On the Curious Place of Magical Faiths in TAHARJIN'S FLAME | World Anvil
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On the Curious Place of Magical Faiths

The world’s conventional faiths are patchwork quilts of folk belief, superstition, and institutionalized doctrine, sewn together with geopolitical thread and representing highly condensed cultural histories. They aren’t quite “arbitrary”, as their forms evolved from a timeline of definite events (above all, conquests), but are neither “true”, because the fantastic aspects on which they rely hinge on nothing actual.   Ideologies held by magical Traditions are different, in that they stem from experience with real forces, which practitioners can learn to shape using predictable, repeatable methods. Mages touch invisible worlds in a way the pious masses can only dream about, and from these hidden realities derive concrete and applicable knowledge through a science-like process of trial and error.   But these encounters inspire something else: the creation of worldviews. Here, it gets slippery. Arcane beliefs might be built upon sturdier ground than religious ones epistemologically, but no mortal can lay genuine claim to a complete picture of the universe…a.k.a. exactly what worldviews propose. Such models, combined with other unique features of so-called “magical faiths”, thus present special problems beyond those of religious counterparts, philosophically, politically, and practically.   These we enumerate below. For a gloss of arcane worldviews themselves, see Cosmologies of the Traditions:   1) Most of the world cannot fully participate in arcane belief systems, due to a lack of magical ability.
2) Two-tier division breeds discontent.
3) Special arrangements have had to be forged to keep the peace.
4) Adopting an arcane worldview is required to practice magic effectively.
5) The pluralism of arcane worldviews remains a challenge among the Traditions.
6) Creativity is beautiful. And injurious.
 
  1) Most of the world cannot fully participate in arcane belief systems, due to a lack of magical ability.   Unlike regular faith which is cherished for its own sake, the value of arcane belief resides in what you can do with it. For the vast majority of people, the response to this is: absolutely nothing.   Not that mages are generally keen for converts. They keep most dimensions of their mythologies secret. Which only intensifies the next issue.     2) Two-tier division breeds discontent.   Most cultures impute some level of divinity to mages and treat them accordingly, but can also jealously regard the exclusive connection mages seem to enjoy to the Divine. On the flip side, mages often see mundane modes of belief as unfounded and flimsy, though most Orders officially hold the compassionate position that people do the best they can with what they have to work with -- which is very nice of them, but rightly viewed as patronizing behaviour by naysayers.   Historically, the above described tensions have birthed not a few bloody uprisings.     3) Special arrangements have had to be forged to keep the peace.   Non-magical folk have always displayed the pronounced tendency to place mages on a pedestal, but this only means they have further to fall when good feelings sour. Individual Traditions have had to work hard to broker an equilibrium with the cultures that surround them on account of this dynamic. Sheer numbers explain why: there are FAR more mundane people in the world than those with magical abilities.   With respect to magical faiths, Traditions have taken one of two paths to avoid confrontation:  
  • Place their beliefs up front, but assimilate them sufficiently into dominant local faiths to have the two systems appear seamless;
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  • Practice them under a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, where beliefs aren’t hidden (fueling suspicion) but neither made public in a way that becomes a challenge for religious leaders.
  •   Nurhetics are a good example of the former, Berythians the latter. Aurimbics fall somewhere in between, and the Exiled have no relationship with mundane society.   To expand:   Nurhasi, founder of the eponymous Nurhetic Tradition, is viewed as a totemic god within Delhizan society. The Order is dubbed the Clan of the Owl, and its members serve their society as priests and mystics. The mantle was thrust upon them by the public in the Tradition’s earliest days, and though they now own it fully, it’s with a begrudging undercurrent, as their art is ideally practiced in isolation.   Berythians are signatories of the Pact of Three, essentially a non-compete clause between Nobles, the Church, and The Council of Landezon, which today remains in force. The Order’s spiritual care is officially overseen by the Congregation of the Ascended, dominant faith on the continent of Rela, and a large portion of mages subscribe to its vision and values. Key concepts of Berythian faith have been mapped onto The Aspects (central pantheon of the Ascended), while other beliefs that don’t align as easily the Church tends to turn a blind eye to, so long as they don't stir up problems or contravene its institutional authority.   Aurimbic mages hold a long place in Northern lore, if not Northern religion per se. The Congregation holds dominion over most of Southern Arlok in modern times, but does not acknowledge that the Seers are anything special. They’ve held esteemed roles as soothsayers within the culture since time eternal, however, but because they are hermits, have proven minimally intrusive to any organization that might take exception to them.     4) Adopting an arcane worldview is required to practice magic effectively.   Internalizing a Tradition’s way of thinking about the world is part and parcel of apprenticeship, and for good reason: A mage’s mental focus is a major factor in her ability to perform, so notions of what the universe is and how it operates are no mere window dressing compared to the everyday business of casting spells, but absolutely integral to the process.   Case in point: Berythians believe that the unliving pillars of Fire, Earth, Water, and Air, being fundamental to everything else, comprise the highest reality. The more aware one is of this fact, the easier it is to manipulate the elements. Berythians mages are thus trained to reach a state of Objectivity, in which personal thoughts are cast aside to give way to a naked view of existence in its latent state.   Nurhetics, who believe material reality is a sham, are trained in the exact opposite direction. Being tricked into believing that existence is actually concrete, even for a moment, can hinder their command of Dreams.   This poses the obvious dilemma that mages lack a freedom to mix and match ideas from various belief systems, as can worldly philosophers, leading to our next point:     5) The pluralism of arcane worldviews remains a challenge among the Traditions.   The shortcut to thinking about this comes from the classic tale, the Blind Men and the Elephant. Several blind men are each given a part of the great beast to hold and describe: e.g. a tusk, a tail, an ear. None possess a full view of what an elephant is, but all are physically connected to a definite part of one, and so each vociferously defends their vision, unable or unwilling to integrate information from the others. All are right, and all are wrong.   Berythians, the world’s original Tradition, were the first to grapple with this issue after Nurhetic magic emerged in UT 2800, but because their connection to Delhiza was severed when the Khyr withdrew, it was not until the formation of the Council of Landezon in 2587 that the problem reared its ugly head again. For centuries afterwards, the Council struggled to square the circle, and at several junctures nearly fell apart for its failure to. Advances in magic theory certainly sprang forth from the spirited discussions of Traditional heads, but far more often did blood.   Contemporary opinion holds it obvious that all productive magic suggests a deeper truth, but because everyone is born with a different slant to their Gift, we can never know what the whole is actually like. So in polite company, it’s a subject one probably wishes to avoid.   Special Council quorums exist to work through some of these problems in more formal environments. Some hopes also ride on the Fifth Master – a legendary messiah – to put the pieces together.     6) Creativity is beautiful. And injurious.   Mages, being every bit as human as their mundane counterparts, share similar drives, such as a longing for satisfying answers to reality’s most complex riddles.   As such, they bullshit.   Not knowingly, to be sure. But because no one has all the answers, yet wanting them remains instinctive, it takes tremendous discipline to let the void be a void, and hold back from filling it with fantasies.   Chunks of arcane beliefs systems are splendidly false. Paradoxically, but naturally enough, these also boast the most elaborate commentaries, which makes them easy to spot; but, as with everything, the chaff and the wheat grow together.   It would make sense to say only those beliefs which enable magic are true. But beliefs fervently held sometimes prove capable of transcending the “rules” or parameters of a fleshed-out worldview, as evidenced by some mad mages whose journals reveal all kinds of kooky thoughts, connected to spells they’ve pulled off, but which no one else can. Belief itself is not sufficient to change reality – technique is essential. But clearly, what untamed force may lie behind the creative impulse is a real thing, and very much a part of the method and mystery of magic.

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