Brainstorm with me: Aedes Dei: The Castles of God

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I've been reading some good books on Scottish dark age history lately. You can think of the Scottish dark ages as a time of competing kindreds or clans ruling in different areas - Gaels in the west, Picts (non-romanized Britons) in the northeast, Britons (romanized) in the centre, and Northumbrian Angles in the southeast. But operating more or less across the whole territory is another kind of organization - the church, which has descended from Rome and spread through the whole land, acting as a unifiying force. Iona is the most important religious centre, on its little island in the west. Lindisfarne rivals in in the east. Portmahomack ("Haven of my beloved Colmac" in the north. These religious centres heavily influenced regional politics, and maybe even steered them, and it seems the strongest Northumbrian dynasty and the strongest Pictish dynasty were both fostered by Iona.

But what if things had evolved differently? What if there was no distinction between religious power and secular power? What if the monasteries didnt just influence power, but were the centres of power? The Abbot would become defacto king. Would monks then be warriors? Who else might be important? I am assuming various religious houses would rival one another - over political matters, but also matters of the heart and of the soul.

Let's divorce this from history and imagine a setting, perhaps one like Earthsea with multiple islands, where the Monasteries ruled. These would be ready-made organizations (such as one finds in Outremer and other Flying Mice games). Who would the players be? Does this suggest troupe-stype play like Ars Magica, or can people play fixed roles. What kinds of things are these monastic kings interested in fighting over? What are the points of rivalry with other monasteries? What about leadership and succession? What role do the laity perform? Who are the player characters?

Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

Comments

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    Hi @Apocryphal.

    At the beginning you seem to be grounded in a European stance to the world, but the second part is about something else. I'm just not clear what. Seems to me that religion is the original declaration between what is and what might / should be, and that the secular only exists as the derivative 'real' of that. So some questions to (I hope) clarify what you're asking about.

    @Apocryphal said:
    I've been reading some good books on Scottish dark age history lately. You can think of the Scottish dark ages as a time of competing kindreds or clans ruling in different areas - Gaels in the west, Picts (non-romanized Britons) in the northeast, Britons (romanized) in the centre, and Northumbrian Angles in the southeast. But operating more or less across the whole territory is another kind of organization - the church, which has descended from Rome and spread through the whole land, acting as a unifiying force. Iona is the most important religious centre, on its little island in the west. Lindisfarne rivals in in the east. Portmahomack ("Haven of my beloved Colmac" in the north. These religious centres heavily influenced regional politics, and maybe even steered them, and it seems the strongest Northumbrian dynasty and the strongest Pictish dynasty were both fostered by Iona.

    But what if things had evolved differently? What if there was no distinction between religious power and secular power? What if the monasteries didnt just influence power, but were the centres of power? The Abbot would become defacto king. Would monks then be warriors? Who else might be important? I am assuming various religious houses would rival one another - over political matters, but also matters of the heart and of the soul.

    If there is no distinction between religious and secular, what distinction is left between Abbots and Kings? Why would such a society even have such structures? Also, what is a monk? Christianity and secularism go hand-in-glove, and 'monk' doesn't mean what say 'bhiksu' means in Buddhism. Further, Buddhist 'monks' and their roles etc. are quite different in different Asian societies, as well as at different periods.

    OTOH what would be different about a unifying kingdom (e.g. the Roman Empire) ruling over many local religions? Isn't that how the church was made part of the scene in this case? And any answer to the question of who else might be important in some situation depends on what is important about the world to the society inhabiting it. See below.

    Let's divorce this from history and imagine a setting, perhaps one like Earthsea with multiple islands, where the Monasteries ruled. These would be ready-made organizations (such as one finds in Outremer and other Flying Mice games). Who would the players be? Does this suggest troupe-stype play like Ars Magica, or can people play fixed roles.

    I guess I don't understand whether this question is about mechanics or something else. I don't know what fixed roles means - are you talking about something like institutional titles? perhaps because I never played Outremer. Any, what is the difference in the mechanics of game play between a ruler who is 'religious' or 'not'? This religious / secular distinction seems more about the players and their assumptions / expectations of the world than the player characters in their settings, who take up the setting-world as 'natural'.

    What kinds of things are these monastic kings interested in fighting over? What are the points of rivalry with other monasteries? What about leadership and succession? What role do the laity perform? Who are the player characters?

    This again is about what is important - people don't usually fight over trivial things, but they often think things other people fight about are trivial. I think for this you need an idea of what matters, and the diversity of what matters has been immense. Look at what drives people in the Gormenghast trilogy.

    Do you want to look at global-local relations crossed with centre-periphery relations e.g. Nomads and farmers encountering global outsiders? Migrants? Space aliens? While they will influence one another, I don't think their relations are like a chicken and egg problem because in any setting what is important for each group is what given them by the preceding generation, and changes when given to the next. This does not necessarily entail loss of memory, but might entail tolerance, contempt, and pity, which are great all round motivators for conflict, which is what RPGs are mostly about.

    Maybe look at the the Mongol Empires, and Central Asia more generally - you know, the 'barbarians' who didn't really seem to care much about religious / secular other than for public life / statecraft. Did the Mongols really want to 'govern'? Or did they only take up centre-periphery structures because of the people they met?

    For something really different? 'Primitive' peoples, who didn't even seem to make the distinction between religious and worldly, and so are not 'civilised', i.e. lack tolerance, contempt, and pity.

    Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

    Best, BC

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    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    Hi @Apocryphal.

    At the beginning you seem to be grounded in a European stance to the world, but the second part is about something else. I'm just not clear what.

    OK, I'll try to unpack that a little. At the beginning I was talking about what inspired the thouught, so that's firmly grounded in my reading of Scottish history. In the second part, I want to explore how this might be applied to a gaming setting - not necessarily a european one, but, I suppose, a fantasy or even SF setting that could draw from any sources, but explores the idea of isolated and competing theocratic states.

    Seems to me that religion is the original declaration between what is and what might / should be, and that the secular only exists as the derivative 'real' of that.

    That's an interesting thought. Not sure what to make of it yet, but perhaps after I read more of what you have to say...

    If there is no distinction between religious and secular, what distinction is left between Abbots and Kings? Why would such a society even have such structures? Also, what is a monk? Christianity and secularism go hand-in-glove, and 'monk' doesn't mean what say 'bhiksu' means in Buddhism. Further, Buddhist 'monks' and their roles etc. are quite different in different Asian societies, as well as at different periods.

    I suppose in my idea there would be no distinction between Abbots and Kings - they would be one and the same. Why would they have structures? Surely, all societies need structures in order to remain a society, even an informal one. What would the structures in our micro-theocratic state look like - well, that's what we're brainstorming. I'm imagining that each state is an island (metephoric, maybe even physical) with an Abbot at the head. The Abbot needs to interpret scripture, but perhaps isn't beholden, or is at least given a lot of leeway, to a mother church. I'm assuming the position of Abbot isn't hereditary - perhaps Abbots remain celibate - which means it's probably elected by peers, much like the Pope.

    It hadn't occurred to me to compare to Buddhism, probably because I don't know much about its structures - but is this similar to how things operated in Tibet?

    I'm also wondering about Islamic states - what might have happened if the IS had succeeded? They they envisage a state under a king, or under an Imam. There's no central Islamic authority, so each Imamate would operate like its own theocratic state.

    In these kinds of structures, what keeps the states apart? Why do they not merge into larger kingdoms? What are the sources of conflict between them? In the case of the Scottish monasteries, they became the richest settlements in the region and found themselves the targets of viking raids. The secular kings did not seem to be able to save them - in fact, its possible the Pictish king was sponsoring them. So I wonder here - what might have happened if the Monasteries took over the leadership for themselves, fortified themselves, surrounded themselves with an armed entourage. How might early Scotland have changed? Are there other historical models that we can adopt?

    I guess I don't understand whether this question is about mechanics or something else. I don't know what fixed roles means - are you talking about something like institutional titles? perhaps because I never played Outremer.

    Here I am talking about mechanics, and specifically how players play characters. By 'fixed roles' I mean that each player plays their one character, and that doesn't change. Ars Magica, and optionally in a game like Outremer, they have what's called 'troupe-style' play, where there are many different characters available to players, and at any given time players play the character that the scene demands. This was introduced as a balancing mechanism in Ars Magica (which is about playing a wizard's covenant) where every player will no doubt want to play a mage, but not every scene requires all the mages all the time. So they would take turns - in one adventure, player A would play the mage, player B the companion, and player C the guard. But in the next adventure, those roles might change. It seems to me this structure lends itself nicely to the monastery setting, too.

    Any, what is the difference in the mechanics of game play between a ruler who is 'religious' or 'not'?

    Interesting question. I guess I see a religious ruler who is concerned not just with earthly affairs, but also with the matters of the soul, and of faith. I see a tension in there that's interesting. A king like Henry the VIII wasn't able to satisfy both his secular needs (to provide a male heir) and his religious needs (to observe the sanctity of marriage) so he started his own church and placed himself at the head. Is he our model for rulership in a theocratic state? Somehow I think not.

    This religious / secular distinction seems more about the players and their assumptions / expectations of the world than the player characters in their settings, who take up the setting-world as 'natural'.

    Perhaps. In order to enable players to play in a setting, you have to teach them to get past their assumptions and expectations of their living world. Slavery is a good example of this - our modern western conception is one thing, but the ancient Mesopotamian or Roman conception is quite another. Slavery is still practiced in places like Yemen, and their conception of it is probably different again. If you want to run a historical game using the Roman concept of slavery with western players, you need to overcome their assumptions and expectations about what slavery is.

    This again is about what is important - people don't usually fight over trivial things, but they often think things other people fight about are trivial. I think for this you need an idea of what matters, and the diversity of what matters has been immense. Look at what drives people in the Gormenghast trilogy.

    Good questions - those are the answers I'm searching for, I suppose - what's important to these people, and how are they different from our society?

    Do you want to look at global-local relations crossed with centre-periphery relations e.g. Nomads and farmers encountering global outsiders? Migrants? Space aliens? While they will influence one another, I don't think their relations are like a chicken and egg problem because in any setting what is important for each group is what given them by the preceding generation, and changes when given to the next. This does not necessarily entail loss of memory, but might entail tolerance, contempt, and pity, which are great all round motivators for conflict, which is what RPGs are mostly about.

    Actually, this theme appeals to me. In the Scottish context, this would be the monastic island states vs the viking raiders. In an Earthsea type setting, this might be small isles vs Kargish raiders. In an SF setting, this might be asteroid settlements vs aliens. This last one is pretty compelling because we don't know what the aliens might want or represent, so they could be a force that's driving the monastery fears into conflict with the monastery faith - and I suppose that come more to the heart of what I like in RP Gaming, is challenging both character beliefs and player beliefs - or better yet, having the characters do that to one another.

    Maybe look at the the Mongol Empires, and Central Asia more generally - you know, the 'barbarians' who didn't really seem to care much about religious / secular other than for public life / statecraft. Did the Mongols really want to 'govern'? Or did they only take up centre-periphery structures because of the people they met?

    I think that rather, I would prefer to make the religious aspect more central to play so that the players need to factor it into their thoughts when making decisions for their characters - more so than they would if they were just playing 'kings & knights & politics'.

    For something really different? 'Primitive' peoples, who didn't even seem to make the distinction between religious and worldly, and so are not 'civilised', i.e. lack tolerance, contempt, and pity.

    Yes, perhaps it could go this route.

    Thanks so much for your thoughts, @BarnerCobblewood ! They are compelling as always.

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    @Apocryphal said:

    @BarnerCobblewood said:

    If there is no distinction between religious and secular, what distinction is left between Abbots and Kings? Why would such a society even have such structures? Also, what is a monk? Christianity and secularism go hand-in-glove, and 'monk' doesn't mean what say 'bhiksu' means in Buddhism. Further, Buddhist 'monks' and their roles etc. are quite different in different Asian societies, as well as at different periods.

    I suppose in my idea there would be no distinction between Abbots and Kings - they would be one and the same. Why would they have structures? Surely, all societies need structures in order to remain a society, even an informal one. What would the structures in our micro-theocratic state look like - well, that's what we're brainstorming. I'm imagining that each state is an island (metephoric, maybe even physical) with an Abbot at the head. The Abbot needs to interpret scripture, but perhaps isn't beholden, or is at least given a lot of leeway, to a mother church. I'm assuming the position of Abbot isn't hereditary - perhaps Abbots remain celibate - which means it's probably elected by peers, much like the Pope.

    It hadn't occurred to me to compare to Buddhism, probably because I don't know much about its structures - but is this similar to how things operated in Tibet?

    Hop this brief and crude answer helps:

    So in Tibet everyday life was organised around valleys and clans, which had their own social structures, and even languages. These can be thought of as similar to islands, and just like islands the people living in them depended on trade for a good life. So there automagically are both competitive and co-operative bonds between them. Over top of this was a global and cosmopolitan Tibetan language Buddhist civilisation that extended throughout Central and East Asia, and which had many of the same sources as other Buddhisms throughout Asia, but its own texts, i.e. Japanese Buddhism used texts in Classical Chinese and Japanese languages, whereas Tibetan Budddhism used texts in Tibetan language. Many of the texts in these Buddhism are very similar, but they were translated at different times, often multiple times, and from different recensions. Also each Buddhism has its own texts, which are not found in others. In Tibet this goes down to the local level, where each valley, monastery, and lama has their own text, and they are making new ones as needed. This is quite different from the kind of religion that a moderns state can tolerate.

    Tibet had its own powerful Central Asian Empire during the 7th to 9th centuries, this is when Buddhism entered the cultural sphere. It was adopted as part of the task of governing people, I think as simple statecraft as many of the member peoples of the Empire already had connections to Buddhism. Then it collapsed, and its memory drove forward a powerful imaginaire that continues to function to provide political, social, religious, historical, etc. meaning and structure to this day.

    From the 10th to 17th centuries Tibet fell under the nominal control of various other Empires, e.g. Mongol, Chinese, etc. but according to the Tibetans this control was always proxied through existing Tibetan structures, and all these structures looked to Buddhism and the Tibetan Empire for legitimation of authority.

    During this period Tibetan Buddhism also became part of the everyday life of peoples throughout the Himalayan plateau, I think because even for people who were not devout it provided a stable way to establish trust and manage risk in the circulation of goods. So I argue that in that context it derived its authority nor from global but local benefits. These local Buddhist structures were organised around the lama, who we might think of as a Buddhist mantrika (magician) at least nominally devoted to universal well-being, and the local monastery which provided social service such as education, financial structures, etc., again at least nominally for universal well-being. Every village has its local monastery or monasteries, and local lama(s), and these have connections with the lamas and monasteries, and also elite families, other valleys around them. It is a complex network of all sorts of relations that I don't think anyone has really mapped. It is also very dynamic, depending on climate, personalities, populations, neighbouring migrations, illness, warfare, etc. These institutions have inside them their own competitions and co-operations.

    The key thing is that all these global, local, historic, religious, etc, power structures exist alongside and within the valley elite families and social structures I mentioned earlier, and people move among them, and can even include more than one within themselves, manifesting themselves as actually different people according to the situation. Being able to do this is a sign of skill. It's very complex and fluid, and opaque to outsiders, who can't follow the roles and reasons for their transformations. This is not like GOT, where everybody has only one identity or role, and that has only one motivation - to own an uncomfortable chair. These people want (at least rhetorically) for everyone to be comfortable, and spent an enormous amount of cultural capital in educating their society to take this up. RPGs also are expressions / expenditures of cultural capital, but I haven't played many where this was the goal. Even military values such heroic sacrifice in battle is not really part of the game.

    Anyway there were and are hundreds of lamas and monasteries in the Tibetan cultural sphere, and their structures are as individual as the valleys they come from. Their influence and power also extend into the lands of neighbouring peoples. The monasteries have governance structure derived from a 'Vinaya,' a Buddhist text of monastic rules, and their own founding 'charter,' often established by a great lama. So they have things in common with others, and their own special ways of doing things.

    Also during this period it became normalised for lamas to be recognised among children, who then received special training in Buddhist thought and mantra. They then teach this to others, some of whom are recognised as skilled. These people usually take charge of recognising / finding the lama after he teaches impermanence of all things by passing away. Some lams are born in certain families, others selected by lottery from a group of candidate children, some found by their students, some leave a letter describing who they will be next, etc. Lots of ways, and always local even if of global significance, e.g. in an effort to control this Mainland China has passed series of laws requiring re-incarnate lamas to register their future-life plans with the central government in Beijing.

    Then from the 17th to mid 20th centuries Tibetans say the Great 5th Dalai Lama re-established their own governance in the Podang (centred in the Potala Palace in Lhasa) that derived its authority the same way. However the Dalai Lamas genealogy was not really organised around familial clans, but around a spiritual genealogy focused on the Buddhist Bodhisattva / Buddha / Deity Chenresik, who emanates as whatever and whoever is needed for the well-being of others. So there can be (there are!) multiple Chenresiks in the world manifesting as where actual local power lies. There are multiple (thousands) such Bodhisattva people in the world, often unrecognised and in disguise. There are also lots of other Bodhisattva / Buddha / Deity identities, who work to govern the world for the well-being of all.

    In Tibet this was nominally under the control of the Dalai Lamas, but while culturally all Tibetans hold the Dalai Lamas in highest esteem, only the 5th, 13th, and 14th (present) Dalai Lamas were effective political leaders, and the 14th never had a geography. Nevertheless for several centuries the Podang governed through a system of civil service monks who came from peripheries to the Yarlung (Lhasa) valley for education, and then returned to their villages. It was a weak governance by modern standards of control. They had both local and global feuds / wars etc. like any polity, involved their neighbours (e.g. China and Nepal) in troubles, and also helped them out. Then in the mid 20th century that governance system collapsed under the influence of global events, but the imaginaire continues to exert political fascination well beyond the Tibetan borders.

    The key thing is that there is a lot of tension with a lot of players with a far greater range of motivations than are recognised in global modernity, and that personalities have the possibility of being extremely powerful. However for these kind of alternative motivations to work as play you need the other people in the game to recognise and legitimate them, which requires understanding them.

    I'm also wondering about Islamic states - what might have happened if the IS had succeeded? They they envisage a state under a king, or under an Imam. There's no central Islamic authority, so each Imamate would operate like its own theocratic state.

    Can't speak in much detail to that. Islam is likewise complex as Buddhism. The IS has its take, but there are so many others out there. Global modernity reduces religion in an effort to control people's motivations.

    In these kinds of structures, what keeps the states apart? Why do they not merge into larger kingdoms? What are the sources of conflict between them?

    This where I don't understand the question. Is this a historical simulation or play question? The reasons given for catastrophe and conflict vary enormously. So modern American Buddhists often seem to say that 'karma' is the reason, whereas modern American Christian are often reported as saying 'God has a plan.' Political scientists, historians, legal scholars, the military, business people, etc. all give other reasons. Personal and group likes and dislikes, 'race', language, accent, clothing, food, etc., everything plays into the decisions in response to challenge. Is this what you want to roleplay? Then you need players who develop characters who act out of these varieties of motivations, take up the stances and dance the steps.

    In the case of the Scottish monasteries, they became the richest settlements in the region and found themselves the targets of viking raids. The secular kings did not seem to be able to save them - in fact, its possible the Pictish king was sponsoring them.

    This economic analysis throws light on the situation, but I think it is inadequate to represent the complexity of motivations of any of the participants. How did the monasteries become rich? Why weren't they concerned about the jealousy and resentment this would generate? Perhaps they had a stupid and arrogant Abbot - perhaps their governance system had a tendency to promote such people. I'm not sure this has anything to do with 'religion,' then again it likely has a close relation with how we think the world should be, and so has everything to do with 'religion.'

    So I wonder here - what might have happened if the Monasteries took over the leadership for themselves, fortified themselves, surrounded themselves with an armed entourage. How might early Scotland have changed? Are there other historical models that we can adopt?

    This happened in Tibet - you can look to the history of Sakya, who rose for a period of time to global prominence, and never declined locally. As I understand it they had a great monastery on an important trade route between Eastern India and China / Burma, and kept mantra within a group of families that had defined kinship relations. It wasn't democracy. It's hard to keep track of the power of this currently, but I would expect that for the people native to that place they are still the most important. Of course with the level of global migration we are currently seeing, those people might not matter to others anymore.

    Best, BC

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    Hi Barner - This is all great grist for the mill, so thanks very much!

    One thing I'm curious about, though: In your previous reply, you asked:

    If there is no distinction between religious and secular, what distinction is left between Abbots and Kings? Why would such a society even have such structures?

    What is the distinction between religious and secular in Tibetan culture? Who are the secular leaders in these monastic valleys - family elders?

    Something else:
    If, in my fantasy scottish island setting, the monks are spiritual and intellectual leaders, as well as political leaders, they would presumably have to care for both the physical well-being of their community members, but also the spiritual and intellectual well-being. I can see them suppressing the intellectual side (after all, you don't really want educated peasants do you - unquestioning peasants are surely much better). So that leaves physical and spiritual well-being. I feel like there might be some interesting kind of tension it here when the spiritual well-being overides the more obvious physical well-being.

    I'm reminded of a game called Dogs in the Vineyard, which is about fantasy Mormons who are effectively judges (and executioners) called Dogs, who travel the land from community to community. Their job is to investigate happenings in the communities and cast down judgment. It explores a similar tension, I think.

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    Chris - I don't know if you can suppress learning and still have a Scotland. IIRC, the Scots have always had a very high literacy rate, even in the medieval period. From Wikipedia: "In the High Middle Ages, new sources of education arose, such as song and grammar schools designed to train priests with emphases on music and Latin grammar, respectively. The number and size of these schools expanded rapidly after the 1380s. By the end of the Middle Ages, all the main burghs and some small towns had grammar schools. Educational provision was probably much weaker in rural areas, but there were petty or reading schools in rural areas, providing an elementary education. There was also the development of private tuition in the families of lords and wealthy burghers that sometimes developed into "household schools". Girls of noble families were taught in nunneries and by the end of the fifteenth century Edinburgh also had schools for girls. There is documentary evidence for about 100 schools of these different kinds before the Reformation. The Education Act 1496 decreed that all sons of barons and freeholders of substance should attend grammar schools to learn "perfyct Latyne". All this resulted in an increase in literacy, with perhaps 60 per cent of the nobility being literate by the end of the period."

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    They also invented mobile libraries, to my knowledge. But we are talking about pre-Scottish Scotland, here. The picts didn't leave any writings - we don't even know what language they spoke. And if you wanted to go the route of alternate history, that might be an interesting angle - what if learning had been suppressed in Scotland?

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    edited May 23

    Actually, they spoke Pictish, which was a Brittonic language related to Welsh and Cornish. They can infer that from place names carried into the Gaelic after they merged with the Gaels of Dal Riata in the 10th century, which is handily when Christianity and its abbots finally became the dominant religion in Alba/Scotland. So it's all of one piece. If you are talking about pre-Scots Scotland, you are talking pagans.

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    @Apocryphal said:
    What is the distinction between religious and secular in Tibetan culture?

    There has not been a lot of research into this. As I understand it Tibetan religion after the 10th century drew a theoretical / dogmatic distinction between 'religious' monks who use Buddhist moral rules to benefit themselves at the expense of others (society), 'religious' mantrikas (siddhas, yogis) who use Buddhist religious experience to disrupt society through iconoclasm for their own short-term benefit, and Bodhisattvas who follow Buddhist religion to contribute to society, and so do not let 'religious' rules and experience interfere with making everyone well. So the religion distinguishes itself from itself, and the civilisation does not need something equivalent to our 'secular' to enable people to resist religion.

    There is a whole other thing with Buddhas, but too detailed, and quite esoteric. Also Lamas, who in the end are Buddhas appearing as ordinary, and Bodhisattvas.

    The world in the Tibetan Buddhist system depends on the actions of everyone, not a creator God, and so the yearned-for world of religion cannot be isolated from the everyday-world as radically as in say Christianity, where world-creation is not available to everyone. Instead, because world-creation cannot be isolated from anyone, everyone (all beings with feeling) has to somehow be brought into participating well. This is the duty of leaders. There is no creator God who can 'get rid' of people, but people do end up in hell through ignorance. Demons might actually be Buddhas provoking good outcomes by driving people into action. In any case, people always hang around, and come back to collect what they are owed, because that is the nature of the world. They might even come back as gods - there are still lots of gods to be loyal to, but the relation between worshipper and deity is different. All of this is embedded in a very long view that extends across countless lifes and world-systems, most of which happens without any understanding by the participants who experience and undergo it. So science might be effective if used wisely in this world-system, but that cannot be universalised because the universe contains countless worlds.

    Who are the secular leaders in these monastic valleys - family elders?

    Community leaders, who may or may not be 'good' people. The civilisation thinks the best would be religious (Bodhisattvas) while opposing uncontrolled religious experience (mantra) and institutions (monasteries) not controlled by Buddhist teachings on universal benefit. Within that there is the usual human politics. But it is not really 'secular' - see above, i.e. opposed to religion. Instead, according to the religious critique, community leaders, because of faults of understanding, end up focused on short-term this-worldly goals and well-being over future-worldly well-being. This is seen as short-sighted in the civilisation, and a sign of inadequate understanding of the world, but there is also a recognition that sometimes short-term goals take precedence, e.g. food is needed. So the religious are not supposed to allow religion to interfere with crisis management. The argument about the relation of world and religious guidance is in a different place than our current state of affairs.

    Of course, Tibet never developed a science, didn't generate scientific technology, and was as full of human misery and ill as anywhere. However I think it is now clear that our science, which is bound up with our secularism, inadvertently but inexorably is destroying the very possibility of our well-life, and so perhaps its benefits weren't worth the cost.

    Something else:
    If, in my fantasy scottish island setting, the monks are spiritual and intellectual leaders, as well as political leaders, they would presumably have to care for both the physical well-being of their community members, but also the spiritual and intellectual well-being. I can see them suppressing the intellectual side (after all, you don't really want educated peasants do you - unquestioning peasants are surely much better).

    Unquestioning subjects are better is the nature of the world allows agency to concentrated in some or one, and denied to many. However if the world is not like that, e.g. made by everyone, that policy is foolish.

    So that leaves physical and spiritual well-being. I feel like there might be some interesting kind of tension it here when the spiritual well-being overides the more obvious physical well-being.

    Oh yeah. The proper relation between asceticism and indulgence, isolation and participation, is unclear. However role-playing ascetism and isolation is hard to figure. NPCs?

    I'm reminded of a game called Dogs in the Vineyard, which is about fantasy Mormons who are effectively judges (and executioners) called Dogs, who travel the land from community to community. Their job is to investigate happenings in the communities and cast down judgment. It explores a similar tension, I think.

    I see this as being about the question of whether justice depends on something outside, or can only be produced from with, a social system. This in turn is related to whether the world is like that, i.e. made by someone outside, or by one or more people inside. When you posit an outside agent (creator God), certain problems follow. Deny it, other problems. But there have been many societies that reject the idea that justice should be made and implemented from outside.

    Best, BC

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    @clash_bowley This matches my previous understanding, but much of the thinking on this has changed. You might find this resource interesting - though I warn it's a dry read: From Caledonia to Pictland; Scotland to 795

    The follow up volume (From Pictland to Alba: 789-1070), which discusses the arrival of the Norse and the fall of the Picts, is much more accessible and equally interesting.

    @BarnerCobblewood This:

    Monks who use Buddhist moral rules to benefit themselves at the expense of others (society), vs
    Mantrikas (siddhas, yogis) who use Buddhist religious experience to disrupt society through iconoclasm for their own short-term benefit, vs
    Bodhisattvas who follow Buddhist religion to contribute to society.

    Makes me want to play some mind of Mythic Tibet scenario so much!

    @dr_mitch have you been following?
    @RichardAbbott and @NeilNjae might also find this interesting.

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    @Apocryphal - I am still not working, and cannot afford to lay out this much for a paperback. I am living on cheap kindle books. I wish I could! As I have said before, I know little about pre-renaissance culture and do not at all understand the pre-renaissance mind.

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    @clash_bowley I'm sorry to hear that :-(

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    > @clash_bowley said:
    > Actually, they spoke Pictish, which was a Brittonic language related to Welsh and Cornish. ...

    And indeed Cumbric, here in what is now Cumbria, though aside from place names there are exactly three words generally agreed to have survived of that language. The modern Cumbrian dialect owes more to Norse influence and general isolation from other parts of the UK than it does to Cumbric.
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    > @Apocryphal said:
    >
    > @RichardAbbott and @NeilNjae might also find this interesting.

    Yes I am, though don't have a lot to contribute :smile:
    A comment was made about how you get people to "buy in" to the culture, which resonates very much with my teenage experience (years ago haha) of Empire of the Petal Throne. There was all this gorgeous detailing based on far eastern originals, and us lot bumbling around as British teens like a kind of costume drama. I don't think that we really immersed ourselves in the inner-world motivations at all, other than occasionally trying to get people impaled as a punishment. I suspect that nowadays, with much more life and storytelling experience, I would be far more inclined to try to act in role.
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    @Apocryphal said:

    I suppose that come more to the heart of what I like in RP Gaming, is challenging both character beliefs and player beliefs - or better yet, having the characters do that to one another.

    If you mean playing / enjoying a simulation, then this together with the present social interaction is what I like as well. I like rpgs when they amount to a topical conversation about the problems of getting things done in some situation. But I have had the same experience as @RichardAbbott who said:

    A comment was made about how you get people to "buy in" to the culture, which resonates very much with my teenage experience (years ago haha) of Empire of the Petal Throne. There was all this gorgeous detailing based on far eastern originals, and us lot bumbling around as British teens like a kind of costume drama. I don't think that we really immersed ourselves in the inner-world motivations at all, other than occasionally trying to get people impaled as a punishment. I suspect that nowadays, with much more life and storytelling experience, I would be far more inclined to try to act in role.

    The difficulty is finding the time to prep for the role. I suppose this is why LOTR properties (maps) so rarely work as well as the books (terrain).

    Best, BC

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    Time to belatedly join in the fun! I like the idea. I suppose one thing I'd want to draw from early Scottish history is a certain clash of civilisations. And being fantasy, different time periods could be mashed up for inspiration.

    So you could have an independent kingdom of the isles, Viking raiders/invaders, the last of the Picts, and a more "modern" Roman or Norman kingdom to the south, threatening to end the old ways. Heck, arguably there was all that at once in the 11th century, right?

    As for the religious angle, there's two things I'd want to consider. The first of these is how the religions epitomise their cultures. It strikes me there's three religions- or rather, two branches of the same religion and one different. Of course we're talking about Celtic and Catholic Christianity, and Norse paganism in reality, and that could be extended here,

    Then there's the question as to why the religions wield direct power. In a fantasy setting, control of magic seems the obvious answer, but maybe it's a bit too obvious. Wealth and a dominance of trade could be an answer- though I'd argue the impact of power there would be limited in a quasi-dark ages Scotland setting.

    So maybe the churches somehow control the military- hm, perhaps there's a widespread belief that only warriors of the Church are allowed to shed blood. Maybe not following this belief is what makes the pseudo-Vikings so dangerous...

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    > @dr_mitch said:
    >
    > As for the religious angle, there's two things I'd want to consider. The first of these is how the religions epitomise their cultures. It strikes me there's three religions- or rather, two branches of the same religion and one different. Of course we're talking about Celtic and Catholic Christianity, and Norse paganism in reality, and that could be extended here,
    >

    That would be an interesting development... in our timeline the Celtic branch of Christianity submitted to the Roman one at the Synod of Whitby (664) - what if it had not, and had taken up a more militant stance?
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    edited June 3

    I'm currently reading Farley Mowat's Farfarers, which sets forth his theory that the aboriginal inhabitants of Scotland - who he calls the Albans - got pushed into the north and highlands by the Armoricans, who fled Gaul and the Romans and became the Picts. Very interesting! In Scotland there are thus British Celts near the English border, Armorican Picts in the middle, Irish Scots on the western coast, and the Albans in the Orkneys, Shetlands, and Faeroes - and later on, Iceland, Greenland, and North America! Very interesting. @Apocryphal likes Mowat, so he might be interested.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Farfarers

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    Someone recommended The Farfarers to me years ago but I never got around to reading it. Maybe it's time to rectify that?
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    It was probably me that recommended The Farfarers to both of you. It's an endearing piece of folk history.

    These is definitely a clash of civilizations in Early Medieval Scotland. Between the fall of Rome and the year 1000 we get romanized Britons (Cumbrians), non-Romaized Britons (Picti, who probably had both gaelic and brythonic speaking sub-groups), Irish gaels, Argyll gaels, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, Norse, Skaldings (Danes from Frisia), Black Gall (anglo-danish), White Gall (hiberno-norse), and Gall Gaidhel (Gaelic-speaking foreigners).

    That said, I'm mostly interested in what brought these people together. Rather than feature a clash of civilizations (which is frankly what I usually do), I'm thinking more a monoculture, perhaps enforced by the Church. What separates these islands from one another is geography, and perhaps personality of the rulers - rather than differences in culture.

    I do like the idea that only warriors of the church could shed blood. But rather than explore why warriors would work for the church, a much more interesting avenue to explore is why are the clergy driven to become militant leaders and warriors?

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    @RichardAbbott that's an interesting way to take things. So thinking in terms of alternate history we're talking a schism in the Church between Catholic and Celtic Christianity. Maybe the Celts follow something like the Pelagian heresy. And the Church militarised to defend that path, and it was a good way to "sell" Christianity to other groups. So there is a North/South schism in the Church, not East/West (or as well?)

    @Apocryphal hmm, what monocultures can we draw inspiration from here? Common culture, ethnically diverse sounds initially like the Roman Empire, but of course it's not politically unified in your set-up. It sounds like we're looking at a northern Holy Roman Empire, stretching from Sweden to Scotland and Ireland, probably including northern England. And maybe Iceland as well. Heck, if they're expanding into new frontiers, we could add in Greenland and the east coast of Canada.
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    @dr_mitch For my purposes I was thinking of something on a much smaller scale, so certainly an empire isn't needed. The valleys of Tibet mentioned above works nicely, or even the modern Scottish Isles, or the Azores.

    A widening schism between the local church and the mother (but foreign) church, though, would be exactly the kind of thing that could lead to monks becoming militant - and militant on levels the laity probably can't hope to understand.

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    @dr_mitch said:
    @RichardAbbott that's an interesting way to take things. So thinking in terms of alternate history we're talking a schism in the Church between Catholic and Celtic Christianity. Maybe the Celts follow something like the Pelagian heresy. And the Church militarised to defend that path, and it was a good way to "sell" Christianity to other groups. So there is a North/South schism in the Church, not East/West (or as well?)

    @Apocryphal said:
    A widening schism between the local church and the mother (but foreign) church, though, would be exactly the kind of thing that could lead to monks becoming militant - and militant on levels the laity probably can't hope to understand.

    The specific issues at Whitby were ones that nowadays we would probably consider to be incidental ones (or, being generous, test cases) - the date of Easter, the proper way for monks' hair to be done, etc. At a guess, any folk at the time who were aware of the debate probably also recognised this.

    The real issue was authority... would the northern church submit to Roman direction or not? The historical decision was that unity was more important than having the right answer, and the church then waited over 850 years until a different choice was made.

    So one can easily imagine the scenario @dr_mitch and @Apocryphal suggested, with seemingly trivial issues being escalated into points of deep contention.

    At the risk of making the whole scenario far too contemporary, it is also easy to imagine that the various Scottish tribes would find themselves uniting, despite their differences, around a shared intention to secede from southern rule... plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...

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    One of the books I read recently proposed that the Romans saw the celts north of the wall as either Romanized or a Non-Romanized, and they labelled the latter collectively as Picti, or painted celts. As time went on, being non romanized became a badge, and an Pictish identity grew, not on tribal or language grounds, but on the basis of shared culture.
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