The Religion of the Empire
There are hundreds of worlds and dozens of alien races in the Empire. As one might expect, there are numerous religions, philosophies, and systems of belief, but the Faith of the Thirteen Gods dwarfs all others.
Although the thirteen gods are worshipped by over thirty percent of the citizens of the Empire, there are many interpretations of the faith, and many sects.
The imperial religion is most like the writings of Carl Jung, who suggested that in addition to a personal unconscious, we also had a colletive unconscious, from which we know archetypes and myths. In this vein, Odin, Zeus and Jehovah can be seen as different manifestations of the same "wise old father" archetype. In the empire, then, the thirteen gods are considered archetypes, rather than individual personalities; they are manifestations of a collective unconscious.
The followers of the thirteen gods believe that the entire universe is alive -- that there is an invisible energy or 'life force' of the universe that binds all things into one, colossal consciousness. The thirteen deities in the religion's pantheon represent archetypal masks or faces that the combined consciousness wears to make its will known.
However, the imperial religion is not homogeneous -- there many other interpretations. The Ancient Shadrists believe that the gods are real beings, and should be worshipped. The Conceptualists believe that the gods are useful psychological crutches, and thus help people live fulfilling lives, but that there is nothing unscientific about them. And the Reflectivists believe that the gods are reflections of people's inner selves.
To the extent that one can say that Terran society has a dominant system of belief, it would be best described by the basic tenets of Christianity, Judaism or Islam: the idea that "good" and "evil", "moral" and "immoral" are binary opposites, and that deities exist to judge mortals on their behaviour. This belief affects almost all of Terran society: Terrans tend to view things as "right" and "wrong"; they tend to think in terms of doctrine; and they tend to believe that there is one moral way of living that should apply to all people.
The Imperial religion similarly colours the secular life of Imperial citizens. People in the Empire believe that:
Another effect of the Imperial religion can be seen in the radical diversity of people in the Empire. The religion tells them that everyone has a different path to follow; people, therefore, are suspicious of anyone who appears to be trying to follow another's path. Imperials are uneasy about conformity, and cherish difference in all its forms (one of the reasons that militaries and law enforcement are feared in the Empire involves the uniformity of conduct that soldiers and law enforcers submit to in order to keep peace. It's considered a necessary evil).
The Dark Side
A lot of these attitudes sound very positive: people who feel a need to act responsibly; people who don't fear difference. These cultural beliefs sound like they might lead to a positive society.
However positive some of these beliefs might be, they are enacted by imperfect people. The empire, despite good intentions, still has problems with bigotry, corruption, crime, poverty and greed.
The imperial pantheon does not contain "good" and "evil" gods. Instead, these gods represent various notions -- some admirable and some undesirable notions -- although all of these notions are considered part of life.
The thirteen gods generally have different forms -- both human and non-human. Aolus, for example, often appears as a tall, fit black man, a old, white haired caucasian man, a ten-year old asian girl with totally black eyes, an albino Gil, or a Kaarg whose mouth contains the entire universe. Generally, these images have a common key or sigil -- in the case of Aolus, each of these incarnations carries a small glass sphere that has an image of the Milky Way galaxy in it.
Shadra is the divine mother, and the First Goddesss, who gave birth to most other gods and to all life. She is also considered to be the goddess of fertility and sex, as well as caring, sadness, and suspicion.
Shadra is also the name of the homeworld of the Shadu; hence, the entire world is considered to be a manifestation of the First Goddess. Several centuries ago, Shadu biologists discovered that humans did not evolve on Shadra -- their genetic structure was fundamentally different from the native fauna. This discovery caused a major theological debate about how literally one should interpret the "great mother myth".
Aolus is the god of space; he is the consort of Shadra, and is said to know all things, but is generally believed to have little interest in the affairs of humans.
Coti is the goddess of the oceans, of sea-life and of deep mysteries.
Xijn is the god of the sun, and of alcohol. Xijn is also the name of the main sequence star in the Shadu solar system. The Shadu have embraced an image of Xijn that originated on Nem, where the planet's peculiar orbit causes the sun to appear to make corkscrew patterns in the sky -- thus Xijn is thought of as a drunken charioteer trying to control a golden chariot being pulled by runaway beasts.
Seata is the goddess of the moon, and of hunting. Seata is also the goddess of logic, reason, determination, vengeance and philosophy; she is often contrasted to the emotional Shadra, and is considered Shadra's "dark twin". She should not be considered an "evil goddess", but she is the patron goddess of the "necessary evil".
Seata is one of the few gods that is depicted in a non-human form more often than in a human form; she's an extremely popular goddess amongst the Syleen, and is generally depicted as one of the feline aliens.
Lodie is the god of war and weather. He is also the god of honour, willpower, zealousness and despair. Generally, the Chief Theology Officer on military vessels is a Lodite priest or priestess.
For many centuries, a Lodite temple has trained a special breed of warrior priests/priestesses. These "Champions of Lodie" are like Shao-lin priests, Jedi Knights, or Knights Templar, and they are considered masters of all forms of fighting, martial arts, and psionic powers. In the last twenty years, the Champions of Lodie have stopped appearing in public; in fact, many believe that the organization has succumbed to declining membership, and has died out.
Maab is the weaver of dreams, and the goddess of magic and spiders (Shadra has a native spider-like creature -- it has six legs, rather than eight). Like the spider, Maab is said to weave threads between the conscious and the unconscious.
Maab's symbol is a spider web.
God of air, poetry, and avians.
Goddess of water and love.
God of fire, tricks, tests, obstacles, hearth and family.
Goddess of ground, flora, plants, food and insects.
Atman is the god of things in between. Atman is a hermaphrodite, and is the god/ess of fate, luck, karma, retribution, precognition, and, oddly, hyperspace travel. S/he is considered the messenger of the thirteen gods.
On most imperial worlds, the starport is located in a city called Atmankel, or "Home of Atman".
There is a strong belief in the Empire that precognition and hermaphroditism are linked; only hermaphrodites are believed to have the power of foreseeing the future, and fakes and con artists usually medically alter their bodies to convince people of their "powers".
Chig is the god of death, and the harvest. Because the predominant "afterlife" belief in the empire is of reincarnation, Chig is generally thought of as the god of the end of cycles. Chig is the conceptual opposite of Shadra -- Chig harvests the grain sown by Shadra, and readies the field for the next planting.
Some imperial citizens actively reject the faith of the thirteen gods. Others believe in the gods, although their lives aren't overtly influenced by that belief. Still others promote different minority sects and religions. The Empire is huge, and it would be unrealistic to expect a homogeneous view of religion.
The Rede Assembly
The most significant religious organization in the Empire is the Rede Assembly, which provides advice and guidance both to the imperial nobility and to imperial citizens as a whole. They do not dispense dogma; rather, their advice is "point-in-time" guidance that reflects a particular social climate.
The Rede Assembly is a hierarchical organization. The high circle includes a high priest or high priestess of each of the thirteen gods. Each of those priests/priestesses is advised by a middle circle of thirteen other priests/priestesses, and each of those middle priests/priestesses is advised by a lower circle, which in turn listens to input from the various groups, sects, and ascetics throughout the Empire.
The Champions of Lodie
The Champions are a specially-trained sect of Lodite warrior-priests. They are trained for years, usually from childhood, in all forms of martial and mystical skills. They are very similar to Terran Shao-lin priests; they say a Champion of Lodie can walk through walls.
The Champions have fallen out of the public eye in recent years. Unknown to most imperial citizens, they are preparing for a great event that might rip the Empire apart.
The Imperial Office of Theology Missionary Service
The imperial missionaries are a combination scout service and first contact specilists. They are sent to investigate new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and to help new cultures understand the Empire.
The missionaries aren't a prosyletizing organization. They are an odd combination of educators, surveyors, psychologists and theologians. Their attitude is that it's easier to deal with someone you understand, and thus, they spend considerable effort both understanding another culture, and ensuring that the other culture understands the empire.
The missionaries especially like to learn about the religions and gods of other races -- they view these gods as aspects or masks of the Thirteen Gods, and the missionaires delight in seeing their gods in new ways. In some ways, that's a patronizing attitude -- the missionaries view that other cultures don't see the "real" gods, they have been merely worshipping a few aspects of the gods, and therefore don't see the whole picture.
The Followers of the Truth
The Faith of the Thirteen Gods has changed over the years, and most religious officials view this as a good thing. Evolution is a central tenet of the religion, and the religion itself is expected to evolve and adapt to the changing universe. The beliefs that are common in the empire, now, have partly been shaped by the Shadu's contact with other races: the Phychi, the Syleen, etc.
But not all Shadu view this as a good thing. The Ack-nal-Shadu'fal -- roughly translated as "The Followers of the Truth" -- are a sect of (pure-blooded) Shadu who resent the fact that the faith has been "diluted" from its original form. They seek to reinstate many of the principles of the original Shadu religion, and to abolish the monarchy, in favour of a more all-dominating theocracy.
The Wings of Power
50,000 years ago, imperial space was governed by the Rheri -- an unknown, ancient race. Archeological findings often depict the Rheri as vaguely humanoid avians, and the organization called The Wings of Power believe that the Rheri were the true gods.
The exact relationship between the Rheri and the thirteen gods has been the subject of many religious discussions in the empire. Many historical images of the thirteen gods depict them either with avian features, or as humans in bird-motif clothing. To this day, Lodie is almost always depicted with wings, and several other common images of the thirteen gods seem to be influenced by ancient pictures of the Rheri.
Copyright © 1998 by B.C. Holmes. Last updated December 27th, 1998.
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