Faith And Spirituality in New Eden – Part ITarek Raimo
A vast majority of EVE players come from societies which were shaped significantly by the three Abrahamic religions, so when we think of faith, the Amarr Empire is usually our first association within the universe of EVE Online. Most of us immediately recognise many aspects of the Amarr religion from our own lives. That does not mean however, that the other societies of New Eden do not have their own very deep and strongly influential belief systems which play a major role in how they see themselves as individuals and collectively as a people.
In this two-part article I will examine the religious, metaphysical and spiritual sides of the different societies in EVE’s backstory and compare them with similar views we might encounter on our own small world. I will have to preface this with a disclaimer though: The subjects I am going to discuss can fill whole floors of sociological, anthropological and theological libraries. They also touch upon very profound convictions many of us have. If I treat any subject with undue brevity then I do not do so dismissively or out of disrespect, but because in a medium like this it is difficult, if not impossible, to provide more than a short abstract. It is still going to be a two part series because otherwise I would really do the subject matter injustice.
What Is This About?
Before I begin with the actual elaboration, let me establish a few terms which will return a lot in this series. To avoid confusion, I want to make sure that you as a reader understand what I mean when I am using them. Let’s start with the two in the title:
Faith: With this word I describe the belief or trust that adherence to a particular moral code, tenets, ideals or even a strategy will lead to the best possible outcome due to consistency of behaviour.
Spirituality: With this I want to express the belief that there is something greater than ourselves. That could be a multitude of divine beings, a single all-encompassing one or a completely abstract force. It sometimes overlaps with …
Animism: In my text this word will stand for the idea that physical reality itself is imbued with archetypical supernatural powers. Rocks, plants, the sea, the weather, each one of those aspects in our physical reality have a metaphysical self.
Numina: Originally this term describes the manifestation of a divine quality, but in modern social science it is often used as a term for an experience that leaves us awestruck – something deeply impressive that we can not explain. It describes a psycho-emotional condition much more than a metaphysical concept these days. Other than …
Transcendence: The rough english translation of this word is “traverse”, but it has also been used as meaning “to overcome a boundary”. I will be using the word in both senses to describe something that moves our understanding of the world from one frame of reference to another, and the adjective “transcendent” shall describe a state of being that exists on a higher level than our earthly existence.
Religion: I use this word to describe the organised form of a belief system including any number of the aspects described above
Now with this out of the way let’s look at the different societies in New Eden
The Amarr—Ancient Monotheism
From the timeline of EVE’s fictional history we know that the Amarr homeworld was first settled by Christians of the Unified Catholic Church, and when we look at today’s Amarr Empire it appears as if their legacy endured throughout the ages. The Amarr religion is not simply Christian, though. Their belief system, which developed over the millennia following the collapse of the EVE Gate, includes aspects of several monotheistic faiths.
The conviction that the Amarr have a higher calling from God—for example—is strongly related to the Jewish tenet of a covenant with God. The virtual and arguably even literal obligation to proselytise is something found in Christianity and Islam, and together with the belief that the Amarr are God’s chosen, this forms the basis for the Reclaiming. When Amash-Akura founded the Amarr Empire, he merged church and state. By this decree, secular law, the founding principles of the Empire and religious doctrine became synonymous with each other. That idea of nation and religion as one-and-the-same can be found both in Judaism and Islam. As far as the Christian component of the Amarr religion is concerned, it is not even purely derived from Catholicism. From their developments in philosophy, science and technology—Amarr were the first to rediscover space travel after the dark ages—we can conclude that the Amarr consider the diligent study of creation and scripture a way to understand God. This is a tenet they share with Protestantism and Islam alike.
In some ways, the Amarr religion goes even further back in monotheistic tradition, notably to the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten and his religious reform which introduced a monotheistic religion but retained the divinity of the ruler as a concept. Similarly to the Egyptian Pharaohs and the Japanese Emperor, the historical ruler Zaragram II claimed to be be a worldly avatar of the divine. However, since the moral reforms of Heideran V, this claim has not been made directly, and the role of the Emperor became more comparable to the Catholic Pope. In today’s Amarr Empire, the Emperor is considered God’s emissary and worldly steward. The highest religious and secular authority at the same time.
Contrary to what people might have taken from the movie 300, Persia’s Xerxes was not a god king, but the faith of ancient Persia also reappears as part of the Amarr religion. Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest monotheistic belief systems still existing in our time and it is based firmly on a dualistic view of the world in terms of good and evil, truth and falsehood, order and chaos. The Amarr conviction that theirs is the one True Faith and should be kept clean of all impurities strongly correlates with Zoroastrian doctrine. A similarly strict view can also be found in Christian Gnosticism that views worldly existence as the dominion of evil which can only be escaped through redemption and transcendence into the divine realm. Particularly the Order of St. Tetrimon appear to be very similar to Gnostics in their pure interpretation of the scripture and rejection of any notion that the Emperor has a claim on divinity. That is most evident from the fact that the order originally formed during a campaign to cleanse the faith of Zaragram’s hubris after that Emperor declared himself devine. Naturally such a puritanical interpretation of the faith made them antagonists of the imperial power structure, much like the historical Gnostics of Europe gained the enmity of the Catholic Church.
One final aspect that should be mentioned is that the Amarr scripture is a living document which undergoes constant revision and expansion. Those additions can be theological, spiritual, legalistic or even scientific in nature. That particular aspect of the Amarr religion is its most unique feature when compared to all monotheistic faiths we know from our own world, and it has undoubtedly contributed to the endurance of the Amarr religion. (Thanks to Samira Kernher for reminding me of this)
All those aspects of the Amarr faith fit together quite neatly as different parts of a highly abstract monotheistic belief system. However, things become somewhat murky when we look at the Takmahl and Sani Sabik. How a religion of transcendent spirituality can create an offshoot that has decidedly animistic—and rather gruesome—qualities is open to speculation, but it is possible that the blood rituals of the Sani Sabik have come from a mixture of the dominant Amarr religion and other forms of spirituality, resulting in a blend similarly to Voodoo or Santa Muerte worship in our own world. Particularly the latter is a good candidate since it is believed to be partially derived from old mesoamerican religions, and the blood rituals of the Sani Sabik bear many resemblances with practices of the Maya and other mesoamerican civilisations. The origin of the beliefs which formed part of this syncretism is something that the EVE lore doesn’t tell us about though. Maybe the Sani Sabik religion is not a merger of different beliefs at all? It is possible that they formed independently, without relation to any culture we know today. After all, the strict hierarchy of the Amarr faith and its preoccupation with purity, heritage and tradition could lead to the development of such a cult even without any historical precedent.
In summary, the Amarr religion is closest to the monotheistic majority faiths that exist on on our world, and as such it is comparatively easy to understand for any of us who have been brought up in a predominantly Christian, Islamic or Jewish society. This intuitive grasp is much less present in the next major belief system I am going to discuss: Caldari spiritualism.
The Caldari—Forces Of Nature
Superficially, the Caldari do not appear to be particularly spiritual. Most often they are seen as ruthless pragmatists, militaristic nationalists and generally only concerned with the material world. This is an incomplete view of the Caldari culture, though.
The civilisation of Luminaire VII —Caldari Prime—developed on a hostile world. Like whimsical gods, the forces of nature could destroy or create life. Under those conditions the Caldari developed a set of spiritual beliefs very much rooted in animism. The winds of their homeworld were viewed as primary numina, particularly the Cold Wind which would kill the weak or unprepared but was also believed to be “the one that loves things that grow strong.” It was seen as a harsh and unforgiving but ultimately well-meaning teacher, and the Caldari thank it for honing their strength and discipline. Wind spirits are generally worshipped among the Caldari. Wind of the West is the bringer of rain and revered as the one who taught the Caldari to sail and thereby develop intercontinental trade. Mountain Wind which “sees all from its home at the highest peaks” is considered to be the spirit of knowledge and Storm Wind is viewed as a challenger, trickster and enabler. The phrase “the hottest forge to fashion the strongest steel” which is used to describe Storm Wind lends itself to the assumption that on a world with weak sunlight and comparatively little biomass to create energy sources such as coal or oil, the main source of energy generation for the early Caldari civilisation could have been wind power.
Of course, living nature also has its representation in Caldari spiritualism, mainly in the form of the “Heart of the Forest” which is embodied by the hardy Kresh trees. To this day snowberries and Kresh leaves are still used in spiritual practices throughout Caldari society. As it is often the case in animistic spiritual cultures, Cold Wind and Heart of the Forest also symbolize the nurturing feminine and masculine aspects of motherhood and fatherhood. Notable absences from the Caldari spiritualism, when compared to many similar cultures on our own world, are the sun and the moon who are often the metaphorical representation of male and female, but that is easily explained. Since Caldari Prime is a planet on the edge of the system’s habitable zone, the sun was probably too feeble to serve as a major source of numina for the Caldari people, and the fact that Luminaire VII has thirteen moons doesn’t make them individually unique enough to be a major influence on their world either. In comparison, the moon of our own world can easily be linked to tidal cycles and female menstruation and as such it carries great significance in many animistic belief systems.
The Caldari culture also refers to other spirits such as archetypical animals, the sea and the mountains (particularly the Kaalakiota range), and generally bears many resemblances with several Native American traditions, Shintoism and Northern European animism such as that of the Sami people and the Estonians. The two latter correlations are not surprising considering how much the Caldari culture and language is derived from Japanese and Finnish analogues of our own world. An aspect that the Caldari also share with Shintoism is ancestor worship. Within Caldari culture there are several mythological ancestors who are worshipped almost on par with the nature spirits, the most prominent being K’vire and Deteaas, the founding fathers of the Raata Empire who also lent their names to the two original Caldari bloodlines, the Civire and Deteis. Worship of great heroes has remained a factor in modern Caldari society as demonstrated by the prominent role Admiral Yakiya Tovil-Toba holds in Caldari history, and more recently, Admiral Visera Yanala seems to be predestined to become a revered historical figure as well.
The very specific way how Caldari view spiritualism and worship has rendered them largely incompatible on that level with other civilisations, but the Achura appear to be an exception to that rule. Like the Caldari they come from a very inhospitable world, and while we get very little information about Achura spirituality from canonical lore, their origin allows the assumption, in my opinion, that they would also assign the forces of nature a very prominent place in their belief system. Similar to the original Caldari, the Achura do not have an organised religion and consider worship a private matter rather than a part of public life, although they have a very strong monastic subculture. Their faith is described as leaning much more towards the spiritual and as such they likely form a suitable complement to the more materialistic outlook of the Deteis and Civire. Their cultural affinity with the Caldari State likely stems from an equally isolationist view that makes the Achura reluctant to accept cultural meddling. Unlike the Amarr or the Gallente, the Caldari are not cultural supremacists. Their way of life can be very much summed up by the phrase “My way or the highway.” Despite any differences that the deeply spiritual Achura may have had with the original Caldari, the pressure for assimilation that was exerted by the Gallente Federation alienated them just as much as the other two factions of the Caldari State.
Summary And Outlook
In this first part of the series we have already encountered two very different spiritual views. On one side the Amarr with their unified state religion that revolves around the worship of a single transcendent and abstract deity. For the Amarr, religion determines every facet of society, from government and law to social customs, moral values and even ethnic identity. Despite many reforms and several heretic splinter groups, the Amarr religion still stands as a monolithic giant, and that grandness is reflected in the impressive edifices they build in devotion to their God and the great works they have achieved inspired by their faith.
The Caldari hardly build great places of worship. Wayfarer Shrine on New Caldari Prime is the largest of them and doubles as a war memorial and military burial ground. Despite its prominence it is still dwarfed by even the lesser Amarr cathedrals. Caldari places of worship are more often located in their homes or in secluded locations close to the primal forces of nature that they revere. Theirs is a faith of austerity and personal introspection rather than the nation-building creed of the Amarr.
Despite their alliance with the Amarr, the Caldari spiritualism is arguably more akin to the Minmatar worldview as will become more clear when I discuss the Matari way next week. At the same time, I will also spend time on the Gallente Federation’s multitude of belief systems which are definitely not as unified as the Amarr religion but all together form a faith that is as strong and as expansionist as that of their Imperial neighbours.
Until then, keep the faith.