Temples and Religions

Copyright © 2000,2003 Elyse M. Grasso


Shayanan religions are very assimilationist and also very idiosyncratic. Shayanan social structures don't scale well: it's hard to build a hierarchy on grooming-oil pheromones. The Purificationists are unusual (and probably reflect cultural contamination from the Imperials). In many cases, religions that the Shayanans consider related don't look at all alike to outsiders.

There are at least a dozen major Shayanan religious systems actively represented in Cherani, and a handful of others that are obsolete but still show up in literary references and idiomatic speech.

Among them are:

The religion in which the Hasri is an important position. This was probably originally 3 separate systems that amalgamated. The major deities are the Seven and the Five and the Unnamed One, but the 13 niches in a Great Shrine are for the Five and the Seven and the genius locii of the place where the shrine is built. The Other One, who speaks through the Oracles, has his or her own sanctuaries underground, or surrounded by a maze or labyrinth, and is honored at thresholds and cemeteries.

The Seekers of the Flame of Truth are sort of Sufi Buddhists. They were founded by a Prophet who lived a generation or two after the time of the Rope-Millers' Tale. Images of breathing creatures are forbidden on the insides of the Chanting halls, but encouraged on the outsides.

The Purificationists are a movement within the Seekers that developed during or after the Imperial occupation. They are puritanical and xenophobic.

The South Pole, the axis of the world, is an important religious center and pilgrimage goal for several religions, generally involving dying-and-reborn or otherwise alternating deities. There are a couple of important sites on the Antarctic circle, too, for various definitions of Antarctic Circle. Some religions define the important location as the farthest point south where the sun is fully above the horizon for part of every day of the year. Others define it as the farthest point north where the stars make at least one full circle in the year without the sun showing above the horizon. (There are no continental landmasses extending north of the Arctic Circle, so it has much less ritual importance.)

There are many local cults and religious variations on Shayana. They are often grouped into regional alliances which may not share characteristics that Earthans would consider marks of similarity: the cults centered on the Hasri and the Sea-Mother are allies, but don't have many common symbols or rituals other than the Chevet.

The Hasrian Pantheon

People associated with the Hasri and her cult speak of the Gods as "the Seven and the One and the Five". There were probably originally several separate cults that were amalgamated. Actually, the oracular, labyrinth-dwelling aspect of the One was pulled in comparatively recently in historical terms, and hasn't been fully identified with the Trickster's twin.

There are five or six major cult centers in and around the northeast continent. The heads of the centers (the Hasri, the Sea-Mother, and the rest) are theoretically equals. There is an Imperial military base sitting on the original site of one cult center, and many records and treasures that could not be moved were lost, so the influence of the Lleriti has decreased somewhat in recent generations.

The Lleriti's center primarily celebrated the Five Powers, the Sea-Mother's hardly mentions them at all. Names and attributes of the Seven vary all over the place. And there are probably no two people in the galaxy who agree on the degree to which the Maze Dweller corresponds to the Unnamed One. (Nitodthï jokes that he himself can't make up his mind about it, and he is considered an incarnate aspect of the Unnamed One and an Oracle of the Maze Dweller). The gender of the deities is unspecified (most Shayanan languages do not classify by gender) except in the case of the Trickster, who is the gender the Imperials called male, except when He specifically decides to manifest as a female for some reason, and his Unnamed twin, who is female except for specific occasions.

Each Center has a number of affiliated Great Shrines and Shrines, which in turn have affiliated Hallows. Mazes have their own distribution and are usually apart from population centers (or were originally... a couple of the oldest and best known Mazes have had to buy up local development rights to maintain a proper separation from markets and dwellings.) Very small settlements will have only a Hallow affiliated with one Center. Larger places are likely to have Hallows (or even Shrines or Great Shrines) affiliated with more than one of the Centers. The most spectacular religious art and architecture are found in a trading center on the south continent coast named Nosfala, where there are three competing Great Shrines, a Great Maze, a large Spinners' Whorl and a large Flame Chant-Hall within a day's journey of each other. They celebrated the end of Imperial domination (after the fireworks and public prayers and concerts) by restoring their exterior gold leaf, which had been removed or painted over during the Imperial regime.


Religious architecture was very rarely square or rectangular even before the arrival of the Imperials, who are obsessed with straight lines. Things have only gotten curvier since then. The 'levels' in Hasrian architecture also tend not to be flat floors except in relatively small, single room structures: levels tend to be defined by convenient natural anchor points in the trees or ocean reefs.

Threshold Guardians

All religious sites other than mazes have formal entrance ways flanked by guardians. The guardians are referred to by the name of the place, and they and the threshold of the entrance are consecrated to the Unnamed One. (All thresholds are the purview of the Unnamed One. Formal consecration with guardians just emphasizes that.) Thresholds are made to be stepped across, not upon: the formal thresholds of Shrines and Hallows are often sunken or pointed as a reminder.

Offerings to the One at the Threshold are given to Its servants, the Guardians: the One has no other presence in the sacred precincts than the thresholds and Guardians, and needs none. In practice, unless the offering is something spectacular or reflects a group effort, people usually make offerings to the One at their own thresholds or at cemeteries.

Threshold Guardians are usually depicted as fierce chimerical animals with feathery wings they would not have in real life. They are depicted as matched pairs, but often in such a way that they look different depending on whether you are on your way out or on your way in. Black markings on the outside with corresponding white markings on the inside are common enough to be considered clichéd. There is one major shrine (the smallest of the 3 in Nosfala) where the Guardians are depicted as complete animals inside the door, but as skeletons on the outer doorposts.

Guardians are 'awakened' with blood, and their characteristics often give an indication of the kind of animal that supplied the blood. The animal supplying the blood is usually not killed, except in the case of dangerous wild predators. There are a few very old Guardian sculptures at Great Shrines and Centers (dating back to before the first Hasri) that look very much like people with wings.

Guardians are also found at the entrances to some private homes, and indoors in places where oaths and contracts may need to be witnessed.

Hallows and Shrines

There are two main kinds of Hallows: Pantheon Hallows and Tutelary Hallows.

In a Pantheon Hallow, the consecrated entrance leads to a large room used for sacred banquets and celebrations (and often serving as a schoolroom as well), with either an upper gallery or a second, often larger, room beyond it. If there are two rooms, the entrance to the second room is never directly across from the main entrance. There are equal sized alcoves for each of the Five in the first room (or on the lower level) and for each of the Seven in the second room (or on the upper level). It is common, though not universal, for the Guardians to be double height in a two level Hallow, with a large window or the main ceremonial threshold between them on the upper level. It is very common for the width of the threshold with its Guardians to approximate the width of the alcoves for the level where the threshold is. There is no standard sequence of the deities in either group.

A Tutelary Hallow is much like a Pantheon Hallow, but one or more of the alcoves is expanded into a full sanctuary chamber. In a Hallow affiliated with the Hasri, if more than one deity has a chapel, some will be of the Five and some will be of the Seven. Most one level Tutelary Hallows have a single chapel, double level Hallows generally have a chapel for one of the Seven above a chapel for one of the Five. There are a few Tutelary Hallows with more than two chapels. If more than 3 of the Five or 4 of the Seven have chapel rooms, it isn't considered a Hallow, it is considered Shrine under construction. It is historically rare for the chapels to not be filled out within a generation or so, but a few Shrines were 'under construction' without actually changing during the entire time of the Imperial Occupation.

In a Shrine there is at least a full chapel for each of the Five and the Seven. One deity, one of each group, or all of both groups, may have additional rooms for meditation, display of offerings, storing and putting on vestments, or other purposes. There may be adjoining gardens which are formally within the sacred space. Shrines have a processional way marked out around the circumference of whichever level is considered the main one. In the rare case of a single level Shrine, the processional way makes a figure 8, crossing at the boundary between the sanctuary for the Seven and the sanctuary for the Five.

A Hallow has no attendent clergy living within the consecrated precincts, and usually no kitchen facilities. If there is an adjacent dwelling for the clergy (small and medium sized Hallows may not be served by permanent clergy, just by members of the community), it will often be constructed with oversized kitchens to support celebrations in the Hallow hall.

A Shrine has its own kitchens to support the Halls, usually in an unconnected building within the consecrated precincts (Hasrian construction tends to use very flammable materials). A Shrine also normally has attendent clergy present at all times, and often other staff or guests as well, and living quarters (or at least sleeping quarters) are provided within the precincts, attached to the Shrine itself, the kitchen building, or both. There are commonly schools within the precincts, but students not otherwise part of the staff will live outside the precincts.

Great Shrines and the Cult Centers

Great Shrines are not single buildings, but clusters of buildings, or even clusters of building complexes, and the Cult Centers are generally similar. They are the equivalent of major cathedrals or religious centers on Earth. A Great Shrine complex as a whole is demarcated by an outer processional way which follows the entire periphery. The Outer Way begins and ends at a covered gatehouse which has two consecrated and Guarded thresholds. (The places where the Way passes through the gatehouse are not counted as thresholds.) One of the thresholds is parallel to the outer edge of the Way and marks the transition from the outer world (invariably a large market plaza) to the Way. The other threshold is the entrance to the Great Hall. At most Great Shrines there is nothing to prevent anyone from stepping onto the Outer Way anywhere along its inner or outer edge, but at the Hasri's cult center there is a low fence or hedge along the outer edge. (This is still a formal rather than a real barrier, the local population being largely arboreal. They don't bother providing a service entrance, but supplies and workers have no problem entering without using the formal gateway.) By custom, the very first time one enters a Great Shrine precinct, it should be by crossing the formal threshold, but after that it doesn't matter except on formal or ceremonial occasions.

The 'Great Hall' of a Great Shrine is very large and generally consists of an open plaza surrounded by a colonade that provides the roof for the Inner Processional Way that surrounds it. Scattered along the outer edge of the colonade are openings to paths leading to the sanctuaries of the various deities. These openings may be very ornate, but they are not, formally, considered thresholds: the (consecrated and Guarded) thresholds are found at the actual entrances to the various sanctuaries.

In addition to the Great Hall and the sanctuaries for the various deities, a Great Shrine compound will contain kitchens, residences for clergy and servants, guesthouses, schools and dormitories for students, and storehouses and craft workshops within the Outer Way. There may also be memorials and cenotaphs, and Tutelary Hallows (or even Tutelary Shrines) dedicated to specific aspects or manifestations of various deities. Memorials, Hallows and Shrines, schools, workshops, etc. will also be found clustered around a Great Shrine outside the Outer Way, usually near the great marketplace at the gate, which is sponsored by the Shrine.

The difference between a Great Shrine and a Cult Center is the absence or presence of a focus: a cheden who is considered an incarnate channel of divine power. Of the 7 foci, the Hasri, Lleriti and Sea-Mother (Aiyowe) represent lineages traditionally believed to have divine ancestry, and their authority descends from parent to child. In the other four foci, (the Serafa, Chrrïhai, Ngerathtü and Fexazhi) transmission of authority follows a reincarnating pattern a bit like that of Tibetan High Lamas. Six of the Cult Centers are on the Eastern Continent. The Sea_Mother's Center is in the Near Archipelago.


Sanctuaries of the oracular aspect of the Unnamed One are surrounded by barriers that are real, not formal. Supplies and materials are left outside a service gate which is never opened when there is anyone there to see it. The main access to the sanctuary is through a Maze, which is often three-dimensional, and generally at least partly underground. Descriptions of the sanctuary chambers at each individual oracle site vary enough that it is probable that they have more than one sanctuary chamber.

There is no threshold or guardians at the entrances to the maze. There are usually four official entrances. There are movable panels within the maze which are shifted, in ways determined by throwing dice, at mid-foredawn, dawn, mid-morning, noon, midafternoon, sunset, midevening, and midnight. A bell rings when the changes happen. At times there may be no path that will lead a querent to the oracle, and a querent who stays in the maze for a long time may occasionally find that it has shifted to a pattern that offers no way out.

There are official traps in the maze. A querent who is caught in a trap may be required to leave the maze and wait a specified amount of time before trying again, or to try entering the maze from a different entrance, or to become an initiate of the maze for a specific amount of time before trying the maze again. The initiates are the closest thing on Shayana to monastic orders, and the chance of being stuck in the maze for a while as an initiate tends to deter frivolous questions. (People with unweaned pouchchildren are not allowed to be querents, and people who have responsibilites that should not be set aside are warned against making the attempt. Trying the maze with a question for someone who is not free to do so is an act of great spiritual merit. Accepting pay for asking someone else's question never results in a useful answer, and frequently results in a long stay as an initiate. )

Each querent is allowed up to two full days (or 8 quarter days or 16 bells) within the same month to try to reach the oracle. Long stays are inadvisable: there is some light in the maze, but no food or water and nowhere to relieve oneself. If someone stays too long within the maze without finding the sanctuary or a trap, an initiate will come to lead them back to the entrance.

The doorway from the maze into the (a?) sanctuary is blocked by three opaque curtains about a person's length apart. The half of the sanctuary farthest from the entrance curtains is a dais with more curtains at the back. There is a font of water about a third of the way from the entrance curtains to the dais, and a seat for the querent halfway from the font to the dais. On the dais is a throne flanked by winged creatures resembling threshold guardians.

There are four things that may happen if the querent reaches the sanctuary.

It is not unknown for a querent who has succeeded in finding the sanctuary to get caught in a trap on the way out and be required to become an initiate. People who are already initiates who get caught in traps on their way to or from asking a question are required to stay in the cloister for a given amount of time.

There is no public information about what is involved in being an initiate, except that it takes about at least half a year to start and one month out of 13 thereafter, if you do it voluntarily. The initial cloistered period may be longer, possibly much longer if it comes from being trapped in the maze. If an initiate becomes a pouch-parent the initiate will not serve in the maze until the child is weaned, and the child may become an initiate shortly after he or she reaches puberty.

Being initiated seems to involve a fair amount of piercing and body jewelry. Becoming an Oracle seems to involve more.

The biochemical states involved in being an active oracle are incompatible with reproduction, so oracles are obligatory celibates. There are limits on their active term lengths to give them a chance to recover periodically. New Oracles generally stay cloistered for the first half year or year.

The traditional rules for Oracles were as follows:

There are decisions about the management of the Mazes and assignments and terms for Oracles that were traditionally the responsibility of the Guardians, or a council of at least 3 Senior Oracles. For a long time it was the policy of the shrines and cult centers to discourage people from becoming initiates or seeking answers in the Mazes. Not long before the Imperials arrived, the Mazes ran out of Senior Oracles and Guardians, and the Hasri's organization took over the administration of the Mazes "for the duration of the absence of the Senior Oracles". The pattern of Oracle assignments since then has been such that there have never been more than 2 Senior Oracles at any one time. Due partly to the disruptions of the Plague and the end of the Imperial Occupation, that may be about to change. arrived.

Hasrian Deities

The Five

The Five always have their sanctuaries on the lower level or outer hall of a Hallow or Shrine. In a Great Shrine their sanctuaries will be created in the usual locations so that they can appropriately contain their focus objects, but associated facilities (meditation rooms, treasuries, etc., may be placed on upper levels.

One sanctuary of the Five will contain a large rock, selected partly because it has natural markings resembling a face.

One sanctuary of the Five will contain a fruit tree with natural face-like markings in its bark.

One sanctuary of the Five will contain a fountain like a waterfall, designed so that it maintains a facelike pattern of ripples.

One sanctuary of the Five is the home of a live animal, usually the equivalent of the best stud bull in the district, determined at an annual festival. The bull is available to anyone who brings a cow. Being the owner of a Shrine beast for the year is very prestigious, and provides an automatic place in the community council if the owner is not already a member. A very small Hallow may have the equivalent of an official cat or rabbit.

One sanctuary of the Five will contain a flame, which has no face because you don't want fire looking in your direction.

The Seven

Eilyüdh, the Trickster is creative energy, evolution, change, making things complicated. The Trickster is not a creator is the sense of a craftsman who deliberately creates something according to a plan, more of an impulse to change: the kind of person who can't resist poking at things to see what will happen. The universe happened when the Trickster and the Unnamed hatched from a double-yolked egg. The Trickster and the Unnamed are also occasionally described as the parents of the egg (but when the Trickster is involved anything can happen). Eilyüdh is represented in sanctuaries by a swirly light and dark freestanding egg, but in other forms in the illustrations of his adventures which cover the surrounding walls. People especially pray to Eilyüdh at the beginning of the breeding season or when starting projects. Eggs, seeds, flowers and fruit are favored offerings, along with intoxicating beverages and psychoactive substances, and puzzles. The Sea_Mother is believed to be descended from Eilyüdh.

Tsonvas, the Scribe is involved with knowledge, history and memory, also poetry. Tsonvas's sanctuaries tend to have libraries and archives attached to them, and libraries and archives are under Tsonvas's protection wherever they are found. Images of Tsonvas often depict a slightly chubby person holding a lamp up with his tail while he writes in a scroll or ties tadthtu. Favored offerings are books, (especially new works), lamps, the substances that go in the lamps, and writing implements and materials. Also beer or wine. Tsonvas once drank Eilyüdh under the table and then made up a satiric poem about him: jokes or charicatures of Tsonvas are more likely to result in a blessing than to upset the deity. Children going to school are given cute Tsonvas pencil cases and notebooks. When college students say they were up all night worshipping Tsonvas, they could mean that they were studying, or that they were out partying, or both. Tsonvas is the younger seed- and pouch- child of the Unnamed. The LLeriti is believed to be descended from Tsonvas.

Lïrraiz, who has dragonfly wings and is served by dragonflies, is the patron of beauty, dawn and sunset, handicrafts, music, etc. The sanctuaries of Lïrraiz are art galleries and concert halls, and offerings can be anything beautiful, but especially made things. A simple flower is fine for the Trickster, but Lïrraiz wants ikebana (Japanese flower arranging). The Serafa is believed to be an incarnate channel of the power of Lïrraiz.

The Rivals: hunters, adventurers and competitors, they are also involved with weather, especially winds and storms, and sea currents. Their motto is "Anything you can do, I can do better". People pray to them when engaged in gambling or dangerous activities, and when going hunting or starting journeys. It is considered foolhardy to pray to just one of them. They are generally addressed simply as 'Wik' (the second person dual pronoun), and referred to as 'Ez' (the third person cognitive dual pronoun). That way the question of which name to mention first doen't arise.Their names, used only when recounting tales of their competitions, to specify who did what, are Heian and Chürra. People offer hunting weapons, gambling gear, halasi sets and other games, objects that have been storm-damaged in odd ways, boats (often small scale replicas of square-riggers), and kites. They are also sometimes offered part of a successful hunter's kill. The Rivals were created when the Trickster made a bet that he could produce a child with himelf as both seed parents and the pouchparent. The resulting baby was so competitive that after it was weaned it split in half so it would have someone to compete with. The Chrrïhai and Ngerathtü are considered incarnate channels of the Rivals' power. (The Chrrïhai seems more involved with them in their wind and water aspects, the Ngerathtü, more involved in their hunting and competition aspects.)

Tan, the Builder and Defender is involved with mountains and earthquakes. He builds things and makes traps and barriers to protect people against demons and other dangers and is usually depicted with Eshon, his giant kix (a kind of draft animal) rather like Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox, but he carries a hammer as well as an ax. Favored offerings are wood, pure water, tools, objects of fired clay, and stones, including semiprecious gems but not clear gems. Tan prefers useful things to the purely decorative. Offerings and prayers are made at the beginning and end of any construction project: roads and bridges as well as buildings, walls, etc. People also put little Eshons in their vehicles for protection against crashes and other mishaps: the gremlins are supposed to be reminded that Tan is around, and go somewhere else. (Or possibly the vehicle is supposed to be inspired to be as hard-working as Eshon: this made more sense when the vehicles in question were the equivalent of ox carts drawn by kixtu.) On the longest night of the year, Tan makes a tour of inspection and chases away any demons that have snuck past his barriers. If you leave him a drink and a snack, and some hay or veggies for Eshon, he might leave you a present if you've been good since last year. (Note that he only does one hemisphere at a time... also this is not a story from the polar regions.) The Fexazhi is believed to be a channel of Tan's power.

Jennesh, the Gardener, is the parent and guardian of animals and plants and those who deal with them and their products, and also the patron of pouchparents and protector of children. (Jennesh is always written with 6 characters: J-E-N-N-E-SH. It is not written with the double-n character.) The Hasri is considered an incarnate aspect and descendent of the Gardener. Jennesh is usually depicted wearing a wreath of ruch blossoms (usually as a necklace ), carrying a cornucopia, and surrounded by different kinds of plants and animals, especially the symbolic equivalent of a rabbit. Jennesh is often depicted as pouch-heavy, but there is never any glimpse of what the pouchchild looks like. Offerings include milk, the first fruits of harvest, other food, small live animals or birds (or fish in fishbowls). Jennesh is the oldest child of the Unnamed and Eilyüdh, and pouchchild of the Unnamed. Jennesh is pouchparent of Lïrraiz and Tan and seedparent of Lïrraiz

The Unnamed One

The Unnamed is the counterpart of the Trickster, a personification of time, fate, death, entropy, etc. The One also tends to be viewed as a source or personification of judgement or justice, which is why She is invited to delgate part of her power when a Keiliazh on Hasri is consecrated. She is never depicted, just represented by her guardian beasts, by thresholds, and sometimes by clocks. Offerings include incense and scented oils, colored autumn leaves (in places that have seasons), clocks or other timepieces, and drops of the petitioner's own blood or grooming oils.

The oracular labyrinths devoted to the Unnamed were originally a separate cult. The communities of initiates associated with the oracles are the closest thing to monastic orders in any Shayanan culture.

The Flame of Truth

The Seekers of Truth are a supra-theistic religion like Buddhism. Seated meditation doesn't work well for Shayanans: they tend to slip into predator's focus. The Seekers more commonly use moving meditations involving chanting and dancing. (Sufi Buddhists...)

The Seekers were founded by a prophet who lived in the mountains on the Western Continent about a generation after the time of the RopeMiller. The founder's personal name was Rashennath, but the founder is more commonly known as "The One Who Saw" (= the Seer), and occasionally as "The Lamp" or "The Lamp of Truth".

The Seekers have two main kinds of clergy: Cantors (Wanentu) and Sages (Zhïnntu). Cantors function within the lay communities, where they lead the chanting in the chant-halls, teach Scripture to anyone who cares to learn it, and frequently serve as arbitrators in disagreements between members of the community. Sages are more solitary: in Earthan terms, they are closer to being hermits than monks.

The Scriptures of the Flame of Truth, commonly referred to as the Canticles, are not a closed set of canonical documents. There is a core set of texts, including but not limited to the writings and reported sayings of the Seer, that most Cantors and Sages agree on. There are large numbers of commentaries and other texts, which are accorded varying degrees of importance in different places.

The basic form of the Seekers' Chant_Halls is derived from the round-hall (ireig) architectural form. There is a central pillar supporting the Flame, and the Cantor's pulpit, surrounded by a round space used by the trance-dancers, which is surrounded in turn by arcades and galleries used by the chanters and musicians. In suitable climates, some very large Chant-halls are roofless. Decorations inside a Chant-hall are always abstract. Decorations on the outside of a Chant-Hall traditionally depict the complexity of the world of birth, death and rebirth, and usually involve depictions of plants, animals, people, deities etc., and include both the beautiful and pleasant and the ugly and unpleasant aspects of reality.


The Purificationists are an offshoot of the Seekers. They accept a very small set of canonical texts.

The Twin Spinners

These are the primary deities of the South Polar religion, linked to fate, as well as the spinning of thread. One is dominant in the dark part of the year, the other has links to the sun and light. There are other deities in the pantheon, especially a planetary ("earth") deity named Amaila. There is a minor spirit or demigod named Suthin who tends to be identified with the Hasrian Trickster. Hasrians identify the Spinners with their Rivals, and the planetary deity with Shayana, though the attributes don't entirely match (or didn't originally).

The main sanctuary at the South Pole has a Foucault's pendulum marking the exact location of the South Pole. The pendulum drips dye onto the floor beneath it as it moves.

Other Traditions

In the mountains on the West Continent the Seekers of Truth largely superceded a religion that used a pillar next to a pit or well as a sanctuary marker. This older religion used blood sacrifices as messengers to the spirits. It included a rite similar to the Lakota "Sun Dance" which forms part of the ancestry of the trance dancing which is one of the most visible parts of the newer religion.


Under Construction
Return to Religions
Return to Encyclopedia contents
Copyright © 2000 Elyse M. Grasso