Religion in Rokugan

Rokugani Religion

Rokugan's religious beliefs actually encompass three different forms of worship - Shintao, Fortunism, and ancestral worship - all of which are united by the will of the Emperor into a single religious system. The Brotherhood of Shinsei, an order of monks, maintains and upholds Rokugan's religion, with different branches of the Brotherhood focusing on different aspects of the faith.

Shintao itself is dedicated to studying and practicing the teachings of Shinsei, the "Little Teacher" whose words enlightened the first Hantei and saved the Empire. Shintao is a superficially complex philosophy, but at its root it focuses on spiritual and physical balance and moderation, avoiding the temptations of the mortal life in order to attain a state of harmony known as Enlightenment. There is considerable debate within Rokugan as to exactly what Enlightenment means and how it can be attained, although most scholars agree that balance and spiritual dedication are important elements. Many divergent sects of Shintaoism have appeared over the centuries, some of them questionable or even blasphemous in their approach.

Fortunism is the worship of the Fortunes, the spirits and gods who dwell in Tengoku, the Celestial Heavens, as well as the lesser spirits dwelling in the mortal realm. Fortunes are organized into a celestial hierarchy, ranging from the Sun and Moon, supreme rulers of the Heavens, down through the Seven Great Fortunes and Elemental Dragons to the hundreds of Lesser Fortunes. The founding Kami of the Great Clans also reside in Tengoku and are worshipped with the same reverence. Below the Fortunes are lesser spiritual beings, such as Ryu (elemental dragon spirits) and Fuschido (phoenix spirits) who sometimes visit the mortal world or dwell there for extended periods of time. Below them in turn are the simple elemental spirits who inhabit all objects in the mortal world. The Rokugani revere all of these spirits, from the highest to the lowest, worshipping and appeasing them as appropriate. Thus, when a peasant's lands are afflicted with plague, he will pray to Ekibyogami, the Fortune of Pestilence, for mercy. When a peasant cuts down a tree, he will give thanks to the spirits within that tree, apologizing for the need to cut it down and thanking the spirits for supplying wood and warmth to his family.

Ancestral worship offers reverence to the spirits of one's forbears, especially those who have ascended into Yomi. The Rokugani believe that their honored ancestors watch over them from the afterlife, and pray to them for guidance, aid, and good fortune. Every house in Rokugan, from lowliest eta to highest noble, contains an ancestral shrine where the residents may offer prayer and dedication to those of their kin who have gone before.

Kharma & the Celestial Wheel

The Rokugani have long accepted that most souls are reborn, returning to live new lives in mortal bodies - a belief that goes back to the dawn of the Empire and the first teachings of Shinsei. However, they also worship their ancestors, a seeming contradiction. Modern Rokugani have come to believe that each soul has a destiny, a goal for which it is intended. So long as that destiny goes unfulfilled, the soul will be re-born again and again, returning to the mortal world in a new body. Only when a soul's specific destiny is fulfilled is it allowed to enter Yomi, the Realm of the Sacred Ancestors, and leave the Celestial Wheel. This concept of reincarnation is a key element of Rokugani theology, for it means they are taught not to fear death. Death, after all, is merely passage to another life.

During a lifetime, a soul accumulates kharma - a burden of good and bad deeds, whose which guide it toward its destiny and those which drag it away on the path of sinfulness. When people die, their souls carry this kharmic burden into the afterlife, and the Fortune of Death, Emma-O, assigns their rebirth accordingly. A samurai soul deeply burdened by bad kharma may be reborn as a commoner, an eta, or even condemned to become a gaki for a few decades. Conversely, those who have lived well, avoided sin, and fulfilled their duties are liable to be reborn in a higher station. Thus, all inhabitants of Rokugan have a powerful spiritual incentive to accept and obey the social order, and to fulfill their duties to the best of their ability.

Peasants in Rokugan have a saying: "Samurai are punished for their deeds in this life by being reborn as samurai in their next life." Although this is partly a joke the peasants use it to keep up spirits, it contains an element of truth. The pressures of life in Rokugan can make it extremely difficult to cleanse one's kharma, and only the rare and exceptional soul manages to ascend to a higher station, let alone fulfill their destiny and make it to Yomi. However, there is a flip side to this - mortals have the power to change their destiny. Shinsei himself asserted this when he chose mortals to be the Seven Thunders and confront the dark Kami Fu Leng. In his words, "Only mortal men have the power to change destiny." Thus, a Rokugani who performs deeds of great courage and nobility can alter both his own destiny and that of the world around him, cleansing his kharma in a single moment of heroism.

The Spirit Realms

In the early history of the Empire, the Rokugani had a fairly simple view of the cosmos. They believed it was divided into three realms, the Realm of Mortals (Ningen-do), the Celestial Heavens (Tengoku), and the Realm of the Dead (Jigoku). Oni and other demonic beings were believed to come from the darkest regions of Jigoku, which also included the domains of ghosts and honored ancestors.

Over the centuries, however, the Rokugani have come to a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of the other realms of existence, known collectively as the Spirit Realms. Spirit creatures visiting Ningen-do have been studied and questioned by shugenja and scholars, and some shugenja, notably from the Kitsu family, have actually been able to locate spirit portals and pass through them, visiting these other dimensions in person. The long war with the Shadowlands has given the Rokugani a better understanding of Jigoku and its true nature. And in the twelfth century, one shugenja, Naka Tokei, actually visited all of the spirit realms in person; his discoveries further deepened Rokugan's understanding of these places.

In modern Rokugan, scholars recognize a total of 12 Spirit Realms, counting Ningen-do (The Realm of Mortals, the physical world inhabited by humans). The other known realms are as follows:

Chikushudo (Realm of Animals)

Located in close alignment to Ningen-do, and with many portals connecting the two, Chikushudo is home to a variety of powerful animal spirits, especially the shapeshifters called hengayokai, such as kitsune (foxes) and tanuki (badger-dogs). These beings find humans both appealing and fascinating, and often take human form to dwell among them - indeed, Rokugani legend record many instances of shapeshifters who fell in love with mortals and bore their children, and at least two clans, the Bat and the Fox, have close blood connections to shapeshifters.

Gaki-do (Realm of the Hungry Dead)

A dark and unpleasant realm, closely aligned to Jigoku and with several portals traveling between them. Gaki-do is home to the gaki, malignant ghost-like spirits which feed upon unclean substances and negative emotions. Some Gaki are native to this realm, while others are created from mortal souls condemned to this place for their sinful lives. Gaki of both sorts often travel to the mortal realm to feed.

Jigoku (Realm of Evil)

The most deadly and dangerous of the spirit realms, Jigoku is home to the monstrous oni and countless other malignant beings, and exudes its power into other realms by means of the sinister spiritual corruption known to Rokugani as the Shadowlands Taint. Jigoku constantly seeks to overturn the Celestial Order by invading and corrupting other spirit realms, especially Ningen-do, and these efforts are the cause of many of the greatest crises which Rokugan has faced in its long history.

Maigo no Musha (Realm of Lost Heroes)

Perhaps the most obscure of the spirit realms, this dimension is also known as the Realm of Thwarted Destiny, and is home to those souls whose destiny had been blocked so completely that they cannot be reborn normally into the mortal realm. By taking refuge in Maigo no Musha, these souls may eventually find redemption and reclaim their destinies.

Meido (Realm of Waiting)

When mortals die, their souls travel to Meido, where they await judgement by Emma-o, the Fortune of Death. Aside from Emma-o and his servants, Meido has no native inhabitants, and the souls found there are all mortals awaiting judgement. Sometimes, a soul will get lost on its way to Meido, or leave this realm to return to the mortal world - such souls become yorei, ghosts.

Sakkaku (Realm of Mischief)

A minor spirit realm which is home to trickster spirits such as mujina and kappa. The creatures of Sakkaku are not directly malevolent, but their tricks and pranks can often be dangerous or deadly to mortals. They enjoy entering Ningen-do to tease and torment mortal men, and portals between Ningen-do and Sakkaku are fairly widespread. Many creatures from this realm dwell in the mortal world for extended periods of time.

Tengoku (Celestial Heavens)

The Heavens are home to the Fortunes and the great Celestial Dragons, and keep watch over the mortal realm and all the other spirit realms. Tengoku is a celestial bureaucracy, much like the Empire (which was built in imitation of it), and is ruled by the Sun and Moon, with the Dragons and Greater Fortunes in direct support. The Heavens seek balance in all things, and thus oppose (albeit usually indirectly) the actions of realms like Jigoku which seek to overturn that balance.

Toshigoku (Realm of Slaughter)

Another malignant realm, like Gaki-do and Jigoku (to which it is closely connected), Toshigoku is a realm dedicated to bloodlust and rampant violence. Souls who die in the grip of bloodlust are often condemned to Toshigoku, and those who meet this fate are usually consumed by the violent urges of the place, devolving into nothing more than mindless killing machines. Thankfully, stable portals to Toshigoku are quite rare, but temporary gates to this realm sometimes open spontaneously at sites of extreme violence such as battlefields, drawing souls directly into the Realm of Slaughter's embrace.

Yomi (Realm of Blessed Ancestors)

Those mortals who manage to fulfill their destiny and purge their bad kharma are allowed to leave the Celestial Wheel and ascend into Yomi, where they dwell for eternity, watching over their mortal descendents. Yomi is a place beauty and glory, home to the spirits of the greatest heroes of Rokugan. Metaphysically it is very close to Tengoku, but even the mightest of mortal souls are normally not allowed to enter the Celestial realm - only those elevated to the status of Fortunes may do so.

Yume-do (Realm of Dreams)

This realm is visited by mortals every night in their sleep, but it is also possible to enter it physically through spirit portals. Portals to Yume-do are rare, and their presence can sometimes lead to disruptions in the mortal world as dream-beings pass through into the waking world. Yume-do is inhabited primarily by the formless creatures of dream, who take on the shape and aspect of whatever a dream may require. It also home to the baku or "dream eaters," beings who feed on teh dreams of mortals, and their Tainted counterparts, the Baku no Oni. The most obscure and significant inhabitants of Yume-do, however, are the Nezumi Transcendents - those ratlings who have managed to gain an eternal existence, watching over the rest of their species.

The Three Sacred Substances

According to Rokugani myth, when Lady Sun wept for her children at the dawn of time, her tears rained down on Ningen-do. Those which touched the earth became jade. Others solidified in mid-air, becoming crystal. Later, when Lord Moon's belly as cut open by Hantei, the god's blood also rained down on the mortal world. Where it touched the ground, it became obsidian, but where it landed on the jade tears of Lady Sun, the two substances merged to become the first mortal men and women, born from the mingling of the Sun's purity and the Moon's rage and madness.

Jade, crystal, and obsidian are all sacred and spiritually powerful substances, imbued with the essence of the diving beings who spawned them, and the Rokugani have studied and worked with them for centuries.

Jade is the most widespread of the three substances, although still quite rare compared to normal minerals like iron or copper. Veins of jade can be found underground in many places throughout the Empire, and almost all of the Great Clans operate at least one or two jade mines. Jade, as a substance of spiritual power and purity, has the ability to harm spirit creatures and those who are afflicted with the Shadowlands Taint. The Crab Clan makes great use of jade in its endless war against the Shadowlands, since the sacred stone has the ability to damage creatures like oni whose flesh is resistant to mundane weapons. It is possible to forge jade into weapons, although only the most skillful of artisans can manage this, and such powerful items are rare and treasured keepsakes for those fortunate enough to possess them.

Crystal is much less common than jade, but also possesses much greater potential power. Unlike jade, which becomes corrupted as it absorbs and negates the Shadowlands Taint, crystal is far more resilient, able to repel the Taint's influences with great strength. Spirits of tremendous purity are found within crystal, and when those spirits can be awakened, the resulting power will glow with light as bright as the Sun, burning and repelling creatures of darkness or Taint. Awakening crystals in this manner is difficult, however, and few shugenja have managed to do so. Crystal weapons do exist, but are extraordinarily rare, for the talent required to forge them is great indeed. Even master weaponsmiths usually find crystal to be beyond their skill.

Obsidian is also much less common than jade, but the Rokugani do not regret this, for Lord Moon's Blood is dangerous. Like jade and crystal, obsidian can harm creatures which are resistant to mundane attack - indeed, it can often do so with greater efficacy than jade. But obsidian items have a tendency to drive their bearers to violence or insanity. Furthermore, while obsidian is not intrinsically Tainted, it has a sinister affinity to the Shadowlands Taint, and can be forged into Tainted artifacts and weapons of great and terrible power. Rokugani regard obsidian with deep suspicion, if not outright dread, and no sane artisan will employ it willingly.

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