Cosmeric Faith Uncategorized

Cosmeric Faith Part 4: The Path

In this post, I want to consider the two main religions in the Wax and Wayne books and why I think the Path is one of the great contributions of the Cosmere to the world.

In Mistborn Era 2, the people of Elendel are primarily divided into two religious groups, Survivorists and Pathians. While both groups acknowledge Harmony as God, the latter pursue individual relationship with Him, and the former see him as more of a force. Survivorists look to Kelsier as their primary advocate and guide. So it seems the Pathians are the theists while the Church of the Survivor is more deist.

These are not the only two religions practiced in the basin, not to mention the rest of Scadrial. There is mention of Sliverism, which apparently focuses on the Lord Ruler. Though, despite his quasi-redemption, I’m not sure who would want to continue revering Rashek. The Church and the Path, though, have primary purchase on the devotional lives of the citizens of Elendel.

The Church of the Survivor somewhat parallels “high Church,” establishment Christianity. It is a religion of grand cathedrals, a religion of power with the death of its Hero at the center of its theology and ethics. It is the juxtaposition of weakness and triumphalism at the paradoxical heart of Christianity. As the more deist of the faiths, the Survivorists do not seek either deep personal communion with God or spiritual experiences in general. Amusingly, as Wax observes, Survivorists reverse the mists yet worship under grand glass domes. The mists are allowed in for certain special liturgies, but in general they are appreciated from a distance.

The Path has many different parallels in our world. It is like a mix of the simple, quiet faith of Quakerism (though the Path seems to have little focus on the community of the faithful) with elements of Buddhism. Indeed the Eightfold Path is central to Buddhist practice, and one name for early Christian faith was”The Way.”

Devotion in the Path primarily consists of solitary meditation. Not the grand worship of the cathedral, Pathians meet commune with God in stillness–in small Pathians temples, stagecoaches, or wherever.

More than Divine interface, however, the Path is primarily about how to be in the world. The Path is inspired by the humble, humanistic Terrisman-become-Deity, Harmony. It is not so much the way toward fulfillment but a way. A way that sees all of the other ways and loves them for what they are. It is about doing more good than harm.

The Path has the self-effacing quirkiness that one would expect from a Sazed-inspired faith. Harmony is not so much adored as appreciated. Revered, perhaps, but not worshipped. In fact, as in some Eastern devotion, worship of God may be more of a hindrance than a help on the journey. And as Ironeyes notes at the end of The Alloy of Law, Harmony expects the faithful to disagree with and challenge Him.

Brandon writes with a very open-minded take on religion. There are the devoted and the nominal in Mistborn. Hrathen and Dilaf show religious zeal in two different stages, the former going cold and the latter burning and consuming everything in its path. Lightsong is the god who does not believe in himself. There is the atheist Jasnah in Stormlight and the atheist-turned-deity Sazed in The Hero of Ages.

I think Sazed/Harmony acts as a focal point for all of these differing views. He has experienced it all and tried to consider all sides. Sazed has taken the treasury of faiths of the past and combined it with his his own humble godhood and left the Path, which I think is just the humanistic take on devotion that we needed in fantasy. This is not the theistic fiction of Lewis not neither is it atheistic or ambivalent toward faith. Some sort of devotion or belief is fundamental to being human in the Cosmere. But the details are less defined. There are many roads. Journey before destination, etc. And as I’ve written elsewhere, the Path is humanistic, as it shows that faith is part of life because it represents humanity’s striving for the best of itself.

Cosmeric Faith

Cosmeric Faith Part 3: God is Broken

Spoiler warning: Heavy spoilers for the original Mistborn trilogy, some spoilers for the later Mistborn books, and references to Elantris and some Cosmere lore.

By the end of book two of the original Mistborn trilogy, Sazed, Keeper of Terris and resident religious scholar and optimist, has been crushed by loss and the meaninglessness of life.

While an expert on many different religious faiths, Sazed does not subscribe to any of them in particular but rather to “them all.” Sazed believes in providence and is generally hopeful in a positive future for the world. He maintains an optimistic stance despite the adversity in his own life and in the life of his people. The Keepers, like Sazed, were persecuted by the Lord Ruler because of their feruchemical abilities, and Terris women were forced into breeding programs in order to maintain a lack of magical abilities in new generations of the Terris people.

Sazed is a man on the margins who has somehow kept to hope and devoted his life to fighting for what is right for his own people and all the peoples of The Final Empire.

But even as Vin and Elend are at an apparent zenith in their own journey, Sazed has been brought low by the reality of death and the tragic circumstances of life.

The trigger for his despair is the death of the woman he loves, Tindwyl. Despite the odds being against them, Sazed and Tindwyl had been reunited and were spending loving hour together researching the problems plaguing the world. Though Sazed sees himself as inadequate and unfit for Tindwyl since he is a eunuch. But Tindwyl loves Sazed, and it looks as if they could truly have a meaningful life of love together ahead of them.

After Tindwyl’s death in the defense of Luthadel, Sazed thinks:

Surely her love for him had been a miracle. Yet, whom did he thank for that blessing, and whom did he curse for stealing her away. He knew of hundreds of gods. He would hate them all, if he thought it would do any good.

The Well of Ascension, 725

Having no specific devotion, Sazed has nowhere to direct his pain and frustration about what has happened. Sazed experiences a depth of pain and brokenness, and his own optimism becomes a part of the problem. The open-minded relativism that protected Sazed and allowed him to cross-boundaries in the world is now part of what is destroying him and bringing him to his absolute lowest point.

Which makes him the perfect candidate for godhood.

Sazed becomes the god Harmony at the end of The Hero of Ages as he takes up the power of Ruin and Preservation. Despite his great power though, he is not omniscient or omnipotent. He has boundaries. Sazed discovers that he is only a part of “God.” As readers of the Cosmere are still learning, “God”–Adonalsium–has been broken. Those who broke “him” are now Shards of that power. Sazed is a piece of God.

It’s is Sazed’s own brokenness and discovery of the apparent meaninglessness of life that prepares him for divinity. Sazed is also a believer in and supporter of the human. Rather than looking from the heavens down, in all religions and mythologies, Sazed sees the meta-human. The various beliefs and religions that have come about on his world emerge from the people, and that’s great. So when Sazed sees that there is a “higher power” out there, he can come at it as a broken human. God is broken, and that’s okay.

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Cosmeric Faith Part 2: “I believe them all”

*This post contains mega spoilers for the original Mistborn trilogy and the “Era 2” Mistborn novels*

“…You said their prayer–is this the religion that you believe in, then?”

“I believe in them all.”

Vin frowned. “None of them contradict each other?”

Sazed smiled. “Oh, often and frequently they do. But, I respect the truths behind them all–and I believe in the need for each one to be remembered.” 

This brief exchange between Vin and Sazed in The Final Empire encapsulates the cosmere-ic take on religion. Sazed holds to the importance and even the truth of all beliefs, and these beliefs are deeply important because they are central to what it means to be human. I wrote recently on the Kelsier story as a counter narrative to the Christ story. Kelsier is shown as the flawed savior perhaps too in touch with his humanity. In a way Kelsier was driven by the same spirit as Sazed, seeing the deep importance of faith itself in the lives of story-telling beings.

There is really a sort of humanism at play here. In the Cosmere, one can truly value various beliefs because no religion can play a trump card against the others, since all of them are important because of how they both feed and manifest the human spirit. It is the affirmation of some beauty, goodness, and truth out there without affirming one specific source of beauty, goodness, and truth. This sort of plurality scares people. It’s scary to think that the source of truth for my specific group might not be *the* source of truth.

Yet part of what drives Sazed in his devotion to all religions is the fundamental lack of the Terris people–that they do not remember their own religion.There is a pleasure in enjoying other religions that heals even as it provokes the existential pain of the Terris people. But on Sazed’s journey toward truth and the faith of his people, he makes perhaps shocking discoveries about the nature of the divinity.

The great move in the Mistborn series is that Sazed, Luthadel’s resident expert in the divine, essentially becomes God. When Sazed picks up the power of Ruin and Preservation, he becomes Harmony, at once becoming a god but also realizing that he is only a piece of Divinity. In the Cosmere, there once was a God, Adonalsium, who was at one point shattered, it’s power taken up by sixteen individuals. As a lover of belief and the search for the divine–of the truly human–Sazed is uniquely suited to take on this power and uncover the deeper secrets of the universe.

Sazed discovers an impotence in divinity. In Mistborn Era 2, Wax, maintains a trust in Harmony as “God,” until Harmony royally effs up his life. Though I would say in some ways Sanderson prepared readers for this with Kelsier, the flawed savior. In the Cosmere, there is power that people can access, and there are new heights of awareness which people can reach. These powers are understandably associated with the Divine, but it is becoming clearer that the “gods” are fighting their own battles and often playing the same games as humanity. What this means for the “God beyond” or the source of ultimate reality is unclear.

Cosmeric Faith

Cosmeric Faith Part 1: The Skaa Messiah

*(This post contains spoilers for “Mistborn: The Final Empire,” “The Well of Ascension,” and “Mistborn: Secret History.” There are some fairly non-spoilery references to the second era of Mistborn novels.)

I’m currently reading Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series for the third time. I think I read the first book when it was just called “Mistborn.” In the series, as in Brandon’s other books, belief and religion are consistent themes. Though faith does not have as central a role in Mistborn as it does in Elantris or Warbreaker, the importance of belief and the power of religion in people’s lives are driving questions for one of the protagonists, Kelsier. Those questions then set the course for future events–both in the immediate and centuries later–following Kelsier’s death.

In “The Final Empire,” Kelsier is deeply interested in the staying power of religion, especially those that lasted a few centuries into the Lord Ruler’s reign. If the Lord Rules was brutally persecuting all religious sects, what made some hold on longer than others? Kelsier learns about speaking truth to power and the ways that beliefs rooted in hope in an alternate world give people real power. He comes to know how a single religious-martyr figure can awaken people into a new state of being and call them to action to fight for the alternate reality that they have only dreamed of before. Ultimately, Kelsier gives his own life for the cause. He becomes the sacrificial death that ignites revolution.

For a while now I have read the Kelsier story in “The Final Empire” as a take on the story of early Christianity. I’m pretty sure that is not the case at all, at least in the mind of Sanderson, but what can I say except that I spent three-and-a-half years at seminary. Stuff happens.

The take is that the messianic figure is not necessarily divine nor even a sinless human but is actually benevolent and seeks the healing of humanity by instituting righteousness and justice for the poor and the oppressed. Sounds like your standard progressive Christian take on the Christ story, yeah?

I think the rub of this take is that Kelsier isn’t simply imperfect. He’s deeply flawed. He’s rightly concerned with justice for the skaa, but he’s a little…murdery. Also, as Vin so helpfully calls out, Kelsier basically is a nobleman. I.e., unlike Jesus of the Christian gospels, Kelsier does not seek to save the poor by identifying with them.

Also Kelsier’s arms are covered in scars from his time of punishment at the Pits of Hathsin. This experience is the catalyst that leads him from a life of self-centered thievery to other-centered thievery and revolution. Early Christians read this old verse from the prophet Isaiah as being about their savior: “The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5b, NRSV). Yet Kelsier earned these scars through actual lawlessness, rather than righteous resistance to unjust laws.

While that contrast between the two figures used to close the door on the Mistborn-Gospels discourse (yes, I just said that), it currently really, really excites me. Because while Jesus of the Bible is many things–compassionate, righteous, steadfast–he doesn’t really have a personality. Like sure God took on flesh in the Incarnation, but he wasn’t flawed, at least according to traditional theology. The idea of a flawed savior is frightening yet terribly attractive. I think it also testifies to how the lives of ordinary people can take on a much greater significance for those looking for something to believe in.

The other aspect of the story that makes “The Final Empire” feel like a take on early Christianity is “Kelsier’s” appearances to his followers. Though this is not Kelsier but the kandra, OreSeur, who has consumed his body (though for a dead man, Kelsier clings on tightly to life albeit in the cognitive realm.) Belief in his redemptive death takes off because some people see him after he is dead. Kelsier’s apparent death at the hands of the Lord Ruler takes on meaning and is imbued with new power when his new followers see him after the fact. In some way, he lives! Likewise early Christianity, after Jesus’ tragic death, tells stories of a few select appearances to his closest followers. On the one hand, we’re supposed to trust the story because of these eye witness accounts. On the other hand, it seems important to the story that Jesus didn’t go on a public speaking “Resurrection Tour” around the ancient world. Part of the deal is that only a few people knew about it.

Kelsier is the flawed skaa Messiah, born of the noble and the poor, whose story of love, loss, and friendship just might have something to say to the classic Savior story.