From: "Wayne S. Rossi"
Subject: Istus (long)
I'm finally back at college, so I can easily post this work. Since Xan Yae and Zuoken are next on the table for me, this is actually the last single-god work in the series of Baklunish religions I'm working on. Enjoy.
The Colorless and All-colored, Lady of Our Fate
Neutral Greater Goddess of the Baklunish
The Lady of Our Fate is a surprisingly popular goddess, mostly among fatalists and the Baklunish. Istus is truly Neutral; she neither adheres to any pattern nor goes completely without interference, and her ever-reaching strands do not strive toward good or evil. Law and Chaos, Good and Evil, all these forces are a mere part of an ever-repeating cycle without patterns, without certainties, yet without randomness. It is here, buried in thought and on the edge of consciousness, in the depths of the human mind and on the tip of the tongue, in the endless flow of contradictions and certainties, in the delicate point where the absolute and the relative mix, that Istus's faith holds its heart.
Generally, the priesthood of Istus has no formal raiment other than the grey robe; these are worn, traditionally, with no facial covering (in contrast to the Ou Elshias of the Ordered Church of Al'Akbar, who cover their faces for this exact reason). The vast majority of priests of Istus are female. The title of a priestess of Istus is Louc Datras, or Holy Daughter, and the masculine is Coun Datras (Holy Son). The high-ranking priestesses are called Ara Datras, Holy Mother. Ara Datras may be of any age, standing, or level of experience; however, they are outstanding priestesses, and it is said that a true Istus priest can tell an Ara Datras within several minutes of meeting her. Priests wear their hair quite long; upon becoming an initiate, the novice has her head shaven, and she becomes a Louc Datras once it is six inches long (thus, it is reasoned, Istus gives the priestess the precise amount of time she needs to be initiated).
Temples to Istus are generally more or less round; a small tower (containing the chambers for the priests) is in each of the four corners of the temple, corresponding to where the corners of a rectangular temple would be. The main building has a 10' high wall, and a resplendent semicircular dome atop it. Windows above with brilliant latticework (this is usually a masterpiece of abstract art, never making the same impression twice) allow the sunlight to filter in. There are sconces for when the sun does not show. The center is usually no more than a somewhat raised, flat surface; webs are engraved into the stone, and at the center is a circle. Seats are arranged so that all face this center. Since the seats are in four quadrants, four Louc Datras usually chant the Godsday sermon. Elaborate scrying rituals often take place here, involving prayers and meditations, speaking in tongues, and visions through water seeing, for those who can donate significantly enough to turn the Ara Datras to divination. Most divination consists of the subject and a Louc Datras sitting on the central area, cross-legged, hands linked, and the Louc Datras casting stones, or a similar ritual. These are simple, fairly vague, and mostly accurate.
There are no holy writings for the priesthood of Istus; the orthodox members do not believe that the Lady of Our Fate has revealed her will to humankind, nor that humanity would be better directed by such a set of commands as Istus may give. Those who believe in divine revelation tend to believe in the True Faith's Tau Lhan, by the Zeifa prophetess Rhiavel, and as such do not venerate Istus alone. However, here is the core of the dogma, as could be discovered by questioning a Louc Datras:
-Istus has woven a thread for your life; that thread lies in your nature.
-The thread that Istus has woven for you is an individual thread, and yet it is a part of the entire vast tapestry that she weaves.
-The design that Istus has set for you is found in the path of least resistance; by allowing your mind to flow freely, you may realize what that path is.
-You are part of a society, the threads that envelop and surround you. To live poorly is to submit yourself to that society, or to hold yourself above it. To live well is to be a part of it, and to allow your natural flow to join with society.
-Your actions are neither good nor evil. Evil results from acting contrary to your nature; good results from denying your nature to stop evil. Neither of these is desirable.
"The path of least resistance" is of great import in understanding Istus.
Her priestesses are seen as cold, unfeeling, and perhaps arrogant. The actual situation is, simply, that vast or extreme fits of emotion are seen as contrary to this path, and that they hinder the priestess in her understanding of Istus and fate that make her a prize as an advisor or ally. Notably, while tradition does not allow Louc Datras to marry, there is no prohibition (or stigma) placed on intimate affairs; after all, if intimacy comes easily with a person, then it is Istus's will that the coupling occur. (Note that, if it comes with difficulty, the priestess will avoid a relationship, but she will not purposely avoid one that feels natural.)
Likewise, friendship must be won by natural force of personal compatibility, or not at all; if something must be forced, a devotee of Istus will reason that it is not the Lady's will. In situations that are borderline or uncertain, priests will usually make a divination; the result will be adhered to, in almost all cases with extreme ease.
From this, it can be said two things: first, that the faith of Istus is small; second, that it does not proselytize. Proselytization is left to the Al'Akbar followers and the adherents of the True Faith. It is reasoned that, if it is a person's fate to worship Istus, he will find himself drawn to the church, and will believe. If a girl is to serve Istus, she will approach a Louc Datras or Ara Datras and ask to become a priestess; if she does not do so, she is not fated to be a Louc Datras. If a child of the faithful, once aged fourteen, does not wish to attend services but is forced to by a parent, a Louc Datras will take the faithful parents aside and request that the child only enter by his own will.
In government, Istus's priesthood is very popular; they tend to approve of the current ruler, as they hold that anyone born to a position of power was clearly fated to rule; however, when a charismatic person who is capable of rule arises, the priesthood will withdraw for the time of the conflict, and support the winner, who is clearly the one destined to rule. In a time when being a part of such intrigue comes along, the priestesses will normally go with who they find most natural to side with. Additionally, having an understanding of the contradictory ways of the world, priestesses of Istus are generally good court advisors; there is one by the side of the Sultan of Zeif, another who the Caliph of Ekbir confers with, a priestess who is in the court of the Pasha of Tusmit, and a vizier to the Beygraf of Ket. Outside of Civilized Bakluna, where the Louc Datras have less status, the centers of
Istus's worship are in the Flanaess's free cities. There, the cult is several shades more pessimistic, and there is little brotherhood with the solely Baklunish faith. Rituals in the East have been accompanied by things such as incense, music played in a vaguely Baklunish fashion, hangings of cloth, and odd chanting. The Louc Datras of the Baklunish see little need for such rituals.
In terms of rules for priests of Istus, these are set up in the From the Ashes boxed campaign setting. For those without access to this superb work, the priesthoods may still be available online at the Wizards of the Coast website. In any case, I have no need for "powering up" specialty priesthoods, and will not provide any rules detail here.
Wayne S. Rossi