"And the last age should show your heart." — Marvell
There are hundreds, even thousands, of individual religions in the Vaster setting. This section describes the ones with galaxy-wide impact.
General Transcendence Theory
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
— Hamlet, Act I, scene v, 166-167
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
— "Anthem," Leonard Cohen
Religion in general rose greatly in importance as a result of the General Transcedence Theory. This theory developed from Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem as recast for Modal Predicate Logic. Modal predicate logic is a combination of modal logic and predicate logic, rich, flexible, consistent, and intuitive, if not as sparsely elegant as the two base forms. It proved able to resolve a number of otherwise undecidable propositions in mathematics and logic.
Consequently, academics were unwilling to give it up, even when they were disconcerted by the General Transcendence Theorem. Put in informal language, the Theorem says that the existence of any organized system above a modest level of complexity implies the existence of an infinitely rich and subtle background supporting that system. Metaphysically, it implied the existence of the Absolute.
The result, after a generation of accommodation to the idea, was that the default academic philosophical position shifted from agnostic materialism to some form of idealism, monism, or theism. More broadly, religion became more academically respectable, and some form of religious belief became again the default expectation throughout human society. This default was only reinforced in contacts with alien societies.
In General Transcendence Theory, the mysterium is the aspect, quality, or ingredient in a thing that connects it with the Absolute. In popular thought, the Mysterium is that little, inextinguishable spark of magic in things.
In popular belief, the mysterium validated the feelings of haunting or eeriness people might feel, even in places that might not seem promising locations for such things, such as the forests of terraformed planets, or empty sections of space station.
The brain, like anything else, must have a mysterium, and this is popularly identified with the soul. That is not the only possible interpretation: the mysterium of the brain or person could be the connection between body and soul, or no more interesting than the mysterium of a rock (though there are objections to that view), or one's guardian angel or the like. But soul was the idea that caught on.
To the distress of rationalists, if a person's mysterium was their soul, the mysterium of a city, a forest, a sea, a planet, a star was a god. Animism was off and running.
In reaction to this, thinkers of an idealist disposition sought the Absolute in abstractions. Ideas, too, have their mysteria, clearer and more profound than those of, say, dewdrops and sand grains. Or so the idealists felt. This was the origin of Ideolatry.
Go to top.
'Once you start paddlin' with the occult you start believing in spirits, and when you start believing in spirits you start believing in demons, and then before you know where you are you're believing in gods. And then you're in trouble.'
'But all them things exist,' said Nanny Ogg.
'That's no call to go around believing in them. It only encourages 'em.'
— Lords and Ladies, Terry Pratchett
Rational Idealism is based on direct extrapolation from General Transcendence Theory. It teaches that the Absolute requires all sapient beings to pursue the Good, in its forms of Virtue, Truth, and Beauty, which is the Good for the will, the intellect, and the imagination.
The Old School believes, as an article of faith, that the more the civilized galaxy pursues these goals, the nearer history will stay to its best possible course, but deliberately denies knowledge of any individual salvation.
The more popular New School, applying General Transcendence Theory and the concept of the mysterium to epistemology and philosophical psychology, teaches the existence of individual, supernatural souls. The New School's founding texts say little about the fate of these souls after death, but popular writing and literature speculates freely about a ghost life of watching the living, or reincarnation as people, animals, or even plants, waves, winds, or other objects.
There are no clergy or places of worship. The religious community is held together by publications and personal communication.
Go to top.
"First: The phenomenal world of matter and of individualized consciousness – the world of things and beasts and people and even gods – is the manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have their being, and apart from which they would be non-existent.
"Second: Mortals are capable not merely of knowing about the Divine Ground by inference; they can also realize its existence by a direct intuition, superior to discursive reasoning. This immediate knowledge unites the knower with that which is known.
"Third: Mortals possesses a double nature, a phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, which is the inner person, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul. It is possible for a mortal, if they so desire, to identify themselves with the spirit and therefore with the Divine Ground, which is of the same or like nature with the spirit.
"Fourth: Mortal life on earth has only one end and purpose: to identify oneself with one's eternal Self and so to come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground."
The above is the creed of Perennialism. It is followed out in life by following a regime of meditation and a moral code of strict honesty and moderation. There are a few Perennialist temples and shrines, but the religion is most practiced privately and through publications and personal communications.
Go to top.
Around the ancient track marched, rank on rank,
The army of unalterable law.
— "Lucifer by Starlight," George Meredith
This is a popular position for those who accept the concensus on the existence of the Absolute but do not accept any organized religion and are skeptical of reports of miracle or revelation. The two main forms are a monotheistic one that usually believes in Heaven and Hell and a pantheistic one that usually believes in reincarnation. Mixtures of the two forms are not uncommon.
Deists believe the cosmos has a divine origin, but believe that any guidance since the creation consists of spiritual inspiration of people and providential organization of circumstance within the limits of natural law, at the very most. This may or may not preclude hearing and answering prayer, depending on the particular deist.
There are no significant deistic religions, though there are authors who defend the position philosophically. More often, there are deistic branches or movements within more organized religions.
Go to top.
The worship of Platonic archetypes, the dominant religion of the Old Skies region, and the state religion of the Humanate. The commonest ideas worshipped form a "pantheon" of twenty arche.
Philosophically, an arche is a root or fundamental concept. In Ideolatry, it is a concept or principle worth worshipping. The word is pronounced "AR-kay" and both singular and plural in Ideolatrous usage.
The twenty arche are:
You can find temples to these concepts in all major cities of the Old Skies and the Humanate; shrines to them are everywhere (e.g. to Wisdom in a library); and various amulets and portable shrines are popular with devotees. In addition to the Humanate, it is the state religion of many Old Skies societies. It blends syncretistically with many other religions, including the Spacefarers' Pantheon, Buddhism, and Hinduism.
It is practiced at all levels of spiritual sophistication and includes bizarre side-cults (like the worshippers of Color, or even Green), worship of "devil-concepts" (like Pain or Death), and shadowy cults to ambiguous concepts (like Illusion, Change, or Stasis). As with most polytheisms, most worshippers have one or two favorites, usually from the main pantheon, and give general and traditional recognition of all the rest.
The arche are often personified when spoken and written of. In literal truth, some Ideolators regard them as gods, and some do not, but literalism is really foreign to Ideolatry. The Ideolatrous attitude toward the arche is more like that of St. Francis toward "Lady Poverty" or "Brother Fire" or "Sister Water" — simultaneously sincere and metaphorical.
Each concept is represented by one or more traditional symbols, e.g.:
Offerings are made at shrines and temples in the forms of donations, flowers, hand-food, vitamins, incense, or the singing or playing of hymns.
There is no body of doctrine or scripture. There is a mythology in the form of a body of popular classics, all allegorical or symbolist:
Priests direct the performance of public worship, manage temples, and counsel worshippers relative to the concept they are dedicated to:
Priests are consecrated by older priests of the same concept. There are "sacerdoteries" (seminaries) where priests are trained. These vary in formality and respectability according to local culture and the concepts involved. Humanate priests of Justice, for instance, are part of a very clear and detailed command structure. A priest of luck on a border planet might not be much more than a vendor of charms.
As the state religion of the Humanate, Ideolatry receives government funding. Under most administrations, at least nominal membership is required for government careers. The Humanate government subsidizes dissemination of Ideolatrous religious works and often restricts dissemination of other religious works. In extreme cases, Humanate administrations have made conversion to or membership in other religions a crime for humans. However, the degree of religious bias varies a lot over time and place.
Go to top.
It's God they ought to crucify instead of you and me
I said to the carpenter, a-hanging on the tree
— "Friday Morning," Sydney Carter
Conciliation is the most widespread Christian body, technically a Communion of denominations rather than a denomination itself. It contains many major and ancient Christian denominations. Concilian churches all use the Apostles' Creed but, beyond that, discourage disputes over doctrine or church government that would lead to rifts in the communion.
By now, outside the Old Skies, most Christians are simply Concilians, without other denominational membership. Concilian congregations decide individually whether to remain independent and accept ministers from whatever seminaries they see fit, or to join any of several competing hierarchies in their area; these hierarchies do, eventually, trace back to denominations in the Old Skies.
The vast majority of Concilians accept any Terran as a member, regardless of species, thus including neo-humans, neo-beasts, and AIs.
A majority accept aliens as members. Some feel that all intelligences, Terran or not, should be Christian; a larger group feels that aliens have their own divinely appointed destinies, but, if they choose to become Christian, this choice is accepted by Heaven.
General Concilian opinion is that, while Christ is the sole agent of salvation for Terrans and all Terrans ought to be Christians, non-Christian Terrans can be saved by Christ, whether they realize it or not.
The major divisions within Conciliation are not doctrinal or denominational, but by rite — liturgy and other modes of religious expression. The main rites are Old Rite, Egyptian Rite, and Alien Rite.
Old Rite Conciliation uses imagery and sacraments that would be reasonably familiar to Christians of the first millennia of Christianity. It is commonest in congregations that are all-Terran or heavily Terran-influenced, and thus it is the commonest Rite in the Old Skies region.
Many non-human Christians – neo-beast, AI, or alien – found religious art dominated by human figures to be oppressive and alienating. They and their human allies developed the Egyptian Rite of Conciliation, most notable for its zoomorphic religious art. Angels, for instance, are typically represented as griffins, and demons as winged Set-beasts. Ezekiel's cherubim are favorite subjects, as are Isaiah's seraphim, depicted as winged, feathered dragons. The Father is represented as a sun-disk with rays that are hands, an image taken straight from Atenism, though sometimes adorned with a Tetragrammaton.
While Concilians of the Egyptian Rite certainly affirm that Christ was born as a Jewish male human, their iconography seldom represents him that way. Instead, Christ may be represented as:
Egyptian Rite Concilians have rituals that are called, especially in hierarchical congregations, eighth and ninth sacraments. One is vows of blood-siblinghood, made with prayer and usually with the blessing of a minister or priest. The other is consecration of an act of amalo, usually done when starting.
In the Egyptian Rite, in deference to the non-human family structures of many of the faithful, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are often referred to as the Pantocrator, Conciliator, and Paraclete.
Conservative Old Rite Concilians view the iconography of the Egyptian Rite with dismay. It looks so ... pagan. The Egyptian Rite is commonest in congregations with moderately strong connections to Earth and a rich mixture of species.
The Alien Rite is for those who find even the Egyptian Rite too redolent of Earth, a planet they find irrelevant or repellent. Its iconography is almost wholly abstract. Christ is represented by a cross, a seven-pointed star, an octagon, or the number 888. Sometimes Christ, the "head of the church," is represented as a haloed head or face of one sapient species or another, but almost never human. The Holy Spirit is always represented as a flame. The Father is represented as a circle imposed on a triangle, derived from the intertwined alpha-omega, or a piece of calligraphy based on the Tetragrammaton.
The Alien Rite uses the terms Pantocrator, Conciliator, and Paraclete much more extensively than the Egyptian Rite, and scriptures and common prayers are likewise de-natured.
The Alien Rite uses the same nine sacraments as the Egyptian Rite, but modifies materials used to be compatible with as many races as possible. In place of bread and wine for eucharist, it uses glucose wafers and glucose solution (in water or ammonia). Baptism is done with loose, light pellets instead of water. Think packing peanuts...
Egyptian Rite Concilians make similar modifications, but only as necessary, not routinely. They find the Alien Rite extreme and cold. Old Rite Concilians don't find the iconography as disturbing as that of the Egyptian Rite, but of course perceive the anti-Earthly bias. And they are not at all impressed by the Sacred Ball Pit of Baptism. Alien Rite Conciliation is the only form of Christianity allowed in Keribor.
Some Christians identify Christ with Ormazd, the good son of Zurvan in Zurvanism. While affirming all points of the Apostles' Creed and the Christian canon, they take Zurvanism as a precursor to their own faith and give serious, if qualified, consideration to its teachings. In fact, there is little area of conflict; the main difference is that Mazdian Christians regard Ahriman, the evil son of Zurvan, as a mere fallen angel, identical with Satan, not an evil demiurge.
Mazdian Christians take heroes and angels of Zurvanism as real, and revere them. They also use many of the same symbols as Zurvanism and work elements of Zurvanite ritual into their own rite, which is otherwise based on Old Rite symbolism. The most conspicuous example of this is their use of fire. Together with the Zurvanites, they developed the liturgies of the Pyrodules. Their own symbol is a cross wrapped in a stylized flame.
Go to top.
The sharp curved line of the Prophet's blade
That cuts the Obedience from the Obeyed.
— The Region of the Summer Stars, Charles Williams
"Entrega" is the Spanish word for "submission." The founding Entregados accused traditional conservative Islam of idolizing Mohammed and the Quran (in the case of the Sunni majority) or Ali (in the case of the Shi'a). They produced a version of Islam that de-emphasized the hadith and generally de-Arabized itself (as indicated in the Spanish name), in order to concentrate on the message, not the messenger or the text or the merely human cultural accretions.
Within three or four generations of scholarship, this led to a wide range of interpretive freedom. For instance, Entrega does not require daily prayer to be in Arabic, and some branches of Entrega actively discourage the use of Arabic.
Entrega freely allows nonhuman membership and there are many alien Entregados. Mohammed is definitely the last Terran prophet, but Entregado denominations differ among themselves on whether or not there can be any alien prophets after Mohammed.
Most Entregados practice one or another form of Sufism, mostly called "Esufio." In addition to the existing schools of Sufi, Entrega produced two more, Escuela Psicotecnico and Escuela Extranjero.
Psicotecnico uses psychotechnics to cultivate religious experiences. It is not a simple matter of taking entheogenic drugs or stimulating the related brain centers. By themselves, these methods produce unreliable results. Instead, mnemonic techniques are used to help learn the teacher's lessons and memorize the highly allusive and metaphorical literature provided; attentional methods are used to assist concentration; the famous dancing of Esufidos is cultivated using the same psychotechnic conditioning for agility and endurance used in ballet; and so on. Entheogenic stimulation is used only after all this is done, if it is still necessary.
If challenged that the are simply manufacturing a religious experience, the Esufidos dela Escuela Psicotecnico retort along these lines: No one claims that the work of a scholar or artist are invalidated by psychotechnic methods; an astronomer using psychotechnics to enhance their memory, perception, and concentration does not therefore perceive unreal stars; why, then, should they regard their religious perceptions as invalid because they are cultivated using psychotechnics? They sometimes cite Williams James on the "medical fallacy."
Just as each species must have its own body of psychotechnic techniques, each must have its own metodo, method, for the Escuela Psicotecnico. This means many metodos are required, just to cover all the Terran races.
Extranjero uses zeening (sensory telepathy between species) as a meditation technique, and incorporates alien music, poetry, and dance forms into its own hymns and dances. It is, naturally, the commonest form of Esufio practiced by non-Terran Entregados, with each species typically developing one or more variants, metodos, to suit itself.
Los Cuatro Arcángeles ("The Four Archangels") is the title of a book of devotional poetry, a seminal work of Entregado Sufism. The four archangels are Gabriel, Michael, Raphael (Israphel in Arabic), and Uriel (Azrael in Arabic). The book celebrates God, mystical union, humanity, and the world in terms of the four angels – four main divine attributes, four kinds of religious ecstasy, four temperaments of humanity, four main phases of matter, four principal dimensions, and so on.
The book makes frequent addresses and exhortations to the four angels, together and separately. These and their imitations in later works, formed the basis for angelocentric prayers and liturgies. Soon, one or all of the archangels, or references to them, appeared in the designs of Entregado mezquitas (mosques) and shrines. It is very common for a highly observant Entregado to have a favorite from among the four, in the same way that a Christian may have a favorite saint.
Naturally enough, Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, when charged with idolatry of the Quran or Ali, came to retort with charges of idolatry of the Four Archangels.
Go to top.
Several forms of Buddhism, mostly new schools of Mahayana, are widely spread through the galaxy. Many non-human sages are recognized as buddhas or bodhisatvas in these schools. Famous instances include:
A syncretism of Ideolatry and Buddhism, very popular, especially in Rete, where it is the default. It's basically Idolatry with karma and reincarnation, or Mahayana Buddhism with the twenty standard arche as "conceptual buddhas." Adherents expect to be reincarnated in a Pure-Land-like afterlife where enlightenment will be easier to obtain. Local variations collect lower pantheons of devas and heroes.
Go to top.
One day, the same anonymous manuscript showed up on the doorsteps (sometimes literally) of eight different publishers, each one in five languages. It purported to be the lost original Zurvanite scripture (translated into four languages) that was destroyed by Alexander at the sack of Persepolis. The message also said it would give no sources, because it would only cause controversy, and the text should stand on its own.
The text consisted of four short books and eight psalms. There was also a summary or creed or catechism, supplied by the anonymous donor, the main points being:
Zurvan is God is Time is Act is Becoming.
He has two sons, good Ormazd and evil Ahriman, demiurges.
Under these are hierarchies of angels and demons.
Souls are pre-existent, the creations of Ormazd. All who are born have volunteered to be born.
At death, souls return to heaven, or go to purgatory, or are occasionally reincarnated, but all eventually return to heaven.
There are no claims made in the Zurvanite scripture to miracles, messiahs, or doomsdays.
There is a list of seven virtues, corresponding to the seven archangels ("Amesha Spentas," Magnanimous Immortals):
Wisdom, Justice, Resolve, Temperance, Piety, Honesty, Benevolence
The books describe a liturgy featuring sacred fire and water, summarized by the donor.
Inspired by the anonymity of the donor, many early converts set up anonymous shrines and, later, a few temples. A tradition of secrecy came to run through Zurvanism, stemming from this founding, not its scripture. Zurvanite society is rich in Mason-like lodges and secret societies. It readily took on amalo, the alien tradition of anonymous conspiracies to do good.
Many Zurvanites are also Deists or Rational Idealists, since Zurvanite scripture has no miraculous or mythical content, and what is implied in the liturgies and psalms can be taken as metaphor or allegory.
This abstractive tendency and secrecy sometimes gives Zurvanite denominations a gnostic feel. This is countered by the fact that, after all, they worship a father-and-son pair of creator gods, just like Christians. (Some Christians, in fact, deride Zurvanism as Christianity minus Incarnation. Mazdian Christians regard Zurvanite theology as accurate for pre-Incarnation conditions.)
The scripture describes the rituals a priest must perform but does not specify who may be a priest. Early congregations elected their priests from their own number, and many Zurvanites still do. Other denominations set up seminaries and required certification from them for their priests. Then these seminaries would be appealed to for arbitration, and ecclesiastical hierarchies grew up.
The main Zurvanite denominations are Original, Deist, Asterope Seminarian, Canopian Seminarian, and Universal (with the largest alien membership).
The symbols of Zurvanism are a stylized flame in a circle or an angel emerging from a flame, derived from the farvahar of Zoroastrianism.
Go to top.
A small but conspicuous religion, galactic-scale ancestor worshippers. They revere the past, transcended civilizations, with special attention to the Precursors, the ones immediately preceding us. They are fond of circulating stories of encounters with Precursors. Their principal religious rituals are seances in which they make telepathic contact with Precurors. You would think transcended Precursors would deliver messages of more import than reassurance and general uplift.
Go to top.
Pyrodulity is not a religion, but a liturgy, a set of prayers and rituals. It is the popularization of rituals of Zurvanism, together with elements of Christianity, emphasizing the imagery of sacred fire or the Holy Spirit as flame. Pyrodules may be of almost any religion, but Zurvanites, Christians, and Deists are commonest. Ideolators are rare. Here is a sample of their prayers:
Prayer of Lighting (said on lighting a votive lamp):
The Fire burns in every star. It burns in every atom. With this flame, we ask that the Fire burn in our lives and in our souls.Prayer of Kindling (said on lighting one votive lamp from another):
As this flame kindles another, let the blessing of the Fire spread from life to life and soul to soul.Prayer of Quenching (said on deliberately extinguishing a votive lamp):
The Fire burns in every star. It burns in every atom. We quench this flame, but let the Fire still burn in our lives and souls.Prayer of Snuffing (said on the accidental extinguishing of a votive lamp):
The Fire burns in every star. It burns in every atom. Though this flame ceases, let the Fire remain in our lives and souls.Prayer of Burning (said against harm from fires caused by votive lamps):
Let this flame burn only to warm and light souls and lives. Let it not burn to destroy.Warmth Blessing (said over persons or objects blessed by votive fires):
The Fire burns in every star. It burns in every atom. Let the warmth and light of the Fire's blessing be on ____.Preface of Fire:
In the light of the Fire, I/we pray: _____
Go to top.
The Watchers are not the objects of religious devotion — at least not publicly — but they are objects, or rumored objects, of spiritual experience, reported by occasional clairvoyants and telepaths.
Sometimes, when a psychic is out in intergalactic space, especially if they are alone, they have an overwhelming sense of being watched. Others have felt this when on exploratory expeditions near black holes, especially Saj-A at the center of the galaxy. Still others have felt it when alone in the presence of deep and ancient datastrates or other remains of previous civilizations.
These watchers, if they are not psychic hallucinations (and no one has ever been able to disbelieve in them while feeling their gaze), seem utterly neutral, neither hostile nor caring. But not indifferent. They are very attentive, even after seeing more than a thousand civilizations come ... and go.
Go to top.
Return to Vaster
Return to Wind Off the Hilltop
Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2010