Society and the Occult
The purpose of this work is to describe an important aspect of the social structure of Fading Suns, and in particular why occult behavior, either psychic or non-Church ritualism, has extremely negative social consequences.
It is important to keep in mind that the people of the Known Worlds do lot live in a causal world. Theirs is a world in which a field does not grow well or poorly because the soil was rich in nitrates, or because the seed was well planted, or because the plants received the right mix of rain and sunlight. A field will yield a large crop if the Pancreator wills it and because the Pancreator is a loving, compassionate entity by default all fields should grow well. If a poor crop is returned it is because of a lack of virtue, either by the farmer or by something near him. This needs to be understood because whether it is true or not, the overwhelming majority of people in the Known Worlds believe it to be true.
It is not merely the farmer and his crops who believes that the world is ordered by a divine hand. Soldiers who believe their cause is just expect victory. Noblemen who do regular penance believe their fortunes in court to be aided by the divine. There are few Charioteer starships which were not blessed by a priest in the name of St. Paulus. Nearly every aspect of life is ordered along this worldview.
Church doctrine is the force that controls and molds these rules. It is the parish priest who defines sinful behavior for the small communities on every planet, and it is the bishops in the metropolises that extol the virtues of charity and justice, while decrying mammonism and usury among merchants. It is these sermons, all derived from the canonical rules laid down by the Patriarch and centuries of history, that create the social mores which everyone operates under from the most secular of guilders to the most pious of peasants. They are the base-line foundational beliefs which everyone defines themselves off of- a compassionate person is one who behaves in the manner described by the Church, just as a 'just' ruler is measured by their proximity to the vision of Saint Lextius described in the priest's homily.
For the past thousand years the Church has had a unified and consistent message regarding the occult- it is extremely sinful. The Pancreator has ordered the universe in a fashion that is meant to follow his divine rules. To attempt to change those rules, either by psychic powers or through appeals to otherworldly entities, is to deny the Pancreator's will. Such prideful behavior brings about not only the damnation of the soul of its practitioner but also threatens the health and well-being of the community at large. In order to walk a righteous path and receive salvation these sinners must be cast out, shunned, and, if necessary, sent to receive the Pancreator's judgment.
Occult Attitudes in History
It began with Sathra. Cults formed by sathraists have existed since the First Republic, all claiming to have some secret mystic knowledge of the universe. The Prophet preached against this false wisdom, and the Church has condemned it from the moment St. Palamedes set canon law. These mystic cults have warped and changed through the centuries, adopting religious elements from alien races, claiming secrets gleaned from Anunnaki ruins, or even visions from supernatural entities. It is taught by the Church that the sinfulness of such beliefs casts a long shadow that blots out the light of the Pancreator.
For all of the work of the Phavian Institute during the Second Republic, there is little perceived difference between those who would warp the Pancreator's order through obedience to dark gods and those who do so as a quirk of biology. It matters little to the unenlightened whether a woman is flying because she has sold her soul for the ability or because she lifts herself with Far Hand- both represent a corruption of the natural order. Church doctrine is more nuanced on this point, though such nuance matters only in terms of punishment. A psychic is a corrupted individual who may do penance to atone for their nature, whereas the witch is a corrupted individual likely beyond salvation. Many priests are fuzzy on this point, however, and many a psychic has been put to the flame.
The Occult and the Elite
Some few of the 'enlightened' classes of society, whether it be the educated guilder in his Leagueheim salon or the decadent noble who pays only lip service to the Church, may well find these beliefs to be foolish, even mindlessly cruel. Yet regardless of an individual's personal beliefs all are slaves in one way or another to the forces of society. If a nobleman's soldiers believe that their liege consorts with tainted souls then they are more likely to believe that the soldier's efforts are not likely to be favored by the Pancreator. If peasants feel their souls risk damnation if they obey a liege who trucks with dark gods they are more likely to rebel. With the suns fading and judgment day fast approaching, few are willing to risk their immortal souls to follow a lord who denies the divine. Certainly merchants of all stripes find that businesses can be impossible if they have a reputation for Godlessness, and they may feel quails of terror when they sleep at the prospect of damnation - such a thing is too built in to society.
In many ways the powerful classes have the most to lose from occultists and psychics and this is another reason they are shunned. A peasant farmer has few secrets to hide from a neighbor who can read minds, yet a noble baron may have plots within schemes that could prove his downfall if another soul knew of them. A Guilder seeking advancement cannot afford to have his business plans stolen from his own mind. Whether it is the forked tongue of an antinomist teasing these things from a person or the will of a psychic worming his way into the mind, the occult is a danger to a class of people who survive on secrets and knowledge.
Finally, there is the practical experience of the noble families with the occult. House Hawkwood and those among the Imperial Court watched Sir Phineas Alderstaff attempt to kill Emperor Alexius thanks to manipulations of psychics. House Decados' experience with the Invisible Path has made them more than wary about psychics among their ranks. House Li Halan danced on the precipice of damnation, lured there by forbidden teachings. The success of the Hazat Dervish legions is publicly known, but what is known only to those who managed them was how they developed their own mystic cult that pulled focus away from service to the house and towards service to some mystic ideal. Dervish rebellions on Hira as well as the disapproval of the Church mean that the Dervish legions of all houses have been almost completely disbanded since the Emperor Wars, with the vast majority of these psychics being sent to remote Church monasteries to serve penance. Even House al-Malik, perhaps the most occult tolerant of all the noble houses, had its brush with destruction when Tahir the Doomed tried to reform his people with blood-soaked service to the dark Goddesss of his vision.
Theurgy and theurges are importantly a minor footnote in society's understanding of the occult. The Pentateuch Concordant was signed less than 50 years ago and it was a compromise measure, born out of necessity and not changing opinions. The only other Church occult ritualists at that time were the Kalinthi, a group tolerated again solely because of their utility in combating the terrors that beset the faithful and they operated almost exclusively in secret. It would not be inaccurate to say that most priests today find the wizardly Eskatonics and their practices to be little different from Gjarti or other heretical ritualists that they condemn in sermons. It is worth noting that many of the rituals in use by theurges today are developed off of Eskatonic principles.
Theurges are also tolerated because Church rites conform closely to the religious doctrine that has become part of the understanding of the Known Worlds. Temple Avesti Brothers denounce technology and with a point of a finger a blaster pistol will fall to pieces. A song to Saint Mantius carries the Brother Battle to war against the unfaithful. With a prayer to Saint Amalthea a healer can mend wounds. All of these can be explained as comporting with the Pancreator's divine will, and therefore they are not sinful manipulations.
All of this is meant to convey an understanding of the society of the Fading Suns universe, and to aid players in understanding how their characters might react to certain occult experiences and how the faithful masses or retainers might react to rumors of the same. It is also to remind psychic or occultist players of the Sword of Damocles that hangs over their heads should rumors ever be spread about their nature. Openly psychic individuals such as Thana, Obun, and Ukari and those with careers as thought police or dervishes should expect their vassals who are aware of this background to treat them with fear and to be more easily tempted to rebellion and betrayal by those offering salvation.