Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Western Baronies: Religion

RELIGION

The religious institutions of Marikuhl are starkly divided between two disparate and seemingly incompatible faiths that nonetheless continue to coexist. Most common Marikuhlians worship the old gods of the state religion, called Ma’at (“balance”), who form an intricate mythology of related deities and interrelated worship. Many noble Marikuhlians at least pay lip service to Ma’at, though their true allegiance frequently lies with the other half of Marikuhlian faith: demon worship.

Officially, Ma’at condemns the practice of demon worship, viewing it as corruptive and damning. However, the leaders of the faith have long since come to the practical realization that opposing demon worship among the nobility is likely to affect only the amount of donations they receive each year, and not change anything about the practice itself. Quite simply put, while Ma’at offers spiritual salvation, inner peace, and a lasting legacy of faith, demons can offer actual power.

The number of demons in existence is unknown, though some arcane scholars believe that a new demon is formed from every ill feeling, each cruel action, and any unpleasant happenstance. If they are correct, then the number is essentially countless. Most Marikuhlians understand that demons exist in a spiritual limbo, able to perceive the mortal world but unable to interfere in it unless invited in by a mortal. They are barred from action unless given leave—though “leave” can often be given unintentionally by the ill informed.

Demons hunger to enter the world of men and can offer much in the way of incentive. Once they establish a foothold, their power grows greatly, even to the point of offering mystical prowess, unholy luck, or fiendish cleverness to their supplicants. What they gain in exchange for these favors is unsavory in the best of times, and can range from simple material goods to favors to the sacrifice of men, women, or children. Some look upon the successes of their fellows, however, and decide that such prices are worth paying. While demons can twist the spirit of their contracts, they must honor them to the letter, and so long as all debts are paid in full, many feel, no harm can come to a bargainer.

These two competing ideologies counterpoint the deep social divide in Marikuhlian society, with the common folk just trying to lead lives of prosperity and normalcy while the nobility constantly plays power games with those lives. A few commoners turn to demon worship in an attempt to escape the drudgery of their lives, just as quite a few nobles avoid demon worship and still genuinely revere the gods of Ma’at, but generally speaking these trends hold true.

There are many dozens of gods worshipped in the Ma’at faith, but the following six are the most often prayed to and have the most temples built in their honor.
Wey-At, god of justice and law. The head of the Ma’at pantheon, Wey-At is sometimes known as “the Just King,” representing the role of nobility as both rulers and servants of the people. Wey-At is typically depicted as a broad-shouldered man with a heavy mustache, one hand on a sheathed sword.
Virgil, god of peace. Wey-At’s brother, this god is usually shown to be silent in myth and legend, and statues in his honor typically depict him as a younger, softer version of Wey-At, wearing the robes of a scholar rather than the armor of a warrior.
Ira-Aten, god of hunters and woodsmen. Ira-Aten was once far more popular in Marikuhl, befitting its status as a frontier nation, but his forest temples are less visited now than they once were. This deity is usually shown as a tall, wiry man with long hair, carrying a hunting bow and surrounded by foliage and animals.
Marya, the bountiful mother. The patron of agriculture, motherhood, childbirth, and the womanly mysteries, Marya is usually shown as a beautiful middle-aged woman wearing a hair-covering shawl and a long blue dress. As mother of all things, Marya is the god prayed to most often for mercy or aid.
Sofya, weaver of fate. Marya’s only daughter, Sofya is invariably depicted as a teenaged beauty carrying an hourglass in one hand and a bloody knife in the other. She represents the inevitability of death and the possibilities of the future. Her priestesses are said to hold the secrets of prophecy, and many seek their knowledge of the future.
Castur, god of war and madness. This warrior-deity is depicted in statuary and art as a blood-soaked berserker, naked to the waist and surrounded by the corpses of his enemies. Castur is the madness in the heat of battle, the fury that drives men to do terrible things. The Marikuhlians believe that Castur is present at every battle that is fought, and that the battles with the greatest atrocities are the ones in which he participates.

As mentioned above, the number of demons in existence is virtually without number, but a few of the known ones are more popular than others. Any potential demon worshipper can learn the rites necessary to call a random demon from the spirit plane, but many Marikuhlians would rather depend on the tried and true than risk summoning a useless demon or, worse, a genuinely dangerous one. The following are some of the better-known demons, descriptions of their powers, and the magical schools they typically grant to their mystical worshippers.
Asteroth, demon-lord of chaos. It is said that while other demons lurk in the spirit realm awaiting summoning into the mortal plane, Asteroth remains there despite having been called forth. While he extends his influence into the world, he remains in the spirit world, for only there is it possible for his true form to exist. Asteroth allows his followers to summon pieces of him to act as servants and minions, though their forms inevitably dissipate after a time. (Conjuration)
Ba’al Zevuv, demon of pestilence. This is the demon that was summoned during the Scourging, and that prevents Marikuhlian occupation of Ovidium. It is said that Ba’al Zevuv, when not hunting his hated foes, dwells at the heart of the nation he destroyed, lounging on a throne of bones and holding court over his undead thralls. (Necromancy)
Beleth, demon of fear. This demon teaches her supplicants to be paranoid and cautious, instilling them with a drive to protect themselves and their interests that approaches the insane. She typically appears as a black-skinned woman with dead-white hair, and ceremonies to her involve terrifying others, often to death. Still, her cautious nature and terrible wrath make her a fine choice for those seeking defense rather than offense. (Abjuration)
Hastyr, demon of madness. Often called “the Unspeakable,” Hastyr’s most common manifestation is of a blighted leper wearing tattered yellow finery. His worshippers grant him mastery of their bodies for short times, effectively becoming possessed, in exchange for the power to rend minds and conceal the truth. (Illusion)
Ithaxa, demon of cold. Ithaxa’s powers over the winter months and creatures of cold draw many ice-hearted individuals to his service. The Ko’Manna sometimes call Ithaxa “the Hungry” for his ability to instill cannibalistic hunger in those that draw his ire. Most of his rituals involve the consumption of human flesh. Often, these disgusting rites allow them to steal the strength of the dead. (Transmutation)
Kuhultu, demon-god of the Atlantean Ocean. This is the demon summoned by the Ordo Astra Lyceum during the War of Vengeance to destroy the Ovidian fleet. Kuhultu has dominion over the entire Atlantean Ocean, though he sleeps almost constantly, answering his faithful when their dreams touch his. He is known to induce madness during such visions, but all the plenty of the sea is his to offer. (Divination)
Molech, demon of fire. A powerful demon indeed, Molech offers the power to destroy one’s foes with flame and chaos. However, only one thing attracts Molech’s dire attention: the sacrifice of a child by burning. His “blessings” are always destructive but undeniably powerful. (Evocation)
Shaitan, demon of deception. This manipulative seducer offers his supplicants powers over the minds and emotions of others. It is said that much of his time and effort is spent in setting his minions against one another to amuse himself by their struggles. (Enchantment)

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