The priests of the Mechanicus are the keepers of magic on Nova. They are popularly referred to as “red priests” after their cowled red robes.
The Machine God
The Mechanicus’ god is referred to as the Machine God. The Machine God is a considerably more abstract entity than the God-Emperor of the Ecclesiarchy. It has no gender, no personality to speak of, and does not even occupy a metaphorical or spiritual realm, as the Emperor does Terra. Its principle characteristic (indeed, almost Its only characterisic) is Its omniscience. The Machine God knows all, as the red priests say.
The Mechanicus is not a branch of the Ecclesiarchy, but it own distinct religion. Fortunately for Nova, the two religions have a history of tolerance. The red priests teach that the God-Emperor is the “Omnissiah,” the Machine God made manifest, that mankind might know Its face and increase in knowledge. While the white priests may disagree on this point, the red priests do acknowledge the supremacy of the Emperor in their way, which has been enough to avoid open religious war. It also helps that the red priests have never taught that their religion is incompatible with the Ecclesiarchy; indeed, almost the only Novans who subscribe exclusively to the Mechanicus are the red priests themselves.
The Mechanicus teaches that the universe contains a finite amount of knowledge, and mankind becomes more like the Machine God the more knowledge it acquires. Indeed, Mechanicus lore holds that once, in an age long past, mankind did know all that there was to know. Yet such was the pride of man that all the knowledge of the universe was not enough, and the ancients sought to master also all the knowledge of the Empyrean. Alas, the Empyrean is a realm of secrets that man was not meant to know, and the ancients unleashed daemons across Nova in a physical and spiritual cataclysm of epoch-ending proportions. By the time mankind repented and the Omnissiah drove back the daemons, the greatest share of what had been known was lost, and what remained was corrupted. From that day to this, the Mechanicus has sought to reclaim true knowledge in a spirit of humility.
Magic and the Machine
The red priests are Nova’s premier magicians and keepers of magical lore. However, they think of magic somewhat differently than lay Novans. What most Novans call a spell a red priest calls a machine. Any non-living object that uses the forces of the natural universe to accomplish its purpose is a “machine.” Machines are not alive, but neither are they inert. All machines, from water-powered mills to trebuchets, have an animating “machine spirit” (never referred to merely as a “spirit,” a word too strongly associated with creatures of flesh) within. A machine spirit is similar to a daemon in that it is a creature of the very stuff of its native universe; the machine spirit bends the forces of the universe to its own nature and causes the machine to operate properly. Unlike a daemon, machine spirits have no hatred for the living or the faithful. Red priests sometimes debate whether a machine spirit could possess a human being, but all agree that machine spirits simply have no interest in such. As each machine spirit already inhabits a machine perfectly suited to that spirit’s nature, it has no incentive to leave.
This is not to say that machine spirits are always pleased with the state of their machines. Machine spirits are often prickly, and must be honored regularly according to prescribed ritual if they are expected to cooperate with mankind regularly. These rituals may be prayers to be recited by rote, or physical actions such as engraving a particular design on the machine. Some are complex, while others are simple; some may be performed in isolation, while others must be performed at specific times or in a particular sequence with other rituals. A considerable body of Mechanicus lore is devoted to the rituals suitable to each known type of machine spirit. Lay persons who purchase a machine or are taught how to craft one expect to be instructed on the words and actions associated with the machine’s machine spirit. Lay Novans generally think of this only as the actions necessary to work magic; the theological details of the distinction between a machine spirits and the machine it inhabits are only of interest to religious professionals. Still, the red priests are happy to pass on the rote knowledge necessary to honor each machine’s machine spirit, for to dishonor a machine spirit even by accident is blasphemy.
A darker body of Mechanicus lore concerns the direct abuse of machine spirits. As mankind once learned to its sorrow, not everything that can be done should be done. Some machines work, but only because their machine spirits have been abused in some blasphemous manner – corrupted by witchcraft, or coerced by the secret means of the alien. It is the sacred duty of the red priests to purify and destroy these foul machines, freeing the tortured machine spirits within. It is not always easy to tell whether a machine is pure or foul, so much knowledge has been lost. The most sacred texts of the Mechanicus are its Standard Template Construct patterns. These scrolls describe how to construct pure machines, and they form the canon from which the red priests must divine the status of each new machine they encounter. Legends say that once the Mechanicus’ STC patterns filled great halls, but today, only a handful of these relics survive.
The Mechanicus does not curate shrines or centers of worship as does the Ecclesiarchy. Instead, they maintain a few monasteries throughout Nova where they preserve, copy, and study their sacred texts. Initiates into the Mechanicus are referred to as lexmechanics. These begin by copying and illuminating their monastery’s sacred texts, eventually learning to catalog the monastery’s library. In this way a lexmechanic slowly gains a comprehensive familiarity of his monastery’s recovered knowledge. After many years of such study, a senior lexmechanic begins to learn the secrets of actual machine construction and maintenance. When his brothers judge his skills in this arena sufficient, he is elevated to the station of enginseer. Enginseers are full priests of the Mechanicus, the red-cowled figures that most Novans think of when they think of the red priests. Only enginseers are permitted to leave a monastery to teach lay Novans even the basic mysteries of the machine, lest the populace be led astray by half-trained initiates.
An enginseer of truly encyclopedic theological knowledge may be elevated by his peers to the rank of artisan. Artisans are the Mechanicus’ senior priests, responsible for running monasteries and engaging with their fellows in the thorniest theological debates, as when a new type of machine is discovered. Unlike the Ecclesiarchy, which is ruled by the cardinal, the Mechanicus has no single ruling clergyman. It does not even have a formal ruling body. Instead, each artisan is equal with his peers. When a matter arises that concerns the entire Mechanicus, a council of artisans may be called to debate it, but these are always called on an as-needed basis.
Very few Novans actually worship the Machine God, or are even sufficiently ecumenical to know Its name. As far as matters of faith are concerned, the overwhelming majority of Novans know only what the white priests tell them, and this is often little enough. The average Novan is intellectually aware that the red priests belong to a different organization than do the white, but that is generally the limit of his or her understanding. Whether the red priests have different notions about the God-Emperor (it is generally assumed that they worship the God-Emperor, as the Ecclesiarchy has not labeled the Mechanicus heretical), how the Mechanicus knows how to work magic, why they do so, the organization of their religion – all these are matters that most Novans never even consider. A few curious souls find their way to the monasteries each year, and a handful of these may decide to become lexmechanics, but the Mechanicus poses no danger of stealing converts from the Ecclesiarchy.
However, enginseers are a regular feature of Novan life. They are rare, unusual, and not a little mysterious, but Novans know that the red priests exist and are the font of all magical knowledge on Nova. The appearance of a red priest in a community may be an exciting novelty, but not as a religious event. Very rarely, red priests are sought by Novans trying to decide if somebody is a witch, or because somebody has seen a machine they have never seen before. For the most part, though, they are consulted as magicians for advice on how to get a spell working again, to refresh or correct the knowledge of the local craftsmen, or simply as a source of entertainment.
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