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Friday, June 15, 2012

Pellatarrum: Burial Rites and the Cult of the Dark

Burial Rites: Cult of the Dark
Part 2 of "Dealing with the Undead"
by Demonic Bunny

Unifying the Cult of the Dark is the belief in the "three part soul." In the cult, the soul is referred to as the secret, or the sacred secrets. These three parts are the secrets of the mind, the secrets of the heart and The Great Secret.
  • The secrets of the mind consist of the everyday secrets that people carry: private knowledge, unshared opinions, and other kinds of dirty little truth that they keep to themselves. 
  • The secrets of the heart are what drive people forward and compel them to take action: hopes, fears, dreams, and ambitions, as well as deep secrets of shame and loss.
  • The Great Secret is the spark of life itself:  that intangible difference which allows sentient beings to live, not just exist. Joy, love, and reconciliation fall under the Great Secret, but so do darker feelings such as anger, lust, and vengeance.
While the Great Secret cannot be stolen, cannot be kept and cannot be found, the other secrets are up for the taking -- and this is the core of necromancy: Speak with Dead steals the secrets of the mind, and the higher undead are animated by the secrets of the heart. It is this issue which divides the cult (see Necromancers, below) and forms the basis for their burial rites.

To many cultists, secrets are holy and must not be stolen. To steal the sacred secrets from someone is a violation of that person's soul. Cult members who hold to this tenet believe that burial is an act of intimacy, a sacred duty given only to a loved one or a very close friend. This person is known as their secret-keeper. It is the duty of the secret-keeper to choose a place of burial (or ensure that the deceased is buried according to final wishes), to make the necessary preparations, and to bury the body. Traditionally, the secret-keeper is allowed to pick one item from the possessions of the deceased before the rest is divided among the inheritors. This item can be of incredible monetary worth, or completely trivial; it up to the secret-keeper to decide. While this is traditionally regarded as just compensation for the hardship of a burial, it is in fact rooted in the practice of allowing the secret-keeper to remove from the body items which would embarrass or indebt the family.

There is a traditional farewell among these cultists, not unlike the French adieu (“See you with god”); if you believe that this is the last time you will see each other in life, the farewell is done by touching the other just above the heart and saying “May your heart keep your secrets”.

Another aspect of this belief is that while the soul belongs to its owner, the body of the deceased belongs to its family or community. While the burial itself is still performed in secret, it is typically done at a family or community burial ground. From then on, the body is the possession, and the responsibility, of that same community or family. This includes being raised as an undead if  it is deemed necessary or desired.

The Cult and Necromancers

The relationship between the cult and the necromancers among them isn’t a simple one. While necromancers almost always subscribe to the ideals of the cult, not all cult members (even those who are practicing and aware cult members) approve of necromancy. It is perhaps easiest to draw parallels to the relation between practitioners of vodou and the bokor. Necromancers are, in general, respected. They are keepers of secrets and makers of secrets, guardians of ancient knowledge and hard won mysteries. When the cult resists the church of light, the necromancers almost invariably form the tip of the spear. In both guerrilla action and in more straightforward clashes, their creations and subjugated minions serve as everything from cannon fodder to elite shock troops to spies. Their magics serve to both defend and bolster their allies, and crushing the lives and hopes of their enemies.

However, the art of necromancy is also the taking of secrets. Necromancers are, by their very nature, thieves. They steal the forms and soul-secrets of the previously living.* On Pellatarrum, controlling the undead is more than just a matter of blasting them with necrotic energy and then gaining control through some sort of sympathetic energy effect (although, in the case of lesser undead, that’s not that far from the truth); the art of turning and controlling true undead is to the ability to learn their secrets. Not just their average everyday secrets, but their secret of the heart, the secret that drives them and which is kept closest.

There is also no such thing as an "average necromancer”. There are many different ways into the mysteries of necromancy, and as many reasons to choose to study this often reviled craft. To some, it is a means to bolster the defenses and strengthen the ideals of the cult. The Cult of the Dark is always short on manpower compared to the vast numbers in the employ of the Church of Light.

To others, it is the pursuit of knowledge for the purpose of knowledge itself, or for some other personal goal: to pursue revenge, or power, or to raise a loved one from death.  The cleric that can cast raise dead is rare, and willing ones even rarer. One who can raise a body that has been dead for a long time is rarer still. A person capable of performing this task will soon find himself sought after by wealthy, desperate, and powerful individuals on both sides of the moral divide.

Finally, there are the very few and very rare necromancers who belong to that most extremist of sects, reviled even by other cult members: that very small part of the cult which actively pursues an undead apocalypse. 

*This is another reason why zombies are usually created from the bodies of the deceased. Not only is it a simpler task, with the body serving as a ready-made mold for the undead, but it is also a necromancers demonstrating their dominance over other cult members. Your average cultist doesn’t know the difference between a true undead and a lesser undead; he tends to assume that to enslave the bodies of the dead, the necromancer must also have enslaved their souls. Clever necromancers go out of their way to perpetuate this illusion.

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