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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

L5R Cosmology: Religion in Prehistoric Rokugan

So having gone up the ladder from mikokami to o-kami, some of you are no doubt wondering, "How do humans fit into all this mess?"  I'm glad you asked.

For the sake of brevity, I'm going to skip large chunks of the creation myth for now. Suffice it to say that humans were created when the bodily fluids of Lady Sun and Lord Moon fell to the surface of Rokugan and mixed. Therefore, humans are a perfect mixture of yin and yang, or courage and cowardice, or however else you care to explain a union of opposites. What's important is that humans were created and formed a society before the children of the Sun and Moon fell from the heavens and founded an empire, and even before people knew of the kami, they had an atavistic religion.

These humans worshiped the Sun and Moon, of course, because these things are primal. Heat and cold, life-bringer and life-taker; we've seen it time and again in our world. What is unusual is that these people also worshiped their dead ancestors, believing that their progenitors were somehow sticking around as spirits, watching their descendants, and looking after them.

At the same time, these people also worshiped the Seven Fortunes that were mentioned earlier who, unlike all the other kami, represent human agency. Put these two facts together, and we may logically derive the conclusion that the Seven Fortunes are in fact super-powerful ancestors who lived so long ago that practically all humans on Rokugan are considered to be their descendants.*

If you'd like to be a bit silly, just consider the Seven Fortunes to be the first Player Characters on Rokugan and who, for all their exploits, are now recognized as gods. Blows your mind a bit, eh?

Another interesting tidbit about Rokugani pre-history is that they had a form of magic that did not pay homage to the elements. In fact, all of their magic was blood-related. Again, this goes back to the roots of "Religion as a way of brokering a deal with the supernatural to get things done without any trappings of morality to get in the way."

Let's say you wanted someone to fall in love with you. For that, you go see Benten, the fortune of love. But, at least in the early days, Benten is just a powerful ancestor. Sure, she brings romantic success to her descendants, but you aren't related to her. You have to find some way to get her favor, because all of your prayers to your grandparents aren't doing jack.

The simple answer is to use the sympathetic magic. Benten cares about her family because of blood relation. In order to get Benten to care about you, there has to be a blood link between her and you. So, obviously, you ritualistically cut yourself and offer that blood to her. Now you are symbolically related, and clearly you care enough about her to suffer and bleed. The sympathetic principle (like produces like), with a sacrifice to sweeten the deal, ensures that Benten will now accept you as part of her family -- one of her bloodline. After a while, the shedding of blood was no longer needed, but it became institutionalized.

This is how it was for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years: an ur-religion based on bloodshed, power exchange, and material gain, without any of that messy ethical nonsense.

And then Hantei, Fu Leng, and all the rest fell to earth, and screwed everything up.

Next: Shintao, I promise.

* Before you get all up in arms about ancestors becoming fortunes, I have one word for you: Osano-wo. This man was so badass that he became the Fortune of Fire and Thunder in the span of time between his death and when his son, Kaimetsu-uo, assaulted the lands of the Phoenix. This rate of ascension makes the Seven Fortunes look like snails.

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