Thursday, September 20, 2007

Religions and Arts

I know very little yet about the religion of the Woneiyal; I think it's animistic and very tied to place, such that each feature of Woneiyal territory has a genius loci of some sort. This is an area that needs development. Nitsur's experience of captivity and slavery should be profoundly influenced by the fact that, unlike the Ta'arane slaves among whom he lives, he's been removed from his native soil.

The Kesset and the Ta'arane are polytheists. The main deity of the public Kesset religion is the Moon, who is worshiped under two aspects: the Radiant Boy and the Old Man. The Boy represents the waxing and full moon, also light and the forces of rationality; his titles include Lawgiver and Truthspeaker. He's credited with inventing their system of numeration, especially the writing of it. The Old Man represents the waning and new moon, also darkness, madness and treachery.

All young men of the Kesset are nominally in the service of the Boy, and all older men nominally in the service of the Old Man. Wealthier and more important families are expected to take their religious duties more seriously, however; for a poor family, the only duties required might be an annual tithe and attendance at public services. While most young men are expected to undergo warrior training and initiation, and form raiding and war parties, under the auspices of the Boy, the only son of a very poor family might be excused on the grounds that his family can't afford to risk him. This would be especially likely if his father were in poor health. It would also be terribly shameful for the family.

As Kesset men grow past certain ages, they enter the Old Man's service and some are inducted into the Old Man cult. This doesn't happen to all Kesset men; the cult is selective and very secretive, and is also where most of the real power-trading among the Kesset takes place. Clan feuds and inter-city warfare often spin out from Old Man temples (note that in the cities, both the Old Man and the Boy have permanent temples, which are the physical locus for all these activities; before the conquest, the Kesset had no permanent buildings).

Older men who are not cult members are expected to be at the command of those who are. The Boy's servants are also at least nominally under the command of the Old Man's cult, but not necessarily as individuals; there's a command structure, and warriors have to be able to act autonomously in the field.

Ahon ken Tai is a Kesset name meaning City of the Moon (the city was known to the Ta'arane as Olaeinama). It was the first of the plains cities to fall into Kesset hands. Boy cultists of the city say that the name commemorates the victory by force of arms (the province of the Boy), while the Old Man cultists tell a different story: Olaeinama fell by treachery.

Kesset society before the conquest of the plain was a fairly mobile meritocracy, where the measures of merit were how much stock (goats, sheep, horses-- cows relatively rare on the steppes) a family owned, and how many fighting men they could field by calling on all of their allies (alliances could shift rapidly under the influence of the Old Man). It was a pretty hard life for poor families, although they could place themselves under the protection of a powerful clan and perhaps gain an alliance by marriage; also, there was always at least the theoretical possibility that a poor family could somehow acquire enough stock/allies to become powerful. Since the Kesset have settled down to city life, the system has become somewhat more rigid.

The Kesset also recognize the Sun and the Earth as goddesses. The Sun, in public (male) Kesset religion, is a holy virgin, the guardian of unmarried women and of the honor of married women. There are Sun cults and Sun temples in all of the Kesset cities. The Earth is feared and hated as the devouring mother; most of the stories feature the Boy and/or the Old Man defeating her in some way.

There is also a shamanic religion among the Kesset, which is mostly female, illegal, heavily suppressed, and associated with the Earth. In many places, the Sun cult is a cover for an Earth cult. This religion features animal sacrifice and occasionally human sacrifice.

Ta'arane religion reveres the Earth as Mother. Birth and death, growth and decay, are her provinces. Rivers, especially the great river that runs through the plain, are seen as male fertilizing principles, as is the rain. Both are the gifts of the Moon, who is seen as untrustworthy and changeable, and propitiated rather than worshiped. (This probably reflects the awareness on the part of the Ta'arane that neither rivers nor rain are completely to be depended on.) The Sun and her sisters the stars are seen as the timekeepers and regulators of the world; Ta'arane agriculture ran on a solar/astral calendar, and astronomy was an important field of knowledge for them.

Since the conquest, there has grown up a sect among the Ta'arane who believe that the misfortunes of their people are the revenge of the Moon for the disdain in which the Ta'arane held him, and especially for the flood control projects-- which they refer to as "caging the Great Snake".

The Ta'arane worship through dance, elaborate artworks, various rituals associated with agricultural events, and animal sacrifice. They do not have human sacrifice. They had a quite elaborate system of temples and priestesses, which is now mostly destroyed and scattered. Ta'arane society before the Kesset conquest was very conservative, and hasn't adapted well to change.

A semi-secret among the Ta'arane: the temple dances of the priestesses are also the movements of their martial art. Disputes among high-level priestesses are, if all other options fail, settled by combat. These fights are not for display and are often fatal (usually they use knives). The Mother is said to have given strength to the victor's legs.

A note on art forms. Ta'arane art is almost entirely two-dimensional; they use paint, dyes, and mosaics extensively. Most of their art is abstract rather than figurative. Much of it also encoded various meaning; examples throughout the text. Technically, much of Ta'arane art might qualify as an ideogrammic (not pictogrammic) written language, but it's too elaborate and requires too much space to be really useful for everyday use: it tended to be incorporated as parts of architecture and other permanent structures. Ta'arane cloths are often extremely intricately dyed or printed with carved wood blocks.

The Kesset have plastic arts, which began as small carvings of wood or bone which they carried on them or attached to their horses' trappings. Representations of the Boy were particularly popular. Since occupying the cities, they've taken to creating life-size or better sculptures from wood and stone.

The Woneiyal decorate their persons extensively; patterned cloth was always a favorite item of trade with the Ta'arane. They also carve wooden items (eg. drums) in a decorative fashion. Otherwise they have very little in the way of art. (No tattoos or scarification.)

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