Soulfaring

"No matter which god or goddess you follow, it's blasphemy! The soul is meant to leave the body but once, when the sweet release of death frees us from the toils and torments of this world. Thanks to the ferrymen, there are grimy dens all over this decadent city where degenerates sit in deathlike trances taking soul journeys to other worlds while their real life here on this mortal plane passes them by. Some people will tell you that soulfaring is just a harmless diversion, or even a path to self-discovery, but make no mistake: it is a meanace. The second you let a ferryman tie that silver cord around your ankle, you're inviting all dangers and moral shortcomings of any other vice you can name into your life, along with existential risk to your very soul."
--Ludwella Voleshead, moral crusader
  Soulfaring is the practice of spiritually travelling to other planes of existence. Opinions on the practice vary considerably: Whether it's a grave societal threat, idle distraction, path to enlightenment, or indication of moral failing depends on who you ask. For this reason, it's a topic rarely discussed in polite company. Based on the brisk trade done by Ferrymen, however, the practice of soulfaring is considerably less taboo than the discussion of said practice.   Soulfaring Desitnations
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History

The history of soulfaring is difficult to know, in part because it's such an ancient practice and in part because it can be difficult to determine for sure whether tales recount actual soulfaring or simply vivid hallucinations. Surviving stories suggest that soulfaring was initially restricted to priests and mystics, but over time it became permissible for new classes of people to take soul journeys. While soulfaring remains a component of many religious and mystical traditions, it is no longer considered an inherently spiritual undertaking.

Execution

The soulfaring ritual varies somewhat across cultures and traditions, but follows a reasonably consistent pattern. Before the ritual begins, an anchor is attached to the caster's left ankle. If multiple soulfarers are traveling together, their anchor cords are intertwined to bind them. Once the anchors are in place, the ferryman administers the catalyst, which puts the traveler(s) into a trancelike state. While waiting for the catalyst to take effect, the ferryman prepares the soul portal.   Once the soul portal is prepared and the soulfarers are in their trance, the ferryman begins the ritual, which typically involves touching the soul portal to each traveler's anchor cord while singing or speaking incantations and perhaps engaging in other ritual gestures or movements. The specific form of the ritual varies according to both cultural traditions and the plane that the soulfarer is attempting to visit. The ferryman might sing a song, recite complex mathematical formulae, or recount a famous tale from history or mythology. At the end of the ritual, the ferryman draws the traveler's soul from their body and casts it through the soul portal and into another dimension.   If the ritual is successful, the soulfarer will experience a brief moment of being suspended in the nothingness of the astral plane before finding themselves in another world in an extraplanar form appropriate to the plane that they're visiting. This extraplanar form is often identical to the character's earthly body, but some planes require the soulfarer to take on more exotic forms. For instance, a character who travels to the elemental plane of fire will inhabit a body that mimics their earthly body in appearance and general form, but is made entirely of flame.

Ending the Journey

There are three ways in which a soulfaring character can return to their earthly body:
  • The most common way of ending a soulfaring journey is for the traveler to spend a moment mentally focusing on their anchor. A soulfarer who is safe and calm can do this easily, but fear, fatigue, injury and other distractions can make attaining the proper focus difficult or impossible
  • The ferryman can pull the soulfarer back into their body at any time if he so chooses.
  • When traveling on most other planes of existence, the death of the character’s extraplanar form sends them back to their earthly body. Therefore, suicide is an option for instantly ending most soulfaring journeys.

Components and tools

Anchor

A cord or chain that is attached to the caster's left ankle at one end and some item that ties them to the material plane on the other. The most common anchor is a piece of silver thread attached to a personal possession that is meaningful to the traveler, but there is variation in both the type of cord used and the nature of the anchoring item. For example, Horse Lord witches use a braided mare's tail attached to the bone belonging to one of the soulfarer's ancestors.  

Catalyst

A drug or other susbstance that induces a trancelike state. Most ferryman use a potion or powder that the soulfarer ingests, imbibes, or inhales, often mixed with food or beverage, but other methods are used. The Hegyem administer the catalyst by cutting the soulfarer with a blade coated with a mixture that includes Spite Bat venom, for example. There are also stories that ferrymen in Shangri-Thul subject their charges to the bite of a snake whose venom acts as a catalyst.  

Soul Portal

A ritually prepared item that symobolizes the plane of existence that the soulfarer wants to travel to. Most Khezvaran ferrymen use gemstones as their soul portals, but again the details vary by tradition: Horse Lords use animal skulls, Imperials use scrolls inscribed with sacred verses, and the forest people of the west use wands made of various natural materials.

The Dangers of Soulfaring

Soulfaring may not be as dangerous as some of its detractors make it out to be, but it is not without risks. Aside from dangerous situations that a soulfarer may find themself in while visiting another plane of existence, soulfarers face the risks described below.  

Psychic Trauma

Each time a character engages in soulfaring, there is a chance that they will suffer trauma. The more bizarre and traumatic a soulfarer’s experiences, the more likely they are to become so damaged that they have difficulty functioning in society. Psychic trauma can manifest in the form of a decline in focus and cognitive ability, odd behavior, an addiction to soulfaring, or mental illness.  

Soulfaring Addiction

Characters who become addicted to soulfaring find life on their native plane tedious and unsatisfying. If they go too long without soulfaring, they will begin to suffer both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms (distraction, physical pain, uncontrollable shaking, etc).  

Soulfaring Mishaps

A flaw in the soulfaring ritual can send the character to the wrong plane, cause defects in the soulfarer's extraplanar body, or even leave the traveler stranded on the Astral Plane.


Cover image: Main Header Banner City of Ten Thousand Daggers by Steve Johnson
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