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Xhiuism is a monotheistic, and/or pantheistic religion based on the veneration of, following, and living in accordance with Xhiu, which is both divinity, and the underlying force of balance in the natural world.
The Xhiuist way of life is based upon the Scriptures, which Xhiuists believe to, depending on denomination, be either the word of Xhiu verbatim, or an approximation. All denominations require someone or something to interpret scripture however, as the texts are all written in a deeply poetic, mystical and obtuse style, massively open to interpretation. The Scriptures contain advice on all aspects of life, to ensure followers live their lives according to Xhiu's Will.
Xhiuism is believed to have roots in Southern Xhovian beliefs, around 2000BC. It came into its own, and achieved true organisation with the formation of Xhodiar, and formalisation of the role of Hykiri as head of the faith. Across history, Xhiuism spread northwards, as far as Szezkia, and denominations formed based on the influences of indigenous faiths (in the case of the Xong), or sociopolitical reasons (as with Reform Xhiuism). With the formation of the Holy Xhovian Empire, Xhiuism received a unified army to defend it (and an official doctrine backing up its pre-extant hostility to Tanhunga), and with Imperial Expansion, the Xong received Xhiuism, and formed Xongic Xhiuism.
Most Xhiuists are of 4 denominations: Orthodox Xhiuists, Reform Xhiuists, Szessic Xhiuists, and Xongic Xhiuists. Xhiuism is by far the most dominant religion numerically in Alcia, with relatively little presence outside of it, apart from a tiny minority of Szessic Xhiuists in Qonklaks
The first, and most important thing to discuss in regards to Xhiuism is just who, or what, Xhiu exactly is. Despite being referred to by one name, theologists may argue Xhiu is actually two entities: The force of Xhiu and the living Xhiu.
The force of Xhiu is the natural order of the universe, a force present in everything in reality, physical and spiritual, that dictates how things should be. Aside from humans (and dependent on denomination, the other intelligent races of Sahar as well), all life lives in accordance to the force of Xhiu, it is what makes the trees grow upwards, and the rain fall down. The force of Xhiu is happiness, and enlightenment, and working to open yourself to it is one of the primary goals of Xhiuism. This force, whilst it provides life, and shapes reality, originally existed before the universe, and had no way of expressing its energy, thus leading to it gathering in one spot in the void, creating the living Xhiu.
The living Xhiu is much more analogous to a monotheistic God, as it is the force of Xhiu given metaphysical form and intelligence. It was the living Xhiu that willed into being reality, but the force of Xhiu that shaped it. The living Xhiu is intelligent, but is not 100% benevolent or malevolent. Rather, it serves only to ensure the force of Xhiu can continue to flow and operate. The second function of the living Xhiu, is communication. In the creation process, mankind was shaped after the likeness of the living Xhiu, and the force of Xhiu could not enter them as much. This is what allows people to be evil, or rather, out of accordance with the force of Xhiu. To that end the living Xhiu interferes in reality, to teach humanity how to live to grow closer to the force of Xhiu, and thereby enlightenment, happiness, and the creation of Paradise on Sahar.
Xhiuist beliefs are based upon the teachings of Xhiu, and, depending on denomination, the word of the head of the faith, clerical doctrine, and/or interpretations of scripture. There are however, general overarching themes within all the faiths.
- Natural Order: Xhiuists believe that Xhiu is in all of the natural world, and that the laws of nature, are therefore the laws of Xhiu and should be followed. This manifests in a number of ways, depending on denomination. There is a general accepted thought that whilst destruction or alteration of nature is necessary for societies to survive, this should not be excessive, nor should one seek to subvert the natural order of things. Nature is not worshiped, but its order is followed. Hence one is allowed to eat any meat, as in nature, predators consume their prey. Building of houses and settlements is justified, as birds construct their nests, and so on. Almost every Xhiuist doctrine ties back in some way to the idea of the natural order and thereby the force of Xhiu.
- The Exceptionalism of Man: All of creation, to a Xhiuist, is filled with the force of Xhiu, that is, except for humanity, and in some denominations, the other races. This is due to their design in the image of the living Xhiu granting them spirits of their own, that make it difficult for the force of Xhiu to enter the body. This lack of the force of Xhiu is what enables man to have free will and therefore morality, as his decisions are his own, not that of the force of Xhiu. The goal is to, by following the teachings of the living Xhiu, open oneself to the force of Xhiu, and thereby achieve happiness, harmony with creation, and enlightenment.
- Paradise on Sahar: The Xhiuist concept of paradise differs slightly from the standard religious idea. Instead of a land of infinite plenty, immortality where no-one suffers, the Xhiuist Paradise will be created when the force of Xhiu permeates all of mankind as it does nature. This will allow for the entirety of creation to operate in accordance with the will of Xhiu, and perfectly align with the laws of nature. Xhiuists believe this state of total harmony will be Paradise, and that whilst birth and death will continue, the struggles of the human experience will become insignificant, due to the enlightenment and purity attained by becoming one with the force of Xhiu.
- The Unity of the Faithful: The specific analogy differs based on sect, but in general, Xhiuists use the analogy of a pack, or herd of animals to describe all Xhiuists. This is how they reconcile the moralistic elements of the religion, with the idea of Natural Order, and the brutality observable in nature.
As mentioned above, the nature of Xhiu is technically dual. The force of Xhiu has no discernable personality, only seeking to spread itself further, and operates according to the laws of nature. The living Xhiu however, across the various denominations, has been given variances in personality, will and actions.
- Orthodox: In Orthodox Xhiuism, the living Xhiu is considered a secondary figure, having been most relevant in creation, but since relegated to the role of Custodian of the force of Xhiu, only intervening when the force is threatened somehow. The Hykiri is normally considered able to communicate directly with the living Xhiu to receive advice and teachings.
- Reform: Reform Xhiuism is more divided, by merit of it lacking a defined central authority. In general however, they tend to posit that the living Xhiu is more of a guiding figure, that will help those who are virtuous, and offer advice to those on the path to enlightenment.
- Szessic: Historically, Szessic Xhiuism posited that the head of the house of Seczki-Lahnstruzich was the living Xhiu incarnate, but in the years since the Szezk acquisition, that belief has slipped, to saying that the family is simply "Of Xhiu's blood and flesh", implying descendancy instead of direct incarnation, as a way of reconciling with the other denominations.
- Xongic: The Xongic living Xhiu is one of the most characterised variants. He is the King of the Spirits, and takes the role of lifegiver in the pantheon. Despite the benevolent power, like with other varieties, the living Xhiu is not necessarily allied with humanity, instead with nature itself. He is portrayed as the "Alpha Male" of the spirits, despite having the title of king, he rules by might more than virtue. To commune with the Xongic living Xhiu, shows of ritual force or dominance over nature are usually necessary.
Equally, depending on denomination, other supernatural entities may be considered to exist or be prevalent. One that is universal, is the idea of the Ghost. After an individual dies, their spirit spends a period of time free in nature, and these spirits may be benevolent, malevolent or mischievious, depending upon the individual. After a set period of time however, the spirit becomes one with creation, and the force of Xhiu.
- Orthodox: Orthodox Xhiuism is almost completely free of any other supernatural entites other than the ghost, believing that the first Hykiri personally slew all of the "Devils and monsters of Sahar" when they achieved their role.
- Reform: Reform Xhiuism, again, lacks a central authority, and thereby varies. Local superstitions to certain degrees get accepted as extant, but a common trend is that of the "Will" of a place. Certain areas, like forests, mountains, or lakes, that are untouched by urbanisation and civilisation are considered to be so strong in the force of Xhiu, that they have a degree of sentience to them, and thus can be angered or pleased.
- Szessic: Szessic Xhiuists believe that the Ghost needn't always become one with creation, and can remain in reality for as long as it wishes to do so. They also believe that virtue in life translates to power as a Ghost. To that end, the entire Seczki-Lahnstruzich lineage is considered to still remain in reality, and are treated as lesser objects of worship, secondary to Xhiu, but able to protect, bring luck, or comfort to individuals.
- Xongic: The Xongic spiritual pantheon remained mostly untouched from the pre-Xhiuist era, albeit with Xhiu put as ruler. These spirits are organised by their habitat, and are ruled by Lord-Spirits, over whom Xhiu is the ruler. These spirits epitomise and rule over certain aspects of nature, and are personified variants of them. They can take human, animal, or natural form, or none at all, and can commune with humanity easily. For example, a minor forest spirit may be invisible, or it may take the form of a woodland animal, a person, or a plant. These spirits are often fickle, capable of being very beneficial if they decide to be helpful, but equally capable of wreaking havoc and destruction if disrespected, or on a whim.
Xhiu also is considered to have different aspects, that correspond to the seasons, slowly fade into one another around the solstices and equinoxes. These four aspects vary slightly in specific details, but in general they are considered to be:
- Active Xhiu Starts in the Spring Equinox, and ends on the Summer Solstice. This Xhiu is a creator, a renewer. It brings life and joy, rain from the sky and the blossoming of flowers. It awakens nature from winter, and is the wildest and most unpredictable of Xhiu's aspects.
- Ascendant Xhiu Starts on the Summer Solstice, lasting through to the Autumn Equinox. This Xhiu brings nature the closest to what Xhiuists believe the Paradise state to be like. It brings beauty and light, manifesting in the sun and the fields. This Xhiu is the most awe-inspiring.
- Benevolent Xhiu Starts on the Autumn Equinox, until the Winter Solstice. This Xhiu gives to humanity, it is Xhiu the Father, that provides the harvest, drops fruit from the bosoms of the trees, and is the most loving and kind, compared to the apathy the others show to humanity.
- Numinous Xhiu Starting on the Winter Solstice, ending in Spring, this Xhiu is reclusive. It allows the sun to abandon the world, and the grips of frost to take Sahar. Equally however, it is the most mysterious, and mystical of them all. In the darkness this Xhiu brings, can one find knowledge, if they are willing to brave the cold and the beasts therein.
Acts of Worship
Funerals in Xhiuism are subject to the majority of the faith's criticism. Firstly, to understand why the various denominations act as they do in funeral rites, one must understand what the Xhiuist process of death is, spiritually. Every human is in possession of a soul, that across their life, can become more or less filled with, or attuned to, the Force of Xhiu. At death, this soul moves, from all over the body, concentrates in the head, and leaves through the eyes. This process can take an unpredictable amount of time after death, ranging from instantly, to months or even years. At that point, the soul will usually wander for a while, in areas high in the force of Xhiu, or high in significance to the deceased, acting as benevolent or mischievous spirits, depending on their whims, before reintegrating totally with the force of Xhiu, and becoming one with creation.
This transition of the soul is the reason for Xhiuist funerals. Xhiuists believe that the body acts as a sort of trap for the soul, the human element that can hold it back and slow down the transfer if not destroyed. However the head, due to its role as the gate, is sacred, and should not be damaged, or risk destroying the soul of the deceased entirely. (Equally, because the eyes serve as the doors by which the soul exit, those who have sustained injury to the eyes are believed to have a slower soul transfer).
There are multiple denominations of Xhiuism, practiced across Alcia. The main ones being Orthodox Xhiuism, Reform Xhiuism, Szessic Xhiuism, and Lhivralan(alternatively Xongic) Xhiuism.
The largest denomination, practiced by the entirety of Xhodiar, as well as many within the HXE's southern regions, and officially by the Holy Xhovian Emperor. Its main defining characteristics come from the role of the Hykiri of Xhodiar as head of the faith. The Hykiri is the sole interpreter of scripture, and thereby their word, is Xhiu's word.
Orthodox Xhiuism maintains the use of Xhorial as a liturgical language, forbidding the translation of scripture in print.
Orthodox Xhiuism has attracted negative attention internationally due to its belief that the corpse of a deceased person should be eaten instead of buried, burned or other funerary rites.
The second largest denomination, practiced mainly throughout the central and eastern regions of the HXE, Reform Xhiuism is a lot more lax about scripture, not having the cannibalism rite for funerals, instead cremating or burning the bodies. In addition, whilst they respect the Hykiri's spiritual role, they do not take their word as gospel, as they place the role of interpretation on each priest, who can interpret the texts in the ways they think are closest to Xhiu's will.
Reform Xhiuism allows translation of scripture, allowing the non-Xhorial population easy access to scripture.
The smallest denomination, Szessic Xhiuism was formerly officially practiced across all of the former Kingdom of Szezkia, but since Imperial assimilation, its practiced has diminished to exclusively within Szezkia proper, other faiths or denominations of Xhiuism gaining prominence in Niofe and Oszettia. Szessic Xhiuism reveres the House of Seczki-Lanhstruzich as head of the faith, and are even more liberal than Reformists in their interpretations of scripture, to the point of being called irreligious by other denominations.
Despite the role of the Seczki-Lanhstruzich, officially Szessic Xhiuism leaves interpretation up to the individual, mandating translation of all texts into Szezk.
Xongic Xhiuism is the third largest denomination. It is practiced primarily in the region of the Xong, and the Northern Duchies of the HXE. Considered somewhere between strange and outright heretical by other Xhiuists, Xongic Xhiuism was formed by the fusion of the Xongic Religion, and Xhiuism, due to influence from Xhiuist kingdoms, and conquest by them, and the empire after its formation. It is characterised by its use of icons, reverence of many nature spirits and other hang overs from the pre-existing Xongic Pantheon.
Xongic Xhiuism has a council of High Priests, selected by internal election, who work together to interpret texts, in accordance with Xhiu's will, and the desire of the spirits.
Xhiuism, more specifically Orthodox Xhiuism, along with the legal practices in Xhodiar, attracted a lot of negative international attention, when the International Congress attempted to pass a resolution outlawing Cannibalism, a funerary rite for Orthodox Xhiuists, and thus a protected practice in Xhodiar and the HXE.