(Author’s note: this month’s blog is dedicated to Kirsten, one of the best women I’ve ever been privileged enough to call friend. Thank you for everything over the last six months, K. )
Taken from vol. XXIII of the Analecti Historiae Terrae, incepted by Hieromagos Archaeologis Neopliny the Elder, recorded for posterity this day, 0135937.M41, stored on dataslate Kepler XXII-B. Imperator tutatur illos qui quaerunt.
Welcome and salutations, my children, the Emperor’s light and benedictions shine upon you all. And thank you for joining us again at the Scholae Archaeologis for what promises to be a riveting look at the prehistory of ancient Terra and the cultures that existed there before humanity was graced by the Imperial Light.
In our last lecture, we considered the rites and rituals of Mhurkan pair-bonding, looking at how our ancient ancestors conducted themselves in affairs of household negotiation and child-rearing. We considered the religious aspects of their ancient cultic belief systems, and I want to start by reassuring those of you who wrote letters of complaint to both myself, the Scholae Archaeologis, and even the Ecclesiarchy, warning of heretical thought being discussed herein. I feel this reassurance even more necessary given today’s topic: the pantheon of the Mhurkan deities.
(Some murmurs of dissent; general noise continues for a brief moment. Hieromagos Archaeologis Neopliny can be heard making calls for calm.)
While the discussion of such things may leave some of you anxious – perhaps even frightened – let me be the first to allay those fears, and declaim these ancient beliefs as nonsense of the highest order. It behoves us to remember that the Mhurkan peoples were primitive, superstitious, and ultimately, perhaps even childlike in their beliefs. Lest we forget, this was not merely a pre-Warpflight human culture; this was a pre-space human culture; one that perhaps had more in common with animals than it might have with our own, more vaunted, society.
These old ‘gods’ – terrifying though they may perhaps seem to the minds of those inclined to superstition – are not to be taken remotely seriously. Indeed, they should be considered warnings of the dangers of believing in anything, save the Emperor and his glorious Truths.
However, as I am sensitive to the fears of my students, I have arranged to have Ecclesiarchal ministers present throughout, to tend to your spiritual needs should this discussion become rather more… Shall we say, taxing? Than you might otherwise have found such things.
Very well, then. Let us begin by looking at the very basic foundations of Mhurkan religious thought.
It is not confirmed, but the analects of Archmagos Rejaak theorise that the Mhurkan people were not originally native to the landmass they called home. Instead, she argues – persuasively, I might add – that they were best considered a mongrel people. They had come from many other lands, other places, and brought with them their previous beliefs. From a theological point of view, this would certainly seem to be borne out by the evidence we have uncovered. Indeed, the Mhurkan people seem to have a greater panoply of gods, deities, spirits and ghosts than almost any other culture in Terra’s prehistoric period.
They were, by nature, a fearful people, and possessed of what we might now think of as a ‘warrior culture’. That so few of them were warriors – we know from fossil records and soil analyses that the Mhurkan landmass was never invaded by an outside power – meant little to the culture as a whole, and we can see this from the development of their various gods.
Now, there are simply too many deities for us to look at in the short time we have today. However, there are a number of core divine figures of significance whom almost all Mhurkans would have known and invoked on a daily basis, and it is these figures we will be considering today.
So, if you could turn your attentions to the pict-screens in front of you; those wishing to make notes are advised to have your ‘slates ready.
The first, and greatest of all the Mhurkan deities, was Phryduum, the God of Cruelty. Phryduum, as you can see here, was represented as a female figure, dressed in the robes of a priest and anointed with a halo of iron blades.
If you direct your attention to the holo, you will note the few remaining elements of her main temple we have uncovered. Unfortunately, none of these items remain extant; they were destroyed during the siege of the Imperial Palace during the dark days of Horus Lupercal’s treachery, but these images remain, preserved in the datacores of the Omnissiah’s loyal servants on Mars.
The head, as you may observe, bears an imperious aspect; Phryduum was known for her unyielding nature. Those Mhurkans who followed her – often members of the indentured slave armies the Mhurkan state maintained – would sometimes do so with oaths of loyalty made, literally, for life. The most well-known of these oaths was ‘Give me Phryduum or give me death’. As I said: a warrior culture, red in tooth and claw.
(Murmur from the audience)
The hand? Yes, if you just rotate the image… There, you see? Yes, it is a flame, well observed. That would be her fabled sword of fire, a terrible weapon with which Phryduum was known to scourge her followers and enemies alike.
The most common form of Phryduum worship was the inflicting of cruelty upon others. Phryduum’s name would be invoked when doing so. If you observe your pict-screens, we have a few extant examples of remaining invocations to her. As you can see, the rites were curious, and demanded a complex, two-part process. To begin with, the worshipper would seek out a victim, usually through the use of the exceedingly primitive datagheists available to the Mhurkan culture. Upon selecting this victim, the acolyte would then ‘feel them out’, identifying areas of personal weakness, before finally making their attempt at an offering to their god. These prayers were known as ‘dhwiits’. The prayer would begin by stating something to the victim, a personal cruelty calculated by the worshipper as capable of inflicting emotional duress or mental suffering upon their chosen victim. Threats of rape were favoured, as well as insults about the chosen victim’s appearance, physical size, ethnicity, cultural beliefs, or gender. Ultimately, the targeted aspect of the victim’s life was of less of importance than was the damage the words of the dhwiit inflicted.
Now, this initial insult would not be the end of it; should the victim remain silent, the worshipper risked Phryduum’s wrath. As a result, worshippers would make many hundreds and thousands of such dhwiits.
Should the recipient of a dhwiit respond, the worshipper would then invoke the god’s name, using the declarative phrase: ‘I have Phryduum’s Speech’. This phrase would signify the end of the prayer.
The purpose of the rite seems simply to have been for its own sake, although I theorise that these worshippers engaged in the rite in order to escape falling victim to Phryduum herself. As a god of cruelty, her ways were inherently capricious, and so it seems likely that the rite of dhwiits was designed to stave her attentions off in some way. Of course, with the loss of her main temple on the long-fabled Island of Stadden and the loss of those religious texts within, almost everything about this dark god remains unclear.
The next most powerful of the Mhurkan deities was Khuns. So powerful was this god, that it has been suggested that his name formed the original root of the country’s name itself: “Mhur’Khuns”, or “Land of Khuns”. Khuns remains a contentious and curious figure, one soaked in the violence of the Mhurkan mindset. He was the Mhurkan God of Insecurity, and his worship was thought to bring distinct favours.
By worshipping Khuns, Mhurkans were able to seek his favour, and by doing so, feel more secure. There were various rites and rituals to do this.
The most straightforward of these was the simple invocation of his name; like the ancient Islamic Shahadah, one simply had to state their faith in Khuns. There was no one phrase with which to do so, but most took a very plain form: “I have Khuns in my house because it makes me feel safe”.
The next level of offering would be to buy a weapon, for Khuns was a warrior-god and weapons his favoured symbol. It is known that at the height of the Mhurkan empire, almost every Mhurkan would have a small shrine to Khuns in their house, usually containing the weapons that were a sign of fealty to this dark figure.
The highest form of offering would be a propitiation, in the form of a blood sacrifice. Those Mhurkans who felt most disenfranchised, most isolated from society, least secure about their lives, could always turn to Khuns, who would accept any number of killings made in his name, giving out confidence and a sense of accomplishment as reward. Many of his most fanatical believers would often make such offerings, sometimes sending Khuns huge numbers of human sacrifices. The most devout would allow themselves to be killed at the end, their deaths sealing the offering to him, and presumably guaranteeing them a brighter spot with their lord in the afterlife.
No, no. It may seem ridiculous to us, but these blood sacrifices weren’t occasional. Amongst the Mhurkans, these ritual killings were very common. They even extended to the killings of children; indeed, attacks on what we would call Scholae were held up by Khuns with particular favour.
(gasps from audience)
Well, please remember that fossil evidence is mostly missing, but from what we do have, what we can tell? Is that children were not held in especially high regard by the Mhurkan people. So the leaders of Mhurkan society tolerated the attacks of Khuns more devout acolytes, presumably out of deference to Khuns. Despite the violence his most fanatical followers wrought, his worship remained very highly respected, with his church – known as the En’ahr’eh – retaining huge power nationally. As I say, almost every Mhurkan would have a small shrine to Khuns in their house. As a result, these killings were accepted as part of Mhukran daily life; most probably, they were seen as an acceptable price to pay for a sense of security, no matter how illusory.
Yes, yes. I quite agree.
Now, before we move on, it’s probably worth mentioning another, lesser known god. This one is much less powerful than most: Thortsonprairs, God of Indolence.
As I’m sure you have been made aware today, and indeed, across previous lectures, the Mhurkans were a violent people, ones tolerant of child killing and blood sacrifice so long as it was done in the name of a god. Of course, there would be outcry from the victims of Khuns’ followers, and those in power had to be seen to do something.
If you’ll please turn your attention to the pict-screens, we have an especial treat for you.
Yes, I know. Amazing, isn’t it? This is the only extant footage we have from that time period; thirteen seconds, showing a man we believe to be the Mhurkan ‘Presitent’, or hereditary king. The Mhurkan Presitent would be called upon to speak to the people in the case of a particularly ‘successful’ blood offering to Khuns, and when he did, he would conclude with an invocation to Thortsonprairs. There, listen: did you hear that?
(video plays again)
You can hear it so clearly, reassuring the people ‘our Thortsonprairs are with them’ – by ‘them’, he of course means the victims. Incidentally, we have Magos Ishtae Prim to thank for this footage; her archaeotech team managed to find this on, where was it again?
(Ishtae stands, says something)
That’s right. Mars, out past Arsia Mons. This is the result of over forty years’ research, and it constitutes a unique find; the oldest found footage of human life, and it’s a human making an offering to this most obscure god. Can we have some applause for that please?
No, Ishtae, there’s no need to blush. You’ve earned it. You’ve earned it.
Where was I? Oh yes, the god of indolence. Yes, Thortsonprairs offered no favours, nor did he render any curses. He was simply a useful figure to invoke, a shorthand way to say to the people ‘Well, we agree this is bad, but we intend to do nothing’. Thortsonprairs eventually became so often invoked alongside Khuns that it seems the two became inextricably linked in the Mhurkan minds. We’ve found offerings of various personal objects made by the families of sacrificial victims, listing the name of the sacrificed person, then a prayer to Thortsonprairs, not Khuns.
Our data is scant on this, and it’s an interesting little historical puzzle. Any of you looking for extra credit, I’ll be happy to accept theses on this topic. Magos Prim is the key person to speak to, so if you’re interested in knowing more, speak to her.
No, I’m not doing this to embarrass you, Ishae. Emperor willing, you’ll be the one that takes over from me when I pass on, so Throne knows you need to get used to this kind of attention.
Fine, fine. (laughs) We’ll see when you’re sat with me, marking those papers, eh?
Okay, settle down. Moving on, the next god on our list is Dh’flaq, God of Terror. Uniquely amongst Mhurkan deities, Dh’flaq is never represented by a human figure, but instead, an abstract pattern of lines and geometric shapes. If you’ll turn your attention to the pict-screens…
As you can see, it’s an undeniably abstract, curious collection of shapes. We have unearthed no data as to why Dh’flaq takes this particular form. We believe the lines represent the bars of the prisons in which his victims were taken to be terrorised, and I have a theory that the more angular star shapes represent bloody holes in the flesh of his enemies. Sadly, we simply cannot know, at least at this time. What makes this most galling is that Dh’flaq’s symbol is ubiquitous in Mhurkan culture. We have found it everywhere, and while he was particularly beloved amongst the warrior class of Mhurkan culture, Dh’flaq’s symbol turns up even in houses without a shrine to Khuns.
While not as locally focused as Khuns, Dh’flaq was far more frightening a figure. His was an evangelical creed, demanding that his followers leave the Mhurkan homeland and seek out worlds to conquer. The Mhurkan warrior class’ leaders were all devout followers, and we theorise that their religious fervour to seek out and conquer in the name of their god, is what led to the widespread global devastation our investigations have revealed through soil samples and analyses of Terra’s mantle. The Mhurkan military was, infamously, the most deadly amongst humanity at the time of Mhurkan empire’s height, and it would not be difficult to connect these ideas.
Dh’flaq’s followers pledged themselves to him; aside from evangelising across the planet, his followers were expected to sing hymnals to his name, and engage in metaphorical representations of his conquest of the world. The most famous of these is Hislamball, the game discovered a few years ago by Prefect-Magos James Hislam.
Yes, I see we’re all familiar with that one.
Hislamball was not, as initially theorised a socially cohesive event. We had always known the Mhurkan people were beloved of sports and competitions, as attested by the remnants of the mighty stadia our investigations have uncovered. Hislam’s research shows that games of Hislamball always began with a prayer and a hymnal offered to Dh’flaq. You’ve no doubt seen the research photographs of unearthed Hislamball armour, worn to protect players from the ferocious impacts of other players…
Quite so! Yes, we absolutely believe the sport to be a complex rite made in offering to Dh’flaq. Given Hislamball’s ubiquity – we know that it was played in almost every Mhurkan settlement, we can therefore infer that Dh’flaq, despite being a dark, violent figure, was beloved by the people.
You see? Even a group of humans as primitive as they were capable of unutterable theological complexity.
Our next god is one of those we know least about. Dh’panks – we believe the name indicates some kind of familial relationship to Dh’flaq – is the Mhurkan god of slavery. Most often used as a name to keep the Mhurkan people obedient, Dh’panks punishes each according to his or her income. Those who are rich find favour with Dh’panks, and his high priests, who seem to have been the Mhurkan lawmakers, would go to great lengths to ensure that those with most got more.
On the other hand, the poor are most despicable to Dh’panks eyes, particularly amongst his priesthood. Those with little would often find themselves the targets of Dh’panks’ ire, castigated and attacked, with what little they had taken as an offering to Dh’panks in hope of avoiding future judgements. I am sure most of you will of course be familiar with the famous catechism “Dh’panks are too big to fail”? Well, this incantation was used whenever a priest needed to justify the flagrant inequalities their god inflicted upon the Mhurkan people. The phrase seemed to have held great significance for the Mhurkan people as a whole, invoked even by their Presitent, should the worship of Dh’panks lead to riots – as it occasionally did.
As I say, we know little about this god aside from his nature. Much of his teaching was secret, jealously guarded by his priesthood, and his secrets appear to have died with them.
The final figure we shall be looking at today is Rais. Rais is unique inasmuch as he is a devil rather than a god, but his power amongst the evil figures in Mhurkan theology is almost unparalleled. As is the mystery surrounding him.
Rais seems to have been held as a vicious attacker, taking out his supernatural rage on some of the Mhurkan people, but not others. We have no idea how Rais chose which to persecute and which to leave, but that those he tormented blamed him for their affliction is undeniable. And their claims seem to hold some weight, albeit in cultural terms, rather than anything supernatural.
If you turn you attention to the pict-screens… Now, this is a map of a Mhurkan settlement. The blue dots represent those Mhurkans who know nothing about Rais. Now watch.
Fascinating, isn’t it?
These red dots represent those Mhurkans who seem are ‘victims’ of Rais. As you can see, they’re all clustered together, in their own part of the settlement.
Here’s another settlement.
Here’s the blue dots… And here’s the red.
Here’s another. And another.
Fascinating, isn’t it? The pattern extends across almost the whole of the Mhurkan continent, albeit with the exceptions of major cities. Those people afflicted by Rais are made to live in the poorest, meagrest parts of their settlements. Circumstantial evidence suggests they would work poorer jobs for less money.
The thing that is most fascinating about this, is the vehemence with which the existence of Rais is denied by those who know nothing about him. We have accounts – numerous ones – extant, all of which strenuously work to deny the existence of Rais or his evil works.
Whether this was a deliberate thing, a cultural conspiracy?
Well, if you’d like to make it your thesis, please see me. The mystery of Rais has always been a favourite topic of mine.
And that brings today’s lecture to an end. I’d like to thank the Scholae Archaeologis for having me, for you all for listening, and poor Magos Prim for putting up with an old woman’s need to embarrass her former students.
Now, in the name of the Throne, go in peace, to love and serve the Emperor.
Thank you very much.