Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Divine Masks: Beliefs

 The Principles of Annifem Lithe

  1. The world emanated from divine source (“Litheja”)
  2. The world consists of four, possibly five layers: The divine (“Litheja”), the Dreaming or Communion (“Falineku”), the Astral or the world of the Mind/Psionics (“Akaleku”) and the physical world (“Jenteku”). There may exist a fifth layer “beneath” the physical, where the dead reside (“Hell” or “Tarvagant”)
  3. All religions and cults are just “masks”, Annifem, worn by one of the nine paths of Communion, and thus inherently compatible with one another.
  4. All mystical thought provide insight into the greater mysteries of the magical nature of the world; no mystical thought is so sacred or alien that it cannot be folded into Anala.
  5. There is no “good” or “evil,” only that which makes you stronger and better and that which makes you weaker and worse. All people naturally seek to maximize their pleasure.
  6. Death is terrible and people naturally seek to avoid it or transcend it. The secrets to both can be found in Anala, if one looks deep enough.

The Beliefs of Annifem Lithe

Annifem Lithe is less a coherent philosophy and more an accumulation of religions, cultural works and metaphysical assumptions mostly (but not exclusively) revolving around Ranathim thought. Thus, while each specific cult, or each specific practitioner might view Nifemna slightly differently, they tend to share basic assumptions about the nature of the world.

The first, core assumption is that the divine cannot be truly known, only experienced. Annifemic cults worship the avatar state, in which the chiva, or priestess, experiences the divine directly. Anala worships such individuals as having greater understanding of the nature of the world. That experience is fundamentally unspeakable. Practitioners of Anala do not attempt to describe it directly, only allude to it with symbolism and metaphor, both to keep it fundamentally sacred (if it could be thoroughly described, then it wouldn’t truly be divine!) and to reflect the impossibility of the task. Thus, Annifemists tend to describe the divine and the psionic in symbols, and knowledge of it as “a veil spread over the shape of its truth,” which gives form to the formless: a useful tool to help acolytes better understand the shape of the divine, but not a true reflection of its nature.

Annifem Lithe describes the world as emanating from the divine. The only true truth is “Litheja,” or the divine. The physical world, Jinteku (sometimes Nadum), is the “shadow” cast by the “light” of Litheja. As such, the physical world tends to be dark, mean, base and full of misfortune. The world of the mind, or Akaleku, is the world that contains our thoughts, abstract ideas such as numbers; psionic power is the manifestation of the world of the mind and the physical world. Between the world of the mind and the divine Falineku, or “the dreaming” or Communion. This is the realm where divine manifests in a way that mere mortals can experience it, and they often do in their dreams.

The Traditions and the Hard Questions

Annifem Lithe and Good vs Evil

Ranathim culture suffuses Anala, and they struggle with the concept of “evil,” preferring to see the world in hedonistic ideals of “good” and “bad.” Something is “good” when it makes you stronger, helps you achieve your ends, makes you more attractive or more desirable or gives you acclaim across your culture. “Good” empowers one. “Bad” makes you weaker, puts you in bondage to others, strips you of your valuables or your loved ones and makes you a mockery across your culture. “Bad” disempowers one.

At its core, Anala seeks to maximize one’s pleasure. Power, strength, intelligence and fame give one the tools necessary to fulfill one’s desires, while weakness, timidity and stupidity tend to bring one into situations where one can no longer achieve one’s desires.

Thus, the Ranathim tend to view their “gods” as tools to self-empowerment. Why do you worship a god, join a cult or learn “magic?” To gain greater power. What happens if you violate Their will? Their divine wrath will fall upon you. Anala will let you achieve your greatest aims, and failing to follow it will curse you and blind you and cast you in chains. Ranathim culture is extraordinarily grounded in the present, in the material, and thus do not easily accept arguments about how one will reap rewards “in the afterlife,” or that they’ll gain some sort of immaterial reward. They expect to see miracles from their divinities, and miracles that help them. This defines what is “good” for them.

Annifem Lithe on the State and War

Annifem Lithe, as a religious or metaphysical system, has a complex relationship with the state. On the one hand, the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant (Thamara Meret) began as an imperial cult. On the other hand, most of the other cults under the blanket of Anala had nothing to do with the state. As the Ranathim lost their empire and more aliens began to control their destiny, Anala became increasingly hostile towards the new powers that oppressed them, and often acted to deliberately undermine them.

Modern Anala is at best agnostic towards the law and control by the state and at worst, actively hostile. If left alone, various cults will simply worship, and cabals will study the principles of Anala in peace. If antagonized, Anala cults shift quickly into underground resistance, worshiping in secret and using their powers to gather support and attack their oppressor.

Despite this, Anala, however, comes from a strong political theory. The Ranathim created Anala as a means to twist religion in such a way that it served the state. It also explicitly chose not to oppress dissenting thought, but to absorb it and adapt to it. Thus, the underlying assumptions of Anala are those of tolerance and obedience to a long-dead empire. So, while an Anala practitioner might not believe in an alien’s gods, if someone tries to bulldoze their idols or temples, the Annifemist might object as he sees all religion and magical thought as worth pursuing (“You have no idea what amazing secrets you could be burying!”). Annifemists also believe that people should be swapping cultures, and they often make a point of learning the languages and customs of other cultures, if for no other reason than to scour their books for interesting traditions they can co-opt.

Annifem Lithe on Time and Destiny

For Annifem Lithe, Destiny has a different meaning than for most other cultures. Rather than meaning one’s ultimate destination, the course one will inevitably follow, it represents the mark of the divine on one’s life. For them, the influence of the divine is like gravity, drawing lives into the influence of a god. One can fight this, in which case their life will almost certainly have suffering, but if one embraces the path (or Nala) a divinity has laid out for them, they’ll reap great benefits. Being chosen by the divine, thus, is a great blessing (Thus, while other cultures might find it odd to say something like "Embrace your destiny!", in the context of Annifem Lithe, this means to accept the intrusion of the divine into your life and begin to wrap your choices around that fact).

Destiny can be acquired by chance, or it can be grasped willfully by the ambitious. Those who seek to understand the secrets of the divine and manipulate them into granting the practitioner power tread a dangerous path, and Anala is divided as to how this precisely works. Nazathan argue that “the divine” is more a force that pervades the universe and that it follows the rules laid out in Anala. Just as one can manipulate psionic energy, one can manipulate the greater “divine” energy. Nachiva argue that this is pure hubris. Sometimes, the divine is sufficiently impressed by the pure arrogance of a zathan and grant him a path, but paths are meant to be walked, not controlled.

Annifem Lithe on Psionic Powers and Communion

Annifem Lithe absolutely accepts the reality of psionic powers and communion, which they call Falineku or “the Dreaming,” but also the physical world, and describe psionic powers and Communion as interactions between the “shadow” or the physical world, and the higher realms of thought and existence, which powerful Nazathan and Nachiva can pull down to the mortal plane.

Anala focuses most intently on Paths and Archetypes. The Nachiva follow paths and attempt to embody the divine, gaining access to an avatar state for prophecy and power, while the Nazathan use the rituals and symbols associated with paths to empower their psionic abilities. Neither really has total understanding of Communion: they believe Communion to be, on some level, unknowable, and true oneness with Communion is rare and mysterious; some practitioners of Anala achieve it, but not with the regularity or facility of practitioners of the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant or True Communion. Anala practitioners who become more aware of this tend to see these philosophies as closer to the divine than Anala, and attempt to understand what they do to gain such a powerful connection with Falineku.

Annifem Lithe sees all religions and cults as reflections or facets (“masks”) of the nine paths of Communion. To them, most people have either a flawed understanding of the God they worship, or they’re seeing a path from a unique perspective, offering new insights that can be applied to other, “related” cults. This makes most Anala practitioners seem both highly respectful of foreign faiths, and condescending at the same time.

Annifem Lithe on Death, the Afterlife and the Purpose of Life

Annifem Lithe practitioners believe in life after death and in ghosts, though it does not see the afterlife as a particularly nice place. The dead either go to the astral, or the Akaleku, as minds who no longer have bodies (and thus unable to fulfill their desires), or possibly (Annifemists disagree on this) to a realm “below” or “farther from the divine” than the physical world, which they call Tarvagant, or hell.

They believe the dead crave the pleasures of life, and often offer it to them in a manner of speaking. Some cults might “channel the dead” and then eat and drink and make merry to give the dead a chance to experience that again, or they make offerings of food or music to the dead to entertain them. If the dead become too aggressive, Anala contains numerous “exorcism” rituals that can cast out the dead.

Annifemists dread death. They see death not as oblivion, but an endless experience of nothingness and misery. Annifemists often fixate on a way to avoid death. They might seek to gain a form of immortality, or they might seek sufficient mastery of psionic powers, or Communion, that if they die, they can either return in some manner, or they can transcend the limitations of death and gain unity with the divine. Those who seek immortality often find the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant compelling, while those who seek oneness with the divine find True Communion very interesting.

Annifem Lithe and other Philosophies

Annifem Lithe is a magpie philosophy, stealing ideas from one another and from other philosophical traditions. It views True Communion and the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant with awe, seeking to uncover the secrets of how they do what they do, without actually giving up their old beliefs. As such, they tend to frustrate the more ascetic True Communionists as Annifemists just want to know how True Communionists “pull off their tricks” and want nothing to do with a monastic lifestyle, while the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant tends to happily turn Nazathana and Nachivana into minions, promising them secrets in return for service.

Anala and the Akashic Mysteries tend to be seperated by a gulf of time, culture and space, but when bridged, Anala finds the Akashic Mysteries just fascinating. Some speculate that the Akashic Mysteries have found a new route to the divine, and that their Akashic Record is like “reading the mind of God,” and that their mastery of time and precognition is certainly worth folding into Anala, and some copy-cat cults have sprung up, which some people call “the Nifemnic Mysteries.” Even so, Anala finds the Akashic Mysteries monomaniacal focus on the Coming Storm and the safety of humanity to be tedious and uninteresting. They’ll happily pilfer it for the secrets of Deep Time, and to try to make their way through the Akashic Labyrinth to witness the Akashic mysteries, but they set aside the rest.

Only Neo-Rationalism earns Anala’s derision. To deny the divine strikes all practitioners of Anala as supremely arrogant. Worse, they seem obsessed with the physical world at the expense of the astral and divine realms, and their practice of anti-psi might actively damage the astral. Neo-Rationalism’s oppression of “irrational” faiths tends to hit ANala particularly hard, as it’s an alien religion that’s deeply mystical and thus “irrational,” and when the Empire seeks a strawman to hold up as a boogie-man, they usually pick Anala cults.

Is Annifem Lithe Correct?

Annifemists themselves would likely suggest the question is flawed. Anala doesn’t know if its correct. It admits to feeling around in the dark at something powerful and impossible, and believes that no mortal mind can truly comprehend the divine, only touch it once in awhile, and be touched by it in return.

That said, the metaphysics described by Annifem Lithe is the closest possible to the default description of Communion and psionic powers in Psi-Wars. Psionic Powers grant one unusual powers over the physical, and Communion grants one even greater power over the psionic and natural, and Communion can be reached “via paths” which tend to have many facets, or “masks” as described by Annifem Lithe.

In a sense, Annifem Lithe is by default, both correct, and missing many pieces. They seem themselves as taking steps in the right direction. As such, it might be a good “default” assumption for most Psi-Wars campaigns. The true nature of what’s behind Communion cannot be truly known, anti-psionics and broken communion represent something dangerous, the world has “three levels” of natural, psionic and communion, and nobody can really know “the truth.”

Annifem Lithe is highly compatible with other philosophies (and tend to assume everyone has some degree of truth): Anala is basically correct, but True Communion and the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant have managed to gain (and keep secret) additional occult knowledge, and the Akashic Mysteries have uncovered deeper aspects of how precognition work. Only Neo-Rationalism is truly “wrong,” according to Anala.

The problem with Anala “being correct” is that it’s a very superficial take on the nature of psionic powers and Communion. Anala believes they exist, but doesn’t really bother to describe them, so much as catalog them and try to exploit them. It also says very little about ethics or the state. In a world where Annifem Lithe is true, the world must necessarily slide into a dark age, because nothing is truly knowable or governable, and heroes don’t exist because nothing is worth sacrificing your life for. Thus, while it’s possible Annifem Lithe is correct, it might be more interesting to suggest that it at best catalogs some known phenomenon, but understands nothing of the inner workings of the universe, and abdicates that knowledge, preferring to play dumb to actually making the sacrifices necessary to really learn the truth.

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