Âratist Religious and Monastic Practice
The Âratist View of Good and Evil
The Five Foundations of the Way of Ârata
Monastic Orders and Monastic Life
The Holy City of Baushpar
The Âratist View of Good and Evil
The Way of Ârata views the world in terms of the primal opposition between light and darkness. This, while generally corresponding to the ideas of “good” and “evil”, is actually quite a bit more complex.
In Âratist teaching, the god Ârata is a god of light, warmth, and positivity, who created the world and everything in it out of the substance of his own bright being. The world’s essential nature, therefore, is also light, warmth, and positivity. All things that partake of these--beauty, pleasure, the joys of the senses--are to be sought and savored/ To embrace them, to experience them fully, is to honor Ârata. The Way of Ârata is not an ascetic religion, even for those who vow themselves to its service.
The world’s darkness and negativity derive from two sources, both extraneous to its essential being. First is the battle between Ârata and his dark brother Ârdaxcasa for mastery of the world, and Ârata’s subsequent descent into slumber (see The Messengers’ Tale for the full legend). After a long battle Ârata won victory over Ârdaxcasa by incinerating him and scattering his ashes across the world. All living things breathed in a portion of that ash, thus taking some of Ârdaxcasa's darkness into themselves.
The second source of darkness is Ârata’s dreams. Ârata’s essential nature is creativity--even sleeping, he creates. His pleasant dreams make pleasant things: new plants and animals, benign spirits, the Aspects (facets of his personality remembered through his dreams and born onto the earth as lesser gods). But his dreams of pain bring dark things--demons and plagues, droughts and blight, earthquakes and floods. Though these may be spoken of as “evils” by those who suffer them, they are not evils in the moral sense, for no evil intent lies behind them.
Humankind is considered to have three natures:
The bright nature: The qualities instilled by Ârata at creation, everything that partakes of positivity and light: love, generosity, bravery, compassion, the capacity for faith.All of life is a war between the bright and the ash-natures, a battle to keep the latter from tainting and overwhelming the former. Every being is born with exactly the same contamination of ash, but every bad deed or wrong action adds more darkness to that original birth-burden. Right choices and right actions cannot cleanse the darkness--but they can prevent its accumulation, and, if assiduously practiced, will increase a being’s store of light.
Choice, therefore, is the essence of the human condition--choice to turn always toward one’s bright nature, and ever away from one’s ash-nature, by choosing right deeds and embracing positive actions. The impersonal ills that rise from Ârata’s dreams of pain cannot be controlled or predicted, but men and women are fully responsible for the moral quality of their lives. The Âratist faith strongly emphasizes self-determination: other than one’s birth-burden of ash, nothing is predestined, and limitless possibilities are available to every individual. It is up to each person to make the most of these.
Power and possibility are the positive aspects of choice, and Âratist doctrine recognizes them as such. In keeping with the dualistic Âratist outlook, however, choosing is also a burden, for it can never be avoided or escaped. Âratist worship and ritual embodies a substantial nostalgia for the lost purity of primal age (expressed principally in the Banishing, the second of the two major Âratist ceremonies), when Ârata communed directly with each living mind and moral choice was unnecessary. Ârata did not abandon the world when he lay down to sleep, for his slumber is involuntary and one day he will wake. But his descent into unconsciousness, which broke the perfect communion of the primal age, precipitated humankind into the abyss of moral responsibility. The time of the god’s sleep is known as the Age of Exile.
During the Age of Exile, there are some men and women who are strong enough and wise enough to make their way unaided. But most are not. For this reason, Ârata called his prophet, Marduspida, into the wilderness to receive the great Âratist scripture, the Darxasa--which, among other things, lays down the Five Foundations, the moral precepts on which the Way of Ârata are based: Faith, Affirmation, Increase, Consciousness, and Compassion. Those who diligently follow these guidelines will be helped to more effectively resist their ash-natures and more fully embrace their bright natures.
Ultimately, Ârata will wake. In his guise of Risen Judge, all creatures that have ever lived will pass before him, and their darkness--both the birth-burden of ash and the chosen darkness they have added to it--will be weighed and then burned away. When all darkness has been cleansed the primal age will be restored, and the world will become again as it was in the beginning: ruled by the risen god in perfect communion with all living things.
Because Ârata is a sleeping god, he cannot hear the prayers of the faithful. The only path to him is remembrance (through ritual) and meditation, which allows the practitioner to mimic, in a small human way, Ârata’s own transcendent unconsciousness.
Temples to Ârata are circular, a cylindrical core surrounded by an enclosed gallery. To gain access to the core, the worshipper must follow the gallery all the way to its end. On the gallery’s walls are painted a sequential history of the world, as laid out in the two great Âratist scriptures, the Darxasa and the Book of the Messenger: Ârata’s birth, his creation of the earth, his battle with Ârdaxcasa, his descent into slumber, the summoning of the First Messenger, the deeds of Marduspida and his disciples, and the arrival of the Next Messenger. The idea is to bring the worshipper through the whole cycle of creation before admitting her to the temple proper. Inside the temple, at the symbolic axis of the world, waits a colossal image of Ârata in one of his four guises: World-Creator, Primal Warrior, Eon-Sleeper, Risen Judge.
Shaper priests conduct rituals daily in the temples, and also in the chapels of Âratist monasteries and nunneries: Communion in the morning, Banishing in the afternoon. Worshippers may visit a temple at any hour of the day or night to light incense, leave offerings, or sit in contemplation.
Communion is a joyous ceremony, a celebration of humankind’s connection to the god and the creative power with which he made the world. Shaper priests lead a series of calls and responses, recalling to the worshippers Ârata’s might and beauty and the wonders of his creation. They then use their shaping ability to transform an array of substances, changing a ball of amber into honey (representing Ârata’s blood), a pyramid of red onyx to red sand (the Burning Land under which he sleeps), a cube of black granite to soot (the ash that is the birth-burden of all humankind), a chunk of rock salt to salt water (the tears of humanity's exile). The faces of the communicants are marked with these substances; the communicants affirm their faith in Ârata, and receive a blessing. At the ceremony's end the priest unmakes the sacramental substances; matter transformed by shaping must never be allowed to remain unused.
The Banishing is a ceremony of lamentation, a remembrance of the exile humankind must endure during the time of Ârata’s sleep. Shaper priests chant a litany of mourning for the lost purity of the primal age, and sing hymns of longing for the promised restoration of the world’s perfection. The offerings of the faithful--prayer cloths and banners, Âratist charms and symbols, and, from those too poor to buy from offerings-sellers, found objects such as polished stones and bits of wood and scraps of metal--are then unmade, banished into the void of pre-being from which Ârata originally called forth existence.
The Âratist religion also includes a host of subsidiary gods. Before the spread of the Way of Ârata, most of these were worshipped as independent deities. According to Âratist scripture, however, they are not separate from Ârata, but Aspects of him, facets of his personality dreamed into being over the course of his long sleep. To worship them, therefore, is also to worship Ârata (though Aspect-worship does not relieve the conscientious Âratist of his religious obligations according to the precepts of the Way). Much of the work of early missionaries trying to convert worshippers of other deities to the Way of Ârata involved “humbling” those deities, reminding them and their worshipers of their proper hierarchical place as Aspects of a greater god.
Because of the creative power of Ârata’s dreaming, the Aspects are physically present and conscious in the world, and so can be prayed to and exhorted to intervene in human affairs--as Ârata, sleeping, cannot. Aspect-worship, which is far more personal and much less demanding than worship of the eternally-unreachable sleeping god, is also far more popular. Many who follow the Way give little more than lip service to the faith’s major deity, reserving their true devotion for their chosen Aspect.
Aspects are worshipped in their own temples and shrines, with rituals essentially unchanged from the time they were considered separate gods. To remind worshippers of Ârata’s primacy, every Aspect-temple also contains an image of Ârata. The temples of smaller, less important Aspects (such as Jo-Mea, Patron of travelers) are served by devotee-priests, initiates of the Aspect who are considered laypersons by the Âratist clergy. The more powerful Aspects (such as Skambys, Patron of War and Weather, or Tane, Patron of crops and the moon) are served by the Forceless.
The Five Foundations of the Way of Ârata
The Way of Ârata is more than a system of faith: it lays down a code of ethics and behavior that, if conscientiously followed, can help men and women to turn away from the dark ash-nature with which they are born, and live virtuously and harmoniously during the Age of Exile.
The code rests upon the Five Foundations of the Way:
Faith: This Foundation is interpreted in practice as formal worship. Every follower of the Way is expected to attend at least one Communion and one Banishing ceremony each week, to visit Âratist temples regularly to light incense and make offerings, and to try, at least once in his life, to make pilgrimage to the holy city of Baushpar.
Affirmation:Morning prayer, which turns the mind and inclines the soul toward Ârata and the practice of his Way. Âratists speak the following Affirmations daily, immediately upon rising: Ârata is the one god, now and forever. Ârata is the bright god, and darkness does not touch him. Ârata sleeps, but one day will wake. I affirm my faith in Ârata, deny my ash-nature in his name, and rejoice in the promise of his rising. Great is Ârata. Great is his Way.
Increase: The active expression and promulgation of the Âratist faith, so that it may grow ever stronger with the passage of the Age of Exile and never fall away. Followers of the Way are expected to publicly invoke the name of the god, bearing witness to his presence in the world (hence the phrase that is used for both greeting and farewell, “Great is Ârata, great is his Way”). It is also any Âratist’s duty to speak of the Way to those who fall from it or do not follow it. It was also this Foundation that underlay the Âratist church’s extremely aggressive campaign of conversion during the first centuries after Marduspida’s emergence from the Burning Land.
Consciousness: The effort to perform right deeds. Followers of the Way are expected to engage in a daily, conscious effort to embrace their bright natures and reject their ash-natures in both thought and deed.
Compassion: Charity and the giving of alms. Charity is an act of deep and purifying spirituality; through generosity to those less fortunate, the devout Âratist may not simply turn toward the light within himself, but increase it. Goods and money are not the only form of charity--one may also give labor, sympathy, or spiritual assistance.
Monastic Orders and Monastic Life
The monastic orders have four purposes:
At the age of twenty, postulants are allowed to vow the Way, and to become ordained as monks and nuns. Prior to ordination, postulants undergo a six-month regimen of fasting and meditation designed to test their vocations; if at the end of this period the postulant still desires to enter clerical life, a ceremony is held in which he or she dons the clothing of a vowed Âratist and swears the Sixfold Vow, renouncing doubt, ignorance, greed, complacency, pride, and fear (the Six Failings that caused Marduspida, the First Messenger, to six times reject Ârata’s summoning dream), and binding themselves irrevocably to the god’s service.
Additionally, the new vowed Âratist is given a simulacrum, a smaller replica of the great necklace worn by the Blood Bearer, leader of the Brethren, which holds the crystal of the god's Blood gifted by Ârata to his prophet Marduspida. The standard simulacrum is brass, with a glass facsimile of the Blood, but monks and nuns who can afford it often purchase more expensive versions, made of silver-gilt or even gold.
The Way can be vowed at any age. Widows, the disabled, ex-soldiers, and those who, toward the end of their lives, desire to spend their remaining time in contemplation often adopt this course. They are known as Second Lifers. Men and women who vow the Way before the age of twenty are known as Perpetuals. Second Lifers do not receive the religious instruction that Perpetuals do; and while they can serve their monastery or nunnery, they are not eligible for temple service.
It is also possible for people who want to devote time to religious contemplation or service, but do not want to actually vow the Way, to join a monastery or nunnery for a limited period of time. Young men from well-to-do families often take a monastery year as part of their general education.
Monks and nuns are expected to remain celibate--not because the Way of Ârata condemns the pleasures of the flesh (on the contrary, these are considered part of the bright nature gifted to humankind at creation, and to honor the body’s capacity for pleasure is to honor Ârata), but so that their devotion may be given to Ârata without division or distraction.
There are three monastic orders:
The Forceless: Any monk or nun who is neither a Shaper nor a Dreamer is known as Forceless. Shaping and dreaming are not common talents, and the Forceless make up the vast majority of vowed Âratists.
Shapers: Shaping is the inborn ability to create, transform, and unform matter. According to the major Âratist scripture, the Darxasa, shaping was Ârata’s gift to humankind at creation. It is therefore considered deeply sacred--but also, because it can be misused, deadly dangerous. Since the Shaper War, whose atrocities led the kings and princes of Galea to conclude that shaping could no longer be tolerated as as a free power, shaping has been given into the care of the Âratist church. The principles of this are laid out in a document known as the Doctrine of Baushpar. All men and women who manifest shaping ability are required to vow themselves to the church, where their ability is used only in the context of ritual (all Âratist ceremony is built around shaping--Shapers are Âratism's priests) and its strength blunted through regular use of a drug called manita.
Dreamers: Dreaming is the ability to dream true. Unlike Shapers, Dreamers are not required to vow the Way--they can take religious orders or live secular lives, whichever they prefer. Dreamers who do vow themselves as Âratists perform a variety of practical services for the church, such as scanning Galea for newly manifest Shapers, and also for the public, dreaming for private individuals in exchange for a donation to the church. Their most important role, however, is to maintain the order of existence by combating Ârata’s nightmares on their own level, dream to dream. Without the labors of Âratist Dreamers, the god’s dreams of pain--which are imbued with his creative power and therefore take physical shape within the world--would overwhelm the earth with plague and natural disaster, even to the point of the unwitting destruction of his own creation, as almost happened in the dark days before the coming of the First Messenger.
Monasteries and Nunneries
Most monasteries and nunneries are located in urban areas. In the five Âratist kingdoms (Arsace, Haruko, Chonggye, Kanu-Tapa, and Aino), no city or large town is without one. But there are also many in isolated areas, especially in the non-Âratist kingdoms, Isar and Yahaz. Âratist temples always have an annexed monastery-nunnery complex.
All monasteries and nunneries have a staff of Shapers, to provide administration and to handle religious ceremony. Where there is a temple and ceremonies must be provided to the public, ten or more Shapers may be in residence; in non-annexed monasteries/nunneries or those in isolated locations, only two or three are necessary. The rest of the monastery/nunnery’s population is Forceless. Dreamers have their own special monasteries/nunneries, which are also run by Shapers and maintain a service staff of Forceless. Most Dreamer monasteries/nunneries are located in the kingdom of Aino.
Monasteries/nunneries are responsible for their own support. Those in isolated areas are completely self-sufficient, growing, making, and trading for all they need. Those in urban areas run businesses, such as the manufacture of religious items, or specialize in a particular skill or craft. Dreamer monasteries/nunneries often support themselves entirely through the sale of Dreams. Donations from the public are also encouraged, though these generally go toward temple upkeep or for the support of the hospitals and orphanages and asylums that many monasteries/nunneries maintain (in keeping with Compassion, the Fifth Foundation of the Way).
Âratism is not an ascetic religion, and vowed Âratists live in comfort--even, in monasteries/nunneries with especially successful businesses or particularly generous patrons, in luxury.
Manita is a common, hardy, broadleafed weed similar to the tobacco plant. Where there is sufficient rain, it grows freely through most of the habitable portions of Galea.
For centuries, it was folk wisdom that if a Shaper could be gotten to eat dried manita leaves, his ability would be blunted. During the Shaper War, the effort to find a weapon that would be effective against the Shaper army included experiments with manita; artificers worked out a way of concentrating and distilling it into a dust-fine powder that, breathed in, could render a Shaper’s ability temporarily dormant. After the promulgation of the Doctrine of Baushpar, through which the church took sole control of shaping, this formulation was used to tether the power of Âratist Shapers. They have taken it ever since, in carefully calibrated doses that suppress, but do not entirely remove, their shaping gift.
Every monastery/nunnery with available arable land cultivates and processes its own manita, under the meticulous supervision of a staff of manita masters who also oversee the Shapers’ dosing. Manita masters are Forceless, but in matters involving the drug their authority exceeds that of Shapers. The church is also a grower and processor of the drug, in order to supply monasteries/nunneries that are not themselves able to produce the drug and to maintain a stockpile against emergencies.
The church’s manita fields and processing facilities have traditionally been maintained in Baushpar, the seat of the Brethren, and processed manita shipped from there throughout Galea as needed. When the Caryaxist rebellion forced the Brethren to flee Arsace, the manita facility maintained by the religious complex of Fantzon in Haruko was expanded to make up for lost Arsacian production (the climate of Chonggye, where the Brethren made their headquarters, being too arid for large scale manita growing).
Taken regularly, manita builds up a strong addiction. Shapers who stop using it experience a range of extremely unpleasant symptoms that last for several days: nausea and vomiting, chills, severe muscle pain, sometimes convulsions. Death can result from dehydration, or from the stress of withdrawal on a weakened immune system.
The Holy City of Baushpar
The traditional Âratist seat is the city of Baushpar, which is located in the kingdom of Arsace. Originally a military fort, Baushpar was gifted to the Âratist church by its first great supporter, King Fârat, who also helped finance much of the initial rebuilding and expansion--the First Temple of Ârata that rises from a vast square at the city's center; the Evening City, a great complex of official spaces, administrative facilities, and living quarters that houses the Âratist leadership and occupies much of the city's western side; and the four walled ceremonial avenues that segment the city into quarters and are the only way to reach the Temple square. The avenues are named for their points of origination: the Avenue of Winter in the north, the Avenue of Summer in the south, the Avenue of Sunrise in the east, and the Avenue of Sunset in the west, which alone does not reach the Temple square, but runs up against the back of the Evening City.
Over the centuries Baushpar has continued to grow, with the addition of new monasteries and nunneries and Aspect temples, the homes and facilities of the secular population that serves the religious one, and the freehouses, hostels and guesthouses for the thousands of pilgrims who make their way to Baushpar every year. It long ago overspilled the ancient blood granite fort-walls (which, as a reminder of Baushpar's history, have never been torn down); there is more city outside the walls than inside them.
After the Caryaxist rebellion Baushpar was blockaded. Residents were allowed to leave, but no one was let in. Much of the religious population had already fled, and within a few years the secular population was gone as well, leaving only a tiny, stubborn core of monks and nuns to care for the holy city. Though religious sites throughout Arsace were emptied, vandalized, and razed by the Caryaxists, Baushpar escaped that kind of damage, its symbolic power as the center of the Âratist faith not just for Arsace but for all Galea too potent, perhaps, for even the atheistic Caryaxists to challenge. When the Caryaxists fell and the Âratist leadership was able to return, it found Baushpar neglected and defaced and stripped of many of its treasures, but essentially whole.
The leaders of the Âratist church are called the Brethren. According to Âratist belief, they are the children of Marduspida, the First Messenger, perpetually incarnated into new bodies--thirty sons and five daughters, Marduspida’s first disciples and missionaries of the Way. Âratists do not believe in transmigration; the reincarnation of the Brethren is a unique circumstance, the result of a Covenant sworn by the Sons and Daughters after their father’s death: that on the death of their bodies their souls would not fall asleep until the coming of the Next Messenger, like the souls of other men and women, but remain awake, moving from body to body so that the church might never lack the guidance of the first faithful.
For this long life, however, there is a price. When Ârata rises to cleanse the Enemy's darkness and bring the world into the new primal age, the Brethren's souls will not be burned clean. Instead, the god will take whatever brightness remains in them back into himself, and the Sons and Daughters will pass away forever. Ârata’s awakening, a new beginning for the rest of creation, is an ending for the Brethren.
When a member of the Brethren dies, a year of mourning is allowed to pass, and then a search is undertaken for his or her reincarnation. There are various signs of incarnation besides the basic one of time of birth (the nature of the pregnancy, circumstances surrounding birth, qualities of temperament and physical characteristics that vary for each Son and Daughter); but Brethren may be born into any of the kingdoms of Galea, and it is often several years before the reincarnation is found. It is a matter of some urgency, for if reincarnations are not identified before the age of five or six, it becomes very difficult for them to recognize what they are and to access the store of their reborn wisdom.
Young reincarnations are given to one or another of their Brothers or Sisters to raise as their own children; at some point, each Son or Daughter has been parent or child to every other. Education begins when the child is old enough--reading and writing, academic and religious study, administration and statecraft, and also the delicate process of reviving memories, so that each Son or Daughter will come eventually to own all the knowledge of his or her former lives. One of the main instruction tools is the detailed daily journals all Sons and Daughters are trained to keep from the time they are old enough to write down their thoughts. Every present incarnation reads and studies the entire opus of his or her previous ones. Not only does this study restore an incarnation to his or her memories, the journals ensure that no memories are accidentally lost.
The Brethren govern the church of Ârata through a council that consists of all Sons and Daughters who are over the age of twenty-five. Since that number is constantly changing, with incarnations dying, absent, or in training, the membership of the council fluctuates, but usually is not less than fifteen. The Brethren’s leader--known as the Blood Bearer, for it is his or her right to wear the great necklace made by Marduspida to hold the crystal of Ârata’s Blood that was given to him by the god--is elected from among the council members, and serves either until his or her death or voluntary abdication.
As in any large family, there are alliances and enmities among the Brethren, their nature in any current set of incarnations greatly compounded and complicated by all the alliances and enmities of the past. There have been schisms between Brethren factions, and battles for the Blood Bearer’s necklace; more darkly, there have been personal plots and betrayals, and incestuous relationships between Sons and Daughters (the Brethren being siblings by soul but strangers by body). There have even been incarnations revealed not to be incarnations at all, by the discovery of either shaping or dreaming power (none of Marduspida’s children possessed either ability). This has only occurred four times--though many Brethren suspect that the number of mistaken incarnations may be greater than this, and simply never proven.
For any the inner turmoil, though, in all of Âratist history the outward continuity of the Brethren’s rule has been disrupted only once: by the coming of the Caryaxists. Immediately after the rebellion, the Brethren fled Baushpar, taking refuge in the Chonggyean temple city of Rimpang, the largest Âratist center in Galea after Baushpar. During the eighty years of Caryaxist rule, however, Sons and Daughters reborn into Arsace went unfound, and the number of recognized Brethren dwindled. By the time the Caryaxists fell and the Brethren were finally restored to their holy city, their number had fallen to just twenty-two, with only twelve on the ruling council: the smallest leadership since the founding of the church.