Thursday, July 18, 2019

An Introduction to the Prophetess and the Way

Illustration of Canto 34 of Paradiso,Gustave Dore, 1864

How many countless hundred thousands pray
For patience and true knowledge of the Way
That leads to Him whom reason cannot claim
Nor mortal purity describe or name;
There soul and mind bewildered miss the mark
And, faced by Him, like dazzled eyes, are dark -
No sage could understand His perfect grace,
No seer discern the beauty of His face.
His creatures strive to find a path to Him,
Deluded by each new, deceitful whim,

-The Conference of the Birds by Farid Ud-Din Attar

The Master said, "When a person's knowledge is sufficient to attain it, but his humaneness does not allow him to hold on to it, he may get it but will inevitably lose it again. When his knowledge is sufficient to attain it and his humanness allows him to hold on to it, but yet he cannot govern with dignity, the people will not respect him. If his knowledge is sufficient to attain, and his humanness allows him to hold on to it, and he governs with dignity yet does not act in accordance with the rites, it will still not be good."
-The Analects of Confucius, 15:32

First there was the Lord. He is ultimate, good, merciful, terrifying, other, universally sovereign. He created all that is on earth and beyond it. He shattered his infinite being to do so. The Lord adheres in the whole creation, each part contains a grain of His infinity and the perfection of His Holiness. But all things are also separate from their maker. Everything is doomed to stray from Holiness. Self and selfishness, greed, indulgence, pride and vice arise where the essence of the Lord is first removed from Him.

 Between us and He is the Gate. The Gate is separation, the border between the world we see and the one we don’t. There may be goodness, courage, bravery, humility, but if it does not cross this threshold and return to Fullness with the Lord, it will rot away. 

 The first to turn their backs on the Lord were His Archons, the First Ones, who inherited the greatest share of Holiness. They were charged with maintaining the creation, but resentment was born in their hearts. They wished to govern their own domains where they would wield the Lord’s sovereignty as their own. They became the gods of the earth and they ruled it as tyrants do. Under such cruelty, the people of the world strayed from Holiness and they turned on each other. Animals, plants, and finally the earth and water and air followed them. War, disease, famine, disaster. These are the fruits of the Traitor-Archons’ dominion over the universe.The Traitor-Archons did not fear the Lord. They trusted the Gate to keep the cosmos in their sway. The Archons placed their fingers over it to hold it even tighter.

Despite the Gate, the Lord still holds power in the cosmos. In old Beshara He was regarded as a deity of law and contracts. He elected prophets, people who would bring the nations of the world back to Holiness. None of them overcame the Gate, but they all foreshadowed greater things to come.

File:Beatrice Addressing Dante (by William Blake).jpg
Beatrice Addressing Dante, William Blake, 1824

When she arrives in the First Holy, the Book of Hallaj, she speaks from the background, among the craftsman and fishermen and shepherds. She is already old because she has wandered long years in exile. Her ear is pieced. It is a reminder that she was once property of the great chieftain ‘He Who Kills with a Glance.’ Her eyes have been cut out, for she spoke up for the bastard child abandoned in the desert and the supplicant denied justice in the court of Hujuz.

She calls herself Rashida. We know she is our Prophetess. She is one of the pale people of Beshara. The Lord came to her in the heart of the desert. All her wandering had led to Him, barely to the foot of His throne. He struck no covenant with her. He reminded her of Him. He gave her a phrase: ‘the Way.’

Her voice is always the same, no matter which scribe records her. She holds the Way in her mouth like a banner. She speaks with passion for the Lord and the Way, which is His gift to all the world. Her lips form graceful sentences in the old Besharan language, interlaced with the rough syllables of the tongue of the Bauda people. She denounces the world as it is, ruled by the tyrant pawns, the servants of the Traitor-Archons. 

The Way is the Lord’s plan for the creation. The Way is the formula that leads us through the Gate. The Way returns us to goodness, then to Holiness, then to Fullness with the Lord. Without it, no virtue and no truth can last on earth or beyond it. Some believe that Rashida opened the Gate herself once she ascended mount Arsir and left the world, ensuring that we could follow her. Others believe that she just slipped through the keyhole. You see, the Gate might only open from the other side and when it does only those who know the Way will be let through. 

The Way is a relationship. The creation is truly one with the Lord and it all must be accorded the respect He commands. 

The Way is a belief. It is the conviction that the self and the world can be redeemed through their own will and action. 

The Way is a practice. To stray from Holiness is our natural condition, but ritual keeps the Way in the foreground of our life and Fullness as our goal. 

The Way is all encompassing. It begins with a woman, it embraces the world. It begins with a word and a full sentence rises from it. It begins with one order of creation, the people of earth, and will move to bring the entire cosmos back to Fullness with the Lord. There is no person, no thing, no place, no time to which it is not relevant. 

The Way is a challenge. It demands our attention; it demands we bend our lives around it. It will be the measure of your deeds, your thoughts, and the deepest feelings of your heart. Your family, your community, your city, and your entire society will be held to account by its standard.

Though our responsibility to the Way and to each other weighs heavy on us, we can be assured that as long the as the cosmos retains its essential Holiness the Way will retain its infinite efficacy. But much remains unanswered. What exactly is expected of followers of the Way? What is forbidden? What will be redeemed and what will be destroyed? To whom do we pray - To the Lord? To the Prophetess? To the Way itself? When we fail in our pursuit of Holiness, where do we turn? What will a cosmos returned to Fullness look like? Is the Gate open?

Girl Reciting Qu'ran, Osman Hamdi Bey, 1880

We seek answers in the life of the Prophetess, as her voice comes down to us in the Five Holies. The books of Hallaj, Laila, Emrah, Idris, and the book of Attestations lay bare the deeds of the Prophetess and the knowledge of the Way which she imparted to her earliest assistants. We are reminded that Hallaj was once the Prophetess’ greatest opponent before his conversion. We are filled with hope. We read the tender words spoken between Rashida and Laila before they fled their enemies. We shed tears, knowing that the Way is not easy. Emrah recalls the judgments which the Prophetess gave at the city of Unah. This shows us that the Way sometimes requires as much pragmatism as conviction. Idris watches his Prophetess climb mount Arsir to leave this world behind. His grief, his awe becomes our own. We read the squabbles which occur amongst the assistants as the Prophetess shares her wisdom in the book of Attestations. We sigh, knowing that learning still escapes us.

Aged, pieced, blinded. Slave, serving girl, exile, teacher, judge, leader, Prophetess. 
Wandering, seeking, losing, finding.
Perspective, thought, belief, action. 
Self, community, society, cosmos. 
Pilgrims, commanders, merchants, mystics, princes, servents, farmers, nomads, governors, fishermen, basket weavers, artisans, scribes, builders, scholars, canal diggers, herders, parents.
All of these are joined in the pursuit of the Way. Like a canto being spoken or a tapestry woven, the Way continues on. Tomorrow may be a step toward Fullness or a stumble back to separation, but the Way will continue all the same. 

Our history stretches almost 800 years. Struggle has shaken and divided us. Compromises have been made. Power and the Way are so tangled as to be inseparable. But the spirit of our enterprise remains. The Way is strong, the Way is true, and we continue to rise to its challenge. 

St Francis with a Skull, Francisco de Zurbaran, 1630

I’ve touched on the religion of the Besharan empire before and made it a major mechanic in my last Meager Country campaign. However, I don’t think that last set of rules gives the right impression of the Besharan religion. All the sects seem like their own faiths with wildly different practices, rather than different expression of the same rich and varied religious tradition. I think my players had the same feelings. 

With this post, I wanted to take things from the top and give all the sects a more solid background to work off of. In future, I'll be add more posts detailing the sects and eventually circle back to writing more mechanics for playing priests and paladins and mystics of the Way. 

This post is dedicated to Rabe'eh of Basra

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