Friday, February 6, 2015

Gods of Tel-Avi: Dgn and the Fish Cults

Picking up where I left off back in July, this continues the series on the crazy religions in my personal game world. Previous entries include the gods: YGOShed, and the Nowhere Man, and this note on the limited regional scope and power of these otherwise powerful beings.

Unlike the previous three deities, which were based on music I ingested while rocking babies to sleep, Dgn and his Fish Cults are based on bumper stickers. Specifically on the fish (Ichthys) that some Christians post on their cars, the various parodies that appeared in reaction to it, and my own iconoclastic dislike of all of the above. So, take annoying fish decals, throw in some fantasy spin on a traditional semitic deity, view it all through the lens of the writings of Mercia Eliade, and you get...this...

Once again:  Yes, there is room here for people to be offended, and that's okay...

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Next came one who mourned in earnest, 
When the captive ark maimed his brute image, 
Head and hands lopt off,
In his own temple, on the grunsel-edge,
Where he fell flat and shamed his worshipers:
Dagon his name, sea-monster, upward man
And downward fish; yet had his temple high
Reared in Azotus, dreaded through the coast.

Dgn (alternately pronounced as Dagn, Dāgôn, Dīgan, Dagnu, Dagana, Daguna, or Dagan) is the quiet and enigmatic god of the sea. He is credited as the creator of the first sentient beings in Tel-Avi and is worshiped by many as a bringer of bountiful harvests. Dgn is mostly commonly depicted as a giant half-man, half-fish, with a fish's tail and the head and torso of a bearded human male. In some cultures he is shown as a man with the head of a fish and a fish in place of (or biting onto) his phallus.

Dgn is one of the least active gods in Tel-Avi. He never speaks to mortals and refuses all forms of magical contact (such as augury or contact other plane). He never sends heralds to the material world, nor does he send visions or omens to his oracles (though this does not stop his worshipers from interpreting all sorts of piscine activity as signs from him). Dgn has more worshipers than any other god in Tel-Avi, though his lack of direct communication with those worshipers has resulted in numerous very fragmented cults in his name. His cultists generally see his non-communicativeness as a sign of his power, claiming that Dgn is so supremely powerful that mortal concerns are simply beneath his notice.

Numerous, often conflicting, stories are told about Dgn and his exploits. The most common speak of his primordial war with YGO, the god of the sky, and his creation of man (or whatever race the speaker happens to be) as soldiers in that ancient war. In some cases the story tells of Dgn's victory and his subsequent freeing of men to multiply upon the earth and pursue their purposes. The worshipers of YGO, insist that such stories are not only false, but direct inversions of the truth, claiming that YGO created the world and all that live in it and that Dgn sought to destroy YGO's creation.

The Cosmogonists support the Yigden version of the story, claiming that Dgn equates to the primordial "water dragon" and that YGO represents the creative "supreme sky god" common throughout the ancient religions they have studied. Both the Cosmogonists and the Yidden, as well as certain more violent of his Fish Cults, speak of Dgn as a great serpentine sea-monster or kraken. By such he is spoken of as the "father of monsters", creating not men but various destructive beasts. Creatures such as the sphinx, chimera, manticore, hydra, and the dreaded leviathan are spoken of as the "Children of Dgn".

Dgn's realm is the Sea. He makes his home in the great oceans of the material plane. Some claim that he rules from a castle on an island far beyond sight of any other land. Others insist that his palace floats upon the waves, as does a ship, and goes wherever Dgn commands it. Most believe that Dgn's palace instead rests beneath the waves, nestled in the dark, deep recesses of an ocean trench.

Scholars of planar cosmologies claim that Dgn is the ruler of the Elemental Plane of Water, and that any palace he may have on the material plane is simply a gate to his true fortress in the Plane of Water. From the Elemental Plane, so the scholar's say, Dgn is not limited to the oceans of the physical world, but rather rules all oceans in all realities throughout the cosmos.

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The "Fish Cults" (as they are most commonly known by outsiders), are a collection of related, but opposed, faiths all of which claim to worship Dgn but seldom agree on his nature or statutes. Dgn is recognized by his many cults as the creator and giver of life, the ruler of the oceans and seas, and lord of fertility, fecundity, and harvests. Beyond this, none of his cults can agree. Dgn never responds to inquiry via spells such as augury, divination, or commune, and thus the discrepancies between the various faiths may never be resolved.

The Cults: There are five major branches of the Fish God's faith, each of which insists that theirs is the correct interpretation of Dgn's will, as passed down by their various prophets, priests, ministers, and theologians.
The Cult of the Fish: The traditional cult of the fish (sometimes called "Swimmers")
insists that Dgn created all life in the oceans, and that life on land is a result of the sin of the first man, Aamuh, fleeing the realm of Dgn to tread upon the earth. The Fish-Cultists insist that Dgn wants to have a renewed relationship with mankind and that all faithful men will one day return to the oceans from which they were born.
The Cult of the Walking Fish: Directly, and often violently, opposed to the Fish-Cultists, the cultists of the walking fish (commonly known as "Leggers" or "Walkers") insist that Dgn created all life (land, sea, and air) as it is, and that creatures of the land were made to walk and were not born in the sea.
The Cult of the Devouring Fish: The cultists of the devouring fish (commonly known as Devourers) worship Dgn as a deity of war and destruction, rather than as a creator deity. They see Dgn as a great shark, kraken, or sea-serpent intent on devouring all lesser creatures, and believe that the correct way to worship him is to do likewise.
The Cult of the Spawning Fish: "Spawners" emphasize the fertility aspect of Dgn to the exclusion of all else. They claim that the first man, Aamuh, was not banished from Dgn's realm beneath the waves, but was rather sent forth by Dgn to populate the otherwise barren land. They see procreation the greatest form of worship.
The Cult of the Enigmatic Piscine: A fairly recent invention, this cult believes that the Fish God deliberately refuses to give guidance to his worshipers. They claim that after creating sapient life Dgn ("if that is his real name") left men to their own devices hoping that they would discover the mysteries of the universe on their own. As such, the Enigmatics (as they are sometimes known), insist that anyone claiming to know the will of the Fish God must, by nature, be wrong.

Symbols: All the fish cultists use a simple outline of a fish as their symbol. Certain of the cults have their own unique variations on the theme. High-ranking priests of all the cults (save the Enigmatics) are identified by their hats, made to resemble a stylized fish-mouth.
The Cult of the Fish: The Swimmers use the standard fish icon as their holy symbol. It is always displayed prominently, and may be worn on shields, tabards, jewelry, or any other readily visible garment.
The Cult of the Walking Fish: The Leggers' holy symbol is only a slight variation on the base, depicting the outline of a fish with legs fore and aft, in addition to fins.
The Cult of the Devouring Fish: The Devourers' symbol depicts a large fish (with or without legs) eating a smaller fish. 
The Cult of the Spawning Fish: Spawners use a large fish followed by a school of 2 or more smaller fish as their symbol of choice.
The Cult of the Enigmatic Piscine: Enigmatics abhor all use of symbols, insisting that it is a great sin to make any depiction of their silent god. They refuse to wear any symbol, icon, or heraldry of any kind, whether it be for a deity, ruler, family, business, or other organization. They likewise avoid showing any text on their garments or arms that might be misconstrued as religious in nature. Most Enigmatics dress entirely in solid, drab colors (grays, browns, or undeyed fabrics) and eschew the use of jewelry.
Ceremonies and Statutes:
The Cult of the Fish: Swimmers believe that all lifeforms are meant to return to the sea. Members of this cult must know how to Swim.
  • Initiation: Swimmers are initiated in a short, simple ceremony involving immersion in water. The initiate and a priest swim out into a large body of water, at least twice the initiate's height in depth and at least 20 yards from land. Once there, the priest holds the initiate fully submerged under the water until the initiate passes out from lack of air. Once the initiate has so "drowned" he is brought up from the water and revived, reborn as a servant of the Fish God.
  • Dietary Restrictions: Swimmers believe that all ocean-life is sacred, as it is closer to that which the Fish God first created. Willfully killing any aquatic creature (even in self defense) is an inexcusable sin. They will never eat of anything (plant, animal, or mineral) that has been harvested from ocean or stream. They may eat of any plant or animal grown on land. They may only drink water that comes from the sky (rain or melted snow). They may not drink water taken from any lake, ocean, river, stream, or tributary. While not forbidden, milk, as a byproduct of "lesser" land-creatures, is generally avoided.
  • Prayer: Swimmers have no set restrictions on when or how often to pray, but must be in contact with water. Priests of the Swimmers must pray while submerged at least to the waist in order to regain their spells.
  • Human-Rights: Swimmers believe land-dwelling creatures to be inferior lifeforms, such creatures (including most humans and demi-humans) are considered little more than vermin to the Swimmers, unless they are members of the cult. As such, slavery is a common practice among the Swimmers, though a slave who becomes an initiated worshiper (as above) must be immediately freed. Non-worshipers can generally expect very poor and often brutal treatment from these Fish Cultists.
  • Death/Burial/Afterlife: Swimmers believe that the faithful will be reborn in the "Realm of Dgn" (the sea) after their deaths. In order to enter the afterlife a corpse must be disposed of in a large body of water, most commonly by wrapping them in sacks weighted with rocks and throwing the bodies into the sea. If the deceased was faithful, they may be reincarnated as an aquatic creature.
The Cult of the Walking Fish:
  • Initiation: Initiation rights for Leggers always take place at the shore of some body of water. The ceremony lasts for several hours or prayer, singing, and feasting and must be attended by a priest and at least five other members of the faith as witnesses. The initiate must be in the water at least up to his waist for the entire ceremony, which ends with the initiate being briefly submerged in the water. The initiate is officially a member of the faith when he steps on dry land again. In some land-locked temples, an artificial pool or even a bathing-tub may be substituted.
  • Dietary Restrictions: Leggers believe that all creatures were made by Dgn the way they are, and that no creature is more important than any other. They have no dietary restrictions.
  • Prayer: Leggers are expected to pray twice daily, once at dawn and again at dusk. Legger priests always regain their spells at dawn. All prayers must be made while walking (or, at the least, moving by whatever means of locomotion is available to the worshiper).
  • Death/Burial/Afterlife: In keeping with their belief that all lifeforms were made by Dgn perfect and suited to their environment, Leggers seek to dispose of the dead in a means appropriate to their birth. Aquatic creatures are buried at sea, land creatures are laid to rest in the earth, and flying creatures may be thrown from mountaintops. Regardless of how the body is dealt with, Leggers believe that the deceased will be reborn in whatever form Dgn deems most appropriate.
The Cult of the Devouring Fish:
  • Initiation: Joining the Devourers is a quick, though painful process, requiring that the initiate cut off some portion of their body (typically a finger, toe, or ear) and feed it to an aquatic predator (such as a shark, moray eel, whale, or giant squid). Individuals that have lost a limb to attacks by such creatures are viewed by the cult as honorary members, whether they know it or not.
  • Diety Restrictions: Devourers have no dietary restrictions. However, it is considered disrespectful to kill a creature for reasons other than food. For this reason, many Devourers make a point of eating some piece (however small) of any creature they kill, even if the slain is a member of their own species.
  • Prayer: Devourers are expected to say a brief prayer whenever they slay a creature, dedicating the kill to Dgn. Priests must make a sacrifice of blood in order to regain their spells. This can be as little as a few drops from cutting themselves, to as elaborate as a sacrificing an entire large animal.
  • Death/Burial/Afterlife: Like the Swimmers, the Devourers believe that the deceased must be buried at sea. Corpses of the faithful and unfaithful alike are often simply tossed into the nearest body of water and left to rot or be eaten. Many of the Devourers' temples include a large pool or tank filled with sharks or similar creatures for the purpose of disposing of bodies.
The Cult of the Spawning Fish:
  • Initiation: Spawner initiations resemble vast orgies, with as many members of the faith present as are able to attend. There are no set requirements for the ceremony, though as many members of the faith as are able will couple with the new initiate. Where possible these initiations are conducted in or near water, with locations such as beeches and public baths being most popular.
  • Diety Restrictions: Spawners believe all life is a sacred creation of Dgn. They refuse to eat meat of any kind. They meticulously clean any vegetables they eat to ensure that insects and similar lifeforms are not harmed. Like Swimmers, they refuse to drink water other than rainwater (for fear that they may ingest a small swimming creature). They do not have the Swimmer's aversion to milk, and their children will often be nursed well into their teens.
  • Prayer: Spawners are expected to pray to Dgn whenever they mate, which is expected to be often. Spawner priests must engage in sexual activity in order to pray to regain their spells. In addition, Spawner priests are limited to spells of a level equal to the number of offspring they have produced (thus even 1st-level Spawner priests are expected to have at least one child and high priests will typically have seven or more children).
  • Death/Burial/Afterlife: Spawners follow the same practices as Swimmers for disposing of the dead. They believe that the faithful may only be reborn if there is a body available for them, and thus most Spawner funerals devolve into orgies (much like most of their other ceremonies). Most Spawners are strict pacifists and will refuse to take a life even in self defense.
The Cult of the Enigmatic Piscine: Enigmatics do not believe that the will of the Fish God can be known by any mortal. They have no set statutes or practices, and each worshiper may pray and make supplication to the Fish God by whatever means he deems appropriate. Many Enigmatics take this belief to extremes, claiming that anything which another person believes is the will of Dgn must be false. They thus will often attempt to do the exact opposite of the teachings of the other cults and will be willing to try anything in the hopes that they will stumble upon something which the Fish God approves of (for, after all, the madman capering on the corner and shouting "oogada-boogada" is just as likely to know Dgn's will as anyone).
Alignments: Fish Cultists can be of any alignment, though most have at least one neutral component to their alignment. While there are no restrictions, the five sub-cults tend to favor the following alignments:
  • Swimmers: Lawful
  • Leggers: Neutral
  • Devourers: Evil
  • Spawners: Good
  • Enigmatics: Chaotic
Races: The Cults accept worshipers from all sentient races and cultures, with a large number of aquatic races (such as gillmen, merfolk, and undines) being common among all the sects save the Leggers. Most Leggers are human.

Classes: The Cults of the Fish boasts an equal number of Clerics, Druids, Inquisitors, and Oracles. There are no Paladins among the Fish Cults. Some Devourer cells include Anti-Paladins among their number.

Favored Weapon: Priests of the fish cults favor the following weapons:
  • Swimmers: Trident
  • Leggers: Cutlass
  • Devourers: Trident
  • Spawners: Net
  • Enigmatics: Shortsword (because it is an innocuous and commonly used weapon)
Unique Magic: Regardless of class, all spellcasting fish-cultists can cast create water, creating double the normal volume of liquid. This spell is added to their class spell list and to their spells known or spellbook (if appropriate). In addition, when a fish cultist uses a spell or ability to polymorph into any creature with the aquatic subtype, the duration of the spell or effect is increased by 50%.