Six Caravans School
Six Caravans recognises the four caravans originally made explicit in the Four Caravans Edict as well as two more made explicit during the Aquien Reforms. The six caravans are: the ikôda (“icon”), the shonimô (“church”), the family, the Empire, the mvavaskantolkomtas (“monastery”) and the vasjaktemnas (“talking group”).
An icon, or ikôda, is a tool for the sokurmas of a tulmăn. Most commonly it is a depiction of the saint in question – a painting, relief carving, occasionally a sculpture – although it may sometimes be a relic of their life. It calls the attention of the tulmăn toward the devotee, and by showing respect and devotion to the icon devotion can be shown to the tulmăn itself. This provokes the saint to act on behalf of the devotee.
Icons are held to be a caravan toward three cities: devotion to the icon weakens provukă; the saint has the power to alter the devotee’s spirit in a way that eliminates or prevents unnecessary eribarkam; and by influencing the spirits of others, and by calming or controlling malign shojkam, the saint can bring material success to the devotee.
In formal theology, and in the more philosophical strains of thought common in the upper echelons of society, the role of icons is downplayed – it is recognised that their aid is unpredictable and the devotion required considerable. In popular religion, however, icons are central to everyday practice. No element of life is free from icons. Any building has icons over its doors; every hearth and dinner table, every office desk, has an icon. All the more important possessions are protected by icons. An individual will likely carry half a dozen icons at least; women, many more.
The choice of icon operates along two principles: one henotheistic, one polytheistic. The former begins at birth, when by calendrical calculations each child is allotted a patron saint to appeal to; later in life, an individual may change their patron to a saint they feel personally connected to. The second principle is one of portfolio, in which particular saints are appealed to in particular cases – certain saints are connected to cookery, for instance, and hence their icons will appear at hearths, while others are connected to swords, dogs, sea travel, prostitution, conception, blight, fair weather, gambling, rats, prosecution, road-laying and so forth. It is likely that for any subject a handful of conceivably-relevant saints could be named, often varying with geographic region.
Icons themselves can be divided into the devotional (seen in churches, or in bedchambers), to which full devotion is given, the protective (placed on or over anything for a general protection from harm or failure) which are rarely more than kept clean, and the invocational, to which quick prayers are said in time of trouble.
The manner of devotion is not prescribed, but there are several common elements, which may be divided into the preparatory, the exterior, and the inner. To prepare for devotion, the devotee must keep the icon clean, place themselves in a posture that is conducive to abnegation (commonly protestation or kneeling) and avoid any sources of distraction – they should not be afflicted through the sense, or be subject to hunger or lust. The exterior component of devotion is seen through physical contact with the icon and through symbolic sacrifice, often of alcohol or of a burning candle. The interior component is primarily thinking favourably of the saint, and often comparing the saint’s life to the devotee’s own life. It may also feature communication with the saint, particularly the asking of favours and the making of promises.
The Shonimô is the established church organisation of the Empire. It consists of a great many shoniam, ‘cults’, responsible to a small number of ankraonam, ‘metropolitans’. Cults are divisible into makshoniam, ‘small cults’ and vepshoniam, ‘big cults’. The former are responsible for minor shrines, and are usually devoted to a single saint; the latter are responsible for cathedrals, vepshonivarkoam.
The chief importance of the vepshonivarko is as a venue for weekly acts of mass abnegation. In these, devotees enter into the building, remove their clothes, cover themselves in ashes, and lie on the floor for periods of time, interrupted by bouts of kneeling. During this time, a leader will preach their inadequacy and the folly of the human race, illustrated through recent public news. At the end, they are washed clean through immersion. Abnegation is not, as may be thought, an activity designed to produce guilt, but rather a method for weakening provukă, the self-concept, by demonstrating both the weakness (and hence transience) of human flesh and also the fundamental unity of mankind, and the unity of mankind with other living animals. It is a small dose of humiliation to pierce the walls of vanity and delusion that maintain provukă.
Shoniam also provide icons for public devotion, and have an important educative facility, teaching the public about the lives of the saints. As the saints were real people with real lives, their stories act as illustrations of good (or bad) principles in life, and make people more able to fulfil their desires, and to attain the constancy that prevents the creation of unnecessary desires. They also provide experts to advise individuals on morality and prudence.
All shoniam are subsidiary to and supervised by an ankraon, or else they are illegal. There are perhaps a dozen ankraonam in total, with the same word being used for the individual, the authority, and the physical vepshonivarkoam that acts as their seat. No ankraon can exist without the license of the Emperor, and that license may be revoked. Each ankraon is responsible for its own employees, but they are also joined together in the Camera, which has the ultimate religious authority. The Shonimô has sole jurisdiction over crimes of heresy and apostasy, and over clergy throughout the Empire. The jurisdiction of the ankraon is not geographic, but rather, as the name suggests, an authority of founder over founded, with the link usually reflecting the origin of conquering armies, or the favourite cults of founding governors.
Those who feel a vocation toward the priesthood serve for a span of years as talna (sworn slave, legally a child) to a shonikonat (elder of a shoni), before becoming a shoniket (brother in the shoni). The shoniketam retain their status for life, though they do not always remain in a religious role until death. A shoniketam belongs to one shoni only, though they may move from one to another. The shoniketam of each shoni elect their own shonikonatam – in the case of makshoniam, these may be sole governing figures, but in the case of vepshoniam they are in essence a board of governors. In addition to their administrative role, they have an important function in society, acting as ‘councillors’ or ‘chaplains’ to aristocratic families and to vasjaktemnam. From the shonikonatam, the ankraon selects a dushoniari, the chief official. The shonikonatam of the ankraon (who have usually served as shonikonatam, if not dushoniari, themselves) select the new ankraon.