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by The United Provinces of Skartok. . 102 reads.

A Primer on Polatilianism

A Primer on Polatilianism
Abdul Bahij Al-Tibraki, Professor of Practice at the Saif Hussein Institute of Theology - Tibrak Extension

Introduction

Living in Tibrak, our temple often receives foreign tourists. Many come to appreciate the artwork and the architecture, but others come with a genuine interest in learning more about Polatilianism. Indeed, a question I am often asked by these tourists, chiefly those from Falkasia on short weekend trips, is “What even is Polatilianism?” That is, of course, quite a question, but in this essay I endeavor to answer just that in a manner both thorough and concise. Such is the way.

I feel obliged to first note that I myself am what is called a Modernist Polatilian, also known as a Schechtmannian Polatilian after our late Grand Patriarch. While I intend to touch on the Classical sects and the more dangerous sects that have co-opted our name to serve their own purpose, the majority of what I write will refer to the Modernist tradition. That is not to say the information does not apply to those sects, certainly much of it does as we share the same lineage, but the details are drawn from my Modernist perspective.

In doing so, the first question I would like to answer is “Who are we?”. The response is quite simple: we are Polatilians. We are not Christians, nor are we Muslims or Jews. We are Polatilians, and nothing but. On that point, we will not equivocate. We worship the deity Polatilus and seek to live in accordance with the teachings of the deity and the prophets. Some of those who have taken our principles conflate Polatilus with the God of Abraham. If Polatilus were the God of Abraham, then we would not be Polatilians. Therein lies the truth and in the truth lies the key.

The History Lesson

I shall start at the beginning, as all good stories do. Most revisions of the Book of Polatilus open with the creation of the universe in which Polatilus wills into existence. Personally I do not take that as fact, but many of my colleagues do. My understanding is that the phenomenon describes the understanding of the scientific community, that Polatilus creating the universe is the Big Bang. There are similar parallels in both events, that there was nothing and then there was something. Others in the faith wholeheartedly believe Polatilus’s creation is distinct, and some suggest the universe is Polatilus. I have never found it worthwhile to engage in such debates outside of scholarly discussion. As a matter of course, what matters is we are all here now. If Polatilus wanted us to know the truth, Polatilus would have made it so. We do not know the truth, so we can only conclude that the truth is not ours to know.

Not much happens after the creation. Polatilus ordered the stars and the planets and then a flood filled the universe. Some scholars contend the remnants of the flood are what astronomers call “dark matter.” Eventually, Polatilus settled its attention on Earth. The early empires rose and fell, and eventually Polatilus decided the people needed guidance. Thus it creates Durhabarak: the first Polatilian. Durhabarak was born among the steppe tribes that inhabited the scrublands in the border region shared by modern-day Falkasia and Gragastavia. He was a skilled rider and an exceptional archer. A common legend states he felled a camel with a shot over a hundred miles away, though this is based on a faulty translation; the camel was not a camel. When he came of age, he embarked on the trials of his tribe to earn his place among them. He set out to claim the head of a leopard and while he was tracking the beast, a mighty thunderstorm overcame him. There, among the wicked winds, Polatilus first spoke to him and urged him to start spreading the word of its existence. Durhabarak requested proof of the conversation, a tangible item he could use to proselytize. A flash flood swelled and swept Durhabarak downstream. When the waters receded at the base of a mountain, he found the head of the leopard he sought impaled on a staff. At the top of the staff was a camel motif and etched into the woodwork were the first teachings of Polatilus.

The actual content of those teachings has been lost to time, but they survive in some form throughout the Book of Polatilus. The consensus among most is that the staff had what later became known as the Five Fingers, a system to help children learn their prayers. The first is that one should bring peace to all and goodwill to humanity. The second is those who try to be Polatilians can never truly be Polatilians. It is a commitment, not an act. The third is to be like water, flexible and yet persistent. The fourth is to remember that Polatilus honors us with its blessings, but Polatilus has no need of us. The fifth is to honor the one. We do not merely inhabit the world; we are part of it. We are everything we see, and everything we see is us.

Durhabarak returned to his tribe in triumph and was welcomed as a man. As he promised Polatilus, he started to speak of the lessons he heard. The word spread quickly and many flocked to his teachings, but the leaders of his tribe began to conflate the worship of Polatilus with the worship of Durhabarak. They presented him and his followers with a simple ultimatum: disavow Polatilus or face exile. Understandably, they chose the latter and they began the trek into the desert. They encountered other tribes along the way and the handful of refugees grew into a caravan numbering into the thousands. They settled in a lush river valley at the mouth of a mighty river, founding what is today known as Al-Duhaba. There they started their new life and by the end of their first year, they laid the foundation for what would become the Temple of the One that still stands today.

As a related aside, the term “Duhaba” is an Arabic bastardization of “Durhabarak.”

Durhabarak lived into his eighties, leaving behind a thriving city that came to dominate the desert. Given its location, it attracted sea commerce as well as serving as an important stop for those traveling by land either north or south. Despite their initial rejection of the faith, Polatilianism soon became the predominant religion among the steppe tribes and by the time the Grand Terim Caliphate came into existence, the indigenous religions were nonexistent. Al-Duhaba was incorporated into the caliphate by treaty, bringing in much of the wealth funding the caliphs’ conquests into the south and the west. By the late 1600s, Al-Duhaba became the capital city of the caliphate, due in no small part to discontent and uprisings in Al-Huyafir destroying much of the local infrastructure.

As Islam became the prevailing influence in the caliphate—other than the ultimately unfounded rumors about Caliph Yusuf, there never was a Polatilian caliph—the Polatilian population took less priority when compared to their Muslim counterparts. Unfair tax burdens, unequal legal protections, and inequitable opportunities were a recurring trend throughout the caliphate’s history that routinely pushed the Polatilians to the brink of rebellion. While caliphs who were amenable to Polatilian cause came and went, most notable among them Omran II, the situation came to a crisis that culminated in what is known as the Polatilian Diaspora.

Over the course of his twelve-year reign, Caliph Ali Ayaz instituted a series of policies that effectively criminalized Polatilianism and they were continued and expanded upon by his son Caliph Hassan IV. This led to many Polatilians fleeing to all corners of Tavlyria, but most fled to the island known as Skartok, which was officially part of the caliphate but enjoyed considerable independence. The history of Skartok is a matter for another day, but the Polatilians flowing into the island quickly outnumbered the native population such that Skartok has now become a proverbial safe haven for Polatilians everywhere.

By the early 1700s, the Polatilians of the caliphate had had enough. In 1721, the charismatic Grand Patriarch Friedrich Schechtmann, the first of the Schechtmanns, declared the people of Gragastavia free and independent of the waning Grand Terim Caliphate. The Schechtmanns trace their lineage to the early Polatilian tribes, though there is considerable Falkasian heritage in their bloodline as well. He led them through a brutal fifteen-year war that resulted in the complete dissolution of the caliphate, the creation of the Kingdom of Gragastavia, and the union of the Gragastavian throne and the Grand Patriarchy of the Faith. Since then, the Polatilians remained a ruling minority in Gragastavia and this led to numerous concessions over the years, notably the Great Reform in the 1830s that instituted democratic practices to ensure that the Muslim majority had a representation at the table of government.

The recent civil war is reflective of many of the underlying struggles between Polatilians and Muslims in Gragastavia’s history, and my summary here is not to be dismissive of any of those I glossed over or simply omitted. It is not my intent to make light of them, nor is it my intent to insinuate they are not worthy of being mentioned. They of course warrant further elaboration, but they are stories for another time and place.

Structures

King Siegfried II’s reign was significant in that he was the first king to refuse the Grand Patriarchy. While it is not surprising, given his career as a military officer and not a member of the priesthood, it was nevertheless unprecedented. Prior to his complete abolition of the monarchy, the Grand Patriarchy passed to Pardaj bin Sherazi, the former Patriarch of Maqhab, with considerably less controversy than many scholars and leaders expected. Even so, Friedrich VII was arguably the most influential Grand Patriarch in modern times, rivaled only by his grandfather Siegfried I. Their contributions to scholarship are noteworthy and forged new paths in our study of Polatilus, but where Friedrich VII outshines Siegfried I is in his willingness to bring Polatilianism closer to the people.

At the top of the hierarchy sits Polatilus. Below Polatilus is the Grand Patriarch, who is selected by the Conclave of Patriarchs. The Conclave meets semiannually at a gathering known as the Convocation. Patriarchies as jurisdictional units can be created by the Grand Patriarch, provided that decision is ratified by the Conclave, and both new Patriarchs can be nominated by a sitting Patriarch or the Grand Patriarch for consideration and selection. The only requirement to become a Patriarch is that one must be Polatilian. Despite the title, there have been female Patriarchs accepted into the Conclave. However, a layperson has never been successful in achieving a Patriarchy due to the rigorous selection process. What the process entails is a closely-guarded secret, although the rumors leaking out over the years generally agree that there is a period of meditation and prayer, followed by a series of interviews with sitting Patriarchs, a review of the candidate’s career and scholarship, and a demonstration of faith.

A Patriarchy need not necessarily have a Patriarch if no suitable candidate is found. For those that are selected, they are tasked with representing the Polatilians under their jurisdiction to the broader Conclave as well as providing spiritual leadership to their adherents. Chiefly that entails serving as the final appeal for disputes between followers usually on matters pertaining to the interpretation of scripture, appointing priests, primates, and prelates, and promoting collaboration between the smaller jurisdictional units within the Patriarchy. These smaller jurisdictional units vary from Patriarchy, but they refer to small communities centered around a Polatilian temple. Many use the term “templery”, though I find that to be a bit of a misnomer because a unit need not necessarily have a temple to achieve the requisite level of recognition. “Parish” may be a more accurate term, but that carries with it associations with Roman Catholicism and might be confusing to some audiences.

While not formally recognized as Patriarchies, certain orders of monks within the faith also have representation at the Conclave. Historically, the monks filled special roles which were not provided by the civil government. The Firebrands served, as the name may suggest, in many Polatilian communities as firefighters, and they still follow the teachings of the Incinerated Prophet to this day. In Skartok, an order known as The Devoted fills the role of spies and counterintelligence similar to the GRITS. Both have Patriarchs in the Conclave, as do a handful of others.

Theology

The question of what Polatilians believe is as diverse and varied as the Polatilians themselves. To keep this document as appropriate to a general audience as possible, I have collated what I consider to be the fundamental “core” beliefs that all Polatilians ascribe to in some form or another.

-The Five Fingers, as noted above
-Polatilus is the creator of the universe. (However, sects within the faith debate as to what the exact nature of Polatilus is.)
-Polatilus’s designs can never be known in advance and only known when they transpire.
-If Polatilus reveals knowledge to us, then there is a purpose to that knowledge. If the knowledge is unknown to us, then the knowledge is not ours to know.
-When we must venture into the unknowable, Polatilus will guide our paths in accordance with its designs.
-Humanity can no longer exist without Polatilus. (This is, however, not to suggest that Polatilus created humanity. Once again, sects disagree.)
-One cannot exist without that which it is not. For example, my conception of me cannot exist without my conception of you.

What About Skartok?

Skartok is a peculiarity, to say the least. I already mentioned that it serves as a homeland for Polatilians around the world, especially so given our history of dispersal across Tavlyria and beyond. Most non-convert Polatilians have at least one relative living in Skartok, which speaks to the concentration of Polatilianism on the island. Skartok is an independent nation administered by a Governor-General overseeing the day-to-day operations and a Steward to direct the long-term course of the nation. In some sense, Skartok is the land territory held by the Polatilian Faith because the Conclave of Patriarchs is responsible for appointing the Steward. The Steward serves as an intermediary between the people of Skartok and the Patriarchs. He acts similarly to the Patriarch in that he serves many of the same functions. Whereas the Patriarch is a clergyman before he is a civil servant, the Steward is a civil servant before he is a clergyman. To be selected as the Steward is an honor not to be taken lightly, and many Stewards opt to renounce their worldly titles, including their name, when they assume the role.

While Skartok is not formally part of Gragastavia, its people fought alongside the Revolutionaries during the Polatilian Revolution and it earned a separate independence in the peace treaties concluding the conflict. Skartok maintains friendly relations with Gragastavia; both nations are MALET member-states and have reciprocity agreements allowing most credentials and documentation to transfer with minimal restrictions between the nations for both immigrants and tourists. Of course, that still raises the question of why Skartok and Gragastavia are not united as one country.

The answer is quite simple, and it stems back to Gragastavia’s history. When the Grand Terim Caliphate was overthrown, the shoe was on the other foot, as it were. The Muslim majority who had enjoyed protection under the Muslim caliphate were now at the behest of a Polatilian monarchy. There were considerable concerns among those who attended the peace negotiations that a Polatilian monarch would be far too concerned with Polatilians and Skartok to tend to the needs of the Muslim population. Friedrich I made a push to integrate Skartok into the kingdom towards the latter part of his reign, but he died before such plans could come to pass and his son Friedrich II had no such ambitions (or many ambitions at all). With a former Skartokian as the new Grand Patriarch, I doubt any pushes to unify Gragastavia and Skartok are likely to reach fruition at the present time.

A Note About the Sects

Polatilians today generally fall into three categories: there are Modernists, Classicals, and so-called Pseudopsychos. I will not dwell too much on Modernists since I have expressed that viewpoint throughout, but I will include them here for the sake of thoroughness.

Modernist Polatilians are the largest sect. 90% of the Polatilians in Gragastavia classify themselves as Modernists. We adhere to the leadership of the Grand Patriarch and the Conclave, and we do not ascribe to the same restrictions the Classicals do. We integrate into modern society, work normal jobs, and rear children just like our non-Polatilian counterparts. This is not to suggest that Modernists are a monolithic group, however. Like any other group, there is variation within our flock. More conservative Modernists tend to strictly follow the rules and regulations set forth by the Conclave, while more progressive Modernists are more lenient and view the faith as an affiliation, not a prescription. Most tend to fall somewhere between the extremes, myself included, and we strike a balance that fits our beliefs and our needs.

Classical Polatilians, who are also sometimes called Traditionalists, are similar to Bedouin tribes. They are nomadic groups seeking to live like Duhabarak did. Historically, they lived in the north, but they migrated southward and now inhabit the desert as much as they inhabit the steppes. Their communities tend to be self-governing and do not owe allegiance to the Grand Patriarch. There are a handful of permanent settlements built near water sources that form waystations on their trade networks, but most Classicals make their living through trade, herding, hunting, and gathering. Many Classicals refer to this lifestyle as the “Old Ways”, which admittedly loses some significance in translation. I have had the pleasure to meet a few Classicals when we invite them to speak at our university, and they are always exceptional company.

The term “Pseudopsycho” used to describe Polatilians that might be Polatilian in name only is in my opinion too much of a pejorative to accurately describe the people who the label might apply to. The term itself derives from the consumption of cannabis and other psychoactive intoxicants that is a part of our religion. We use these drugs as part of ceremonies and celebrations, and those who pretend to be Polatilians leverage the title to skirt laws or policies that might otherwise regulate their consumption. Thus, “false-psychoactive” or simply Pseudopsycho was the term applied.

Certainly, there are those who pretend to be Polatilians to secure special privileges and we frown on them wholeheartedly. Being a Polatilian is not a label to slip on and off as it suits one; it is a commitment and a way of life. I do not fault those who might cling to the label for lack of any other religious identity, provided they do not use it to besmirch our name or gain an unfair advantage. However, I find fault with those who do exactly that, as well as those who conflate us with other religious groups or seek to use the Polatilian name to bring power to themselves or attention to a political cause. These are the true Pseudopsychos and the criticism they receive is well-deserved.

Conclusion

To many, Polatilians are and perhaps will forever remain a curiosity. We speak a strange language and I freely admit our customs and practices might seem odd to an outside observer. Such is to be expected when encountering any culture alien to one’s own. I felt the same way when I traveled to Falkasia for the first time, and I am sure I would if I ever set foot in Asucki, Espicuta, Osatan, or any other foreign country. Nevertheless, it is my hope that this piece has shed some light on who we are as a people and provided some clarity to the mystery that seems to surround us.

In closing, I would like to address one final question I frequently receive and feel appropriate to answer: “Are all Polatilians as insufferable as you?”

Unfortunately, yes. We are all insufferable.

Crossposted with Gragastavia. which is my main account and also a nation with a significant Polatilian population.

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