An introduction to the tenets of the Church of the First Breath
By High Cardinal Archeis Flax
Prefaced and with commentaries by Magister Ollan Dane
Preface for the Acolyte
This text is part of the required reading for your Studies in Comparative World Religion module. Whilst many Magisters consider religion to be superstitious nonsense or worse, misleading mumbo-jumbo, even if you do not subscribe to any particular faith it is of paramount importance to understand them. As the Second Book of Thelen posits: “To know another's mind is to know their future.” and whilst most Magisters agree that the required amount of information to make such a divination is impossible to obtain, knowing what the other is likely to be thinking in any situation is certainly invaluable. Approach these words and beliefs with an open mind, but not, as the saying goes, one so open that your brains fall out.
Those Acolytes who are members in good standing of the Church, as certified by a recognised practitioner, are of course excused from this part of the module. However, I would still heartily recommend that they read it and the attached commentaries, for precisely the opposite reason as for those of us who are less enlightened. O.D.
The Basic Tenets of the Church of the First Breath.
The core belief of the Church is simple, and yet at the same time extremely difficult for the newcomer to grasp. Put simply, all existence, all recorded history, and indeed time itself began with the Birth of Thelen, an event the Church refers to as The First Breath.
This revelation of course raises predictable, and understandable, reservations from all but the most credulous of students. There is, after all, recorded history prior to The First Breath- history the veracity of which the Church does not dispute. How, then, asks the doubter- quite sensibly- can everything have begun at that moment? To answer this question, we must consider the facts- also undisputed- of Thelen's life and eventual apotheosis.
It is well understood, and documented in the Books of Thelen, that as He aged, Thelen noted His command of magic weakening. The Books attribute this in part to inevitable entropy, and to the dilution of His power with the birth of each of His sons and daughters, the Blessed Patrons. This is also in direct contrast to the experience of most modern Magisters, who find that the experience of age, and the subsequent weakening of their physical Pattern, is matched by an increase in their magical potency.
In this observation, uniquely, the High Cardinal and I find ourselves in complete agreement. Until the mind loses its grip on reality, Magisters do indeed age like fine wine. O.D.
What, then, was different about Thelen? To answer this, let us deal with the commonly-held perception of the distribution of Aether amongst the three Prime Species of Tyrras, the Whales, Dragons, and Humans. Most scholars outside of the Church agree that this distribution is approximately equal- one third of the word's Aether being controlled by each. The Church agrees with this summation, but with one vital caveat- at the moment of Thelen's Birth, all the magic in Creation was concentrated in Him.
This moment, The First Breath, was the moment when magic itself, for reasons that are one of the core topics of ecclesiastical study, took physical form. Such an event was the literal opposite of world-shattering, and instead created and defined reality as we know it- not merely Tyrras, but the cosmos in its entirety. Many Magisters consider this belief to be ludicrous.
Once again, the High Cardinal is correct. Hopefully we will disagree on something more specific in due course. O.D.
And yet, we must truly understand what Aether is, and what magic is, for though the two are often used synonymously there are crucial differences. Aether is the very stuff of Creation, the purest form of energy in existence. When acted on by the will of a skilled Magister (or any of the Prime Species) it re-shapes reality, if only usually in fairly trivial ways. A Magister engaged in battle might simply create fire, or fashion Aether into a shield. A Weaver might use Aether to reinforce the marble of a building, a Smith might work it into a blade. All of these 'practical' uses of Aether are often simply called 'magic'. But Aether re-shapes reality in ways more profound, and subtle, than these. The phenomenon known to some as 'resonance' occurs when the collective belief of the populace influences the physical world. Many magical artefacts, such as the Sacred Blood of Thecla revered by the Abelians (and regrettably, by their branch of the Church since the Abelian Schism of 1195 I.C.) are believed to have gained some or all of their power in this manner.
Regrettably, I have been forced to edit the High Cardinal here. Like most adherents of the Church, he refers to dates by the Calendar of the Breath, which takes the Birth of Thelen in 136 F.I. (Fal Impis, old Eastern for 'before the empire') as the year '0'. 1195 I.C. is therefore 1331 C.B. I have altered his dates to the Imperial Calendar rather than the College Calendar (which begins with the founding of the College in 1254 I.C.) out of a sense of neutrality, and also because it is the one in most common usage. O.D.
For a more domestic example, it is widely acknowledged that the walls of Verge, which were believed impregnable for centuries, gained at least some of their incredible resilience from the very popular belief that they were indestructible. Though the fact of their eventual breaching during the War of Rule proves that they were not, it is also a fact that no examination of the walls either prior to their destruction, or in their ruined state, suggested anything other than the usual reinforcing magic typical of pre-Imperial construction. And yet, history is clear that they withstood assaults that should have breached such defences on repeated occasions. Clearly, something outside of the College's understanding of 'Pattern Magic' is at work here.
The Walls of Verge are certainly a fascinating area of study, though I cannot completely endorse the High Cardinal's reasoning here. I encourage interested Acolytes, as well as any considering becoming Weavers, to take Magister Jarton's Advanced Structural Magic module in their later studies. O.D.
We see, then, that at its most elemental, 'magic' is simply the utilisation of the will of a sentient to enforce a change to the fabric of reality, via the medium of Aether. But what if, for a single moment, every mote of Aether in Creation were concentrated at one point? Such an effectively limitless amount of power would be capable of making any change to the fabric of reality that was desired, up to and including creating reality itself from scratch. But why, then, would Aether, as personified by Thelen, go to the trouble of creating 'history'- events prior to the initiating event?
Why indeed? It is worth noting that most scholars agree that existence was created from pure Aether in an apocalyptic event, called the Origin by some or the First Spell by others. Only the Church, however, postulates a Creation that happens, in part, 'backwards'. O.D.
To answer this, we consider the example of a wheel. All faiths, and even most academics, agree that balance is critical for a stable system to exist. The Daxalai call this the Harmony, the Har'ii the Universal Chorus, and the Lily College refers simply to the Balance, to name but three. In order to be balanced, a wheel requires a hub, a central point around which to revolve. Observations of the cosmos show that this structure is common to planetary systems- our world, Tyrras, revolves around the Sun, the Moon revolves around Tyrras, and the galaxy of stars of which our own world is part revolves around a central point according to some astronomers, though this remains a matter of some debate in those circles. Yet oddly, time itself is not considered subject to these laws by those scholars who believe that it started at the 'beginning' and before that beginning, there was no time at all. If, however, we view the First Breath as not so much the beginning of time, but as a hub point around which time revolves, we have successfully restored balance to time.
This is certainly an interesting argument, is it not? A point for discussion- if the First Breath is indeed the 'wheel hub' of Creation, should not the universe orbit the location on Tyrras at which it occurred? From a relative standpoint, does it? O.D.
Another understandable objection is that it seems incredible that this, specific reality should have been the one created. To the doubters, it seems oddly convenient that our world should be the one to find existence out of a myriad of possibilities. Why are there Dragons and Whales as well as humans? Why are there mountains and birds and trees- where did those ideas come from? As the noted philosopher Hedron Jakille put it in his seminal work of 1310(I.C., O.D.) “Why everything?”
Well, simply put- why not? Our world makes 'sense' to us because it is the one in which we exist. How could it not? If, as Jakille puts it, the sky were green and the seas pink, Whales walked on land and Dragons were the size of sparrows, this would be normal to us, for this would be how things had always been. Further, we have the example, which Jakille also references, of horses. Horses were created some years prior to the writing of “Why everything?” by Magisters of House Thule, as is commonly known.
A fact of which Magisters of that esteemed House are very fond of reminding us to this day. O.D.
Yet the idea of horses came not from deliberate experimentation, but from a dream, experienced by Orion Thule. Such Dream-Scryers, according to Ergot, the noted author of the Treatise on Layered Realities, are believed to have visions of worlds- or realities- other than our own. Sometimes these worlds are similar enough to our own to provide apparent visions of the future, though these rarely prove particularly reliable.
I would amend this to 'never', but I concede the broader point. O.D.
Much of the time, however, they are glimpses of worlds entirely different to our own, worlds of glass towers, flying machines made of metal, shape-changing automata that walk and talk like men, endless deserts ruled by giant Wyrms, and many other outlandish phenomena. The Church believes that all these worlds were also created by The First Breath, though that originating event would almost certainly appear very different according to the paradigms of those alternate worlds and histories. Thus, there is no question of 'why everything', for the reason is simply that there is everything.
Finally, and most obviously, the unbeliever may well ask: If Thelen created this world and everything in it, why then did He have to fight the Great War against the dominion of the Dragons? Surely a being of His divine power need only bend His invincible will to the task, and the Dragons would become His pliant servants? To answer this, we must understand the two Aspects of Thelen, a critical core belief of the faithful and the reason the practice of Committal remains a point of deep division between College and Church. There are, simply put, two different forms of Thelen: Thelen Divine, and Thelen-as-Flesh. The former, Thelen Divine, is manifest in what we also call 'free' Aether, that source of power that the Prime Species tap to perform magic. At the moment of the First Breath, Thelen Divine created all that is, and one of His creations was the second Aspect, Thelen-as-Flesh. This mortal form of Thelen, who went on to lay the foundations of the Lily College, is revered by the Church as a divine being, but He is not Thelen Divine, merely an echo of Him- a loud, reverberating, strident echo to be sure, but still only that. The Blessed Patrons who were His children can be thought of as subsequent echoes, less perfect copies still but each possessed of his or her unique qualities, just as each echo of a sound might change depending on what rocks it rebounds from. Thus, even Thelen Himself had only a dim knowledge of His Divine Origin, which is why the Books of Thelen only contain hints of the Truth of the First Breath, rather than an explicit explanation. It was only when Emperor Thelanus Pious I, the Faithbringer, founded the Church in 205(I.C. O.D.) that the truth was fully known.
I note that the High Cardinal rather skirts the issue of how and why this came about. Certainly Thelanus Pious I was a devout man, but he ruled a fractious Empire that was already drifting apart in the wake of the death of Amaran, the last Patron. A cynic might think a religion of this sort to be an ideal tool to weld a state back together, and indeed the Church bought nearly a millennium of stability until the Foundation Wars of 1136. But who am I to doubt a divine revelation? O.D.
Thus, then, it is Thelen Divine who the Church reveres most highly, and unlike Thelen-as-Flesh, He is still with us. When a person's soul (or as the College puts it, the “Pattern of their Mind”) is released upon the death of their physical body, it re-joins the collective stream of Free Aether that is the manifestation of Thelen Divine. This was true even of Thelen-as-Flesh, as recounted in the Seventh Book of Thelen.
More accurately, as recounted in the apocrypha to the Seventh Book, conveniently 'discovered' in 204 I.C. Most non-Church scholars believe Thelen (-as-Flesh, to use the High Cardinal's distinction) bound his Aether into the Waycrystal of Lore on his death-bed at the founding of the city, an act which is definitely referenced in the Seventh Book. O.D.
Therefore, it is considered the deepest of heresy to attempt to in any way capture, store, or 'share in' the released Aether of a dying comrade- to literally 'drink their soul' in the language of the old legends, a common practice among Foundation War era Warlocks. This is different to the Committal ceremony for a dead body, in which only the Pattern of the Body is released as free Aether and may be absorbed by bystanders as is the natural order of things. That some Magisters actively choose to self-Commit and allow friends and colleagues to partake of their departing Aether is a matter of profound regret to the Church and an act of near-cannibalism on the part of the participants.
I respectfully disagree. O.D.
By allowing the souls of the departed to rejoin Thelen Divine, we allow them to re-enter the endless cycle of life, death and rebirth as He intended. The recent Revenant Crisis shows what can happen when Magisters meddle in such matters, and should stand as the starkest admonition against such practices.
It most likely shows nothing of the sort, but the Investigating Seminar is still in session on the subject. Certainly it should prove to be another fascinating area for post-graduate study for the right researcher. O.D.
It is this cycle that allows prayers to Thelen to be heeded, and even the most sceptical of Magisters will often include appeals to Him in their rituals, in the belief that it increases their potency. As to why else this should be so, the Lily College offers only the vaguest of explanations.
Rituals including an appeal to Thelen certainly do seem more effective- one of which I had recent experience providing an excellent example- but this effect can be easily explained as another example of the resonance the High Cardinal himself alluded to earlier. As magic is an act of will, any affectation the practitioner genuinely believes to increase its potency will, by definition, do so. However, keep the 'genuine belief' part of that statement in mind when discussing the faith of the Breathers with them. O.D.
To conclude, the Church of the First Breath is a welcoming, open faith which accepts all new believers. Your Campus will doubtless have an official Church representative, usually a Cardinal, who will be happy to talk to you about any questions you might have and begin your initiation into the mysteries of the Church if you so desire. After all, the common folk may well call us 'Breathers' as a form of mockery, but does all that lives not also breathe?
Submitted this day of 20th Red Handastalath, 2082 C.B. by High Cardinal Archeis Flax, AL, CFBI, AI, 9th Mystery. A.F.
Closing words: I have left the High Cardinal's dated signature untouched as a mark of respect. Out of similar respect, I shall refrain from pointing out that the word 'mouth' is often applied as a silent prefix to the nickname of the Church's believers. Such pettiness aside, we should remember that the Imperial Faith remains at least in vague observance in the majority of the populace, and even most Magisters still retain the traditional appeal to Thelen in the Committal ceremony. You are free, of course, to believe or not to believe, but never presume to know another's mind without the most diligent of study of both their words and actions. In private, you may think of the Church however you desire, but in public it is wise to show them at least a modicum of respect.
Written and submitted this day of 3rd White Aurantus 1946 I.C., by Magister Ollan Dane, AL, MSS, 5L. O.D.