|Deities:||The Celestial Dragons, The Beast Gods (among the Odan)|
|Regions Where Prevalent:||Panguro|
The Celestial Dragons
The Three Nations and the Saku Irniqui share a worship of deities they call the Celestial Dragons. These are oriental serpentine dragons who inhabit the Heavens and are associated with the stars in the night sky. Valuing order and honour, this heavenly race watches the descendants of the Ni-So-Gui, their chosen people, and relates their wishes through the stars and constellations. Some Nipangui believe that each star is itself a far off dragon. Others believe the stars are sunlight glinting off their seldom moving forms. The sun and moons are universal constants, like the earth, and have always existed.
The immortal dragons, which are not animals but gods, may not come to earth in body as long as it is a chaotic place, but they may send their messages and bestow powers upon humans, elves, and halflings. The patronage of these dragons is expected to be returned by ordering the world, bringing it to such a heavenly state that the dragons might come down and the world might be a paradise with all good peoples happy and everlasting. It is believed that there are many worlds, each with a sun and two moons like ours, which have undergone or are undergoing this passage.
The Nipangui and their cultural fellows also believe in reincarnation. No man’s journey on ‘the wheel’ will truly be complete until the world is entirely wild and chaotic, or ordered and civilized. The deeds one does in life determines in what form he will return in his next. In this way, goodly men who order the land are reborn again and again to do the same, while evil men who foment chaos are dispensed with as they become lower life forms and eventually become the tools of demons, who are identified with wild animal spirits. Demons hate order and heavenliness and would like nothing more than to return the earth to its primordial state.
A goodly life is rewarded with longer life in the next, and longevity and good health are honoured highly and prayed for by all. The longer one lives, the more heavenly one’s spirit is considered. Longevity is considered such a heavenly thing to the dragon-worshippers because the dragons are immortal, and anything similarly long-lived is closer to them. Thus elvish long-life is revered as a sign of their superiority, and even elderly humans are much revered. In Saku Irniq, the eldest are asked to lead as long as they are in good health. Because of this medicines and luck charms are immensely important to the Nisogui descendants and a thriving industry in both the real and false varieties have developed.
Order in Nature
Untamed nature is where the Nipangui idea of ‘demons’ and evil is centered. A demon will almost always take the form of an animal to mortal eyes. Nature is only safe when it is domesticated, tilled, and ordered – when it is made more ‘heavenly.’ Nipangui will make sure to keep their gardens well kept and neat. Aristocrats often have gardens that are extraordinarily elaborate and beautiful to display their dedication to heavenliness.
Astrology is a very important pursuit in religious life, as it is the one way of determining the dragons’ will. Most Nipangui have some sense of evil and good portents in the sky, but it is the Priestly orders that excel in astrological divination. This augury may determine everything from personality traits and lifelines of people based on their birthdays and astral phenomena, to the most important: Imperial Divination – in which the date is found upon which the Emperor (of whichever country) has been born upon. Extensive birth registers for elves are then consulted, and that elf whose birthday has been divined is elevated to the Imperial throne.
Religious devotees of the Three Nations are known as Monks. These shaven-headed religious disciples, which may be men or women (more accurately Nuns), are bound permanently to their local chapel or temple. Once enrolled in a Temple, the orange-robed monk may never leave without rare permission from high-ranking Abbots.
Men and women may inhabit the same temple on occasion, but are separated into different living quarters and without special dispensation (mostly for elves or lone sons) sexual encounters are forbidden.
Larger temples, usually located high up in the mountains (closer to the night sky) are run by Abbotts and occasionally Abbesses – the most revered being elves. Elves often attend temples for their education, in which they are usually instructed by an Elvish mentor of the same sex. Some choose to remain and live the simple life of a monk, and such a disciple is a great mark of honour for the temple.
It is an even greater mark of honour for a temple to have a ‘Sidereal Prophet’ or ‘Speaker of the Dragon Tongue.’ This is an elf who receives oracular visions from the Celestial Dragons and spends his or her life in confinement, the visions they receive being recorded by their fellow monks. These recordings are studied to gain greater enlightenment, and on certain occasions the Speakers will divine answers to specific questions when asked.
Over Panguro’s history, the Priests of the Celestial Dragons have stayed confined in their roles as teachers, and refrained for the most part from political maneuvering. This is mainly attributed to their restrictive rules pertaining to monks and nuns being bound to their monastery – unlike the roaming Gardeners. In addition, the clergy has split from their fellows in each division of the former Nisogui empire, resulting in three different orthodoxies for each of the three central nations. Most have only superficial differences, but are securely tied to national rather than continental interests.
There are various ‘orders’ of monks, each following certain strains of philosophy. Some believe in enlightenment and salvation through focusing on physical perfection and teach the most elaborate and skillful martial arts to their followers. Others focus on the mind, advocating contemplation and mental discipline. This is not to say ‘Body’ monks do not meditate and contemplate, or the reverse, only that they differ in the amount of focus they give certain aspects. Orders will often choose various middle paths as well.
The Saku Irinq
The Saku Irniqui religion places even more emphasis upon astrology and the constellations, not surprising since these are often the only way to navigate in the monocoloured northern wastes. They also have a similar concept of honor and tradition, but much more relaxed and merry than the other cultures.
Captains of the trading parties are a special class of halfling possessing powers and station similar to paladins of the west. These Captains are titled ‘Walkers of the Path’ (just as Shamans, their tutors are called ‘Finders of the Path’). Although most Saku Irniqui can read the stars for direction purposes, ‘Walkers’ are the undisputed masters of astrological navigation. Without the indispensable paladins, sledge-ship parties can easily get lost in the trackless, endless white of the northern icefields. Their abilities in battle and the power to detect lies further make them the perfect Trading Captains. On those occasions when the halflings must war on other peoples or track down menaces, ‘Walkers’ are often the leaders. Besides the respect for their abilities and opinions, however, these captains hold no innate authority or temporal power.
The Irniqui paladins are marked out by three features. First, their facemasks are expertly carved to resemble closely their actual face – unlike the nearly featureless masks of other crewmembers. Secondly, recognizing their role as principle warriors, their parkas are equipped with certain Nipangui-like armour shingles and instead of a simple parka hood they wear a fur-lined helmet. Thirdly, they are more likely to have a weapon meant strictly for battle (unlike knives and harpoons) than an average halfling, including wakizashi, shortened yari, and western steel spears bought from their trading partners.
Tribes are divided along the lines of which animal totem they worship. The Odan religion is polytheistic, but an Odan ‘nation,’ which might consist of several tribes or villages spread out over a certain territory, owes its allegiance to one animal god, which is represented by all earthly animals of that species. The Raven tribe, for instance, considers all ravens earthly aspects of its totemic protector god.
Worship and prayer is also not restricted according to tribe. While their protector deity is worshipped the most devoutly and most often, an Odan tribesman faced with a situation requiring the skills or province of a specific animal is free to pray to that animal. Woodsmen from the Snake tribe, for instance, might sing a song to Beaver while felling a particularly strong tree. A Frog tribe warrior might beseech Tiger for strength in battle. Monkey is considered shrewd and clever, Frog wise, etc.
The most bizarre aspect of Odan society is that their worship of these totems also allows them to take on physical traits of that particular animal through a religious ritual that, among other things, involves blotting out the light of the stars, sun, and moons. This is performed using spells of inky black fog, but lacking such, clouds or even tarps will suffice. Once the ritual is performed, each tribal warrior undergoes a lycanthropic transformation into a bestial form. It is not known how long this form lasts, but it is maintained even if the tribesmen are exposed to celestial light once more. It is only the ritual, not the form, which must be done out of the ‘sight of the dragons.’ Also unknown is how often the rites and subsequent transformations are performed. Seldom does one see an Odan war group that has not taken on their terrifying animal forms, but it is known that the rites are not just for war, but also for festivals and days of religious significance. It has also been noted that the more complete the darkness, the more bestial and more powerful the tribesmen become. For example, a tribe transformed under a tarp would stand little chance against a tribe transformed on an overcast night.