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003 Letter 1

To Gren, Yettor, Paltwin, and Xzax: I have been encouraged to write to you, for I understand that you inquired about us to my friend Kelep and his wife when they were visiting you. Upon their return, they asked me to send you this. I, Renent, hope to meet you in person someday, and hopefully this will spur you to know us better.
We sometimes encourage our traveling members to begin answering inquires with this story: a man once rode his horse through a village’s main road at a rapid pace, for he was in some exigent circumstance. From a house facing that road, a mother saw him, and when her young son asked about him, she replied, “he was a soldier, for he wore a sword at his side.” The son then went and told his friends that a soldier had come through the town. Meanwhile, across the road, another mother in another house told her son, “He was a farmer, for he had no sword.” That son told his friends as well. Later, when the children had gathered, some said, “a soldier came though here”; others, “a farmer rode through.” They became angry with each other. Then a third child, who had been away down by the river, said to them all, “how am I to believe any of you? You are all sincere, but I would be silly indeed to believe you since a man cannot have a sword and not have one at the same moment. Why should I listen to one of you rather than the other? I am glad that I did not hear of this until just now, or else I might have heard from one of you, believed it, and now be quarreling with the others without realizing how foolish I looked.” Hearing this, the children realized that they had not seen the rider at all and abandoned their quarrel.
We are, or at least strive to be, the third child in this story.[1] The Qualiaites see Qualiae as the god, and the Jaipnites see many gods and disagree among themselves about which are most crucial to worship. Among the Jaipnites, some see Jaipni as the most important god while others consider it Sendora. Among the Qualiaites, the Umanites see only Raimail as the god’s appointed king while the Fricolics recognize both Raimail and Vequetel. The Fricolics and the Jaipnites, with exceptions, decorate their homes with beads and objects for worship, but the Umanites almost never do. Regarding diet, the similarities are reversed: some Jaipnites joined some Umanites in rejecting dietary ritual, but the Fricolics find it important and ordained by Qualiae. Some Umanites believe that Uman was the final prophet of Qualiae while others believe that he was not. However, while the Fricolics agree with this latter group, they disagree about Brial being that later prophet. Meanwhile, some Fricolics believe that the world arose out of the Great Sea, but others that it arose out of the Bay of Actra.
Indeed, the disagreements seem to be boundless, as do the number of opinions regarding each. What is the deity? How many deities are there? How does one serve a deity? When has a deity acted among us? Does a deity act in people individually or in its followers collectively? Do we return to this life after our death, or do we go elsewhere? On all of these questions, belief and practice differ sharply across Naithan, and all peoples seem equality convinced of their own correctness. Not only that, but views proliferate beyond Naithan. Lythonites mostly believe in the Goddess and her nine prophets, and to our west, the tribes seem each to have invented a different belief with many worshiping some local god or another. It seems that wherever we look, we uncover yet another belief about the divine. Like insects during the infestation season, they are countless.
Nevertheless, people live submerged in ignorance to this, for despite these countless beliefs, everyone in a particular community seems to believe the same thing. Neighbors share the same beliefs and practices with firm unanimity while not far away to the north, south, east, and west, other groups of neighbors share extremely different beliefs. It is almost as if some deity, punishing us for what must have been a horrid sin, cursed humanity into agreeing only with those right around them while finding everything else objectionable. Like those who see their own hand before their face but not beyond it, they are blind to all beliefs except their neighbors’.
Even in places in which two groups of people live close by, one is usually an immigrant group. Back when I was a child, living as a Umanite in Becopton, many Jaipnites relocated out of the South. They, being blinded into their views already, retained those beliefs. They even secluded their children from us so as to simulate the isolation of their homeland and engrain them too. Once enough families migrated, they formed their own community within ours, and the group delusion continuedboth for them and for us.
What awful sin our ancient ancestors committed to deserve this fixation on error, I do not know. Certainly, none of the founding accounts of these groups record such a punishment, but perhaps a divine delusion has caused this too. Who really knows? All we can confidently say is that countless beliefs have spread like a disease among us, albeit a strange disease that affects each group of victims differently.
Now someone could rebut this and say, “but surely you misunderstand my community’s belief and practice. If you only experienced it, you would understand its deep truth and authenticity.” Such a person may cite the power and wisdom of his deity or deities, the impressive example of the deity’s prophets, the insight of the religion’s teaching, or any number of positive qualities in that community. However, I have seen enough places—and others in Kireca have seen several more—to know that such an attitude is itself the delusion. We mourn that everywhere we go, people sing the praises of their local religion in ignorant bliss.
Let me not be misunderstood. Any community that maintains itself stably and successfully is surely worthy of veneration. Whenever the teaching “do what is just” or “seek forgiveness for your wrongs” is made, such teaching should be followed whether those words are said to come from Qualiae or Jaipni or some other god. We are fortunate that while humanity’s beliefs are in such disarray, our conduct is quite a bit less so. Indeed, if many of these communities were the only one upon the earth and their members were truly justified in their belief, it would probably be a good world. However, such is not the reality.
What should we do amid this chaos? We must recognize that we have a choice. This is the first teaching of Kireca. Whatever the cause of this blindness is, it pushes us constantly toward the beliefs of our homes, but that temptation can be overcome. No person is chained to his home: everyone can live free of these blind assertions. Thus, we hold no belief regarding the divine. As the world divides among its plethora of assertions, we take no part in it. What and who the divine is and what it does are not questions that we claim to answer, for no amount of claiming thus far has provided a solution.
Now what if a deity showed itself so clearly that belief in it was not a matter of blind assertion but of obvious truth, just as we know without question the color of our friends’ hair or the distinct sound of the rain when waking at night? Make no doubt that we do not foreclose this possibility. Surely, the many religions believe in deities powerful enough to manifest themselves quite conclusively. If one so wished, it could. However, it has not. Thus we wait for such a day patiently, but we do not presume its coming.
Whenever one among us has a startling dream or a profound experience, we encourage that person to exercise the greatest restraint in inferring its meaning. Too many have fallen into false prophecy, and we constantly strive to protect each other from such temptation. Surely the human is prone to various acute experiences in life. Anger, grief, joy, and romantic love can come upon a person strongly, but we would never base our beliefs and values on feelings experienced during those extreme moments. The same is true with a mystical feeling. Surely people do enter these strange states from time to time. Elsewhere, communities would summarily construe them as revelations from their particular deity or deities. We, however, believe it wise to exercise restraint and caution. Almost always, we find that after time for reflection has passed, even the individual will realize that the feeling was merely a passing, albeit strong, emotion.
I reiterate: someday will a deity make itself known to us, or will a person visit us with a compelling account of divine revelation? Perhaps that day will come. We do not say otherwise and would, I trust, responsibly weight the new teaching. Until then, we remain without any assertions.
By doing so, we carry no moral hazard of misleading anyone. If moral danger exists in ignoring a deity's actions, surely that is lesser error than affirming something about a deity that is not true and spreading it falsely. Given the number of beliefs, more of them are wrong than are right. Thus it is better to decline the many wrongs and sacrifice the one right than to believe in everything and affirm a plethora of wrong.
Now, if one religion is true, are we hindered by not knowing which it is? Perhaps that is the case. We have often wondered if—certainly through no virtue of their own—a group of people succumbed to their local delusion of truth but, in that one particular case, stumbled onto the real truth. Perhaps a deity even gave their ancestors this truth although now surely they have, like everyone else, succumbed to believing in it blindly. We feel that it is healthy for us to wonder about this, for we do not wish to exclude ourselves from divine knowledge if it is there to be had. Indeed, we most excitedly learn about all beliefs. However, we routinely find them quite unpersuasive.
We also regularly note how much stock religions put in events of the ancient past, and their stories seem quite similar: how a deity unveiled itself to some people or person and demonstrated the truth to them in some incontrovertible fashion. Taken independently, these tales often seem quite compelling.[2] Certainly they were for me as a young Umanite as I learned of Qualiae’s arrival in Naithan and his establishment of the Golden Steps, of Qualiae’s teachings to his people, and of his calling of Uman and then of Raimail as his exemplars of wisdom and justice. While young, I and my playmates not only believed in them but would have found it quite odd to think otherwise, for their purported truth seemed so strong. However, as time passed and I saw equally compelling tales again and again, I realized that my belief was not true wisdom but blurred vision within a haze.
What, then, are we to make of these tales? Surely, the Golden Steps (although they are not really golden but rather old, broken stone) do indeed rest near Tilial.[3] Someone put them there. Did Qualiae? Before answering that, I must say that some years ago, I went to see the Vergonoc, the mound upon which Rejecon, the sixth prophet of the Lythonite Goddess, revealed her words and struck down the usurping king with heavenly lightning. (That was the account, at least, that the devotees tending the site told me.) In Lython, it is as much a source of attention as the Golden Steps are here, and for good reason: there is a deep crevice cut into the mound and very badly burned. What caused it, I cannot say other than that it must surely have been an impressive force.[4]
However, one thing I do know: both the Golden Steps and the Vergonoc exist. If Qualiae does truly rein, then given the teachings that Rejecon is said to have espoused, I see absolutely no reason for Qualiae to give a false prophet such a gift of lightning. Likewise, if the Goddess is true, then it seems beyond imagining that she would come disguised as Qualiae, creating the Golden Steps and spreading such false teachings about herself. These accounts cannot both be true.
Thus stones and relics, tales and songs, accounts and testimonies cannot carry much weight among us, for they are irrecoverably contradictory and, while initially compelling, must be resisted as a source of knowledge. Why, then, do they (meaning the accounts themselves and not their substance) exist? I do not know, but regardless, their contradictions betray them. Could one account still be the truth? Certainly that is possible, but, perhaps tragically, we do not yet see which it is. Should we pick one that strikes us as most compelling and believe in it in hopes of its truth? We cannot do this. We would be only feigning belief knowing that we selected our religion essentially at random. Regardless, given the sheer number of accounts, our chances of selecting the right one are slim.
That is why we revere a theology of humility, for we do not ordain ourselves a deity’s spokesmen who can unveil the truth to humanity. Make no mistake: all of those who lose themselves in the haze and spread their own religion’s teaching have proclaimed themselves priests and prophets. Indeed, they make themselves more powerful than the deities themselves, for it is not deities who go across Naithan disputing which among them exists and riling the people with false teachings.
No, it is rather the adherents themselves as they teach about these deities, making them seem real whether they are or not. Humans create them and promote them. The Brialon teaches that Qualiae once blinded the people of Kletorka village.[5] The religions of today have done far more than this, locking Naithan, Lython, the eastern confederacies, and people all the way down to Kelmar into a dark mist of error and untruth. What deity called for this? I know of none. Humans did it.
We, however, are the few who seek to escape from this. We will not perpetuate the rumors that a deity does this or that. Each community across the land is trapped in its own untruth. However, we constantly strive and hope that some will awaken from their sleep, and we are happy that our numbers steadily grow. We long for the day when the veil will lift and all people will remember their indigenous beliefs as a passing dream, generated by the darkness of our instincts and the frailties of our minds. In this effort, we urge you to consider our teaching.
I hope that you are all in good health and welfare, and I look forward to our future good relationship. Please treat Gertarb with hospitality. You will enjoy your conversations with him. We would hope that everything benevolent would be with you. We are always at your service.

[1] To a first-time student of Renentine writings, the details that follow are not important. Renent’s primary purpose is simply to bombard the recipients with examples. It should be noted, though, that he draws from his personal experience in the royal court. In the Chronicle, he details how Fricolics and Jaipnites regularly visited what was at the time a mostly Umanite castle, so he was exposed to a cross section of Naithan. For an overview of Naithan’s main religious and geographic groups, see the Note from the Translator above.

[2] The following are references to the Umanon (the Umanite scripture). Again, the details are not important.

[3] The Golden Steps were a major shrine in Naithan’s South and a key pilgrimage destination for Umanites. In the Umanon (the Umanite scripture), they were the remnants of a temple that Qualiae had built near the beginning of human history. After it was destroyed in a civil war, Qualiae preserved the foundation and steps, and throughout the Umanon, several major events occur on the steps. In Renent’s time, ruins in the South were thought to be the Golden Steps, and Umanites often visited them. Renent did so himself multiple times in his youth. When the Jaipnites took power, they prohibited access to the Steps, causing great controversy among the Umanites. That ban, however, was eventually lifted, possibly by the time this letter was written.

[4] Naithan and its northern neighbor, Lython, had a periodically hostile relationship in the preceding century although relations were largely stable during Renent’s life. However, while Kireca was close to the wilderness that comprised Lython’s south, the Kirecans appear to have largely ignored it. Renent’s reference here to visiting Lython is unique in his writings.

[5] The portion of the Brialon (the Fricolic Qualiaite scripture) referenced here does not survive. However, the analogy speaks for itself.