Copyright (C) 1996 By Joseph Teller & Kiralee McCauley
The three major cultures of T'Phon are all highly influenced by the religious beliefs of their populations. Religion has shaped their culture as science and tehnology shape our culture today, and as religions have shaped Earth's history and cultures in the past. Religion is important for any Gamemaster running T'Phon as their worldbase, for to try to ignore or downplay the religions and their beliefs is to fail to present the world as it is intended to be experienced.
Even atheism is a reaction to religion. However, atheists are non-existant in T'Phon. The miracles preformed by priests, and even the gods themselves, can infleunce daily life in so direct a manner that the existence of the gods is beyond question. However, the people of T'Phon have varying ideas and reactions concerning these supernatural beings.
For example, heretics exist in T'Phon. But heretics do not disbelieve in the divine, rather they do not believe in worshiping it, or kow-towing to the temples, churches, and ethical codes of established religions. Heretic mages use the divine as a tapable energy source, but believe worshiping that energy source is akin to a blacksmith who prays to her anvil, hammer, and tongs. Public heretics are rarely anything but mages, since a heretic without personal power does not survive long.
On the other hand, it is difficult for a fraudulent religious leader to survive for long in T'Phon. People do not flock easily to a new sect or philosophy, for fear of losing the benefits and protections of their old religion (or religions). The divine source of miracles must be proven, not just the magical affect. And, fraudulent priests face inquiry and exposure by the established religions, as well as the gods.
One thing to remember is that the gods of T'Phon are real. They are not just supernatural parasites living off the belief of their followers, or powerful alien creatures manipulating the masses for their own whims. They are more like the lord of a manor whose duty and pleasure it is to care for his people. Of course there is a certain amount of politics, and shuffling for position, since the gods do need believers to survive. In return they care for their followers as best they can, each according to their own code. Thus Exitor serves everyone by conscientiously severing the soul from the body at the proper time. Dalah brings pleasure to her followers, Irisanti a bountiful harvest, Phon the lessons of enlightenment.
Religion in all three cultures affects the laws of the governments. In the Baronies religiously based treaties and contracts hold together the peace between the barons and baronesses. Of course, not all temples hold the same degree of influence. Some sects follow philosphies in opposition to culturally approved ideas, other's are too new, or devoted to less powerful gods or goddesses.
Priestesses and priests have a certain degree of status in the Baronies and the Rain Forest. Among the Corsairs of Morgan there is a general rule never to take the life of an identifiable priest or priestess, though they may be captured and ransomed. The rape of a priestess is punishable by death. In Jambi, a Priest of Phon is held in such esteem that they are immune to many of the civil laws, and holds a rank higher than the Clan heads.
In the Baronies priests and priestesses are identified by bracelets given to them at their initiation, which can not be removed without destroying the bracelet or cutting off their hand. This is a cultural generality, rather than a divine rule, so there are temples which do not adhere to it, as well as groups - generally those without temples - who do not have the resources to do so. The priestesses and priests of the Rain Forest are adorned with beautiful tattoos. The priests of Jambi wear elaborate costumes bedecked with religious regalia.
Being a priest or priestess in a foreign culture can have its disadvantages - a Priest of Phon in the Rain Forest is a heretic in the eyes of the people, subject to ridicule and possessing less rights than other foreigners; a Priest of any divinity except Phon in Jambi may be subject to persecution, and possibly even death should they attempt to teach their heresy to others. The people of the Baronies are more polite, but usually ignore foreign priests, and rarely accord them the same status as their own priests.
Occasionally off-world priests have come to T'Phon, though most find their contact with the divine fades while present. A few exceptions occur, and these may establish a small following within T'Phon. They are mostly limited to a few shrines and small temples in Tor-VarDen, Taplin, and the Isles of Morgan with a few dozen followers, and are often highly specialized in their sphere of influence.
Off-worlders can more easily establish new sects than natives, but in either case they can not preach a belief in conflict with any of the established reigions - or one which enters the teritory of another divinity - without facing the wrath of divine forces and their mortal representatives. Once sucessfully introduced, an off-world diety may be adopted into the pantheon, but this rarely occurs. For example, there is a belief among some historians that the religions of Di'Chinu and Vorana came into the world during the Age of Turmoil. Records of the period are too limited to prove either claim, which is denied by each sect as well.
One thing that is true, the people of T'Phon do not give worship, devotion or sacrifice to their deities without expecting some return for their actions. Within all the sects it is expected that one receieves something in trade for one's faith and service. Followers of Gildorn expect protection and hospitality from each other and from the Temple leaders, in return for a percentage of their stolen goods. Followers of Phon, in Jambi, expect guidance, healing, and bounty for their devotion, fastings, donations, and pilgrimages. Followers of Irisanti expect bountiful harvests, ample rain and fertile herds, in return for sharing with the less fortunate and performing the eight holiday rituals.
Not that everyone in T'Phon is directly the follower of a particular deity. Most will go from temple to temple, as it serves their needs, and will give service to the gods at public rituals and holidays. Thus a merchant might go to the temple of Ridvu to take an oath for an important contract, to Corandus to ask for his protection on a trading voyage, to the libraries of the Mystic Brotherhood to learn the language of those she's trading with (should he be lucky enough to live near such a library), and to the temple of Dalah if she wants to have a good time.
The relationship between religion and ethics is a little different in in T'Phon, as well. Some gods, like Phon or Ridvu, have given their followers formal codes to live by, similar to those found in the Bible or the Koran. But many of the gods are more subtle. Often they act as role models, expecting their followers to care for each other in much the same way they care for their followers. For example, Di'Chinu seeks to inspire bravery, to protect those in need, and show people the way to freedom. Her followers are those who admire these qualities, or need her help. Her priests and priestesses are those who seek to emulate her. Gildorn, on the other hand, values the learning and use of selective skills, and permits her followers to relieve others of material goods, to teach them that wealth is less important than other aspects of life. There are, of course, exceptions. Exitor, for example, has few followers, but most of them are more likely to try and meet death with grace and style than to follow in his footsteps, severing soul and body.
Another important difference between Earth beliefs and the religions of T'Phon is that the people of T'Phon belive in a concept of reincarnation towards experience and enlightenment, not reward or punishment in an afterlife. Generally people do not talk about being rewarded after death, except for an action that could result in death. Even then, the act must relate to their sects values. Thus a musketeer following Di'Chinu might act gallantly in combat, because their bravery against overwhelming odds would produce a glorious death and earn them a more exciting life next time. On the other hand if that same musketeer was a follower of Dalah, such a death would be a waste, unless it was to protect a lover or a priestess from suffering a painful death. A wasted life must be re-experienced in the next life, to learn the lesson failed.
It is also important to understand that enlightenment, as spoken of within the religions of T'Phon, is not a state of nirvana or a state of 'freedom from the wheel of reincarnation' as some Earth religions picture it. It is, in fact, a very different state, which has different meanings in each of the three cultures.
Generally, in the Baronies, to become enlightened is have the knowledge and power of a god or goddess; to become an immortal capable of building and shaping worlds beyond T'Phon. It is to know the secrets of the universe, and to share in the advancement of others to this blissful state. For some this may include becoming the consort, lover or wife/husband of a god/goddess, instead of becoming a god themselves. In the baronies social position or locality is not considered an indication of a persons enlightenment.
In Jambi, to become enlightened is to rise up from the mortal world and to become a servant, friend, confidant or concubine unto Phon himself; to sit within his celestial court and share the bounty of his realm. One does not gain the power of a god, as only Phon may have such, but the company, knowledge and wisdom equal to one. Those born within the rain forest are believed to be heretics and violators of the faith. Those born outside of Jambi, in the Baronies or elsewhere, are believed to be the young unenlightened spirits, who have experienced less than four hundred lifetimes. Those from outside who follow Phon are nearest to rising beyond this threshold, and will in the next lifetime join the enlightened people of Jambi. The social position one is born into is also considered a sign one's closeness to enlightenment. Thus the Caliph is always believed to be between his 800th and 887th lifetime, and a mere begger is one who is only on their 401st.
In the rain forest they do not have a concept of enlightenment or advancement over many lifetimes, per se, but they do believe in rebirth as the gift of the gods and goddesses to the faithful. Those who must be punished are reborn outside the forest. Those who are reborn in the deserts of Jambi were once murderers or heretics. Those who were the most evil in life are not reborn at all, but cease to exist as part of creation. In addition, they believe that the most blessed are shown the way to the Sacred Grove of Yoralene, to become immortal and join the company of the gods and goddesses themselves.
These differences in viewpoint are a source of conflict and consideration for players and their characters to deal with in T'Phon. By including such aspects within the gameworld it gives players a whole new direction to take within the roleplaying experience, and makes it easier for them to immerse themselves in the cultures of T'Phon. As you can see, religion plays an important part in these cultures in many ways. And so, it should play and important part in any portrayal of those cultures.