Runequest Thursday #66 - Ritual Elements for Cults!

Clint Staples

As we prepare, or not, to celebrate a High Holy Day in one or more of our most popular Earth Cults, I thought I could talk about making holy days holy in your games, be they Runequest, Glorantha or not.

In the real world, obviously, holy days are filled with ritual - which we can think of as actions or observations that are conducted to enhance the religious or spiritual experience. If you have ever been to a Catholic Mass, you have witnessed or participated in a set of rituals that has grown and evolved over at least a thousand years of worship. Everything from bowing your head to pray, to singing, taking the Sacrament, even dressing up to go to church - all of these are rituals that help Catholics feel closer to their faith.

Understand that I mean no disrespect when i use the terms ritual this way. We can find similar rituals practice is Islam's use of a prayer mat or facing toward Mecca to pray, or Judaism's use of flame and the Menorah, even the dreidel, at Hanukkah. And when I refer to these religious traditions as cults, I am merely placing them in Runequest terms, and mean no disrespect to their faithful.

In this extremely brief survey of a few rituals from some major cults of out own world, one of the things that becomes clear is that each has rites and symbolism of its own, sacred because of associations in cultic belief, myth or history. The Sacrament refers to the body and blood of Christ, the Last Supper, and the redemption of the cultist who participates in the rite. Mecca is the holiest of Islamic sites because of Mohammad's life and Revelation there. The lighting of candles at Hanukkah commemorate the rededication of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem during the time of the Maccabees.

So how can we create interesting rituals and observances for our fictional cults in Runequest? If you read my articles on Spirit Cults you may have an inkling of where I am going with this. In Part One, We ask five questions of our spirit cult, in order to get a better feel for their nature, powers, personality, and cultic aspects. We can do the same thing of our established cult to get a better understanding of them too.

So Let's take an example from that Spirit Cult series and look at what we know and can surmise for rituals. The same thing could be done for Orlanth [and obviously has if you look at the vast body of rites and observances referred to in Gloranthan sources and fiction].

By Ritual, I mean acts of faith that are done, generally in a formal setting and are devotional to the god. Observances are similar, but are generally simpler, may be done outside of the more formal act of worship, and may also be proscriptions rather than prescriptions for action. So a ritual for Orlanth Rex might involve going to the Orlanth Temple in one's best clothes, offering a Gold Wheel to Orlanth, and reciting the story of Orlanth gathering the Lightbringers and guiding his people during the Darkness. An Observance for Orlanth might be to never own a dog, or to eat eggs every Windsday in representation of Orlanth's power compared to Yelm and his sons.

Let's work out some of each for Jagrun Khan, one of the subjects of our series of Spirit Cults. Jagrun Khan is a primeval spirit lord , savage and predatory, a survivor of that portion of the Godtime when animal lords became subservient to the deities that came after them. The Storm-Tiger is a potent spirit of the Air, bitter foe of Chaos and the Devil, who killed or corrupted his peers and prey in the time before time. From the work we did on his spirit cult we also know that he is bound to his island, and appreciates offerings of slain hunted animals. he may also approve of hunting cats like the Daggerfang, several large prides of which make their lairs close to his island.

Here we have the basis from which to extrapolate some ritual and observance:

  • Since the Storm-Tiger is known to appreciate offerings of game, that is already an act of worship we know works.
  • An observance might be to never hunt Daggerfangs.
  • An everyday ritual could be to offer the liver or kidneys of each kill to the Storm-Tiger by burning them in a fire containing lightning-struck wood. The liver and kidney are often the first things eaten by cats of a kill, so Jagrun Khan might consider them his due, and to burn them converts them to smoke which travels to the upper Air.
  • Lightning-struck wood brings in the Storm aspect of the spirit. The Storm-Tiger will probably not turn his nose up at an offering that did not include lightning-struck wood, but it would be less pleasing to him, or perhaps he would gain less from the rite. Lighting-blasted wood might be more valuable to cultists of the Storm-Tiger.
  • Ritual clothing for a cult of Jagrun Khan could include the raiment of a hunter - whatever that might be in the culture of the individual. It might also include the skin of a prey animal, or even that of a predator sacred to the Storm-Tiger, such as a daggerfang or tiger.
  • Talismans could be fangs of big cats, taken in reverence of the first of their kind - the Storm-Tiger. They might also be shaped as claws, but of conductive metal, or integrate jagged lightning motifs, or air or movement runes.
  • A worshipper might invoke the name of Jagrun Kahn before a hunt, or when fighting against chaos.
  • Smoke could be a sacred form of communication, even divination, in the cult of Jagrun Khan. Lightning-struck or not, smoke is ethereal, and rises to the sky, and could well be considered a sacred way of communicating. Thus, prayers could be offered with a smoking taper, or a script of vellum or parchment [both prey animals] might be inscribed with a prayer or request of the spirit, then burned and its smoke wafted upward.
  • Places of worship are likely in the wild, if not on Jagrun Kahn's own island. Temples would probably be open to the air. Even homes of the faithful might have a sacred opening in the roof for the Storm-Tiger to enter or observe.
  • If we look at the myth of Jagrun Khan, his cousin Shadow-Cat gave itself to Yinkin in order to survive the Godtime. So it might be that shadow-cats are proscribed for worshippers of Jagrun Khan.
  • Jagrun Khan's hatred of chaos may demand action from his worshippers, who might feel called to fight against the Unmaker. Especial hatred might be leveled at Thed, as mother of Broos, since goats made up so much of Jagrun Khan's diet before Chaos came.

 

There are other things we can do with this, and obviously we can extend the same process to other gods. Perhaps the best way to come at this is to think about your own rituals over the coming days, and see how they relate to your faith, or eve to your culture if you profess no particular faith. Then look at the gods of Glorantha, and elsewhere, in light of what you noticed.