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[SYSTEMS] RELIGION - AL EWING: PART ONE
He gives the Khor, he takes the Khor.
All right, so this is the Religion document that Al Ewing wrote for us. Both he and Tini wrote longer documents than Ram, and even without my comments both exceed the length we can email, so you’ll get half of Al’s document today, the rest tomorrow, and then all next week I’ll expand on what Al gave us (the same format will apply to Tini’s).
As usual, Al has done an excellent —- and thorough —- job. There’s A LOT of super cool stuff in here.
NOTE: This first section is really just Al working through everything. Sorting all his materials, deciding which tools to use, etc. I’ve left it in because it’s a look into how his head works -- what his process is. Which in a lot of ways, is just as important as the final work, and kinda the point of this project.
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Right – from what I’ve been told, this document is going to be read by an audience of sorts, so I’ll write this with a larger audience than usual in mind, who might be approaching this as a how-to, and explaining choices as I make them – showing the cooking process as well as the finished meal.
Diving in, then.
What I’ll refer to here as “Bedrock” are the fixed, immutable foundations of the thing. I’m working from a starting document I’ve been handed – I need to make sure I don’t contradict that document, and play by the rules I’ve been given, in order to do what I’ve been tasked to do properly, which is built on that structure.
So – thinking specifically of Religion in the context of the 3W3M doc – what’s our bedrock?
It’s a universe with mythology and lore, and currently that mythology and lore is oriented towards the previous “magic cycle”. Magic here is a metaphor for creativity.
Mythology and especially iconography is also built around the Three Worlds, and the Three Moons.
The worlds – Water (AKVA), Fire (FAYRII) and Earth (THERRA). The Moons – Air (HEIR), Order (ORDO) and Chaos (KAOSO). (Air being separate from the other elements and grouped with Order and Chaos is interesting, and suggests that on these worlds, air is classically not seen as an element but instead as a neutral state between Order and Chaos. It might not be possible to do things with that here, though – or not without bumping into someone else.)
The moon of Order implicitly represents science, the moon of Chaos represents magic.
The planet of Water is theocratic, with two sects of the same basic religion living on it. Both these sects are built around the mining and extraction of KHOR that powers everything in the universe.
They don’t fight over KHOR. Fighting over KHOR is against the religion. We have our first rule.
Hiring mercenaries and proxy soldiers to fight over KHOR on your behalf does seem to be allowed, though. These proxy wars are influenced by the natural fluctuations of KHOR – when there’s a lot being produced, there’s a lot more to fight over.
KHOR does not appear to be a finite resource in the same way that, say, oil is. That’s interesting – I’ve heard some people describe oil as a continually self-replenishing resource, given to us by God. So there’s a potential religious connection there.
The planet of Fire is a very rigid monarchy. Kings and Queens, famously, are ordained by god. Sometimes they’re even treated as gods incarnate. (Henry VIII also comes to mind.)
The moon of that planet – Air – is de facto ruled by hedonistic heirs, princelings and minor royalty, and the crime bosses that cater to them. Again, from a religious point of view, this tells us something – namely, that hedonism and illegal activity is a-okay at a certain level of wealth/power/family. Is that a contrast? Is it not so okay in other places? Things don’t have to be forbidden to be judged.
“Earth” is the main planet, where the story begins. It’s run by politicians – stand-ins for plutocrats, schools, corporations, institutions – and if there’s one thing all these groups love, it’s religion. Whether they believe it or not is another matter, but it’s always a useful tool in the arsenal.
Earth has two moons – Order, a high-tech wonderland devoted to science, and Chaos, a wasteland of ancient magical ruins, an archaeological site. A place of ur-Religions, maybe – long-forgotten versions of the main belief.
So that’s our bedrock – what we have to work with. From these jigsaw pieces, we can start building something up.
FIRST PRINCIPLES OF A FICTIONAL RELIGION
Let’s dive into some quick thinking on the potential purposes of a religion – that’ll help us decide what ours looks like. And let’s assume that it doesn’t matter what the religion is – that’ll be defined by the story - only the form it takes in the population.
A belief system could be a means of personal enlightenment for the individual. It might be something that drives an individual to make changes in their life, resist self-harming or self-destructive tendencies, engage in self-improvement. It could take the form of meditation, or martial arts, or other art. A religious community could become a place of hospitality for weary travelers, or a place to grow and distribute food. That all feels like a BOTTOM-UP application, focussing first on CONTROL OF THE SELF from within, and spreading out from there.
A belief system could also be a means of control by an oppressor class. Religion as a thing imposed – a set of laws from above, restricting those below. Example: that rule from the theocratic Water Planet. There’s no fighting over KHOR. That might have started as a sensible truce amongst individuals way back in history, but it’s now been codified into a dictate from some higher power – albeit one that’s worked around, as our KHOR miners are continuing to fight via proxies. Let’s call that TOP-DOWN application, focussing on CONTROL OF OTHERS.
The project is heavily focussed on Manichean dualities, and we’ve got our first ones right here – TOP-DOWN versus BOTTOM-UP. SELF-CONTROL versus CONTROL OF OTHERS.
So far, so good. We have two approaches to a single undefined religion – and what was that in the bedrock about two warring sects? Let’s start extrapolating and see what comes out of that.
BUILDING OFF THE BEDROCK
If I was stretching this metaphor further than it needed to go, I’d call this the “Foundation Phase.”
The Water World seems like a good place to make our first cut, so to speak – the in-system Theocracy. Or Theocracies, rather, since there are two nations here, each of which worship a different form of the same religion. (I won’t get into how they exist in the water, what the physical shape of the nations are, etc – that’s for someone else.)
What have we got to work with? One shared rule. Don’t fight over the KHOR.
Why that rule? How did that rule evolve? Is it because if you’re fighting over who gets to mine KHOR, KHOR is going unmined? It’s a sin to waste good KHOR?
Back up a little. We’ve got a solar system that gets cold fusion energy from this KHOR in times of science, and gets, uh, mojo of some kind from it in times of magic. (Let’s assume something equally valuable. Magic is not my department on this project.) So the one constant, in the rise and fall of societies as things swing from science to magic, corruption to non-corruption, is KHOR and the energy it provides. Whatever system you have going, it’s built on the KHOR.
No wonder a theocracy or two have built themselves around this stuff. It’s clearly a sacred substance. Gives us another reason for the faithful not to fight over KHOR – to fight over KHOR dishonors the KHOR, disrespects the KHOR, tarnishes the KHOR somehow. Maybe it’s an insult to who provided the KHOR.
So perhaps our cardinal rule is simply: Respect the KHOR/that which created the KHOR.
KHOR is a constantly replenishing, sacred substance that’s generated at the heart of the Water planet – making the Water planet, the one planet without moons, the provider of everything.
We’re starting to get into deities. Let’s build out further.
BUILDING A PANTHEON
Why a pantheon?
This is a Manichean story. It’s a story of good and evil, magic and science, creativity and corruption. There are opposing forces at work – more than one god.
Now, obviously, you can have monotheistic religions with Manichean tendencies – all you need for that is a Satan. God has the Devil, Ahura Mazda has Angra Mainyu...
...or so I assumed. Looking that up to check the spelling, I find a Brittanica entry that tells me that Angra Mainyu, the destructive spirit, was actually created by Ahura Mazda along with their twin, Spenta Mainyu. Two creations of one larger deity – like two moons of one planet. This is the kind of synchronicity I like to file away for later.
Anyway, we could do a simple God/Devil dichotomy in our religion, but we’ve got all these lovely planets – one of which is quite literally the source of all energy in the system. The idea of not building something with that seems perverse. Sometimes the simplest route is the best one.
So – basing deities off the planets, what have we got? And what do we want?
The Sun – came first. It seems very weird to have gods based on the habitable planets and not one based on the sun. But worshipping the sun feels a little dull, so this would be more of a Titan figure – an Ur-Deity, an Old God or Proto-God.
Which brings us to a want, or rather a do not want. I don’t want to do a pantheon if we’re just doing the Greek Gods in new hats. That extends to the Titans, too. So whatever role the Sun plays in all this, it probably shouldn’t be a Chronos – Father to the Father of Gods. I’ll think on that and come back to it.
Water – this is the Father of Gods, or if we don’t want to do family structure – and more on that in a second - the Chief God, the First God. This is who gave us KHOR. On this planet is the seat of the system-wide religion – or the seats of the two of them, rather. The Holy See, if you want to get punny with it. Which suggests that our Water-God, giver of KHOR, might be common to both sects – after all, they both live in his depths.
Either that, or - what if one of the sects is enjoying their god’s life-giving bounty and the other is conquering the hated enemy god and stealing his shit? The same entity is god to one, devil to the other. That’s got possibilities. Again, we’ll leave that to simmer.
(Just to remind myself – part of the bedrock is that the two sects are NOT at war. So we should factor that in.)
So in this context, water is deep, deadly, dangerous, but also the provider of food and, um, water. Early man’s first glimpse of a reflection – some ghostly spirit-self – would be in water. And, at some point in the primordial past, our man-like aliens found a water planet that provided for their every need. The water-god is the oldest, most dangerous, most powerful god.
Gods need names. The Russian for “Water” is VODA. That’s got a ring to it. (Though, let me check… hmm, the god in Morrison’s ANNIHILATOR was “Vada”. I think that’s from Polari, though, so it’s a different enough kettle of fish.)
Fire – A ruthlessly rigid world of monarchies and feudal systems. One moon. Monarchies take us back to family structure – that these three planet-gods are siblings, maybe – but I wonder if we can do something more interesting. Fire and Water are classically in opposition, but if water has commonalities with fire, too – they’re both unsolid, flowing, moving, living, powerful and destructive in concentration. You can imagine a mythology that doesn’t put them at odds, but rather in concert. And in terms of how this relates to the planet – fire is power. The furnace, the forge, the torturer’s coals. The Fire god is stern, regal, martial.
Russian for “Fire” is POZHAR. That won’t do, he was a Firestorm character. Bosnian is VATRA. That’s a stern sound.
Air – Moon of Fire. A hedonistic paradise under control of criminals and dissolute aristos. So if Air is a moon, that makes the Air-god a child of the Fire-god… or is that the most interesting relationship? Could it be some other form of emanation or creation? If the Water-God appears both as deity and demiurge, what if Air is some kind of Satan figure to the fire-god?
I had a feeling Satan would get involved with this sooner or later. In his collectable first appearance – in every connosieur’s favourite book of the Bible, Job – he’s basically positioned as a servant of God, but also as the Adversary of man. The tester. A kind of demonic servant who also challenges God. A necessary enemy.
Okay – so in this pantheon, let’s say each moon represents not a child of the planet-god it orbits, but a demonic necessary enemy. Maybe a servant, too, like Satan was treated almost as the servant of God. They’re related – Fire could be seen as a form of Air. But flames have purpose – flames do work – air is empty. Workshy. Air is a minor element, a lesser thing. We’ll let this simmer as we move on.
Best foreign word I’ve found is Uzbek – HAVO. Those V’s keep cropping up – I think they’re a motif at this point.
Earth – the political planet. Plutocratic, material. Story-wise, it’s the starting point. The safe place. Work the earth, make it a home. Earth provides.
In terms of the elements – Earth, Fire, Water, they can all go together. Earth houses fire – volcanoes, magma – and goes in partnership with water. Earth is the peacemaker between those rival elements that are the same – the politician, the mediator. Creator of systems. Maybe that’s why it has two servants/enemies – again, it’s the political planet. And it comes as ordered farmland or chaotic wilderness.
Irish for Earth is DOMHAIN. Near the knuckle. None of the languages in Google Translate has a particularly juicy word for Earth – especially not one with V in it – so let’s make something up. VODA, VATRA, VADIS, then. Dis for the lowest level.
Order/Chaos – Not much in the doc to help me here, presumably because these two moons are where a lot of the story happens. We’ve talked about how order and chaos can manifest in the Earth element, and we known Order is the science moon and Chaos is the magic moon.
Telugu for Order is ARDAR. Tatar for Chaos is XAOC. That’s pretty perfect.
Going back to the Sun – Shona for sun is ZUVA.
I think we’ve got everything we need now – let’s put it all together into a religious text. Then we’ll dive back out and see how that might affect the societies of the system.
So...I guess the actual document starts here.
And you can read that tomorrow. Good stuff, Al.