18 September, 2012

The Walkabout World: Part 9

Religion and Beliefs of the new World

I’ve looked at the science and pseudo-science of the Walkabout from a few different angles; so at this point you’re either going to run with the suspension of disbelief that spirits could awaken in our world and that the shifting magnetic poles could cause the world to shift t’s rotational axis could, or you’re just going to call it crap and move on to another setting with a series of fantasies that you can believe in.

Beyond this point, it’s less about hard science and more about anthropology, and the projection of history into the future based on the actions of the past…and a bit more spirituality.

I’m going to make some broad sweeping stereotypes based on what I understand about the world. If you think those statements are racist, then consider that I’ll be trying to paint both a positive and negative picture each group described. Inevitably, some will be depicted in ways that show them to be more positive than others; but this is based on my understanding of their beliefs and how they might react to a world that has seen angels, demons and monsters emerge from the shadows while undergoing catastrophic seismic events, followed by months of darkness, then gradually emerging from years (if not decades) of ice age.

Walkabout is based in Australia, so I’ll be focusing on the transformed beliefs of Australian survivors from a variety of cultures. I’ve shared times with the Christian (Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox), Buddhist, Islamic and Australian Aboriginal communities; I have friends among these, as well as self-professed Neo-Pagans, Wiccans, Agnostics and Atheists. I know less about them, but there are also communities of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Hindus, Ba’hai, and assorted other faiths, we even have a small number of religious ethnic minorities such as Jews. 

The personal belief among survivors is a varied thing. The philosophical responses to the changes world are drawn from a survivor’s history within the institutions of their society. Those who have looked on religion as a society for the betterment of humanity might draw stronger together in this hour of need, while those who honestly view their religion as a connection to the divine probably have a more dramatic response, perceiving this as a time of testing or believing that they have been forsaken by their spiritual protector(s).

Times of great tragedy polarise beliefs, blame is easily thrown but never accepted. The vast majority of the local priests, pastors, rabbis, and imams have been killed in the carnage of the dark time’s early days. A few rare survivors have lost the vast majority of their communities; it is a time when they see their beliefs made manifest in the world but it seems there is no-one to listen to them. Most people are more interested in surviving than in paying 10% tithes to community institutions that have failed them, the religious institutions of the past need something new to compete with the blatant spiritual presence in the world. Spirits are quantum entities, their manifestation is driven by the presence of an observer, the billions of dying souls during the dark days gave them forms of angel, demon, deva, asura, monster, alien and shambling horde. The most devout among the churches, mosques and temples have long held that their faith could deal with these creatures; thus belief and observation hold true against the manifestations of the spirits.

For centuries, the Catholic and Buddhists faiths have had exorcists who dealt with demons and spiritual anomalies unallied to their beliefs. The decades before the tilt saw members of these orders derided for their out-dated beliefs and chastised for their “unpolitically-correct” agendas. Once the spirits started to manifest across the world, these holy-men (the religious orders rarely employed females among their ranks) found themselves in a unique position to deal with the menace.
Using their respective tools of holy water, sacred mirrors, relics, prayers and ritual; the exorcists purged their local communities of spiritual activity. The Catholic priests weren’t concerned whether the spirits were dangerous or simply going about their business, they just exorcised anything that didn’t manifest as one of their saints; the Buddhists at least tried to work out the spirit’s intention before driving them off or eliminating them. These priests rendered certain areas safe from spiritual activity for the survivors, sometimes drawing acolytes and disciples to learn their ways. The confrontational ways of these exorcists made them targets among certain vengeful spirit groups, some spirits sought to avenge their weaker and more innocent brethren who had been damaged and banished by the exorcists…other spirits simply wanted war. Thus began a new crusade of faith, with the beliefs of humans shaping the very things they fought.  Pockets of supernatural war broke out across the darkness; the last candles of civilisation flaring up before flickering away.

Early in the dark times, a few surviving “spiritual revival” churches claimed that the rapture had come. Evangelists in their auditorium churches preached to the scared survivors, blaming the homosexuals, the Islamic community, the devil worshippers, the scientists, and anyone else they could think of as convenient scapegoats. Those groups who still had pastors and preachers alive were often more moderate in their treatment of the outside world, willing to assist other survivors and take in those who might be willing to convert. Those who had lost their religious leaders often found the more radical members of the community step up into leadership roles, driving their churches to insular hatred, or vengeful fury against the communities around them; they felt forsaken by their God, only taking solace in the new belief that they had to purify the world to make way for a new heaven. Melting down the holy symbols and syphoning all of the holy water in old churches for ammunition in the new war, they hunted down spirits and came into direct conflict with the surviving Catholic priests who still remembered the arts of exorcism. These priests they avoided as a lesser evil, instead choosing to persecute any spirits they might find; when they found that their actions were often ineffective against the supernatural, they lashed out at other survivors, blaming them for the problems in the world.

Insular communities like the “Closed Brethren” and the “Twelve Tribes” survived the early onslaught by withdrawing even further from the world around them. Communities like these had often been self-sufficient for decades before the dark days, they often followed dogma believing that the communities around them were decadent and corrupt. The authorities basically considered them cults but were unable to step in until formal complaints were made…when the authorities were all but eliminated, they became enclaves of religious ideals (and heresy), often fortifying their walls to prevent scavengers from destroying their self-sufficiency. Sometimes it worked, sometimes mobs would hear about their communities and skirmishes would eliminate ever more survivors from the world.   

Neo-pagans and wiccans typically had a more sharing attitude toward the spiritual activity sweeping across the world. Some wanted to worship the new beings, others wanted to learn from them. This open attitude left a lot of these groups exposed to the darker spirits derived from the beliefs of right-wing fundamentalist Christian nightmares (“anyone who deals with spirits is a devil worshipper”… “spirits are tricksters who will lead you unto temptation and evil”), but the world was filled with more than spiritual tricksters and demon who conned, misled or killed naïve new-agers. Some found benevolent spirits, learning mysterious occult arts from them or trading favours.

The assorted people following the collection of faiths referred to commonly as Hindu, fared far better than most. Their various belief systems had always stated that the world moves in great cycles, and the axial realignment of the planet simply marked for them the turning from one age to the next. The appearance of spirits in the world is considered by some to be a distraction on the path to universal truth, while others see them as agents of karma (easily categorising them as Asuras or Devas), or possibly a stage of reincarnation appropriate to the newly changed world.

Despite the best efforts of Christian missionaries among the colonial forces, there are some among the community who still follow the old ways. These ways might be described by anthropologists as Shamanism, but for these people it was simply life. All things are live, all things have spirits, now the other people in their land were starting to see the truth for themselves, but it took the blacking out of everything else for them to see this. The aboriginals who still follow the old ways find it amazing that many of the other groups of survivors are able to physically see the spirits of the world, yet are still unable to understand what they mean or what they do. The old ways teach that the world moves in cycles, and in this way they share some ideas with those who adhere to the customs of Hinduism. The two groups don’t agree on everything, but in a time of danger, allies are few and far between. It has been said that a fusion of these two forms of faith may have led to the first Wayfarers (the player characters in Walkabout).

Agnostics and atheists have often had a hard time reconciling their beliefs (or lack thereof) with the supernatural activity sweeping across the globe. Many converted to some kind of faith, deathbed conversions; some stalwarts found ways to rationalise the catastrophic events unfolding around them with scientific terms and claims about aliens or ancient conspiracies. Many simply believed that more facts were being revealed about the world through the darkness, or perhaps that a global mass hysteria had occurred.

Though they may not be considered a religion per se, conspiracy theorists felt vindicated in the changes sweeping across the world. Masons, Rosicrucians and Theosophists similarly felt that a time of awakening had reached the earth, and that after a period of trials and tribulation a new chance for a golden era would emerge.

I deliberately haven’t touched on the Islamic side of things yet, I want to do a bit more research before I indicate possible directions they might take in the changing world. The first distinct thing that I can think of is the orientation of mosques, each mosque points toward Mecca while traditionally Buddhist temples have been aligned north-south in accordance with feng shui, and the most traditional Christian cathedrals line up east-west to capture the rays of morning light through stained glass windows. With the changing axis of the world’s spin, cathedrals and temples have their geospatial alignment shifted in erratic ways, but mosques remain facing Mecca. Some might consider this a vindication of their faith.
If you’re reading this and you have any other ideas about where things could head, or if you have insight about another system of belief that I haven’t covered adequately, let me know. I’d love to hear your input.
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