Hittah Damwena (Al. 'Way of Twin Serpents' or 'Two Serpent Path') was the Alindorean name for the religion practiced by the people of that land long ago. Alternative names include Tayrna (Al. 'Two Crowns'), Avikena (Al. 'inherited wisdom') and simply (and most commonly) Damwa (Al. 'our kin' but also a pun on damwe, 'serpent'). To the Alindoreans Damwa was not a seperate part of life but instead permeated all aspects of their society and culture. As the Alindoreans carved out their empire they brought their practices--including Damwa--with them. Thus, nearly two millenia after the collapse of the empire, the influence of Damwa can be discerned in faiths and spiritual practices across Torthalon. The fall of Alindor nearly brought about the end of Damwa, but refugees and other survivors preserved it and, today, it remains in small, isolated pockets.
Damwa itself was influenced very early in its development by beliefs and knowledge learned from the Ashani. Its name references two great spirit Serpents, Damwe-azha (the Serpent Father) and Damwe-aisa (the Serpent Mother). The two serpents are complementary opposites; Azha is the sky while Aisa is the land. Azha is the spiritual world and Aisa the physical. The serpent was therefore a common motif in Alindorean art. Additionally, Damwa incorporates a great number of spirits and other gods who rule over specific natural, personal and social phenomena. But all spirits are subservient to the Serpents. Within Alindorean society all people served three classes of spirits with small daily devotions and larger communal ones. The Serpents were honoured by all people; each family and individuals honoured their ancestors; and finally each individual honoured a select group of spirits chosen for various reasons, including the personal; familial; devotional; ambitious, and so forth.
While all people served spirits, among the Alindoreans various types of spiritual specialist arose, eventually leading to a complex subculture of herbalists; diviners; sorcerers and so forth.
BeliefsEditDamwa was, and is, a broad and dynamic faith that constantly reinvented itself around a core of central beliefs. Central to these beliefs was the Serpents, who enfold all things within them. Within Damwa, all things are either opposites or a balance between them. This is often portrayed by a circle made of two serpents, each biting the tail of the other. The reality of the spirits, and the ability of mortals to form relationships with them through established methods and practices, are also central beliefs. The veneration of ancestors is also central, and they form one of the classes of spirit venerated by followers of Damwa. Spirits are also capable of possessing mortal worshippers and through them convey advice, accept offerings, and perform magic. Possession was not a major feature of daily practice however. It was employed at seasonal festivals, special rituals (such as those honouring a specific spirit) and during rites of initiation for new priesthood.
Damwa also incorporates all of the natural world into its practice. The offerings appropriate to any spirit or ancestor vary widely and herbalism and similar skills are vital in Damwa medicine, worship and magic. Some spirits prefer certain foods or meats; other specific drinks or offerings of music, and so forth. The most vicious of spirits demand blood for their service. While the spirits can be befriended they can also be angered, and their ability to harm a worshiper increases with the worshiper's skill. In other words, an angry spirit can cause less harm to a simple worshiper than to an initiated priest.
Damwa also offers a specific view of an organized society in which each individual knows his or her place and duty. In accordance with this, it lays out advice on how people may conduct themselves honorably among friends, family, business acquaintances, authority figures, and so forth. Villages, towns and cities each have a patron spirit who is served yearly on a sacred day at great celebrations that last long into the night. The Twin Serpents themselves were said to be the patrons of Alindor.
To a certain degree all practitioners of Damwa are considered priests on the individual and familial level. The actual priesthood occupies a role of spiritual specialist and possesses a much deeper knowledge of the spirits and how to serve and propitiate them. He or she is also deeply familiar with herbalism and related healing arts, and these form a central part of priesthood.The priesthood has four ranks within it, each of which possesses specific obligations and duties within the service of the spirits. The lowest rank is that of Reta, the initiates of which serve as temple servants. During ceremonies they serve to guard the sacred space from intruders and lead the singing of the initial liturgical songs. They are also expected to serve their ancestors on a daily basis. The second rank is that of Suhon; initiates of this rank are guardians of the ceremonies on a spiritual level and seek to prevent the intrusion of uninvited spirits. Additionally, they are dedicated to the specific service of one of the spirits venerated in that particular temple or community. Suhon also direct the sacred dances and the offerings made to the spirit they serve. The third rank is that of Sabatar. These individuals specialize in healing rituals and ceremonies and are often candidates for the highest rank after a period of service. Much of their duties include overseeing lower ranked priesthood and assisting the ritual leader in the various, demanding duties that accompany such collective rites. Sometimes they are possessed by the spirit to which they are most alike at the height of the rituals. Initiates of the highest rank are called Sabaar (male) and Subiri (female). At this level priests are expected to have an incredibly deep knowledge of all the spirits served in their temple as well as many other who are not. They are skilled in the performance of all rituals and ceremonies of the faith and have a deep knowledge of healing, cursing and priestly magic. During collective ceremonies it is through the Sabaar or Subiri that the spirits are able to converse with their followers as they possess these faith leaders at the apex of the ceremony. Unlike the Sabatar, the Sabaar and Subiri can manifest any spirit through their forms, and are the only level of the priesthood that can safely call upon the Damwe-Azha and Damwe-Aisa (NB--the Serpents manifest cross-gender; Azha possesses Subiri and Aisa possesses Sabaar exclusively).
Individual worship occurs at small altars kept within the home or within a small building erected along side. Offerings appropriate to each spirit venerated there are placed there each day, and always include fresh water, milk (or some other beverage) and a small portion of food. Prayers are offered here, and aromatic and fragrant herbs and resins are frequently burned to please the spirits and gain their positive attention. Serpent motifs tend to predominate in altar decorations, as well as depictions of other spirits. Such images and symbols range from crude, folk-art designs up to highly polished and expensive ones. Often small bottles containing libations for the spirits are kept either on the altar or beneath it.
Collective ceremonies occur within larger, dedicated temple spaces. Altars are usually centrally placed (but in the heyday of Alindor they always faced towards the capital). These ceremonies are led by priests and priestesses known as Sabaar and Subiri respectively. The nature of these ceremonies varies wildly depending on the spirits venerated by the community. Generally, the first spirits honoured are the ancestors of the gathered worshipers. Offerings of food, wine and symbolic objects are made amid solemn prayers and the burning of specific resins. Next the spirits venerated by the community are honoured by whatever rites are appropriate to their natures. The climax of the ceremony is the veneration of the Serpents, who are honoured with songs, energetic dances, collective prayers and solemn possessions among the priesthood.
Relationship With Other FaithsEdit
Damwa is not a rigid, exclusivist faith. As the Alindorean empire spread out and came into contact with many other cultures and their local beliefs it often absorbed local deities into the fold of the many spirits under the Serpents. Often any serpent gods were considered to be local manifestations of either Azha or Aisa. Some well-loved spirits originated in other cultures; for example the spirit who rules over waters and rains, Elkavena, is depicted and served in a manner consistent with the worship of the Ashani goddess Alqawen. Interestingly, in some places, Elkavena is also honoured among the ancestors, revealing the possibility that Elkavena is not based on Alqawen herself but instead upon one of the Selviliya of the past. Most practitioners of Damwa view exclusivist religions as essentially missing the point. Some have also considered the possibility that the spirit animals venerated by the Hrogar tribes are rooted in Damwa but the attendant practices and taboos are so different that this possibility is highly unlikely.
Type: Polytheistic. Damwa holds that two great, primal forces and their interactions shape and sustain the universe. The existence of other gods and religions is accepted without concern.
Gods: Venerate the Serpents; ones' ancestors; and one's chosen group of spirits. The existence of many spirits is accepted as simple fact.
Symbol: Any depiction of two serpents, usually intertwined in some fashion. Not generally worn as a 'holy symbol' per se, but more a means of cultural identification.
Texts?: None. Damwa is based on largely oral traditions and a deeply-rooted worldview, part of which is an often complex series of rules and taboos for dealing with different spirits. These rules are learned as needed by practitioners.
Divine Interaction: Constant. Spirits are active in all parts of one's life, as well as that of the wider political, natural and social world.
Afterlife: After death one's spirit, if worthy, makes its way towards the realm of the spirits. If powerful enough, one can even become a spirit called upon by mortals.
Supernatural: Nearly synonymous with the religion's basic worldview.
Society: Alindorean life was soaked in Damwa and its influence was obvious and felt everywhere. The serpents were the leit-motif of Alindorean art and architecture. The priests and priestesses of Damwa were powerful in that ancient land, and were also educators, dispensers of medicines and lorekeepers. Today the priests and priestesses continue to function as preservers of spiritual knowledge, village wisemen and women, healers and so forth. Wherever Damwa is rooted, local music and art tend to show its influence.
Worship: Each day, small offerings appropriate to one's spirits are made at a family shrine. Prayers and chants are employed, and incense often burned. Collective worship centers on the temple, where rites specific to the group of spirits venerated by the temple, important to the community, or other, are performed. Collective worship can involve chanting, dancing, breath control, possession and so forth. Collective worship occurs twice a month.
Holidays: Different spirits are honoured on different days of the week; many also have an annual feast day. Damwa communities celebrate the feast day of their patron with all-night rituals and revelries.
Clergy Function: communal rituals, spiritual advice, magic, healing.
Clergy Lifestyle: as normal for followers
Clergy Family: Unrestricted.
Creation Myth: The two great Serpents, Damwe Azha and Damwe Aisa, coiled themselves about the great tree and brought the world into being around them. From them came harmony, then diversity, spirits and mortals. The great Serpents are distant, incredibly old, and powerful; their intermediary spirits are often petitioned in most affairs.
Major Myths / Symbols: tricksters, fables. Trees bridge heaven and earth; the winds symbolize spirits and the spiritual realm.
Major Sins: Murder, rape, oathbreaking, theft.
Major Virtues: devotion, loyalty, willpower.
Coming of Age: as per local custom
Marriage: celebrates marriages, but without blindness to human nature.
Death: Bodies are washed and dressed in freshly cleaned, unworn clothing. They are wrapped in an outer shroud and buried, generally with a marker of some kind to identify the deceased.
+ancient religion from a lost empire. Revolves around two snake gods and other spirits who serve them.
+worship the dead, it is said
+some ceremonies are fearsome, and spirits walk among the living