Sunday, May 19, 2013

Mars: Religion and Magic (Background)

Horus. Wikipedia.
Hare for hiding,
Falcon for seizing
Jackal for its mate,

Dragon for might,
Beast for endurance,
Serpent for mysteries.

Worm hates them all.

-- Martian Proverb

The Free Human cities and the Brutes share a common religion - the worship of the Animal Powers that can grant success or failure in the harsh Martian wastes.

For every species, every place, even every stone or cloud, there exists a governing spirit.  Some receive only local veneration, such as the spirits of city, of clan or of ancestors.

More universally recognized are the seven Great Spirits, which possess wider power over Martian life: Hare, Falcon, Jackal, Dragon, Beast, Serpent, and Worm. Each merits their due, even Worm the Destroyer.

The Great Spirits are sometimes associated with the different Martian races.  The triad is a sacred number on Mars, representing wholeness and balance.  There are two triads of Spirits, considered generally benevolent.   Hare, Falcon and Jackal originate from Earth, and share an especial closeness with Humans.  Dragon, Beast, and Serpent are all scaled, and may originate from the Brute's original home-world.  As they seem to watch over Brutes especially.  The Ancients, however, have only a single totem creature, Worm. Worm breaks the pattern of completeness.  Some whisper that He devoured his two unknown Brothers, and drove the Ancients to madness.  Until the return to life, Mars will know no healing. 

The nomadic tribes (Brute or Human) worship and venerate the Spirits either individually or following the heads of their family lineages.  Mystics, shamans, and other dedicated religious specialists also exist, following a variety of traditions.

Humans of the Free cities often anthropomorphize the Spirits, representing them as animal-headed or featured gods. A formal priesthood, centered around cult images and temples serves the needs of most of the populace.  Individual magicians work alongside this formal structure, focusing on magic use of the Spirits' powers.

Outsiders disagree on how far the Ancients recognize Spirits. Their iconography and behavior suggests that if they do, they venerate Worm exclusively.  Their slaves often share worship and beliefs with free populations, but darkened or perverted in some way. 

Each Spirit governs certain traits, reflected in its followers, shaping their behavior even on the battlefield, and unleashing miracles and magic.  However much the ignorant Colonists deny such things, Mars' spirits do not sleep quietly.

Chinese Hare. 1333. Wikipedia.


Hare embodies swiftness and deception. A trickster god, he melts into the dunes and the scrub, leading pursuers to misfortune. Always mercurial, worshipers invoke him with trepidation.

Brown Falcon. Wikipedia.


Birds of prey soar on the desert thermals, seeking prey.  When Falcon's keen eye spies a weakness, he swoops, seizing and rending with his talons. When danger strikes, he flies mocking out of reach.

Ethiopian Wolf. Wikipedia.


The wild canids of the Martian wastes travel in pairs or packs, and range in size from tiny scavengers to rangy predators.  Whether he manifests as a married pair, or a pack of kinsmen, Jackal's strength lies in his coordination with his fellows to bring down larger prey and defend his own.

Komodo Dragon. Wikipedia.


The great lizards of the Martian desert wait in the sun, lazy-seeming and slow until they strike.  Then they spring, clutching prey in their indomitable jaws.  Few escape their bite.

Rhinos. Wikipedia.


Herd-beasts and herbivores wander the Martian wastes.  Beast survives where others cannot, and his sun-scarred hides shows the scars of failed attacks.

Red Milk Snake. Wikipedia.


Secretive Serpent is master of magic.  When he bites, his venom destroys larger foes; when he goes to ground, none can find him in his holes; and when he dies, he sheds his skin and lives again.

Earthworm. Wikipedia.


Worm burrows in flesh and rot.  He causes disease and madness, feeding from the suffering of others. At best, he may bring renewal by destroying the weak and ending life.  But on Mars, the balance he might serve has become skewed, and Worm's is now the descending spiral.

Geek Notes

Because of Mars' deep ecological crisis, a religious system based on the Animal Powers seemed an appropriate way to show the deep reverence its peoples have for continued life and wise adaptation to the desert. There is an obvious Native American feel, with a strong African element, but I do not intend it to parallel any particular earthly culture.  The Free Human cities are part of the same religion, but with a Egyptian sort of twist to their iconography.  (Worm makes me nostalgic for old World of Darkness, but honestly, what other animal better embodies corruption?)

Game mechanically, the different Spirits will be the basis of Doctrines for the armies.  Potentially, it gives seven different "spell lists" for the Brutes and Free Humans.  I also intend the Worm to be an option for the Ancients, too.

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