On the Organon, the Domain’s Origins, and the Precursors

Another week, another new Halo release, another loaded topic of esoteric ancient era lore to talk about…

As if Mythos wasn’t enough, just earlier this week we saw the release of the new anthology novel, Halo: Fractures. With it came a smorgasbord of incredible stories from new and old writers of the franchise, lots of interesting twists, reveals, and emotional gut-punches (the ending of Oasis, man, and that epilogue) for us story fans to digest.

Back when the book was announced and we were told that there were going to be some Forerunner stories in it, I said that I would do what I did with Soma the Painter and write something on them. Today, we’re looking at some lore introduced to us in Promises To Keep by Christie Golden, and how it was the turn-of-the-screw for a theory I’ve had about the Domain that has been floating around in my head since Silentium came out. After that, I’m going to lend a few ideas I have about the Precursors and how they may have formulated the very idea of the Mantle in the first place.

If you hadn’t already guessed, this post contains SPOILERS for Halo: Fractures.cea70The theory that I refer to is something that I alluded to in my criticism of Halo 5’s presentation of the Domain in this post, regarding how it’s repeatedly referred to as “the Forerunner Domain” in the story. I pointed out the obvious fact that the Domain isn’t Forerunner, but also the more subtle hint we have that it isn’t actually Precursor either – that it is something truly other in the setting.

As Greg Bear said prior to the release of Silentium:

“There’s that biological imperative and the legal imperative and the moral imperative, and then there’s the spiritual imperative as [the Forerunners are] trying to figure out what this great mystery – the greatest mystery of all – which is, in a sense, talked about in Silentium.

Which is: what is Domain? What is it really?

And, at the end, we begin to discover what Domain is. And, again, it adds that turn of the screw to the story of ‘what have we done here?'” [Greg Bear, Sparkast #17]

As is Greg Bear’s way, in those final sentences, he answers no questions. He gives us the beginning of an answer (not the answer) and leaves the rest up to us to interpret, which is what so much of this blog’s existence has been about. So it is this question, along with a few others, that I’m going to explore today.

What is Domain?

What is it really?cea65Naturally, the place to begin here is with the truth bomb that is dropped by Forthencho to the Librarian on Earth at the end of Silentium which I’ve transcribed below.

“You are my children,” I whisper, and they respond in many tongues. I am ready now. I know they will not lie to me. They will tell me what they were told, and I will know the truth of it, or not. “I listen, Forthencho.”

He struggles to give voice to so many alien thoughts – in the languages he knows, using the words he is familiar with. “The Precursors lived in many shapes, flesh and spirit, primitive and advanced, spacefaring and locked to their worlds… Evolved over and over again, died away, were reborn, explored, and seeded many galaxies… This I was told. I understand little.

We are your children, Librarian. But we are also their children. And what they learned across many billions of years they stored in this galaxy. We do not know where. The Gravemind tells us something impossible to understand – that most of what has been gathered comes from before there were stars. We do not believe in such a time, but the Mind insists… The life-patterns and living wisdom of a hundred billion years.

They tell me the immense field projected by this reserve is known to Forerunners, was once accessed by them. Is that so, Librarian?”

The Domain! I tell myself. He is describing the Domain. Could that possibly be true? The Domain was created by Precursors?

Forthencho’s warriors clamour hoarsely. Their decaying hands reach out to stroke my armour, touch me directly, touch my flesh. I do not withdraw. I reach out to the crumbling cheek of the Lord of Admirals.

“I’m listening,” I tell him.

“The Gravemind no more understands the whole truth than we do. It is past all our understanding, from the greatest to the smallest. This reserve was wrapped in Precursor architecture, protected for many billions of years. Out there.” He lifts his arm and points to the bright blue sky. “Perhaps if there were enough time, we could find it. But when the Halos are fired, not only will sentient life across the galaxy vanish, but all that knowledge will vanish as well. The greatest treasure of all will be destroyed.”

The Organon! The Domain is the Organon!

A wonderful truth, about to be turned by Forerunners into an awful truth. And not far away, outside the circle, Catalog is listening, to this accusation, this testimony regarding what may be the greatest crime of all.

If the Halos fire, we will kill our own soul! [Halo: Silentium, string 37]

cea66There’s so much to talk about that’s loaded into this little passage…

Firstly, then, the Domain.

“And what they learned across many billions of years they stored in this galaxy. We do not know where.”


“This reserve was wrapped in Precursor architecture, protected for many billions of years.”

These two lines are what ignited the spark of the idea in me that the Precursors did not actually create the Domain, as the Librarian interprets the message to mean.

Examining the actual wording of the passage, the Precursors stored the knowledge they gathered in a “reserve” in our galaxy, which makes it seem to me that they did exactly what the Forerunners did with the Domain, only to a far greater extent.

The Precursors wrapped their architecture around this “reserve”, which suggests that it is something else that physically exists separately from the Precursors. They had to add to it with their own constructs, just as the Forerunners created separate nodes on worlds like Genesis and Kamchatka in order to permeate the Domain’s existence across the Ecumene. And if they had to add to it then it wasn’t always a part of Precursor ‘society’ – there was a time where they existed without the Domain. As I’ve pointed out before, the Domain is the keystone of the Mantle, so there was also a time where the Precursors existed without that philosophy. That belief had to come from somewhere, it did not just spring into being.

I think that what the Precursors built around this reserve was some kind of anchor, or central node, which tethered the Domain to our dimension.

Forthencho also says that it was “protected” for billions of years, which is a very interesting word to use. Protected from what? From whom? It certainly wasn’t their creations, since the Forerunners seem to have been the first that were truly capable of successfully rising up against them, so through what means exactly did the Precursors fear this reserve could be lost or damaged?

Precursor constructs are semi-immortal, being based on neural physics, so that carries the implication that the Domain, this reserve, isn’t made up of that.mult50Secondly, what actually happened to the Domain when the Halos were fired? The general interpretation made from what we were told was that it was destroyed, which, for all intents and purposes, it was.

But not quite in the way we thought.

“But when the Halos are fired, not only will sentient life across the galaxy vanish, but all that knowledge will vanish as well.”

This ties in with what I spoke about in my post on Mythos, contrasting the way the Domain is described in the Forerunner Saga against the way we see it visually depicted in Halo 5.

In Silentium, the Ur-Didact vividly describes his experience of spending centuries wandering through corridors and caverns that were “fitfully aglow with ancestral records and memories”. It also has alien structures described as having alien buildings with indefinite architecture that are “not quite seen, but sensed”, in Cryptum.

In Halo 5, we see those caverns visually depicted as the Domain invades John’s mind, and it is empty. The only glow comes from a single, faint memory of Cortana’s data crystal chip, which fades upon John’s touch. The rest of the Domain appears barren.

Those memories and ancestral records, all that the Domain was filled with, was washed away… but the Domain itself was not.

It’s like the things that were put into the Domain were built on the principles of neural physics, thus subject to the effects of Halo radiation, but the Domain itself is not. The actual (meta)physical ‘place’ is not built on neural physics, hence the line stating that all the knowledge in the Domain will vanish, rather than saying that the Domain will vanish. The Precursor architecture around that reserve was destroyed, severing the anchor in our dimension to allow access to it.gate8This loops us back around to the question of how one accesses the Domain.

For the Forerunners, they had to physically mutate themselves (which was made to be a universal aspect of their society and culture’s maturation rituals) in order to even attain the ability to access the Domain, and that connection was supplemented by their ancillas in their armour (which functioned as a node on an individual scale).

For humans, from what we’ve seen, they also had to have some degree of physical mutation in order to access it. This is one of the “many gifts” that the Librarian hid away in humanity’s genetics, which is unlocked for John in Halo 4 in order to grant him immunity to the Composer. Not only that, but the Spartan-II augmentations are also like a very basic form of Forerunner mutation, leading to the Warden Eternal calling John a Warrior-Servant in Halo 5.

John’s connection to the Domain is also supplemented by an ancilla in some capacity because it’s Cortana who is sending him the message.

Cortana’s plan for John to be sealed away in a Cryptum for ten thousand years very much hinged on him being able to access the Domain, otherwise he would suffer the same fate as the Ur-Didact and awaken from his long sojourn having gone completely mad (note that Cortana did not extend that same courtesy to the rest of Blue Team, as none of them have had their genesongs unlocked like John has).

So… how did the Precursors access the Domain?

Well, this is where Promises To Keep comes in.cea60This story is set some centuries on from the events of Silentium and the Rebirth epilogue, where the Forerunners have fired the Halos and are now going about the process of reseeding the galaxy. Amidst the great responsibility of fulfilling the final stage of the Conservation Measure, the survivors are also dealing with the trauma and guilt of what they have done – of this crime they have committed to prevent the Flood from overrunning the galaxy.

The IsoDidact, now calling himself Bornstellar once more, and Chant-to-Green, the Lifeshaper, have been greatly scarred by the loss of the Librarian. Bornstellar spends much of his time replaying the old archived messages and fractured reconstructions of moments between them, lamenting how their final words had been dutiful formalities rather than something more meaningful – as they did not know they would not see each other again.

He then recalls the message he received as he was about to fire the Halos, one message amongst many thousands from Forerunners scattered across the galaxy – the survivors of decimated fleets and outposts that have only just been able to re-establish communications. He did not believe that this message was from the Librarian because it was signed ‘Librarian’, which Bornstellar notes is not the name she would use to sign a message to him – so he puts it aside as a fake. But, in his grief, he opens the message, and within it is the information she learned from Forthencho in the passage quoted at the start of this article.

“I know what you, my husband, must do, and you know I agree. Halo must be activated. But nothing is without consequence, and I understand now there will be one we have not foreseen.


The legendary Organon – the great Precursor artefact that you once sought with such sharp desire… my love, it has been with us all along. The Organon holds the Domain – and firing the Halo Array will destroy it.


It is for those who come that I fear. The humans – the Reclaimers – will need the Domain one day. I cannot – I will not – die without hope that there is some way to repair it. If there is, I believe that information will be found at Maethrillian. We understand the keeping of secrets, we Forerunners, and next to the knowledge of the Flood, this would have been the greatest secret of all.

I charged the two of you with reseeding the sentient species I have tended most of my life. I must exact another promise. You must return to our capital, if anything remains of it. Find a way to reactivate the Domain. […] Find it. Promise me! Or I fear that all we have done to try to fix that which we have ruined will crumble to dust.” [Halo: Fractures – Promises To Keep, page 90]

cea24Upon returning to Maethrillian, Bornstellar questions Splendid-Dust-of-Ancient-Suns, the First Councillor who last appeared in Cryptum, about what exactly they are looking for, to which Splendid Dust responds:

“Precursor technology. It was transported whole, from the distant world where they found it, to Maethrillian during the capital’s construction. The entire planet was built around it. Sources from that era wrote that they found something that… helped them understand the Domain, and when rumours began to spread, as was inevitable, the legend of the Organon sprang up.” [Halo: Fractures – Promises To Keep, page 96]

When told that the thing they found was thought to be ‘alive’ in some way, Chant and Trial dismiss it as “preposterous” because they had never seen any indication that the Precursors had ever mastered the feat of creating a true artificial intelligence.

Except, as we learn, they had.

The Organon is actually a Precursor ancilla called Abaddon, its name and nature having been distorted by legend over millennia to ‘Organon’. It cooperated with the Forerunners in their earlier years, enabling entrance to the Domain and permitting them to explore it, but now it has been subverted by the firing of the Halos and seeks to have the Forerunner survivors face trial for their magnificent screw-ups.

The fact that the Precursors made AI just tells us so much about them without actually telling us anything.

Forerunners and humans have both required some degree of AI intervention in order to supplement access the Domain, and now we find that the Precursors also created an artificial intelligence that exists in-concert with it.

Why else make artificial intelligence if not to make up for the limits of the flesh, of the organic mind? No matter how much it is augmented, technology always surpasses what we are capable of which is why we use it.

It seems to me that this only further reinforces the idea that the Precursors did not create the Domain, that they too required some additional means through which to supplement access to it.

So now we find ourselves facing another question.

What are the Precursors?

What are they really?cea56This is one of those questions where no two people are going to give the same answer because we still don’t know what a Precursor actually is…

The closest we’ve had is the Timeless One, but even that is something of an anomaly because, as the Forerunner Saga and Mythos tell us, it is a “child” that was mutated in various ways in order to allow it to survive the long passing of time – we’re talking millions of years. It is Precursor, yet also not Precursor at the same time. It is another one of those things that only provides us with the beginning of an answer, rather than the answer.

But one thing can be said for certain, now more than ever – the Precursors were not gods. This seems a somewhat obvious statement to make, but there is a tendency to conflate that which seems godlike to actual godhood.

No, what we can say of the Precursors is that they were a technologically advanced civilisation beyond all others, to the point where they seem godlike to us, but they were still mortal, fallible, subject to time and the universal laws that govern existence. They had limits, they had ignorance, and they probably had politics too.

Throughout every mention of them in the lore and in discussion about them, we reduce them down to the monolith of “the Precursors”, when, in reality, I’ll bet that they were every bit as much a vibrant, conflicted, divisive species as any other, but on a much higher scale. The Halo universe is so rich and expansive at this point that saying “the Forerunners”, or “the Covenant”, or “the humans” just doesn’t really cut it any more because there’s so much that makes up those proper nouns now, all these fractured groups and individuals and ideas that exist not just in-conflict with forces from without but those from within as well.

The fact that the Precursors made artificial intelligence just seems so telling about them to me, as it is for any species that creates it. It implies a great deal about the limitations they had that they sought to surpass through technology more advanced than themselves – in this case, connecting with the Domain.cea63Thinking back to the passage from Forthencho, we are told:

“The Precursors lived in many shapes, flesh and spirit, primitive and advanced, spacefaring and locked to their worlds… Evolved over and over again, died away, were reborn, explored, and seeded many galaxies.”

Once again, this tells us everything and nothing, so the rest of this post is going to pretty much be entirely speculation. Just about anything goes here, I am not positing this as anything more than one of the many interpretations of the Precursors’ nature of existence based on my own perception of them.

I recall a theory that a friend and I were discussing over Skype early last year, that the ‘test’ the Precursors administered to their created species might have been for the purpose of making new ‘Precursors’ – that ‘Precursor’, like ‘Forerunner’, was more of a title than an actual species name.

The ‘Ur-Precursors’ would go around seeding galaxies with life (tying in with ancient humanity’s own Mantle philosophy of “creating many souls”), and those created species at some point in their development (hence the Precursors existing as primitive and advanced species according to the Gravemind) would be tested to see if they were deemed to be worthy of inheriting the Mantle and preserving life in that galaxy (let’s call them ‘IsoPrecursors’). The Ur-Precursors then move on to repeat the process over again in some other galaxy.

Here is where I will turn to Halo: Mythos and its own description of what the Precursors got up to.

The earliest records of civilisation in the Milky Way speak of the Precursors. These god-like beings are believed to have created other sentient races before departing the galaxy, leaving behind only faint traces of their existence scattered across distant worlds.

Long after the Precursors’ exodus, when knowledge of their kind had nearly passed out of memory, one of the races they created – the Forerunners – managed to achieve extraordinary things on their own, including interstellar travel through a dimension known as slipspace, and even the ability to create artificial worlds.

The Forerunners’ way of life revolved around a philosophy inherited from the Precursors. This was known as the Mantle of Responsibility. They believed that the galaxy, and specifically life in all its forms, must be protected by the most advanced of sentient species. Those who bore the Mantle were charged with governing and caring for all life in the galaxy: but such power made the Forerunners arrogant.

The Forerunners’ pride would not go unchecked. They would soon be judged by the Precursors, who did not approve of their brash claim to the Mantle. The Precursors planned to wipe out the Forerunner race, strip the Mantle from them, and give it to another species deemed worthy.

The Precursors seeded our galaxy with life and then left, in the time that they were gone the species that they had created evolved and developed, leading to the Forerunners being the first to rise up and claim the Mantle. But that power bred corruption in them and, as we’ve seen, they exploited a loophole in the Mantle to effectively ensure that no other species would challenge their power. This lead to the Precursors coming back to the Milky Way in order to take the Mantle from the Forerunners and test a different species – which we know from the Timeless One’s dialogue in Primordium to be humanity.

But why do this?

What is the ultimate goal here?star-roadWell, let’s say that the Ur-Precursors did find the Domain and they decided to fill it with the sum of knowledge that they had acquired over one hundred billion years – this is the point where they came up with/put into action the philosophy of the Mantle. They have this infinite quantum information repository to fill so they decide that that’s what they’re going to do: seed many galaxies throughout the universe with life in order to fill the Domain with the richness of existence.

Remember, the Domain is described in Cryptum as the soul and record of “the joy of life’s interaction with the Cosmos”. They seed these galaxies with life, wait for them to evolve and develop, and then administer a test to decide which one of them is worthy of becoming a guardian – of upholding the Mantle, of ‘becoming the next Precursors’, so to speak.

What’s more, consider their neural physics-based technology as well. Depicted (from Mythos, for the first time) in the above image are Star Roads, which appeared in the Forerunner Saga as constructs that were once used to link whole planets, whole systems together. These Star Roads are based on their concept of neural physics, which is intrinsically linked to the Mantle:

“Precursors felt the Mantle extended to the entire universe, energy and matter as well as living creatures… some say. The universe lives, but not as we do.” [Halo: Cryptum, page 103 (Kindle edition)]

Thinking about the depiction of Star Roads, is anybody else reminded of the axons of neurons? We know that the Domain’s presence is perpetuated by Precursor technology, so Star Roads, in joining together planets and star systems, are like neurons that function on a galactic scale.

In time, in a very long time, the Precursors would have aimed to thread together the universe with neural physics, leaving, in their wake, galaxies filled with life and guardian species watching over them to ensure the flow of Living Time is kept balanced so that the Domain would be further enriched by their existence.

What was the genesis of this idea for me?

The Flood.charity33Back in May last year, I wrote a lengthy analysis about the Flood’s endgame and the nature of their existence. If you’re not familiar with it, I recommend taking a break from this to read it now because it’s a pretty integral part of this whole interpretation.

If you’re not interested or able to, then, to summarise: The Flood is a twisted recreation of the Domain. They seek to assimilate all life, all experience, all wisdom, into a single hive mind devoid of freedom, will, and hope because their ultimate goal is spelled out in no uncertain terms by the Timeless One.

“Until all space and time are rolled up and life is crushed in the folds… no end to war, grief, or pain.” [Halo: Primordium, page 365 (Kindle edition)]

This particular line links back to dialogue from the Timeless One in Halo 3’s Terminals.

“our appearance ushered in the beginning of the third great stage of evolution. The first {~} condensation of particles was the result of the inevitable action of strong nuclear force and the creation of stars {~} inevitable action of gravity; so to the self-replicating chemical processes that dictate all disparate {~} In time, we too shall affect change on a universal scale.” [Halo 3, Terminal 3]

The Flood is the ultimate perversion of what the Precursors once were, and they too seek to bring about change on a universal scale in the long-term. Just as the Precursors sought to link the universe together with neural physics all perpetuating and feeding back into the Domain, the Flood seek to ultimately link together the universe by assimilating everything.

Star Roads existing as neurons connecting the galaxy, the universe, together for the purpose of the ultimate celebration of life is the exact opposite to what the Flood exists to do – the equivalent here being Keyminds, biological hubs of Flood that exist on a planetary scale.

The Flood seek to assert themselves as a biological law on the universe for shared pain, whereas the Precursors sought to bring about more of a philosophical one for shared joy.

In essence, my perspective on the Precursors comes from looking at what the Flood is (what the Precursors became), and working backwards from that.mult98As I said, this is entirely speculation based on the very limited information we have on the Precursors. If anything, this is more of a headcanon than something I am proposing as an actual theory because I don’t think we’ll actually get any solid answers on this for years to come – if ever.

But, based on the context of what we have, I think there are some slight slivers of truth to be found in this.

I think this is a good point to let you all go now. My own head is spinning from trying to pull together all these brilliantly obscure concepts that the canon has barely dipped a toe in the water in exploring.

About haruspis

Writer and aspiring teacher who cares and talks far too much about fictional universes.
This entry was posted in Analysis, Gaming, Literature and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to On the Organon, the Domain’s Origins, and the Precursors

  1. Rhas 'Churol says:

    “Actual theory” or not, you bring up a lot of good points. For some reason I never took the time to consider what the Precursors were trying to achieve. And the way you mirror the Flood and the Precursors as though the Flood is a ‘corrupted’ form of their philosophy is definitely interesting thought.

  2. Kralizec314 says:

    Very interesting theory; your articles are always a joy to read.

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