It should be noted that in the last few thousand years on Earth,
Monotheistic Gods have proven quite good at motivating their followers
on religious crusades of political, military and theological expansion.
One has only to look at the rapacious histories of the Christian and Muslim
cultures to see this. Following and worshipping a single God
may well be a critical advantage in building, expanding or maintaining
Of course, the lesser God’s seldom give way easily. In Egypt,
the rival temples succeeded in putting Akhnaton’s attempt at monotheism
down and obliterating Akhnaton’s very name for thousands of years.
Christianity responded to this, in part, by incorporating rival Gods
as saints and angels. Churches were frequently built over pagan holy
spots, and pagan rituals and ceremonies were incorporated and duly christianized.
Another approach appeared to be underway in Hindu Theology.
There, Gods were consolidated by inventing the notion of aspects and avatars.
Thus, one god could have many forms. A benign God, if angered, could
take on a different appearance or set of characteristics, an aspect or
avatar. Thus, a God might have several different natures and
appearances, but still be seen as a single God. This undoubtedly
arose because India’s multitude of kingdoms and societies sported a multitude
of related pantheons, and the notion of aspects and avatars was an effort
to ‘shorthand’ or translate from one pantheon to the next.
In Phundahl, the Tur Cultists worship at a variety of idols of radically
different appearance and mien, all of which are cheerfully admitted to
be Tur. These are almost certainly rival or lesser Gods, now
incorporated as aspects or avatars of Tur.
The incorporation of these rival Gods as aspects of Tur may well have
been the secret of Tur’s success and emergence as a monotheistic God.
The sun is a great common factor for just about all cultures on Earth
or Mars. One can easily imagine some clever Tur priest concluding
that the sun god of a rival village or culture is simply Tur wearing a
slightly different guise. Whatever the theological disputes
between Sun God priests, the idea that they were all actually worshipping
something that was on some level, the same entity, seems logical and attractive.
So, it might have been quite easy for Tur to subsume other Sun Gods and
emerge as the common or universal Sun God.
And once this pattern has been established, it would have been a logical
step, eventually, to begin devouring other gods wholesale, incorporating
them as aspects of Tur, and incorporating their worshippers in Tur’s ever
For rival Cults, Tur’s approach presented insurmountable problems.
How could they fight over what might often seem to be an obscure theological
point? If they did fight and lose, their choices were to continue
their faith within Tur’s embrace, or to reject Tur and be subject to slaughter.
Thus, in the many different effigies of Tur, we likely have remnants
of other Martian Gods. By this time, however, it is probably
all but impossible to tell whether any of the Gods of Tur’s original pantheon
survive, or whether they are all from rival pantheons and monotheisms.
Of course, there was a downside for Tur, in that the theology of Tur
became ever more complex and unwieldy, accumulating avatars, aspects, rituals
in an ever more incoherent theology. The same mechanisms were
at work in the Catholic Church during its expansion through the middle
ages. Endless expansion made the religion endlessly unwieldy.
Time itself worked on the religion, since, over time, theologies inevitably
become more complex, rituals accumulate.
Tur’s followers eventually put together the Book of Tur, or Turgan.
Now, one assumes that when its just a local religion, the rituals and devotions
are transmitted orally. The Turgan as the written word of Tur seems
like a large development. It, or versions of it, may date back
to the early expansions or consolidations of the Tur Cult. To a period
when the Tur Cult was expanding dramatically into many areas, accumulating
ceremonies and rituals. At some point, religious leaders would figure
out that the Cult is flying apart through centrifugal forces, that the
Tur faith of this valley has no resemblance to the Tur faith of that crater.
At that point, there would be an effort to make it all coherent by firming
up some official doctrine, and encapsulating it in the big book of Tur,
Tur and nothing but Tur.
Of course, this effort to enshrine some homogeneity was at best a mixed
success. As the cult continued to expand and evolve, it was
revised, amended and appended. Both theological and political developments
would have altered the holy texts over time. Worst of all, doctrinal
disputes, as we see with the Christian bible, would find fertile ground.
It is likely that Tur worship became the dominant Martian religion.
But that over time, the Tur religion experienced multiple schisms and factions.
Indeed, we see the same processes with Christianity, which early broke
into Catholic and Orthodox components, and later broke further into a multitude
of Protestant sects and even fringe cults like the Mormon church, the Tai
Ping, the Moonies and the Jehovah Witnesses. The Islamic faith,
while younger, has still produced divergences between Sunni, Shia, Sufi
Political diversity, the break up of empires, emergence of rival states,
of city states, all of which would promote divergence within the Tur Cult.
There were probably religious wars, reformations, purges and endless arguments
about doctrinal purity. Even as the Tur Cult accumulated complexity,
priests and theologians would be continually attempting to pare the faith
back to some form of coherence, leading to splits and schisms.
The fall of the Tur Cult probably accompanied the fall of Barsoomian
civilization. As the oceans dried up, as the crops failed and
cities fell, as the green hordes moved, the worshippers of Tur found that
their God was not responsive to their pleas, and their faith weakened and
fell away. It’s not good news for a Fertility/Agriculture Sun God
when you can’t keep the crops from drying up.
It is no surprise that the last major bastion of Tur worship on Mars
is in the City of Phundahl, whose climate and environment are as close
to pre-drought Mars as we are likely to come. This city, isolated
from outside influences, climactically protected, remained as a final centre
of the Tur Cult.
Indeed, it is likely that during the cataclysms, Phundahl became a legendary
holy city that the various sects of Tur worshippers fled too.
Eventually, the city would have become saturated with a massive variety
of Tur sects.
There could only be two possible results of such a profusion of Tur
sects in close proximity: First, devastating civil wars, which
may well have destroyed other surviving centres of Tur worship; or Second,
Phundahl survived by embracing the traditions and rituals of all sects.
Rather than picking winners and losers, mixing or matching, throwing out
this or that, they let it all in. Contradictions were just
part of the greater mystery that was Tur. After all, who can tell
what Gods are thinking. The cult survived through an ecumenical
Tur movement which resulted in peace, but at the price of an absolutely
incoherent and unwieldy, superstition laden religion which was incapable
of expansion beyond its physical borders.
CULT OF ISS
Unlike the Tur faith, which appears to have been a primeval faith which
developed more or less coherently, the Iss Cult appears to have emerged
much later as a mystery cult incorporating radically disparate theological
concepts. Whereas the Tur Cult appears to have always been
an agrarian/life/fertility cult, the Iss Cult was probably always a messianic
The Iss Cult appears to rest on three great theological myths, none
of which quite link up. (1) An incomplete origin myth centred
around a tree of life. (2) A tradition of an afterlife, including
a physical journey to the afterlife on a sacred river. (3) A belief
in a monotheistic God-Queen, who rules the afterlife.
The origin myth is quite remarkable. Essentially, the first
life on Barsoom was the great tree of life at the mouth of a sacred river.
The tree produced plant men who hung as buds or growths, as well three
kinds of seeds, one containing primeval humans, another a kind of sixteen
legged worm, and a progenitor of the white apes. The seeds
fell and tumbled and rolled from the motions of the creatures within, falling
into the river and being carried to the four corners of the planet.
Countless generations lived and died within their seeds before the first
human broke out, and overwhelmed by curiousity, freed other humans as well
as the apes and worms. Thus was the beginning of the human
race, as well as the other races, and eventually, through miscegeneation,
all other animal life on Barsoom. Eventually the tree of life
died, but by this time, the various races had all managed to propagate
on their own.
As we’ve said, this is quite a remarkable origin myth for several reasons.
First, it is remarkably incomplete. Where does the Tree of
Life come from? The river? The world itself? The
sun and skies? As creation myths go, this is quite limited
Second, note the complete absence of divine intervention.
There is no God or Gods in this creation myth, there is no intelligent
intervention. Indeed, by its very structure, this creation myth excludes
gods and intelligent intervention.
In other myths, humans are created by will or action of Gods.
Here we are merely the offspring of an insensate vegetable, and merely
one of the offspring at that. Even the ‘promethean moment’, the emergence
from the seed which is roughly equivalent in terrestrial legendry to Eve’s
eating from the tree of wisdom, or Prometheus’ gift of fire to the first
humans, has nothing to do with divine intervention, but to the independent
actions of the primeval man.
Of course, its been pointed out to me by a person far wiser than myself,
Bob Zeuschner, that many creation myths are ‘God free.’ Even
in the Judaic/Christian story of Genesis God appears "brooding over
the waters" BEFORE God says"let there be light." Obviously,
a world of sorts exists prior to the light. A number of creation
myths in our world place the world or a form of the world before the advent
Nevertheless, Gods do come along, and in most creation myths, they set
about shaping the protean world, raising mountains, carving rivers, birthing
monsters and natural phenomena, creating and/or civilizing humanity, and
setting the modern world in place. Not so with the Iss Cult.
Gods never sneak into the origin myths at all. Rather, it’s remarkably
Third, this is almost a pre-science creation myth. It is a proto-evolutionary
theory. Consider the elements. This myth suggests
a common origin for both plants and animals, and offers that animals have
derived from a specific kind of plant. It posits a common relationship
or source for different classes of animals, the distribution of animals,
and even a mechanism for the emergence of animal species. There
is even a glimmer of natural selection at work, since obviously, it is
fitness and not divine meddling that prompts the emergence from the shells.
All that is really missing here is a concept of mutation, here replaced
by a notion of miscegenation, and we would have an actual working scientific
theory. Thoroughly remarkable.
The weakness of the Tur Cult is that since Tur created everything, there’s
nothing new. Exploration, however, showed the early Martians an endless
variety of novelty, new plants, new animals, new lands and even new peoples.
They saw nature red in tooth and claw, the world changing at every turn
of day and season. The relatively static world view of Tur
was challenged by a worldview that had to come to grips with transformation
and diversity and had developed a proto-science theory to explain it all.
So, where does this origin myth come from? It’s possible
that it may have existed or emerged in some form as an aspect of the Tur
creation myth. After all, what we know of the Tur myth is that
it is cosmic, concerned with the creation of the world. So
it may well be the second part of the myth, concerning the creation of
life and people. But this is unlikely. The Tur creation
myth is one of active and deliberate divine intervention, it seems atypical
that having physically shaped the world by hand, that Tur or his hypothetical
fellow gods, would then leave things up to blind nature.
No, this creation myth is not part of the Tur cosmology.
So then, where does it come from? Arguably, it is much later
in Martian history, and to be found during a period of rationality.
It clearly shows that someone was thinking hard about the relationships
of life in the existing world, and trying to work backwards to determine
how that life would have developed. The Iss creation myth then
is the product not of superstitious evolution, but of something closer
to platonic inquiry.
It is likely that the Iss Cult was only one of a number of ‘transformation’
or ‘novelty’ cults which emerged at the fringes of expanding Martian civilization.
However, the Iss Cult probably succeeded where others withered away because
of its geographic particulars.
I believe that we can refine things even further by considering the
inclusion of Plant Men in the creation myth. Now it may be that the
Plant Men were added to the creation myth much later as a bit of tidying
up, in which case, it doesn’t help us to determine where or how the myth
But my own thinking is that the Plant Men were a seminal component of
the creation myth, particularly given the myth’s emphasis on common origins
of both animals and plants, and of the pre-eminence of humanoid forms.
is only one place on Barsoom that Plant Men were to be found.
The Valley Dor surrounding the Lost Sea of Korus, also known as the Argyre
Planitae, a large depression caused by an asteroid strike in the Southern
hemisphere of Mars.
The Dor/Korus complex of course, formed a biological island in the Martian
ecology. Isolated from the rest of Mars by fierce deserts and
rugged highlands, it was only erratically and infrequently connected to
the rest of the Martian ecosystem by a series of occasional crater and
valley wetlands. Consequently, Dor/Korus remained out of the evolutionary
mainstream of Martian life. Left on its own, it was colonized
by early plants who evolved for much of its history without animals, and
developed into a startling profusion of diversity. Among the
unique plants were mobile and carnivorous forms, including the plant men.
The few animals that did make it in earlier were primitive hardy generalized
forms, no match for the well established ecology, and assuming subservient
roles within it.
Martians of the early age of exploration would have been astonished
by what they discovered in the Dor/Korus region. A profusion
of wild and exotic plants that existed nowhere else on on the planet, a
veritable garden of eden largely unoccupied by animals. And
more, they would be astonished to find plants which, though clearly vegetation,
looked and behaved like Animals.
The presence of plant men, of mobile plants, and of various kinds of
plants, leads the Dor/Korus explorers to work backwards to the primal ‘tree
of life’, and from there, to hypothesize the parallel theory of animal
and human life.
As explorers and thinkers, settlers in new lands rather than traditional
inhabitants of the forefathers lands, they prized initiative and activity.
Thus the elevation of dynamic will in their religion.
There has to be a mechanism or pathway for transmission of life into
the rest of the world. The explorers would have noted the broken
sequence of valleys, canyons and craters, and perhaps speculated that here
was a link, perhaps an ancient long vanished river, connecting Dor/Korus
with the rest of Barsoom.
They might presume, with the rationalism that comes with this early
age of discovery, that animals by virtue of their mobility, travel and
propagate more swiftly than plants, and might spread over the world quickly.
Plants would spread more slowly. This logic would lead inexorably
to the conclusion that the area with the greatest profusion and diversity
of plants would be the area where life originated. Hence, Dor/Korus
would be the Barsoomian primeval garden of eden. The hypothetical
river would be the means of transmission of life to the rest of the planet.
The absence of animals would be confusing, but not fatal since they
clearly traveled beyond the garden and were unable to return when the river
died. The existence of Plant Men and plantanimal
creatures would suggest a common origin.
Thus it is likely that this creation myth arose from the discovery and
exploration of the Dor/Korus complex.
And here, we may have a further window into the history of Barsoom.
The current priesthood of Iss and the current inhabitants of Dor/Korus
are the Therns. The Therns appear themselves to be bald headed
offshoots of the white skinned Orovars.
The Orovars appear to have colonized and emerged in the other great
Southern Hemisphere basin/sea, Hellas, also known as Horz.
Both southern basin seas would have originally been uninhabited, isolated
biological islands. The northern polar ocean and its
shores and borders would have been colonized first.
Thus, if we assume that the black First Born were really the first humans.
We can infer that the next race to develop was the yellow skinned Okar
who retreated to the poles and can still be found there.
The south would only have been explored and colonized later, and the Orovars
would have developed in Hellas. This suggests that Dor/Korus
was one of the last major regions to be discovered, explored and colonized,
by an offshoot of the Orovars who became the Therns.
It was likely the Therns who developed the philosophical concepts that
lead to the tree of life Myth, or at least the Therns who institutionalized
it into a systematic mythology and cult. It is likely that
the tree of life Myth, as both a myth or legend, and as a proto-scientific
theory found its way across Barsoom.
But to the Therns who were actually living in the ‘Garden of Eden’,
the myth took on new significance and became the basis for a religious
order, a spiritual movement and philosophy.
Of course, the life of the Garden of Eden needed a pathway, now lost,
to the rest of the world. Between the Equator and Otz/Dor there
was a winding network of valleys, canyons, cliffs and craters, loosely
connected. Obviously, seeds would find it difficult to
travel, but they could float. Thus, early explorers and philosophers
hypothesized a vast and mystical river, the Iss, along this jagged corridor.
In reality, this river had never existed. But it too became a
part of the myth and philosophical tradition, as the river which was the
gateway or pathway to life. Live began at the head of
the river and flowed out and down.
Over time, a mystical and messianic corollary arose. If
Life began and emerged from the River, then shouldn’t Life return and end
to the river.
At its most basic form, this is simply a mirroring of the original idea.
Life, existence, returns to the place it began. The paradisical
golden age had begun with the tree and the river, and had ended when the
tree died and the river had dried up. A new golden age would
come about when the river returned. Or perhaps, more accurately,
the end age, or paradise after life. From the tree you were
born, and in death, to the tree should you return.
Thus, Iss theology incorporated its first messianic thread.
The notion that the River would return and become the path back to heaven....
Both metaphorically and metaphysically, and physically.
Since the Iss Cult elevated dynamism, it was clear that the duty of
humans was to take the initiative and help to recreate the river, literally
Thus, one of the early staples of the Iss faith would have been to dig
the river out again. To literally carve a canal or channel halfway
across the hemisphere to link all the valleys and lakes of the corridor
into a genuine connecting waterway.
Thus, the Therns became a messianic cult, preaching about a future paradise
awaiting in the future, when time was right. Or better yet,
preaching about the need to earn that Paradise by working on the river.
The corollary idea, the mirror idea, became a prophecy. It
was the other side of the origin myth, thus, a kind of afterlife myth.
Of course, the Therns would find little success in venturing out of
their Idyllic valley to preach their new gospels to the hordes of Barsoom.
They might have found a relatively tolerant welcome among their cousins,
During the golden age, as the Orovar civilization spread north and came
to dominate the polar ocean and three northen seas, its likely that the
Iss Cult spread right along with them, using the Orovars trade and war
as a vehicle for their own growth. It’s even possible that
the Therns may have become the theological or theocratic wing of an Orovar
Empire. More likely, however, whatever their faith or attachment
to the Iss cult, most Orovars probably felt no strong need to promote the
Iss cult against the Tur faiths. Nothing is worse for business
or better for rebellion than shitting on the local gods, as the US is learning
in Iraq. Hence, the Iss Cult spread across the planet, though likely
subservient to Tur Cults.
But for the most part, in the civilizations of Mars, the endless variant
cults of Tur thrived and dominated. Initially, there would
be no competition. The Tur cults were dominant, and concerned
with the day to day, the here and now. The Iss Cult could
only offer pretty pictures of the past and promise of a glorious future,
and perhaps a ‘neo-captialist’ get up and go philosophy of dynamism and
work for future rewards. The Tur Cult was all about satisfaction
However, the Iss Cult had a couple of advantages which allowed it to
survive and even prosper within Barsoomian society.
First, the Iss Cult had a strong cultural and geographical core among
the Therns and in the Dor/Korus complex. The Therns could look
out over the valley and see in every blade of grass, the truth of their
faith and of their teachings. The Therns had become, in fact,
a theocratic state. How could they not be, living in what they
believed was the primeval garden of eden?
Hence, they always had a strong core, a root, a base, a homeland, to
which they could return. It was a homeland which could provide support
and sustenance to a root system, or a system of branches and twigs which
infiltrated out amongst the unbelievers.
Meanwhile, the Tur Cults, by this time, would have been fractionated
and divisive. A thousand separate catholic, orthodox, protestant
and fringe Tur sects, all competing and fighting among themselves.
In such an environment, there was room for an Iss Cult to survive, so long
as it kept it s head down and didn’t make too much trouble.
The other great advantage of the Iss Cult, was that it was, or became
a mystery cult.
Mystery Cults are religions based on mystery and ascending to wisdom.
In the Monotheistic Tur sects, it was pretty wide open. It
was actually quite democratic. There was Tur, and there was
everyone else. The mightiest king was as a commoner before
Tur. With Tur, everyone was on the same level, the origin story,
the theology was a great leveller. Tur was almost democratic
in his outlook. The animals may have been created by Tur to
be devoured by humans, and plants to be created to be devoured by animals
and humans, but at the end of the day, all were created by Tur and all
were part of his plan. Hierarchy was weak, and at the will
of Tur. Otherwise, if Tur willed it, plants could eat men.
Further, Tur’s mysteries were not hidden, but open to anyone and everyone
through his Turgan, or holy book.
With the Iss Cult, however, hierarchy was built in. It was
not a level playing field. There were highers and there were
lowers. Consider the origin story. Everything begins
with a Tree of Life. The Iss Cult doesn’t explain where the
tree of life came from, who made it, or how the world came to be.
By implication, there is some remote creator god (possibly Tur) who, upon
creation, has no further role and is not worshipped. The Tree
of Life produces four kinds of seeds. Hence, existence is divided
into three levels: 1) The Creator, 2) The Tree, and the 3) The seeds.
The seeds themselves are divided into three entities, including the
primeval man, who literally takes deity upon himself by breaking out of
the seed upon his own initiative. This is a remarkable little
twist on the creation myth, because in a sense, ‘Man’ in breaking out of
the seed on his own, literally creates himself. Thus, ‘Man’
is established as the fourth level in the hierarchy. The black
First Born consider themselves the direct descendants of this primal man,
and therefore descendants of the fourth level of creation.
The other two seeds contain a white ape, and a 16 legged worm.
But these are subsidiary beings, because they must be released by the primeval
man. They cannot ‘create’ themselves, but rather, Man must help ‘create’
them. These then, constitute the fifth level in the hierarchy
of creation, or perhaps the fifth and sixth levels.
According to the First Born, the Therns are an ‘evolved’ version of
the White Ape. It is not clear if they evolved with intercession
or coupling by the First Born. But clearly, they’re derived
from the fifth level of creation. The Therns probably do not
accept this notion, and consider themselves true First Born.
Irregardless of the possible special status of the Therns, all other
humans by the coupling of the First Born with these other two, particularly,
creating the remaining human races, as descendants of the sixth level of
creation. And all other animals are created in the same
way, as descendants of a seventh or final level of creation.
Meanwhile, the Tree of Life’s plant offspring becomes a parallel level
of creation, set off and away from the humans/animals, which give rise
to the various plants.
Conveniently, the Tree of Life dies, neatly taking itself out of the
equation, like the original creator God. This leaves the Descendants
of Primal Man as the rulers of an inherited universe, which they rule by
divine right of their own will and initiative.
This is fascinating. As origin stories go, this is a stepladder
myth, rather than a spontaneous creation myth. It provides
a descending order of divinity, and in particular, it reinforces or supplies
divine intermediaries. It is a myth designed to devolve power
and holiness upon a specific elite.
Thus, the tree of life origin myth contained within itself, a kind of
cosmic ladder of holiness, that was quite different from Tur’s level playing
And in fact, the Cult of Iss organizes society in precisely this way.
Thus at the top is the Goddess Iss, who becomes identified with the creator.
Beneath her are the Firstborn. Beneath the Firstborn are the Therns,
who divide themselves into levels of holiness, but who are literally human
cattle - subject to cannibalism. Beneath the Therns are the other
human races, themselves cattle to the Therns and subject to cannibalism.
Beneath the human races are the great apes, the animals, and eventually
The Therns probably were the originators, developing on this idea that
was inherent in the myth. For reasons discussed later, I suspect
that the black First Born spins were post facto elaborations.
In any event, the Therns, oblivious to the First Born, naturally saw themselves
as the holiest of humans. Were they not the custodians of the
garden of eden? And when you began to divide up groups of humans,
it then becomes easy to divide within groups of humans. If
Therns were holier than other humans, were not some Therns holier than
This would have been part of the evolution of a theocratic society.
But it would also have been an idea that shaped that society.
There would be degrees of holiness. Obviously, the most powerful
and influential Therns would be the holiest of all. The most
common or low status the least holy. There would be room for advancement,
but the structure of holiness would be quite rigid.
Thus, the Therns became a rigourous, hierarchical society, organized
almost like a conspiracy. Their society, in merging with its religion,
would give the religion a degree of coherence and cohesiveness that the
Tur cults lacked, enabling it to survive and extend its tentacles as a
hidden minority religion.
And of course, the nature of a mystery cult is that its revelations
are secret. There is the faith or lore which everyone has.
But there are levels. The further you go up, the more levels
you ascend, the more secret lore or hidden knowledge you receive access
to. Various religions or groups on Earth operate in this fashion.
The scientologists are one, the masons are another. Some large Christian
groups, such as the Roman Catholics have aspects of a mystery cult.
To be fair, since the tenet of the Iss Cult held that just about everyone
and everything else were varying levels of irrevocably inferior beings,
so inferior that they were fit only for cannibalism and slavery, this was
not exactly the sort of doctrine which, if publicly revealed, would win
friends and influence people. Particularly not among the ‘lesser
beings.’ So, a certain degree of circumspection was in order.
The Iss Cult’s expansion almost certainly dictated its evolution as a mystery
Historically, of course, mystery cults tend to do less well in many
circumstances than the more open and democratic cults. Anyone
can get down with Tur. To be an initiate of Iss meant years of study
worship. On the other hand, within their society, the Therns
were a theocracy, and outside of their theocracy, they were a covert minority
religion. Mystery cults are very good at surviving as hidden
threads within larger societies, by their nature, they are all about secrecy,
hierarchy and organization.
What changed everything were the great droughts. Suddenly,
the oceans and seas were vanishing, the cities were falling.
Masses were starving. The green hordes had burst out overrunning
nation after nation. Entire populations had been reduced to
refugees fleeing or fighting for their lives.
In that situation, the Tur faith took a beating. Tur was
a god of here and now. And he obviously wasn’t doing his job
if his most devoted followers were being roasted on Green man spits.
The massive upheavals were beyond the abilities of the Tur faiths to cope
with or explain.
In contrast, the Iss Cult was suddenly doing great business.
It’s origin myth had always been a mildly interesting curiousity.
But suddenly, its ‘end myth’ the promise of a paradise in the future was
looking pretty good. Let’s face it: The present
was sucking big time, people needed hope for the future.
The Iss Cult had already infiltrated itself in many Barsoomian societies
as a covert messianic mystery cult. So as cataclysms rocked
peoples faiths in Tur, the Iss Religion was right there, literally making
It was probably in response to the influx of millions of new converts
that the Iss Cult underwent its evolutions to its final form.
Initially, as a messianic cult prophesying paradise with the return
of the sacred river, millions upon millions of new followers offered both
an opportunity and a demand. They wanted that sacred river,
and they wanted it right now, dammit!
The result was one of the many giant construction projects of the cataclysmic
age. The other great projects are well known of course.
The founding of the domed cities of Okar and Panar, the creation of the
Atmosphere Plant, the founding of Omean. This was, perhaps,
the single greatest project in Martian history: The creation
(or re-creation) of the River Iss! Essentially, the construction
of a gigantic, world spanning canal, along the course of the mythological
Ultimately, of course, of the cataclysmic projects, the most important
was the Atmosphere Plant, which saved the world. Okar, Panar
and Omean were little more than island refuges which would not save the
world, but would shelter populations.
In this context, the River Iss project seems like pointless and wasted
folley. It’s completion would not save a single life.
But in a larger sense, the importance of the River Iss cannot be underestimated.
It was the beginning of the canal networks, and established the organizational,
social and technological structures needed to create the canals which were
to become the foundation of Martian life in the post-cataclysm era.
The Atmosphere Plant alone would have left only a dry desert planet.
It was the River Iss and the networks of canals inspired by it that made
life and civilization possible.
At this point, we should halt for a moment and consider that as a further
wrinkle, it appears that following the colonization and occupation by the
Therns of Dor/Korus, there was a tribe of the First Born who traveled down
the valleys and craters to Dor/Korus, were unable to conquer and unable
to return, and simply traveled along the outer rims of the basin complex,
ultimately reaching the southern polar region and establishing themselves
in the uninhabited underground sea that they found there.
It’s clear that prior to or during the course of their confrontation
with the Therns, they themselves absorbed the mythology and theology of
the Iss cult, and incorporated it into their beliefs.
In fact, its most likely that the myth of the tree of life and the Iss
Cult took root among the First Born in their native lands, and this lead
to a messianic movement, a crusade, of true believers who resolved to take
the holy land.
After all, in the Tree of Life myth, the Dor/Korus complex was the original
Barsoomian Garden of Eden. The Therns were the Custodians of
the Garden of Eden. But if the First Born truly considered
or believed themselves to be the first and oldest race on Barsoom, wouldn’t
it make sense that they should consider themselves the natural custodians
of the Garden of Eden? And if the Therns were not prepared
to see the sense in this and hand it over, were not the First Born entitled
to raise up armies and crusades to take it from them?
We cannot be sure when this took place. Sometime before
the River Iss’s completion, and after between the occupation of Dor/Korus
by the Therns, the emergence of their theocratic society, and their spread
as a covert religion to the rest of Barsoom. At a guess,
we feel that the most likely period would be during the age of cataclysm,
during the early collapse of martian societies.
And of course, if they travelled south to take what they saw as theirs,
and were repulsed, would they be inclined to return home. Or
might not some of them decide to press on, seeking the original head waters,
the original source of the tree and of life, the land beyond the Garden
Ultimately, the First Born Crusade resulted in the establishment a First
Born civilization occupying the lost underground sea of Omean, and of a
second parallel Cults of Iss, unknown to the first cult.
The attempted invasion of the First Born came as a shock to the Therns.
As the entire planet turned to Iss worship, they were hit with the realization
that they might lose control not only of their religion, but of their sacred
land. This was clearly unacceptable to them. They
considered themselves a holy people, after all. While they
might consider other humans and human races holy, they were *not as holy*
as the Therns, if you get the drift. That distinction soon
translated to a finding or belief in the natural inferiority of other races.
And if the other races and other peoples were inferior, then perhaps
they shouldn’t be allowed into the holy lands. Or at
least, not right away. Not until they were ready.
At this point, the Iss Cult was moving strongly away from promises of
an Earthly (or Barsoomian) Paradise, to a more abstract heavenly Paradise.
This had always been somewhat implicit in the mirror myth, but circumstances
demanded it be emphasized now. Luckily, the hierarchical and ‘mystery
cult’ nature of the Iss faith made this transition somewhat easier.
And to be completely fair to the Therns, if their valley had been swamped
by tens of millions of hungry refugees, it soon enough would have come
to resemble the disastrous landscape that had become the rest of Barsoom.
To preserve their unique biological and geographic sanctuary, they had
to find a way to keep the millions of new followers from overwhelming it.
Hence, the emphasis on the afterlife. The Iss became a sacred
river that could not be travelled in life, but could only be used as the
journey to an afterlife. The nature of that afterlife, whether
it was physical or spiritual might be a little vague. But it
was clear that the Iss was a one way trip. People who wanted to live
should look to their lives and not the journey.
This substantially cut down the numbers of pilgrims. It
also ensured that of the pilgrims, great numbers would be dead, dying or
easy to kill.
The Pilgrims journey, as far as the Therns were concerned, was real.
Ultimately, they would get to heaven, but there were simply more intermediate
steps to be taken. After all, the Therns were holier than the Pilgrims,
and they weren’t in heaven yet. Hence, the religious/slave
society of the Therns evolved. And in order to avoid the notion that
the Pilgrims might slip the hierarchy and sneak into heaven before them,
the Therns evolved a another hierarchical stepladder. To reach heaven,
the pilgrims needed to be reincarnated properly, or improperly, as great
apes, plant men, silurians, etc.
The other means of cutting down the number of pilgrims was to give them
something to live for. The Iss Cult, with the lessons, tools
and organisation developed from recreating their sacred river, began to
build the worldwide network of canals which saved life and civilisation
It may be a controversial assertion to attribute the salvation of life
on Barsoom to what was essentially a death cult, and one which, by John
Carter’s time had become an unsavoury conspiracy of cannibalism and lies.
But the fact remains. During the cataclysmic days, who else could
have done it? What agency or entity could have commissioned
and managed such a vast worldwide undertaking. Omean, Panar
and Okar were the works of refugee nations, fleeing for their lives.
The Atmosphere Plant, as titanic an effort as it was, was concentrated
in a single location. The Empires, the Kingdoms, City States,
Races and Nations of Barsoom were fallen or in disarray. Collapse
and disaster was everywhere. Even the Tur faith was being swept
Only the Cult of Iss was growing by leaps and bounds. It’s
network of tentacles became an organizational structure. Only
the Cult of Iss would have been able to organize the titanic canal building
effort across the planet, only they would have been able to plan it on
the vast scale necessary, and only they would have been able to motivate
It is no surprise that the canal networks functioned as gateways ultimately
to the River Iss, so that from most of the planet (except a handful of
northern hemisphere regions), traveling the Canals would eventually take
you to the sacred River.
As a brief aside, we note that in Gulliver Jones, following the River
Iss took one to a realm of frozen corpses or preserved bodies, not unlike
that found around Panar. It is likely that in parts of the
northern hemisphere out of reach of the Iss Network, at least one northern
river or canal was, for political and theological reasons, named Iss.
Barsoomians were never really aware of this second Iss as a separate river,
and just assumed it was all one and the same. That’s understandable
since, no matter which Iss they traveled, no one ever came back.
We note that the Therns were active as far north as Okar, within the Polar
Ice. They were probably active in Panar, and thus also probably supervised
and maintained this nothern Iss.
However, with the passing of the crisis and the stabilization of Barsoomian
life and civilization at this new level, the Cult of Iss passed its peak.
Now the dominant faith on Barsoom, it retained its mystery cult aspects.
Most Barsoomians believed in the ‘popular’ Cult of Iss, the religion
of the beginnings and ends of life. With existence returning
to normalcy, they returned to being concerned with life. City states,
Empires, Kingdoms, races and nation reasserted themselves.
If the Therns had ever hoped to transform all of Barsoom into a theocracy,
that opportunity had passed and faded.
The Therns returned to their operation of a covert religion.
The Therns saw themselves as a hidden priesthood of Barsoom, present in
every nation and town, guiding their faithful, shepherding them on their
journeys and maintaining their power covertly. They were,
effectively, a worldwide ruling conspiracy, and remained so until John
In defense of the Therns, it should be pointed out that their rule was
essentially passive, and most Barsoomians who did not fall afoul of the
faith, lived their lives happily enough. Apart from defending
their faith, the Therns may have even performed a service, providing hidden
avenues for city states to negotiate, brokering treaties or truces, encouraging
canal building and the preservation of essential water sources.
It should be noted that after the destruction of the Thern faith by
John Carter, there was no longer any worldwide body capable of wielding
influence. Ultimately, this may well have been disastrous for
Barsoom in the long run.
Other aspects of the Thern’s Iss Cult evolved over time and are understandable,
if not excuseable. The continuing pilgrimage of the dead and
dying down the Iss posed a problem for the Therns. Obviously, these
people were generally not fit to be incorporated into the society of the
Dor/Korus region. Many were old, infirm, depressed, morose,
ill or ailing. The Therns would have exhausted themselves pointlessly
trying to provide hospitals and hospital care.
The alternative was murder on a massive scale for thousands upon thousands
of years. Of course, such atrocity must have its psychic effect.
The Therns increasingly saw other Barsoomians as inferior, almost subhuman.
The endless rafts of bodies were food for the plant men and great apes,
and eventually, the Therns themselves. Thus, cannibalism entered
The continual feeding of the dead to the wild denizens probably inspired
another theological wrinkle. The Therns, already acquainted
with holy hierarchy, decided that the dead would be reborn into a new inhuman
hierarchy, the holy beasts (holy because they were directly from the tree
of life and inhabitants of the garden of eden) would embody the reincarnated
souls. Souls would reincarnate and rise or fall, depending.
Unworthy souls would eventually reincarnate as foul silurians at the bottom
of the sea. Worthy ones would eventually become Therns.
As religious tenets go, this one was almost a physical gesture of moral
self defense on the part of the Therns. On the one hand, it
justified their atrocities upon their innocent victims. On
the other hand, it promised that in the long run, these innocent victims
would be redeemed, so that it would be all right in the end.
It was a bit of ‘have your cake and eat it’ theology.
Those who survived the journey and were fit, became slaves.
Again, inexcuseable, though it should be noted that most of Mars was composed
of slaveholding societies. For those who were slaves
of the Therns, the true insult was not their slavery, but being gypped
out of the promised paradise.
Finally, let us now turn to the Iss Cult of Omean, the last sanctuary
of the First Born. It is clear that the Thern’s lost complete
control, and any sort of knowledge, of the Omean’s. It
could be said that there were three Iss Cult’s, each one hidden behind
the other. The popular day to day faith.
The Thern Cult of mysteries and secrets. And behind and unknown
to them, the First Born Cult.
We have already speculated on the origins of Omean and the First Born
Crusade which peopled that. This Crusade clearly purged Thern influence
or membership from its ranks, and left the First Born without any covert
Thern network. Nevertheless, they clearly maintained their
Thern derived belief in the Iss Myths.
By John Carter’s time, the Thern’s believed that the First Born were
devils who lived on the moon Thuria. They never suspected that
the First Born dwelled in a vast underground sea right behind them.
Nor did they suspect that the First Born were also parallel followers of
For their part, the First Born were well aware of the Thern beliefs,
through their own observations and from captured slaves. They
regarded themselves as, being First Born, the true holy people. They
regarded the Therns as pretenders, hypocrites and neurotics. But
then, the First Born didn’t have to worry about running a worldwide network,
nor did they have to deal with hundreds of thousands of dying pilgrims
drifting into their sea.
At best, the First Born may have regarded the Therns as being holier
than other Barsoomians, while inferior to themselves. This
did not result in any great desire to reveal themselves to the Therns.
At most, it may have made Thern slaves a little more prized.
The evidence is that the First Born raided the Therns more frequently than
The First Born approach to the Iss Faith was just as hierarchical as
the Thern version. However, there was a fundamental difference.
The Therns believed in a series of ascending levels of holiness all the
way up to near divinity, and placed literally all humans, plants and animals
on this. The Thern hierarchy was one of stability, comfort
and slow ascension.
The First Born concept of hierarchy was far more predatory and piratical.
Essentially, it was all about the divine right of the big fish to eat the
little fish. In the Thern hierarchy, there was at least a theoretical
concept of duty owed to inferiors, a responsibility of the higher levels
to guide and oversee lower levels. Among the First Born, a
lower level was merely lunch. Absolutely nothing was owed to
those beneath you.
The First Born’s view of the Iss Faith, reinforced the notions of dynamism
and initiative which lay implicit in the origin story. The
highest form of life (after the now deceased tree), was Man, who took the
initiative to break out of his seed. For the First Born the lesson
was clear: Will, initiative, confidence, dynamism, whatever you call it,
could literally remake the world. Divinity was something to be seized.
Thus, the First Born Iss hierarchy was all about personal elevation
at all costs, and about subjugation of others, also at all costs.
Inferiors were simply fodder. According to John Carter’s
observations, slavery was common to all Martian societies, but the First
Born of Omean took enforced slavery to undreamt of heights, and applied
it with unrivalled thoroughness and cruelty.
The First Born even competed fiercely for status among themselves.
During his time among them, Carter noted the fierce rivalry between Dators
or Princes. The rapid elevation or fall, and the cruelty accompanied
by these sudden changes of fortune. Status, religious holiness,
was based on predatory prowess. Thus, a Dator rose or fell
based on his abilities to fight, to fly, to raid, to capture slaves and
booty, to sow fear among the Barsoomians. It was a ruthless
It was an existence which may have, in part, been dictated by the circumstances
of their environment. Omean as an underground sea would have
been extremely resource poor. There would be an abundant supply
of water, and perhaps fish and sea vegetation for food. But beyond
that, other necessities of life like wood, fabric, metal, tools, etc.,
would have to be obtained elsewhere.
During the cataclysmic era in which Omean was probably founded, trade
would have been an impossibility. The necessities of life could
only have been obtained by raiding and war. Over time, their
evolution as a secret nation, the hidden holy people behind
the hidden holy people, would prevent them from coming out as a trading
nation. Their survival could only have been perpetuated by
constant war and raiding to obtain the necessities.
Thus, their social priorities would have been devoted to war and raiding
skills, to strength and prowess. Any other skill or ability would
simply have become the province of slaves.
Of course, a society as chaotically predatory as that of the Omeans
could not survive. Sooner or later it would tear itself apart.
To prevent this, the Omean people created a final religious twist on
the Iss Faith. In order for their members to cohere and work
together, they all had to acknowledge someone above them, a higher power.
In a sense, the First Born were returning to the egalitarianism of the
Tur Religion. They needed a God beneath whom they were all
equal. And their society developing the way it had, they
needed a God that good look them in the eye and make a ruling as to who
was going to be more equal and who was going to be less equal.
Thus, the Iss Faith of the First Born recreated a monotheistic God.
But unlike Tur, who was essentially a distant and abstract God, this God
would have to be up close and personal. A living person, a
God-King, or God-Queen. Thus, the ascension of Isis.
Isis, among the First Born, was an ultimately holy figure.
Alone among the First Born, she was immune from challenge or contest.
Everyone deferred to her, and everyone invested all their theological faith.
Because of this, Isis lived far longer than most Barsoomians.
She may have lived far longer than any Barsoomian.
As a living God she could not die. On the positive side,
this often meant that there were seldom scheming acolytes pushing to kill
her off so that they could take her place as the new living God.
But on the negative side, though this allowed Isis, or the Isis’ to live
to great age, it also meant that provisions and mechanisms for replacement
were not well developed. The death of an Isis or ascension
of a new one was always a rocky time in Omean society.
The Tur Cult failed because, in truth, it congealed early on.
The Cult ossified and became unchanging, and its endless schisms did not
alter that underlying truth. It could not adapt itself to changing
conditions, it could only retreat and consolidate an increasingly unwieldy
mass of traditions and beliefs. The Iss Cult prospered literally
because it changed with times and circumstances, it took advantage of events
and developed new theology to meet changing needs.
And thus, you have my tale of the Gods of Mars. It is the
story of faith, of the beginnings of Religion, of the elevation of a God,
and of that God’s fall from grace. It is the story of the beginnings
of science and reason, of new myths and new peoples, of cataclysm and transformation,
and of the processes that shaped the Barsoom that John Carter came to love.
We hope you have enjoyed this, and that it gives you a little food for