Sunday, April 10, 2011

(The) religion

So we have the lie. The lie was promulgated by a sect, a cult, a religious organization. This organization has since become an institution, a prosperous and powerful edifice which influences the life of almost everyone alive (in the area of the world that buys into the lie).

I'm wary of having this sect be monotheistic, or even worshipful of a jealous god who frowns on the worship of other gods, because those things turn this sect (in the medieval mileu) into a proxy for the Catholic church. This sect should be differentiated from Catholicism. To do that:

a) this sect will be devoted to a goddess.
b) this goddess will not be jealous.

Gods in general

Those two imply a few things. First of all, obviously there are other gods. These shouldn't be too uniform; that's a trap. It's not like there's a family and they all come from the mythic Originator in a neat line of succession. There are different and frequently contradictory stories about them and their exploits. Their "portfolios" tend to overlap in odd, frustrating ways, like the way that Aphrodite rules love and Hera rules marriage, or the way that there are five or six gods you can appeal to for victory in battle, or how there are gods you appeal to only in a very specific circumstance - during a marriage ceremony, for instance. Remember syncretism; Mercury = Odin for the ancient Romans. There should be a feeling of gods having different faces in different countries, and this should be somewhat confusing - but some gods really are unique to their culture (like Isis), which allows for the feeling that certain god is "foreign" as opposed to other "local" gods.

The Goddess and society

Gods were very important to social order in the ancient and medieval world. So let's talk about how religion fits into the social order of the city.

So this is one of the places in this world where the lie is most powerful. To me, that says that this place always worshipped our goddess. In some places, she was a minor figure or even a new one who suddenly gained prominence after the catastrophe, but here she was always powerful. The idea that occurred to me just now which I'm loving is that she's a goddess associated with wisdom and truth, especially the latter. There are a few reasons I'm really liking that idea:
  • It means that her priests and acolytes would likely be the kind of people, people who respected information, that would come up with the lie in the first place.
  • It lends itself towards this faith having the preoccupation with records, text, and criticism that I've been envisioning, as seen in the character of L.
  • It fits with the idea of her having been an important but not central character in many places in the past, before the catastrophe.
  • It lends a certain narrative grandeur -and a certain piquant flavor - to the idea of her having fought to end the catastrophe - truth vs. evil, light vs. darkness.
  • It's just so damn Minitrue, right?
  • It fits in thematically with the idea that people can have a more gnostic, personal relationship based on truth and understanding with this goddess than with other gods.
Ok, so, the Goddess has always been powerful and prominent in this part of the world, this culture group. That means that she was a civic institution, and the institution has only gotten stronger with time. That also means that her "portfolio" is extremely broad here, much broader than in other places. There are no doubt citywide festivals, huge temples, statues, as well as small shrines devoted to particular aspects and faces of the goddess. Here more than in other places she's woven into everyday life - which, no doubt, has the odd side effect of making her more mundane at the same time it makes you more important. In other places, she probably has a somewhat magical air. She has holy books and mysteries and acolytes in places where most gods just have a little shrine on the outskirts of town.

The Cult in detail

In the city, though, she's huge. Her statues are in the squares, everybody says a quick prayer to her at some point during a busy week, her name is on everybody's lips when they make oaths. That makes her prominent, but less mysterious. The average citizen thinks of her much more like a "regular" god, some distant authority that needs to be appeased. A greater segment of the population is devoted to her, however; there are acolytes, and initiates, and priests, people whose whole lives are devoted to the Goddess. There are lots of them.

This is rare in most places, and this is what really sets the Goddess apart in the "modern" (for lack of a batter term) day. Most temples and shrines have priests, a few individuals who serve the god. These people either take on the role of priest because they're wealthy (in the Greco-Roman tradition) or are publicly supported or live off of offerings given by supplicants. At the fringes, for the lesser or most local gods, there's an element of marketing involved: you need to attract enough supplicants to live off of the offerings. That opens up the idea - I don't want to make a decision about how common this is yet, but it's a notion - of charlatan priests who have no qualifications, basically con men. Anyway, temples have priests, and if they're big temples, more than one. Prosperous temples no doubt have employees, as well. People to clean up, people to make repairs, people to help the priest perform rituals. Sometimes these people are volunteers from the community, sometimes they're employed through funds made available for that purpose (sometimes maybe a combination of the two, like how juries were paid wages in Athens). And that's it. So ends the temple.

Not so the Goddess. Here in the city and in her other major centers, her temples are big organizations. Essentially, these are places that move away from the classical model into a medieval model of a holy institution. They're communities, not necessarily walled like monasteries but definitely insular, of people who do nothing but work for the Goddess (or at least, for her cult). There are scribes and copyists recording lore, both of the Goddess and of other cultures. There are doctors and healers who practice their arts on the behalf of the cult for the betterment of the community, and pass on their knowledge to the next generation. There are many priests with different vocations, some who do nothing but pray and perform the rituals, some who help the community. There are even soldiers - temple guards, effectively, people who do nothing but guard the holy places of the Goddess.

As holy warriors are wont, these guardians merit further exploration. But that is for another day.

Naturally, all of this activity involves lots of money coming in and out of the temples. Some amount comes, like the Catholic church, from the broader world. This amount is a significant amount of the temple's income, and it will probably be a sore spot elsewhere in the world. The rest is local; essentially, all of the (quite significant) offerings at the little temples and shrines in the city are pooled rather than going straight to the priest running the temple.

All of this money moving from place is what necessitates the guards, as well as the bureaucrats, administrators, and a very active leadership. The cult is an active organization in the world: it reaches out and tries to do good works, tries to benefit the community. It also preserves and spreads knowledge and learning, which is, y'know, good work and all. This is the power of the cult in the broader world. It's organized in a way that other faiths just aren't, because there are these big nerve centers where people write and think and count money and train doctors and lawyers and whatever else, and these nerve centers are talking to the little shrines in Bum Fuck, Middle of Nowhere. Even if I'm the priest of the Goddess in a city where she's not a big part of civic life, I probably know all the doctors in town because they come to use my library. I' m a good source of news, I'm a good source of information of all kinds. People come to me, and once they do I know them, and I can probably learn things from them as well. And over time, knowledge turns into power.

Plus, I'm doing this full-time. Whatever else I do with my life, if I'm a merchant or a prominent politician or whatever, if I'm the priest of the goddess, unlike the other faiths, it means that I Believe and I have Faith and I have a personal relationship with Her. Her, yeah, that's right, with a capital. I care more than the other guy.

The Goddess offers a gnostic experience that's not unique, but uncommon. There are other gods and goddesses with mysteries, but She has mysteries and priests with knowledge and power and connections, and She has the lie.

The Goddess' Mysteries

The mysteries are important. Level of initiation is important. So let's think about this a little.

At the lower levels are employees of the goddess. People who are involved, committed, whose life centers around the church but aren't spiritually enlightened yet. Acolytes, minor officials, the people who light candles and greet people in the temples and assist the scribes and sweep the floors and whatever. All those little people. Then there are initiates. They've been through the first level of the mysteries, which is a crazy experience but ultimately not much different from any mundane mystery initiation. Very intense, but it doesn't necessarily reshape your whole world view. The Goddess is theoretically present, and there's a sense of ecstasy and it gives you a lot to think about - but ultimately it's a ritual, however powerful, and you got through it and you go back to your old life. You learn the secret practices of the church. You learn the secret-handshaky kinds of things, and the ideas of knowledge becoming power and power doing good, all the stuff I talk about above, is made explicit (if explained in flowery, poetic language that prevents all initiates from being completely clear on it).

This is the "normal" level of initiation. Congregants, in the sense of people like the early Christians whose faith is a huge commitment and a big part of their life, are initiated at this level. Most of the "staff" at the "nerve centers" has this level of initiation. Most "priests" in the sense of those who perform rituals and pray and are visible to the public have this level.

The higher level is very rare. Only a few individuals go through it, the leaders at the "nerve centers" and a certain number of especially holy people who go out into the world. It involves having the lie made plain to you, the truth that a group of people who were very human sat around and concocted it and decided to spread it.

The other part involves a private and intensely personal encounter with the goddess. The question is, what happens in that encounter?

One possibility is that she isn't there. The whole thing is a god(dess hahahahahhahaha)damned lie, not just "the lie."

One possibility is that she's there, and she's pissed at hell. She can't believe her name is being corrupted in this horrible, horrible way.

One possibility is that she's there, and her position is more nuanced. Maybe she doesn't have a stance on "the church" or "the lie," maybe she has a stance on the initiate. Instructions, revelations, judgments, just for you and nobody else. I think I like that best.

Truth is personal.

Implications and incomplete ideas

To do:
  • the Goddess' sect has some holy texts. Some are mysterious, some are not. A lot of them probably contradict. Let's work that out. THERE'S PROBABLY ONE ASSOCIATED WITH THE LIE.
  • Let's draw a more complete picture of sacred life in the city. Specific rituals and festivals and other deities and practices and superstitions.
  • Aspects of the goddess
  • To do with the "culture groups" project, some other ways of looking at things - especially at the goddess.

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