Shaping is the ability to create, transform, and unform matter. Shapers are able to perceive the patterns of being that make things what they are, and, through will and training, to manipulate them. Shapers’ vision of the world is very different from ordinary people’s: not only can they read the basic nature and structure of matter, they can see the constant processes of change and dissolution that give the lie to the apparently fixed nature of reality. They can also perceive the aura of light shed by all living things.
Because shaping is linked to the basic patterns of matter, it can only create or transform things that occur naturally. If she knows its patterns, a Shaper can create a stone--but not a brick or a wall, which are artificially-fabricated constructions. Nor can a Shaper shape living things (according to Âratist belief, Ârata withheld that ability for fear it would make human beings too much like gods). Shapers can create water or sand--which were never living--or a plucked flower or a picked fruit--things severed from their living source--but not the rooted plant or the growing tree. Life is beyond being and nonbeing, generation and dissolution: an extra element that exceeds a Shaper’s natural understanding of pattern.
The major Âratist scripture, the Darxasa, teaches that shaping was Ârata’s gift to humankind at creation (see The Messengers' Tale for the full creation story). Shaping is also Ârata’s own creative power in miniature, and to exercise it during the time of Ârata’s slumber is in some sense to return the god to active life within the world. Shaping is therefore considered deeply sacred--but also, because it can be misused, deadly dangerous. After the Shaper War, whose atrocities led the kings and princes of Galea to conclude that shaping could no longer be tolerated as a free power, the Âratist church gathered to itself all control of shaping, laying out the principles of this 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) and its strength blunted through daily use of a drug called manita.
Shaping is an inborn ability that manifests spontaneously, usually around the age of twelve or thirteen. A new Shaper’s transition is often difficult--partly because it is very sudden, but also because the Shaper vision of the world is so different from ordinary perception, and terrifying to those who are not accustomed to it.
New-manifest Shapers are brought to the nearest monastery or nunnery, where their abilities are immediately subdued by large quantities of manita (new Shapers, lacking control, can be quite dangerous). They are then dispatched to one of the select group of monasteries and nunneries that provide Shaper training. There, under the supervision of skilled manita masters, their huge initial manita doses are gradually decreased until the right balance is found--the Shaper vision of the world suppressed and the ability rendered latent, but still accessible, in weakened form, to the focused will. This process may take a year or more. Even after equilibrium is achieved, small periodic increases may be necessary, for shaping talents, like the bodies that contain them, grow and change. A Shaper's manita dose is known as his tether.
Training is essential for a Shaper to reliably access and focus his shaping will. Without it, the ability gradually atrophies (though untrained Shapers do retain the distinctive Shaper way of seeing). In the days before the Shaper War, a properly trained Shaper could become an extremely skilled and powerful sorcerer. Since the War, there has only been Âratist training--which, while it enables the Shaper to retain and use his ability, also cripples him so that he cannot become dangerous.
A new Shaper's training begins once his manita dose has stabilized. First he is taught to access his shaping will, through a process similar to meditation. Next comes the manipulation of light and air, which is not only easier than working with solid matter, but safer, because it produces only illusion. Next he moves to unforming, the banishing of matter into nothingness, for the best way to understand pattern is to unravel it. Last, he learns the art of forming and transforming. This part of the training is very narrowly restricted. Because of manita, the most skilled Shaper has access only to a small fraction of his true power; because of his limited training, he knows how to use it only as part of Âratist ritual.
As the repository of Ârata’s sacred gift, Shapers are both the church's prisoners and its elite. They receive more education than other vowed Âratists, taking an additional five-year course of study that begins on the swearing of the Sixfold Vow and leads to Shaper ordination at the age of twenty-five. They serve as the Way’s priests, conducting all the rituals of the church, from the central ceremonies of Communion and Banishing to the smaller services for marriages and funerals and births. They also provide most of the church’s administration, from the running of monasteries and nunneries and related church businesses, to local supervision of Aspect-worship, to the keeping of church records and the recording of church history, to the service of the Brethren.
Occasionally Shapers try to set their shaping free, or are involuntarily freed due to some accident or disaster (as in the case of the Shapers of Ruzin, whose supply of manita ran out when their mountain monastery was isolated by the snows of a particularly bitter winter). Freed Shapers are considered apostates rather than heretics: men and women who have abandoned their faith. In the centuries just after the Shaper War, when shaping was still being brought under church control, treatment of apostates was extremely harsh, but over time more lenient measures have been adopted. All captured apostates, however, must be imprisoned--for a released shaping gift creates an implacable addiction to the ability, and a Shaper who has experienced freedom can never be trusted not to seek it out again. Apostates are confined to remote monasteries or nunneries, where their ability is completely suppressed with large, enforced manita doses.
Apostasy is rare. Shapers are strongly indoctrinated through their training; also, because they have such limited familiarity with it, many Shapers find the altered perception they experience when they release their ability to be frightening or sickening. Finally (and perhaps most important), manita is highly addictive. Shapers who stop taking it go through a gruesome withdrawal process, which some do not survive. This was not known when the drug was first developed, but it has served the church well in the years since. Where faith is not enough to keep Shapers to their vows, fear of manita withdrawal usually is.
Dreaming is the ability to dream true, to range out across the world in sleep. Such Dreams--distinguishable from ordinary dreams by their extreme vividness and perfection of recall--cannot touch or change reality; but they can witness it with absolute accuracy.
Like shaping, dreaming is an inborn talent. Unlike shaping, it was not given by Ârata at creation, but arose after Ârata fell into sleep--a final gift, perhaps, to comfort humankind during the Age of Exile. Also unlike shaping, it does not dwindle if left untrained--though if a Dreamer is to summon and command her Dreams, training is essential. Without it, Dreams come only sporadically, and the Dreamer can neither control where they take her nor make them do her bidding.
Dreamers are not required, as Shapers are, to vow the Way--they can choose to take religious orders or live secular lives, whichever they prefer. Dreamers who do vow themselves as Âratists perform various services for the church, including scanning Galea for newly manifest Shapers; they also dream at the behest of the public, in exchange for a donation to the church. Dreamer monasteries in more populated areas run thriving side-business in paid dreaming.
Âratist Dreamers’ most important role is to maintain the order of existence. This they do by combating Ârata’s dreams of pain, which bring so many evils and disasters upon the world, on their own level, dream to dream. Where there is drought, Dreamers dream of water. Where there is plague, they dream of health. Where there is blight, they dream of abundance. Without the labors of Âratist Dreamers, the god’s nightmares--which are imbued with his creative power, and so capable of taking shape upon the earth--would overwhelm the world, even to the point of unwittingly destroying his own creation, as almost happened in the dark days before the coming of the First Messenger.
All Dream-training, Âratist and secular, is focused on teaching Dreamers to summon Dreams at will, to set the subjects of their Dreams, and to control how they function within those Dream-settings. Âratist Dream-training, rising from the semi-mystic endeavor of combating the god's pain-filled dreams, produces elaborate and highly abstract visions that are as cryptic in their way as ordinary dreams. An extensive symbology has been codified over the centuries, with Forceless monks and nuns specially trained in dream-interpretation to ensure that even the most bizarre Dreams can be reliably translated. Secular Dreamers, by contrast, are tradespeople who provide a variety of practical services such as tracking; they also often work as spies. A secular Dreamer has the same command over her visions that an Âratist Dreamer does, but her Dreams are fairly straightforward visions of reality.
Âratist Dreamers live in special monasteries and nunneries, where sleeping draughts keep them sleeping fifteen hours at a time. They are waited on like invalids by their Forceless attendants, and rarely leave their beds even when awake. They possess little physical strength and few practical skills, and most, because of the constant bedrest, are enormously fat. During the enforced secularizations of the Caryaxist rebellion, hundreds of Dreamers died, unable to survive without the care to which they were accustomed.
There is a strong current of mysticism within the Âratist church that centers upon dreaming. Certain schools of mystics ascend through various levels of disciplined sleep toward a metaphysical plane where they believe they will be granted visions of Ârata’s body. Others seek to leave the world entirely, and travel to others created by Ârata’s many sibling gods.