Thursday, March 8, 2012

The October Country: The Cargo Cult

Those residents of the October Country who originally hail from Earth know of the cargo cults that arose in South Pacific following the Second World War. However, those born in the Autumnal Lands are aware of another quasi-religious phenomenon that shares the same name.

Signs of the cult are not common, but do pervade almost every known trade route and method throughout the October Country. On rattling railcars bound for the Lightning Lands, on moss-covered boats plying the Snakewater Swamp, and on the beasts of burden driven by the nuleskinners of the Brackish, the signs are there: parcels, crates, and barrels chipped with travel and bearing any number of near-illegible labels and mystic symbols. Always treated with care, these containers move from town to town, never finding a final address at anyplace they go.

The origin of the cult is uncertain, but scholars have pieced together some background. In his work Transient Religions Under the Frost Moon, Professor Caspar Gellkillerson records the most commonly told tales regarding the cargo cult and is considered the primary reference source for all theologians interested in the study of this religion.

According to Gellkillerson, the cargo cult began when a large packing crate bearing certain High Magic sigils of protection was laden onto a wagon bound for the City of Candles. When the wagon arrived in the city, it was learned that the addressee had died, leaving no next of kin to receive it. The caravan master, as is custom, could claim the crate and all it contained as his own if no legal claimant was found. After a week passed with no such challenger appearing, the caravan master paid a magician to inspect the symbols prior to opening the crate. Upon seeing the glyphs, the magician backed away in fear and warned the caravan master that powerful protective charms were in place, ones that spelled doom for whoever dared to open the box if they were not “of the selected brood.”

The caravan master tried unsuccessfully to pass the crate onto other unsuspecting parties, but they always became aware of the warnings protecting the crate and refused to take it off of his hands. Finally, in desperation, the caravan master had it shipped back to its town of origin, thus beginning a process that continues to this day.

The crate arrived back from whence it came, but the original shipper could not be found. The poor depot clerk who accepted the crate soon found himself in the same situation as the caravan master. It took him two weeks, but he eventually smuggled the crate onto a riverboat headed north and dusted his palms of the problem. In each new place the crate arrived, the process was repeated and the box, now showing signs of wear and tear, and covered with faded shipping labels, continues its endless journey looking for someone “of the selected brood” to take possession of it once and for all.

In time, other containers joined the original crate under similar situations. Some are no doubt “copy cat” shipments sent by pranksters who heard the tale of the crate and mocked up their own with fake sigils and blatantly erroneous addressees, but others bear the same fearful warnings etched upon their wooden exteriors. More telling that these containers were of legitimate origin was the effects produced when two or more crates found themselves in close proximity in a warehouse, riverboat, or railcar.

When multiple containers come near one another, unnatural events occur. Spontaneous growths of vegetation, chilling fog banks, whispered songs sung in unidentifiable tongues, and other happenings have been reported. These so-called miracles were what created the first of the Cargo Cultists—men and women who reported seeing visions, receiving supernatural healing, and other mystical revelations when near the containers. These cultists continue their strange religion, often acting as unofficial (and often unwanted) guardians of these containers as they make their endless journeys. When several containers appear at the same location (always by happenstance for the Cultist never act to guide the boxes on their travels or determine where or when they will arrive), tent revivals spring up to attract the few but fervent believers the Cult has. There, the devoted witness miracles and testify about the coming of the One the Crates are Destined For.

The Cargo Cult is tolerated, mostly because they keep to themselves, pay the costs of keeping the crates moving, and are not a violent or proselytizing sect. They’re nevertheless considered one of the weirder religions in the Autumnal Lands and associating with it adherents (or worse, joining them) is a sure way to damage one’s prestige.

4 comments:

Carl said...

This is so cool! I love pilfering my ethnographies for game ideas. Seems like the only time I actually use my anthropology degree is as a DM...

Craig A. Glesner said...

Requesting permission to snatch the hell out of this.

Wow, this is awesome. Thanks, I enjoyed reading this quite a lot. Keep up the good work.

dmarks said...

This is really interesting.

Michael Curtis said...

Thanks all. The October Country stuff is a far cry from your typical D&D campaign and as such doesn't get the response that the vanilla fantasy roleplaying material I churn out here does. I'm pleased that some people are catching on to the vibe that I'm churning out because it is very much where my interests lie at the moment. Once Stonehell is a finished deal, I'll be turning my attentions to the October Country as my next big project. I hope you all come along for the ride!