The Kingdom of Dasak – Religion and Magic

The challenge for Day Three of the Worldbuilding bloghop is to describe the religion and/or magic in your world.

There are two rival factions of gods—the Stronni and the Taaweh—and the type of magic practiced by their followers differs.

The Stronni

The Stronni themselves worship the Perfect Order, which is somewhat like the Norse concept of wyrd or fate.    They watch the stars for omens and guidance, and attempt to divine the path the Perfect Order wishes them to follow.  By doing so, they believe that they will be guided along the path of least resistance to achieve their goals.  The Stronni pride themselves on their ability to be rational, while at the same time they are ruthless and often pitiless to those who displease them.

The Stronni live high up in the mountains and humans are forbidden from venturing into the mountains or the foothills.  Those who do are never heard from again.  When the gods are particular angered, they cause immense balls of fire to rain down upon the valley.  They are not evil, but they are very strict and demand obedience and discipline from their subjects.

Humans who worship the Stronni

The Stronni demand that the humans build towering cathedrals in their honor, with large circular openings in the tops of the domes to allow the Eyes to see down into them.  Only when it rains are tarps permitted to be drawn across the metal arches that crisscross over the opening.

A priest of the Stronni is called a caedan, after the Stronni king Caednu.  (An acolyte is called a tadu, which is the Stronni word for “boy.”)  The caedan have little magical ability beyond lighting small ceremonial fires for services or lighting the incinerating blazes of funeral pyres.  The caedan believe that they are promised a position of honor in the Great Hall of the Stronni after death (see below).  In true “sun-worshiper” fashion, the Stronni males are always naked and their bodies are works of art, perfectly formed and decorated with glistening magical tattoos.  The caedan emulate the gods by wearing nothing more than a golden loincloth and decorating their bodies in similar tattoos.  They are permitted to wear cloaks in cold weather.  However, as imperfection displeases the gods, tadu and caedan are required to remain physically trim, at least until old age renders them unable to do so.

Sorcerers dedicated to the Stronni are called vönan.  They are exclusively male, as are the caedan, and specialize in fire magic and magic involving air.  They can cause massive destruction with firebolts and windstorms and they have the ability to fly.  It isn’t permitted for a vönan to be trained, unless he is attached to a noble house, and they are often used as weapons in battles between city-keeps.  Like the caedan, vönan have magical tattoos that mark them as “owned” by the gods—in this case, just a single tattoo of an eye on the top of the skull, which must be kept shaved.  As we see in book two (available in March), this tattoo fades away, if the magical link to the gods is broken.  Stronni magic must be invoked through chanting, so it is possible to disarm a vönan by preventing him from speaking.

Female Stronni are treated respectfully, but not equally.  They are required to wear gowns that keep most of the body covered, though diaphanous materials are permitted, and this is reflected in the culture of the humans.  Still, they do have power.  The queen of the Stronni, Imen, is a powerful sorceress, and women dedicated to her have the ability to see anything in the world illuminated by the Eyes.  They are called ömem, and they are the spies of the kingdom.  They also have the ability to cast healing spells to a small degree.  Generally, they mix up herbal formulas and link the spell to the potion.  Because of their abilities and their control of the elite assassins known as samöt (see yesterday’s post), the ömem are treated as untouchable.  They have no political allegiances and will sell information to the highest bidder, unless it pleases them to make a temporary alliance.  Not even the emperor dares punish an ömem for supplying information to an enemy, for fear that the Sisterhood will send the samöt after him or deny him information he needs in the future.

The Great Hall

The Great Hall of the Stronni is where caedan believe they will reside in the afterlife, but this is, at best, a misunderstanding.  Where this misconception arose is uncertain, but the Stronni themselves never specifically promised this, nor do they have any ability to grant an afterlife to the men and women who worship them.  However, they have no desire to disabuse their worshipers of this misconception, since it serves their goal of bringing order and perfection to the humans.  Peasants and farmers care little for the Great Hall, since they have no expectation of being anything more than servants there.

The Taaweh

The Taaweh were the original gods, before the Stronni attempted to drive them out.  They chose to disappear a thousand years ago, when they saw their human charges being driven to extinction by the Great War, but they have merely lain dormant.  Their worship didn’t vanish entirely, but the offerings left for them at sacred pools and the ruins of their stone circles have become little more than blind custom and superstitious attempts to gain blessings from unknown spirits.  The name Taaweh is similar enough to the Stronni word towe, which means “small,” that the misconception arose that there were tiny people living in the forests and streams.

The Taaweh have little structure to their society.  All are treated equally and in fact they have no names and no word for “I”.  When a Taaweh wants something, she is likely to say, “It is desired that….” rather than “I want….”  Only two Taaweh have names:  the Iinu Shaa (“Beloved Lord”) and the Iinu Shavi (“Beloved Lady”).

The Iinu Shaa is a frightening figure.  He is taller than a man and has two faces.  One face looks like a handsome man, but as a corpse, bluish and waxen, while his other face looks even more corpse-like, with blue-black skin and lips drawn back in a grimace from shrunken gums and elongated teeth.  The first face is called the Iinu Shaa‘s “kind face,” whereas the latter is called his “fearsome face.”  Both faces have hollow eye sockets in which can be seen a black so deep that it appears to be endless.  The Iinu Shaa wears mismatched pieces of armor taken from the battlefield, damaged and bloody, and it is he who comes to collect warriors who die in battle.  The peasants long ago distorted the name Iinu Shaa into “Neesha.”   If a warrior has been noble and virtuous, it is said that he sees the “kind face of Neesha” coming for him as he lies dying.  If he has been malicious or cowardly, they say that “the fearsome face of Neesha” will come for him.  Though what happens after that, nobody knows.

The Iinu Shavi is the opposite of her consort.  She is fair and beautiful and so full of life force that she positively shimmers.  It is impossible to kill her, as it is impossible to kill any of the Taaweh, but she is bound to the earth.  If she is separated from it, she loses strength.  Imen was clever enough to figure this out and arranged a trap for the Iinu Shavi, in which the old Great Hall was magically lifted above a deep chasm, while the Iinu Shavi stood in the hall, attempting to arrange a truce.  The Iinu Shavi fell unconscious and there she has remained, imprisoned, for a thousand years.  The Stronni built a second Great Hall for themselves, leaving the first to serve as a tomb.

Worshipers of the Taaweh 

At the beginning of the series (in Dreams), only one young man—Koreh—even knows that the Taaweh are still around.  Through his dreams, they teach him an ancient form of magic, which allows him to merge with the earth to escape detection and to move in the shadows.  Later, Geilin learns how to cause a seed to sprout magically and the Taaweh cause a forest to spring up on Harleh Plain.  They also have control over water, as Koreh demonstrates to Sael:

Koreh stretched out his other hand and cupped it, then tilted the pitcher until water began to flow into it. But the water never touched his skin. It pooled in the air above his palm until he stopped pouring and set the pitcher down. The water hovered above his outstretched hand, oscillating slowly back and forth until it settled into the shape of a globe. Koreh held it up for Sael’s inspection, grinning triumphantly.

Sael took a couple steps forward and reached out to touch it. Where his finger tapped the surface of the globe, ripples moved outwards as they would on the surface of a pond. But the ripples continued around, converging on the back of the globe to create a shadow of a fingerprint there, before bouncing back to the front.

“It doesn’t seem very practical,” Sael said skeptically.

“Well, just wait until I get better at it.” Koreh focused his attention and the globe began to flatten and expand until a hole opened in the center, making it resemble a wheel. Koreh caused it to rotate a few times before letting it return to the globe shape. Then he made the water elongate into a tube with a wide bulge at the base, until it so obviously resembled an erect phallus that Sael gave a startled laugh.

Koreh smiled and dumped the water back into the pitcher. He’d seen one of the Taaweh explode a ball of water into mist, but he doubted he could do that without getting them both drenched.

Unlike Stronni magic, Taaweh magic is quiet and doesn’t require anything to be spoken.  It all takes place in the mind.

The Tyeh-Areh

Unlike the Stronni, the Taaweh do have power over life and death.  When people die, they find themselves in the forest surrounded by the mist—the tyeh-areh “great mist.”  They soon come across a stranger—perhaps a kindly old woman, perhaps a child—who offers to walk with them.  As they go deeper into the mist, it grows thicker and closes in about them.  What is beyond the mist, no living person knows…but we find out in Book Three!  🙂

This has been an extremely long post, but tomorrow’s should be shorter. 🙂 And then we’ll finish up on Friday with an excerpt!

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“Freedom of Religion” and Same-Sex Marriage

Recently, as the result of the Chick-fil-A controversy, I’ve found myself involved in arguments I’d rather avoid.  But one particularly angry person tossed some arguments at me that I feel need to be addressed — not because he’ll ever read this blog, but because people who might read this blog will no doubt come up against these arguments in the future.  (They’re very popular.)

Now, I’m tolerant of differing points of view, but illogical arguments drive me crazy.  Illogical is illogical, regardless of the motivation behind it.

So let me address a few points.

First of all, we need to make something clear:  there is a big difference between being a “Christian country” and being a Christian-dominated country.  In the last poll I came across, something like 70% of the people in the USA identify as Christian, so clearly this is a country dominated by Christians.  Likewise, most of our Founding Fathers were Christian (though not all).  But that doesn’t make the United States a “Christian country.”  Some of the original colonies had very strict laws about attending church services and regulating “Christian behavior” on a number of levels.  But other colonies did not, and when the entire country was finally mashed together, those laws fell by the wayside (at least on a National level).

The US Constitution does not dictate that people must be Christian and in fact about 30% of the citizens in the country are not.  If we look at the Ten Commandments, as laid out in the Bible (both versions), the first, second, and third commandments are completely absent from our Constitution.  It isn’t illegal to worship other gods.  It isn’t illegal to worship idols.  And it isn’t illegal to completely forget the Sabbath.  If the country had been designed as a “Christian country,” then these would hardly have been left out.

Therefore, the United States of America is merely a Christian dominated country and not a “Christian country.”

When people haul out the Christian Bible as their reason for opposing same-sex marriage, they need to be reminded of this.  Their argument declares that God Himself defined “marriage” as being between one man and one woman.  (I won’t even go into why I think this is false, even within the context of the Bible.)  Therefore, we should accede to His divine will and forbid same-sex couples from marrying.

Closely tied to this is the belief that marriage has always been a religious institution and not a civil one.

If the only valid marriage in the USA is one sanctioned by the Christian God, then how is it possible that two people who don’t believe in that definition of God — say, Wiccans, or Scientologists, or atheists — are allowed to marry?  If marriage in this country is a religious institution, then why do we allow atheists to marry?  Why do we allow people to be married by a Justice of the Peace, rather than a pastor or priest?

The answer is simple:  marriage has never been a religious institution in this country.  It is a civil institution which all American citizens have a right to.  You have the right to marry, whether you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Wiccan, atheist, or what-have-you.  Your religion does not determine your eligibility to marry in this country, because it isn’t relevant to civil marriage law.

It is true that clergy were granted dispensation to conduct marriages in the USA, probably dating all the way back to its founding.  But perhaps you’ve noticed that even a Christian couple needs to apply to the government (via the Town Hall where they live) in order to get permission for the church to marry them.  This is because marriage is a legal institution that determines legal relationships, for purposes such as inheritance, property ownership, insurance, Social Security benefits, etc.  Your pastor, or Rabbi or High Priestess is simply performing the ceremony as a proxy for the state.  He or she may also being doing it on behalf of your god or goddess, but the government isn’t concerned with that.  The government is merely concerned with your legal marital status for the purposes mentioned above (and taxes).

So when it comes right down to it, if somebody wants to insist that his religion disapproves of homosexuality (to put it mildly), then yes he certainly is within his rights to believe that and to say it.  But when somebody tries to tell me that laws should be passed which will force everybody in this country, including the 30% who aren’t following his religion, to obey the dictates of his Bible or his God…well, that’s another matter entirely.

If a Christian couple (male and female) went to a Jewish synagogue and demanded that the Rabbi marry them, the Rabbi would have  every right to say, “No.  You have to be Jewish, before I can marry you.”  But that’s entirely different from that Rabbi insisting that everybody in the entire country be Jewish, before they’d be allowed to get married.

Likewise, Christians should not be insisting that the law force everyone in the country to adhere to Christian mores, regardless of the fact that they are clearly in the majority.  What about those religions that have no issue with same-sex marriage?  They do exist.  My husband and I were married by a pagan priestess.  Other same-sex couples have been married by Unitarian churches or simply by Justices of the Peace.  (And now, of course, there are Christian churches performing same-sex marriages in some parts of the country.)

In other words, if a minority religion believes in same-sex marriage, Freedom of Religion is not served by making it illegal for any church or JP to perform same-sex marriages.  This is why the Constitution does forbid any one religion from dictating the law to rest of the country.  Being in the majority does not invalidate this.