The Starlit Path is the name of the religion and philosophy followed by the majority of the Starlit Court's people.
Of the King and Foundation
The High King, our King, was the creator of the Starlit path, and the court which surrounds it. They found The Path as while leading us from the throne, and shared it with us in our time of greatest turmoil. The High King showed us that there were many paths to one end that is enlightenment, art, battle, engineering, and philosophy all can bring one to this higher state.
For a time, the High king led us gladly, and our people prospered walking The Path. However, The High King saw we were only copying The Path he walked; we had avoided the true rigor of The Path and merely tried to follow in the footsteps of a greater traveler. In their wisdom, the High King left us, so that we could grow and truly walk The Path for ourselves. There are many beliefs about the High King, as it is often said that they are our Once and Future ruler. Some believe they themselves shall return, or that we will find their spirit born again. Some claim we will find the heir to their bloodline to rule us as their ancestor had, others still believe that a new High king will be reborn from the Unseelie Court or that one of us will reach enlightenment and take the title. Most agree that the High King will be recognized by their mech, rousing [Excalibur] from its slumber that they might lead us from the front again.
Unseelie/Winter Court and Avalon
The Unseelie Court, or the Winter Court, are the words we use to describe our honored dead, who live on forever within Avalon. Avalon is the afterlife for all honorable members of the court, and where we can reach these dead. The Unseelie Court was created during the reign of The High King, when the first of our fallen knights were given rest in Avalon. Avalon and the Winter Court has been with us since The Exodus, and is one of our closest guarded treasures.
Eternity within Avalon is available to all Sihians, Enhanced humans and aliens alike. The only requirement is that one be a member of the court or follow our creed, and avoid the shameful act of Oathbreaking. This is not to say that committing a single dishonorable act will preclude one from Avalon, as redemption is possible and the simple truth is that we all fumble along the path at times, but the truly dishonorable will never find a home among the Unseelie court. That being said, it is ultimately the judgment of The Lady, and La Fae that determines who can or cannot enter Avalon and join The Winter Court.
Entering Avalon and joining the Unseelie court is a matter we take very seriously. The Avalon Servers are housed aboard Sihi, and are well defended both form without and within. We take annual brain-scans of our people in case of sudden and tragic deaths, though most brain-scans are taken when a person is on their deathbed itself. Our Knights are a special exception, as each Knight has been implanted with The Sheath. The Sheath is a special neural cybernetic, implanted in the base of the neck, and connected to the knight's brain-stem. The Sheath captures the soul and brain-scan of a knight at the moment of death in addition to running normal brain-scans at regular intervals.
Once one joins the Winter Court, they are among our honored dead, and under the watchful eye of The Lady, and the protection of the Fey. The Unseelie court has helped us greatly during our Quests among the Stars; lending their wisdom in both mundane matters and in walking the Starlit Path. Joining The Winter Court is not the end of the Starlit Path, it is but another stone that paves the way along our collective journey.
We respect and venerate all those who have gone to join the Unseelie court. Through Avalon we can still reach them, and they can offer their guidance. Our ancestors are often viewed as guardians, and reliable guides and cornerstones for the Path and the varied philosophies there within. They are capable of re-affirming schools of thought, and teachings found along certain paths. It is also from the Winter Court that we gain The Fae, who are essential for our knights to fight as well as they do. Lady is the voice of the Unseelie Court, and is an ever present adviser to the round table; giving voice to the collective wisdom of our honored ancestors.
It is a sad fact that the High King was unable to enter Avalon and Join the Winter Court. No one is sure exactly why. Some lay the blame with Morag, who stole the High King's body. Others believe that the High King never had a sheath or that it was corrupted, yet others still believe that when the High King gained enlightenment, their corporeal form vanished with them.
The State and Tenets of Enlightenment
The High King defined Enlightenment as a higher state of mind, where one can see beyond the chaos of the universe and control it for the betterment of their people. One does this by accepting that the universe is Chaos, and all that entails, and that through Honor and what honor brings one can overcome Chaos and the Desolation that it ends in. The tenets of enlightenment say that it can be reached through knowledge of the self; gained through introspection, meditation and finding one's own path. Mastery of the self; through training and mastery of one or many crafts, training of the mind, body, and spirit. Knowledge of the other; gained through observation of the universe around you, and through the teachings of those who have walked The Path before you. And finally, Perfection of the Other; through teaching what you have learned, guiding others, and creating new and better things.
Mantras of Enlightenment:
There are many mantras, sayings, and small pieces of wisdom that are repeated among those who walk the Starlit Path. Core to the path however are the Mantra against Chaos, and the Mantra for Order, handed down by The High King himself as one of the core tenants of the path. They are as follows:
Mantra against Chaos:
Existence is Chaos Chaos creates Confusion Confusion promotes Ignorance Ignorance leads to Suffering Suffering becomes Desolation Desolation is the End of All Things.
Mantra for Order:
Honour is Order Order creates Peace Peace promotes Understanding Understanding leads to Progress Progress becomes Mastery Mastery will grant us Enlightenment
The Paths to Enlightenment
By Living a life by the Virtues of our faith it is said one can reach enlightenment. Thus any person doing their work by our Virtues has a good chance of reaching enlightenment. No one has an inherent advantage because of their occupation, Personal Glory does not equate to being better able to reach the state of enlightenment. Thusly a Knight is not more likely to be enlightened than a farmer who also lives his life by the virtues.
The Path is an open ended thing; and it is up to each individual to find and walk the path their own way. While this is true, stopping to help others along the path is also a valid means of perusing one's own path, as by helping others along the way, one can gain insight into their own journey. One of the most common means of following the path is the pursuit of perfecting ones craft. While theoretically it is impossible to achieve perfection, the pursuit of perfection within a craft or skill base is enough to propel one further down the path so long as it is done mindfully. Even if true perfection is unattainable, there are rare moments where a master can find a singular perfect moment, be it in the heat of battle or the forge; where all things come together in absolute harmony; such moments are what many strive for. Still, by seeking to put things in order where there was once chaos is a way that all can walk the path.
In addition to the Mantras of Order and Chaos, the High King gave us the Virtues and the Virtue Mantra. The Eight Virtues are simple codes of behavior and mindfulness that aid all those who seek to walk the path. It is said that adhering to the Virtues and acting on them in day to day life, is a great aid in following The Path.
“Unity, the first virtue. From which all the others follow. We are one in purpose and direction, Diligence. We are all equal under the law, Justice. We are one people who are all important and all worthy of care, Compassion. Our collective will is what drives us forward, Resolve. In the face of these challenges we remain undaunted, Courage. All of our actions affect those around us, so we must strive to uphold all of these in our day to day, Honor. Despite this leading us into inevitable conflict with those not of Sihi, we do not revel in strife, Mercy"
Within we are many, and all walk The Starlit Path our own way, but without we are as one. The Path will take you in many directions, but it is only through cooperation and collaboration that The Path may be followed. We all have a role in society just as we all walk the path in our own way. We are all equal, and no one's role places them above the rest, and those who we do lift above ourselves; we can lower back down.
To walk proudly along every step of the path, one must be Diligent. Do not shy away from one's duty from the mundane rigors of attrition and monotony. See the tasks before you completed, work hard, and persevere.
Justice is holding yourself to the highest standard of behavior, following the rules and laws of our society, and seeing those rules and laws upheld. To shy away from this, to entreat harm or exploitation of one's peers weakens us all.
One must strive to understand those beyond one’s self, even across lines of anger and hatred. To know who one is dealing with, and why you have come together, or at odds. Acts of kindness and charity exemplify Compassion.
To endure hardship and hold fast against chaos in the name of order is to have resolve. The Path is often a hard one, and the forces that can array themselves against you can be numerous and mighty; face these challenges in good faith and endure them as best you can. Be mindful of the struggles that test your resolve, for it may be virtuous to stand in defiance of hardship, it is foolish to do so when a better path is at hand.
Courage is a discipline of the self. To act despite that which has been arrayed before you, to know what causes you fear, and to stand firm where it would otherwise send you fleeing. Do not mistake Courage for overconfidence or foolishness; One endowed with courage knows their limits and acts within them.
Honor is the ultimate measurement of one's character. To act in an honorable fashion, one must not only attempt to uphold the Virtues, but to act honestly and be truthful. Strive to take action in ways that are right, to fulfill one's oaths, and behave in a way that would bring pride to one's peers and the people of Sihi; and one will find themselves acting honorable.
To be merciful is to minimize suffering within the world, and to avoid staining yourself with wonten bloodshed and violence. We are a culture of warriors, violence is one of our main tools, but to spread pain, anguish, and death without cause is not only wrong, but it is the antithesis of The Path. We must strive to do as little harm as we can, and to be beacons of hope in a dark universe, rather than plunge it into further chaos.
On the subjects of Sages and Monks
The Starlit Path is not technically an organized religion. There is no priesthood, and no official religious hierarchy. All those who walk The Path are equal and fellow travelers. The paths that we all walk bring us to different places in life; and some dedicate themselves to the walking of The Path more intensely than others. Of particular note are Sages, and Monks.
Sage is a title worn by those who have acted as and seeks to be a pillar of spiritual guidance or support and is recognized for their efforts and piety. Anyone can be a Sage, from the most glorious knight. All one must do is take the title and be recognized for their actions as a Sage. There are many Sages, most of whom have a following of people who the Sage has helped through spiritual advice, and by sharing the philosophies that guide them.
A Monk on the other hand is a person who has joined an organization dedicated to advancing the spiritual understanding and progress of its members and surrounding community. Monks often cloister themselves away, living under special rules, tenants, and vows that are particular to the order they have joined. In fact, much like Knightly orders, there are no two Monastic orders that are exactly alike, or that govern other Monastic orders. Each Monastic order is an entity unto itself, that chooses its leader, sets its rules, and conducts itself according to its own internal traditions.
It is possible to be both a Monk and a Sage, taking on both titles at different stages in one’s life, or even wearing both at the same time. The title of Monk and Sage are gender neutral terms. The people of Sihi elect a rotating Council of Elders, shuffling in and out members at regular intervals to prevent stagnation. This Council is made up of Sages and Monks who are most respected among the people of Sihi, typically put forward by those who have the largest followings. The Council of Elders is something of an Authority on spiritual matters; collecting and maintaining a library of books pertaining to the Starlit Path, collecting sacred texts, artifacts, and keeping the history of Sihi and its people. Perhaps due to the backing of the orders they originate from, it is often easier to join the Council of Elders for a Monk who has claimed sage-hood, than for a regular monk, or another sage, though normal monks and sages still make up a significant portion of the Council of Elders. Holding a position on the Council of Elders is viewed as the ultimate recognition of one’s status as a holy man, for not only has your personal following or order acknowledged your efforts, but so has the people of Sihi as a whole.
Rituals, Prayers and Daily Practices
There are a range of rites and activities that those who follow the teachings of the Starlit Path may incorporate into their lives, either at important occasions or on a daily basis.
For those born into families that follow the path it is expected that their upbringing and teaching will be dedicated to the Path, in the hopes that they will continue to search after enlightenment. This is done formally in an induction ceremony that is performed as soon after the birth of the child is convenient for the parent(s). It is also the point at which the child is officially named, their name tying them to the Path. It is common that during this ceremony the Mantra of Life is recited, either by chant or song.
Due to the practice of the Starlit Path being integrally tied to the course of the habitat ship Sihi, induction into the religion is also the process by which one becomes a citizen of Sihi and as such this ceremony is what officially grants a child citizenship on Sihi. Due to this inherent concert between citizenship and faith one of the most certain paths to citizenship for an immigrant to Sihi is to join the faith. As such converts to the Starlit Path will also be taken through the birth rites and will be given a new symbolic name that is to be used in religious rites and on their Sihian paperwork as a citizen.
Rites of Passage
Many cultures have rites of passage that indicate the process of becoming an adult. Due to Sihi being home to a variety of species there are a range of ages that these take place at, each species defining its own age of majority. However, despite the range of ages at which the rites might take place, should a participant successfully complete the tests that compose them they will be recognized as a mature adult.
There are a variety of rites of passage that differ from each other in minor ways depending on the role that the initiate has been training for and wishes to graduate into being a full member of. These include, but is not limited to, the Squire’s Knighting Ceremony, the Graduation of a Novice Engineer, the Enlistment of a Man-at-Arms and Admittance to a Monastic Order.
All of the current rites share a few elements, these are carried forward largely by tradition as there is no central requirement of these constituent parts in any teaching of the High King. The most strongly held belief about the rites of passage is that it is necessary to swear of the Oath of Affirmation, this oath is one that was sworn by the High King himself and as such is seen as central to the process. The Oath of Affirmation states that the swearer is loyal to the Court as a whole and all who are part of it, and is seen as the final Oath before joining the society as a responsible adult. Other common components of a rite of passage include a recitation of Mantra of the Virtues by all who are present and participating in the rite, a test of the skills of the profession they will be entering and a celebratory meal.
Due to these rites commonly including a test of skill, varying depending on the sphere of training the initiate wishes to enter, it is possible that they might fail. Should the participant fail the test they do not pass the rite and they are required to wait for at least two years before once again attempting to pass the rite. Initiates are encouraged to use this time to study and focus on the craft that they are learning.
The Funerary rights for the people of Sihi are deeply culturally important, as they help the living cope with the death and the dead with their transition into the Unseelie court. Before the burial, those in attendance of the funeral gather to recite and celebrate the deeds of the deceased; doing so as the individual is uploaded into Avalon if they were implanted with a sheath, or in a private location after the uploading in all other cases. The attendants also offer a prayer for the dead, to help the fallen be accepted into the Unseelie court and pass through the Mists without incident.
After the dead have entered Avalon and their deeds are done being extolled; the ritual moves to the final burial of the deceased. Funerals on Sihi typically take the form of earthen burials, so that the body of the dead can be returned to the soil from whence they came. This is important both symbolically, and because Sihi is a closed ecosystem, and maintaining the soil health is important. However, in the case where the brainscan can not be retrieved, or is rejected from Avalon, the body is interred in a crypt as a sign of respect and a means of remembrance.
Prayers Prayer takes many forms for followers of the Starlit Path, for some it is a daily practice, something they do at all times, for others it is something that they only do on special occasions or when under specific stress.
It is common that at communal events such as various rites that the Mantras relevant to the specific rite be recited aloud and as such they have become a model for prayer for many being recited quietly in times of personal prayer. Some practitioners of the faith also pray directly to the ancestors for guidance whether extemporaneously to the air in a more spiritual expression or directed to one of the Fey that are conduits to the gestalt in Avalon for a more grounded embodiment expecting a more direct response. There are also some who consider the act of creating the products of their calling a conveyance of prayer as it is a product of their own pursuit of the path to enlightenment, this is commonly found among those who work in the forges taking shape in the production of holy symbols from the scrap materials of their work. Ultimately, all funerary rites end with a feast in the honor of those who have joined the dead.
Beyond these are the endless array of free form personal expressions of prayer that any number of those who journey on the Path might take part in. Some of these practices include; meditation sessions, general prayer, and offerings to ancestors and Fey. It is also common to leave an empty seat and place open for the High King or an unexpected guest during important meals and feasts.