Thursday, January 3, 2013

Chigan: Religion

Chigan’s native religion acknowledges an indefinite but very large number of gods. Mountains, winds, classes of plants and animals, stages of life, strong emotions, and just about any other aspect of life and the natural world has at least one god. There is some dispute over whether the god of, say, the southeast wind as he is worshiped in one place is the same as the god of the southeast wind in another but under a different name, a physically separate aspect of a primal god of southeast winds (who is in turn an aspect of an even more fundamental god of the winds), or an entirely separate entity. However, the debate is largely scholarly, with most people worshiping the gods they grew up with.

Practical aspects of religion concern the accumulation of what is loosely called “benefit” or more commonly “virtue.” Virtue, in this context, comprises a variety of good and selfless acts, physical and emotional suffering, and esoteric meditation and practices. Different acts can provide different kinds of virtue, which in turn are believed to grant different kinds of moral and physical power, but there is significant overlap. For example, many believe that, say, giving a bowl of rice to a poor person provides a certain moral virtue, but giving up that rice from one’s own meal instead of eating it provides a physical virtue as well (mere starvation because of poverty is insufficient; self-denial must be a deliberate act).

When a soul acquires enough virtue, it ascends to a different and eternal plane; there are several different such planes corresponding to different types of virtue: scholarly, familial, martial, and so on. The quantity of virtue necessary to do this, though, is vastly greater than most people can accumulate in a single lifetime, so souls are reincarnated several times before they can do so. Souls approaching transcendence are believed to inhabit people in a position to accumulate more of the virtue they already have. Monks and priests, for example, are often seen as reincarnated souls which have accumulated “prayerful” virtues, while having a large family is seen as both a cause and result of accumulated familial virtue.

As a consequence of the doctrine of accumulated virtue, practice of the local religion is less focused on influencing the gods (though cultivating their favor or at least not angering them is universally regarded as a good idea) and more on exercises to acquire whatever types of virtue the individual desires. Just about any action, if undertaken with a spiritual mindset, might be regarded as suitable to gaining virtue. Many roadways, for example, are maintained by the labor of volunteers seeking to better their spiritual position. For those who can afford teachers, martial arts training is a popular method of accumulating virtue, and many tiny highland monasteries offer the opportunity to acquire both prayerful and martial virtue.

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