Religion and Belief amongst the Kinden
They have no gods. This is the first thing. To the certain knowledge of the Lowlanders there are no insect churchs, no spider-priestesses or weevil-popes. Oh, perhaps there are savage peoples at the very edge of civilisation, ekeing out a living in the harsh places that history has left to them, who cry out to the deaf ears of a non-existant divinity, but, say the Collegiate scholars, look where it got them. The very existance of such wretches, if it were proved, would surely substantiate the otherwise unanimously held belief that there are no gods worthy of the worship.
But the concept exists amongst them. The simple fact that a well-fed academic of the Great College can murmur, as he lights his pipe, "Well of course it's only the utmost savages that would bother with gods these days," demonstrates that such worship was once known. Where, then are the insect altars, the icons and effigies? One might wonder, at first, whether the old Inapt kinden, the Moths and the Mantids, were the last refuge of the ecclesiastical, but it is not so. Apt and Inapt viewpoints diverge a great deal, when the world of the invisible is spoken of, but neither finds room for anything as large as a god in their philosophy.
What definition of god is being used here, for certainly the Inapt peoples claim that the world is rife with intangible, supernatural entities? What makes a spirit into a god? In short, in the opinion of Collegiate scholars and Tharen sages alike, worship, reverence. The kinden's definition of a god is an entity that commands worship, and the kinden worship nothing.
Of course it's not that simple. Even aside from the possibility that there are, beyond the brief of Collegium scholars, priests and votaries bending and sacrificing at the sacred places of their unknown sects, there is a certain amount of the lives of the kinden that a observer from our more earthbound world might see at first as religion.
The Inapt are a case in point. The Moths, the greatest influence on Lowlands mythology, people the world with spirits, ghosts, natural forces that can be bargained with, appeased, commanded. Their relationship with the world of the invisible is an adversarial, masterly one. The most common explanation of the ways of the world, taught to Moth children and the occasional adventurous middle-aged Beetle scholar, is that the world is like woven cloth (2). Mind is like a snarl in the cloth, the pressure of each individual intelligence twisting the weave into a knot, and those skilled in magaic can tug upon the strings of the world around them. Mind is a knot that flies undone at the moment of the thinker's demise… or it does so most of the time. Sometimes the body dies, but the knot remains, held in place by guilt or hate or undone deeds, and thus the world has ghosts gibbering impotently at the edge of the Inapt eye. Sometimes great emotions, fearsome events, bloodshed and ritual, can create a knot where no mind ever was, and so a place, an object, can be invested with power, can become an entity in its own right. Sometimes this is a deliberate act, sometimes accidental, and sometimes arcane concordences decree the random creation of a spirit even without human intervention. Still, this world of spirits is, to the Moth-kinden magi, a resource of the world, as trees to a carpenter or animals to a trapper.
Those Inapt kinden who are less masters of their own fate perhaps have different understandings. The Mantis-kinden, brooding and sour-minded killers all, guard well their sacred places within their forest holds. There, it is said, they commune more closely than is healthy with their genius, the embodiment of all that is Mantis, and there they conduct murderous rites and rituals, and shed blood in celebration of the world's mortality (3). However, well-fed Beetle scholars are not invited to any such rites (4) and no account of them has reached the College, so perhaps the less said, the better.
But, to the notional real-world observer, what is this that they see so universally? Is this not surely some religion? Whyfor do the kinden meditate, religiously one might say, upon what must surely be some manner of civic or racial deity? What is it that reaches out and gifts them with flight, with killing spines, with fiery stings? What, in short, is the Art, if not the product of a worldwide polytheistic religion?
"It's no such thing," so says the Collegium scholar, and dismisses the anomalous visitor entirely from his mind. The Apt and the Inapt are close in their explanations of the Art, for all that neither is quite able to account for its effects and results. The meditation that all kinden engage in is a personal matter. It cannot be taught, exactly, although in many places there is a whole industry of tutors and facilitators, with tricks and gimmicks to assist their students in their own private contemplations. They share their success rate and professional integrity with consultants in many other industries and many other worlds. The consideration of the Art is an individual matter.
And yet hereditary, also. Although some Arts are universal within a kinden (a Fly's wings, an Ant's mindlink), careful research has shown that the Arts one's parents attain are those that the child is more likely to manifest, and recent research with halfbreeds seems to have shown this conclusively. But what is the Art, from where does it spring?
The insect-kinden believe, and the believe is astonishingly widespread and uniform, in Ideals. Platonic ideals, our notional observer might say, if blessed with sufficient education. As there are beetles, so there is Beetle, the perfect, the utmost of beetles, the definition and the exemplar from which all beetles are, in some way derived — the universe's template of beetleness, in essence. So it is that the Beetle-kinden meditate and, at last, find in their minds an understanding of the Beetle dream (5), and from this understanding, this grand comprehension, flows the Art.
Sometimes, in rare cases, this comprehension is felt. Beneficiaries have reported feeling an actual presence, of utter familial generosity, but scholars agree (more Apt than Inapt scholars agree, the Inapt are somewhat divided) that this is an artifact, a human hallucination born of incomplete understanding. Certainly a lot of Art manifests without any such conscious contact, which can lead to uncertainty about what Art a child has actually mastered, as much of it leaves no physical showing: the resilience of a Beetle-kinden, for example, is a difficult thing to test without risking a great deal if you're wrong.
So do these Ideals exist? Is there some offshoot dimension where they prey on one another, enacting out mindless myth cycles of birth and feeding and violent death? Most would dismiss the idea, although certain philosophies, sects and cults almost, within the Inapt kinden have explored such ideas in the past, and perhaps some still do.
And are their horse Ideals? Are their Ideal fish? Trees? "Of course not," grumbles the scholar, now thoroughly out of sorts with such foolish questions. "Who ever heard of a horse-kinden, after all?" And with that he turns the visitor out of doors, and goes to bed.
(1) Quoted from the culmination of "The Insect God", my favourite Edward Gorey story.
(2) Like all low-level academic explanations this one is useful, easy to grasp and essentially wrong.
(3) Not that I'm dancing around material from book 2 or anything…
(4) Or at least, none have yet found themselves able to file a paper on it.
(5) And when Gregor Samsa wakes up and finds that he's a beetle, his family and friends are over the moon about it.