Tuesday, September 6, 2011

L5R Cosmology: the Fortunes

Continuing from this post....

Next up from the mikokami (divine nature spirits which inhabit every object) are the Greater and Lesser Fortunes. These are still kami in that they are spirits, but unlike the others they are neither tied to tangible things, nor can they be controlled. If we were use a western paradigm, these kami are gods.

There are seven Greater Fortunes, copied more-or-less from the Seven Lucky Gods of Japanese folklore:
  • Benten, Fortune of Romantic Love
  • Bishamon, Fortune of Strength
  • Daikoku, Fortune of Wealth
  • Ebisu, Fortune of Hard Work
  • Fukurokujin, Fortune of Wisdom and Mercy
  • Hotei, Fortune of Contentment
  • Jurojin, Fortune of Longevity
They are attended and served by an array of Lesser Fortunes too numerous (more than a dozen and perhaps less than a hundred) to be listed here. By way of example, Inari, the Fortune of Rice, is subservient to both Daikoku (as wealth in Rokugan is measured in bushels of rice) and Ebisu (because farmers harvest rice). These Lesser Fortunes are somewhere between demigods and lesser gods in terms of power, and because of that, they are often more approachable (more human) than their greater counterparts. In this regard, the Lesser Fortunes are more like the Roman Catholic conception of saints: people you pray to in order to get things done, because they have the ears of the higher-ups.

Although the Fortunes are kami, the differences are evident. These kami have names; the mikokami do not. The Greater Fortunes represent abstract concepts, not concrete objects like "a campfire" or "the river." (Interestingly enough, many of the Lesser Fortunes do embody more specific concepts, like "rice" or "the seashore," further cementing the notion that they act as intermediaries between the concrete spirituality of Ningen-do and the abstract divinity of Tengoku.)

Perhaps most importantly, the Seven Great Fortunes represent human agency* in that -- unlike the O-kami of Lady Sun and Lord Moon, or the mikokami of the material world -- the Fortunes would not exist in a world without people, because there would be no reason for them so to do. In other words, the world works perfectly fine without the existence of a god of strength, or wealth, or compassion. It's only through the intervention of human desire -- hope, fear, love, jealousy, ambition, etc -- that these gods exist. In fact, it could be argued these gods are the creation of human emotion. 

What's fascinating about the Seven Fortunes is that, much like humanity, they are neither inherently good nor inherently evil, and do not require moral conduct from their worshipers: Bishamon smiles favorably upon both an honorable Lion bushi and an honorless, tainted Crab, because both embody strength.

In fact, all kami are like this: just as Lady Sun's light nurtures the crops, her heat also ruins them.Too much water causes flooding, but not enough results in a drought. This amorality of both kami and their worshipers is important to understand, because it informs so much of Rokugani lifestyle. Specifically:

One can be a completely immoral, dishonorable ass, and the kami will still answer you as long as you pay them homage and say your prayers in the proper manner.

It is this lack of morality which resulted in the necessary creation of Shintao, which provided a much-needed ethical basis for Rokugani society, and which is in fact the bedrock of their civilization. However, the complex interplay of Shintao, honor, and ancestor worship will have to wait for my next post.

*Perhaps "human" is too limiting, what with the existence of self-aware races before the arrival of humans upon the face of Rokugan. Let's say "sapient" or "intelligent enough to have a culture."

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