The Arašei [a ra ˈʃɛ ɪ] are the present-day followers of Cuzeian theism; the name of their religion is Arašát. In Verdurian this can be used for the Cuzeian religion as well, but in Almean studies it is convenient to restrict it to the period following the Caďinorian takeover of Cuzei in Z.E. 1024.
The fall of Cuzei
In its last years Cuzei had fallen far from its power and influence in the Golden Age, or even its valiant Silver Age struggle against the Munkhâshi, culminating in breaking the three-year siege of Eleisa in 458. For a time Cuzei pursued explicit empire, starting with the general Maroūsias, who deposed the king and named himself zîtenarrûos (emperor) in 601. For decades Cuzeians still dutifully crossed the Eärdur to engage the occupying enemy. New emperors were chosen by the army. But in 750 the south rebelled under its own general-emperor. There was a brief period of unity from 791 to 814; afterwards Cuzei was never again united under its own rulers.
Orthodoxy fared no better than unity. Heresies and cults abounded; many turned to atheism or even to pagan gods. What these movements had in common was the conviction that the standard theology had failed: failed to keep Cuzei together, failed to expel the demons from Eretald, failed to maintain peace and prosperity, or leadership over the Caďinorians. The evissi (Knowers), the clerics of the orthodox religion, were increasingly demanding— they essentially wanted a theocratic state— and yet appallingly corrupt.
The prophets (numìcuri), wandering Knowers selected by Ulōne for exhortation and healing, grew more numerous, and more eccentric. Some held to orthodox belief, but excoriated the people (especially the powerful) for their hedonism, for injustice and division— in short, for turning away from Iáinos. Others preached new doctrines: asceticism or self-mortification; pantheism and vegetarianism; the ability of men to become gods; the imminent coming of Eleď in wrath to destroy his enemies. (It was widely said that deliverance would come from the north, probably because the iliu were known to live in that direction; this would have an unexpected import later.)
Not a few prophets embraced rather than criticized the spirit of the times. There were ecstatic cults, something like a travelling orgy; others inspired rebellions against the generals and the lords. There were firebrands who convinced entire settlements to abandon their homes and go fight the Munkhâshi, though it now took a 300 km march across Caďinorian territory to find them.
The Caďinorians found all this hard to understand or tolerate. Their own mores were those of barbarians raised by circumstances into a warrior empire. They knew that the Cuzeians had been strong once; their decline was unsettling and deplorable. They reacted with equal exasperation to the vices of the Cuzeians (corruption, civil war, cults) and to the remnants of its sophisticated culture— its cultured aristocracy, its literature and theater, a theology that to their eyes wasted its admiration on artists, absent alien races, and useless wilderness.
In 1000 Caďinas celebrated the millenium of their capital, Ctesifon; though this was considered auspicious, few expected that the end of Cuzei would be soon. The zîtenarrûos of Cuzei, Zeilisio IV, was by turns a drunkard and a moralist— nothing new there. The prophet Examnās ringingly denounced the elite of Eleisa and warned of Iáinos’s wrath— business as usual.
Bēgisios, the general of the army, rebelled; this too was almost routine; perhaps he would kick Zeilisio out and take his place. It was a little unusual that he claimed to have an invisible battalion of iliu in his army, and that he had added two mētū to the deity— Enäron and Usolu (“darkness”), representing the virtues of war and chaos whose lack he felt explained Cuzei’s weakness. Examnās symbolically rent the Cloth of Cuzei, to show that the favor of Iáinos was now lost.
When Bēgisios surrounded the city, Zeilisio panicked, and asked the Caďinorians for help. This also was not unprecedented; Caďinas had responded to such appeals before, and left afterwards. The Caďinorian elorion (king) Nusisponos was, as elorionit went, well-disposed to Cuzei— he had visited Eleisa several times, and dallied with a Cuzeian Lady; he spoke acceptable Cuêzi. A short incursion to end an unseemly civil war seemed a gallant use of Caďinorian strength.
Nusisponos marched his army to the Eärdur in 1012. He entered Eleisa, where he was hailed as a liberator, then pursued Bēgisios, who avoided confrontation for more than two years, meanwhile burning a House here, destroying a Caďinorian or loyalist garrison there. This was long enough for the Cuzeians to perceive the Caďinorians less as liberators, more as barbarian occupiers. Examnās began to preach resistance, and other Cuzeians rebelled. Bēgisios was finally tracked down and killed (1015), this produced a brief lull.
Once in, the Caďinorians saw no way to leave. They were there for the Cuzeians’ benefit, after all; and they were not going to admit defeat, were they? The longer they stayed, the more ridiculous they would feel if they left. Nusisponos claimed to be acting in Zeilisio’s name; but by 1024, when Zeilisio died, the situation had deteriorated to the point that Nusisponos did not allow another zîtenarrûos to be named, for fear that he would be a rallying point for the resistance.
Nusisponos himself died in 1031; his son Besclaies, who had been overseeing the campaign against Munkhâsh, believed that only a strong response would quell the “rebels”, and that there was no such thing as too much strength. Rebellious armies were massacred; Examnās was found murdered in 1038; the Glade of Eleisa was burned down in 1045.
The Caďinorians began increasingly to see Cuzeian religion as the problem. They first tried to modify it, suggesting that Eīledan was another name for Enäron. Finally, in 1052, they outlawed the religion. Priests were imprisoned or killed; resisting Lords were deposed; Cuzeian law was replaced with Caďinorian; Cuêzi (which Besclaies did not speak) was banned in public life— worse yet, speaking Cuêzi privately was grounds for arrest on grounds of conspiracy against Caďinas. Even the name of Cuzei was effaced; it was now Eärdur Province.
(Cuzei itself was not the last Cuzeian state; that was Lānavo, roughly corresponding to earlier Sūās. Quite unfairly, the Caďinorians blamed this little kingdom for restlessness in Eärdur province, and the elorion Zolcruvos annexed it in 1110.)
The repression worked, in the sense that over the next century, Cuzei was reduced to a sullen obedience. Caďinorian colonists settled the Eärdur, creating a loyal (even reactionary) core of support; a new capital was built at Octinila (modern Ožnëa); the cities were heavily garrisoned and were soon speaking Caďinor.
Quite a few Cuzeians escaped into other states— Aránicer, Kaino, Leziunea. Kaino was the friendliest of these, but its independence did not last long, only till 1079. The Arániceri welcomed immigrants on condition that they help fight Munkhâsh; the result was that the eastern Svetla (modern Cerei and Hežina) were dotted with Arašei colonies.
Arašát under the Empire
An underground religion
The ban did not eliminate Arašát, but it profoundly changed it. The very name is typical of the transformation: it was a euphemism, a misdirection. It was dangerous to say you worshipped Eleď; you said instead that you were a man of Araš. Hopefully the oppressors would just take this as a statement of ethnic identity.
It is the religion of a defeated people, its leaders killed or hiding, its overt expression a crime. To survive, it had to rely on lies, hidden signals, an underground network. The habits thus formed were slow to abate in later, more liberal times; the Arašei remained guarded about their beliefs— for centuries they refused even to name their gods to outsiders, much less recite the secrets of the Count of Years. Caďinorian scholars always had a basic understanding of Cuzeian beliefs, but the common people soon forgot, and considered the Arašei to be an untrustworthy band of heretics or magicians.
The proliferation of ideas in late Cuzeian practice disappeared. Anything resembling Caďinorian paganism was dropped like a hot potato. Loosenings of doctrine were uninteresting; people don't bother to get persecuted for mild beliefs or vague spirituality. Mere rebelliousness was irrelevant now that there was no establishment to rebel against; hedonistic cults lost their point when no one could afford to dedicate themselves to pleasure.
The overall effect was a return to pure orthodoxy. The core doctrines remained unaltered; but the feeling of the religion did change. Highlights:
- Arašát has none of the sunny confidence of Cuzeian theism. It cannot promise earthly prosperity— quite the reverse. On the other hand, it is much more interested in life (and rewards) after death.
- As Arašei were no longer in control of society, Cuzeian political theory no longer mattered; community (bardāu) was reinterpreted as brotherhood or solidarity. The focus of the religion was what an individual or a family could do in private— namely, to seek holiness (nēreyas). (This doesn’t mean that the pietists had won; there was, after all, no public sphere to impress with one’s piety).
- For similar reasons, morality came to approximate Caďinorian norms. The Cuzeian special devotion to women was forgotten, and replaced with an expectation of chastity; there was less focus on creativity; there was less tolerance for individual peccadillos (e.g. homosexuality), more focus on duty and military valor.
- Iáinos and the other mētū are often talked about, but seem a good deal more remote. Where once Iáinos had spoken to human beings, the very idea seemed almost blasphemous— prophets no longer spoke in Iáinos’s name. In fact, understanding the Idea behind creation— that is, knowing Iáinos— seemed an absurdly remote prospect. Eleď, who worked with mere matter, seemed much closer.
- There was a greater emphasis on the unity of the mētū; giving them too much separation smacked of polytheism. They could no longer individually be called nūmiū “gods”, and it became common to refer to the totality as nūmiu or aiďos— or simply to let Eleď stand in for all three mētū.
- The prophets explained that Cuzei had been destroyed for its sinfulness— which introduced a wrathfulness in Iáinos that had not been strongly present before. There was much more of an idea that sin was an offense against God rather than against one’s fellow men.
- If Cuzei was attractively optimistic, it was also prideful, and tended to assume that virtue would be rewarded on Almea. The Arašei praised individual good character above position, and held that the poor were specially dear to Eleď.
- From late cults, Arašát retained the expectation of divine deliverance. Eleď was perhaps stymied by Amnās, but someday, perhaps soon, he would return, this time as a figure of vengeance and vindication. The oppressors would be swept away, and those who had been loyal to him would assume their rightful place.
The Caďinorian war against the Knowers (evissi) disrupted the organization of the religion. The prophets were harder to suppress, and for some time they were the focus of the underground movement. Even in later days the head of the Arašei was known as the Numícoro, the Prophet.
De facto toleration
In 1150, Keadau expelled the Munkhâshi from Eretald, and named himself Emperor (atrabion) to celebrate. As the Empire went on to conquer more Munkhâshi and Meťaiun territory, as well as Central rivals such as Cayenas and Aránicer, its horizons broadened. A de facto tolerance of the Arašei developed, now that they were only one religious minority among many.
By the late 1200s, Knowers could communicate openly, though it was still best for them to avoid the capital, Octinila. Therefore it was in Alaldos that they undertook their great project: to compile a definitive text of the Book of Eleď. The Cuzeians had never had a single scripture; they had an evolving religious literature. The Knowers had to decide on a canon, compare a bewildering variety of manuscripts, and reconcile them into a consensus text. They were done by about 1350.
Their choices were conventional— almost all of the individual works in the completed Book were known to Beretos, nearly a thousand years before, though perhaps in a shorter form. Their only choices from the Silver Age through the end of Cuzei were the book of Îceīledan the prophet and Onāemu leribodēinu (“'The Lovers of Learning”), and the only book from after the fall was the Lamentations of Îceīledan, which records the prophecies of Examnās and his successor’s lamentations for the fallen kingdom.
The Book of Eleď was translated into Caďinor by Ȟimauro; his edition, published in 1421, became the standard for the Arašei as knowledge of Cuêzi receded.
In 1466 the emperor Keadau II removed the ban on Arašát, though some restrictions remained— for instance, Arašei could not be ennobled, nor could they proselytize.
The emperor Ervëa was raised in the Eärdur valley, and when his uncle Sevurias usurped the throne, in 1604, Ervëa was able to use the Eärdur as his loyal base of support from which to challenge the usurper. Another region with reason to resent Ctesifon, Aránicer, joined him. Ervëa went on to defeat Sevurias, push back a new Munkhâshi invasion, and then join forces with Attafei to put an end to Munkhâsh. But he never forgot his roots in Eärdur, and he conspicuously treated Arašei with equal favor. He removed the restrictions on Arašei nobility, and indeed created several Arašei nobles himself, often from his most trusted generals. The Arašei returned his affection; some Caďinor versions of the Book of Eleď even told his story, and even claimed that Ervëa worshipped Enäron alone, and that Eleď took this devotion as service to himself.
The dark years
Throughout the Dark Years, Ctesifon kept a close hold on the Eärdur, not least because it was on the front lines with the Somoyi barbarians to the west. However, Ervëa had given the Arašei free movement, and they took advantage of this to spread throughout the empire. They were often soldiers, traders, or scholars, and tended to settle in high-trade areas— along the rivers and the littoral, as far east as Govanro.
Due to their professions and urban locations the Arašei often ended up rich, or in positions of influence— and at the other extreme, poor Arašei might drift into criminality. For both reasons pagans could resent the community, and there were occasional persecutions, bans, or pogroms.
During this period Arašei scholars experimented with numerous numerologies, esoteric doctrines, and eschatological speculations. For instance, one Muroro of Aránicer wrote a work explaining the twenty-seven levels of Heaven, with their inhabitants and major features, and how these influenced life on Almea. (All astronomical phenomena were tossed into the first of these levels.) Useže of Ožnëa boldly threw out the Caďinor/Cuêzi dictionaries and grammars, allowing her to put new meanings on Cuêzi words and re-read the Book of Eleď in strange new ways. All this esoterica rarely led anywhere, precisely because it shared the starting assumption that the present world was of little theological interest— an attitude the Cuzeians would have found difficult to understand.
In 2870 the Elenicoi landed in Avéla— from the north— bringing news of redemption. The local Arašei listened with increasing excitement; and when the Elenicoi began to spearhead a rebellion against Kebri, they became his core supporters. The story is told at length in the article on Érenat.