|Death and Beyond in Tolmira|
It could be said that one can learn as much about a people from how they die as how they live. We present excerpts from the customs and rituals surrounding dying, death, and beyond in Tolmira...
The God Oron
Superstition holds that shadow is not merely the absence of light-- that your shadow is born with you and follows you to the grave, standing witness to all your actions and reciting them before your maker at the time of judgment. This tradition derives from the lesson of the god Oron, who governs law and death.
Created from the primordial darkness at the same instant that light first sprang into being, Oron watches over the gods. In that sense, he is shadow given form—the shadow of the creation of the other gods. The Black Warden, as he is sometimes called, watches over the rest of the pantheon and guards the souls of the dead until such time as Fire can return to judge them.
As protector of the dead, Oron is afforded more individual organized worship than most of the other gods. His clergy is large and powerful, despite his relatively minor role in the history of the world and the meddlings of the other deities. Based primarily out of the City of Chains, an independent city to the north of Tolmira and said to be built on the site of a great battle between Uulix and Oron, it is perhaps the most powerful monotheistic church in the known world. Followers of Oron preach an ordered existence, with obedience to those above you and protection to those below you.
The popular, but by no means universally accepted, image of the moments after death:
Immediately after the body dies, the soul awakens in the Gray Realm, a distorted, fog-shrouded mirror of the real world where the dead can still bear witness to the affairs of the living. The soul remains in the Gray Realm until The Words are spoken over the body. This alerts Oron to the death, and he sends his Takers to gather the soul and deliver it to the afterlife. This is why it is not uncommon to see soldiers recite a short-form version of the Words over their fallen enemies—the fear that the unmourned dead may have power and influence over the world of the living so long as they remain in the Gray Realm.
The exact nature of the afterlife beyond the Gray Realm is subject to greater debate, but it is generally believed that it is a static, unchanging place, which cares little for accomplishments in life. Those in the afterlife are said to await the return of the Sun God at the end of time, where all final judgments will be passed down.
Gray is the official Tolmiran color of mourning, to mirror the fog of the afterlife. Death is marked with far more ceremony than birth, if the deceased’s estate or a willing party chooses to pay for the pomp and circumstance. Funerals in Tolmira are large affairs, consisting of a procession winding its way from the house of the decedent to the graveyard, which is generally a consecrated area near a temple. The burial ceremony itself is held outside, and participants in ornate costumes and masks depicting each of the deities of the Tolmiran pantheon act out specific roles. Each of the deities must say a specific prayer to let the soul of the deceased pass into the realm of the dead.
In the major cities, there are professional mourners who act out these roles. In smaller towns, the priests serve this duty, and in a village with only one priest, or on a farmstead or the like, relatives work just as well--usually the close relatives of the deceased, such as offspring or siblings. It is believed that if the proper words are not said, the soul of the deceased will wander aimlessly through the Gray Realm between the world of the living and the world of the dead until finally dissolving into the fog that permeates that realm.
A proper Tolmiran funeral, as with any event, can require filing several documents with the local magistrate: a license to transfer a body in the daytime, a license to bury a body in the daytime, a notice of public assembly, and permits for procession of the casket or the display of funereal arrangements. Licenses are also required to provide services as a professional mourner. Those without the funds to bury their loved ones in style only have to shell out the one sanguil fee for a death notice (Law mandates that this fee can never be raised or lowered), but they must bury the body themselves between dusk and dawn. For this reason, the more frugal among landowners tend to have a family burial plot on their private property, rather than a mausoleum or plot in one of the city graveyards.
The alternative for the poorest dead is collection by members of the Gravediggers’ Guild after the family attempts the ritual prayers. The guild is one of the few organizations funded wholly by the local governments for this public service (initially instituted to keep disease at bay in times of plague). Bodies collected by the guild are inevitably routed to mass cremation, though rumors of the nefarious influence of Uulixan cults and sightings of loved ones believed dead and gone haunting the streets persist. Superstition holds that fog in the mortal world is made up of the souls of the unmourned dead. Members of the Gravediggers' Guild are called "fogmen" for this reason, though using the term in their hearing would not be advised.
The flowers displayed at a funeral typically represent the type of death or the identity of the deceased:
Red roses for the military or death in battle
Although necromancy is uncommon, it is not unheard of for beings to rise from death to haunt the living. Some are mindless terrors, others seem driven by a specific purpose. Tolmirans practice both interment and cremation, and cemeteries tend to be well-guarded.
Oronites despise the undead, not because they see them as unholy abominations or because they care about the natural order, but because they see the undead as fugitives attempting to escape their rightful fate.