Arakism is the state religion of the Izeran Empire, named for its founder Mila Arak, who helped found Izera alongside Nijar Szera. It is a monotheistic religion based upon the life, teachings and recorded remarks of Mila Arak, the Prophetess. It is, by far, the largest religion in Izera, at least partially due to it being the only religion that is allowed to be practised openly in Izera. It also has a small-but-significant following in the Verandi Empire.
The Arakist Ecclesia is a term used to refer to the whole group of people belonging to the Arakist religious tradition throughout history. The public practise of Arakism takes place in buildings known as aedai or simply "temples."
During the reign of the Akandan Republic, Mila Arak was the leader of a small-but-growing cult, and both she an her followers were considered a highly subversive group. They presented ideas that ran contrary to almost everything the government of the time wanted people to believe, and actively encouraged others to trash voting stations and refuse to work. Instead, they preached a message of simple living, self-sufficiency and rebellion. Instead of selling their labour for money to buy things, early Arakists said that people should do as much as they can for themselves by themselves. What couldn’t be done by any one individual would be done by someone else, as they said that people should live in small, tightly-knit communities, wherein goods and services are exchanged freely and distributed in a way that ensured that everyone lived "a good and modest life." Early Arakists also claimed that the only truly legitimate ruler was the creator-goddess, Therra, and that any government that did not fully embrace the Goddess was, in fact, illegitimate and tyrannical.
As Mila Arak’s religion quickly grew, the ideas she had founded it upon became diluted just as quickly. By the time she met and led the revolution with Nijar Szera, Arakism had developed a number of distinct branches that were only united in a handful of fundamental concepts and their veneration of her as the Prophetess. When the revolution was over and her religion was made the state religion, Mila felt that unity was absolutely necessary for the fledgling nation to succeed, and began a fairly radical overhaul of Arakism’s guiding philosophy. She downplayed any notion of rebellion dramatically and softened her definition of what the proper lifestyle should be. She tried to appeal to as many people as possible, so as to increase her following - and by extension, the stability of the nation - but also called out leaders of the distinct branches, saying that they were leading people astray and should reunite under her leadership. Reunification was a long and arduous process, one that was still a pressing issue when Mila eventually died of old age. Mila’s successors were more pliable than she was, and although they swore to uphold the key tenets that she had preached, they were soon espousing very moderate positions and giving in to pressure from the government.
Modern Arakism still emphasizes self-sufficiency and devotion to the Goddess, but the idea of living “simply” has all but faded from view. Any idea of rebellion or rebellious, anti-authority behaviour has been quashed almost completely, and indeed, has been largely replaced by the idea that followers are duty-bound to obey a pious, Arakist government. As well, the use of the Goddess' name - Therra, or as it's properly spelled in Rihansu, T'errah - is generally reserved only for highly formal settings, as it is still considered sacred. But in a more general sense, many of Modern Arakism’s ideas are the same as its original incarnation. They both promote a communitarian outlook, for example. In recent years, Arakism has embraced several new concepts, including ethical consumerism, environmental conservation and cosmopolitanism.
Practices & TenetsEdit
A handful of practices make up the primary activities involved in practising Arakism, and although some distinct, local customs - having evolved across different communities, planets and nations over the years - are accepted by the Ecclesia, there are only a few considered universal and essential. Meditation is foremost among these, as it not only serves as a form of prayer or worship, but is also the only means of contacting phantoms and pursuing enlightenment while still alive. Practitioners are also obliged to maintain a small, private garden - preferably growing fruits or vegetables, though simple herbs are also permitted - and must keep at least some basic level skill in Ka'shi, which is a theran/Izeran martial art.
A little-known belief practised only by the clergy of the Ecclesia is called ehr'he iviet (literally: skin art), which is the practice of extensively tattooing oneself with a series of intersecting, interconnecting, jagged, black lines. Generally these tattoos are applied to the entirety of the torso first, whereupon they "spread" to the limbs and even the head and face as the clergyperson earns to right to receive more tattoos by undergoing certain ceremonies and tests of his or her faith, all of which are kept secret from those not ordained. The practice is said to have arisen shortly after Mila's death, though records from that era are quite poor.
Mila Arak herself outlined numerous beliefs for her followers throughout her life, many of which were explained in great detail throughout several books, earning her a reputation as a prolific writer. After her death, the faith continued to evolve, resulting in some new principals, as well as a number of specific assertions. Much like the practices that define Arakism, however, only a handful of beliefs are considered essential.
- Devote yourself to Therra
- (Therra, later known more commonly as simply "Goddess" or "the Goddess," is the omniscient, benevolent creator-deity worshipped by Arakists. Mila explained this first tenet as being loyal to the Goddess, keeping Her in one's heart and mind, and being sincere in one's pursuit of Enlightenment.)
- Seek True Enlightenment
- (Practice correctly and practice regularly. Meditation, a garden, and Ka'shi are all absolutely essential for every Arakist and their pursuit of Enlightenment. Though other practices, local traditions and the like, that are accepted by the Ecclesia may supplement these, Enlightenment can never be found without them.)
- (The Arakist concept of Enlightenment has always been a very abstract notion. Even Mila Herself, despite publishing several books and essays on the subject, seemed to struggle with finding a strict definition for it. Using Her writings and their own interpretations, the Faehtanai Ra'nodaire council loosely defined Enlightenment as "a revelation leading to perfect wisdom, freedom from the mental boundaries of mortal existence and Oneness with Goddess.")
- Accept only the rule of the pious
- (Canonically, the Ecclesia has interpreted this to mean that only an Arakist government may rule over Akanda, and by extension, all of Izera. Thus, Arakists living abroad are freed from feeling obliged to leave or rebel against non-Arakist nations.)
- There is only one Arakism
- (Meaning that no distinct "branches" of Arakism are tolerated. Arakism must be a united religion, as Mila intended. Some of Her most well-known works are Her passionate calls for unity.)
- A good life is one resistant to change
- (Explained in one of Mila's many texts as an endorsement of self-sufficiency. Although Mila was initially quite strict in Her definition of self-sufficiency, She softened her position not long after Izera was founded. In modern times, the definition has been softened even further, and is now interpreted by the Ecclesia to be a warning against becoming overly reliant on anything. This tenet is now frequently cited in campaigns against things like substance abuse and high levels of personal debt, but also frequently appears in many petitions relating to governmental trade policies.)
- Accept your fellows as equals and embrace them
- (Explained extensively, though several texts, as advocating a strong sense of community. As such, all Arakists are taught that, no matter where they hail from, they are all a part of the same community, and every Arakist is deserving of one's kindness and respect. The Ecclesia was clear, however, in stating that non-Arakists should not be ostracized or discriminated against, and that all beings deserved respect.)
One aspect that remained largely unchanged between Mila's founding of Arakism and its eventual reformation into Modern Arakism is the perception of the afterlife. Arakists believe that those who were neither particularly good nor evil in life are returned to the realm of the living as immaterial spirits, tasked by the Goddess with guiding their descendants. These spirits can not influence the material world in any way, however, and must be contacted by pious relatives through meditation. Once they have aided their descendants sufficiently, they join those who were righteous in life as they ascend to a higher state of existence, achieving True Enlightenment. Those who were wicked in life, however, are condemned to have their "phantom" or "soul" trapped within their body, doomed to slowly rot away alongside their flesh until eventually fading away into nothingness.
Ka'shi is primarily practised as a spiritual exercise that happens to have other benefits for one's physical health, psychology and general wellness. Through slow movements, students are taught to control their bodies and move with grace. Typically, Ka'shi also involves periods of quiet contemplation and meditation during lessons, wherein students are encouraged to find and acknowledge any "spiritual conflicts" within themselves/their respective phantoms, and work towards resolving them, as inner peace is said to be crucial to attaining Enlightenment.
- Practitioners do not technically hold any authority in the Ecclesia, but Ecclesia buildings were and are still usually built with government money, and more relevantly, these buildings often act as community centres of sorts. And, for obvious reasons, an abundance of practitioners is important to the Ecclesia.
- Faehtanai Kuoku (religious youth) are newly ordained persons, though not necessarily young people. Essentially apprentices, they are typically assigned by the local Faehtanai Saehne to a temple to assist the priests there and serve as observers for a number of years, usually about 5.
- Dahle'es are the priests the priestesses of Arakism. The most common position within the Ecclesia's hierarchy, they perform most of the rituals, teach children art and philosophy, preach to general public, lead prayer meetings, teach Ka'shi to followers, and offer advice anyone who asks.
- Faehtanai Saehne literally meaning "religious officer," these individuals are essentially experienced and knowledgeable priests/priestesses, holding considerably more authority within the hierarchy and taking on some administrative duties as a result. At this rank, individuals are no longer expected to teach or preach, but instead divide their time between deep meditation, Ecclesia administrative affairs and discussing among themselves ways to innovate Arakism and keep it relevant while still staying true to Mila's teachings. Faehtanai Saehne spend about half the year meeting in Szera City's Sienae Grand Temple to discuss philosophical and administrative issues. Afterwards, they return to their assigned hvelin - essentially a parish - for contemplation and administrative duties.
- D'Saehne (Grand Officer) are simply leaders among Faehtanai Saehne, resolving disputes, moderating discussions and offering their opinions as somewhat more experienced priests/priestesses.
- Faehtanai Ra'nodaire (Religious Leader) are the highest authority of the Arakist hierarchy, short of the Goddess Herself or the Crown. There are only ever a handful of them at any one time, and invariably they have dedicated most of their long lives to Arakism. As a council, they have to power to set out new Ecclesia policies, change or disregard previous policies, adopt new teaching as canon, deem new practises acceptable or unacceptable, make practises mandatory or optional, offer new interpretations of tenets, strip anyone of their ordained status, modify existing rules and reclassify rules as optional. Though, they are unable to affect anything brought about by Mila Herself. Individually, they can freely appoint anyone from the ranks of the Dhaleif and up as their successors, and can be said to speak for the Ecclesia at all times.
- Technically, the Empress/Emperor is considered part of the hierarchy and superior to the Faehtanai Ra'nodaire. Though, for the most part, the Crown's status as part of the Ecclesia is considered a formality.
- Worship: The defining text of Arakism, written clearly and for a general audience, in which Mila wrote extensive summaries and concise outlines regarding the Goddess, Enlightenment, proper practices, and the defining beliefs of Her religion. It has been updated, amended, added to and translated numerous times by the Ecclesia, but all of Mila's original writing remains intact.
- Morality: A dense, academic, philosophical novel that was originally one of Mila's many essays. In it, she considers, at length, various moral and ethical issues, both real and hypothetical, and ruminates on the very nature of morality itself.
- Guiding Light: A collection of fables, parables and short stories intended for children and the illiterate, complete with simple cartoons and illustrations that Mila drew Herself. The stories are light-hearted and often humorous, but all teach certain moral lessons. Similar to Worship, the book has been updated, amended and translated numerous times by the Ecclesia, but all of Mila's original writing remains intact.
- Strength and Unity (Vol. 1-5): Several dozen of Mila's late- and post-revolution essays, collected into a 5-part anthology and republished after Izera was formally founded. Mila's essays for unification are some of her most well-known essays, at least partially due to their fiery tone and Mila's harsh, cutting critiques of the various branches of Arakism that existed at the time.
- Remarks and Insights (Vol. 1-3): Not technically penned by Mila herself, Remarks and Insights is a varied collection of alleged transcripts of certain conversations people had with the Prophetess over her lifetime, ranging from profound philosophical/theological discussions to simple advice and more casual conversations that serve to "personize" Her.
- Mila's Journals (Vol. 1-12): As the name suggests, Mila's Journals is an anthology created from the writing in Mila's actual journals and diaries, which She kept and continued writing for most of Her adult life, up until Her death. Republished editions, heavily edited by the Ecclesia "in the interest of Her privacy," are easily available to the public. A handful of the original books can be viewed in the National Civilization Museum on Akanda, with the rest being locked away in the Sienae Grand Temple.
- Two of Mila's journals are actually unaccounted for, however, and are said to have been lost to a flood some time in the 3110's. A great deal of speculation has gone into whether the books could have possibly survived into the present day, and numerous attempts have been made by a variety of individuals to find the books, which hold tremendous religious and cultural value to Izera, and are said to be worth upwards of 10,000,000 Shii.