Religion and the Afterlife
Only queens are sufficiently pure that their souls will travel to the Great Forest Below to dwell with the Sidhe. Just as non-elves must live many lives in order to, over time, become Elves, so too must elves live out many lifetimes of refinement in order to eventually be born as queens. This has interesting implications, especially considering that every elvish soul must depart to the Great Forest Below before A-dui will return and create Paradise.
There are an estimated five hundred million souls in the world and only 500 queens, who each live for a thousand years on average. These facts have not gone unnoticed by elvish scholars, who have crunched the numbers and determined that the world, far from gearing up for the last days, is actually only just getting started. By a very optimistic estimate—assuming that the world population doesn’t get much bigger than it does now, and that the number of queens doesn’t fall—the world should last for another five hundred billion years before the last queen has passed on. Assuming, of course, that grass, squirrels, and other things don’t also have souls of the sort that will pass through this refinement process. If they do, then either a lot more queens need to exist at the same time or the world is going to last for so many years that the elves literally cannot number it, despite having invented really big units of time (usually in multiples of eighty-eight, such as a particular unit whose value is equal to 7.44 to the power of 21, or 88 billion times 88 billion). Should this be true, then the world’s diversity will slowly diminish as life among the lower orders is perfected and not replaced.
Not all elves believe that this is the true lifespan of the universe, however. Some consider it ridiculous to think that the world will last for so long (and many scholars give even longer projected timespans, such as 88×7.44²¹ years), though even they predict a lifespan of many millions of years. They recognize that a much longer span of time would be necessary for all living things to be perfected as the queens will be, but they are willing to bite that bullet: according to them, it is simply a fact of things that not every lifeform is capable of perfection. When the Great Forest Below is joined to this world and A-dui dwells in its midst, there will be elves, but there will also be many other things, squirrels and dwarves and even other elves, all of whom will be in bestial states, not unlike certain apes.
It is believed that souls that are abiding in the Great Forest Below, in the time preceding their rebirth, are being tutored at the feet of the Sidhe, as children are taught by their parents. Souls grow in wisdom during this time, and the body of a soul’s rebirth is determined by how much it has learned. The wisest, of course, who are ready to be born into the bodies of queens, are allowed to return with a special knowledge. By the time that a soul is born into an elf’s body, it has learned many lessons, some of which have not been learned by other elves. Elves who have similar lessons to learn are born into the same queendoms. There, they are guided by a queen who has been sent with the knowledge of those lessons—as it is said by the scholars, “the teaching is in her bones,” so that she will act and teach rightly without having to consciously recall what she learned in the Great Forest Below. This means that elves are expected to follow the dictates and example of the local queen, no matter how odd the queen’s behavior or how different it might be from other queens. Mother A-dui can foretell the future, so She knows what a queen would do at any given moment and whether that queen would serve the needs of a particular elf at any point of in time. If an elf has been exiled from its queendom, then no other queendom will or even can offer shelter to that elf. To do otherwise would be to suggest that A-dui had erred when She appointed that elf’s birthplace.
Elves are conscious of the requirements that ecosystems have. While many take them to be concerned with individual lifeforms (and they are, they really are), they are more concerned with the systems that those individuals make up. They have what might be called a “species-centric ethic” and frequently complain that others fail to see the forest for the trees. If individuals—plant, beast, or thinking beings—must be culled for the greater good of the whole, then so be it. For this reason, Elves are often not vegetarians, but they do not hunt for sport and comport themselves no differently than any other predators—they choose the old and the ill, rather than the strong and proud. They will also eat all manner of animals, and not just those that are traditionally considered prey by other races—an ill wolf must be culled as surely as an ill deer, and there is no good in wasting the meat afterward. By dying for the good of the community, even that individual will be furthered in the eternal plan. Because death is not permanent, and all things will return to life one day, the only real sin is delaying someone’s path to perfection or causing that person to regress.
The death of an elf, especially of a queen, is a joyous affair. There is no need for sorrow, because that soul has progressed and, at any rate, the elf will be returning in only a few years, born into a new body. After an elf had died, the body is brought to a high place (e.g. the treetops, a mountain), divided into parts, and fed to scavenger animals. In some queendoms, the elves will partake of the body as well, sometimes with extensive rituals (and other times as bestially as the vultures and wolves themselves).
In order to make further progress on the road of perfection, elves conduct a variety of rituals intended to purify their thoughts and spirits. Every morning, all of the elves of a household—which will be any elves that are working with each other and/or any elves that are linked together in virtuous friendships—will gather together to perform the Forty-Eighty Meditations on the Repulsiveness of the Body. This may not be the best translation, given that it conveys slightly more antipathy toward the body than elves actually have, but it is the most common one. The elves believe that they will be perfected in body as well as in soul when A-dui returns to dwell in the Great Forest Below, and these meditations are intended to remind them of their shortcomings and inspire them to look forward to when these shortcomings will be fixed. Each meditation focuses on a separate weakness of the body—e.g. that it needs food, that it dies if too much blood is lost, that the teeth fall out in old age—and ends with the statement “This, too, shall be made pure.” There is generally a particular form used for each meditation, but improvisation and personal reflections are encouraged.
A common ritual of purification (or pre-purification, one might argue), is the Meditation Against Causing Evil, which is performed before the elf undertakes any major action. In the course of this ritual the elf variously (1) describes in detail the actions which are to be undertaken, (2) describes how they might go wrong and what is to be done in these cases, and throughout the ritual (3) states that “It is better to stand by, than to act wrongly and soil the hands of the soul.” This is a reminder that it is possible to commit mistakes grievous enough that they actually damage one’s spiritual progress thus far. The entire meditation is intended, through adequate forethought, to help the elf avoid committing such a mistake, but this reminder is an injunction to withdraw rather than become impure if no other choices present themselves.
Family and Social Life
Despite similar appearances, elves are able to tell their sexes apart by slight differences in voice. As one might expect, they have very sensitive hearing. This also has an effect on reproduction: elves can tell, by further changes in the voice, when other elves are fertile, and will conduct themselves accordingly. The queens are in charge of determining when children may be born into the community—presumably they are better-equipped than anyone else to know when another soul has readied itself to become an elf—and will influence the process further: which elves will be the biological parents, which elves will be responsible for caretaking, and so on. All this is regulated in order to make sure that the new elf will receive the best possible chance for experience and further progression.
After birth, an infant elf will be inspected by the queen. If the queen receives the proper inspiration then the infant might be given the name of another elf that had died (or, very occasionally, a dead faen). When this happens it is understood that the infant is the reborn soul of that very elf (or faen), and there is even more rejoicing than normal, on account of the fact that an old friend has come back to the community. If the name is of one who has been dead for less than a few years then the child will be paid an extra amount of respect; anyone who is able to return so quickly must have been a quick learner, and will surely be advancing swiftly along the road of perfection. Elves are told of the deeds and sayings of their past lives, to the extent that these are known to the community (it is not believed that souls are always born into the same queendom, generation after generation).
The bloodlines of the queens are incredibly important. As only queens can give birth to other queens, the number of actual queens is relatively small and single catastrophes can end an entire bloodline of queens in one night. Some elves—those heretics who doubt the inevitability of A-dui’s will or who do not believe what the scholars have said regarding the destiny of the world—fear that one day, in the long eons that yet remain, the small number of queens that currently exist will eventually be reduced to zero. Some say that this will ultimately frustrate the plans of A-dui, who does not intend for the queens to die out. Others say that it is exactly as A-dui wills, for not everyone will be perfected, and the last of the queens will also be the last soul capable of being perfected. These elves keep careful records of the lives of queens and of how many there are, and make predictions as to when time will come to an end.
Friendship is more important than family relationships. To quote an elvish teaching: “For it is so, that the parents of my body nurtured my bones, and the parents of my rearing nurtured my mind, but those who are linked to me by the bonds of virtuous friendship will abide with me forever on the road to perfection. This is the whole of the perfectible life, and when one is entangled in the bonds of virtuous friendship, then that one will travel swiftly on the road.” This concept—of what the elves call “virtuous friendship”—refers to a relationship of mutual encouragement and support, whose partners do not simply enjoy each other’s company or trust in each other, but actively seek out opportunities to uplift each other spiritually. An elf puts as much importance into a virtuous friendship as many other races put into their spouses.
Elves do not consider themselves to be living in states or nations as such. Rather, their conception of themselves is closer to scholarly colonies or monastic retreats. “There is no country for elves,” as one elvish scholar has said. The term “queendom” is often used in reference to their communities, but this is due more to difficulties in translation than to any actual perceived resemblance on the elves’ part between elvish queendoms and the nations of other races.
To the degree that elves reject outsiders, this is because they do not wish for the pearls of wisdom to be cast before the deaf and dumb of spirit. To the degree that they go to war, this is for the good of all—even those that they war against, in order to keep those souls from further regressing on the road of perfection. This can make them terrible foes, because they can be disposed to taking no quarter and extending no mercy. The elves know that things of infinite value hang in the balance, and against that what is a little pain and suffering? Those elves who believe that the eventual transcendence of all beings is not assured are even more fervent in wartime, and among them it is said, “Though you regret or hesitate only for the blink of an eye, nevertheless it may spell eternal doom for that being that you thought to spare.” These elves are less patient, and more desperate, than their peers.
Relations with other races
Elves have a special fondness for the faen, whom they believe are the next-highest beings in terms of spiritual purity (they perceive themselves as indulging the faen in allowing the latter to hold their own, differing beliefs about reincarnation and the fate of dead faen). They encourage the faen to dwell among them, so that the faen can learn more and progress faster from life to life. Even though reproduction is regulated among the elves, they are much freer with regard to the faen. Gray elves are chosen more often than other elves to represent the community, both to other elvish communities and to non-elves. Faen who live nearby but not as part of the elvish community will typically be overseen by one or more gray elves.
They respect the spiritual progression of the Giants —despite recognizing that the faen are above them—and believe that the Janissa stand somewhere in relation to the giants as the faen do to themselves, which is to say that the janissa must learn lessons that they can only learn by living around the giants. Both races recognize the focus on spiritual purity, though they may have come to it by different paths and carry it out in different ways, and they respect each other for it.
It is believed that Orcs and Demondim are actually less spiritually-advanced than a blade of grass. The elves have no compunctions about slaying one of these beings, because it is impossible for an orc or demondim to have failed to learn some lesson and thus slip further. They are already as low as they can get, so at worst one has merely delayed the progression (which is itself nothing to sniff at, but at least nobody has actually been forced backward). Still, the fatalism of the orcs is respected; while the orcs will of course not be destroyed, the elves say, they have still learned a vital lesson in that they know that wickedness will never prevail. This is the first lesson that a soul must learn, and it is the fundamental difference between a demondim and an orc. When the last of the demondim have died, all souls will have learned in the ultimate powerlessness of evil and an important milestone will have been reached in the progression of the world.
Those who are Dwarves have learned the preciousness of craftwork and have incarnated in order to become adept in some particular art. Many elves are interested in relearning their “dwarf-ken,” or the skill which they specialized in as dwarves, and an elf with great mastery over something will be said to have “hands of stone.” Still, because dwarves are less enlightened than elves, it is taken as a matter of fact that their tastes are less refined and there is much that they do not know about artifice.
The Xindi are respected as scavengers, for the elves know that even scavengers have their place. It is believed that people who do not know this are incarnated as xindi in order to learn the lesson. As xindi, they are among the lowest of the low (for the elves recognize that there is a general stigma against scavenging, and even dislike it themselves) but are no less important for that fact. That the xindi are aware of reincarnation is another mark of their relative enlightenment, and it is believed that they are correct when they say that some xindi are reborn as dragons (incidentally, this means that dragons are always due respect, because each one was once an eater of rotten corpses and learned well that the high cannot be mighty without the support of the low). Because the xindi live in the wild places of the world, they sometimes rub shoulders with the elves.
It is believed that Humans are those who have been reborn as intelligent beings for the first time (barring those who were once born as orcs or demondim). This is why there are so many of them. The elves try to be patient with humans, because the latter were so recently enfleshed as squirrels or bobcats or bats, and so cannot be responsible for their foolishness, but still… They are so very foolish and it can be difficult to take them seriously, as they have only just scratched the surface of enlightenment. It is seen as just one of many signs that they are unlearned, that some human cultures believe in caste systems within the races. Yes, of course, there is a caste system of sorts, but the humans have gotten it garbled by thinking that the divisions are within races rather than between them.
Written by R. James Gavreau based on my notes.