On Death and the Soul (book)/Contents

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On Death and the Soul

by Temple Luminary Kaluto of Shard

To understand death and undeath, one needs to understand the nature of the soul and what happens after a body dies.

A person's self, their being, the essence of a person, is made up of three parts, referred to as the soul, the spirit or mind, and the consciousness or awareness. While the 'soul' often refers to the sum of these three parts, this is not wholly accurate. Instead, the consciousness or awareness is housed inside the spirit or mind, which is housed inside the soul. Much like the brain is housed inside the skull, which is housed inside the body, these three parts are not quite separate, but still distinct.

Qualities of the Soul

The soul is an incorporeal organ of the body. Though it cannot be directly detected outside the use of divine or necromantic magic, it is real and its health has an immediate impact on the health of the body. Further, the soul is the locus of awareness of living creatures. All creatures that have any degree of self determination have this spiritual organ. If the soul is separated from the body, the individual's spirit and awareness usually remain with the soul. If reanimated by necromancy, the body that is left behind may be animate or even intelligent, if a good enough Necromancer is involved, but unless the consciousness is somehow returned to the body, it will not be the same as the former individual returning to life.

Souls are composed of a form of energy called, plainly enough, spiritual energy. The priests of the Immortals regard the composition of the soul as an energy pattern very much akin to spell pattern, and can be criticized for having a very mechanical approach to spiritual matters. Other religions are known to take more "organic" approaches, but, while their philosophies can be inferred, their practices are much less widespread in the provinces. While souls can be created or destroyed with sufficient magic, this is nowhere near common practice. Creation of a new soul from errant spiritual energy is intensely difficult but can be done. Normally, this is something that happens naturally with new birth.

Qualities of the Spirit

The spirit, also known as the mind, is a layer of the self that houses the individual's memories and experiences. While memories are made and fade during an individual's lifetime, all memories are housed within the spirit, whether the consciousness is aware of them or not. The spirit can also be thought of as a protective shell that surrounds the awareness. Whenever an individual recalls a past event or draws on their past experiences for knowledge or wisdom, they are tapping into the spirit.

The spirit is also the portion of a person's essence that is affected by spiritual magic. Damaging energies bypass the soul and rip directly into the spirit, which is one reason that spirit death is so dangerous; the consciousness is left with little protection from outside forces or magics and is that much closer to true oblivion.

Qualities of the Consciousness

Consciousness refers to the spark of a person that is the very center of their being. All control over an individual comes from its consciousness. It is the decision maker, the awareness. Stripped of everything else, it is barely detectable by magic, but as long as it is still in existence, so is the individual.

When an individual refers to 'themselves', at the very core of it, they refer to the consciousness. Body, soul, and spirit can all be stripped away, but if the consciousness remains, it can still call itself, 'me'. In essence, the body, soul, and spirit all serve the consciousness. Without it, the core essence of the creature is gone and can no longer truly be called that individual unless it is returned. A consciousness can function without the soul and spirit, but a disembodied soul or spirit by themselves is what is most commonly referred to as an incorporeal undead.

Death and the Soul

A soul can be directly damaged, but bringing a soul to the point of complete destruction rarely happens. When a soul is damaged, it loses a portion of its energy and, to magical senses, visibly shrinks inward to protect the awareness. Long before the awareness is compromised, a soul will slip beneath a critical point and lose its ability to remain within the body, resulting in the entire tripartite essence becoming dislodged from the body as the soul attempts to protect the spirit and consciousness. This is another way that a classic spirit death can occur. A second threshold, also well before destruction of the soul, causes the soul to slip once again: this time from the Plane of Abiding to the Starry Road. Due to this, literal destruction of the soul by mortal hands requires a tremendous and immediate act of violence.

Elanthians understand death as the point where the tripartite essence is removed from the body. This can happen either due to extreme injury, so that the body no longer functions, by sufficient direct damage to the spirit, or by injury to the soul to the point that it passes the first threshold mentioned above.

While isolated from the physical shell that is the body, the soul slowly bleeds off energy. This is even more detrimental than a normal spiritual attack, since after death the tripartite essence no longer has access to a brain to ground his experiences. With less and less energy from the soul to use, the spirit simplifies and abandons greater portions of itself to maintain the core of awareness: in effect, memory loss.

Holy magic is best known for its ability to correct these problems. Rejuvenation assists in repairing the "mass" of the soul and spirit, while Soul Bonding and Resurrection focus on restoring the connection between the full essence and the body.

When assistance is unavailable, the damage depends on how long the individual lets it go on. Every soul will eventually lose enough energy to slip past the second threshold, and doing so involves losing a significant chunk of the self. More commonly, the dead will resign themselves to their fate and willingly depart from this world with what identity they have left. At this point, they leave death behind and enter the afterlife.

The Afterlife

Any unity among the religions breaks down here, as different pantheons express a variety of afterlife schemes. In the simplest terms, it can be said that the fate of a soul is firmly in the hands of the individual's gods, and what happens then depends on whatever system those gods have in mind.

At least to Eastern thought, the Immortals represent the default system of life and death. While other gods may exist and exert influence over a limited number of followers, the Immortals claim authority over all souls that are not otherwise out of circulation. In this system, a soul that departs the Plane of Abiding is said to walk the Starry Road. During this process, there are four potential fates.

The most common fate for adventurers is direct, bodily reincarnation, using favors containing sacrificed memories to restore themselves. If an individual died before his time, he can expect to be reborn with a new body and however much memory survived his death. However, the rituals and compacts commonly invoked for the gods' favor do not ward against dying one final time at the end of the individual's lifespan. Greater secrets, including everlasting immortality, are said to be within the reach of the priests, but if so they are rarely practiced and jealously guarded. Necromancy is the other way to cheat the final death at the end of the lifespan, and is regarded as forbidden by most.

The permanently dead experience one of three other fates, loosely tied into the Immortals' overarching metaphor of the Light, Dark, and Prime aspects.

The Light aspect of death is regarded as the most common, and priests assure it to even simple peasants who says their prayers and keeps their affairs in order. In this case, the soul passes into the Void and is wiped clean of identity without pain. The individual soul is purified and returns to the source of spiritual energy, becoming one with the substance of the gods. While horrifying to those who prize their identities and sense of self, priests of the Immortals argue that this isn't actually a bad end. The awareness is never extinguished in this system: though memories and sins depart, the individual is aware of his experience as he is subsumed by the essence of the Immortals themselves.

The Dark aspect of death is the Red Spiral that awaits the unrepentant and spiritually damaged. An evil soul is granted the same ultimate end as the pure, but must endure a spiritual crucible to burn the error out it first. The dissolution of personality is an unspeakably painful process which can take an arbitrary, perhaps even infinite, amount of time. Some theologians argue that there is no actual distinction between these two ends. Instead, they propose that all souls walk the Red Spiral. Souls that are pure and free of burden find this process liberating, as the flaws that hounded them in life melt away before the moment they become one with their gods. Souls that are deeply tainted, in contrast, experience the horror and pain of a great, bleeding chunk of their self-identity being scourged.

The Prime aspect of death is reserved for the greatest souls of their time. If an individual truly wins over the support of one of the Immortals, that Immortal may elect to keep him around. The individual is transformed into an enduring, spiritual being with his full identity intact. In most cases they become the classically known spirit-helpers of that Immortal, but the archives of the Clerics' Guild are filled with orders and hierarchies of spirits that defy convention due to truly divine service or the patronage of multiple gods.

Other Afterlife Systems

While most people in the Plane of Abiding face the threefold path that the Immortals endorse, there are other belief systems in the world.

The most commonly practiced alternative is the Wheel. The Prydaen pantheon offers spiritual reincarnation to its followers. A soul bound to the Wheel that is 'permanently' dead is not really such, but dwells within the Wheel with their Immortals for a time and is then returned to life as a newborn with most of its memories missing, though not all, and its consciousness fully intact. Through this system, all Prydaens who worship the wheel essentially have eternal life, while other systems do not. Thus, Prydaen necromancers are exceedingly rare, as they are already afforded eternal life through a divine system and have little to fear from permanent death.

A rarer system that sees sporadic practice has no formal name, but often goes by the regional designation of "the Invisible Flame" or "Path of Invisible Strength." Most often practiced by Paladins, though it has adherents in many professions, the path proposes that a man of sufficient spiritual purity and strength can develop a self-empowering soul: one that can exist outside the body, with its identity intact, indefinitely. Where the common soul is weak and transitory unless fixed in its state by the gods, the soul of the great and wise men may endure forever.

Priests of all stripes denounce the pursuit of vain spiritualism over service and homage to the gods, but for every prayer there is a dozen ghost stories. It is commonly known that particularly driven or powerful individuals sometimes... hang around longer than even the wildest amounts of conventional spirit health should allow.

Necromancy and the Profane Aegis

Finally, there is an antinomian magic called the Profane Aegis. Demons exist in the depths beyond the planar void and some of them have enough power to extend influence into the Plane of Abiding. In the right times and with the right rituals, they can act as localized "deities" for the purpose of claiming souls in place of the Immortals. For this reason, adventurers are often advised to fight to the death or even commit suicide rather than be captured by demon worshipers. An adventurer ritually sacrificed on a Maelshyvean altar, for example, might not see the Immortals on the other end. Whether the demon in question returns the individual to the Plane of Abiding in a new body, much like the Immortals do, is wholly up to the whim of that demon.

Zamidren Book's Philosophy claims to practice a godless alchemy which produces the Profane Aegis without demonic aid, but there is no evidence to back up this claim, as any Philosopher who has departed will soon see. Necromancers who fall are advised to resurrect themselves rather than to rely overly much on the Profane Aegis, though sometimes it cannot be avoided entirely.

The Soul and Undeath

Most forms of corporeal undeath purely involve the body, in which an unwitting victim's soul departs their body along with their spirit and consciousness. This shell can then be reanimated with necromantic magic, forming an automaton with most of its bodily functions stopped. The heart does not beat, the brain does not think, the lungs do not breathe, the stomach does not digest. Though decay sometimes stops, any chance of true life returning to the body has left with the soul.

Incorporeal undeath typically involves the soul and spirit, or both, and may or may not involve the consciousness. Instead of slipping from the Plane of Abiding to the Starry Road, a soul or spirit may either become trapped on the Plane of Abiding due to a particularly traumatic death or memory. Alternatively, a particularly strong soul or spirit may choose to remain on the Plane of Abiding, either to try to finish something they could not accomplish in life, or simply from pure spite. Spirits such as these typically feed their spiritual essence with the deaths of others, and can last for millennia or even longer.

It is also possible for a raw spirit to be stripped away and remain on the Plane of Abiding while either the soul or the consciousness slips to the Starry Road on its own. In this case, the memory remains and may manifest itself, but any will or driving force does not. It is also possible for a spirit to shatter into pieces, each piece housing an individual memory. Spirits can also sometimes possess either still-living creatures or corpses, shoving aside any conscious that is already there to enact its own will.

Finally, there is the Lich. Liches are a rather interesting conundrum. Typically a lich becomes one voluntarily, though not always, and, when voluntary, it is nearly always either as an absolute last resort when all other options are even worse, or the result of insanity. First, the body dies. The soul is stripped away and departs for the Starry Road, leaving behind the raw spirit and consciousness. Then the spirit and consciousness possesses its own corpse, rendering it an undead creature. In many ways, a lich is no different than a corpse possessed by a spirit; it's merely possessing its own. Liches often, but not always, begin as necromancers, and typically use necromancy after becoming a lich. They are effectively immortal, as their spirit and consciousness are now housed by a body, albeit an undead one, and they simply regenerate their body if struck down.

Death and Necromancy

Outside the Wheel of the Prydaens, which is reserved for them, the best way to avoid any of these ultimate fates is to avoid death entirely. Undeath is still death, as is departing to the Starry Road in any form. Thanatology can be used to extend one's lifespan, as can certain magics if death should occur. These methods are largely up to the individual that practices them, and are a closely guarded secret by those who have achieved lifespans of millennia.