Sunday, April 28, 2013

Discourses on Religion in Ur-Hadad: The Avenue of a Thousand Gods

In Golden Ur-Hadad, the First City of Men, one may find any sort of religion one can imagine. Certainly, the Metal Gods are supreme in that place, and there are other, prominent gods and pantheons known to all and sundry. However, the First City is also home to many lesser-known godlings, household spirits, and the like. If anyone gives a thing or being worship (or whatever might be its equivalent), that thing enters into the domain of the sacred. In the case of Ur-Hadad, that sacred realm is the Avenue of a Thousand Gods.

Melius the Jester, also known as the Sage Fool, is one of many raconteurs whose words have attempted to explain the ways of religion in the First City, but this passage from his later works is particularly revealing of what travelers to Ur-Hadad might discover.
The Avenue of a Thousand Gods is poorly named. There are more gods than a thousand represented on that endless road, and perhaps every god who will ever be worshipped is there.  I cannot say. I only know that a man could walk the Avenue for days and never reach its end, and each time he returned he would find it a different place. Certainly, there are the great landmarks, the Spires of the Metal Gods, the great stone ziggurats of the Old Ones, the Blood Chapel of Gorus Na'al, all of which are easy enough to spot. It's the smaller things that shift and change and merge into a chaotic collection of misremembered details, and one can never be certain that what he saw on one day will be there the next, or even if what he saw was real in the first place, or, instead, just a fever-dream or a brush with sacred madness. It is no accident that the word for "madness" and "worship" is the same in the ancient tongue of the Faeleven. Many know that to be the case, but fewer know that the same word is used for "blessed," "cursed," "forgotten," and "eternal." (from Mad Laughter in the First City, by Melius the Jester)
 In practical terms, the Avenue is home to an infinite procession of deities, large and small, terrifically powerful and ridiculously ineffectual, all of whom vie for worshippers and worship. But there are only so many true believers to go around, and the number of the gods is uncountable. Even the gods may die if there is none to give them regard. For this reason, the gods are jealous of each other and vengeful toward those who would steal away their adherents. This competitive relationship gives rise to some peculiarities of religious fervor not found in other places. Jacurus the Bloody, Primate of Gorus Na'al, wrote in the last millenium, saying:
We came down the Avenue, ten thousand strong, filled with the Bloodfire, swords flashing in the light of dawn. And there they stood, the hated, the blasphemers, the vile and filthy Medicari, arrayed in their pristine bandages and aromatic unguents, and bearing caducei. In their wickedness, they bind the flow of the Sacred Wine, denying it to Gorus Na'al. Such audacity could not stand. We slew them to a man, though thousands of our brothers and sisters fell that day. Each of our martyrs died smiling, for Blood ran in the gutters where they lay, ran in torrents like the runoff from a summer storm, and the Medicari learned well that true cleansing can only come from opening wounds, not from binding them. (The Bleeding of the Medicari by Primate Jacurus of Gorus Na'al.)
It is said that, though there are infinite houses on the Avenue of the Gods, there is only sufficient room for just enough gods. Those gods who are unable to keep their adherents are purged from the Avenue, cast into the oblivious of the Outer Darkness. It is also said that such deities as have been cast out cannot come back to the Avenue easily, and must always do so though the Dreamworld of Men. Evidence for this possibility is conjecture at best, but the words of the scholar Lo Mendu should be considered as authoritative in this regard (especially given what came to pass when the Gori Hargun did not heed his repeated warnings, and became the first God-King to kill himself with a dream):
Tread, then, lightly in the realm of sleep, for the dreams of men are potent. The dreams of the sleeping Eternals, by contrast, are dim flickers against a grey sky. Is it any wonder that they flock to sleeping men like moths to a flame? For it in Men's dreams that they must live, and without a place in the Dreamland, even gods may die. (The Realm of the Silver Clouds, by Lo Mendu)
Strangely, the Faelven and the other Fae do not dream as we do. They do have truck with the gods in a variety of ways, certainly, but they are not fertile in their minds as are Men, though any wizard worth the name will attest that the dreams of the Fae are what makes magic possible. Dreamland, though... Dreamland is solely the domain of Men.

For this reason, only Men have priesthoods. Only Men establish temples. Only the worship of Men is truly powerful in the sense that we mean "Divine." Certainly the other races establish places like temples, the Serpent Men among them, but what happens there is not worship in the sense that Men mean it. It is not Belief they foster, but Power. Such temples are nothing more than a tool for the maintenance of raw power.

One may wonder, then, whether the gods created Man or whether the opposite might be the case. Did Men create the gods from whole cloth? Every dive-tavern scholar asks that question, in order to appear clever to drunkards and whores, but asks it knowing that it cannot be answered with a single response. Most of the truly wise hold that both things are true, and that neither is. The wizard, Algurus Delko, also known as Algurus the Red, made this point in his most famous work:
So, I looked into the glass, and therein found my own visage. In that instant, I no longer was anywhere at all, but everywhere all at once. And what I saw in my eyes were the eyes of every god, daemon, and being in between, every Old One and every petty god.
I gazed upon the Thousand Eyes of Narul Ma'Tep, all of them looking back at me. I took, then, a single step and made a journey of 500 leagues without even the time to draw another breath. Had I blinked, I likely would have annihilated myself that day. I might have found myself the thousand and first eye of Narul Ma'Tep, for I know that He did not always have so many eyes, and that among those terrible orbs I found the eyes of my mother, the witch, Merin Black Claw. She watched me still, who had been rudely snatched away so many years ago. ...
So, what is the answer then? Did my gaze hold the power of all possibility when I looked in that mirror, or were my own eyes truly the mirror? I hold that both are correct: The Wise may see truly for they have the undivided attention of the gods themselves. In the regard of the Divine is power over all possibility, power to rival the gods themselves.
To this day, I will not have a mirror in my house, nor pause too long beside a reflecting pool, for They all know my name, and They wait in hunger. Mother still waits for me, too, which is almost too much for me to bear. (Reflections in Red, by Algurus Delko)
It is my hope that each of you, should you have a chance to visit the First City, will make time to visit the Avenue, and to pay your respects. Who knows? Perhaps you will find divine favor, free of attachments or entaglements. Hah! Maybe, also, the the costermongers of the Great Market will give their fire-fruits, free of charge, to the urchins of the streets. Stranger things have happened, I suppose, but not in my memory.