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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.

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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.