Comprehensive History of The Holders Now on Confic Wiki
Updated: Jan 7, 2022
News & Opinion / Culture & Community
by Lack of Lepers
If Containment Fiction is Creepypasta v2.0, The Holders was v1.5.
The Holders are a set of creepypastas about 538 cursed Objects that can be found by completing a ritual at a mental hospital or other institution "in any city, in any country." The series predated the SCP Foundation and was viewed with disdain by many early members of the SCP series who believed that The Holders were overly formulaic and of poor quality. An archive of the creepypasta series can be viewed here.
-- Cooldude971, "The SCP Foundation on 4chan and EditThis"
"If you're into creepypasta, you eventually will find a reference to the Holders, overt or subtextual."
-- Almarduk, SCF Discord, 2021
Containment fiction owes a ton to the SCP Wiki. While we may criticize it heavily, SCP will ultimately never not be worthy of a salute for what it did for containment fiction, with the two being synonymous for so long.
However, there is an earlier, pre-containment fiction community that had a remarkably similar course, that began one year before the SCP Wiki, predated /x/ itself, and that SCP owes a ton to. Like most instances of containment fiction, this community gained visibility on 4chan's /x/. It later found a wikifarm to collect various entries, and became a collaborative project that received internet notoriety, with the original article "The Holder of the End", gathering 362,945 views on theholder.org alone by August 2020. It is a community whose comprehensive history had yet to be told in proportion to its role. Until now.
The Holders have been, in the SCP Wiki community on the whole, a distant phylogenetic curiosity; something that the old guard knew more about really, with historical figures like DrGears and Fritzwillie alluding to it cryptically in interviews. In the titanic "History of the Universe", it is mentioned once; in the opening lines of Part 1, as an obscure reference among other creepypasta derivatives:
This was when /x/ was still young-ish, and The Holders, Ted the Caver, Treedog, and other old-school /x/ rubbish was still very new and decent.- DrGears
However, it's probably safe to say that if The Holders never existed, containment fiction might not either. The legacy of this obscure series has, in light of the more successful and enduring SCP Wiki, been chronically under-appreciated. Most mentions of it remain in a pejorative tone, as one would relay a parable about a most unfortunate soul. The average assessment of it -- and this is not exactly unfair -- is a mediocre collection of stories that are "very purple", "repetitive", "melodramatic", "like very pretentious strategy guides", merely a prefatory clearing of the throat for SCP, perhaps regarded with the pity a survived sibling would have for its older and less fortunate one, and a project that any SCPper embarrassingly old enough to remember is loathe to be compared to.
Like SCP, The Holders followed a general format that tolerated slight deviations and variations, although it might be more accurate to call it a script instead of a format. All articles were named the same way; "The Holder of [noun]". Each would attempt to describe, if only in some obscure way, an aspect of The Holders universe and lore, generally represented in the form of a question that the Seeker (those looking for the cursed Objects) asks -- "What happens when they all come together?", "Why were they separated?", "Who created them?". These questions usually had something to do with the chosen name. The articles would largely begin with the same sentence, and feature instructions for the protagonist to approach someone, usually a clerical worker behind the front desk at some facility, in order to discover a Holder and their Object. (These facilities were at first mental institutions or halfway houses, but this expanded over time.) That clerical worker would then have a reaction, described in some detail, and guide the protagonist to a secret room, which began the unique experience of the particular Object. The question typically shows up after the Holders is encountered. The article ends with the specific Object being revealed. Each of these elements is dilated, expanded on, and evolved over the course of the series.
By the time SCP was emerging on /x/, The Holders' rise and fall from grace was already widely-held, with many anonymous posters warning or pleading for the future of SCP -- either in hopes it might do better, or in a surety that it would not -- by referencing the failures that had befallen this precursor series. Whatever The Holders had done, it had by then reputedly run its course.
Yet for some, The Holders was the first taste of a new breed of internet fiction. It was arguably the first major product and project out of /x/, a "creepypasta 2.0", something that would eventually led them to SCP and a hungry appreciation for it. To revalue the sum of The Holders, we must try to return in the history of containment fiction to that zero-point, prior to and free from the privilege of any organizing guidance of retrospection, at which SCP and its immediate forerunners are a not-yet-differentiated experience of Internet 1.0 creative writing. Someone has done this for us -- an archaeology of silence.
We can now describe ostensibly and in more lucid terms not only what caused The Holders to die off, but what cause it to take off; and what of its literary genetics, first existing in a cruder form, now survive as the adoptive property of its more fit and successful descendants. We can now unfurl the familiar & constitutive components of containment fiction -- the procedures, protocols, descriptions, depositaries, philosophies, pitfalls, and even the term & concept of "containment fiction" itself -- without having to rely upon the fulfillment of what they eventually came to be; without assuming the right of the terms' victory in our daily use. We can determine what was originative in the genre's moving apart from what came before (creepypasta), as well as from what came after (SCP), and while they are not yet disjunct, transcribe the dialogue of their breach.
"The SCP posts were not the first of their kind. Random experiments in creepypasta were common at the time, such as the Holder of the End, and general creepy posting."
And twice by DrGears (both admonitory):
I remember being in on that discussion and bringing up the decline of The Holders as a reason to allow more voices in.
The Holders was a breakthrough in that it was memetic; it offered the capacity for recombination, variation, creativity, and further transmission... something altogether different from the literal "copy, paste" of so-named "pastas" up until that point. It would sprout up sporadically across the SCP Wiki like a memory carried by scent. In 2016, in an attempt to incorporate the legacy into the SCP Universe, Jack Ike wrote a tale for Project Crossover that shouldered the familiar formula and format of a Holders article, modernizing it in an effortful homage. This wasn't technically the first of its kind; VAElynx did the same in 2012, although this was more of a well-intended spoof; a -J tale, really. In more recent times, SCP Wiki user stormbreath wrote SCP-5538 in June of 2021, an interesting and focused article, but (as the comments confirm) one which only makes sense if the reader is already aware of The Holders lore. When understood, this article is best described as a headcannon for the Holders series' demise. It deflates the idea that the Holders Objects are never to be brought together -- the narrativic tension established in all of The Holders entries -- and exhibits it not as something apoplectic as promised, but highly anticlimactic. (This perhaps being a sort of commentary on the series itself in some way.)
Smaller references are strewn across confic articles, such as SCP-5237, and even in other containment fiction projects, such as RPC-538 (538, as you recall, being the total number of Holder Objects in that universe). Several articles mentioning or poking fun at The Holders appeared prior to the modern SCP. One was on EditThis, later on the Wiki itself, and featured the stark metaphor of a Holder being literally killed by SCP personnel. (It did not survive the Mass Edit.) A blunt parody of The Holders even ends up on the SCP Foundation thread on KiwiFarms.
The persistence of The Holders presence in the containment fiction ecosystem, even if as an effigy, is an unsung witness to its impact and legacy. Indeed, the early SCP project was at times referred to on /x/ as "the next Holders". That universe is now cold and dead, its figures transposed to a snow-globe's rendition. Yet it remains admired from afar by a die-hard and small cult remembering to this day. Its impact and influence on SCP was best explored by now-legendary archivist and data archaeologist Cooldude971, who mentioned it a whopping seven (7) times on his "The SCP Foundation on 4chan and EditThis". This the closest that a proper, published biography and eulogy was ever done for The Holders. But even here, the mentions are almost universally referencing it in a cautionary way, anons loathsomely redolent of it, and holding it up as a dreaded & self-explanatory fate that no project should want to meet; one that SCP would have to work hard and maneuver carefully to avoid.
Better still was Cooldude971's 2013-2016 effort to biography The Holders. Best of all though -- and incorporating all of this 2013-2016 work, complete as of November 20 -- is his 2021 attempt, which is now on The Containment Fiction Wiki.
The history is thorough and intensive. It follows The Holders from pre-4chan, through Wikichan, to theholders.org, back again, and all in between. You are bound to learn a great deal from this article and the resources it provides. For example, did you know that The Holders articles are copyrighted material, despite most being anonymous, and do not abide by a CC license? It also featured organization by explicit "Object #" before SCP did, something inherited and that hasn't changed to this day. How about that the first Holder was rumored to have been posted to a LiveJournal or MySpace?
What is most apparent here is that the parallels between The Holders and SCP are uncanny. Like every instance of a containment fiction platform and community so far, both passed through and grew up on 4chan's /x/ and sought a wikifarm to collate entries, which were approached collaboratively. Both pioneered a prescriptive prose when describing what would now be termed anomalies and containment instructions.
have a formal structure which defines entries or deviations from it
excelled at the elevation and infusion of mundane objects with an other-worldly sense of mystery and wonder
featured a category of self-parodies, which were footloose, convivial jabs at the format (a variant that would later be given the designation "-J" in the SCP Wiki)
had forums for discussing the quality of a submission as it related to a held standard of composition
had members doing audio readings of the entries
were faced with the collapse of their wikifarm platform and potential loss of all submitted data (with this actually happening in the case of The Holders and Wikichan)
suffered raids of trolls and vandalism necessitating greater control over user access (log-ins, permissions)
had bad actors who attempted in their own ways to unjustly claim the project as their own intellectual property (e.g. Duksin)
went on to create new, improved platforms by necessity, as more stable alternatives to the original wikifarms (both incidentally using domain names alternate to ".com"; ".net" & ".org")
saw a surge of new members with a corresponding decline in article quality (quite fittingly, older members felt that the new demographic valued quantity over quality, and decried Mary-Sue inserts, as well as "overly long stories that read like role-playing game guides", with Cooldude971 noting "While the growth looks impressive, it was fueled by poor writing"... I digress)
had splinter factions to the fandom and universe (with two competing for the status of the official Holder's website, and claiming a superiority over the competitor)
featured the structure of a numbered series of potential slots that are to be filled in by collaborative means, and the creation of new slot entries once available ones filled up
had Lolfoundation/decommission equivalents ("The Holder of Clichés")
published guides stating standards of writing, with guides meant for new writers
worked with designation numbers (___ of 538)
maintained a designated "mainlist" of successful examples, organized into a "Series"
saw a Featured category of selected works ("Featured Stories" at The Holders)
protected authorial rights and stewardship of original content, despite the collaborative context (Featured Stories were website protected categorically)
cast crude procurement teams ("Seekers") and containment entities ("Holders")
cast alternate groups of actors who in cases represent the antithesis of the in-universe imperative (e.g. Chaos Insurgency, Who Seeks the Seekers?)
compiled a formatting guide
abided by strict naming conventions
maintained a semblance of cannon, with articles being invalid due to "continuity errors"
had article-specific voting (The Holders presaging RPC Authority in that it dealt with ratings out of 5 as opposed to a binary system of upvote/downvote)
infused peril via an in-universe threat of death if the specifications are not followed exactly (a containment breach in SCP, and usually of a "run, run far away as fast as you can and hope you've escaped" variety in The Holders)
repurposed Objects/anomalies to have utility in addressing other Objects/anomalies (i.e. Thaumiel designation)
... and much more. From the essay on guidelines for Holder articles:
"Remember, The Objects themselves can be anything. From something as simple as a thumbtack to something as complex as a living creature."
"Although your choices for Objects are basically unlimited, there are several objects that are already in place. For example, there are over 10 books; do we REALLY need more volumes about what they are, and how to bring them together?"
"Choose your Holder wisely: The Holders can be anything, a monster, a child, a loved one, an old man. Be creative. Think outside the box. Sometimes the most frightening thing is simply an idea."
You can change "The Holders" to "SCP" here and no meaning is lost. It could be something taken straight from early SCP.
Evidenced by Cooldude971's new history, The Holders was much more than a mediocre collection of internet relics and failed proto-SCPs. It was a predictive and enabling literary technology, with the germinal commonality between it and SCP being the framing of the reader's encounter through prescriptive or instructive means. Both The Holders and SCP emphasized stewardship of anomalous and eerie artifacts, arranged by numerical series, that had to have a specific protocol accompany them. The sole, universal, implicit containment procedure for The Holders -- always at the end of the article along with the designation number, instead of at the beginning -- was to not bring them together; this was a universal redaction at the same time in that what would happen was never actually described. It is in this way that the canon for The Holders was itself a singular line of vague containment procedures; a unique but ultimately stifling abstraction in that it was applied to all instances en masse. No equivalent of this survives in modern containment fiction except perhaps for the very rearmost need in SCP, RPC, and other projects to keep all anomalies hidden from the greater public (even that not entirely uniform).
It is only in the security of retrospection, victors having been written, that a few clear instances can act as the torch of containment fiction being passed from The Holders to SCP. Several Holders objects are essentially unrefined SCP anomalies, fit for the anomalous items list. In a breach of normalcy for The Holders, some of these Objects are described more in detail than simply existing as-is at the end of the protagonist's journey; for example, a pen that never requires any refill of ink and wills the wielder to write beyond their volition (an idea that would later find itself more refined on the SCP Wiki as SCP-067, written by Fritzwillie). Early SCP articles' containment procedures may owe their infamous pedantry to The Holders articles. Both often became overly detailed in their delivery, and we see an enormous amount of specifics poured into the smallest considerations in them. The casual loss of life in The Holders is translated to the wasteful disregard for D-Class bodies. Compulsions and insane-until-death uses abound in both. After reading The Holders, the earliest SCP's are, except for their organization, not very different.
It should not be a surprise that DrGears and other early SCP authors, revealed numerous influences from The Holders in their SCP writing. The concept of bringing a diaspora of objects together to create something monstrous and menacing is integral to Gears' (and arguably the most loved) Group of Interest at SCP, The Church of the Broken God; an idea carried to its fruition and conclusion in the TwistedGears/djkaktus SCP-001 Proposal. Being a horror site, numerous concepts famous in SCP can be observed prefigured in Holders articles; the use of non-Euclidean spaces (very commonly present in the Seeker's journey to an Object), compulsion/"go-insane" effects (their overlap with early containment fiction in part is what renders them tacky), the emaciated corpse, Lovecraftian eldritch entities that are beyond human comprehension, performing horrible and likely gruesome things on children as a manner of ritual (The Holder of Life and infamously SCP-231... The Holders of course from an internet age before content or trigger warnings), the inability to look upon a humanoid entity's face lest you meet a horrible fate (famously SCP-096 but also numerous Holders entries, e.g. The Holder of Wisdom),
A relic of a simpler time… imagine a timeline where the SCP Foundation was forgotten by the annals of time, but the Holders became the big name project to come out of the golden age of creepypasta…
-- Joreth, SCP Wiki, 2021
While the above quote certainly is fun to think about, an analysis of this new information shows why it could never have actually happened. The format of The Holders had inherent limitations that prevented it from achieving a higher creative strata; that was to be the leap forward and claim of containment fiction proper. There was only so much mileage in The Holders' technology. We'll now look into why this is the case.
SCP improved on a number of logistical aspects of The Holders. For one, their curation system was democratized and decentralized out of the sole responsibility of a staff member (e.g. Arca in the late theholders.org era). It didn't seem as though the voting on individual articles had any protocolized say in their retention or dismissal, although no article in the Wayback Machine I've so far seen has a rating below 2/5, and the vote aggregate may have had a say in their eventual removal by that single person. Quality standards were eventually applied upfront at SCP (something arguably taken too far in itself by now), as opposed to the backend and in ex post facto pseudo-Mass Edits. Inflating detail in containment specifications was a natural extension given the momentum in The Holders to become more elaborate, to allow more space for narrative to be seated, and to increase realism through the impression of exactitude and small margins for error. The vague roles of "Seeker" and "Holder" were evolved into clear, demarcated roles of employment within the fictional organization of The Foundation, adding infinite dimensions of character and plot potential. This narrative potential was touched upon in ways by the Holders, but never fully expanded into the pseudo-cannon network it is at SCP.
The format itself underwent an upgrade. SCP would take the prescriptive and instructive approach seen in The Holders and differentiate this further into more developed descriptive and expository writing, with each of these getting its own cell in the eventual format. Requirements of the format were simplified into the ambiguousness of a few words. The containment procedures broke out of simple discovery guidance. Indeed, the move was at once a step beyond and a step in the opposite direction of discovery -- how to keep objects concealed, their discovery prevented. The reversal away from discovery and into concealment upped the pitch of an immersive appeal; it introduced a puzzle that had to be solved and maintained, as opposed to an incantatory process, delivered in a seemingly wandering fashion, and that one must choose wisely in or suffer through. (As an aside, it's this "choose correctly" motif in early containment fiction that harkens to the trials of Indiana Jones, that having a remote lineage with confic, through Warehouse 13.) The containment instructions, now placed at the beginning (but still prior to the description of what an Object is), allowed for the introduction of methodical foreshadowing and more compositional sophistication (e.g. the "hook").
These rearrangements in the SCP format allowed for more creative interpretations, more creative objects, and built the stage for the Foundation as an organization of benevolent secrecy. It would take the seeking and understanding of mysterious objects of interest as a metaphor for a writer seeking ideas to write about itself, and big-bang it into a more cohesive and gripping pseudo-lore.
This improvement in realism was accompanied by, and perhaps caused by, an improvement in tone. This is a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. The dream-like and strangely deterministic logic that defines The Holders quickly becomes absurd and ungrounded. This was honed to more focused and muscular text that didn't allow itself the abandon and liberality in melodrama or compositional flamboyance, making the vibe more believable and the horror effect more uncanny. In a word, what makes SCP's prose and format an improvement is focus and restraint. Another word we could use is discipline; yet another, more recently unattractive way of putting it is immersion. The prose is here fortified by an in-universe motive; that we're supposed to be reading a scientific or at least bureaucratic report, and not an occult grimoire.
With this staging, SCP next wielded the more rational end of the tone, again fortifying itself with more realism, by asking "How can or would someone know this?", and letting that be a feature and challenge of the writing and craft. (The question is a constant gaping hole in The Holders, with information that no one could possibly know pouring out of, as if the plot of a desperate, bad improv.) Much of the problem here of knowing how someone knows something-- called an epistemological one -- was solved by dealing outside of the future tense, which The Holders articles are almost exclusively in. The certainty of what would happen with a given Object is replaced by a strict agnosticism, data is not speculated upon or included in the documentation unless ensured by numerous testing logs. This move inherently yielded more believability, which meant more engagement.
There was also an ethical advancement in the narrative in that, per canon, Holders who guarded Objects were typically malevolent to neutral, and not usually good in any sense of the word. This is demonstrated by edit histories on some articles, which note as much, and presumably saw revisions that corrected this. ("Holder's nature of good does not conform to the storyline of the series.") At SCP, the motive & charge became that benevolence, and the act of exploring anomalous objects was given a moral purpose; "We die in the dark so you can live in the light." This gave the actions of in-universe personnel more heroics and further enriched the narrative potential.
The story of the Holders' demise is likewise more nuanced than the popular cliché of it just sucking too much. It's from this vantage point of refined tone and careful epistemology, now taken for granted, that The Holders seems most inadequate. While obvious in retrospect, the relatively poor writing is necessary but not sufficient to explain The Holders demise, given that it was at the fore of the developing genre at the time, and could certainly have carried itself into better writing as the format matured and better authors joined in. Once the advantage of hindsight is removed, it is clear from reading instances of literature collected on The Holders that the sentence of it all being garbage writing is -- while mostly fair -- still too simple, too generalized. There is some very good writing here, though tucked away from the defining format mostly, and in the form of tale equivalents (I recommend The Holder of the Adversary or the poem "Just A Warning" as illustrative examples). Some of this prose can compete in skill with SCP material (and compete easily, depending on what you compare it to). The prose was always going to be only so good in the format and arrangement of The Holders. It needed a recreation to evolve, and that recreation ended up being the SCP format.
As a horror installment, the limited format made it necessary to have a lot of edgy content to differentiate it and maintain interest and shock value. This often came in the form of liberal & vague threats of horror to the reader, without the horror actually landing. For example, everywhere there's a characteristic sort of phraseology that is the extreme of "show, don't tell": "the scream will be unlike anything you've ever heard", "an eternity in hell would be preferable to what you will suffer", "revealing images of the most horrifying thoughts, fantasies and memories experienced by sentient minds throughout history", "If you don't, then there are no words to describe your fate", etc.
Academic consensus is that the Holders died because of (1) the arbitrary limit on the numbers, resulting in a forced scarcity, (2) repetitive platform instability & poor user interface with single points of failure, (3) too strict of a format, ensuring author & reader burnout, as well as developmental stagnation (with almost all articles starting using the same, operatic epigraph, and often casting the same sequence of events with only slight modifications), and (4) a lack of cohesive internal logic, too lose of a creative direction, and too undirected of an ongoing cultural penetrance afforded by the works themselves.
One of these flaws might double as a criterion for a victory rarely assumed of The Holders. That 538 ended up being a deflationary force (Objects that exceeded #538 were eventually made and called "Legion's Objects"), is an innocent mistake that any modest person starting a writing project might feel was appropriately inflationary, even ambitious. That the series filled 538 slots and beyond may be enough reason to conclude that The Holders was very successful, though without the stamina of its heir.
There is enough potential commentary here for a book, so I'll cut it short here. Most clear from the deep dive is that The Holders' place and legacy doubtless primed the space for SCP as a possibility, and gave it several promising directions to work with. Its strengths were in a dialogue with the then-budding project of containment fiction; their formation and properties were not deaf to exchange, not as though dead to one another, as is commonly regarded as the case. Rather, the successful components of The Holders live on, disguised in a new skin, some perfected & unchanged. We need only to read the first five letters in the organizational name "Foundation" to see how it is conterminous with the Seekers and Holders. The void instituted between it and SCP is smaller than is commonly believed.
Similar to how SCP will be to the next generation of containment fiction -- a creepypasta 3.0 in the making --, The Holders should always be nodded to in some measure of respect, despite its flaws, and in thanks of its lessons; always saluted for being the spear tip for what made containment fiction possible for the rest of us.
Bring up walls and cages to defend the silence; create punishments for those who would break it.
-- The Holder of Silence
Many thanks to Cooldude971, Worm that Walks, Dark, and all of the Society of Containment Fiction.
See the Confic Wiki's Holders History article here.
See the complete list of The Holders objects here.
Join the SCF Discord and discover more Holders links and archives here.
© Lack of Lepers © Confic Magazine