The Rivers of Mysticism

Translator’s Notes: The Rivers of Mysticism represents one of the more complete works on the origins and means of the “innate” practitioners of magic, often termed adepts, but just as frequently confused for practitioners of the arcane arts by the ignorant and undereducated. Many wizards consider shamans, demiurges, and their ilk as weak dabblers in folk magics, and beneath academic study, but the successes of the Zhylyrs owes in part to their clerics. Even in our own country the shamsn yet predominate those areas far from the cities. And thus the nature of these “adepts” seems well worthy of consideration. 

The manuscript was written c. 2200 by the philosopher-king Ol-byadi Hadar inas-Gatam inas-Zair inas-Falim im-Sud, known colloquially as Olbede, or infuriatingly Imsod by some less rigorous scholars, leading to a great deal of confusion with his ancestors, the historical rulers of the distant city of Arsud, in those lands against the wind. Olbede was the fourth son of the king of Arsud, and thus considered unlikely to inherit the kingship, as it falls always there to the youngest son. He travelled to all the places in Fengdi, studying spirits and learning to bind them, as in the manner of the demiurges. He travelled as far as the Great White Coast and those lands near there, and went also into Ashotho. He crossed Barinthia and the Great Steppes, and even walked in Medai and Bod and further on to Shingo, and is said to have visited Arxact. 

When his travels were concluded, he returned to Arsud with the power he had gained from the spirits he bound to himself, and killed his all of his remaining brothers save one and also all the burghers and priests of Noddim to reclaim his throne, and thereby gained his throne and founded a votive cult much alike to those of Laersia and Zhetimia, lands he also visited. But his reign coincides with the great war of the Noddimites and the followers of one Saint Matiri and also a third belligerent party of cultists of a water god apparently from the lands of Zhetimia. Olbede’s part in this conflict is unknown, other than that he was overthrown and Arsud is now believed to be Matirid territory. 

Following below is a segment of the introductory section of the manuscript, detailing the nature of the “innate” spell casters: 

On the Nature of the Adepts

The arcane scholars of the great cities of marble [TN: Barinthia] universally deride those who come by their magic through other means as dilettantes and fools who were gifted their powers and thus have no discipline or skill in wielding it. A preposterous notion, reflecting their ignorance and misunderstanding. While many adepts are born with their powers, only years of study can hone them into true practitioners of the Arts. Further, the powers of the Hidden Lands lies within all of us, from the highest king to the lowliest wretch. My own journey along the path of demiurgy even at its outset has given me power I never imagined.

In my travels, I have encountered, interviewed, killed adepts of all persuasion and origin, and in my estimation their exists three general categories of adept. These are the Adepts of the Blood, Adepts of the Way, and Adepts of the Spirits, and their natures I will explain further below. 

Adepts of the Blood are those born with their power, as though their bodies are infused with the divine grace of their god. These types often come associated with some religion already, and are treated as saints, heroes, and often celebrities in whatever religion they were associated with. The frequency of births of these adepts varies from place to place and religion to religion, to a great degree. Their powers often lie dormant in them till they near adulthood, but the time of manifestation is highly variable. The Hime Savants [TN: of Shingo] are amongst the most destructively powerful of all people to walk the Great Ring, and their powers often manifest in the womb.  Meanwhile, a Smarvalkyr’s [TN: the Small Valkyrs of the Churches of Fate] powers can lie dormant within them their whole life, suggesting their numbers are even greater than those within the College. 

Adepts of the Way gain their power through study of religious doctrine and rite. Some of them claim to gain power from their god in exchange for devotion, but a few of these have no god and barely possess what could be called a unifying theology. Their works are often much akin to spells in the manner of the wizards, but yet more chaotic and less formulaic. The Noddimites of my homeland claim that Noddim itself gives them their powers of the mind, while the non-theistic examples of note are the disciples of the First and Second Schools [TN: the Sons of Yinong and the Theurges, respectively] and the Dark Druids. The religious masters recruit from a pool of volunteers and many search for initiates directly, basing their selection on criteria such as intelligence, obedience, and diligence. 

[TN: This passage appears to have been added at a later date, after his travels concluded.]

My dear friend and companion Nortidur suspects that most of the religious masters have some method of detecting a natural, inborn ability and that the Adepts of the Way and Adepts of the Blood are one and the same. Indeed, Adepts of the Blood likewise require a lifetime of study to hone and use their powers, and the difference I perceived is none other than the difference between those powers that are obvious and those that remain latent unless trained. My own experiments on the imported slaves have not been illuminating in this matter. 

Adepts of the Spirit have access to magic purely through their interaction with the Hidden Lands [TN:the Spirit World] or the beings that inhabit that world or this one. The shamans draw on the inherent magic of the lands to do their works, while the demiurges bind spirits to themselves and gain their powers. Any human can embark on these studies, as I bound my first spirit with only the aid of manuscripts, and many shamans also claim to have had no master other than the spirits themselves. 

On Adepts and Faith

As has been said, most Adepts of the Blood are born into a religion, with the exception of the dreaded Wytches. They are believed to be signifiers of the validity of the faith. Why else would people capable of extraordinary miracles related to our doctrines appear amongst the faithful, if the faith wasn’t correct? As such most of these adepts get absorbed into some church structure where they are trained, and often turned into weapons and tools of the church leaders.

Adepts of the Way can only access the rites that supposedly allow them to channel power through faith and membership in the faith, and so naturally they will be part of some religious tradition or the other. 

Adepts of the Spirit have no unifying religion or theology, beyond an acceptance of the Hidden Lands into their mind. The shamans do recognize each other as part of a common tradition with a shared history and descent from Samnus, the first shaman, but the demiurges make no such distinction, although there must have been a first spirit-binder. Shamans often work with powerful local spirits/mystical elements and perform religious services as a mediator between the locals and their “god” that they worship due to proximity. Most organized religions reject shamans as pagans, charlatans, and idolaters, but the common folk adore and require them as mediator between them. Often times, I would come to a shrine by the roadside, or not far from it, kept by a shaman and his followers. There they would meet their god, often a spirit or occasionally a Monk of the Dead. As they tend to servility by nature, the shamans are understandably less powerful than other sorts of adept.

[TN: A further manuscript called Godhead by the Roadside details the types of beings he found worshipped by villages and their resident shamans] 

My fellow demiurges often come to reckon themselves as beings of godly power, and a few demiurges through history may have even been right about it, attracting shamans and cities or nations of followers to their service. The most long-lasting of these God-like Demiurges even created religious orders based on the binding of spirits similar to their own to distribute amongst followers or pass down to later generations. These are called Votive Cults, after the statues that contain the spirits when not in use. Once, all the lands of my home and beyond supplicated to Votive Masters, though now the practice is much diminished. 

Of course, it must be mentioned that there are faiths with no adepts whatsoever, nor any need for them. The cities of Rephinicia worshipped giants and gave their children up as food and sacrifice, for no other reason then their size. And near there was a city that claimed descent from a giantess named Tanit, and worshipped her as their leader and marked themselves her descendants, and indeed they stood taller and stronger than most men, but were imparted no magic by blood. 

Demiurges also sometimes associate themselves with those religions that have no adepts born into them, as their access to magic allows them to rise quickly through the ranks, if they will have them. The cult of a love god in the lands of the 3rd League [TN: also Barinthia] were composed of demiurges and wizards at their highest levels.

On the Natural Talents of Adepts and the Failings of Church Mastery

Long in my travels and study of history have I and others before me noted a decline in the stability of church organizations as the number and power of Adepts of the Blood that are born into the religion. The more adepts that are born, the more churches tend to fracture as heresies and heterodoxy push up between the cracks. The Church of Fates claim that Smarvalkyr are sent to do their gods’s bidding in Creation, but the early Patriarch Noyzeimi II famously cried out that the gods could have sent less. He oversaw a time where sectarian conflict shattered the church. The success of these sectarian conflicts largely rode on the many Smarvalkyr schismatics could access and train; many were born in sect territories or aligned with sects for their own reasons.

This is because the notion that the adepts are born with some innate adherence to the strictures of their churches is simply false, in my own estimation and in the eyes of any true scholar of history. Their power is innate; their theology unconnected. This truth is denied by all churches, yet all but the greatest fools know it; the histories run too deep and red with the blood of conflict caused by the church’s mystics to deny the notion.

Furthermore, the common belief that adepts are heroes and the chosen of their god rather inflates their own sense of worth as theologians, and possibly their actual worth in that regard. The adepts have their powers from their god, it is so, and thus they feel their convictions are sacrosanct. Resolution of church conflict is made no simpler by the common practice of training adepts to use their abilities to maim and kill. And so if an Adept of the Blood wishes to practice heterodoxy, they have legitimacy and the capacity to resist suppression.

The necessary ending of all this is that most organized religions engage in measures to control their adepts and make sure they are always on the side of church leadership. In the case of Adepts of the Blood, this involves bringing a child that displays powers into the church structure as soon as possible, through separation, education, or some combination thereof. The Patriarchy now demands that all Smarvalkyr enter into the Wyrd Collegium, though this doesn’t always involve separation from their families, as otherwise a whole new rash of rebellions would crop up, in addition to the heterodoxies that they must compete with even with their other measures. The Hime Savants can only properly direct their powers by using their distinctive tattoos given to them by the priests of the Fire Giants. 

Another result is that Adepts of the Blood are oft discouraged and actively obstructed from achieving high rank within their church. One reason is the aforementioned training as weapons of the faith, this leaves them poorly equipped to handle matter of faith. Of course, the true cause is this matter of instability. Deprivation of church rank prevents the adept from accruing followers. All religions with Adepts of the Blood that I have yet encountered practice this seclusion in one way or another, codified or not. 

When learning of those religions with Adepts of the Blood, their management reminded me powerfully of my father’s management of his stables of racing horses. Every morning, my father would take to the stables in our palace to inspect his stallions, mares, and ensure the dozens of servants that kept them kept them well. He would have each one brushed head to tail each day and after each ride, and they drank water from the cleanest well in Arsud. Each day he would take one to ride and hour in the evening. And when he went to war, he chose his best horse to carry him, and when it died beneath him, he would weep bitterly, and drink deeply to his victory, and carry home gold and captives and a hundred horses for his single dead one. Adepts of the Blood are respected, trained, used, and often even pampered or fawned over, but never trusted.

Adepts of the Way seem to have a lower frequency of sectarian conflict, and since the power comes from the religious teaching, at least in part, the prevailing orthodoxy is somewhat self-preserving, even in such cases as the Dark Druids with no central church. Those that do have churches have an easier time of controlling who accesses their teachings and associated magical powers. Except in that perhaps less initiates are taken in so as to control the number of adepts and thus the number of possible heretics, Adepts of the Way face lesser and less universal resistance to their rise in church ranks than the Adepts of the Blood. Some monastic faiths I came across in the lands near the Great Plateau of Bod [TN: possibly referring to the Disciples of the Crane-God and the disciples of the Monkey-God before the rise of the Zhylyr Empire] had their monastic heads picked from the most experienced of their adepts.

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