Friday, February 13, 2015

The Cosmogonists

So, I've mentioned "Cosmogonists" in all of my Gods of Tel-Avi posts, but never explained what they were. Time to fix that.

The Comogonist religion is actually the building block from which the rest of the pantheon of that world evolved. It started with reading a lot of religious scholarship and theory and the ideas that syncretism as a core belief would be a weird and that D&D religions tend to not have enough in the way of the weird rituals and formulas found in many ancient religions. Mircea Eliade's The Sacred and the Profane nailed home the core idea of the religion with Eliade's emphasis on the similarities between various creation myths (Cormogonies). Then throw in a dash of adventure/exploration to keep it D&Dable.

So...Aggressive Syncretism as a religion...enjoy...

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This ritualistic and scholarly faith believes in the existence of "god(s)" but does not pay direct homage to any deity. Rather, Cosmogonists believe that the greatest respect that can be paid to the god(s) is to "reproduce the gods paradigmatic act of creating the cosmos."

As mortals can clearly not create a "cosmos", the Cosmogonists practice ritualized re-enactment of this divine act of creation, seeing all mortal creations as microcosms of the greater act. They believe that exploring and claiming new territory is akin to creating a new cosmos out of the primordial chaos of the unknown wilderness, in effect each time man builds a house, founds a new village, or discovers and settles new territory, he is creating a new world (on his own micro-scale) and vanquishing the forces of chaos anew.

Likewise all enemies that attack this "world" are assimilated to the enemies of the "gods", the demons and the primordial arch-dragon conquered at the beginning of time. An attack on this "world" is equivalent to an act revenge by the primordial forces of chaos attempting to annihilate the cosmos which the gods created. Any destruction of a city is equivalent to a retrogression towards chaos. The victory of the gods over the forces of darkness, death, and chaos is repeated with every victory of the city over its invaders. Unknown, foreign, and unoccupied territory (i.e. "unoccupied by those converted to or allied with the faith") still shares the fluid and larval modality of primordial chaos, by occupying and settling it, Cosmogonists insist that one symbolically transforms it into a cosmos through ritual repetition of the cosmogony.

The Cosmogonists' religion is highly ritualistic and stylized, believing more in ritually reenacting the works of the gods than in actively offering prayers or worship to any god directly. The formality of practice and sense of closeness to the act of divine creation in their teachings has appealed to many people, developing a fairly populous and active church over the years. However, many find their practices strange: whether it is using divination and astrology to find the exact spot where the first stone of a new house must be laid, or their insistence on reciting (at length) the history of a sickness, the demons that provoke it, the saints that first conquered the malady, the birth of the first healer, and the appearance of medicines before offering a patient the herbs to treat it.

Divine Patronage: The Cosmogonists claim belief in the existence of a myriad of god(s), though they debate constantly about the details. If pressed a Cosmogonist will typically profess belief in any specific god mentioned, though if prompted he will never mention a god by name.

What the group can agree on is the existence of at least three prototypical divine beings, which they see as common (in some form or another) to the creation myths of most other religions, and thus of primary importance to their study.

  1. A "Sky God" or celestial supreme being, typically male in aspect, who bears primary responsibility for creation of the cosmos, but who then becomes remote from the governance of the world after creation.
  2. An "Earth God", typically female in aspect, who bears secondary responsibility for creation of the world, but who takes a primary role in maintenance of the world after the departure of the sky god.
  3. The "Primordial Marine Monster", typically draconic in aspect, representative of the chaos from which the cosmos was formed and bent on returning the cosmos to its original formless state, and which must be slain by the sky god or a "cultural hero" during the time of creation.

Aphorisms:

  • "Every existential decision to situate oneself in space constitutes a religious decision."
  • "Life cannot be repaired, it can only be recreated through symbolic repetition of the cosmogony".
  • "The construction of the lodge repeats the cosmogony, for the lodge represents the world."
  • "Since the gods had to slay the primordial marine monster in order to create the world, so man must imitate them when he builds his own world."
  • "The origin of realities and life itself is religious. The yam can be cultivated and eaten in the ordinary way only because it is periodically cultivated and eaten ritually." 

Symbol: Cosmogonists take as their symbol the Axis-Mundi, the pillar at the center of the world which upholds the sky. Common forms of the symbol used in worship include tall free-standing poles or obelisks, pillars of smoke (from altars or braziers, often channeled through holes in the center of the temple roof), or staffs carried by the priests. These staffs, typically of elm or cedar, and carved with depictions of creation myths from the world's diverse religions serve as holy symbols and channeling foci for the priests of the faith.

Ceremonies: Cosmogonists have ceremonies surrounding most major daily activities, as they attempt to perform all acts exactly "as the god(s) would have performed them". Below are but a few significant examples:

  • Thresholds: A Cosmogonist may not cross a threshold of a house or other building without paying proper obeisance to the world he is entering. He must touch the post or lintel of the doorway with the palm of his hand, then, keeping his hand upon the doorpost, bow himself prostrate before the threshold.
    • Each month, on the dawn of the day after the setting of the new moon, sacrifices of blood are made upon the threshold of the home to ward against demons and pestilence. No priest is necessary for such sacrifices, as the sacredness of the home suffices for the task. The supplicant pours out one cup of warm blood from an animal born within the last moon upon the threshold while reciting the tale victory of the god(s) over the primordial marine monster.
      • Note: When such recitations are called for, any variation of this myth that the supplicant knows will suffice.
  • Claiming Territory: "One says that one is installed when one has built a fire altar and all those who build the fire altar are legally established." The erection of a "Fire altar" alone validates the taking possession of a new territory. The building of these complex and carefully arranged altars is done whenever a Cosmogonist founds a new settlement or claims new territory in the name of the faith.
    • "The fire altar is the year." The 360 bricks of the enclosure correspond to the 360 nights of the year and the 360 yajusmati bricks to the 360 days. 
  • Building a House: Cosmogonists take homebuilding very seriously. 
    • The ritual construction of the space is emphasized by a threefold symbolism: four walls facing the four cardinal directions: four doors, four windows, and four colors signifying the four cardinal points. "The construction of the lodge thus repeats the cosmogony, for the lodge represents the world."
    • Before the masons lay the first stone, an astronomer shows them the spot where it is to be placed, and this spot lies above the snake that supports the world. The master mason sharpens a stake and drives it into the ground, exactly at the indicated spot, in order to fix the snake's head. A foundation stone is laid above the stake. "Thus the cornerstone is at the exact center of the world."
    • "Since the gods had to slay the primordial marine monster in order to create the world, so man must imitate them when he builds his own world." Hence the necessity for bloody sacrifices on the occasion of constructions. The central post of the house is assimilated to the axis mundi and blood sacrifices to the celestial supreme being are performed at the foot of it. On such an occasion a priest must be present to slay the animal (typically a fatted ox, horse, or camel), slitting its throat while reciting the tale victory of the god(s) over the primordial marine monster.
  • During Epidemics:  A circle is drawn around the village to keep the demons of sickness from entering the enclosure and the walls of the city are ritually consecrated as a defense against devils, disease, and death.
  • New Year Ceremonies: During the course of the New Year ceremony, performed during the last days of the year and the first days of the new year, the "Poem of Creation" is solemnly recited.
    • The poem's recitation ends with the proclamation "Here is a new day of a new month of a new year; what time has worn must be renewed!" and the ritual of the "end of the world" is begun. Fires are extinguished, the souls of the dead returned (via Animate Dead spells), social confusion encouraged (children and fools given governance, elders thrown in prisons, etc.), erotic license and orgies encouraged, and so on, symbolizing the retrogression of the cosmos into chaos -- until on the last day of the year "the universe was dissolved in the primordial waters."
    • On the first day of the new year, the battle between the god(s) and the primordial marine monster that took place "ab origine" is mimed by two groups of actors, repeating the passage from chaos to cosmos. The re-enacted battle ends with the priest's cry "May he continue to conquer the dragon and shorten his days!"
  • Work of the Gods:
    • During this festival time noise, games, and dancing cease. The passage from profane to sacred time is indicated by ritually cutting a piece of wood in two. 
    • The ritual activities of the festival resemble normal daily activites: repairing boats, cultivating foods (especially yams), and repairing sanctuaries. However these activities are only performed on a few specific ("paradigmatic") objects: the first boat built in the village, the first village temple, and so on, and the actions are slower, laborious, and highly stylized, reproducing to the smallest detail the paradigmatic acts of the gods as they were performed "in illo tempore".
  • Generic Ceremonies:
    • When installing new leaders, saving threatened crops, fecundating a sterile womb, healing mental or physical ailments, preparing for war, stimulating poetic inspiration, or on the occasion of death...regardless of situation, the ceremony is almost always preceded by the recitation of a Cosmogonic Myth (the priest is at liberty to pick one). 

The Afterlife & Planes: Cosmogonists have no consistent belief structure regarding the disposition of souls or the existence of other planes. As a general rule they take much scholarly interest in other planes of existence, erring on the side of accepting the existence of all planes described by the various religions they have studied, as such, they are the most likely of any priests to be found traveling in planes other than their patron's domain.

Cosmogonists will generally adopt the descriptions of the afterlife and burial customs typical of the culture in which they are living. More isolated communities of Cosmogonists may work within multiple conflicting, but equally accepted, theories about what happens to a soul after death.

Alignments: With no patron deity, the Cosmogonist faith has no strict limitations on alignment. However the strict ritualism, intense scholarly study, and emphasis on "vanquishing primordial chaos" practiced by its members tends to attract devotees of Lawful alignments more than others and alienate the few Chaotic-aligned supplicants. Most Cosmogonists tend to be Lawful Good, Lawful Neutral, Neutral Good, or True Neutral in alignment.

Races: The Cosmogonist faith accepts scholars and supplicants from all races and cultures, as they are always eager to incorporate knowledge of new gods, myths, and religious practices into their own study.

Classes: The Cosmogonist faith boasts an equal number of both Clerics and Druids. A few Paladins also serve the faith, attracted by the ideal of defending their homelands against the "chaos without". Likewise numerous Rangers find their way into the Cosmogonists, finding the strong emphasis on exploring and claiming new lands appealing. A few Inquisitors can be found in the ranks, enforcing ritual orthodoxy, or aiding the Rangers and Paladins in their battles against the "chaotic" outside world. Due to the faith's scholarly bent and disavowal of any divine patron, no Oracles have yet appeared within their ranks.

Favored Weapons: Cosmogonists Cleric and Inquisitors use the Quarterstaff as their weapon of choice.