Hear now the triumph of Suleiman the Great, life, prosperity, health unto him, over the jinn and the return of the gods, as told by Fazir the Wise, blessed of Suleiman.
Suleiman the Great, life, prosperity, health unto him now and always, was born unto woman, flesh and blood wrapped around a divine spirit. Great though he would become, Suleiman was born a slave like his father and his father’s father before him back to the beginning. In those dark days, when men had turned from the gods, whom they thought had abandoned them, all beings save for the Sphinxes were slaves unto the jinn, the foulest of dark races.
Low was the lot of man, forced to work in the dark mines so the jinn could grow rich, forced to build vast monuments so the jinn would be remembered in glory, forced to fight wars like pieces on a chessboard so the jinn would not have to soil their hands with blood. For generations before the Great Prophet came, we had neglected the gods of our ancestors and suffered accordingly. Unto this hardship was born Suleiman.
Suleiman, blessed be his name, was gifted with much wisdom, even as a child. Where others saw problems, Suleiman saw solutions. When others saw violence as a means to end disputes, Suleiman saw peace. It is said that Suleiman could speak the language of all races even as a baby, and the language of the beasts was also known to his ear.
So great was his knowledge that even the jinn were in awe, and he was elevated to the position of wizir, advisor to the Caliph of the Jinn. Suleiman served the jinn well and learned much wisdom, but none which rivaled the jinn. As Suleiman meditated on the wonders of the universe, he saw in his mind’s eye that the gods were waiting his call, and through them was the way to defeat the jinn.
Armed with his new found knowledge, Suleiman approached his masters and ordered them to release his people. The jinn laughed and cast their magic, which had leveled cities of stone in the past, but Suleiman was unharmed. Unto the jinn Suleiman in return brought down many terrible curses, until at last they agreed to free the slaves.
Suleiman gathered the slaves and told them what had occurred. Many were blinded to the teachings of the gods, for they insisted the Many Gods had abandoned them to the jinn. Angered at their blindness, Suleiman invoked the names of the Many Gods and begged them to appear before him. By my own eyes, I, Fazir the Wise, witnessed the Many Gods appear and saw Suleiman kneel before each save Iblis, who is the Great Deceiver, and welcome them into his heart. So it came to pass that the gods in unison hailed Suleiman as a prophet, and bestowed unto him their power, for he alone had faith in them.
Suleiman led the slaves into the desert in search of new lands, but the jinn, who speak no truth, sought to destroy them. Suleiman marched ahead of his followers and challenged the jinn. For forty days and forty nights the earth shook and the sky was the color of blood. Only then did Suleiman emerge from the desert and lead his people to freedom, free from the pestilence of the jinn.
On the cusp of victory, Suleiman in his great wisdom, refrained from destroying the mighty jinn elders, for in death they would have no chance to repent their evil ways and accept the benevolence of the gods. They were cast into copper jars, which Suleiman sealed with a secret mark. These he cast across the known world, never to be opened again until the Day of Judging, when Suleiman, as chosen by the gods, would return to judge the wicked.
The lesser jinn he banished from this mortal world, though those who saw not the wisdom of the Many Gods sought to traffic with them, for they had learned nothing and sought to be masters as once they were slaves.
All this, I swear in the name of the Many Gods, is Truth..
Day to Day Faithful
The wars of religion that wracked the Caliphate and Sultanate have not been forgotten, but they have been forgiven. While there are still a minority of Faithful who think of Devoted as heretics, most refuse to put their voice behind such claims. For all its faults, the Devoted creed does promote good deeds and thoughts over evil ones, and in that regard they are on the good side of Maat. Furthermore, its core teachings do not openly deny the existence of the gods, though their denial that priests are required does border on blasphemous at times.
Despite centuries of warfare and vehement claims that the two rival creeds of Al-Shirkuh have little in common, they actually share a major tenet—the belief that good and bad deeds directly affect not only the soul, but the entire universe. Maat is often simplified by laity as a struggle between good and evil; those learned in the deeper philosophies know it is far more wide-ranging. “Good” implies truth, order, law, morality, and justice, while “evil” covers falsehood, chaos, tyranny, immorality, and injustice. What constitutes these activities is subject to slight differences in interpretation by the various cults, as represented by the deity’s list of prohibited sins. On top of these, adherence to the laws of the land and universal constants is also applied.
Although the God War technically ended in a draw, the struggle continues. On the side of good are the majority of major gods. Only Iblis stands on the side of evil, but such is his strength that even alone he can prevent his peers from applying harmony to the universe. Strangely, Iblis does not seek total dominance, not the total implementation of universal chaos. Evil he might be, but he is not stupid. His focus is not winning the war himself, for what evil could he possibly commit in a universe where good did not exist? He desires only that his enemies do not win the contest.
In one heretical text, the Book of Hidden Truth, Iblis is described not as a force for evil, but merely as a force for change. Thus, he should be accepted into the greater pantheon and offered prayers. The text continues by claiming that if the other gods achieved victory, they would impose such order that the only possible outcome was universal stagnation. That, the anonymous author concluded, was akin to a form of slavery, for there could be no free will less it upset the harmony.
Places of Worship
Worship of one’s patron deity is at the heart of daily life in the Caliphate. Where one worships is largely unimportant, but it is worth describing the main centers used for prayer.
When it comes to places of worship, Faithful have a saying—temples are better than shrines, shrines are better than nowhere, but anywhere will do. Worshippers, even clerics, are under no compulsion to offer daily prayers on holy ground. This is especially true of itinerant clergy, who may be many hundreds of miles from the nearest sanctified ground. Most citizens don’t bother attending temple every day, even if one is available locally. Few temples can house every worshipper in the local vicinity, anyway.
For most, prayers are offered at home or work. Usually there is a small shrine containing a statuette or holy symbol at which routine prayers can be offered. Such shrines are considered holy only for the purposes of desecration laws.
Shrines are one step below temples. They can take many forms—anything from a statue to a living sacred animal to an indentation in the ground said to have been made by the god in question can serve as a shrine. Shrines are holy ground, as is a small amount of space surrounding them (typically no more than 20 feet radius for shrines that are not in buildings). In many small communities shrines are the center of worship.
Many shrines do not have resident clergy. On important holy days, one is assigned to visit by the nearest temple so that the ceremony may be carried out. Larger shrines, or those considered important enough to attract pilgrims, may boast a handful of permanent clergy.
The most important places of worship are temples. Temples are categorized as minor or major, depending on their size. Size is determined by several factors, most notably the number of worshippers in the local vicinity, the temple’s annual income, and the number of permanently resident clergy. In reality, it is the former that is most important, for large numbers of worshippers typically lead to the latter two.
Since the creation of the Faithful creed, temples and wealth have gone hand in hand. This was one of many factors that lead to the war between Devoted and Faithful, for in the eyes of the Devoted the temples were avaricious and more interested in temporal power than spiritual provision. To Faithful, temples require wealth in order that they may fulfill their function—carrying out the gods’ will in the mortal realm. The largest temples have hundreds of staff, of which only a tiny minority are ordained clergy.
Temples rely on various sources of income to provide wages for the clergy, fund good works, perform powerful rituals, and maintain buildings. Many temples are centers of business, producing goods or offering services. Large temples often own agricultural land or mines. Most of these resources are bequeathed by nobles in return for daily prayers for their soul in life and after death, though the most important temples were granted resources by Caliphs to curry favor, show his support of all faiths, and display his largesse.
Although temples in Devoted-dominated lands are usually small affairs, in the Caliphate they are majestic structures, true symbols of the gods’ power and the fidelity of their mortal worshippers. Regardless of size, those built on the surface follow a roughly similar layout (there are exceptions). Surrounding the site is a high wall of brick or stone. Everything within the compound is considered part of the greater temple, though it is not sanctified ground. Much of the space is given over to temporal activities, such as accommodation, workshops, storerooms, stables, and the like. The greater area is properly known as the temple precinct. Faithful rarely use this term, as the context of a conversation usually makes it clear whether the word “temple” means the precinct or the sacred building in which ceremonies are conducted.
The temple proper sits in the center of the compound. Often rectangular in design, the entrance is marked by pylon gates. Beyond, one is lead through a processional way of open courtyards and colonnaded halls. Although everything inside the gates is sacred ground, the deeper in one moves, the more holy the ground becomes. Regardless of size, each temple has five inner areas. The outermost area is as far as laity and non-believers may pass. It is here clerics conduct common rituals and speak with visitors.
The second area is as far as novitiates, may enter. Only fully ordained clerics may enter the third area, while the fourth area is restricted to all but disciples and high priests. The fifth area, the holy of holies, is the most sacred part of the temple, for it is here the god dwells. The spiritual focus of the temple resides in the holy of holies. Often it is a statue of the god, though in some temples it is a small box (an ark), which contains holy texts. Only the local high priest or the Caliph may enter the holy of holies freely. Others may enter with the permission of the local high priest. Such permission is awarded to any visiting high priest or senior clerics on high holy days as a formality.
While temples regularly operate as businesses, Faithful do not see them as merely centers of cult activity, nor as symbols of their god’s power. In their eyes, a temple is literally a house of the god, and the god resides there.
Unlike with the Devoted creed, the time of day when prayers are said and the number of times prayers are said is largely a personal choice. Such activity depends more on the time the worshipper has to spare, though any Faithful is likely to find time for at least one prayer a day.
There are certain exceptions, though these are based on the deity in question. For instance, followers of Shamash prefer sunrise, noon, and sunset. While worshippers are free to make request of the deity through prayer as and when they feel fit, there are specific liturgies that have been passed down for centuries. Typically, a worshipper will utter one or more of these before making any personal request to the deity.
When in a temple, worshippers always face the holy of holies when praying. Since the sacred spot is always at the back of the temple, this means facing toward the interior. At shrines, prayers are spoken facing the venerated object. When neither is available, personal choice plays a large part. Again, there are certain expectations. A follower of Shamash will always face the sun during the day, regardless of the compass direction. A worshipper of Apsu will pray toward water whenever he can, even if that means praying before a waterskin. When in doubt, it is always considered acceptable to face east, toward the house of Shamash.
Devoted see little difference between magic and miracles. A Devoted magician needs no external force on which to focus his will, whereas a Faithful cleric requires belief in a god to give him the will to invoke a miracle, but otherwise the two achieve the same result. Faithful see things differently. Miracles are bestowed by the gods to their most faithful followers, those who have accepted the deity into their body, heart, and soul. In return for these powers, clerics are expected to stick to the deity’s teachings and avoid breaking divine laws. This doesn’t mean that all miracles are only ever cast for purely benevolent reasons, though. Iblis’s minions aside, clerics are mortals, and mortals are prone to weakness and temptation.
Attempts to link magic with the gods have long failed to hold up to philosophical and theological scrutiny. For instance, it was once thought that mages were clerics of Ishkar, goddess of magic, or perhaps even other gods, but did not realize it. Since they did not follow the goddess’ teachings, it meant they were all surely consigned to the Bottomless Pit on their deaths. This gave rise to questions no one could answer with any authority. Why was it mages never lost their spells by sinning? Why would the gods grant them such powers if their fate was so cruel? Some clerics argued that acceptance of the gods in life would save mages from the Bottomless Pit, but it was an answer few were comfortable with. After all, the gods could not grant free will with one hand and then demand obedience by tempting mortals with gifts with the other. Likewise, why did ordained clergy have to obey the rules when mages did not?
Since magic still cannot be easily explained by Faithful, most mages are still treated with a great deal of suspicion. That most often manifests in them being treated as a low social class—most citizens tend to ignore them.
Tamarni may be the goddess of fortune, both good and bad, but she is not the mistress of fate. In accordance with the peace treaty that marked the end of the God War, it was declared that mortals would have free will in their thoughts and deeds. The gods could guide them through holy doctrine, but they could not shape their future to a preset conclusion. The only law written in stone was that all mortals would receive a finite existence. No specific limit was set, but aging of flesh ensured that death would eventually claim them.
As well as affecting one’s soul, and thus determining whether one proceeds to a blessed afterlife or an eternity of damnation, one’s actions in the mortal world fuel the cosmic struggle. Too much evil tips the balance in favor of Iblis, making it more likely that misfortune will occur in the world. Conversely, the more one’s deeds are toward good behavior, so fortune will flow into the world, making it a happier place.
Fate is merely fortune and misfortune made manifest. Since the gods have not predetermined any destiny for mortals, they are not to blame for the ills of the world. Indeed, that lies very much at the feet of mortals. In order that fortune may occur more often, it is in everyone’s interests to act on the side of good.
Devoted & the Caliphate
Since the dawn of the new age of understanding and cooperation, Devoted have been permitted to erect kadas in the Caliphate. Such structures are rarely large—they are places of learning, meditation, and mediation, not places of worship in the same vein as temples.
Since kadas operate as schools, they are considered businesses as well as sacred places. In that regard they must pay taxes (temples are charged taxes, as well). The returns are pitifully small—kadas do not charge for education, own resources, or run actual businesses.
Nature of the Soul
Although Faithful speak of the soul or spirit in the singular, it is actually made up of three distinct parts. The first part is the ka, or divine essence. Also known as the “breath of the gods,” this portion is what gives a mortal life. On death, the spark returns to the universe, separating itself from the other parts of the soul. The ka not no identity or memories, no concept of good or evil, and cannot be harmed or destroyed.
The second part is the ib, or heart. The ib is the memory store of one’s sins in life. This belief is often used to describe a mortal. For instance, a man renowned for charitable deeds may be said to have a good heart, while a sinner has a black heart, implying it is corrupted or diseased. It is the ib that is weighed before one may enter the Afterlife. The ib is sundered into its good and evil portions, and these are weighed against each other. Regardless of whether one is found innocent or guilty of being sinful, the ib is destroyed after judgment. The deceased is no longer capable of changing its nature. A sinner will forever be tainted with sin, while the pure are incapable of taking sinful actions.
The final part is the ren, or name. The ren is a mortal’s spiritual shadow, and it is this which ventures to the Afterlife or to the Bottomless Pit. It takes his physical form, and has his memories. When Faithful speak of the soul, they are normally referring to the ren.
In the same way that mortal life is fleeting, so the Afterlife is not forever.
As noted in Land of Fire, souls are not eternal. Their existence continues only so long as the corpse they once inhabited exists. Once the last bones naturally crumble to dust, the spirit joins with the deity, losing its unique identity and memories. For this reason, gravespeak cast by a cleric requires part of the corpse in order to speak with a departed Faithful. This second death is rarely mourned—by the time it occurs the soul’s unique name has long been forgotten by its living relatives (even natural desiccation, the method favored by peasants, can keep a corpse intact for many thousands of years). While its memory and personality are no more, the soul is not erased from existence. Rather, it passes to a higher state of existence beyond mortal comprehension.
Deliberately damaging a Faithful’s corpse directly affects his soul, though in a lesser way. Hack off a corpse’s arm, for instance, and the soul’s arm will become weaker (but not severed). Since the body cannot heal, the injury is permanent. Such acts do not cause the soul pain, nor is it possible to kill a soul by such means as it would be a mortal—only total destruction of its corpse can do that.
Here there is a difference in the nature of the soul. If the corpse is destroyed by violent means, then the spirit is wiped from existence rather than joining with the god. Harming a corpse (accidentally or otherwise) is seen as a worse crime than harming a living person.
To help prevent this untimely erasure from existence, richer citizens are buried with a life-size stone statue carved in their likeness. During the funeral rites, the link between mortal remains and soul is extended to the more durable statue as well, providing a double safeguard. For the purposes of gravespeak, the statue counts as part of the deceased’s mortal remains.
Souls also need nourishment. This is not provided in the Afterlife. Since few families can afford to supply ritual food and drink on a regular basis, corpses are given amulets inscribed with standard prayers that provide this service for eternity. Such amulets are available from the cult of Tammuz, and are very cheap. Grave goods are optional, but only objects buried with the corpse are available to the soul in the Afterlife.