Novan culture is intensely religious, but it is not generally learned or well-read. As a result, Novans hold to a wealth of beliefs that may not be true Church doctrine, as well as outright superstitions.
Superstition is an important cultural touchstone. Shared superstitions can help strangers feel more comfortable around each other, and reinforce the community identity. It is no exaggeration to say that most Novans feel that they are part of what it means to be human. As a result, even skeptics and intellectuals hold to most common superstitions, breaking only in their perceived area of expertise or pet issues (one of the Ecclesiarchy’s rare theologians, for example, would probably have a more order understanding of Church doctrine than most, even if his views put him at odds with most people).
Superstitions Relating to Objects
Most Novans believe that:
- Copper wards against witchcraft
- Brass is associated with daemons, and can be used as a conduit for witchcraft or sorcery
- Silver has healing properties
- Arcane designs drawn on an object or the ground can ward against the powers of the Empyrean, particularly if wrought in pure silver.
Superstitions Relating to Actions:
Most Novans consider it taboo to:
- Relieve themselves in the sight of the sun, or in sunlight.
- Keep primarily carnivorous animals, such as dogs, adjacent to primarily herbivorous animals, such as chickens, even if the two species are not ordinarily predator and prey, unless an omnivorous animal, such as pigs, is kept between the two.
- Kill the offspring of a livestock animal within sight or hearing of its mother.
- Eat fruit or vegetables touched by blood, including the bloody juice of cooked meat.
- Allow a hearth fire to go out in a house with an open door.
- Allow a mirror to act as a lever against another object.
- Make love within earshot of music.
- Put a lie in writing.
Ecclesiarchical doctrine is formally defined in great tomes kept at The Spire, which record the wisdom of the Church’s greatest thinkers as applied to Scripture. It is thus theoretically possible to check the accuracy of any given teaching against the Church’s true beliefs. For a number of reasons, this rarely happens. The Spire is an arduous pilgrimage, and few clergymen who make the journey are in the mood to pore over dusty books, however beautiful, by the end. Few priests are sufficiently literate to read the books in any case, and even fewer of those who are have the grounding in philosophy and logic to truly engage with the complex arguments presented therein. As a result, most priests – even confessors and pontifices – happily bumble along in a haze of a functional semi-accurate beliefs about their own religion. For the most part the learned Ecclesiarchy tolerates these minor heresies with resignation, but extreme deviations may bring the wrath of the Church in the form of a frateris militia with a learne theologian at its head – usually to the utter bewilderment of the hapless victims.
Misconceptions Concerning the Emperor
Contrary to official Church teachings, most Novans believe:
- That the sun is the literal Golden Throne of the Emperor, or alternatively
- That the sun is Terra [officially, Terra is an actual place, but one whose location is unknown and unknowable until the Emperor guided the soul of the faithful departed to His side].
- That the Emperor created the universe [officially, the Emperor has dominion over the universe, but the Church is officially silent on the question of creation].
- That the Emperor provides good weather for crops, bountiful harvests, healthy children, and other such blessings; and, relatedly,
- That the Emperor protects against famine, plague, war, and other such calamities [officially, the Emperor provides what the faithful require for salvation, and protects against as much as the faithful cannot overcome by their own efforts that would bar them from salvation, but there is no doctrine that the Emperor only provides good things and protects against bad. The Emperor may well provide a plague as a test of faith or protect against the temptation to indolence a bumper crop would represent, according to His divine will].
Misconceptions Concerning Salvation
Most Novans believe:
- That salvation means that the soul spends an eternity in paradise on Terra [officially, salvation is the soul’s salvation from being driven insane and ultimately consumed by the Empyrean, by soending eternity at the side of the Emperor. While many theologians speculate that such a blessed state of proximity must be paradaisical, official Church writings center almost wholly on the horrors to be avoided by salvation rather than the blessings to be gained thereby].
- That salvation is a reward for a life of honesty, hard work, uncomplaining fortitude, and other good behaviors [officially, salvation is a reward for remaining faithful to the Emperor. While immoral behavior can certainly tempt a person away from the Emperor, salvation is fundamentally a matter of allegiance rather than morality].
- That heresy is holding religious beliefs other than those of the Ecclesiarchy [officially, heresy is defined as holding a god or gods other than the Emperor. This can take the form of twisting the Ecclesiarchy’s teachings so far that the “Emperor” of the corrupted religion can no longer be considered the same entity that the Ecclesiarchy worships, but it can also take many other forms. For instance, a man who subscribes to the Ecclesiarchy’s doctrines in every particular, zealously worships the Emperor as his lord and savior, and also worships a saint as a god is still guilty of heresy even though his beliefs about the Emperor are all correct].
- That the purpose of penance is to earn the Emperor’s forgiveness [officially, salvation is earned at the time of death, taking into account all of the deceased’s actions to determine whether or not he stayed true to the Emperor during his life. The purpose of penance is not to expunge past errors but to encourage the penitent not to commit future errors. The Emperor does not forgive].
Misconceptions Concerning Witchcraft and Sorcery
Most Novans believe:
- That a feeling of extreme unease around a person indicates the presence of witchcraft [while this is a true teaching of the Church, it is officially considered the least reliable method of detecting witchcraft].
- That witchcraft and sorcery are sins against the Emperor [officially, sorcery is a sin, but witchery is not. The use of witchcraft on another person is a sin, but the mere status of being a witch is a gift to be re-sanctified to the Emperor. Leading witches to The Spire to make this sacrifice – the exact nature of which is a mystery to all but a handful of priests – is the true purpose of the Order of Black Sisters].
Misconceptions Concerning Mutants
Most Novans believe:
- That any birth defect constitutes mutation [officially, physical abnormalities of flesh but not bone are mere birth defects, rather than true mutations. For instance, an extra toe is a birth defect if it can be removed without cutting bone; if the toe is sufficiently fully-formed to have bone in it, it is a mutation whether or not it is cut off].
- That mutants are more prone to sin than other humans [officially, being a mutant is its own sin. A sanctioned mutant thus begins her life with a black mark on her spiritual ledger, but the Church does not teach that a mutant is inherently more likely to commit additional sins].
Misconceptions Concerning Aliens
Beliefs about aliens are many and varied throughout Nova. Some of the more common misconceptions include:
- That “alien” is synonymous with “”/campaign/skyfall/wikis/orks" class=“wiki-page-link”> ork" [officially, the Church recognizes the existence of non-ork, non-human, naturally occurring, sentient organisms. Why this should be so when no such organisms appear to exist on Nova is a mystery].
- That aliens rape women as they pillage, leading to the birth of mutants [in point of fact, orks have no sex organs with which to rape, and Church doctrine has never indicated that they have an interest in sex with each other, let alone other species].
- That aliens cannot be bargained with, only fought [this is a rare case of Church doctrine being accurately translated into popular culture, but it is factually untrue. Many orks are perfectly willing to bargain with humans, including for luxury goods with no discernible military purpose. Such interactions may be fraught with physical as well as spiritual peril, but they occur more often than the Ecclesiarchy would like to admit].
- That aliens are monsters from the Empyrean sent to punish or test mankind [officially, the Church has always recognized that aliens are distinct from daemons, and naturally occurring organisms].
- That aliens worship daemons [officially, the Church teaches only that aliens are incapable of embracing the Emperor’s light. Whether they worship daemons instead, or indeed worship anything, is a matter of speculation].
Misconceptions Concerning Daemons and the Empyrean
Church doctrine on the nature of daemons and the Empyrean is perhaps the least well understood on Nova. This is so because the Church actively suppresses its teachings on these matters, revealing them to only the most trusted clergy. Merely understanding the truth of these subjects is its own spiritual peril, one which the cardinal does not subject priests to lightly. Among the misconceptions Novans hold about daemons and the Empyrean are:
- That the Empyrean is literally underground [officially, the Church teaches that the Empyrean has no physical location, but exists parallel to physical reality throughout the universe.
- That the Emperor casts the souls of heretics into the Empyrean [officially, the Church teaches that the Emperor does not even need to bother – all He need do is deny a soul entrance to Terra, and the monsters that prowl the Empyrean will find the hapless soul all on their own].
- That daemons tempt mankind to sin [officially, the Church teaches that a daemon cannot affect the physical world, or the souls of mortals, without entering the physical world through possession or sorcery].
- That daemons hate, oppose, or are otherwise opposite the Emperor [officially, while daemons are opposed by the Emperor, daemons themselves care nothing for the religions or truths of men. The threat posed by a daemon is not temptation to sin, and daemons are not blasphemous because of their relation to the Emperor. Instead, daemons are by their own nature offensive against everything good and right, and the danger they pose is not a loss of morality nor even life but the loss of existence itself; a daemon is destruction incarnate].
The cardinal virtues of the Ecclesiarchy are temperance, humility, constance, and altruism. These are constantly preached, but rarely explicated in a sophisticated way. As a result, most Novans’ beliefs about virtue are a mishmash of truth and misconception.
Temperance is often understood to mean that extreme emotions should be reserved for their proper place in life – for instance, love reserved for one’s spouse and family; anger reserved for heretics and other enemies of Imperium. This is not strictly true. Temperance is the absence of all extreme emotions – even the absence of emotion itself for the most ascetically pious. Indeed, the Ecclesiarchy does not officially condone outrage or anger against even the foulest enemies of the Emperor’s domain. Instead, it promotes hatred – a cold-blooded state of detestation that aims at the utter destruction of the hated object – and fury, a theological term of art referring to the deadened, merciless emotional state of one who hates, determined to destroy the object of his hatred regardless of extrinsic factors.
Despite the official stance of the Church, Novans love theatrics, and the white priests are no exception. It is far more common for clergy and lay alike to whip themselves into a frenzied devotion than to achieve the emotionally moderate, intellectual devotion that the Church officially promotes. Few priests are philosophically sophisticated enough to understand that extreme devotion, even directed to the Emperor, can itself be considered a sin – and few of those who do understand bother trying to instruct their flocks in such dry theology.
Humility is most commonly understood as the virtue that underlies and reinforces common courtesy – the virtue of knowing and maintaining one’s place in the social order. While this is a true implication of the Ecclesiarchy’s teachings, humility as a theological concept is primarily concerned with a rejection of change. To hope or plan for change is to doubt that the Emperor provides, or at least to doubt the wisdom of His provision. This is a distinction that few Novans truly appreciate. For instance, a man who is exceedingly proud of his accomplishments may be lack humility in the common sense, but theologically he lacks but a little. Contrariwise, the man who wishes to improve his lot in life by acquiring a powerful feudal patron may seem at first blush to lack the humility to be content with what the Emperor has provided – yet, in a larger sense, he is reinforcing the social order by making use of its provisions, which is in fact an act of great humility. On the other hand, a revolutionary who advocated the overthrow of the feudal system entirely – even if exceedingly humble in the ordinary sense and motivated entirely by concern for others – would be guilty of a sinful lack of humility, as setting his own wisdom above the Emperor’s.
Constance is a favorite theme of the more compassionate breed of white priest. Often calls to constance are combined with assurances that dark times are temporary, and life will get better. Strictly speaking, this is an innovation on the Ecclesiarchy’s official doctrine. While it is true that the Emperor provides, He provides what is necessary for the soul’s prosperity, not the body’s. It may well be that, for any individual parishioner, life will not get better. All that can be assured is that the community at large will be protected – if not the family, then the town; if not the town, the House; and if not the House, at least mankind will persist so long as it remains faithful. However, this bleak outlook does not relieve the individual from the obligation of constant faith. The virtue of constance is the rejection of despair, not in favor of hope, but in favor of faithful service and piety. To the truly constant, whether the dark times will pass for them personally or whether circumstances will ever get better is immaterial.
Another favorite virtue of compassionate and populist preachers is altruism. This is a theme often preached during the Ecclesiarchy’s more celebratory feast days and other happy seasons, such as tournaments. When spirits are high and good feeling is plentiful, parishioners are happy to hear about the need to help their fellow men, give gifts, and be kind. However, the true core of altruism as officially taught by the Church is sacrifice. Subjects of the Imperium are expected to give of their substance and their lives, if necessary, to protect their fellows. The feudal order itself, though it concentrates wealth in the hands of a few, is in this sense a monument to altruism – for knights place themselves in the greatest peril in times of war to protect their vassals, and vassals sacrifice in time of peace to ensure that feudal obligations are fulfilled and thus the social order preserved. An overlord can even demand that his tenants neglect their harvests to strengthen a castle or prosecute a campaign, and be exercising the virtue of altruism – for though his demands may cause the deaths of his vassals, yet their sacrifice is for the greater good and future generations.
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