February 21, 2012

Hari Ragat: Of Men, Gods and Spirits IV

Let’s talk about an aspect of the Hari Ragat setting that might get a little sensitive: sacrifices. 

Sacrifices are a fact of life for the Vijadesan people, but they don’t always involve blood.  Nor will including them in your game teach players any sort of working magic or give real-life  powers – yep, let’s get that hoary old disclaimer out of the way now, but I wanted to say it because some of what I’ll be writing below is based on actual beliefs held by people in the past.  I’m discussing the topic because it’s part of what makes this game world and playing in it different.

Reasons for Sacrificing
The Vijadesans offer sacrifices for different reasons, among them:

As payment or bribe:
By far the commonest reason for making an offering, whether it be to pass through a diwata’s territory without offending it, for the favor of the ancestors, or a good growing season for the crops and so on. 

As appeasement:
Offended gods and spirits may be mollified by the right kinds and amounts of offerings.  Similarly, troublesome ancestors may be calmed down by the right offerings.  It is the role of the babaylan shamaness to find out what the most appropriate offerings are and how much are needed.

As substitute victims:
Malevolent spirits may be made to leave or desist from harming folk by the offering of a substitute victim, always a live animal.  For example, the Vijadesans may try to stem an outbreak of plague by offering some suitably tempting host, such as a valuable cow or horse, which afterward is driven out or put on a raft and floated away to take the ‘bad medicine’ elsewhere.

Kinds of Sacrifices
Different beings may require different kinds of offerings depending on the sacrificer’s purpose and the recipient’s own preferences and attitudes toward the sacrificer.  The friendlier this relationship the less will be required, and the more adverse the relationship, the more the sacrifice will cost.

Fruits and flowers:
Easily the cheapest offerings, they can be picked right outside most Vijadesan homes.  They suffice for minor occasions such as the regular honoring of the family ancestors, or a pro forma thanks for a familiar diwata’s tolerance.

Food and drink:
Requiring more preparation and cost, offerings of cooked food and drink – usually rice wine -- have more weight and are also popular with the living because they can consume it afterward!  The more elaborate the food and its presentation, the more pleasure it gives to its recipient, who consumes only the ‘essence’ of the sacrifice, leaving the material stuff to be shared out afterward. 

The scent of burning incense is considered to be most pleasing to the spirits, so this too is a common offering in households that can afford it.  Incense is an expensive product, since the trees it is tapped from are rare, and the Tien Xia demand for it is so high that they drive the prices up.

Expensive goods such as porcelain, brassware, weapons and the like may be acceptable sacrifices to some beings.  The better the craftsmanship and ornamentation of the object, the more its recipient will be pleased.  Valuables are sacrificed by leaving them in sacred locales, such as a diwata’s  grove or pool, or in the graves of the dead.

Ah, now we’re getting to the part most associate with the word sacrifice.  How common is padugo, blood sacrifice, in the world of Hari Ragat?  Well, that depends on the animal.  The usual sacrifice is the ubiquitous chicken, while goats,  pigs, carabaos, and finally horses are rarer and more valuable. 

The ultimate in animal sacrifices is the rare white Sabani horse, acquired at great expense from the Mahanagarans; only a really rich rajah could even think about giving one to the gods.

When a live victim is offered to the gods or spirits, it is the life-blood that is really being given; the carcass is left for the worshipper to cook and eat afterward. When large animals are sacrificed, the division of the carcass is made according to ancient traditions, wherein the officiating shaman gets the choicest cut, followed by the sponsor, and then the guests in order of their rank.

Yes, there is human sacrifice in this setting.  No, your character does not have to do it, nor does your character have to condone it.  Instead, Vijadesans see human sacrifice as a very last resort, and if a hero can provide an alternative, most will take it.  Nor does human sacrifice always take the form of killing the victim. Let’s talk about some scenarios for human sacrifice and what our heroes can do about it:

  • Vengeance Victims
    Dying men and ancestor spirits sometimes request for an enemy to be slain over their graves, or for the enemy’s head to be placed over their graves.  Sometimes this is seen as an act of justice, and sometimes the victim is an innocent, someone the heroes can try to save.

  • Ultimate Appeasement
    You can tell when a diwata is really ticked off by what it asks for in reparations!  When the appeasement named is a human sacrifice, it can be a heroic quest to persuade the diwata to accept something else, or even to prove its cause in the wrong (without ticking it off even more!), or, simply, fight it into giving up!

  • Dedicated Lives
    Sometimes the sacrifice takes a nonlethal form, in which the sacrificial victim is not killed but instead made to dedicate his or her life to some kind of service.   For example, there’s the Flautist of Mount Kulindang, a virgin maiden whose duty is to play the flute night and day and so keep a temperamental volcano diwata asleep.

  • Unlawful Sacrifices
    There is a whole range of unlawful human sacrifices that practitioners of the dark arts may engage in for the power it gives them, which I touched on in a previous post

    The idea is to consume the greater spiritual power of certain kinds of people – immaculate binokot maidens, pregnant mothers or their fetuses, even consecrated royalty. 

    Such acts are universally condemned by the Vijadesans and are discouraged by extreme punishments: agonizing death, followed by denial of all funeral rites so the culprit’s soul never reaches the holy land of Sulad. 

    Of course, these can be great back stories for villains that the heroes must face.  The atrocities committed by these villains can help get a gut reaction from the players, and explain the villains’ powers as well.

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