|Deity(ies) Worshipped||Menxvan, Menxruk|
The most common religion among native Arangothians is Menxism, which recognizes two supreme dualistic powers, Menxvan and Menxruk. Followers of Menxvan believe that the best way to shift the balance in the favor of the good is to do good deeds whenever possible, and to encourage one's fellows to do good as well. Certain extreme Menxvanic sects have interpreted this philosophical tenet as a divine mandate for rabid evangelization, but such sects generally do not remain in existence for very long. The majority of Menxvanists are strongly opposed to forced religious conversions.
In general, people pray to Menxvan to bring good things, and to Menxruk to avoid misfortune, or to bring misfortune on someone else. Menxruk is not shunned, but rather given a certain respect even by the most devout Menxvanists. Evil has its place in the cosmic order, even if one does not wish it to dominate, and Menxruk is given at least some minor devotion to placate him and try to convince him not to send misfortune. This does not mean, however, that followers of Menxvan are passive toward evil, or particularly tolerant toward servants of evil gods. In many mythoi, gods of evil can not create, merely pervert and twist what already exists to serve their purposes. This is not true of Menxruk. While he prefers destruction to creation, he is more than capable of creating when he feels the desire to do so. Similarly, Menxvan is capable of destruction, but simply chooses not to do harm.
Menxvanic teaching holds that Menxvan and Menxruk are transcendent beings, and mortal minds are not capable of comprehending direct communication with the deities. Thus, they communicate with their mortal followers through powerful servants called intercessors. Many followers of Menxruk believe that this is nonsense, but the the fact that there are often multiple individuals claiming to be Menxruk's high priest or chosen champion may indicate that Menxruk's servants are either pretending to be the All-Evil when interacting with mortals, or are pursuing their own agendas using Menxruk's name. Regardless of the source of this confusion, Menxruk seems to at least tolerate it, or may even encourage this division to weed out weak followers.
In the Menxist doctrine, both Menxvan and Menxruk are both quite tolerant of other faiths, and this extends down to the clergy and followers of both deities. The theory behind this is that anyone that does good helps Menxvan, while anyone that does evil helps Menxruk. The only followers of foreign deities that are not welcome are followers of neutral gods that seek balance in all things (as such individuals would work to bring the contest to a stalemate), and militant faiths that are hostile toward other religions. Menxruk has even gone so far as to impersonate other deities in the past to gain the devotion of certain powerful followers of evil deities from other worlds. It should be noted, however, that certain extreme sects (such as the now-defunct Cult of the Silver Flame) are militantly opposed to foreigners and foreign deities, but these people represent a small minority.
Menxvan and Menxruk are opposed to each other in all things, and have contended with one another since their first moments of existence. In fact, the creation of life stemmed from a desire for someone to settle one of their quarrels. Menxvan and Menxruk are equal in strength, and try as they might, neither can defeat the other. That is why mortals are of such importance to them. Their actions can tip the balance in favor of one or the other. Neither deity can be totally defeated, nor can either of them be destroyed. However, one can gain the upper hand temporarily (whether for minutes, hours, days, months, even years) through the actions of their followers. It is a tenet of both Menxvanic and Menxrukic philosophy that even a single person taking the appropriate action at the appropriate time can shift the balance toward one deity or the other.
Followers of Menxvan believe that the best way to shift the balance in the favor of the good is to do good deeds whenever possible, and to encourage one's fellows to do good as well. Certain extreme Menxvanic sects have interpreted this philosophical tenet as a divine mandate for rabid evangelization, but such sects generally do not remain in existence for very long. The majority of Menxvanists are strongly opposed to forced religious conversions.
Menxruk, of course, takes a different approach to trying to tilt the contest in his favor. Among his favorite tactics are sending plagues and natural disasters to destroy groups of Menxvanists; sending his followers to infiltrate and corrupt groups and organizations, subtly working to turn them toward the dark paths; and heaping misfortunes upon followers of Menxvan to try to get them to renounce their faith. Menxvan, for his part, is able to prevent or minimize much of the harm that Menxruk attempts, though not all of it. Similarly, Menxruk can not take away all the blessings that Menxvan bestows on his followers.
Menxvan and Menxruk will never settle their contest with one another, but they will tire of it eventually. In the end, Menxvan and Menxruk will reunite, and the universe as we know it will cease to exist as Menxned is reborn, and all things become One once again.
While Menxvan and Menxruk are opposed in all things, their dominion overlaps in many places. The Cosmos is not simply divided up between them; most things have a dual nature and are shared by both. Each deity has their preferences: Menxvan prefers light while Menxruk prefers darkness, Menxvan prefers order while Menxruk prefers chaos, etc. This is not to say that Menxvan is the god of light, or that Menxruk is the god of chaos. Many things can be good or evil, helpful or harmful, and this is why both gods have such wide spheres of influence. Fire can provide warmth and light, as well as cause death and destruction. Laws can protect the people, or oppress them. As stated before, many things are without an inherent inclination toward good or evil, and the intent behind a particular action or event is what places it under a particular god's dominion. The only things that can be placed directly under either god's dominion are certain abstract concepts. For example, Menxvan is associated with good, purity, justice, virtue, etc; Menxruk is associated with evil, corruption, injustice, vice, etc.
A belief in an absolute fate or destiny would presuppose the existence of another divine entity or agency, or would presuppose a pre-agreement between Menxvan and Menxruk over the fate of a particular mortal. Rather, both branches of Menxism have a philosophy of self-determination, that one makes one's own fate to a degree. No child is born inherently good or evil, but rather, their upbringing and their own actions determine who they will be. This is not to say that all things are under the control of the person. It is freely acknowledged that there are many things beyond the control of mortals, but it is everyone's lot in life to make the most of what they have. Many people do, however, believe in the existence of a limited sort of fate, and intercede with Menxvan to alter fate. Left as they are, things will resolve themselves in a certain way. The outcome of things under these circumstances is perceived as "fate." Intercession with higher powers might bring them to act on one's behalf, or show one how to alter one's own fate.
In all, there are ten levels of existence to the universe. All non-divine beings begin life as mortals in the first level, the world of the living. The other nine levels are known collectively as the other world, or the afterlife. Death is the passing from the mortal realms into eternity. To a Menxvanist, life truly is a first, temporary stage of a much longer journey. The afterlife is sometimes colloquially referred to as the nine heavens or the nine hells, though both names are something of a mistranslation of the concept. The Arangothian language does not have separate words for heaven and hell, only degdrelth, the 'other-world.' Mortals know very little about most of these. The first, and lowest, is the Dreamworld, which mortals visit when they are dreaming. It is to this world that mortal spirits first gravitate when they have died in the living world. This is why one can meet the recently deceased in dreams.
Once there, perhaps, spirits can see (in something similar to "dreaming" here) into the second, next-highest level of the other world. One way in which the first heaven is different from earth is that the forces of Menxvan and Menxruk are physically disparate there, having resolved into something like two vast empires. Thus a person might, indeed, end up in one or another "region" of the Dreamworld. This might also be associated with the difference between dreams and nightmares, and between dreams that correctly predict the future, and those that deceive. People "die" in the first heaven as well, and pass on into subsequent heavens, but little is known about these. Dying is admittedly a rather inaccurate analogy, but the process does involve a passing from one state of existence, and the beginning of a new existence on a new plane. It is not known precisely what is involved in this process of transcendence, but it apparently has something to do with strength of character and devotion to one's deity. Few living mortals ever catch a glimpse into the higher heavens, and those that do often can not comprehend what they see. A "holy" person in the world of the living is perhaps one of those who is believed to be able to dream while still living into the higher heavens, enabling contact with powerful beings and some degree of ability to foretell things to come. Each plane or level of the other world increases in proximity to one's deity, and becomes increasingly dissimilar to the world of the living. In the ninth and highest level of the other world reside very powerful beings that have advanced that high; each ascent presumably brings greater powers over the lower heavens and the mortal world. The ninth heaven/hell brings mortals into the closest proximity to the deities possible. They can communicate with Menxvan or Menxruk "face-to-face," as we talk among ourselves.
Certain beings that have ascended to the upper levels of the other world maintain an active interest in the affairs of mortals in the world of the living, doing what they can to help the followers of their particular deity. These figures are sometimes mistakenly referred to as demigods, or even minor deities by those unfamiliar with the tenets of Menxism, though neither description is entirely accurate. They are simply figures with a closer proximity to Mexvan or Menxruk, who intercede between mortals and the deities.
Divine Identity and Intercessors
Male terminology is frequently used for referring to Menxvan and Menxruk, a custom dating back to some of the earliest stories about Menxvan and Menxruk. These tales comes from Menxism's roots as a primitive, tribal folk religion that portrayed both deities as anthropomorphic beings (essentially, very powerful humans). Current thought holds that both deities are sexless entities, or at least have no sex in the sense that mortals do. Menxned was all things, and Menxvan and Menxruk came forth from Menxned. Both deities contain elements of both the masculine and the feminine, and have manifested themselves as either sex as need or desire suited them. Interestingly, Menxvan is almost exclusively referred to as feminine in devotions that deal with fertility and agriculture among certain rural Menxvanic sects.
One of the most widely known of the benevolent intercessor figures is Gigsin, the founder of a sect of Menxvanism widely followed in Hornath-ul-Marfed and the surrounding area. She was a Menxvanic priestess in the days after the Igmerinds subjugated the less sophisticated Goxal. Renowned for her great beauty, she was forced to marry the Igmerind ruler, the Sithire Kengail, against her will. She was also known for her formidable intellect, and became the first great Menxvanic theologian. She made the best of her situation, using her position as the Sithire's wife to aid the poor, and convert the conquering Igmerinds to the Goxal religion. In the end, Kengail died without an heir, a punishment said to be visited upon him by Menxvan for his impiety. The spot where Gigsin's house used to stand in Hornath-ul-Marfed is now a shrine with several dedicated Menxvanic priestesses who entreat her to bring the deity's favor upon the city and its people. [This has featured subtly in the Arlok storyline.]
Gigsin is by no means the only such figure, and other powerful beings are known to have an interest in the mortal realm. Another is Naarundil, who is said to have encouraged the formation of the Templars of Menxvan and taught the Templar disciplines to Metrarin. Stories portray Naarundil as a wandering hero, turning up in unexpectedly to work mighty deeds and protect Menxvan's faithful, and then leaving as suddenly as he came. Lartha (sometimes called Larfa) is traditionally said to be Menxvan's personal bard and the greatest incarnation of poetic virtuosity. Inora the Snake Maiden is said to have revealed the arts of medicine and healing magics to mortals. Much to the annoyance of Father Kylus Dragonsbane, many Menxvanic theologians consider Pallodain one of these entities in Menxvan's service.
Among Menxruk's most infamous servants is Kolpetir the Faithless, who raises up servants for Menxruk in the lower worlds and grants them various powers in Menxruk's name, only to abandon them whenever doing so will cause them the greatest harm. The name Galgroth the Witherer is particularly feared, an entity who delights in plagues and famines above all else. When he chooses to manifest himself visibly, he has the appearance of a corpse writhing with maggots that spread disease wherever they fall.
Menxvanic teaching holds that Menxvan and Menxruk are transendent beings, and mortal minds are not capable of comprehending direct communication with the deities. Thus, they communicate with their mortal followers through these powerful servants. Many followers of Menxruk believe that this is nonsense, but the the fact that there are often multiple individuals claiming to be Menxruk's high priest or chosen champion may indicate that Menxruk's servants are either pretending to be the All-Evil when interacting with mortals, or are pursuing their own agendas using Menxruk's name. Regardless of the source of this confusion, Menxruk seems to at least tolerate it, or may even encourage this division to weed out weak followers.
Worship of Menxvan and Menxruk
The structure and hierarchy of organized Menxvan worship is open to development. Perhaps it is governed by a council of the leaders of the largest sects in the kingdom. (Or perhaps it isn't. This is something that will need to be worked out in the future.) As both deities have such wide spheres of influence, there are a variety of Menxvanic and Menxrukic sects, and a wide variety of worship. (This has a lot of potential here for player innovation.) Menxvan worship in rural areas tends to focus more on nature and fertility aspects due to importance of agriculture. In contrast, Menxvanic worship in urban areas tends to be more philosphical and intellectual, overall more complex than many of the folkish rural sects. The varying sects can take widely different philosophies and approaches toward the same subject. For example, on the subject of warfare, sects can vary in philosophy from militaristic to pacifistic, or any stance in between.
In the absence of any authoritative "sacred writ" of the Menxvanic faith, the poetic work Mintrat ul Pinquo Degdrelthoss (Dream of the Nine Otherworlds) has often been considered the closest thing to this. Note that this account is not accepted by all followers of Menxvan or Menxruk, but that it is widely referred to as an authority and has considerable cultural weight.
Worship of Menxruk is much more disorganized, and individualized, with little in the way of a formal theology. Large gatherings of Menxrukists would be a glaring target for Menxvanic warriors. Indeed, worship of Menxruk need not take any specific form, and depends largely on the whims of the priest leading the ritual. Cannibalism, human sacrifice, blood drinking, and bacchic orgies are have been practiced by sects claiming loyalty to Menxruk, but there are other, more subtle ways to do Menxruk's will. Menxruk accepts blatant atrocities as acts of devotion, though he prefers subtlety. Such overt acts are merely a distraction from the true source of evil, and intended to be as much. True evil is darker, more mysterious, and more difficult to track down. The worst mischiefs are done out of sight by Menxruk's more insidious agents while the heroes of the land are off battling obvious foes. The surest way to destroy something is not through brute force, but rather by corrupting it. Even the strongest, purest things things will rot and fall apart if infiltrated by perverting influences.
Templars of Menxvan
Main Article: The Templars of Menxvan
The Templars are an order of Menxvanic Knights, dedicated to defending the Menxvanic faith, protecting Menxvan's followers, as well as guarding Menxvan's temples, shrines, and other holy sites. Traditionally, they have also been dedicated supporters of the Arangothian monarchs, and have formed an elite corps in the Arangothian armies in times of war. The symbol of the Templars is a green serpent swallowing its tail, surrounded by a sunburst, with a sword in the center. The Templars display this symbol on their armor, or wear a pendant around their neck when unarmored.
Guardians of Menxruk
Main Article: The Guardians of Menxruk
The Guardians of Menxruk are a loose conglomeration of devoted worshippers of the godhead, Menxruk, who guard against the ever-growing plague that represents the path of order and Menxvan. Rather than protect any one individual, the Guardians of Menxruk are based in small groups (or cells) and because of this are more interested in the proliferation of the faith of Menxruk. Worshipping the Body of Menxruk makes one an important but ultimately expendable extension of the ongoing effort to rebuild. Once, long ago, the Guardians of Menxruk were able to raise armies, but today they are dispersed, hiding in all corners of the realm of creation.
It is equally possible for men and women to become servants of Menxvan or Menxruk. There are two major divisions of the Menxvanic priesthood: priests and priestesses, and holy men and holy women. Both receive the same religious training, and both have the same spiritual authority to perform religious ceremonies and rituals. The simple difference is that priests and priestesses are associated with one of the various temples throughout the land, while holy men and women are not. Holy men and women are wanderers, traveling throughout the kingdom, and even into other lands, to minister to people not within traveling distance of a temple. They perform an invaluable service in remote, rural areas, or in foreign lands with Menxvan-worshipping populations. Priests are allowed to marry and have children. In some sects, priests are expected to have a family, in others, staying single may be seen as a more virtuous calling, devoting oneself completely to Menxvan as it were.
Temples originally started out as an appropriately purified place where rituals can take place without the possibility of corruption. In the earliest days, they were simply caves or small huts, but they have evolved over the years into larger buildings devoted entirely to religious purposes, and sometimes entire complexes of buildings. Some temples have been built on sites associated with close communion with the other world, and others are repositories of relics, such as the mortal remains, or important possessions of particularly holy individuals. This is thought to make it more likely that the prayers of those within the temple are more likely to receive the intercession of Menxvan.
In addition, the temples also serve as repositories of knowledge and history, containing accounts of the deeds of the faithful, and the collected teachings of particularly holy people, to be passed on for the edification of the people. In many areas, temples are the only source of education available. Menxvanic temples will teach literacy and basic mathematics to any person, provided that they are willing to work in the service of the temple for the duration of their studies. Temples also serve the function of hospitals in many areas of the kingdom, housing the sick, the injured, and the dying. Menxvanic priests are well versed in the arts of medicine and healing, and a number of them are also versed in the ways of magical healing.
There are a variety of symbols that have become associated with Menxvan over the years. The color green is a very important symbolic color, representing life, prosperity, and fertility. Serpent imagery is also common, especially of a serpent swallowing its tail. (See Pat Feaster's file on Arangothian customs and note the uses of both serpent imagery and the color green in weddings and funerals) Third, the sun is also a symbol associated with Menxvan, due to the ancient creation myth. Finally, the character in the Arangothian alphabet that stands for the letter V (first letter of van, the word for good) is also used a symbol, though this is a fairly recent development. It is frequently used in religious jewelry, carved into stone in religious sites, or used in combination with other symbols. In addition, there are a number of other religious symbols; these are infrequently used, or associated only with particular rituals or holidays.
As mentioned above, green is an important color in Menxvanic worship. Typical garb for performing religious rituals is a green robe, often with accents of other colors depending on the type of ceremony (white for purifications, black for funerals, etc). There is considerable variation in the priestly accoutrements among the various sects. (Modes of dress for particular sects is open to development).
Since Menxruk's faith is largely underground and scattered, there is an even greater variety of symbols used by Menxruk's faithful in their worship. Menxrukic symbols tend to be inversions of Menxvanic symbols, preferably ones that are innocuous looking and easily concealed. The Arangothian letter R (for Ruk) is common, as are broken or incomplete circles, venomous snakes, crescent moons (since Menxruk is said to have created the moon), and sometimes mushrooms (which look harmless, but may in fact be deadly). There are many others which may be used only in certain areas or by certain sects, or are the mark of a particular priest.
In the beginning there was only Menxned (All-One). There was no universe as we understand it, since the universe is many, and there was only the One. Menxned was the highest form of being, omniscient, omnipotent, infinite, perfect in unity and simplicity. All things were in it, and all things came from it. As simply as it can be put in terms of mortal understanding, Menxned WAS. Menxned was the purest form of existence, freed of any of the limitations of finite beings.
At a point in the distant past, Menxned divided into Menxvan (All-Good) and Menxruk (All-Evil). The entire universe arose from this division, the Many sprung forth from the One, the complex from the simple, the opposed from the unified. No one knows for sure precisely why this happened, but it is believed that Menxned became bored after eons of of a solitary, static existence, and the tripartite division of Menxned into Menxvan, Menxruk, and the universe occurred because of a desire for something different.
The Origin of Things
This story was collected from an illiterate peasant woman in the Sresar Vale by Professor Kenglith of the Royal Arangothian University, a close colleague of Serisious Blendwythe.
A little while after the separation of the parts of the world out of Menxned, Van worked iron upon his anvil, and struck it with his hammer, and made out of it a great iron plate. Ruk was envious of Van for having this plate, and he decided to take it for himself. He seized it with both his hands, but Van held tight to it, and the more Ruk pulled, the firmer grew Van's grip. Finally the plate broke into a million pieces, and these pieces were scattered throughout the sky by a great wind. Ruk then said, "I can make a better plate myself," and went off to make a plate of his own. In the meantime, Van made another iron plate upon his anvil, brighter and bigger than the first one. Ruk made a plate as well, but he made his out of stone and bone, and as he was making on it he kept thinking of the first plate, which had broken, and so the plate he made kept breaking and coming back together again. Finally, Van and Ruk came together and compared their plates, but they could not agree on which was the better plate. So Van and Ruk together made the first Man to judge which plate was the better of the two.
Man looked first at Van's plate and then at Ruk's plate, and then he said, "I'm thirsty, and I can't decide which plate is better until I have something to drink." And so Van and Ruk together made the Sea and the Lakes so that Man would have something to drink, so that they could hear from him which was the better plate.
Man looked first at Van's plate and then at Ruk's plate, and then he said, "I'm hungry, and I can't decide on an empty stomach which plate is better." And so Van and Ruk together made all the edible animals and all the edible plants so that Man would have something to eat, so that they could hear from him which was the better plate. Man looked first at Van's plate and then at Ruk's plate, and then he said, "I'm lonely, and I can't decide which plate is better while I'm feeling depressed." And so Van and Ruk together made another person, and called the person Woman, so that Man would not be lonely, so that they could hear from him which was the better plate.
Man and Woman looked first at Van's plate and then at Ruk's plate. And then, finally, Man said that in his opinion Van's plate was the better one. But Woman said that in her opinion Ruk's plate was the better one. So Van and Ruk pulled their hair and cried out that they still had not learned which was the better plate. And so they decided they needed yet another person to break the tie, and gave the Man and the Woman their distinctive features, so that they would have a child.
The first time Woman gave birth, she gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl, and the boy agreed with his father, and the girl with her mother. And so Van and Ruk waited.
The second time Woman gave birth, she gave birth to quadruplets, two boys and two girls, and the two boys agreed with their father, and the two girls with their mother. And so Van and Ruk waited. The third time Woman gave birth, she gave birth to sextuplets, three boys and three girls, and the three boys agreed with their father, and the three girls with their mother.
Ruk finally grew impatient of waiting, and he took both of the plates and flung them into the sky, cursing, "Let you fly off into the sky like a bird, let you hide under the ground like a root!" Van's plate became the Sun, and Ruk's plate became the Moon, and because Ruk had cursed them both to fly like birds and burrow like roots, they keep rising through the sky and falling under the ground, day after day, year after year. And this is also how Man and Woman first came to be, and even to this day they often do not agree about what is best.