Tuesday, April 30, 2013

World-Building Exercise: Cosmology of the Western Isles

This is a continuation of last week’s world-building exercise, which started as a discussion of how Hasbro could potentially market D&D with specific characters in the same way that it markets soldier-based toys via G.I. Joe.
Every fantasy realm needs a Cosmology.  To keep this one simple, I decided to use Roman mythology as my base, simplifying and abstracting as necessary.  What follows may seem ludicrously over-complicated, but in reality, it’s but a fraction of what the Romans’ true religion actually contained.  I’ve tried to cut this down without changing its essential nature—as I understand it—more than was absolutely necessary.

With that said, all of these old stories fascinate me.  The Romans had a tendency to personify concepts in a way that I’ve never seen before.  For example, Liber was the male version of the spirit of liberty, while Libera was his female counter-part.  Does that mean that the Romans somehow believed that there was an actual divine spirit of liberty running around as a servant of the gods, or—as seems more likely—were Liber and Libera merely convenient romantic notions meant to help common people understand complicated ideas?
Anyway, Roman mythology provides a convenient, universal starting point for our story, and that’s why I’m using it.
An Overview of the Twelve and the Nature of the Divine
The Twelve Gods go by the name Dii Consentes in the Empire of Holy Sentaria.  In the Western Isles, they are called Olympians and are often thought of as differing in appearance and personality.  Even so, modern religious scholars do not doubt that the two traditions actually speak of the same essential divine beings, though why the Twelve allow their worshippers on the Continent to Call them differently than they are Called in the Western Isles is one of the great mysteries of the divine nature.  
Scholars are similarly divided on the nature of the Nordlander gods.  Like the Dii Consentes, the Nordlander gods answer their supplicants’ prayers with tangible divine power.  What is unclear is whether these are the same divine beings that are known in the West.  For example, is the Nordlanders’ All-Father Odin the same as He who is called Jupiter in Imperial Sentaria and Zeus in the Western Isles?  If He is the same, then why in Nordland is His son Thor given dominion over storms while in the West, He has no son and retains the power of storm and sky for His own domain?  But if He is not the same, then how can there be two All-Fathers?  
Unfortunately, in the quest for the answers to these most fundamental questions, there can be no proof, only speculation.  Most modern religious scholars therefore accept that there are aspects of the divine that mere mortals can never understand.  Still, in the last century, scholars in the Western Isles have begun to postulate that the Twelve are not actually distinct beings but are in fact simply Aspects of but a single divine union, a God and Goddess from whom the Twelve are not truly distinct but are merely divine facets of the overarching power that is the All.   But while this theory has gained a certain following in the Western Isles, it is held as heresy in Imperial Sentaria, punishable by death.  Thus, religious strife is but one more reason why the Empire and the Western Isles appear to be on a collision course towards war.
The Twelve in Daily Life
While worshippers in the West may pay homage to a specific god, goddess, or divine couple in a specific circumstance—and indeed, one may even identify most closely with one specific aspect of the divine in one’s day-to-day life—nowhere in the West are worshippers limited to the worship of but a single deity.  Instead, one pays homage to the Twelve, in whatever aspect is most appropriate at any given time.  For example, the same soldier might pray to Mars before a battle, to Jupiter before his voyage home, and to Venus upon reunion with his wife.  In this, the soldier honors the Twelve, though in his daily life he can rightfully be said to be a follower of Mars.
Regardless, at temple the Dii Consentes are generally depicted as six pairs of couples, although the context of the presentation may affect who is paired with whom.  The pairs balance their mates, with the nature of that balance meant to offer insight into the nature of the universe and of the divine itself.
Jupiter - King of the Gods.  God of the storm, air, and sky.
Juno - Queen of the Gods and goddess of matrimony.  Mother of Venus.
Juno and Jupiter are the supreme couple of the Twelve and the parents of Venus.  Jupiter watches over all while his wife is the goddess of marriage, from which springs the future of mankind.
Mercury - Messenger of the gods and bearer of souls to the underworld.
Ceres - Goddess of the home and harvest.
Mercury is the traveler of the gods, often depicted as winged of foot.  He is balanced by Ceres, who waits at home tending the fields and farm.
Apollo - God of the sun, poetry, music, and oracles.
Diana - Goddess of the moon, the hunt, virginity, and childbirth.
Apollo and Diana are said to be twins, not lovers.  His domain is the day and the arts while hers is the night and the violence by which society feeds.  Together, they hold the domain of fate and the future.
Mars - God of war and father of Romulus[1]; lover of Venus.
Minerva - Goddess of wisdom, war, the arts, industries and the trades.
Mars is the god of war.  In the Western Isles, this makes him the god of violence and a figure of evil while in Holy Sentaria, he is reckoned the bringer of civilization via conquest.  Mars is often paired with his lover, Venus, but though theirs is a fruitful union—from them comes Proserpina—it is also temporary and illicit.  
In marriage, Mars is paired to Minerva, goddess of wisdom, industry, and trade. Old soldiers say that this is because passion is pleasure, but victory comes from preparation and superior strategy.
Vulcan - God of the forge, fire, and blacksmiths, husband to Venus.
Venus - Goddess of love, beauty, sexuality, and gardens; mother of the founding hero Aeneas[2].  With Mars, the mother of Proserpina.
Vulcan is the god of the forge—and of hard work.  His rage at his wife’s betrayal burns hot, but ultimately, she is still his; she can only truly be herself in the home that he provides.
Neptune - God of the sea and earthquakes.
Vesta - Goddess of the hearth and the state itself and Keeper of the Sacred Fire.
Neptune is the god of the sea and disaster.  He is the closest thing that the Twelve have to a god of mischief or chaos, though he is not a trickster; he is the sea—both bountiful blessing and scourge of wind and waves.  Vesta, meanwhile, is the goddess of the state and the Keeper of the Hearth and the Sacred Flame.  She is constancy to her husband’s fickle nature, though in truth the one could not exist without the other.
Pluto and the Other Gods
The Twelve may be the primary gods of Continental civilization, but they are by no means the only gods of men.  Pluto, in particular, is an important god, though his worship is virtually forbidden.
  1. Pluto - The God of the dead.
  1. Orcus - Scourge of the underworld and punisher of broken oaths.  
  2. Dis Pater – God of wealth, often considered an aspect of Pluto since the mindless pursuit of wealth leads ultimately to sin and death.
  1. Sol – The sun god.
  2. Janus – The two-headed god of beginnings and endings.
  3. Liber - God of male fertility, viniculture, freedom.  Often referred to as the Lord of Wines.
  4. Libera - Liber's female equivalent, also called Proserpina.
  5. Terra Mater - Goddess of the earth and land.  A servant of Ceres.
  6. Saturn - A titan, one-time god of harvest and agriculture, the father of Jupiter, Neptune, Juno, and Pluto.  Deposed by Jupiter and living now in the Beyond.
  7. Genius - The spirit of the divine in each individual.  Also, the divine personification of the collective spirit of mankind.
  8. Luna – Daughter of Apollo and Diana.  The goddess of the moon and time.

[1] Romulus was the founder of Rome.  I’ve left him in here on purpose on the theory that Sentaria is really the Holy Roman Empire, and that he would therefore be an important mythic figure of their ancient past.
[2] Legend has it that Aeneas escaped the Fall of Troy to a land of seven hills, where eventually his descendants founded Rome.  I’ve left him in for the same reason I left in Romulus.

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