Religious traditions In Huzsa and in the Empire
Table of Contents
The Fate&Death religion is sometimes called also the Red&White religion. In the Empire it is also called the Holy Couple. In Huzsa they are sometimes called the First Siblings.
This religion is very old and initially it was transferred through oral tradition, songs and chants. Before it was written down already two versions existed, the Imperial one and Huzsan one. The basic myths in the oldest songs are simple and do not have many details. These were added later and they reflect the culture surrounding them at the time. So when prayer books and philosophical writings emerged they told two different stories.
Fate is the female aspect of the Universe, she is depicted as a female made of red light. She is a force of constant change, she propels the Universe to evolve, initiates everything.
Fate has five attributes (she creates, nurtures, punishes, forgives, destroys) and her number is five. Her symbols always have five sides or five corners. The natural forces and phenomena associated with Fate are the sun, fire, lightning and air.
In the Imperial lore, far more than in Huzsan, blood, especially menstrual blood is associated with Fate.
Death is the male aspect of the Universe, he is depicted as a male made of white light. He is the force of regularity, who restores balance after change, brings everything to a close so it may begin again.
Death has one attribute he is supposed to balance things out. His number is one and his symbol is a circle. he natural forces and phenomena associated with Death are the moons, the planetary rings, water and earth.
In the Imperial lore, far more than in Huzsan, semen is associated with Death.
The symbols of Fate and Death in Huzsa and in the Empire. These are used in devotional imagery and to mark the temples.
Two forces exist in the Universe of their own creation – they are Fate and Death.
Together they created the world. One day Fate ignited a huge fire in the sky, the sun. It burned with immense heat and power.
Death came and cooled the outer surface of the sun and so fire turned first into water and than earth. Fate did not want it all to become lifeless and boring so she pushed earth and water and fire. Death was afraid they might all fly away from the life giving flames so he made the motion regular. This meant that sometimes the sky fire shone on the water and earth and sometimes it did not. So Death took a little fire wrapped it in his hair, so it gave light but no heat, and it shone when the sun was away. He also wrapped some of his hair around the the earth and water, so that the heat of the sun is never too great.
That balance of heat and coolness brought the new world to life with plants and animals emerging. Fate noticed that they came to life because the were rests of the flame present on earth but in an intriguing new liquid form. This fascinated Fate and she decided to preserve it. She enclosed most of the liquid fire into yet another creation, a living thing she formed after herself. She liked it and called it a woman (in Huzsan 'yi'). But there was still some liquid fire left and Fate thought that the woman would get bored alone, like Fate herself would get bored without the company of Death, so she created another being this time modelling it after Death. She liked her creation and called it a man (in Huzsan 'yie').
Death saw all these new living beings and thought that the liquid fire must return to earth, or the world will go dry and lifeless. So he marked all the beings. Therefore after a time their life ends and they return their fire to the earth. This way the planet has fuel to endlessly create life, new beings would constantly emerge and the colourful spectacle makes Fate happy.
The above myth is equally recognised in the Empire and in Huzsa. However the two cultures were too different from the beginning so they interpreted the nature of the relationship between Fate and Death differently. That interpretation had been profoundly influenced by the respective social structures.
The Huzsan interpretation states that Fate and Death are siblings, who play together and take care of the Universe together. This reflects the pattern of a traditional Huzsan family. The role and relationship between Fate's creations the woman and the man is that of partners. The man was created to keep the woman company and to support her.
The major trait of Fate the Huzsan religion recognises is her ability to create life, her motherly aspect. According to Huzsan beliefs women have more liquid fire (blood), which is connected to Fate's fire in the sky (sun). This builds a strong social position of the woman. Her unique ability to bare life and give birth is seen as the guarantee for the lineage and the security for the family, one may never question motherhood. This creates a strong bond between the mother and her children and explains why the blood bond between sister and brother is considered more reliable as far as the household's best interest is concerned than some relationship based on attraction or material gain (both are considered rather changeable).
The role of Death in Huzsa is most importantly in bringing the blood back to the earth, to fuel new creation. This leads to certain funerary taboo, the body mustn't be cremated, because then it is believed that blood escapes the earth and this somehow kills the earth a little. Thus the acceptable methods of disposing of remains is to either bury them, let them sink or let wild animals devour them; all of these are practised in different clans depending on their local traditions and geographic factors.
The Imperial interpretation of the myth states that Fate and Death are lovers, whose love and sexual acts result in creation. Their game is that of passion, volatile and unpredictable. Therefore in marriage man and woman take the roles of Fate and Death. And a sexual act has deep religious meaning. It is meant to emulate the creation of everything. The Imperial calender has a few extra days in winter, which are not assigned to any month. These days constitute the major Imperial holiday, when it is believed the world died and Fate and Death will revive it again so that spring time comes. The deities do it through sex, so through sympathetic magic people are also supposed to have sex then to help with reviving the world.
The major trait of Fate in the Imperial religion recognises is her ability to cause rapid unpredictable change. She is associated with violent forces of nature. Death is considered the one to sooth things, balance them out. Counter the passion with calmness. Therefore Fate is considered a whimsical deity while Death is the benevolent god, although it is recognised that one cannot function without the other. Thus the act of creating men is understood as an act of necessity to counterbalance the uncertainty of female behaviour with a calmer male presence. This is reflected in seeing the man as the guardian of the woman, one to revere her but also to protect and guide her. The Imperial family is based on the union between men and women sanctified in a form of marriage. The woman enters the man's household and is dependant on him. In most cases the marriage is a business transaction between two families. The woman usually has no say in it, her family (often only the father) decides who will become her spouse. Since they are perceived as irresponsible women in the Empire cannot hold any offices, do not inherit titles or land, their ability to have possessions, especially money and valuables is limited – all these would be held by their closest male relative or spouse and the law puts upon the men the duty to care for and protect their women.
The Huzsan and Imperial cults originate from the same place but they are both rather different from the original and at the time of the comic no one would be able to say how the original religion really looked like. The Huzsans adopted the Fate and Death cult more than a thousand years before the comic takes place and at that time they used it to consolidate the power of the ruling classes and merged it with certain animistic beliefs that were common among all the clans.
The Imperials on the other hand lost their first capital in a much mythologised catastrophic event which lead to them drastically changing their power structure and religion. These two things underwent further transformations as the Empire conquered a large portion of the Northern continent and tried to assimilate the subjugated peoples and their cultures.
Despite all that both the Imperial Temple of Fate and the Huzsan Temple of Fate recognise one another and acknowledge that they indeed believe in the same pair of gods. Albeit there is a lot of scepticism on both sides as to the details of doctrine and worship. Still, there remains a dose of mutual respect so many diplomatic exchanges between Huzsa and the Empire go through the respective temples.
Apart from official letters and documents between rulers, prisoner exchanges and legal issues of the citizens are often also dealt with through the temple. Not to delve too much into detail Huzsan law is very simple and punitive towards non-citizens with the punishment for most transgressions being a choice of between a fine/ransom or lifelong hard labour. Some parts of the Empire are similarly hostile towards outsiders although the legal systems in the Empire are not as unified as in Huzsa.
And war is a high risk business so it is best to have insurance. While Huzsans rarely do war on Imperial territory the Imperials are more expansive in this respect. And if one gets caught one can buy oneself out. But instead of keeping a significant amount of gold or other valuables on oneself the ransom is paid through the temple. The mechanism is simple. A person makes a security deposit at the Fate temple at home. That temple sends a voucher to the main temple in the Imperial capital and this voucher sits there until cancelled or claimed. If this person is captured in Huzsa the Huzsan priestesses contact the main Imperial temple and ask if there is a voucher in their name. If there is one a transaction happens and the prisoner is sent back to the Empire. Nevertheless, complications can and do happen. A clerical error is always possible, but also in some cases, depending on local laws etc. the family can cancel the voucher at the home temple to get the money back. Or the sum on the voucher may be too low compared to the asking price. There is no partial refund on the voucher and the Fate temples keep the difference so some people try to be clever about it and save some money, it doesn't always work out for them.
The Fate and Death religion does not have an idea of an afterlife. Those who die go back to the earth and their blood helps create new life.
The only way people leave their legacy is through their children, their bloodline. There is an idea that Fate and Death play together over the human life. Fate creates a situation in a person's life and Death counterbalances it. Thus every reason for sorrow will be balanced out with a reason for happiness, every success and glory will be balanced out with hardship and disappointment, and vice versa. One can help one's chances of the successes being grander and the hardships less unpleasant is one leads a good life, if one's deeds are commendable. However evil deeds elicit punishment in form of unhappiness, hardship and failure.
The comeuppance is mostly in Death's sphere of influence, whose job is to balance things out, but Fate may also bestow forgiveness or particularly swift and ruthless punishment. She sometimes chooses a champion and this person becomes the Tool of Fate, and they are tasked with performing grand deeds and stopping great evil, they are also exempt from ramifications of killing a person. Death on the other hand usually takes his time, so that the life is balanced. He may sometimes even wait a generation or two, so children may end up facing the ramifications of their parents' deeds. Since there is no concept of marriage in Huzsa, the evil deeds of a man can influence the lives of his biological children, whether he knows who they are or not, and the lives of his sister's children, because it is her bloodline which is more important and to her family he belongs.
Thus there is also a strong emphasis on humans and the community to enforce the divine law. People should always face the consequences of their actions as soon as possible. Especially in Huzsa, where there is no concept of hell or heaven, the punishments are expected to be delivered by other people and human courts and the legal system that is based on how the Huzsan clergy interpreted the divine law. This also means that one of the duties of the Death priests is to perform executions.
Evil in this religion is considered transgressing against divine laws, but those are not very clearly outlined in the early songs and have been interpreted later on. What is clear in the songs is that one should not kill since death is not a choice made by humans. Another thing is that one should live in harmony with others thus living well with others yields divine rewards, while being disruptive warrants punishment. The songs also show that those who actively pursue their dreams are far more successful than those who do nothing and wait. Passivity is not rewarded and if it borders on negligence or wilful ignorance and indifference it may actually lead to punishment. The songs also put emphasis on motherhood, creativity and curiosity, but also on levelled character and bringing peace.
The Empire was partially created through war, this is how they gained new territory. The groups that yielded to the power of the Empire had their own distinct cultures and belief systems. The Imperial conquest of the northern continent meant that for a while the traditional religion was banned and the Imperial cult, their version of the Red&White religion was forced upon the subdued peoples. Fate temples were built, priestesses imported and local ruling classes converted to remain in power. But as the grip of the central government gradually loosened, because it was spread too thin over the vast territory, the old religions, which never really completely died out, made a comeback.
The new cults are hybrid religions which emerged on conquered lands. They exist side by side with the Red&White religion, accepting it as a sort of superior idea which connects all the lands. The old gods of each area become incarnations or servants in the pantheons of either Fate orDeath. The new cults often addressed metaphysical and ethical issues which were not extensively covered in the Imperial version of the Fate and Death cult.
There were three major deities in this religion's basic, pre-conquest form:
Ezzeo the male deity, he is masculinity, he is the deity who has a heaven and rules it. Sea birds are his messengers. He favours the pure and honest. He is connected to calm ocean, to abundance and to favouring wind. He is the god of promise, of day and light and of hope.
Illalei the female deity, she is femininity, she rules over the earth and earthly life. Birds of pray are her warriors. She is the goddess of struggle, war and conflict. She favours the strong and enduring. She is connected to storms, rivers and waterfalls. She is the goddess of challenge, of night and darkness and of victory.
Rafke is the hermaphrodite deity, it governs the planes in-between worlds. Bats are its servants. It is the deity of magic, of passage and transcendence. It favours the clever and curious. It is connected to mist and ice, dawn and dusk. It is the god of sexuality, pregnancy, illness and death.
The symbols of Ezzeo, Illalei and Rafke in the traditional version of the cult. These have been used in devotional imagery and to mark the temples.
The trinitians burn their dead so that the smoke with their soul travels with the wind to the heavens. They fear being left in the in-between world, where the undead dwell. Shamans can go to the in-between world but it is not a safe place.
The Trinity religion had a prophet, a charismatic man who was a shaman, a healer and a philosopher. He travelled and performed miracles, he gathered disciples. After his death three groups of his disciples wrote down his teachings. Different writings were created for each deity, there are: dialogues for Illalei which focus on the political aspects of the teachings, an account of the prophet's life which shows how people should live full of moralistic and metaphysical teachings core to the Ezzeo cult, and a combination of stories, poems, incantations and metaphorical tales which concentrate on the way of the shaman, the spells and practices which all followers of Rafke need to learn.
Although all three texts are religious canon not all were equally important everywhere and a different god was most worshipped in different parts. Still there were places of worship of all three gods everywhere, just one aspect of the cult usually dominated the others and had more political sway.
After the conquest
The trinity cult adapted to the Fate and Death religion by reinterpreting its deities as aspects of the Imperial gods. This meant that Ezzeo became a servant of Death and Illalei an maid of Fate. But Rafke did not fit anywhere and slowly this cult became marginalised, its worshippers were persecuted the most by the early Imperial missionaries, because the holy people of the Rafke cult were magicians, who were indeed or mimicked hermaphrodites. They tried too look and dress neither like men nor like women and that made the Imperial conquerors very uneasy. It did not fit with their clear division into man and woman. So the Rafke believers and shamans were either killed off or banished. After a while the survivors moved away from Imperial lands to the islands on the Inner Sea, where the cult has been evolving separately slowly forgetting its two other gods. In the Imperial lands however Rafke survived as a sort of protection spirit for the ill, the pregnant and midwives. The midwives wear the symbol of a bat and often pregnant women do it too, it is customary for the husband’s family to give his pregnant woman something with a bat, either jewellery or clothing that she can wear frequently. The husband gives her his belt to support his child, that is a newer, Imperial tradition.
After the Rafke cult disappeared the dominance of the two other deities divided itself geographically with Illalei becoming more popular in the north and Ezzeo in the south, but it doesn't mean that where one god is more popular the other is completely absent.
In the south there are many temples of Ezzeo and the biggest temples of Ezzeo also include a temple of Fate. This is how the hybrid religion functions. Fate represents the Imperial cult and the Imperial oversight and power over the land. The new ruler is crowned or appointed by the Fate priestesses and through the temple mail system comes the decision of the Holy Emperor. Also the Fate temple has taken over some responsibilities of including women in the spiritual life. Ezzeo as a servant of Death is his stand-in. Ezzeo is the god who has a Heaven so obviously he is connected to Death, in some places even the imagery of Death has merged with the representations of Ezzeo, although not everywhere the trinity deities were ever represented in a humanoid form. There are places where such representations are considered a heresy. The priests of Ezzeo are only men. If possible Ezzeo temples are built on the seashore or on the banks of rivers that eventually get to the sea, but there are exceptions from this rule. The temples often house a hospital of sorts, because the cult has taken over the medical duties after the Rafke part of the cult was expelled. The Ezzeo temples are the centres of the everyday worship. In the south Illalei is represented in shrines around the Ezzeo and Fate temple complexes. She is seen as the protector of the true religion and she isn't worshipped separately although she has her own holiday and she is invoked during other major holidays. She is also an important part of the ceremony in which the governing power is passed down to a new ruler of the land, because while with Ezzeo come such virtues as justice, wisdom and benevolence, Illalei bestows bravery, decisiveness and protectiveness.
In the north Illalei is the dominant deity and she is seen as a maid of Fate. There are large temples which combine both the Illalei and Fate worship. The two deities have mutual ceremonies in which participate both the priestesses of Fate and priests of Illalei. In general this Fate/Illalei cult is responsible for the conceived and for the living. They are the centres of the everyday worship. They also bestow the ritual power on the new rulers. While the main ritual part of the Illalei cult is in the hands of men in the north women also have a role in the religion. They have monasteries where they are tasked with helping the community. In the north Ezzeo also is closely linked to Death, but greatly limits the influence of that cult. The temples of Ezzeo are only for funerals and for reminiscing of the dead. They are built together with necropolises outside of cities and villages, where the fumes of the ritual pyres are not too disturbing to the general public.
There are strong monastic traditions both in the north and the south. In the south the monasteries are connected to the Ezzeo cult and are for men. Priests of Ezzeo are recruited from monks and all need to adhere to very strict rules of conduct. The monks live in celibate and are on a very strict austere diet. They also have to wear very modest clothing and should refrain from accumulating any possessions. They are also on a very strict prayer regimen. To become a monk one cannot be a criminal of any sort and if one commits a crime later one should be expelled immediately although that is not always the case. The monks dabble in sciences in some monasteries and have hospitals in most locations. They are generally perceived as the learned and enlightened people of their age in the times of the comic.
In the north the monasteries are strictly for women and priests both of Ezzeo and Illalei are completely separate groups from the nuns. The nuns, similarly to the monks of the south, are also highly educated and they too dabble in sciences and medicine. They run their own hospitals or clinics and they sometimes travel with the army. The rules in their monasteries are also very strict. They also must live in celibate, they do not accumulate possessions and wear very distinctive, austere clothing. Despite these limitations a nunnery is actually a place where women have the biggest chance for self-improvement, they can pursue their passions like art or science. Generally the society demands of the woman to become a good wife, often even at the age of 12 and to bear as many sons for her husband as she can. She is to be loyal and obedient to her family, by which are meant the men of the family. She has no power over her life and if anything she is supposed to know how to embroider and maybe run a household, but not in all cases. The nuns on the other hand acquire a lot of skills and their expertise on many subjects is greatly valued. While some women are sent to a monastery as a punishment not all perceive it as such. There are better and worse nunneries in terms of the facilities and opportunities they offer. To send a daughter to a nunnery (usually because she is impossible to marry out for one reason or another) one must pay some donation to the deity and some institutions expect a higher donation, there mostly ladies of quality are sent. There they perform more 'white collar' duties, which for instance means they do not have to tag along with the army in filthy conditions and at the risk of personal harm.