed.  It's simply that sometimes this is done with the support of the administration while at others it is done in spite of the administration.

Likewise for people performing unauthorized experiments on the patients.

The original cult has variously been secret, suppressed, ignored, covertly supported, denied, and various other things.  It has never been exterminated or abandoned.  Members of the Therapeutae of Asclepius can be found amoung the staff and patients alike.  During the bad times at-risk patients are sometimes surreptitiously evacuated through areas of the House that have been forgotten by the powers that be in over 300 years of expansion and renovation.

For those that would explore abandoned areas, it isn't difficult to find altars to Asclepius and his five daughters that are still in use.

In good times the cult's ideals control the House and cult members have nothing to do beyond their jobs and devotions to their gods.  Anyone mistreating patients is quickly discovered and dealt with.  (Humanely.)  In bad times the patients are seen as a disposable population for the powers that be to do with as they please, whether that means neglect or active harm, and the cult members use their knowledge of the House to covertly protect the patients from harm inasmuch as they are able to.

Beyond areas abandoned due to falling out of use (or sinking into the swamp) there are multiple secret labs under the facility where patients were used as test subjects.  The most recent known lab dates to the Reagan administration, and its use coincided with the last known involvement of the federal government in the operations of the House of Iaso.

Rumors that the flooded lower levels (which were abandoned and built on top of in order to raise the House of Iaso above the swamp) are home to some sort of human-fish hybrid subspecies are all completely false.  The residents of the lower levels are part muskrat, and muskrats are nothing like fish.

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"Bedlam" comes from a corruption of the "Bethlehem" (however one chooses to spell it) in the name of the Bethlem Royal Hospital (whatever one chooses to call it).  Thus it was called "Bedlam" thus "bedlam" was associated with the kinds of things you'd expect from one of the patients there, thus the word.

I know of this because of commentary attached to a poem.  I read the commentary, I don't think I ever made it through the poem.

It's been around a long time, and (while it's apparently a fine place now) it does not have the nicest history.

The name "Miskatonic" is lifted from Lovecraft.  Why?  Where do you think the name "Arkham" comes from?  The Miskatonic Mental Hospital lives down to the standards set by every wretched depiction of Arkham Asylum.

The idea of the House of Iaso is that it exists in an ever-shifting point between that and a well managed psychiatric hospital.  If things are going well then it's merely really fucking annoying that they keep on getting sent sane supervillains when they're supposed to be helping mentally ill people (regardless of where they fall on the hero-villain-bystander plot.)

If things aren't going well then the House is is being dragged in the direction of evil by people who think it should be another Miskatonic.

Creating it was partially driven by the idea of taking the dark and creepy asylum setting and making it so the people sneaking around and secretly preforming rituals in hidden rooms and crawlspaces and whatnot were the altruistic good guys.

Oh, random note: the founder was never a member of the Therapeutae of Asclepius. She was a religiously unremarkable individual for her time and place of origin, presumably Anglican.  It's just that the Therapeutae of Asclepius were quite taken with her vision and it was their support that allowed it to become a real thing.

1 comment:

  1. I like this! A reversal of some tropes much in need of it.