Friday, August 1, 2014

The Culture Column #41: The Dry-farmers [A]

Originally published at RPG.net on July 15, 2014.

CC#41: The Dry-farmers, Part 1 of 2

Life on the Dry isn’t too bad, all things considered. You’ve got a higher standard of living than some outliers, certainly the Vulture people.


Life’s not easy, but it’s worth living. You know where you stand, a peace journey’s distance from a place of the Oldtimers. From a place your people were sworn to protect forever, till they were wise enough to riddle out the old meanings that lay behind the codes, and not by remembering the stories but by finding the answers in the living world.

And ain’t that something?

Who are they?

They call themselves the People. Most folk do. Others, though, they call them the Dry-farmers. They found a place to set down roots, in the Dry of all places, and they know how to make the land work for them like no-one else can. They know when and where to plant, and how to nurture the ground just so. Which crops to set down before which others, and which to set down after all the rest. It’s careful work, precise work, but their calculations and hidden knowledge makes it so that nobody else could do what they do.

The Dry-farmers don’t make war on anyone that doesn’t make war on them first, and everybody’s fine with that. One less problem for other folkiths to deal with and one less drain on manpower. With their guarded secrets their surplus is enough that they can trade more than anyone could get by running the land on their own. It’s a good system that keeps them safe from conquerors, and raids… Well, for protecting against raiders like some of the Clovites it doesn’t too as well.

It’s partly because of that problem that the Dry-farmers build their homes into cliffsides and canyon walls. These cluster-blocks often extend outward with walls of layered rocks and concrete rubble but are always, always built far into the rock too. Each cluster-block can have up to a hundred and fifty rooms of various sizes and functions, ranging from sleeping quarters to work areas to commons-places to storerooms and more. While the markers can often be unnoticeable to outsiders, the cluster-blocks are divided into small collections of rooms for each extended family and the Dry-farmers know the tells that show where the divisions start and end.

There are some, a lot of them Clovites or Cessnans, who live in the old cities, but they’re dangerous places to be for too long. Sometimes there are sick-spirits lurking about from the Crashing-Down Time. Sometimes the buildings aren’t secure. And there are always other people there already, people willing to take the risks and who, having survived them for so long, are better-equipped to keep their home than you are to take it.

No, it’s the cliffs and the canyons where the real safety lies.

Religion

The most important aspect of the Dry-farmers’ culture, they believe, is their religion. It is not merely a collection of superstitions and codes of behavior, oh no. There are few that believe any specific detail to be true, and yet they will all agree that these details are of great importance. Everything is symbolic, everything is allegory. This is not the result of a jaded outlook but a core principle literally as old as the religion itself.

The legends, you see, were deliberately fashioned in order to transmit important truths down through the generations until the People reached the point where they could discover this information independently and by their own power. What a sick-spirit is does not matter as much as what it does and how it can be fought. By placing them in a readily-understandable context, however, the Dry-farmers can identify and combat them more easily.

Like many religions the Dry-farmers believe that there was a better age before this one. This was interrupted by the Crashing-down Time, when sick-spirits were unleashed on the world to wield pestilence and “unclean fire” to slay whole swathes of the “flood of humankind,” a term which refers to the innumerability of all people in those days. The sick-spirits were so unleashed because of the misdeeds of the people, who had “ripened blackly” in that time. Much knowledge was lost in the Crashing-down Times but wise seers had foreseen the day, having been warned by God. It was they who imprisoned many of the sick-spirits so that they, at least, could not participate in the Crashing-down Time, and it was they who encoded the wisdom of the past in the legends that are even now passed down from parent to child in Dry-farmer society.

For this reason the Dry-farmers refer to themselves and all other people as “Aftertimers,” living as they do in the Aftertime of Humankind’s Glory. Despite this outlook, however, they are a fundamentally optimistic people. To their way of thinking, the Crashing-down Time was for all practical purposes the absolute worst period in the history of the world, paling only in comparison to devastations visited upon it in times before God created humanity. If this is true, however, then today must be a pretty good day in comparison. Indeed, the Dry-farmers believe that most days are, at least on average, better than the days preceding them.

They are a forward-looking people, their eyes firmly trained on the future. One day, they believe, the world will enter a new golden age, one brighter than the first. It is the duty of the Dry-farmers to make this possible by preventing “backsliding” (events that could undo some or all of the progress made since the Crashing-down Time) and accelerating the rate of improvement wherever possible.

There are two chief aims in Dry-farmer religion: remembering the past and experiencing communion with God. The first is achieved through the study of texts and commitment to memory of long passages of verses. Everyone is required to learn how to read but they are permitted to write things down only in certain situations. The benefits of a strong, oral communication-based memory are just too strong for the Dry-farmers to stomach losing it. In fact, inheritance rights are determined according to which of a person’s children can recite the most of certain records from memory. Whosoever is able to achieve this feat receives one-half of the inheritance (two-thirds if there is only one other child) and first choice of what to take. Oral memory is so vitally important to the Dry-farmers because, among other reasons, it is through storing the secrets only in their memories that they are able to keep other people from learning the techniques to not only surviving but thriving on the Dry.

The second aim first requires one to understand the nature of God and, really, the whole world, which is understood as a complex, interlacing network of thoughts of different intensities. All the world is mind, and the physical body is not an illusion but a different intensity and type of thought than, say, light, which in turn is different from what our culture recognizes as thought. The system of the world, with organisms eating other organisms and humans and corvids using tools to effect changes in the world, is a system of thoughts interacting with other thoughts. Eating is nothing less grand than the incorporation of other thoughts into one’s own thoughts, and sick-spirits are a particular kind of warped thought that can cause various kinds of “mind death.”

Where this really comes into play, though, is in relation to God, who created the world through speech (words, to be specific). What God said did not merely create the world, it became the world. In effect, the world and all that we experience (and all that we are) is not just the result but the very essence and being of God’s dialogue with himself.

God and His Word, both His creation-speech and His commands, are indistinguishable. God speaks, and the Word is God; this is how the creation-speech is not a monologue but a conversation between different parties, who are collectively God and individually God, united and disparate. By transmitting the record of His Word, then, the Dry-farmers are both His heralds, announcing His future return to the world, and the very instruments of that selfsame advent.

It is the belief of the Dry-farmers that this will culminate not just in the coming of God to the world but in the transmutation of the world into God (in a way that transcends the manner in which the world currently is, in some way, God). The Dry-farmers that live today are destined to be the ancestors of the God-generation, which will be God in the flesh and the Word in the flesh, and so the vehicle through which the whole world will be deified. This is called the time of Glory Sun, and it is because the Dry-farmers are focused on bringing this event to pass that their holy men are called priests of Glory Sun.

The Dry-farmers are very big on their rituals, many of which involve purity (a concept that we’ll get into next month). Just as many others involve storytelling or another means of remembrance (remember the first aim of their religion) but no matter what the object of the ritual a major component is their mode of dress: the celebrant (the one performing the ritual) is “painted” with charcoal dust and wears a kind of trunked mask.

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