Magic and Religion in Ontentzu
In Ontentzu, there are no clerics, paladins or druids—-those divine traditions do not exist here. However, there are many other religious traditions in Ontentzu, although in Ontentzu, the line between the divine, the arcane, and the mundane is blurred, and it is more accurate to say that all aspects of existence are thought of as being of the same stuff.
The Celestial Order.
The central theme of all Ontenzin religion is the idea of the Celestial Order, the divinely mandated hierarchy into which all creation is placed. The traditional artistic metaphor explaining this order is of a mountain reaching towards the heavens. The mountain represents the mortal world; at its peak is the Emperor, descended from the gods and sovereign of the whole world. Below him are his family and children, below them the nobles of the seven clans, and below them the common folk who make up the base and roots of the mountain. Shit about heinin and heimin from da book. Mountains in Ontentzu, which often appear singly in otherwise flat areas, are given mystical significance as bridges between heaven and earth, mortals and spirits (except for the eastern range, the Devil Spine, which are seen as ominous because of their barrier nature, and also because of ancient and misremembered history about the founding of the Empire and the flight from Valua.)
Above the mountain is the sky, and this represents the spirit world, the world of the kami. The countless stars in the sky represent the countless kami, and the brightest stars form constellations that represent the seven okami (see below). Because of the association between the heavens/constellations and the spiritual, astrology and astronomy are highly respected arts in Ontentzu.
The most common type of religion does not honor “gods,” or at least not gods such as a Valuan would understand. To the animist shaman, everything—-man and beast, stone and plant, sun, moon, star and mountain—-is metaphysically composed of a sliver of the Divine or Unknowable Source (Itsuji-Shikata) from which the universe arose. Because of this connection between all things, each thing in the mortal world is tied to its spiritual counterpart, spirits can have a presence in the mortal world, and powerful spirits act much like gods in the traditional sense. The most powerful spirits (Okami) are seven, and correspond to the seven clans.
Amaterasu the Sun Goddess corresponds to the Yamato clan and is the queen mother of the gods. The Emperor claims to be directly descended from this goddess. Amaterasu is the mother of many spirits besides the Emperor’s line, but her children are now very old and she has been chaste for long ages.
Susano, the Storm God, corresponds to the Arashi clan. He is a magical trickster and rival of Amaterasu, who long ago spurned him in love. Susano still loves Amaterasu and constantly tries to outwit her in the hopes of impressing her and winning her favor. He is served by two lesser kami who embody different aspects of the storm, Fujin the god of wind and Raiden the god of lightning.
Hachiman, the God of War, is the patron of the Lion Clan. He is a terrifying yet awe-inspiring lion-headed man whose mane is regal yet whose maw is blood-flecked. Certain Lion clan warriors (with levels in barbarian) are said to access Hachiman’s fury in battle, gaining superhuman strength and endurance.
Ryujin the Water God is the spirit of a powerful dragon that once controlled all the lakes and rivers in Ontentzu and is the patron of the River Clan. It is said that three friends—-a fisherman, a bargeman and a canal-digger—-each met Ryujin on separate occasions, and were warned by the dragon to cease meddling with the waters of the world, and to warn humankind of this as well. But the three relied on the waters for their livelihoods, and together they went to meet Ryujin to plead their case. Ryujin made them an offer; if they could each perform an arduous task demonstrating their mastery of the waters, Ryujin would cede the mastery of Ontentzu’s waterways to humanity. If they failed, Ryujin promised a painful death to each. The fisherman had to catch all the fish in a great lake in the span of a single day, but with the help of a spider kami, he made an enormous net that caught all the fish at once. The bargeman was tasked to haul Ryujin’s massive body from one end of the canal network to another, using only his barge and mules. However the bargeman was a master of origami, and called upon his magic origami mule. He transformed it into a mule of flesh and blood with incredible strength that was able to drag the huge dragon across the country. Finally the canal-digger was told to make the great connecting canal, a hundred miles long, in a single day; he completed the task by using an earthquake-strike technique he learned from a kami of old stone. Ryujin was so impressed by the cleverness of the mortals that he allowed them to rule the inland waters of Ontentzu, and he retired to his coral castle deep in the sea. That is why today the Kawa clan rules the waters of Ontentzu, but the open seas are still fraught with danger because Ryujin did not forget his comeuppance at the hands of mortals and may lash out at them if they travel in his domain.
Benzaiten is said to be the goddess of everything that flows: words (and knowledge, by extension), speech, eloquence, and music. She is the patron of the Crane clan and the most persuasive of the gods; her silver tongue has solved many godly dilemmas. She is also a lover of many gods and kami; her lovers are often bitter rivals but her voice usually resolves the fights between her many paramours.
Houou or Ho-oh is the Great Phoenix and especially esteemed by the Dragon clan. In its eternal cycle of life and death, dark ashes and bright fire, the Phoenix represents both rebirth and the Void (see Void Disciples, below). To the Dragon clan, Houou also represents the fiery passion of creativity. When a great artist is seized by inspiration and goes into a creative trance, it is said that “the Phoenix has hatched in his mind.”
Ulgen is the god of the “big sky,” the phenomenon of awe and insignificance one feels when beneath the vastness of the heavens, a feeling especially potent in the endless steppelands of the Unicorn clan. Ulgen is thought of as being an “other” in the world of spirits, a wandering spirit from another time and place who found safe haven in the lands of Ontentzu. Unicorn clan members typically embrace their own outsiderness and that of their kami, as they prefer the freedom of the outsider’s life. Horses are especially important to Ulgan and, of course, to the Unicorn. The first offspring of a prized stallion is often sacrificed to Ulgan before the stallion continues to breed.
Besides these 7 okami or greater kami, there are many lesser kami—-in fact, everything imaginable has a kami associated with it. In addition to kami of specific things such as a certain mountain, river or tree, there are kami of more abstract concepts, such as “false hope,” “the reflection of the moon in the water,” or “The carp of Lake Ghouping.” In poetical Ontenzin there are said to be eight million kami; this specific number is not meant to be a literal total but rather implies an infinite number. In general, Ontenzins pray and make offerings not to a single kami with which they feel a special bond (as is the relationship between Valuans and their gods) but rather to a wide variety of kami that they seek to appease to help with specific problems.
The shaman class represents an Ontenzin with a special connection to the spirit world.
One part of the animist tradition of Ontentzu that is not widely discussed is the myth of the Transcendent Ending Battle (Henshin-kaisen-ate), a prophecy of apocalyptic battle and rebirth in Ontentzu and in the spirit world. The myth states that there will come a day when the legions of lesser kami, weary of their duties as stewards of the mortal world, will go to war with the seven okami in an attempt to overthrow the celestial order. This heavenly civil war will correspond to an earthly war of the nobles in Ontenzu against the common people. Each of the greater kami will fight prophesized battles and die in a specific way. Eventually, though the earth and the spirit world will be greatly damaged and changed beyond recognition, the lesser kami will defeat and absorb the power of the seven great kami, forever destroying the old order. At this time, the surviving members of the mortal races will themselves migrate en masse to the spirit world, and by partaking of the combined power of the okami, each man will become a god (Henshin). The new gods will create a new order of mortals, and the cycle of the universe will begin anew. The Henshin Mystic prestiege class represents an adherent of this tradition. The Transcendent Ending Battle is a popular legend among commoners, but common folktales about it typically omit the ascendance of all mortals to godhood, and the concept of henshin is a mystical secret known only to initiates. Naturally, the nobles of Ontentzu consider the Transcendent Ending Battle and Henshin mystics to be dangerous threats to the sanctity of the Celestial Order.
The Five Rings.
The second mystical tradition of Ontentzu are the Five Rings or the Five Elements, the elemental building blocks of the world whose powers can be accessed by noble priests called shugenja. The theory of the Five Rings arose as philosophers pondered the nature of the world and the spirits. Ontenzin religion holds that all things have spirits and thus all things are made of the same fundamental matter, the Unknowable Source. These theories divide all matter and energy into five categories or elements, Air, Fire, Earth, and Water forming most of what we can perceive as well as most of the spirit world. The Fifth Element, Void, is a bit more complex and is rooted in a tradition of ascetic mysticism that produced the traditions of the wu jen (see below). Shugenja are noble spellcasters who specialize in one of the five elements. They can be considered elemental priests, calling upon the elements in the way a Valuan cleric calls upon the spells of his god’s domains. In the same way a priest of Moradin may shape stone through the Earth clerical domain, an Earth shugenja can shape stone by calling upon the primal element of Earth without the mediation of a deity.
Most of the fundamental matter that makes up men and spirits is formed of the first four elements, Air Earth Water and Fire. However, there is a fifth element, Void, traditionally represented as a gray circle surrounded by white, black, blue and red circles that represent Air, Earth, Water and Fire respectively. Void is said to be both the absence of all other elements, and the perfect harmony of all the elements at once. It is dangerous and powerful, and shugenjas who seek to master it are rightly feared. The element of Void is associated with fate as well as with strange magical powers. Void shugenja and members of the Void Disciple prestige class are one part of the Void tradition. Contemplation and study of the Void was further refined in the tradition of the wu jen.
Wu Jen and the Tao.
Building on the rituals and techniques of Void shugenja, a new tradition of folk magic and hermetic study arose in Ontentzu, called Tao-Kyomu or the Path of Oblivion, or simply the Tao meaning path or way. The Tao is a way of ascetic living; diligent study of the Tao can produce the magical powers of wu jen. To commune with the Void in this way, a Taoist magician must master several concepts. One of the central themes of Tao-Kyomu is “wu wei,” “without action,” and “wei wu wei,” or “action without action”/“effortless effort.” This is the idea that one must know when to act and when to do nothing, essentially, it is the art of “going with the flow.” Wu wei goes hand in hand with the concept of Pu: literally derived from the phrase “uncarved wood,” it means the state of readiness, acceptance, and potential, a state of inaction in which once can contemplate all possible paths without prejudice or illusion. Only by first mastering inaction can one attain mastery over De (or Te), the “active Tao” that allows wu jen to perform magical feats.
Wu jen are arcane spellcasters and are most analagous to Valuan wizards, in that intellectual study and contemplation are how they achieve their powers. Wu jen are scholarly but more often solitary and hermetic rather than cooperative, as valuan wizards are, and their studies tend more towards the practical than the escoteric. Powerful wu jen are said to live on mountaintops, where they can easily access the spirit world, and to have many strange powers. Some even discover the secret of immortality and live in the mountains forever, or else take leave of the mortal world for parts unknown.
As part of their study of the Tao, wu jen impose strict limitations on their actions, known as taboos. Each of a wu jen’s taboos represents the wu jen’s attempts to let go the desires of the physical self. By giving up things the wu jen once thought of as necessary (such as forbidding the eating of meat or the cutting of his hair), he shows his willingness to go with the flow and his mastery of wu-wei. Or, the wu jen’s taboos can be restrictions that the wu jen uses to deliberately inconvenience himself (such as never closing his eyes except in sleep, or only eating and drinking at certain times or in certain ways), and these taboos show the wu jen’s state of Pu, his ability to accept and follow unusual paths simply because he can. The more the wu jen’s powers grow, the more strictures he must place on his conduct to power his connection to the Tao.
Wu jen differ from Void shugenja in a number of ways. Most notably, very few wu jen belong to the noble caste, but only nobles may become shugenja. Wu jen use the Tao as a way to access and analyze the power of the Void and view their craft as a natural science, whereas shugenja ascribe religious significance to their magic and emphasize correct decorum and ritual when casting spells. Wu jen magic is based on extensive experimentation and has traditions of alchemy and other sciences, whereas shugenja magic is formalized and ritualistic; inventiveness and atypical magic use are frowned upon by shugenja because the elements are seen as forces so powerful and unknowable that to meddle with them is dangerous.
A related philosophy is that of the Bosatsudo Monks, who believe that the only means to escape the suffering inherent in life (and afterlife) is to fully comprehend and embrace the oblivion of the void. They hold that this enlightenment can only be achieved through great wisdom, but that every individual that achieves this state push all sentient beings closer to full understanding and freedom. By committing to a path of honest poverty, physical and mental discipline, and constant contemplation, these monks hope to uplift all.
The mystical force of life itself, ki (qi, chi) is said to be what empowers great warriors and martial artists. Less a force of magic and more of a natural energy, ki is of the body and can be channeled through bodily movements to convey certain benefits and allow great feats of bodily prowess. Monks are the primary martial users of ki, although other martial classes such as sohei, samurai and fighters can attain greater or lesser mastery over different ki techniques. The various techniques of harnessing and using ki are collectively called ki-gong (“ki-gathering”). When warriors channel their ki, they can enhance their strength, swiftness and skill, allowing them to perform superhuman feats in battle such as tremendous leaps, temporary weightlessness or perfect balance, and even levitation. However, there is a distinction between such martial use of ki and ki sorcerors, who use their bodies’ energy to create magical effects more like those of other spellcasters.
Sorcerors in Ontentzu are like sorcerors elsewhere in terms of gameplay. In the world of Ontentzu, sorcerors gain their powers from mastery of their ki, and sorcery is thought of as “body magic” as opposed to that of wu jen (“mind magic”) and shugenja and shamans (“spirit magic”). To become a master sorceror requires confidence and force of will to harness naturally occuring ki, and various bodily exercises that direct the flow of ki through the body. Sorcerors must spend many hours practicing these complex body movements, slowly and calmly with a focus on perfecting the exact movements. Only when a potential sorceror has practiced his forms extensively is he ready to deploy them quickly in battle, gathering, directing and releasing his ki to produce a variety of magical effects. The dedication required to learn the various movement forms is why sorcerors have a limited number of known spells, as opposed to other casters who can learn new spells from books or religious ceremonies.
The harmony of the paths.
Animism, elementalism, Taoism and ki-gong overlap and borrow extensively from one another. Unlike in the lands of Valua where religious and ideological differences bring strife, differing religious practices are rarely a source of conflict in Ontentzu. The most prevalent attitude regarding the mystical is that it manifests differently in the mind of every man, and thus all mystical paths are acceptable as long as they are not harmful to others. This is why only blood sorcery and oni-pacts are forbidden magics in Ontentzu.