[Returned Maztica] Gods and Monsters - Maztican Religion

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[Returned Maztica] Gods and Monsters - Maztican Religion

Post by Jürgen Hubert » Thu Dec 14, 2017 8:42 pm

Another part of my Returned Maztica series, this thread is intended for the discussion of all aspects of Maztican religion - relgious activity, worshiped beings (including but by no means limited to actual gods), Maztican cosmology, and so forth. But before I start with my essays, I want to lay down some ground rules - explain what I intend for my vision of the setting.

The Gods are manyfold: Using the novel series as a base, you'd think that Maztican religion is all about the conflict between Qotal and Zaltec. While I do not plan to ignore these important gods, I want to make emphasize that Mazticans worship a vast pantheon, which includes many lesser aspects of existing deities which are worshiped in specific circumstances (such as the patron deity of a calpulli). Which leads us to:

The Gods transcend alignment: While certain gods may seem "good" or "evil" in the eyes of outsiders, all of the gods are important in Maztican religion and necessary for the world, as the world is continually recreated through the conflict of opposing forces - the gods being among the greatest of those. Furthermore, each god has different aspects which might have seemingly different "alignments" - and each deity may also be worshiped with different dogmas in different regions. Which leads us to:

The Gods do not explain themselves: Sure, they might command their followers and make statements of why they expect the mortals to do what they say. But none of them will bother to solve theological disputes among their followers, and might even smite them for the affront. As a result, the cults following a particular deity generally do not have a unified dogma - except when a particular cult manages to take over other regional branches, and even then divergent stories will survive. And to make matters more complicated, Maztican philosophy is more interested in finding the proper "balance" in the world instead of some ultimate "truth" - in other words, which particular story about a god is "really true" is not particularly important to their followers.


To sum it up, I want to vastly open up the possibilities for Maztican religion, creating new cults, new beings that can be worshiped (whether warlock patrons, aspects of existing gods, or entirely new deities that fill unused niches).
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Re: [Returned Maztica] Gods and Monsters - Maztican Religion

Post by Seethyr » Fri Dec 15, 2017 5:30 am

Jürgen Hubert wrote:
The Gods are manyfold: Using the novel series as a base, you'd think that Maztican religion is all about the conflict between Qotal and Zaltec. While I do not plan to ignore these important gods, I want to make emphasize that Mazticans worship a vast pantheon, which includes many lesser aspects of existing deities which are worshiped in specific circumstances (such as the patron deity of a calpulli). Which leads us to:
I agree, why not load up the continent with a bunch of new gods. I have worked some deities from Mesoamerican lore into Maztica Alive as well, including Itzapaplotl, the Obsidian Buttterfly - who is in fact a powerful demoness, Camezotz - who is "the First Human formed from Kukul's severed fingers and eventually became the first vampire (Maztica's Strahd or Dracula), Coatlicue who disappeared or died millenia ago upon the arrrival of the Maztican gods on Toril, and a few ascended mortals (Poshtli the Eagle Knight, and Hoxitl the Jagre). Mictlantehcuhtli and his wife also live in one of the planes but have no worshipers other than intelligent undead.
Jürgen Hubert wrote: The Gods transcend alignment: While certain gods may seem "good" or "evil" in the eyes of outsiders, all of the gods are important in Maztican religion and necessary for the world, as the world is continually recreated through the conflict of opposing forces - the gods being among the greatest of those. Furthermore, each god has different aspects which might have seemingly different "alignments" - and each deity may also be worshiped with different dogmas in different regions.
I feel like the Realms in general is getting more like this, with obvious exceptions like Asmodeus. Even Bane brings a sense of stability to chaos once in a while. My gods still have alignments but that doesn't mean their worshipers have to adhere to them. Another great idea. Do you think this trend is more pronounced in Maztica?
Jürgen Hubert wrote: The Gods do not explain themselves: Sure, they might command their followers and make statements of why they expect the mortals to do what they say. But none of them will bother to solve theological disputes among their followers, and might even smite them for the affront. As a result, the cults following a particular deity generally do not have a unified dogma - except when a particular cult manages to take over other regional branches, and even then divergent stories will survive. And to make matters more complicated, Maztican philosophy is more interested in finding the proper "balance" in the world instead of some ultimate "truth" - in other words, which particular story about a god is "really true" is not particularly important to their followers.
This kind of reminds me of the Cult of Hunab Kuum from TWC1. They believe all gods are an aspect of the one True God. This philosophy came from transplanted Warterdhavians who were members of the Cult of Ao or Helm worshipers who started to see no difference in the gods. It's a astart to monotheism in the Realms.
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Re: [Returned Maztica] Gods and Monsters - Maztican Religion

Post by Jürgen Hubert » Fri Dec 15, 2017 6:01 am

Seethyr wrote: I agree, why not load up the continent with a bunch of new gods. I have worked some deities from Mesoamerican lore into Maztica Alive as well, including Itzapaplotl, the Obsidian Buttterfly - who is in fact a powerful demoness, Camezotz - who is "the First Human formed from Kukul's severed fingers and eventually became the first vampire (Maztica's Strahd or Dracula), Coatlicue who disappeared or died millenia ago upon the arrrival of the Maztican gods on Toril, and a few ascended mortals (Poshtli the Eagle Knight, and Hoxitl the Jagre). Mictlantehcuhtli and his wife also live in one of the planes but have no worshipers other than intelligent undead.
Most pressing to me are deities that fill the 5e Domains of Trickery, Death, and Grave for which no existing Maztican deities fit. Mictlantehcuhtli and his wife Mictlancihuatl will do nicely for Death and Grave, respectively, with the latter also filling the role of the modern-day Santa Muerte cult - and yes, they will be worshiped among the living. For Trickster, useful candidates are Huehuecoyotl ("Old Coyote", an ascended Animal Lord of the Feywild just like the Cat Lord) and the Mayan Hero Twins.
Jürgen Hubert wrote: I feel like the Realms in general is getting more like this, with obvious exceptions like Asmodeus. Even Bane brings a sense of stability to chaos once in a while. My gods still have alignments but that doesn't mean their worshipers have to adhere to them. Another great idea. Do you think this trend is more pronounced in Maztica?
Definitely. I mean, take Tezca - his cult might demand human sacrifice in some areas, but he is also the god of the life-giving Sun - an all-important deity who is utterly necessary to the functioning of the world.
This kind of reminds me of the Cult of Hunab Kuum from TWC1. They believe all gods are an aspect of the one True God. This philosophy came from transplanted Warterdhavians who were members of the Cult of Ao or Helm worshipers who started to see no difference in the gods. It's a astart to monotheism in the Realms.
There are already similar aspects of this in Aztec mythology (I really recommend reading the article on Aztec philosophy I linked earlier, although there it's a dual god that represents the wellspring of everything.
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Re: [Returned Maztica] Gods and Monsters - Maztican Religion

Post by Big Mac » Fri Dec 15, 2017 10:11 am

Jürgen Hubert wrote:The Gods transcend alignment: While certain gods may seem "good" or "evil" in the eyes of outsiders, all of the gods are important in Maztican religion and necessary for the world, as the world is continually recreated through the conflict of opposing forces - the gods being among the greatest of those. Furthermore, each god has different aspects which might have seemingly different "alignments" - and each deity may also be worshiped with different dogmas in different regions.
That's not quite how I'd do things with deities, but I think I recall one of the older versions of D&D saying that there were good people who were placating evil gods. I can't remember if they went as far as allowing good Priests of evil gods.

Eberron has a similar sort of flexibility in worshipper/cleric alignments to what you are saying. I believe that the logic there is that the deities are not actually contactable and that it all works on unconfirmed faith. Maztica doesn't have the unconfirmed faith thing that Eberron has, so that mechanism wouldn't work.

I do think you will probably need some sort of mechanism to make this sort of thing work. I don't know 5e, but I know there was a one-step-either-way rule with 3rd Edition. If you go beyond that, you might still want to restrict spell access a bit and not allow good clerics to gain evil spells and not allow evil clerics to gain good spells (and have the same thing between lawful characters who worship chaotic gods and chaotic characters who worship lawful gods). Maybe you might want to do something like this - maybe not. But I think it is something a GM trying to do things your way might want to consider.
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Re: [Returned Maztica] Gods and Monsters - Maztican Religion

Post by Jürgen Hubert » Fri Dec 15, 2017 10:28 am

5e still has alignments, but their importance was drastically reduced. Heck, not even paladins have alignment restrictions any more, and while I don't have the rules at hand I don't think they matter to clerics either.

If a player wants to play a good cleric of an evil deity or vice versa, then that's between thr player and the GM on how they justify that.
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Re: [Returned Maztica] Gods and Monsters - Maztican Religion

Post by Jürgen Hubert » Fri Dec 15, 2017 5:45 pm

On Divinity

While most Mazticans only have a rudimentary understanding of metaphysics, to the learned - priests, sages, and philosophers - "Divinity" does not refer to a distinct category of beings (i.e. the gods) but as an all-permeating force that comes in lesser and greater guises, or masks. This includes the deities, yes - but every single thing, both living and inanimate, is just one more aspect of Divinity. What is known about this force? Philosophers have debated this for innumerable generations, but most agree on the following:

Divinity is creative: Divinity constantly strives to recreate itself, bringing forth new greater and lesser aspects which all have their roles to play. Indeed, Divinity should be less thought of an "essence" that inhabits things, but as the creative force that keeps everything in motion. Frequently the old has to make way for the new - for this reason Kukul had to sacrifice themselves/be sacrificed (depending on the story) so that there could be room for new incarnations of gods and the world itself. Another implication is that art mimics this creative process of Divinity, and thus can bring mortals closer to it. Most prominent of these artistic endeavors are the sacred arts of pluma and hishna, but poetry, song, dancing, painting and many more can bring mortals closer to the Divine - although some artistic expressions will be derided by the temples as bringing disharmony and thus making mortals stray from the path.

The balance of the world is constantly recreated by Divinity: Eastern philosophers might see "balance" as a perfect "average" been extremes, but to Mazticans, the back and forth between extremes is part of the balance. Just like night follows day and the seasons follow another, the back and forth in the struggles between the gods, people, and animals constantly recreates the world in a new form and a new balance. This does not mean that the new balance resembles the old - sometimes nations, empires, and even gods fall. But as long as the world is recreated anew in these struggles of Divinity, the world can continue. Only if Divinity somehow lost the ability to express itself in new acts of creation would the world cease to be - along with Divinity itself.

Mortals can grow closer to Divinity by finding balance: While the struggle between gods and empires is part of the balance of the world, most normal mortal beings cannot afford to be actors on such a grand scale, since it is easy to falter and bring ruin to themselves and those around them. Instead, in order to find contentment and perhaps even happiness in this perilous life, they should strive for moderation in everything they do, neither doing too much or too little of any one thing (whether eating, sleeping, bathing, having sex, and so forth). They should likewise refrain from doing things that endanger the balance of others. On a more abstract level, they should also find their own role in life and attempt to fulfill that to their utmost, whether this role is that of a humble farmer, a rich merchant, or a brave warrior. Someone who pursues one different path after another quickly becomes unbalanced and find ruin.

Personal Greatness is also a form of Divinity: As pointed out, most Mazticans frown upon attempts to break out of one's social conventions and role in life - and as most such attempts fail, they use such failures as a parable for others. However, a rare few actually do succeed to break out of their role and successfully achieve greatness, whether as conquerors, sages, legendary artists and so forth. Paradoxically, such heroes are also celebrated by Mazticans even if they bring great disruption to others - because through personal greatness they have become actors upon the world and become part of the balance of the eternally re-creating cosmos, attaining a level of Divinity that might not be far short of the gods themselves. And, indeed, a few mighty heroes have ascended to godhood...
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Re: [Returned Maztica] Gods and Monsters - Maztican Religion

Post by Jürgen Hubert » Sun Dec 17, 2017 3:12 pm

On the Importance of Sacrifice and Ritual

While there are countless arguments among the priests and philosophers of Maztica about the true nature of the gods, on one thing there is a broad consensus: The gods must be fed and strengthened, and this is not only a task that can be done by mortals, but also their obligation.

On one level, this is a pragmatic affair - the gods are extremely powerful beings, and by contributing to their power the mortals help ensure that the gods remain well-disposed towards them (although this is a relative term - with some deities, this merely staves of their wrath). However, the actions of the gods are also a vital part of the constantly re-creating cosmos, and if the gods were to weaken, they might no longer be able to maintain the cosmos, leading to great disasters - indeed, many Maztican sages claim that this is exactly what happened during the onset of the Godless Time, as the introduction of foreign ideas caused faith and worship of the Maztican gods to weaken. Some philosophers argue that if individual gods were to weaken, they would simply be replaced by newer gods as the Divinity of the cosmos simply expresses itself in new forms - however, there would be no guarantee that the new gods would be better disposed towards mortals and their concerns. But others claim that an overall weakening of faith and worship would weaken the very cosmos until it is no longer able to recreate itself, leading to the end of Divinity and thus all things.

One of the ways mortals can strengthen the gods is through sacrifice. Whatever is sacrificed must have some value to mortals, measured either by the difficulties in creating or aquiring it or by what it costs the mortal to give it up. This doesn't necessarily represent economic value - for example, during a monthly celebration in honor of Tezca, small boys are expected to search nearby swamps and waterways for small water animals such as snakes, lizards, frogs, and dragonfly larvae which are presented as offering to the priests. These have no economic worth as such, but because of the effort the boys have put into aquiring these animals they count as a worthy sacrifice.

The most potent of these sacrifices was generally considered human sacrifice, although this practice fell out of favor in many parts of Maztica after the Night of Wailing. The Seven Storms largely forbade the practice - not out of altruism, but because they regarded it as a waste of slaves. While the practice never really died out, its practitioners had to do it in secret (with the Heart Seekers being the most notorious practitioners). After the Return, many priests argue for the reintroduction of human sacrifice, claiming that its abandonment made the disaster of the Godless Time possible. However, others argue that the Return was accomplished without practicing large-scale human sacrifice - thus, the gods don't really need it and can be strenghened through other forms of worship. This debate has not yet found a conclusion, with some regions (such as Nexal) enthusiastically embracing it, others abolishing it, and others limiting it to condemned criminals (as opposed to slaves and captured warriors, as was the custom in the Nexalan Empire).

Precious objects also were commonly sacrificed, though the Seven Storms objected to this practice as well, since they argued that any such items should be given to them as tribute instead. It should be noted that the sacrifice of precious objects to the gods was mirrored in the tribute relationships of old Maztica, as commoners gave tribute to the leaders and nobles of their calpulli, who in turn gave it to the calpulli their own owed fealty to (such as the old Nexalan Empire). This was deliberate, as the nobles were seem as more powerful actors upon the world - they were stronger expressions of Divinity, in other words and thus worthy of sacrifice similar to how the gods were worthy of sacrifice. Since one of the obligations of nobles was to make proper sacrifices to the gods on behalf of their calpulli or nation, the nobles were seen as just another link in the chain of sacrifices. Indeed, one of the things that offended the Mazticans deeply was that the Seven Storms set themselves up as the final nexus of the tribute chains but then refused to pass on sacrifices to the gods themselves.

One form of sacrifice that was not suppressed during the Godless Time was the giving of one's own blood. This was usually accomplished by piercing the tongue, earlobes, or genitals - in some cases by running a thin rope with attached thorns or obsidian shards through a pre-drilled hole. The most common practice was to smear the blood on paper and burn it.

While sacrifices were in decline during the Godless Time, rituals became vastly more popular during the same period. The most spectacular of these were reenactments of stories about the gods, with priests, actors, and worshipers each playing a role in the myth. Mazticans generally believe that by taking on the masks and guises of something, mortals also become that entity to some degree - in the case of gods by taking on a small measure of their Divinity. And by re-enacting the deeds of the gods, the worshipers can reinforce their power. For this reason most priests of Maztican deities wear guises of their gods as part of their duties, even when they are not actively conducting rituals. But numerous smaller rituals exist as part of ordinary, day-to-day activities, such as farming, weaving, food preparation and so forth. Learning such rituals is a large part of Maztican education in the Houses of Youth.
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Re: [Returned Maztica] Gods and Monsters - Maztican Religion

Post by Jürgen Hubert » Sun Dec 17, 2017 6:54 pm

The Star-That-Shines-By-Day

Ten years before the arrival of the Golden Legion on Maztica's shores, the first of a series of omens prophesizing his arrival appeared: A great light, brighter than the brightest star, hovered over the valley of Nexal for twenty days before vanishing again. This Star-That-Shines-By-Day disturbed Naltecona and his subject greatly, and caused the priests of Zaltec and Tezca to call for ever more sacrifices for their gods. Yet no matter what they did, the omens continued, year after year until the arrival of Cordell and the doom of Nexal.

Yet even the sages of Nexal did not know that this was not the first time the Star-That-Shines-By-Day has appeared in Maztica. The people of the Coxi Basin had many stories about this strange light which would at times appear over remote areas of the swamps of the region. Sometimes it would appear over a village, and its inhabitants might vanish completely - or reappear as babbling madmen mutting about alien landscapes appearing nearby. And sometimes the madmen were able to command uncanny powers for which the upstanding people of the villages would shun or kill them. Yet cults to the Star remained in the swamps, and rumors persisted that some were able to summon it.

Modern scholars now ask themselves: Did the Star appear over Nexal out of its own volition (if such a being can be said to have an agenda of its own) - or was it summoned by some unknown entity? But whatever happened, it seemed to break the Star's old bindings, for ever since it has appeared in vastly different regions of Maztica, sometimes appearing off the coast of the Patzcoatl (the Western Ocean), in the highlands of Lopango, or the deep deserts of the House of Tezca and the Sands of Itzcala. It has not appeared above a major city again, but this might be due to random chance. And sometimes, when it appears, it leaves its spoor behind - strange plant growths that grant their users visions beyond sight, mutations that plague men and beast alike, or alien creatures that were not born under the eyes of Tezca. Its appearances have become more and more common in recent years, and some sages fear that it will soon appear permanently in the skies - an outcome that certain cults try to accelerate.

Game rules: The Star-That-Shines-By-Day counts as a Great Old One otherworldly patron for warlocks.
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Re: [Returned Maztica] Gods and Monsters - Maztican Religion

Post by Zeromaru X » Sun Dec 17, 2017 7:54 pm

A star that shines to announce chaos, creates mutations and warlocks can gain powers from it. It sounds to me like Caiphon or one of its friends.

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Re: [Returned Maztica] Gods and Monsters - Maztican Religion

Post by Jürgen Hubert » Sun Dec 17, 2017 8:14 pm

Zeromaru X wrote:A star that shines to announce chaos, creates mutations and warlocks can gain powers from it. It sounds to me like Caiphon or one of its friends.
I have to admit that I hadn't been aware of this particular bit of Realms lore, but it certainly fits - it's quite likely that the Star-That-Shines-By-Day is a close relation.

I was originally struck by how weird this particular omen was, and combined that with the Cthulhu Mythos - which was also likely the inspiration for Caiphon & friends.
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