While there are two distinct religions, they coincide fairly well. Here's the space about Religion and such.
Religion in the Empire is a complicated affair. There is no single deity who rules above a pantheon of gods, nor is there a clear division between the different elements of the Realm of Gods. Instead, there are two distinctly different philosophies of religion, bound together by an imperial edict long ago into a jumbled theology.
The original religions of the Time Before are lost, but after Katzu assumed the throne of the Empire there came the Worship of the Kami. The peasants of that time were completely at the mercy of the elements, and often looked to potent deities for guidance and mercy. Unlike other superstitions, however, the Kami are very real entities from Tengoku that occasionally found reason to intercede in mortal affairs. The peasants were quick to worship them.
Soon after the the ascension of the third emperor, however, a new religion appeared. Led by a prophet known only as Nonemu (lit. "no name"), it was far more philosophical than the worship of the Kami, and the study of Nonemu's teachings soon became very popular. Those who dedicated themselves to the Way to Enlightenment formed several monastic sects, collectively becoming known as Waywalkers or Walkers of the Way.
Both religions continued for decades in the Empire, with occasional theological disagreements erupting into skirmishes between families or clans. To prevent such conflicts from becoming too detrimental, the Emperor declared that the Way and the worship of the Kami would be united into a single theology. Though oddly matched, the two have flourished together for centuries.
In the Empire, a character's religion is merely a reflection of what aspect of the Empire's theology he adheres to most strongly.
Even the most stought followers of the Way pay homage to the kami. Most citizens who revere the kami are industrious individuals, seeking to emulate their chosen patron in words and deeds. The worship of the kami is detailed more in the sections below.
The Way is more a philosophy than a religion, more of a way (see what I did there?) of thought than a theological standpoint. Students of Nonemu's teachings seek enlightenment of the spirit through the perfection and unification of the body, mind, and soul. Devotees of this philosophy are contemplative and reserved, choosing to rely upon wisdom rather than succumbing to emotion or the heat of the moment.
Most monks and sohei are followers of the Way, in one way or another. While there are often different schools of though about different actions, they travel around the Empire, preaching the wisdom of the Way. Those monks that are truly enlightened are fearsome sights to behold. In the past, they had a large amount of influence, waging war from their mountain temples, but in recent years they have been subdued. They still remember their former glory, and many wish to reclaim it, in some way or another.
The worship of the kami is the oldest facet of the Empire's religion, having been practiced from the time of the Great War onward. This originates from the lost capital of Kami-no-Toshi. The exact form of worship was actually called the way of the gods, and referred the many kami as Yaoyorozu-no-kami, which refers to how there are literally an infinite amount of kami. These include the powerful Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi, the seven gods, and the other kami that inhabit every rock, river and grove in the Empire.
While there are commonly eight kami placed above the others, there are many other named kami, and thousands that have no name, or at least an name that is unknown. Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi are widely regarded as the most powerful kami, and they occasionally take an active interest in the mortal realm. It is excepted, however, that they only intervene extremely rarely and when it suits them to. Worshipping the kami is a show of respect rather than a hope for intercession.
Because of their importance, the kami are worshipped throughout the Empire. Cities of any significant size contain temples to them, most with monks that maintain and care for the shrine. This is because of the constant worshippers the shrines receive (both from peasants and samurai) on a daily basis. Perhaps surprisingly, there is never a shortage of workers to care for the temple, as it is considered a great show of respect and good luck for the individual in question.
Images of the kami are drawn in two different styles. When all is well and happiness abounds, the citizens pay homage to images of the kami in their peaceful aspects, reclining upon a pillow or perhaps streaking across the sky in a golden chariot. When there is strife, suffering, or discord, however, they are represented in their wrathful aspects. Wrathful kami are typically depicted with black skin and blazing red eyes, often wielding gigantic, deadly weapons.
Heirarchy of Spirit World
Just like the society of Ningen-do, Tengoku is ordered into different social classes as well. Unlike the description of the Empire's classes, we shall work our way up from the bottom.
Though they help hold the material world together, the innumerable minor kami that inhabit the Empire are the least of the spirits that keep watch. Mikokami refers to both lesser and greater kami whose names are not nationally known. Spirits summoned by elementalists are usually greater mikokami, but they are not o-kami.
The mikokami are an integral part of the world. Each object or thing in the Empire, whether it be a rock, stream, sword, tree, or hill, has a spirit within it, and that spirit is worthy of respect. A farmer who cuts down a tree for firewood gives a prayer of thanks to the spirit of the tree for providing his family with warmth and protection from the winter cold.
The mikokami play a considerable role in the daily lives of the citizens of the Empire. They are considered much more accessible than the o-kami, and it is not uncommon for the heimin to make offerings to them in hopes of receiving their favor. Often these are to area specific mikokami, whose names are only known by the people who live in a specific village or city. These are the weakest of the mikokami.
The greater mikokami have names that are known by several villages, or perhaps an entire clan. The distinction is small, but worth knowing. While a farmer in the Ota clan might pray to the mikokami that inhabits his field, a group of farmers might pray to the Ota's specific farming mikokami.
- Powers: The mikokami, greater or lesser, can be compared to the mortals of the Empire. They are the most common spirits, and while powerful, they are hardly impressive. In the end, while they are the foundation for the magic in the Empire, they are generally harmless and powerless on their own. They require an outside force (such as a spirit shaman or elementalist) to command them. Most mikokami can be summoned, questioned, or even imprisoned by a competent spirit shaman.
The Oracles are both more and less than their normal race. The spirit of the Elemental Dragon changes its host from time to time, for reasons in ways still not fully understood by even the most eminent scholars. However, the spirit remains largely unchanged, even though the host may be different. The Oracles Rest in remote sanctuaries that sometimes change, but are always appropriate to the element each Oracle represents. For example, the Oracle of Earth has always resided in a tower made of vines woven tight enough to form the very walls and floors of the tower itself. This tower has constantly stayed in the mountains bordering the Reito-Butsu. Reaching an Oracle for guidance is never an easy task, and is the subject of many plays, novels, and stories.
The power of sharing a Dragon's soul has always proven too much for a mortal spirit. In the past, the Dragon's psyche has totally eclipsed the mortal mind, the host becoming nothing more than a shell for the Dragon's Extension. The five most recent Oracles have diverged from the precedent, and have retained their mortal minds and desires in some form. The Oracle of Void is the most obvious example; she returned and married a mortal before vanishing back into the Boido. In contrast, the Oracle of Earth is already forgetting his own mortal name and history. Perhaps this change is not as permanent as it appeared.
Another recent oddity is the report of Oracles of Ice, Magma, and Wood. In the Past, though there were known to be Elemtal Dragons representing the more exotic elements, but they were never known to be powerful enough to extend themselves into Ningen-do. There are also the Dark Oracles, who come from Jigoku itself and technically control the element Shadow. However, there are also Dark counterparts to the Five Elemental Dragons as well.
- Powers: As the representation of a Dragon's power in the mortal world, Oracles are a force that should always be respected. Though non are sure where the Dark Oracles draw their power from, they are as mighty as their normal counterparts. Oracles have undone the souls of offensive mortals with a smiple gesture in the past, and they would not hesitate to do so again. For all their power, however, they are bound to a code, and when encountered can be asked a single question. Each Oracle must answer a question for a mortal when asked, but only once. Often the Oracle itself does not know the answer until the question is asked, and the Dragon's soul provides the information as the Oracle speaks. Many have attempted to seek out all the Oracles, to gain guidance from each, but the task is monumental. Also, an Oracle cannot meddle directly in the affairs of mortals except in self-defense. When the Dark Oracles attempt to harass the Light Oracles, they generally do so through intermediaries. The Oracles' power is nearly limitless against mortal beings, though they could be dealt with in high power campaigns. In game terms, an Oracle is an extremely high level elemental weird/ elementalist/ geomancers who should not be dealt with in a non-epic scenario. Attracting their anger is suicide, plain and simple.
The current locations of the Oracles are as follows:
- Oracle of Air: The Oracle of Air carries on in the traditional sanctuary of her predecessors — a floating home in the clouds.
- Oracle of Earth: He lives in the Tower of Vines that recently appeared along the northern-most border of the Empire, bordering the Reito-butsu.
- Oracle of Fire: The Oracle of Fire is wandering among the Empire, posing as just another mortal.
- Oracle of Ice: The Oracle of Ice lives in a vast palace made out of hardened ice and glacial matter at the very top of the North Pole.
- Oracle of Magma: The Oracle of Magma has just made her new castle in the heart of a large volcano, entirely made out of hardened obsidian.
- Oracle of the Void: The Oracle of the Void has vanished into Boido and has not been seen since. It is unknown if a new Oracle will take her place.
- Oracle of Water: The Oracle of Water has been reported walking along the shores and on top of the waters of the Nishi-no-Umi.
- Oracle of Wood: The Oracle of Wood has been reported to be resting in the heart of a great tree, surrounded by Dryads and Oaken Defenders.
The Dark Oracles are much harder to find. They prefer to wander the length of the Burning Sands, using their powers to torment the Light Oracles from afar. Very few have been foolish enough to seek out the Dark Oracles, and none have returned.