Esoteric Arkatism is an important element in the worship of Arkat in Ralios. It is strongest in the Safelstran cities but virtually unknown in the regions of Naskorion. By no means, is it the only strand of Arkatism that is practiced in Ralios nor is it found in the Arkati cults outside Ralios (such as the Gbaji worshippers that were brutally suppressed in the reign of Celestinus, the Cult of Arakatus Negrus that was suppressed by the Eight Schools or the cult of Black Arkat in Heortland).
What is described as Esoteric Arkatism is not a single cult but a collection of sects that war with and merge into each other. The label of Esoteric Arkatism is purely a construct at this stage. It and concepts like quests and esoteric attacks would not been known to the average Ralian nor would an Arkati necessarily use those concepts. In addition, it is unlikely that an Arkati would concieve of esoteric Arkatism as being a distinct practice in its own right.
The earliest known appearance of cults of this mould in history is not from records of the Dark Empire but during the sack of Seshnela at the hands of the Three Rivals. As a result of the abuses and atrocities committed during those Dark Years, the practices of the Arkat cults in general were generally suppressed as being instruments of the Deceiver. Most people's knowledge of Esoteric Arkatism primarily comes from memories and tales about the events of those turbulent years. Given the woes that were generated, a reaction against Esoteric Arkatism set in with various cities prohibiting the practice as being inspired by the Deceiver. Now with the breakdown of Ralian society at the onset of the Hero Wars, more and more people are daring the unthinkable and turning to Arkatism to solve their ills.
The common element of the many esoteric Arkati cults is the Quest. The aim of the Quest is not the Experimental HeroQuesting of old that was abused by the God Learners, but simply to venture onto the Other Side to hunt down and fight the Deceiver. Depending on one's success or failure, new insights and understandings are obtained as a result of the Quest. The insights and understandings are grouped under the term Esoteric Wisdom.
Delving further, the factionalism that plagues the Arkati begins to manifest itself: No cult agrees on what should be experienced or even what is actually happening. Most cults say that the Quester is hunting down the shadow of Gbaji. Some heretics, namely the Borists, claim that Arkat is being hunted down. Some say the Deceiver is a krjalki. Others claim he is a troll. Some even claim him to be a Rokari Knight.
There are also multiple explanations about the purposes of these Quests. The most common claim is that the Deceiver has returned long ago and eradicated the Empire of Arkat. Therefore it is one's duty to destroy the Deceiver so that Empire will rise once. A similar claim is that Arkat's Teachings, which had been destroyed in the Great Fire of Clarity, will reappear once the Deceiver has been destroyed. A few cults claim personal betterment is the aim of the Quest; by destroying the lie of the self, one will learn Arkat's Wisdom. Others claim that the Deceiver has to be defeated to save the world from impending Doom. And lastly a few chaotics claim that the Deceiver is the World and so by destroying him, one brings about an end to the Agony that is Existance.
A prime cause of the disparity in interpretations of the Quest is that there is not one Quest but several. Many of these are borrowed from diverse orthodox mythological sources. Common ones include Orlanth murdering the Evil Emperor, Zorak Zoran murdering Flamal or even Humakt slaying the Monster at the World's End.
An Arkat cult normally has an image of Arkat. The Image is what the cult believes Arkat was really like. The cult's image is usually drawn from the available traditions about Arkat and is usually presented to its followers as the One True Arkat.
There are six major traditions about Arkat. Following the God Learners, they are the Knight, the Barbarian, the Troll, the Krjalki, the Deceiver and the Emperor. Most Arkati cults do not draw exclusively from one source and so their image of Arkat is a composite one. Anecdotal evidence appears to suggest that cults which draw more broadly from the available traditions are more prone to their cultists encountering themselves on the Quest.
The Knight tradition is the most common in Safelster. It is the most compatible with orthodox Malkioni philosophy as it describes Arkat as the Ideal Knight. For this reason, some Seshnegi Knights having been exploring this tradition to conquer Ralios.
The Barbarian tradition is little practiced. It mainly survives in the less civilized places like Otkorion and is alleged by bizarre rumours to be practiced by the Shipwright's Guild of Nolos.
The Troll tradition is rarely encountered in the context of Esoteric Arkatism. This is because followers of Arkat the Troll are content with practicing the mysteries of the Uz. This gives them some immunity to esoteric Arkatism and thus contributes to the image of the Invincible Uz in Ralios.
The Krjalki tradition is hated and feared as its followers voluntarily take on chaotic features to become more like Arkat. It is believed to be practiced by the Chaos Monks and the Borists.
The Deceiver tradition is very mysterious. The most widely accepted explanation for its origins is that the source is not Arkat but Nysalor. No-one knows the tradition of the Deceiver for major parts of the other Arkati traditions have been accused of being inspired by the Deceiver.
The Emperor tradition is widely borrowed from in Safelster. It presents Arkat as the ideal ruler and is popular with those who aspire to political power.
One must distinguish between an cult's Image of Arkat and its Philosophy. Although there are many possible variations of Arkat's image in the cults, the cults themselves can be grouped into eight philosophies, namely (as listed in the Genertela Book): Great Arkat, Arkat Liberator, Arkat the Saviour, Arkat Chaosbane, Arkat Peacemaker, Arkat Destroyer, Arkat the Deceiver and the Old Arkat Kult Alliance. The importance of the Philosophy is not that it determines the cult's Image of Arkat but that it helps to determine what the cult will sense as the Deceiver. Furthermore having a common Philosophy provides a means for esoteric cults to co-operate with each other despite having different Images and for them to co-operate with cults of different traditions (such as those which study Stygian Magic).
As a result of having successfully hunted down the Deceiver in the Quest, the Arkati gains an ability to sense the presense of the Deceiver in the Mundane World. It should be emphasised that this is not the same as the Sense Chaos of the Uroxi nor is it as reliable. Most disturbingly, the people who are sensed as the Deceiver invariably turns out to be people that belong to enemy Arkati cults.
Only a few Arkati are known to have the ability to sense the Deceiver merely by being in their vicinity. Most have to rely on lengthy divinations or occult scryings before they can obtain proof that their target is indeed the Deceiver.
The claim has oft been made that the Arkati are illuminated. This is either a calumny spread by their enemies, a misunderstanding or both. The Arkati do not mediate upon Nysaloran Riddles, not even the infamous Sun Dome Temple. What is known is that after having hunted the Deceiver for a length of time, the Arkati suddenly becomes able to hunt the Deceiver in the mundane world. The exact moment at which this relevation occurs is similar for most sects: during the conflict phase of the Quest, the Deceiver attempts to run away. Giving chase, the Arkati loses track of the Deceiver, but finds himself walking out and about in the mundane world, able to see the world through the viewpoint of his wisdom. Because the Arkati are now able to use their wisdom in the waking world, they are often called Awakened Arkati.
In hunting the Deceiver, the Arkati often equip themselves with special attacks based on their wisdom. Upon Awakening, these attacks becomes applicable to the Mundane World. However there is one limitation; the esoteric attacks cannot be used against those whom the Arkati cultist has not sensed as the Deceiver.
An esoteric attack is by no means the same as a sorcerous spell. It is in most cases more time consuming, (some can take up to a season to complete) and the effects are more subtle. It can range from 'being felled by a tile thrown from the roof by an old woman' to 'being torn apart by demons that were invisible to both normal and magical vision'.
Owing to the mysterious nature of the attack, normal spells and prayers are known to be ineffective against a magical attack. However one's cult teaches rituals based on the wisdom that can protect against such magical attacks.
In rare occasions while questing, the Deceiver reveal its true nature as the quester. This is truly a great shock for most who experience it as it forces them to probe their own hearts to find that which is of the Deceiver. Most resolve this difficulty by shunning their former practices as being inspired by the Deceiver and joining their erstwhile enemies.
A few have met oneself a second time. At this point, they will be confronted with the realization that not only was their old wisdom tainted by the Deceiver, but their new wisdom is somehow also been tainted. Many go mad as a result. Some realize that they are the Deceiver and reason from this that it is their duty to bring woe unending to glorantha. Others try and join yet another arkati cult, one that is hateful to his old cults. A few make the realization that the Deceiver Within can be reduced by questing and so quest against themselves. Their way is difficult for by becoming aware of their own nature, they have increased the chance of their unmasking as being of the Deceiver by others. Such people are welcomed at the Nysaloran Sun Dome Temple...
Often the Arkati will find himself persecuted by an enemy. Since the ultimate enemy of the Arkati is the Deceiver, it follows that the enemy is motivated by the deceiver. But in many cases, it turns out that the divinations reveal that the enemy is not the Deceiver and thus cannot be destroyed by esoteric wisdom. What can be done?
The critical realization, which was apparently made in the dying days of the God Learner Empire, was to reason that the Deceiver has successfully deceived himself to prevent his own nature from revealing himself. The answer then is to awaken the Deceived Deceiver by destroying his lies and reveal to him his own true nature.
This is normally done by undertaking the Quest in reverse and invading the dreams of the target and filling them with cryptic hints. In resolving these hints, the target will acquire esoteric wisdom and eventually reveal himself as the deceiver to the quester, thereby enabling his destruction. However the target will also acquire hints that will lead him to join enemy Arkati cults. There they learn spells to protect themselves and so the task of destroying the target by magical attacks has dropped from impossible to very difficult. Ironically enemy cults in attempting to destroy their enemies do the same thing so that the Arkati's own cult receives new members by this method.
Enemy Arkati who are not revealed as the Deceiver by the Arkati's divinations can also be revealed by this method. For many, the task is a trivial one once the enemy's counterspells have been penentrated as his conciousness, by virtue of his Wisdom, will easily decipher the hints that will reveal him as the Deceiver.
As one's Wisdom increases, one becomes able to affect people who have less and less wisdom. Eventually this reaches a point when one becomes capable of affecting those who have not been exposed to the Quest and know not of Esoteric Wisdom. At this point, the Arkati realizes that 'Everyone has Gbaji nature'.
Nobody in Ralios has had this realization as of 1621 ST. One or two individuals have had it in the past. But the importance of the upcoming Hero Wars is underscored by that fact that one or more of the future Arkats will have this insight.
Since Arkat was able to sense many followers of the Deceiver, it was thought that illuminates would be detectable by the Deceiver today. But since the opening of Dorastor to Lunar Caravans, many are struggling with the puzzle that the merchants are seemingly not of the Deceiver, despite coming from a region that openly worships G'baji.
Many theories have been advanced to account for this. Some are far-fetched, others are disturbing. Among the more credible explanations:
1) the Lunar Empire forbids Illuminates to cross Dorastor. To test this, some Arkati have travelled over the Mountains but have so far not returned.
2) the Merchants are Illuminated but are not of the Deceiver. Attempts have been made to sense the Deceiver within the merchants or to reveal their true nature to them. These efforts have not been successful simply because the merchants do not stay in one place long enough for successful divinations to be made.
3) the Merchants are of the Deceiver but use lunar magics to conceal their true natures. This has prompted renewed study of the Red Moon in order to pierce Her mysteries.
Comments, praise and criticisms to Peter Metcalfe.
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