Saturday, December 18, 2010

Religion -- The Seeding Manual

First, apologies for posting over a day late! Suffice it to say, real-life duties and illness kept me from the keyboard -- but should such a thing happen again, I will do my best to at least keep you abreast. Now, if you will recall, I am posting today on the topic of the Rural religion and their holy book The Seeding Manual.

The origin of the Seeding Manual and the unnamed Rural religion is a long and winding story. A few years ago, while working on a (now-abandoned) urban fantasy project about gods, memory, and identity, inspired (far too closely) by Neil Gaiman's American Gods and Neverwhere, I came up with the term "Rural," simply to designate those demigods who operated outside the city of Seattle. When creating a cast of characters to surround a hapless human protagonist, I decided I wanted some comic relief, and ended up with "The Greensman" (a term I figured was an obscure term for gardener, or else I'd made it up. Nope, turns out it's the guy who takes care of plants on a movie set). The Greensman was a dim-witted farming demigod obsessed with his "garden," who looked like a cross between a moss-covered orangutan and a thick -bodied "Green Man," constantly quoting from a book of aphorisms disguised as gardening advice (or possibly the other way around ) called The Seeding Manual.

When I set that project aside, the Greensman lay fallow until I needed a character to play for a play-by-post D&D campaign. There the Greensman stayed the same in personality, but became a Dwarf covered in growing things, a Druid, and developed a thick Cockney accent and a tendency to call everyone "Morris." Since I had plenty of time to work up his dialogue since it was Play-by-Post instead of tabletop, I liberally peppered his speech and spellcasting with further quotes from the Seeding Manual, ending up with a dozen or two before I had to leave the game. I regretted abandoning the Greensman and vowed to resurrect him one day. When working up the Bloodlines for The City of Lives, I had my chance -- scouring my abandoned material for unused words and concepts, I found "Rural," and decided to create an entire bloodline based on the Greensman: simple-minded, growing plants all over, and following the Seeding Manual. The Manual got a few more verses when I decided to use quotes from it to reflect the Rurals' options of the other Bloodlines (on Prometheans: For man cannot live without the plow, nor the warmth of the hearth-fire, so embrace these things. -Plowings 3:11). And the Manual got a little more thought when my playtesting group encountered the Greensman himself a few weeks back.

Thus far, the Seeding Manual's creation has been very organic and unstructured -- much like many real-life religions' origins, to be sure, but perhaps it's time to apply the creative scalpel and shape it into a proper religion. And maybe on our way, we'll find a name for the religion itself and not just its holy book.

We begin with:

Archetype: This faith shares a lot of conceptual space with the "wisdom of the woods" possessed by the "native guide" archetype that appears everywhere from The Last of the Mohicans to D&D Rangers. It's the notion that animals and those who spend time with them understand the world better than city folk, emphasizing environmentalism and the "circle of life" -- ideas like "animals aren't always nice, but they're never cruel." There will be a lot potential for story and inter-character conflict inherent in the stark contrast between the way the extremely urban City-dwellers look at things and the point-of-view of the farmers out on the Julian Plains.

Real-Life Inspiration: Here we find some inspiration from real-life "nature religions" like Neo-Paganism and the traditional beliefs of many Native American and African tribes. Myself, my knowledge of Native American and African beliefs no further than knowing some Coyote and Anansi stories, so most of my inspiration here will come from Neo-Paganism. Now, much of Neo-Paganism is too New-Agey for the down-to-earth Rurals -- energy work, meditation, ritual broomsticks -- but some of it will work. I can see them putting up small shrines to local deities, plying them with little sacrifices like bits of food or wine, carved figures and painted stones. The joyous ritual "spiral dance" sounds right for the Rurals, as does the notion of sealing off sacred space before beginning a ritual -- after all, there is no small number of nasty spirits and demigods wandering around the Realm of Lives, just waiting for people's guard to be down. Of course, seasonal holidays will be the cornerstone of the Rural belief system -- nobody care more about seasons than farmers. And it's worth noting (or, at least, amusing to note) that the term "pagan" derives from Latin paganus, meaning... rural.

Theme: The theme best expressed by the Rural religion is "simple and straightforward." The Rurals don't have the layers upon layers of deceit, the wheels-within-wheels of machinations the City does. Their beliefs are straightforward, blunt, and black-and-white. This, of course, will have both positive and negative consequences. The Rurals aren't meant to be perfectly pure and untainted. They may be more honest and trusting than the City-dwellers, but they will also be small-minded, xenophobic, and harsh judges, unable or unwilling to look at things with the shades-of-gray morality the City lives with. Since part of the role of the Rural is to be the outsider, as we previously discussed, this fits perfectly.

Twist: A simple twist is all we need here, I think, and it's this: the natural wisdom the Rurals believe in comes from the viewpoint of a farmer, not a hunter-gatherer as in most examples of the archetype. The Seeding Manual espouses things like every animal having its place, and emphasizing servitude -- it is the pig's role in life to provide a pork dinner, the horse's to pull a cart. Their beliefs will emphasize stability and predictability over freedom -- and everything will center around the community over the self, duty over choice.

Though I initially started this series of "religious" posts as a one-off because I was asked by @Kelly to differentiate between the nature of gods and the nature of religion, I've come to really enjoy exploring this corner of my world. If you'd rather I move on to something else -- or stay on religions as long as I possibly can -- post a comment, or vote in the poll! For now, next time we will visit the Iversdotter Revelation.