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.
- Dark Oracles: 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.
The O-kami are like the mikokami, but far more powerful, and their Names are known throughout the entire empire, rather than being region specific. All peasants and lords pay homage to these kami above all others, and there is at least one Empire-wide festival to each o-kami each year.
The kami themselves, and especially the o-kami, have no specific race. A hogoblin clan might draw the sun goddess as a shining female hobgoblin, while a human artisan might depict her as a radiant human woman.
Powers: Nothing can compare to the might of an o-kami, except a more powerful o-kami or the Elemental Dragons. While the Oracles are bound to act in a certain way, these beings are not. However, the o-kami are fond of mankind, and do not express their anger on a whim. Usually. They cannot be harmed by means comprehensible to mortals (or characters with levels under 30), but that does not mean they will take a harmless affront lightly.
- Amaterasu: Amaterasu is the kami of the Sun. She is the purported ancestor of Katzu himself, and thus the entire imperial family. As such, during the reign of the Emperors she was often considered the "main" kami, but her worship was in steady decline during the days of the Shogunate. She is recognized as one of the most powerful of the o-kami.
- Ame-no-Koyane: A male kami, he is considered the "First in Charge of Divine Affairs" and was supposedly the aide to Katzu. He is also considered to be the ancestor of the Fujioka family, a powerful clan of hobgoblin bureaucrats.
- Benzaiten: Benzaiten is the female o-kami of everything that flows: words (and knowledge, by extension), speech, eloquence, and music. Over the past couple decades, she has gone from a protective kami to being one who bestows good fortune on the people.
- Bishamonten: Bishamonten is the o-kami of warriors and guards, as well as the punisher of criminals. He is worshipped by the samurai caste more than any other deity. Unlike most of the o-kami, who dwell in Tengoku, Bishamonten is said to live in Ashura-do, the realm of endless battle.
- Daikokuten: Daikokuten is the o-kami of wealth, harvest, the household, and the kitchen. His is often worshipped by peasants along with Inari.
- Ebisu: Ebisu is the o-kami of laughter and joy, who was said to originate from Ningen-do. He was originally born without any bones, but overcame his handicaps through magic and ascended into Tengoku, laughing all the way.
- Fujin: Fujin is the god of wind, and said to be one of the oldest o-kami, who was present when the world was created. He is often depicted as an oni with a bag slung over his back; despite this, he does not live in Jigoku and is not even a demon. He is the brother of Raijin.
- Fukurokuju: Fukurokuju is the o-kami of wisdom and longevity. He is said to own a book that contains the lifespan of everyone in Ningen-do.
- Hachiman: Often depicted with Bishamonten, Hachiman is the o-kami of war and the divine protector of the Empire. He also resides in Ashura-do.
- Hotei: Hotei is the o-kami of contentment and abundance, often worshipped by monks. He is said to take the form of a happy, overweight monk, and occasionally offers advice to enlightened individuals.
- Inari: Inari is the androgynous o-kami of rice and fertility, commonly accompanied by mischeivious fox spirits. Inari's real gender is unknown, and s/he is drawn as both a woman and a man depending on the situation.
- Jurojin: Like Fukurokuju, Jurojin is the o-kami of longevity. His name is far easier to spell and pronounce.
- Kichijoten: Kichijoten is the goddess of happiness, fertility, and beauty.
- Ninigi: Ninigi was the grandson of Amaterasu, and was said to be the great-grandfather of Katzu, the first Emperor. Thus, Katzu was a 6th generation kami.
- Omoikane: The o-kami of wisdom and intelligence, who is always called to "ponder" and give good counsel in the deliberations of Tengoku. He is seen as the patron god of judges.
- Raijin: The god of lightning. He is often depicted with his brother, Fujin; like the latter, he is commonly depicted as an Oni.
- Ryujin: The o-kami of the sea, Ryujin is commonly drawn as a dragon. He lives in the bottom of the ocean in a great coral palace, where he controls the tides. He is often considered to be the Elemental Dragon of Water, but this is not true. He is supposed to be the great-grandfather of Katzu. He is one of the few o-kami to still reside in Ningen-do.
- Susanoo: He is the god of storms and, occasionally, the sea. He is somewhat of a trickster god, and has a great sibling rivalry with his sister, Amaterasu. He was responsible for the killing of the great eight-headed serpent Yamata-no-Orochi.
- Tenjin: Tenjin is the o-kami of scholarship. His rage is legendary.
- Toyotama-hime: Also known as Otohime, she was the daughter of Ryujin and grandmother of Katzu. Supposedly, after giving birth to her son, she turned into a dragon and disappeared into the ocean.
- Tsukuyomi: Tsukuyomi is the o-kami of the moon, and the brother of Susanoo and Amaterasu. He killed the kami of food out of disgust and anger in the way she had prepared her meal, which caused Amaterasu to never face him again, positioning the sun and moon in opposite parts of the sky.
Of all the o-kami, Kuraigami is arguably the most powerful. The evil of Jigoku corrupted him, but bestowed dark powers which the other o-kami could not comprehend. Several times in the Empire's history, the forces of Kuraigami have come precariously close to overwhelming and destroying the Empire, remaking it into a foul and twisted mockery of its former self. The dark god has always been defeated by mortal men, but only by the narrowest of margins.
It goes without saying that Kuraigami is not openly worshipped as are his brothers and sisters. His power is certainly recognized, and his influence is all too evident in the danger of the Burning Sands to the southeast of the Empire. He is cursed by the bold, but most prefer not to speak his name or think of him, fearing his power even beyond the grave.
Kuraigami is, however, still worshipped in the Empire, albeit covertly. There have always been cults devoted to the dark powers of Jigoku throughout the history of the Empire. Some of these possess a full knowledge of their allegiance, such as the dark necromancers and spirit shamans who are essentially priests of Kuraigami; others deny the true scope of their practices, such as the various minor necromancers who live in secrecy. While they make use of evil magic and various dark rituals, they believe that they are serving some other master, perhaps even a real o-kami. In the end, however, their actions serve the dark lord of Jigoku just as any other cult might.
Worship of Kuraigami involves the practice of necromancy, and his followers often use their own blood to augument spells. There are few other requirements. Anyone willing to fulfull the wishes of the dark lord and receive a fraction of his power is welcome to call upon him.
Though Kuraigami is rumored to be dead, slain by the last group of adventurers powerful enough to make it to the Festering Pit and into the heart of Jigoku, he is not truly dead. Kuraigami is somewhat like Orcus: being a god of undeath, you can never really kill him. Even now, the dark lords of Jigoku are calling a meeting of all his worshippers. Perhaps with their combined necromancy (and possible sacrifice), they will be able to resurrect the Shadow God. Or maybe he wasn't dead to begin with...
The Elemental Dragons
There are eight Elemental Dragons dwelling in Tengoku: Air, Earth, Water, Fire, Void, Ice, Magma, and Wood. While the first five are the best-known (and the most powerful), the other three represent two elements combined into one. They represent what is both pure and holy of their element, and are said to be more powerful than even the o-kami.
The Elemental Dragons are tied to the existance of the Empire and the world. They were created with the universe, as the primal stuff of creation slowly formed into the five basic elements, and later combined into the three exotic elements. These Dragons moved among mortals when Tengoku was much closer to Ningen-do, perhaps in the Time Before, and took great interest in them.
The Dragons were said to have taught the earliest humans how to speak, how to fight, and how to unlock mysteries with their mind. They were eventually lifted away with the other o-kami when it was decreed that the heavens were to be spirited away from Ningen-do.
Though they live in Tengoku, on rare occasions throughout history, the Dragons have guided mortals to their home in the heavens. Because of this, many refer to that place as the Dragonlands, thinking it is its own seperate realm, but they are false. The Dragons may interfere in the affairs of mortals often, but "often" to them is once or twice every couple of hundred years. Primarily, they prefer to use their Oracles to affect the mortal realm, or by appearing in the dreams and visions of the denizens of Ningen-do. They are also rumored to be the ones who give Elementalists their power.
The Dragons themselves are the lords of Tengoku, ranking above all the other o-kami. They hold reality together with their very existence. If a Dragon was to die, there would be dire consequences in the Universe. They usually act and think independantly, though they view the other Dragons as family. Each Dragon is the raw embodiement of its Element, and can appear in any form they choose. Because of this, the Elemental Dragons could easily not be Dragons, and just choose to appear that way. You never know.
There are five great sins in the Empire, laid out by Imperial Edict as well as the heavenly lords of Jigoku. These sins are said to stem from the beginning of the universe, which began with Nothing. It was through Nothing's actions that the first three sins were created.
Fear: When the universe was new and all that existed was Nothing. Nothing came before all of the kami, and even the universe, were created. Nothing was afraid, for it was the only thing in the entire universe, and it despaired. Fear is a sin because it drives men to do shameful things. All that separates mortals from beasts is their ability to control their fear.
Desire: Soon Nothing longed for a companion. From Nothing's aching emptiness came the sin of Desire. Desire created half of the universe, made heavy by the pain felt by Nothing, and the form of the world began to appear. Desire is a sin because it inspires samurai to disobey their one duty in life: to serve their lord. A guard who desires more than his simple job will grow lax as he focuses on things other than his duty. A samurai who desires love will defy honor and his daimyo to gain what he seeks.
Regret: After Nothing saw what its desire had created, it regretted what it had done, for it was unexpected. The weight of Nothing's regret formed the rest of the universe, and set into motion the events which would create the o-kami. Seeing that it was losing itself to the creation it had caused, Nothing retreated into the blackest recesses of the universe. Regret is a sin both because it leads to the other two sins, and it is also the sign of a weak mind. Regret can cause a man to question his lord, to fear for what he has done, or to desire another life. It also leads to doubt, a feeling that has no place in the heart of the samurai.
Uncleanliness: Uncleanliness is a major sin, but perhaps the least of the five. Those who are of samurai caste are in a place in the Divine Pyramid that seperates them from dead flesh and other unclean materials. Dead flesh is properly handled by the eta, for that is their place (though a samurai may touch the hair of a dead opponent, and it is by the hair that a samurai will carry the head of a great warrior he has slain to his lord). If a samurai touches dead flesh, he has violated this order, and is unclean. This transgression goes against the gods themselves, so being unclean is very, very serious. However, it is the least of the sins because it can be atoned for quite easily. Certain types of dishonorable behavior can also leave a samurai unclean, depending on the situation. Heimin often don't care about whether they are unclean or not; they are too buisy farming to care.
Necromancy: This is perhaps the greatest and most terrible sin of all. Necromany is a sin not only because it involves terrible pacts with the dark powers of Jigoku, but also because it involves the touching of flesh that renders one unclean. Undead are feared and despised, for touching one can make you unclean as well. Necromancy is also a sin because it goes agains the natural law, leaving the victim as a cruel mockery of life itself. Necromancy is not only unclean, but it keeps the souls of the reanimated dead from passing on to the Spirit Realms and being reincarnated. Simply put, necromancy detracts from the pool of souls that can be given to any given realm. Necromancers are inherently evil, and anyone proven to be a necromancer is slain, their body and spellbooks burned, their houses ransacked, and, oftentimes, their entire family is killed. For someone to be proven to be a necromancer, there must be clear evidence of the soul in question raising the dead to do their bidding.
There are thousands of kami, and coutless ways to draw each one's disfavor. Heimin have endless superstitions on how to avoid the wrath of each of the kami, or how to regain their favor once they have been angered. They do not realize that not all kami are watching everyone all the time, and somtimes they couldn't care less about the peasants' behavior. When they do become angered, their disfavor can be demonstrated by a broken pot — or a sudden plague. While the kami rarely interact with the citizens of the Empire in such a direct manner, most mortals do not want to be the subject of the story a monk tells generations from now, warning of the kami's wrath.
Atoning for a transgression against one of the kami is simple enough, once the proper ritual is known. The main complication is that each kami has different methods by which he or she wishes to be contacted, depending on the suppliant's request. While the Walkers of the Way and several scholarly clans keep detailed texts on these matters, it is not likely that every home or Temple of the Way will have all the answers a samurai seeks. Eventually, the task should be a simple matter of tracking down correct information (those who have Knowledge (Arcana) or (Religion) will generally have a good idea of what to do or whom to talk to) and performing the ritual.
In contrast, heimin do not necessarily have access even the the Temples of the Way. They therefore have to invent their own ways of appeasing an angry kami. These methods generally run from the humorously nonsensical to the wild, but the important thing to remember is this: as heimin are mostly ignorant to the true workings of the kami, they sometimes lay the blame for a simple bad harvest on their lord. Surely, if he were a pious and correct leader, disasters would not happen! While most peasants simply grumble under their breath about such maters, sometimes these grumblings turn into a full-fledged revolt.
Atoning for sins is a simple matter — the more common sins have simple rituals and prayers to right the wrongs a samurai may have committed. Oftentimes, simple prayer in a temple or the family shrine is enough to purge the sin from a sould. If the sin bears greater weight, the penance can involve fasting, sacrifice of wordly possessions, joining the monastery for life, or even ritual suicide (seppuku). Only the most serious sins are answered with the ritual of seppuku (read: Necromany), but it is the easiest way to erase the stain of a sin.
Though others may still speak of a transgression after a samurai has performed a ritual of purification, it is considered improper to speak of a matter that led to seppuku. Those who continue to speak pooryly of one who paid the ultimate price for his sin tread upon the line of blasphemy themselves.