Monday, June 15, 2020

Koilotheism: Hollow Gods

Mind Palace by u/jdbugs

It was once a common thing for one to carry one's own god, or even gods, with them on their travels through the unmarred world. Sometimes this takes the form of carrying small images or symbols of said gods, and other times it involves merely carrying them in prayer. Today, both are quaint and old-fashioned at best, and blasphemous at worst.

It is of course absurd to think of anyone carrying a god with them. On the most basic level, they are simply far too big to carry, being hundreds to thousands of times the size of even the largest and strongest people. But the more important reason is that it is the gods who do the carrying. Such is the proper nature of things.

Whether it is on two legs, four, countless, or even none at all, the gods trudge across the wastelands like indefatigable barges, carrying their worshipers with them wherever they go.

Some of their mortal supplicants stand upon their backs and shoulders, or in the cavities across their bodies, surveying the world for dangers which their single-minded god cannot be bothered to perceive in its endless march. Far more live within them- not only within their stony, corporeal forms, but within their infinitely more capacious minds.

Every god has a vast, psychic landscape which puts so-called "mind palaces" to utter shame. They possess matter, laws, and physics, or can be made to possess them through the combined efforts of gods and their passengers. They can be tamed and expanded, made to hold entire villages, towns, cities. Thousands of generations live and die within the confines of their gods, with no thought or worry for the dead World Beyond, and with only a few prayers offered to the troubled Watcher folk who straddle the inner and outer realms as their ceaseless guardians.

These hollow gods do not eat or drink or sleep. They are sustained by the thoughts and prayers of those who live within them, and in return they sustain them. Those who are born able to Murmur may commune with the god's placid, droning Hum, which permeates its entire mind and being. Sometimes an understanding is formed. Other times, guesses and misgivings have led to centuries of internal conflict and dogmatism. It is a symbiotic relationship that can tilt toward commensalism or parasitism more easily than one might expect.

When two gods meet upon the wastes, they rarely register one another's existence. Rarer still do they interact directly, which is generally for the best. The titanic, animalistic battles between these beings have sundered and rearranged continents, to stay nothing of the populations stored within them.

More often, their worshipers make forays into the space between them, and deal with one another on behalf of their walking gods. Communication, diplomacy, and an understanding of difference are profoundly rare and precious gifts in the world, but even with all three, these meetings can turn tense or hostile. Most end with each party hurrying home to instruct a blinded and nailed Murmurer to tell their god to change its course away from the other.

Sometimes an understanding is reached, and news about the wider world is shared: news of recently dead gods and their shunted-out refugees baking in the sun, of lands recently made too dangerous even for gods to walk, of the almost unheard-of arrangement made to form a Procession between gods, or even Harmonic Communion.

Gods do not die on their own, but when something does kill them, the effects are immediate and disquieting. Most passengers do not survive the collapse of the god's mind, and of those who do escape the ordeal without becoming bloody smears with a sprinkling of stardust, most will die within the first few days of exposure to the World Beyond.

In these most trying of times, it falls to any surviving Watchers to lead these refugees away from their mountainous, broken wreck of a former benefactor. After generations of protecting their gods and its occupants, they are the few who know how to get along in the marred world. Any former passenger who tries to carry a piece of their god with them is punished severely.

When a column of bedraggled pilgrims ends its trail of exhausted dead at the feet of another god, the remaining passengers are absorbed into it if they are fortunate. It can be a profound or traumatic experience depending on the exact beliefs they hold. They are given a corner of their new god's consciousness to dwell within, and are often treated as second-class citizens until their first children are born there. Some truly ancient and durable gods have patchworks of peoples from other, fallen minds. Such a wealth of diversity in background and experience is rarely acknowledged.

The former Watchers and Murmurers of the dead god, as well as the more recalcitrant passengers, are executed or encouraged to commit ritual suicide, again depending on dogma.

The idea of exiles, surviving Watchers, or even whole congregations excavating and scratching out a living amid the crags of their dead gods and other stretches of the wasteland is unspeakably taboo, but not entirely unknown.


  1. Very fascinating picture painted here. Imagining something as many-armed Shiva dancing across the World Beyond in somnambulist dance is quite a vision.

    "Any former passenger who tries to carry a piece of their god with them is punished severely." - is there an explanation on what is the reason for that? For example, the pieces of dead god are dissonant and/or emit 'dead god radiation', or something else?

    1. I'm sure there are exceptions to the rule given the sheer variety of groups out there. I left the reasoning vague to allow for the reader's own desired fill-ins, and because I was lazily rushing the job.

      The dead bodies of gods becoming dissonant in some way sounds spectacular, actually. It inverts the whole gentle background "hum" that they have in life. Perhaps the keepsakes can cause severe physical or mental damage to their keepers.

      There'd be different forms of understanding that have gotten mythologized over time, too. People might not be aware of the literal danger it poses, but the belief that disturbing and profaning a dead god is too taboo may be enough to discourage them.

      The same way that certain behaviors that can sometimes be dangerous get religious and social discouragement heaped upon it for good measure- the strict taboos surrounding the hunting and eating of marmots, who are potential bubonic plague carriers, comes to mind.

    2. * hunting and eating marmots in traditional Mongolian nomadic culture, that is. Forgot to qualify that.

    3. For 'empirical knowledge intertwined with religious taboo' there was a couple of articles about this (one on Goblin Punch recently), and I was wondering if it was following some similar lines. Another example was in one of Azimov's 'Foundation' books, where scientists who kept pre-Collapse knowledge engineered a religion to incorporate some now-lost knowledge into taboos and revelations. It is always interesting to me to see more of such arrangement.

      I also like the idea that some 'renegades' keep on living in World Beyond and/or getting used to their dead god dissonance to survive, so they appear so strange and distorted to God-people as if they were demons or Fair Folk.
      Or the idea of the Watcher left alone after their whole people got dead or absorbed, and through the wandering becoming such a drifter of the World Beyond that they got a mythological status as if of Coyote or of Moon - odd and unpredictable and not always benevolent but still wise entity.

    4. As for marmots, it reminded me a taboo of eating fish and seafood for pregnant women in Japan, although I am not sure if it was in place before Minamata disease.

    5. Interesting! I am very poorly-read, so I'm not familiar with the Foundation series, or any Asimov for that matter. I've heard praise for it though, and that tidbit seems very interesting.

      Honestly, if I revisit this concept and make it yet another sub-setting for my blog, I'm going to want to run with most or all of the ideas you shared. Watchers becoming near-mythical wildcards sounds really fun.

      I should also give more thought to what happens to people "gifted" with the Murmur when their god dies. It might be like getting lobotomized, or losing a major sense. Though, considering how some societies might treat them like living tools to control and use (what I was trying to get across with the awkward "blinded and nailed" line), it might be welcome.

    6. 'Foundation', at least the beginning of series, in time I've read it gave me a curious sense of history as entity, although I probably won't have much patience for books now as they are quite big and somewhat dry. If you can, I would still recommend at least reading a few first couple of stories where the concept of history is explained.

      Of course, feel free to use anything you find useful/interesting. It was you who gave inspiration and food for thought in the first place.

      As for Murmur, I wonder if like with people getting blind but getting extra-hearing and good sense of space and sense (however exaggerated it is in fiction), so maybe former Murmur people get extra sensory boost in anything that is not related to Murmur.
      Lobotomized - I don't know. Real world lobotomy is/was a horrific, and extremely rarely, if at all, justified thing at my opinion, so I don't wish to make it magical.

      Curiously, in inverse of the situation, a few worlds where mages could be neutralized by cutting them off the equivalent of magical source, they were described as more or less lobotomized.

    7. That's what I was getting at- that severing the connection puts them, like mages, in a state that could roughly be compared to lobotomization. Prior to that, they would be relatively average in terms of sensory experience and having an ability to interact with the world, aside from their abilities. I don't mean to make light of real world lobotomies- I reference them only to emphasize the brutal trauma of the practice.

  2. I wonder about the cultures of the Watchers as beings outside the god. I'd imagine that many build structures on the god. The human body does not have many places to sleep, even if there is a hollow interior. Scaffolding and tents would be very helpful.
    As well, I wonder if the watchers find themselves inside the psychic world of the god when they dream. Wandering about in a form like a spirit. Ephemeral angels, warning and helping the populace in their comparative paradise. I can't imagine it is a coincidence that you called them a word equivalent to the Grigori.
    Further, I wonder if that is why they are forbidden from the corpses of gods. I can't imagine it is pleasant, dreaming of the fractured realms of the dead.