Friday, June 5, 2009

Gazeteer of the Wasted Lands 2: Khem

Khem is a proto-Egyptian society. Its deities should have equivalents in Supplement IV.

(Also, apologies to Geoff McKinney, and a disclaimer: I've had Carcosa in here for a long time, and it's in no way the same as his world of Carcosa--Mine is simply a city in the Kingdom of Hastur. Simply assume the same source material--the writings of Robert W. Chambers--and nothing else.)

Khem

Separated from the northern Yellow Kingdom of Hastur and the Ashurii Empire by a sea and situated around the north-flowing River Khemyx, the Empire of Khem nominally occupies an entire continent, though the southern tip, approximately 1/3 of the southern portion of the continent, is still controlled by savage barbarian tribes, and the Empty Space to the west is largely overrun with the Race of Yig. It is a powerful and mysterious region whose people are obsessed with the rites, rituals, and practices of death and funerals, and of what happens to the soul after one dies. Their society is a complex one of sorcery, necromancy, and hedonism whereby everything one does is geared towards a rich life in the hereafter.

The people of Khem believe that one takes all his worldly wealth and goods with him when he dies, and thus spend much time acquiring as many material possessions and comforts as possible. Much of one’s wealth during life is spent on the building of fabulous funerary homes and palaces in which the body will be entombed, these palaces imbued with mystical gateways to the other side, in the belief that while the “Death house” itself houses the Ba, or physical body of the deceased and allows their Ka, or spirit-twin of the deceased, to perform nightly visits home, the Ka can also pass between the lands of the living and the world of the dead. Tombs are elaborate, covered with artwork describing and portraying the person within, and sarcophagi are fashioned to resemble exactly the person whose mummified remains occupy the tomb, so that the Ka can recognize its twin, which enables it to continue to exist on both worlds.

The Khemite religion is a hotbed of cults and fanatacism, and cults dedicated to the Ancient Ones abound in her back alleys, darkened night streets, and basements. Indeed, a few of the Khemite pantheon are in fact twisted versions of the Old Ones: Nug, Yeb, and Yig hold strong sway in Khem, as does Nyarlathotep. Like many societies, the Khemites violently deal with cults of the Ancient Ones, and so those alien creatures who still find cult-worship in Khem either do so in secret or in a twisted form that indeed barely resembles the inhuman monstrosities the Old Ones are. Nug and Yeb, for example, have been twisted to the Sky Mother, Nut, and the Earth Father, Geb.

Perhaps the most mysterious area of Khem is a large, untamed area in the mid-west portion of the desert, known as the Empty Space. This area is rumored to be the sleeping place and prison of the Serpent Lord, Yig, and men who enter here seeking to learn its secrets often come out quite mad, or not at all. One thing is certain; a great, black city of alien dimension and proportion stands cyclopean in the middle of the wilderness, a testament to the Ancient Ones that once held sway here. Currently, this city is ruled by a powerful cult of Seth, driven into the wilderness by Pharaoh. The high priest of Seth has at his command a fanatical community of the Race of Yig, colloquially known as Sethians (note: Lizard Men, cf. Supplement I). Indeed, he is also building a community of human followers, refugees who have fled Khem, Atlantis, and Ashurii seeking a return to the “old ways,” which they forget in their blind nostalgia were a horrific time of bloodshed and slavery. In the Black City, worship of certain Ancient Ones is open; Yig and Nyarlathotep in particular are revered among the people of the Black City and many Khemites believe that Seth has thrown his lot in with the Ancient Ones.

Khem is ruled by a god-king or god-queen, called a Pharaoh. The power of this monarch is absolute, and Khem has seen its share of good and bad rulers over the centuries. The current Pharaoh is a woman, Queen Ixhunamant the Fifth, and under her rule the kingdom has prospered as never before. There are signs of massive building projects, entire cities springing up as Khem becomes a bastion of civilization, though the Pharaoh has begun amassing armies along her coastlines, which makes the empires of Thule, Atlantis, and Ashurii nervous. Indeed, Khem has begun to expand west into the Empty Space, establishing trading posts along oases throughout the desert, and skirmishes rage between humans and the serpentine Servitors of Yig that populate the desert. As of now, the few complete cities of Khem are located along the fertile banks of the Khemyx and enjoy tensely peaceful trade arrangements and mutual defense pacts with the Thule and Atlanteans, but irrigation techniques have allowed expansion west, and if the Khemites manage to create a merchant chain along the coastlands and across the Empty Space, they will easily become a world power; the other great kingdoms of the world are rightly concerned with this possible development.

Population Statistics
Unlike in Hyperborea, where it is difficult to nail down specifics, Khem keeps accurate census records and is an eminently civilized (if secretly corrupt) society.

Population by Age:
0-14 years (infant to adolescent): 2 million
15-64 years (young adult through middle age): 3 million
65 years and over (elderly): 500,000
Figures represent population in recorded settlements, cities and towns; as many as 100,000 to several million more may live in the Empty Space and amongst the barbarian tribes in the south.
Racial Breakdown: Khemite 73%, Atlantean 5%, Thule 6%, Ashurii 4% , Southern Barbarian Tribes 10%, Other 2%
Religions: Pharaonic: 80%, Old One Cults: 4%*, Other 19% (*Many followers of the Old Ones worship in secret and worship other gods on the surface or in addition to their Archon overlord.)
Languages: Common Merchant 80%, Khemite 100%, Thule 20%, Atlantean 20%, Ashurii 15%
Government Type: Theocratic monarchy with appointed succession (i.e. the Pharaoh chooses his or her successor).
Capitol: Khem
Heraldry: A golden pyramid with the eye of Horus superimposed, on a field of crimson.
Military: Every able-bodied male in Khem is required to serve a four-year term. In addition, slaves taken in raids on other kingdoms and from nomadic tribes in the Empty Space are conscripted into the Khemite military. Women are accepted on a volunteer basis, but must prove themselves able to withstand the harsh life of a Khemite soldier. As such, female warriors from Khem are feared throughout the world. Currently, the standing army of Khem is over 100,000.

Legal System: Appointed governors and magistrates, though the priesthood is an up-and-coming power base.

Crime and Punishment
Punishment is harsh and final in Khem; an accused is brought before a magistrate, who hears all evidence and renders a decision. Punishment equals or surpasses the crime, and often is structured so that the convict is physically incapable of committing a similar crime in the future. Court records tell of a man who was found guilty of defiling one pharaoh’s daughter being forced to consume the fetus and his own genitalia in front of the girl, then having his face mutilated and branded before being thrown into a dungeon for three months. Murderers are regularly tortured to death publicly. Worst of all, any who are convicted of a capital offense have their bodies mutilated so as to be unrecognizable and are buried without ceremony in the desert. This leads to the person’s Ka being unable to recognize its former twin, and thus invalidates the entire afterlife of the accused. Such total annihilation of one’s afterlife is the worst punishment any citizen of Khem can imagine.

Religion
A Festival of the Dead lasts for a week mid-year, and the spirits of the dead are invited to join their descendants in the revelry (and sometimes do). This festival is one of hedonistic pleasures and orgiastic debauchery, and many children are born soon after; rarely does the mother have any idea as to the child’s father. This is the only time of the year when common folk may engage in sexual congress with nobles, or at least, when common folk may initiate sexual congress with nobles. The queen herself has birthed nearly a dozen children from trysts during Festival of the Dead celebrations, and keeps all the possible fathers as “retainers” at court (effectively, a harem). Notable among these children are the current nominal successor to the throne, a powerful young sorceress named Nefertatet, and her brother, the crafty Sekhmaten, who is secretly a necromancer in the service of the Cult of Seth.

During the Festival of the Dead, there are daily human sacrifices in the capital city, chosen by lottery and offered to Geb, god of the Earth. These sacrifices are granted tombs nearly as grandiose as those of Pharaohs, and are honored as great contributors to Khemite society.

Another holiday festival occurs twice a year, for a week in the third and ninth months of the year, when the Khemyx floods its banks, and is known as Flood Festival. While the Khemyx is flooded, no planting or farming may occur, as the lands are saturated with water, but such flooding leads to the ongoing fertility of the soil for the rest of the year, allowing what is otherwise a desert region to be farmed. It is during these times of year that the populace put aside their obsession with death and celebrate life. While the Festival of the Dead is one of hedonism and debauchery, the Flood Festivals are times when there are great feasts, and people walk the streets unclad, wearing garlands of lotus blossoms. Any sex that occurs during this time (and there is a great deal) is personal, between two people, and consensual (a stark contrast to the near-rape orgies of the Festival of the Dead) and children that are born of the congress during these festivals always know their fathers. The peak of these festivals involve the Pharaoh engaging in sexual congress with Nut (if male) or Geb (if female) in a public display upon the altar. The current high priest or priestess stands in for, and is considered to be possessed by the deity, during the ceremony, and children that are born of this union are almost always chosen to succeed the pharaoh on the throne when he or she dies. As yet, Ixhunamant has borne two children to Geb: Nefertatet and Sekhmaten.

The Gods of Khem
In addition to those below, any of the Egyptian Pantheon as presented in Supplement IV can be used.

Nut and Geb: Nut (The sky mother) and Geb (The Earth Father) are credited with the creation of the world in the beginning of days. Most (correctly) believe they are "de-corrupted" versions of the Ancient Ones Nug and Yeb, their genders reversed and made less alien and corrupting in nature. Nug and Yeb are always portrayed as forming a dome, with Geb laying beneath Nut on his back, and her arched over him, facing him. Nut is always portrayed as nude, while Geb wears the garb of a pharaoh and has a snake where his neck and head should be. Together they represent potency, fertility and creation.

Isis: Isis is the queen of the gods, and the patron of marriage, love, fertility, magic, and war. Her portfolio is so close to that of Freyjr in the Hyperborean pantheon that some scholars believe the two to be the same goddess--or at least magical clones, or avatars of another great being. There is, in fact, a cult in Khem that worships Wotan and Isis as the only two gods, believing they attained the summit of the Celestial Stairs together and were lovers after the death of Osiris. Isis is mischievous and fun-loving, yet honorable and faithful. Like Freyja she can be as fickle and wild as the magic she commands, but it is said that once she shows a mortal her favor, she will be forever supportive of that mortal, as a mother is to her child. Isis appears as a near-blindingly beautiful winged woman.

Osiris: The god of the underworld, Osiris was murdered by his brother Seth, his body dismembered and cast across the world. His wife, Isis, traveled the world gathering his body parts to reassemble him, but because he was killed and resurrected (the first, it is said, to be raised from the dead) he became the ruler of the underworld. While his wife visits him regularly, he no longer sits at her side, ruling over all the gods. Osiris appears as a man wrapped in fine bandages, mummified as befits the nobility he is, yet without bound limbs. He despises Seth but cannot move against him, as Osiris is trapped in the underworld. This task (the destruction of Seth and his armies) Osiris leaves to his son, Horus.

Thoth: The brother of Isis and god of divination, knowledge and wisdom, Thoth's oracles and priestesses are held in high regard by all the people of Khem. It is said that it was Thoth who first taught Isis the secrets of magic, though she soon greatly surpassed him in power. Thoth knows and sees all, it is said, but because of this he sometimes has difficulty relating to humankind so he is a distant god. Thoth appears as a muscular man with the head of an ibis.

Seth: The betrayer, god of darkness, shadow, murder and deceit. He has dominion over reptiles and carrion-eaters. Seth is the Great Adversary of the Khemite Pantheon. He murdered his brother Osiris and fled into the desert, where he became a powerful necromancer--some say under the sway of Yig, others say a great follower of Nyarlathotep. One thing is agreed upon by all, however: Seth is in league with the Ancient Ones. He holds sway over the warlike Serpent Men (lizard men) of the Empty Space, as do his priests, and his agents secretly infiltrate Khem at all levels. One day, he will make war upon the gods as his followers make war upon Khem. Seth appears as a scaly human with the head of a jackal.

Amun-Re (the Aten): The shining sun god, Amun appears as a muscular man with the head of a hawk, with the sun-disk Wadjet (or Aten) atop his head. He is primarily associated with the sun at its zenith in mid-day, and is seen as both the light-giver and the source of the killing heat of the desert. Amun-Re was once the King of the Gods and is the father of Isis, Osiris, and Seth.

Horus: Appearing as a well-built man with the head of a hawk, Horus is the sky-god, the protector of Khem and the Avenger. He is the son of Isis and Osiris, and tasked with both defending Khem from Seth's forces, and defeating the Betrayer at all costs. Horus embodies elements of the sun and moon, being the light that dispels the darkness of Seth. To this end, he is also a war god, and those who find victory in battle are favored of Horus.

Anubis: God of the dead and son of Osiris and Nebet-het (Or Nephthys, the twin sister of Isis), he stands as the guardian of the entrance to the underworld. Funeral rites and final judgment are his dominions, and it is he who decides which realm of Osiris the dead may enter when they pass--those worthy of a happy afterlife enter the Field of Reeds. Those whose heart is heavy with sin are eternally devoured by the monster Ammut.

Ptah: God of Space and Gates or "Opener of the Ways", Ptah is almost definitely a re-naming of the Ancient One Yog-Sothoth. Said to have existed before the gods, and to be completely alien in nature, Ptah is he who had creation in his heart and dreamed the cosmos into existence. Due to his portfolio as a creator and god of gates, he is revered by craftsmen and those struggling with intellectual dilemmas. It is said that Ptah's chosen creatures are the sphinxes.

Bast: The Queen of Cats, Bast appears as a slender, perfectly formed woman with the head of a black cat. She is a goddess of strategy, war, the setting sun, the rising moon, sensuality, and looked to as a sacred guardian. She is a fierce warrior and a violent enemy of serpents and vermin, which sets her firmly against Seth. However, like any cat, her attentions and affections are fickle and she is as quick to turn on a beloved--lover or follower--as she is to declare her undying fealty. When one prays to Bastet, he simply hopes that today she is in the mood to show favor.

Nebet-het (Nephthys): the twin sister of Isis, Nephthys is known as the "Useful Goddess." She is a goddess of practicality and pragmatism, and acts alongside Anubis as a guide during the journey through the underworld. Once the beloved wife of Seth, Nephthys was outraged when the Betrayer murdered Osiris, and turned on her husband to join her sister in their quest to drive Seth away and resurrect Osiris. In repayment, upon his resurrection Isis consented to allow Nephthys one night with Osiris, so long as the resurrected god thought he was sleeping with his wife, so Nephthys impersonated Isis and lay with Osiris, becoming pregnant with her only son, Anubis.

Ma'at: The personification of divine order, Ma'at never takes sides in a conflict unless the balance of the cosmos is at stake. Her word is her bond, and she always abides by the exact wording of any contract made. She represents truth, justice, morality, and law, and is a goddess of the stars and heavens. In appearance she looks strikingly like Isis and Nephthys, but is prone to always identify herself as she is loathe to be a part of any error in judgment. A quiet power player among the gods, Ma'at holds great sway in the palace of Pharaoh, where the maintenance of law and order is of utmost importance.

Bes: The god of thieves and luck, Bes is a dwarf and is revered outside of Khem by dwarven thieves, gamblers and rogues the world over. Also a fertility god, Bes is known for being enormously well-endowed, and this has led to a common boast amongst dwarves that they are "hung like Bes." Bes is likely to bestow luck-stones upon those who gain his favor, usually by surviving foolish and reckless risks.

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