|ON DIVERS EXPRESSION OF FAITH
|Each mortal, in their own way,
has sought to become greater than their limitations. When one
regards the vastness of the world and the mysteries contained
within it, they contemplate the divine and seek to join in it.
Through worship of the gods, mortals participate in their mastery
of the strands which make up existence. Mortals grow in
understanding, wisdom, and even power in this spiritual
Of course, this growth is sometimes turned away from the metaphysical, and back to the temporal realm. At best, the wise guide those who have yet to learn. At worst, the avaricious pervert enlightenment to dominate others. The divine is the divine, greater than the mortal realm, and a taste reveals the true nature of those who partake, virtues and flaws alike.
There are those who profess no faith, and reject the gods as myth, metaphor, or projection of mortal understanding on powerful, but completely natural forces. Yet among such self-declared atheists and anti-theists, devotion to ideals and philosophies still exists. Perhaps what is truly rejected are time-worn and traditional figures, in favor of new, bespoke concepts that conceal the trappings of religion under other names.
Those immortals who walk the known earth are not immune to the call of the divine. It is known that the tylwyth acknowledge beings greater and more mysterious than themselves, and beseech the Wind for aid and mercy. The yanta were created without the intervention of the divine, and martial prowess rather than worship of the gods was our bequest to them. However they too seek to experience something greater than themselves, in their own way. Perhaps that more than other more empirical methods demonstrates that they are living, conscious creatures like their creators.
Herein shall mortal understanding of the gods be explored, as well as the methods that such faith is expressed. As these practices are examined, one will find many contradictions. Perhaps some reflect the incomplete understanding mortals have of the gods. Perhaps some represent long-accepted ritual charlatanry. Perhaps the gods may be all things to all people, beyond mortal ability. The seeker after truth should take belief seriously, but perhaps not literally. While divine magic represents the power of the gods made manifest, all other claims are matters of faith.
Iaret set the standard for how veneration of the divine shall be conducted. In their mythology, the gods are distant, giving laws and setting in motion the routines of the world. Worship is the lot of mortals. Religion is orderly and hierarchical: priests with greater education in and understanding of the divine speak to and on behalf of the gods and the greater bulk of adherents follow their laws, sacrifice at temples for intercession and celebrate the gods during festivals. A priest is invested with a certain inherent authority, and has insight through their study of the gods. So too is service expected of the representatives of the divine: they might interpret the law, care for the sick, or administer public services according to their training.
The apkallu approach the gods much as they approach all else: philosophically and with a certain friendly curiosity. Wonderment by mortals at the power and majesty of the divine is only natural, and to the apkallu is not considered cause for worship. In many ways, the gods are treated much as any other phenomenon. They can be studied, enjoyed, or ignored to the same extent as, for example, the weather. Throughout history, this calm and rational approach, while still acknowledging the awesome potential of the gods, has moderated what might have become terrible excesses of worship among the iaret. Most veneration among the apkallu is contemplative and confined to monastic settings, but there are still those who are favored with divine magic. Such practitioners often study the pantheon of Geb as a whole, offering ritual devotion to various gods in order to secure blessings for their communities as needed. They tend to treat invocation as a last resort, when all other options have been exhausted. The gods are not troubled lightly, after all, and a warm current may bring sharks along with schools of fish.
The primitive beliefs that the beastkin held prior to their subjugation have been almost entirely supplanted by the worship of the pantheon of Geb. However, to what extent such beliefs have influenced modern worship is an open question. The iaret have borrowed liberally from those they encountered during their exploration of the world, but may be loath to identify what they learned from the beastkin. For instance, even without its personification as the Lord of Cycles, primitive beastkin were known to revere the moon. Beastkin priests serve a vital role in advising tribal or community leaders. In uncivilized tribes, they can be found at the chieftain’s elbow, whispering wisdom in their ear and interpreting signs found in nature. Even in civilized settings, a formally educated beastkin cleric might be a semi-hidden influence on a powerful magnate or noble, valued for their insight in the changing cycles of finance and politics.
Organized practice of religion was far less developed by the ozrut. To rumiany and markotny, the gods are like mortals, beings who squabbled, struggled, and committed pratfalls at some time in the indistinct past. This lends presence to the gods; they may be just over the hill, a local lake may be a particular sign of their deeds, or a past conflict the reason for a modern prejudice. Ozrut ascribe some authority and power to the gods, but teachings derived from them are delivered as lessons from fables. Priests, to the extent that such exist in traditional ozrut populations, are treated more as holy madmen for trying to emulate the gods.
Ptak are noted for their mimicry, and it stands to reason that this extends to their religious practices. Even in the modern day ptak worship seems to take most of its cues from their acquaintances of old, the ozrut. The gods are seen as much like ptak themselves: flighty, proud and touchy, full of grand ideas that are half-successful at best. Interestingly, much of ptak mythology has mortals in competition with the gods. The ptak cajoled ever greater gifts from Ranute until it became their downfall, for instance, and there are as many myths about plucky ptak tricking the Horizon Walker as there are feathers on their backs. Worship is a very personal thing, even for those granted power by the gods. Ptak priests are apt to be wry about their blessings, seeing it as a burden or a trick the gods have played on them.
Prior to contact with the iaret, the muruch did not appear to have gods, and engaged in animistic beliefs and practices. Since, they have adopted the pantheon of Geb, but largely without Geb himself. As ocean dwellers, they reserve their worship for Apsu. In addition to more recognizable worship, there is an undercurrent which may harken back to past primitive beliefs. For instance, gods are seen as directly active, but rarely beneficent. “The gods’ ways are not our ways,” is an oft-repeated muruch proverb. An example of this is the belief that the Drowning Girl wanders the ocean and seeks to lure the unwary away from their pods and into her clutches. Along with interpreting the law, advising leaders, and assisting those in need, muruch priests see the protection of their pod from the caprice of the divine as one of their duties. Indeed, muruch priests usually claim some escape from a god as the source of their calling.
Worship of the gods by humans is more public and communal. Priests are less concerned with ceremony for the sake of the gods and instead focus on preaching their ways to massed congregations. Typical of humans, this social activity takes on an individual bent: each person is expected to embody these teachings. Humans assign their own importance to the gods, holding some teachings above others. A sailor whose livelihood depends on Apsu might proclaim her greater than others, and spurn the teachings of Geb in the hopes of greater favor from his chosen goddess and, more directly, her mortal community. A human priest might be educated like an iaret, but it is as likely they come from no particular background in the divine whatsoever, and claim inspiration by the gods as the source of their vocation. Most devote themselves to spreading the word of the gods or at least setting an example of how to live by their teachings.
The tylwyth present a conundrum in this catalog of religious practices. Knowledge of their gods is held as tightly as their visages are shrouded, but observations may still be made. Worship seems to be highly transactional. Similar to ozrut beliefs, the tylwyth speak of the divine as beings like themselves but writ large. Their gods are nobles to be owed fealty and who grant favor in return. Some speak of oaths and treaties, even implying that such agreements are real documents, negotiated directly. There is no priestly class as mortals of Geb understand it. The nearest analog is a sort of archivist, a keeper of rituals and pacts, who provides advice on discerning what the gods want of the kindred. Of tylwyth who have taken up the worship of the pantheon of Geb, similar attitudes are held. The power granted by a god is seen as being in return for some service, or as a tool to meet the terms of an agreement. The exception is the wind, which tylwyth treat as an ever-present trickster, to be entreated or propitiated in a casual manner. Perhaps among tylwyth divinities it alone is a friend rather than a taskmaster or contract-holder.
Officially, the soldati are anti-theists and claim to have slain gods, starting with their own, during their extraplanar conquests. Whether this is literal deicide or a more figurative destruction of worship and knowledge is not known. Mortal souls, however, crave the experience of something greater than themselves. Among the soldati, concepts like “the Great Intent” or faith in soldati invincibility take the place of the gods. Special officers exhort soldati troops to exemplify these values much as a priesthood would. They also enforce loyalty among battlefield and staff officers, ensuring that disputes do not affect the war effort. Casualties among this class of officer were dire in final battles of the Gate War, with some even murdered by their own comrades. The surrender has touched off a crisis of faith among the soldati. Much of the old “priesthood” is gone, and their philosophies discredited. Hedge worship is rife, with past (possibly mythological) leaders venerated in prison camps and hiring hall backrooms. Other soldati have turned to the worship of the pantheon of Geb, seeking priestly initiation or claiming divine inspiration for their conversion. Even with new gods, soldati touched by the divine seek to inspire their comrades by example and failing that, encourage improvement with harsh discipline.
Unlike most, the yanta have surely met their creators, and know them to be flawed, foolish, and all too mortal in spite of their ingenuity. They are the orphan children of this world, made by artifice for a fleeting and violent purpose and then set aside in fear of what was wrought. Since their creation, their interaction with the gods has been the subject of intense study. Programs to train a magic-wielding priesthood among the war machines met with mixed results, and yanta blessed with divine favor through hardship or inspiration are somewhat rare. All the same, yanta are possessed of souls. They feel, aspire, and seek meaning just as mortals do and sometimes their search for meaning beyond making war, conscious or not, leads them to the divine. Presently, most religious observances by the yanta are borrowed from their creators. The only known “native” practice is a curious theology held by some which places the mortal creators of the yanta as unwitting intermediaries of the gods.