When last we left our insipid heroes…
Wait, wait, I have that all wrong.
What I mean to say is, when last we left our discussion of faith under the banner of Idasian intricacies—humble, god-fearing folk that we are—I spoke of the two most prominent faiths on the face of the continent Marindis: the Visaj, and the reformer Farrens. We talked of rings (cue quips of “one ring to rule them all” and “One does not simply walk into Walmart…” Yes, yes, you’re all very witty, and I know it’s what you were thinking), and war, touched even briefly on the notion of blasphemy.
Which, mind you, is always a fun bit to prod in writing. Everybody has their own notion of blasphemy, after all, and it’s just such a fun word to say. Not as fun as shouting “Burn in righteous fire,” of course, but we can’t all be torch-wielding mobs…
But I digress. This week, we continue the religion-minded train of thought with a wheel to the southern heat, where the scorching jungles of all Holy and all mysterious Zutam lie. While faith marks the cornerstone of most medieval cultures, the Zuti are curious even by these standards, for theirs is an Empire governed by the spiritual—and yet, at once, deprived of the fanaticism oft-seen within the boundaries of Marindis.
The Holy Empire of Zutam, which has come to encompass an entire continent (as a consequence now also called Zutam), and begun to press even into Marindi lands, follows the path of Vashra. They follow no gods, nor do they believe in an afterlife, per say. Instead they follow spirits—the embodiments of all things, less personalities in their own right and more facets of the world given name. Ancestors, too, are often looked to for advice, or aid—but they are not worshiped. For in Vashra, all creatures are equal in spirit, living or dead. Even Uhnashanti–”the greatest one”– who birthed and protects both man and the world alike, is not heralded as a god; merely a piece of the universe that surrendered his self to give the masses form.
Death, for the Vashran, leads only to a joining of the spirit with the soil. The shackles that form the flesh are removed, and the spirit roams free at last, at peace with those around it. Life, to them, is the teaching, and the learning—the path that allows our minds to open to the fullness of the world. This is the reason life, in their tongue, is called “kujifunza”—learning.
Though they take the emperor of Zutam to be their holiest figure, Vashran do not see him as descended from the gods, or the spirits, or even a god himself, as some cultures might. Rather, the emperor of Zutam is expected to be the most enlightened figure—the guiding light, as it were. He is revered as such. Unfortunately, this also means that for those emperors proven to be reckless, and lecherous, and cruel, there has been plenty of precedent for removal. Historically, this has often enough ended in a fiery coup, culminating in the elimination of much (if not all) of the reigning royal family.
One could never say Zutam is not a turbulent place.
Various sects exist within Vashra, of course, owing to its essentially polytheistic routes. Numerous shrines litter the empire, in fact, dedicated to spirits of fire, and water, or even to the great mother spirit itself—the earth. Though some are more militant than others, as the equality of these sects is preached almost from birth, there are few squabbles between them—though human nature of course makes some conflict inevitable.
Vashran believe the followers of Visaj, as well as the Farrens (a distinction of religion lost on them, by the way), to be something of misguided children, rather than outright heretics. While their path is no less valid than Vashra itself, it is the methods of its pursuit the Vashran frown upon: the praising of idols, the constant in-fighting, the forcible conversions. Faith as they see it is a matter of the individual—a stark contrast to the Visaji belief in the oneness of society.
If there were any one symbol of the Vashran—beyond the Emperor himself, of course—it would likely be the dream catcher. For the Vashran hold the dream realm above all others—a place where the mind is free to roam, and the spirit is able to break its bonds with the chaining flesh, however temporarily. Dream catchers and the “sterre spice”—a potent drug often used by shamans to induce deep and hypnotic slumbers—are, as such, some of the most spiritual assets at their disposal.
- Inside Idasia: The Magic of Lecura (cianphelan.wordpress.com)
- The Culture of the Western Sea (spiritsofeden.com)
- A Conversation With Novelist Saladin Ahmed About Muslim Fantasy, Transcending Tropes and Writing Women (thinkprogress.org)