Fires of the Faithful
The Faith of Maras
Editor’s Note: This information is all a combination of discussions had with the GM, random musings about what would make a Death Cult work for a large society and a bit of fascination with real-world historical theology. It is all subject to review, revision, excision and dramatic changes.
In creating a cult of death, you don’t want the stereotypical crazed people lusting for eternal life through lichdom. That’s boring, it’s cliche and it doesn’t support the aims of an entire society. Plus, it makes it too easy for the heroes to just try to kill everyone. You need a religion that would speak to all members of society, and maybe even accomodate wildly divergent views and opinions. And, it would allow for perfectly good people to be on the side of the “evil” church.
Of course, there still are some people who want to be liches…just not everyone.
Also, although the idea of undeath as was envisioned for this world was still creepy, it wasn’t specifically evil. In a world where the first appearance of undead warriors was as saviors, a lot of the generalized revulsion we take for granted just wouldn’t be present. Maybe there is a gut feeling that being raised is unnatural, but it’s a feeling that is overcome by rational & emotional thinking. After all, a terrified peasant might not want to be raised…but tell him that being raised means his wife and children will still live and…well…it just doesn’t seem evil, does it?
The story of Trogon Zoi is the creation myth of the Protectorate of Maras. However, in this world it serves as genuine history and gives a clear indication of how normal, civilized people could begin to see undeath as not a bad thing. It is not a far reach to see how good people would willingly undertake to die, live in undeath and fight on to save their friends and families. And it’s not difficult to see how a community would honor the vows and promises that were paid for with their loved ones’ unlives. So, we have the roots of the belief system.
Through undeath, we serve those who still live. Maras allows us to serve those we leave behind.
We owe our lives to Maras, since it was her power that saved us from the hordes.
It’s enough to start from.
Beliefs of the Early Church
The Church of Maras started simply and had one great thing in it’s favor: it offered a hope of salvation. Through undead warriors, the outnumbered humans finally stood a chance of facing the orc hordes. It wouldn’t take much political maneuvering for the Church to grow and spread. The theology was simple. Through undeath, we serve those who still live. We owe our lives to Maras. In time, a subtle change began to be worked by the priests of the fledgling religion.
We serve Maras in life, and we serve Maras in undeath. If we are worthy, our service will protect those we leave behind and begin to pay the debt we owe for her saving our lives.
The best warriors fought to the best of their ability, but they knew that, even if they fell, they may still save their loved ones. Emboldened by this knowledge, they could be more aggressive and match the orcs in enthusiasm if not sheer savagery. Even those not skilled in combat knew that, should they die, they might get a chance to help heroically hold off an orc horde to save their village. Everyone became more confident, and the church was known for it’s emphasis on self-sacrifice for the good of the community.
The Church was very much focused on the crisis at hand, and was very “worldly”. There was no concept of an afterlife. Your afterlife was preserved in the memories of those you saved. Everyone fought to improve the safety and security of the community, and eventually they began to succeed.
And this led to the first heresy.
Modarianism. The Modarian Heresy.
Modari was a townsman of no particular ability and no particularly valuable skills. He could, however, tell engaging tales and people generally took a liking to him. Due to the success of the early Church of Maras, he was born in a time when to be human meant that you didn’t need to live in daily fear of orcs. After spending much of his life as a wastrel, he claimed to have been enlightened through an ecstatic vision of Maras. He claimed that she told him to find other men incapable of pulling their weight—others who were not serving society fully and they might see a way to redeem themselves. Not only would they redeem themselves…they would earn a place with Maras after their deaths.
The concept of an afterlife was new to the people of the land that would become the Protectorate. They’d never really had much time to wonder about such things before. It was an intriguing idea to people who had always lived under the threat of massive orc invasions.
Modarianism was a revision of the earlier ideas. Instead of living well and fighting to your last, the only thing that mattered was what you did in your undeath. (“Your duty is not yet done” turned into “My duty is not yet begun!”) If you served Maras well in your undeath, then you would earn your reward—an afterlife in a world free from orcs and suffering, where you would never need to be called on to fight again.
The early priests weren’t fond of this, as they had no clear indication in the teachings of Trogon Zoi about any such afterlife. However, it seemed harmless at first, and he was allowed to preach unmolested for several years. He preached, and his words and promises struck a chord with many of the dissolute, although this still was no large number. And, miraculously, writings reputed to be from Trogon Zoi himself were discovered tucked away in a hillside cave, speaking about the wonders of an afterlife for those who served Maras well. (Although the timing of the find was suspicious, The Thirteen pronounced them to be quite genuine.)
Modari’s followers numbered around 400, and mostly continued to lead the sort of wasted lives that had characterized their time on the planet. But at last, they saw their chance. An orc horde was descending on Thymas. The Modarians volunteered to be part of the battle line, and were placed near the center of the line. (The commanders hoped they could keep an eye on these raw troops with the charismatic leader.) As the orc horde closed on the human defensive line, almost as one the Modarians stood, holding their weapons aloft and shouted, “My duty is not yet begun!” Then they flung themselves at the orcs in a suicidal wave, dying in seconds, just waiting to begin their unlife.
This presented a difficult problem, since the priests were not able to raise the dead as effortlessly as Trogon Zoi could. With a large gap in the center of the battle line, the humans were hard-pressed from the outset, and many soldiers died.
Thymas withstood the assault that day, although it was made more difficult by the suicide of a large part of the battle line. Modari and Modarianism was shunned thereafter by professional soldiers, but he became a martyr to many.
Church Response to Modarianism
For many years thereafter, it was not uncommon for a priest to be confronted in the streets by a ragged man who shrieked, “My duty is not yet begun!” and then fell on his sword in front of the startled holy man.
This is not at all what was desired. The priests of Maras recognized that they weren’t trying to flood the world with undead, but they needed living, breathing subjects to create a safe realm for humans. Plus, to really get good use out of one’s unlife, a degree of preservation was required – taxodermy if you will. This took time and some skill. Although quick and sloppy raising could be practiced in an emergency, the priests knew these undead just weren’t as effective and didn’t last as long as ones created with the full rites and rituals they had learned.
The priests worked hard to stamp out all trace of Modari’s teachings. They had remarkable success, appealing to most people’s desire to live a full life before going on to Serve if needed. They weren’t completely able to eliminate his teachings though. This did cause two new changes in how people worshipped Maras. The idea of an afterlife was too promising for people to let go of it once it was revealed. The concept of an afterlife was made part of the doctrine, while prohibitions against mindless suicide were emplaced.
The new teachings could be summed up as:
If I serve well in my unlife, Maras will bring me to an afterlife free of strife.
Maras only rewards those she calls to serve. I must await my call to Service if I want an afterlife.
Still, Modarianism persists, mostly among the downtrodden or hopeless. To this day, it is not unheard of for a peasant boy, dying on the field to mutter, “My duty is not yet begun!”
Expansion and Consolidation of the Church
Having survived it’s first heresy, and armed with a new concept of afterlife, the Church was ready to consolidate it’s power. Continued success against the orcs meant increased prosperity for all, and as the people believed they owed their lives to Maras, the Church claimed a significant portion of the proceeds to further glorify their deity.
In addition, the notion of being Called to Service expanded, and no longer referred only to those who served in undeath. As the representatives of Maras, the priests began to interpret her will, and claimed to know who was being Called to Service, and in what way. Often, many of the best and brightest citizens were Called to Service for the Church itself as priests, administrators, soldiers, etc.
Having the political power to absorb anyone it desired, the Church’s power grew. And with such a powerful tool in place, abuses were inevitable. It became a powerful tool for use against the nobility, and many lords who were wary of the Church’s influence were brought to heel by having a family member or five Called to Service in the Church.
The notion of being Called to Service, similarly continued to expand. There were many variations, but more and more service after death was more valued. Whether is was merely making sure you body was provided to the Church in case it needed it, or whether you were buried in a field to fertilize future crops, service after death became more prized. The priests vociferously defended this position and decried any who said that it smacked of Modarianism. This led to a number of differing lines of thought. (Those will be expanded upon later.)
Another new development that occurred was the idea that you did not need to be dead already to be Called to Service as a zombie. Troublesome nobles no longer needed to be manuevered into accepting suicide missions. Instead, they (or their children) could be called directly to undeath. These ceremonies were often made very public, with huge fanfare and proclamations about the honor being bestowed upon the newly-called. As this notion took hold, the nobles were firmly crushed beneath the power of the Church, and became prone to scheming how to avoid the Church’s ire, rather than worrying about keeping the lands safe. Luckily, the zombie forces were large enough to help protect the borders from orc incursions.
The Current State of the Church of Maras
The Church has unfettered power, and has the nobles thoroughly cowed. The Church routinely emphasizes the self-sacrifice that was at the root of its beginnings, but few priests practice this themselves. The afterlife is only for those who are Called to Service. Zombies are available whenever needed. Abuse seems rampant, although no citizens outside the Church dare speak out against it. Few within the Church speak directly against the abuses, and usually address problems only circumspectly. There are still many honest, faithful people of good character in the Church, but they tread carefully.
Undercurrents and Theological Movements
There are a number of thoughts running through the Protectorate. Some are accepted, and some border on heresy. Certain portions of the Church are more in line with some of these theories than others.
The Good Service (Goodmen)
Adherents of the Good Service believe that everyone is Called to Service and it is not only for those called to undeath or the Church. The goddess, in her wisdom, recognizes that some may serve better by being farmers or merchants or craftsmen, etc. Anyone is able to enjoy an afterlife as long as they listen to the goddess when she Calls.
This belief is technically heretical, but the priests don’t actively try to stamp it out, as it keeps a large portion of the populace content.
The Call is Individual (Borgosians. Hearers.)
This notion was first put forth by Borgos of Aplistia, a charismatic noble, shortly before the Church Called him to Service. He maintained that the Church was not only not the only entity able to interpret the Call, but that they were in fact unable to do so, with raising battlefield dead being the sole exception. Each individual must hear the Call themselves and do what they felt was best to further the interests of the Dark Lady. He was decried in his own day as a Modarian, but his teachings struck a chord with many who felt that the debts to Maras shouldn’t be paid to her Church.
This belief is deeply heretical and actively pursued by the Church for two reasons. First, because it challenges the authority of the Church. Second, because it focuses on the individual rather than on what the society needs.
We Gain Paradise Through Suffering (Wailers)
Some began to hear the moans and groans of the zombies and began to believe that it was not actually the Service itself, but the sounds of suffering that appeased Maras. (It is unclear why this gained traction, but it did among marginal members of society.) They began to mimic the zombies and may wander around groaning and wailing pitifully.
The Church tolerates this belief, as it doesn’t actually interfere with any teachings, and Wailers can be Called to Service just like anyone else. Some even say they make better zombies because they’ve been practicing for so long.
Most other members of the Protectorate consider the Wailers to be insane.
Undeath Isn’t Painless (Sufferers.)
Others heard the pitiful sounds of the zombies and came to the conclusion that undeath must be painful for them to sound so miserable. The Sufferers believe that it is the pain and suffering that makes one worthy of the afterlife. This can be through undeath, or if someone has a miserable enough life, they may gain heaven that way.
The Church has varying positions on this belief, though all priests insist that the sounds made by zombies are not an indication of pain. It is acceptible to believe that suffering makes you more worthy of an afterlife though. Individual priests will hold wildly different opinions of this idea.