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(#17, Version 5.0)
"…the bleakest of all castes of men, the Initiates, skilled only in ritual, mythology and superstition." (Tarnsman of Gor, p.186)
The Initiate Caste, also known as the Blessed Caste, is the highest of the five High Castes on Gor. Their Caste color is white, a color that is often associated with impartiality and justice, especially the justice of the Initiates. The Initiates are considered as possible intermediaries to the mysterious Priest Kings. The Initiates are a well-organized and industrious caste. They have many monasteries, holy places and temples throughout Gor. They are also a wealthy and powerful Caste. They regard themselves as the most important Caste on Gor and many cities seem to agree.
The Initiates claim to speak for the Priest-Kings and interpret their will. The Priest-Kings are their gods. The Initiates zealously guard their monopoly over religious matters. Other Castes are allowed limited roles, if at all, in religious ceremonies or rituals. All Goreans accept that the Priest-Kings actually exist but they disagree as to their true nature. Some believe the Priest-Kings are gods while others feel they are only powerful guardians. Initiates are feared and respected because they may be servants for the Priest-Kings. People worry that the Initiates might know some important matters about the Priest-Kings so they often take care not to offend the Initiates. They consider it better to be safe than sorry. The Low Castes are the ones most prone to believing and respecting the Initiates. In fact, Ubars have often employed Initiates as tools, some even contending that a primary function of the Initiates is to keep the Low Castes contented with their servile lot. Despite this fear, Initiates are still regarded as being a bit strange and often figure in derogatory jokes.
Initiates are bound by many Caste restrictions. They must wear white robes and be bald-headed. Being bald has been traditional for the Caste for centuries. It may have a distant connection to the practices of the Nest within the Sardar where Muls all have shaven heads. This is part of their hygiene program within the Nest. Initiates also cannot eat meat or beans. The basis for these restrictions is that they constitute part of a regimen to achieve immortality. This regimen also includes a study of mathematics. Initiates believe that only they can achieve eternal life. Most Goreans do not take this belief seriously. They do not believe in immortality at all.
Initiates are also forbidden to carry weapons, shed blood or kill anyone. Initiates are often the most timid of Goreans. They must hire others to perform their executions, torture or defense. They sometimes hire members of the Torturer's clan of the Wagon Peoples to work for them. Torturers engage in torture and executions though they are not Assassins. Their skills may also be used in interrogation. Initiates have the financial resources to hire whatever Warriors they generally need.
Most of their education and training is largely unpractical, mostly concerning archaic religious texts. Yet, this education serves to bind Caste members together. They learn matters that no other Caste has access to. This makes them feel important and privileged. They also have many secret tomes and scrolls, rumored to contain mighty magics. These spells are thought to be especially potent if read backward on certain feast days. The general public is aware that Initiates may have access to such powerful magics. Some Initiates even claim to be able to call down the Flame Death on someone. The Flame Death is a form of capital punishment imposed by the Priest-Kings and triggered from the Sardar. The victim seems to spontaneously erupt in blue flames. No Priest-Kings truly has the ability to call the Flame Death.
Females are forbidden from becoming Initiates, thus they are denied any chance of immortality. It is also forbidden for Initiates to even touch women or for women to touch them. This is far more expansive than just being unable to have sex with women. It includes even the slightest touch. This would mean that Initiates would not own female slaves as it would be too difficult to deal with them, not being allowed to even touch them. The only slaves possessed by Initiates in the novels were male slaves. Though it might be technically possible for an Initiate to have a female slave without touching her, it makes no sense in light of their restrictions for that to happen.
As there are no female Initiates, how do they get Caste members? Unlike the vast majority of other Castes, membership in the Initiates is not a matter of birth. All of its members had to petition for membership and meet all applicable entry criteria. The books though do not detail what that criteria entails. Though it is a powerful Caste, its various restrictions would serve to limit the number of interested applicants. The Caste is probably also choosy in selecting applicants as they are the highest Caste and must adhere to certain standards.
The Initiates perform most of their ceremonies and religious services in Old Gorean, an archaic language generally unspoken now. Only a portion of their services are in contemporary Gorean, those sections which most Goreans are meant to repeat during religious services. This would be similar to the use of Latin by the Catholic Church when all of their services were once in that language. Using this archaic language helps the Initiates maintain their control over religious matters. The Physician's Caste is one of the only other Castes that uses Old Gorean, and only to keep their records. Again, this is another similarity to Latin. Initiates are prominent at funerals but not at the Waiting Hand rituals so that is unlikely to be a religious holiday.
A High Initiate, also known as a Chief Initiate, rules the Initiate Caste of each city. The High Initiate is appointed by the High Council of the Initiates of each city. Each city may contain a Cylinder of Initiates where most of them reside and where there are also offices, a courtroom, prison and more. The High Initiate of Ar considers himself to be the Supreme Initiate of all Initiates on Gor though most of the other High Initiates of the other cities do not view him as so. He allegedly received his appointment directly from the Priest-Kings. Each High Initiate appears to jealously guard their position from other High Initiates, maintaining their independence and power. High Initiates may wear a tall hat as a badge of office.
There are two court systems on Gor, the city system that is under the jurisdiction of the Administrator or Ubar and the system of the Initiates. These are akin to civil and ecclesiastical courts. The areas of jurisdiction are vague but Initiates claim supreme authority in all matters. This sometimes causes jurisdictional problems with the civil authorities. In actuality, unless the matter directly affects them, they usually do not get involved. Any crime the Initiates wish to handle is done within their temples.
One matter that is very important to them revolves around Dar-kosis, the Holy Disease. This is horrible, wasting disease similar to leprosy. It is highly contagious as well. Those afflicted with the disease are considered to be holy to the Priest Kings. It is heresy to shed their blood though they can be safely stoned to death. The Initiates feel Dar-kosis is an instrument of the Priest-Kings to punish those who displease them. Initiates have arranged Dar-Kosis pits where the Afflicted may voluntarily imprison themselves, to be fed with food dropped by men on tarns. Once in a Pit, an Afflicted is not permitted to leave. The Initiate Caste will not let the Physician Caste search for a cure because it is a holy disease. Some Physicians in Ar once tried to seek a cure and Initiates hired some men to stop their research. These men broke into the Cylinder of Physicians, burned several floors, destroyed records, killed test animals and Physicians, and set fire to the place. The Physicians had been making good ground until this disaster.
Initiate temples vary in style and extravagance. Some are quite lavish while others are austere. Temples generally do not have chairs, benches or pews except for worshippers. Only the Initiates are permitted such items. A white rail separates the sanctified area for the Initiates from the common room where all those who are not specially anointed must stand. Goreans do not kneel in the temples. They pray standing up and often hold their hands in the air as the Initiates often do. Weapons are forbidden within the temples. All temples are oriented to the Sardar. On the high altar is a large golden circle, the symbol of the Priest-Kings, a symbol of eternity. There are no depictions of the Priest-Kings as it is considered blasphemy to attempt to depict them. Initiates claim that Priest-Kings have no shape, form or size. Very few Initiates have any idea of the true form of the Priest-Kings. Choirs of young boys often sing in major temples, standing outside the white rail. Their heads are shaved and are most often young slaves who have been castrated by civil authorities. They are trained in song by the Initiates to sing with their beautiful soprano voices. Services may include the smells of burning incense, ringing bells rung, singing and chanting. Animal sacrifices are also common.
The Initiates use various types of thickened chrism, consecrated oil. It is commonly used by Initiates to make the sign of the Priest-Kings, the circle of eternity, on their foreheads. There is also a chrism of temporary permission that allows one not consecrated to the Priest-Kings to enter their sanctified area. This chrism allows laborers and other workers to enter the sanctified area to perform their work. This is considered an inferior anointing. Such anoinitings were first used at roadside shrines to permit civil authorities to enter and slay fugitives who had taken sanctuary within. It is also used for workmen and artists who work in the temple. Dead bodies do not require anointing so they may be freely placed within the Initiate sanctified area.
Some Initiates have prayer rings, a means to keep track of a cycle of prayers. It is worn on the first finger of the right hand. It has several tiny knobs which when turned keep track of the cycle of prayers. When you return to the circular knob, you have completed the entire prayer cycle.
Initiates claim that Gor was once the planet of a distant sun in the remote Blue Galaxies and has been moved several times to different stars. Gor eventually came to our solar system. Priest Kings are believed to be immortal and likely gods. Almost no one, including the Initiates, have ever seen them. Priest-Kings generally ignore most matters on Gor except for technology violations. They pay little attention to the Initiates, considering them both amusing and harmless. Initiates are considered as examples of the aberrations of humans. Prior to the Nest War in Priest-Kings of Gor, some Initiates were implanted by the Priest-Kings with a fine webbing of gold wire into their heads. They might also have special eye implants. The Priest-Kings could use these Initiates as surveillance devices. In addition, they could kill these Initiates easily, causing their heads to burst and burn. After the Nest War, this practice was basically stopped.
Every Gorean is expected to at least once journey to the Sardar Mountains before they are twenty-five years old. The Initiates keep lists of who goes and who does not. Initiates teach that misfortunes hit a city if their people try to avoid this obligation. Sometimes the Initiates will ask individuals to go at a certain time. In some cities and islands, your family receives a gold tarn disk if you go when they ask. That is a vast sum for most Goreans so most people go when the Initiates ask you to. The Sardar journey subjects all Goreans to the bandits and slavers who haunt the trade roads to the Sardar. It is a dangerous journey and some do not return.
The sacred Sardar Mountains are the home of the Priest-Kings. The Sardar Mountains are dark and often crowned with ice. Nothing grows there. There is an invisible force shield that prevents all animals from entering the mountains. It may affect their inner ear and cause them to lose control of their bodies. A palisade of black logs encircles the Sardar, with a towering gate of black logs bound with wide bands of brass. An Initiate stands guard at the gate to the Sardar and he decides if the gates will be opened for someone who wishes to climb the Sardar. Generally, no one is refused. Often old men who are tired of life or brash young men make the attempt. None of them have ever returned. A huge, hollow metal bar tolls whenever someone passes through the gate. To open the massive gates, blind slaves must turn wooden windlasses.
The Sardar fairs are held four times each year in the shadow of the Sardar Mountains, on the plains below the western slopes. Though the Merchant Caste effectively arranges and administers the fairs they are nominally under the direction of a committee of Initiates. But they content themselves with doing just its ceremonies and sacrifices. They are more than happy to delegate the administrative details to the Merchants. The Initiates have decreed though that it is a crime against the Priest-Kings to engage in violence or bloodshed at the fairs. This prohibition though does not extend to slaves. In addition, no one may be enslaved at the fair though slaves can be purchased.
The Initiate Caste wields vast power on Gor, primarily based on the support of the Low Castes. It is the Low Castes that believe most fervently in the power of the Initiates and Priest-Kings. They truly believe the Initiates possess mystical powers and fear their wrath. "The religious conditioning of the men of Gor, based on superstition though it might be, was as powerful as a set of chains-more powerful than chains because they did not realize it existed. They feared the word, the curse, of this old man without weapons more than they would have feared the massed swords of a thousand foemen." (Tarnsman of Gor, p.206) The High Castes understand their effect on the Low Castes and thus often leave the Initiates alone. They do not wish the Initiates to turn the Low Castes against them. Some Initiates even rule cities as Administrators.
What is the purpose of the Initiate's Caste? Does the quote at the top of the scroll say it all? Are they more a burden than a benefit? Most members of the Initiates are simple believers. They accept the teachings of the Caste without question. A small number suspect the truth about the Priest-Kings. Of that group, some simply ignore it and pretend to be a complete believer. Others are tormented by their doubts. There is also a small, elite group of a few High Initiates who know much of the truth. These men believe in a greater purpose for the existence of the Initiate Caste. It is a noble purpose.
In Priest-Kings of Gor, Om, the High Initiate of Ar explains this all to Tarl Cabot. Om stated they they "wait for man" as he is not yet ready "to believe in himself." He then continues to explain the matter. "We speak not to man's heart," said Om, "but only to his fear. We do not speak of love and courage, and loyalty and nobility-but of practice and observance, and the punishment of the Priest-Kings-for if we so spoke, it would be that much harder for man to grow beyond us. Thus, unknown to most members of my caste, we exist to be overcome, thus in our way pointing the way to man's greatness." (Priest-Kings of Gor, p.300-1) They thus fulfill a very significant function, one destined to lead men to a better world. It is doubtful though that it will happen anytime soon.
Initiates are not a Caste generally emulated by RTers or most RPers. There is no reason for a RTer to follow the path of an Initiate. As for RPers though, an Initiate can be a challenging role. Yet, many keep away from them due to all the restrictions on the Caste, especially the restriction on women. As many RP Gor to have a slave or two, playing an Initiate offers no real attraction. The few Initiates that have been RPed offer have great difficulty interacting with other players. Most other players simple sneer at Initiates and ignore the power they possessed in the books. Low caste characters especially should fear and respect Initiates. Even High Caste characters generally will not openly sneer at Initiates. A creative player can have a lot of fun with an Initiate but it will most definitely be a challenging role.