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Presents
Volume 1416

THE RELIGIONS OF BARSOOM
by 
Den Valdron
Part of the Exploring Barsoom Series

 

Frank E. Schoonover: Gods of Mars - sepia FP dup of DJ
Thuria (Phobos)
 
Edgar Rice Burroughs, by all accounts, was not an avid fan of religion.   Like many of his day, he was openly skeptical of priests and rituals.   Burroughs time was an age when religion of all forms was openly challenged.   The biblical worldview had been challenged again and again by Galileo, by Darwin, by Marx, by explorers and scientists pushing back the frontiers of human knowledge at every juncture.
GalileoCharles Darwin
Galileo ...................................................Darwin

Like Mark Twain before him, Burroughs in his writings often seemed to see religion as, at best, foolish superstition offering comfort to the ignorant, but just as frequently, a barrier to knowledge.  At times, religion appeared as an ugly shell game, a con by cynical priests.   His portraits of religion were often unkind and even mocking.   His depictions of priests and religious functionaries were cynical and harsh.

Karl MarxMark Twain
Marx.......................................Twain

So it goes for Barsoom, where Burroughs created two religions:   The Cult of Tur, and the Cult of Iss.

In the Temple of the Great TurTur is a sun god, his worship briefly encountered in the Master Mind of Mars and occasionally alluded to elsewhere.   Tur’s faith is largely confined to the backward city of Phundahl, a town obsessed with religious worship.   The practitioners of the Tur faith worship in a bewildering variety of ways which seem peculiar to the non-believer.   Less comically, Tur worship has held the Phundahlians back, believing in a flat earth and ignoring science, their society is backwards and undeveloped.

But Tur’s worship is relatively benign and simple compared to the Cult of Iss which dominates the planet.   Briefly, the Cult of Iss promotes an origin myth of a tree and a river of life which is the beginning of all things, and offers a river journey as a path to the afterlife.   The Cult of Iss is a worldwide scam practiced by the Holy Therns who prey on the devoted, and who themselves are scammed by the First Born, who prey upon them, and who in turn are preyed upon by a false God who rules over them.


The Goddess Issus and one of her Thern Priests by Jesse Marsh

With Tur, Burroughs reveals his contempt for the trappings and rituals of faith.  But with Iss, he mounts a wholesale attack on the very idea of religion as a vicious shell game.

However, Burroughs attitudes and attacks do not prevent us from a more thorough analysis of the religions of Mars, and what they reveal about Martian history and society.   It may be that Burroughs himself never though as deeply in the ways we will discuss.  But on the other hand, he was himself a well read man in terms of the society and religions of his own day.   And, of course, he was the greatest living expert on Barsoom, and his creation was informed not just by deliberation, but by inuitive invention, based on subconscious analysis and an understanding of his own world.  Thus, if we look deeply into the Barsoomian religions, I would argue, that there is a depth to find.


CULT OF TUR

Let us turn to the Cult of Tur to see what we can discern.    The first thing that is noteable about Tur is that he lives in the Sun, and that he has created  Barsoom as a flat spinning plate he has hurled out into the void.   For this reason, Tur worshippers insist, in the face of evidence, that the world is flat.

Now that is truly significant.   It should be quite obvious that no religion starts out by contradicting the state of knowledge of its day.  Rather, religions in their formative period incorporate and explain people’s beliefs about the world.

Thus, if Tur created the world as a flat spinning disk, then the Tur Cult must have originally developed in a time when people really did believe that the world was flat.

This implies that the Tur Cult is very very ancient.   Certainly early Barsoomian seafarers would have quickly realized that there is a curvature to the sea, as ships disappeared and reappeared over the horizons.   They would have quickly realized that the world was not flat after all, and was quite likely round.   Even with land exploration, cartographers would have quickly come to realize that their maps made less and less sense on larger scales unless curvature and a round world were the case.

In short, the Tur Cult must precede the great early ages of Barsoomian exploration and civilization.  Instead, the Tur Cult must have emerged when Martians were still living in small nomadic societies or stable inland farming villages.   The Cult may reach all the way back to the dawn of Martian civilization, and even precede or be contemporaneous with such discoveries as writing.

On Earth, the Ancient Greeks, Minoans and Egyptians of 4000 years ago had realized the world was round, although that knowledge would eventually temporarily lost during the dark ages.  It is possible that the secret had been divined by savants of even earlier civilizations.    We can extrapolate from this that the Tur Cult therefore must go back to Martian Bronze or Copper or even Stone Ages.

Sun God Surya
Sun God
Helios Sun God
But there is more to be revealed to the careful sifter of evidence.   Tur is a discrete being who lives in the sun?   Why the sun?  On the one hand, the sun is the source of all light and heat, and therefore of life.  On the other hand, the sun is only a tiny part of the sky, it is absent at night, obscured in the day by clouds, it rises and falls each day, waxes and wanes from summer to winter.   Other elements, Water and Soil, seem far more essential to life.   Other bodies, mountains and oceans seem far more imposing and permanent.   So why should a monotheistic god confine himself to the Sun?   Why, for that matter, should a monotheistic god confine himself anywhere?   Why isn’t Tur simply inhabiting the sky?

The fact that Tur lives in the Sun, but is not the Sun itself is an interesting distinction.   Tur is seen as equivalent to a person, a being who inhabits specific locations, and does specific actions, rather than an omnipresent entity, as he seems to be depicted elsewhere in his religion.

It has the effect of localizing Tur as a deity.  This suggests that originally, Tur might have been just one deity out of many, thus there were deities who lived in the ocean, or on mountains, or who controlled and directed other aspects of life.  After all, if he’s one individual in a fixed location, well, there are other locations, which imply other individuals.
 

Sun God’s are intimately associated with agriculture and early civilization on Earth.   By analogy, Tur is probably of the same order, an early agricultural deity.   In fact, according to his worshippers, Tur created man then created the sexes to make life more interesting.  He created animals and plants to feed humans and each other.    The division of the sexes and the creation of animals and plants, all suggests an early agricultural/fertility cult, concerned with procreation and reproduction, not just of humans, but also of plants and animals.  Note that this divine plan also seems fundamentally optimistic, it is a religion built on the notion of expansion, and of plenty, as opposed to the current dying Mars.

Also interesting is the complete absence of any mention of afterlife or of death.  It’s likely that this is part of the Tur Cult.  But the emphasis on worship and orgiastic adulation in life, the focus on origins and living suggests that any conceptions of death or afterlife was a relatively minor part of the Tur Cult, as much as such aspects can be minor in any religion.   Tur is clearly concerned with living and is or was an optimistic faith.   It was not an ‘end times’ religion.

Tur was almost certainly not a monotheistic God to begin with.   Rather, in his humble beginnings, Tur was simply one God among many.

The general course of religion appears to be that among hunter/gatherer societies which live within nature, that the natural world is accompanied by a supernatural world made up of various nature spirits.   This sort of religion is loosely called animism, and tends to believe in spirits in rain, in rocks, in wind, in animals, all of which must, from time to time be acknowledged or placated.  These animist nature spirits are usually inhuman and largely indifferent to humanity.   There are often ancestral spirits or culture-spirits, which may be called upon to intercede for humans or humanity.

With agriculture and civilization, ie, the establishment of towns and cities and larger and more complex political units, the supernatural world is shaken out.   The ‘culture’ or culturally created world of the town or village insulates humanity from nature.  The variety and diversity of nature spirits become less important.   A handful of the nature spirits become much more important for things like agriculture, fertility or construction.   Nature spirits, who are intrinsically indifferent to humanity, become too important to simply be left neutral, thus they are often merged with the ancestor spirits who admit to human intercession and prayer.   Rather than being expressions of a faceless and random nature, the resulting spirit is a ‘human’ entity controlling nature.  The result is the elevation or creation of Gods.

As a general rule, many early religions are polytheistic.   As complex tasks are divided up among various casts and professions in early cities, so too in the supernatural world are the complexities of nature divided up among a pantheon of Gods, each ruling some aspect of the world.  Thus, there are Sun Gods, Storm Gods, River Gods, Fertility Gods, etc.   As culture progresses, Gods become more specialized and we end up with Gods of metalworking and blacksmithing, or Gods of agriculture.

On Earth, just about every known civilization appears to have polytheistic roots, and this includes the Aztec, Maya, Inca, Sumerians, Greeks, Chinese, Hindu, Norse, Germanic, Romans, Maori and Hawaians.

Even the Judaic tradition religions, including Christianity and Islam, appear to have begun as polytheistic faiths.   In the bible the Judaic God says “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.”   This is a naked admission by the Judaic God that there are, in fact, other Gods out there competing for worshippers and warning his flock not to stray.  Indeed, it can be read simply as an admonishment that the Judaic God comes first, and other Gods may only be worshipped after...  Thus, the Judaic God is not necessarily claiming monotheism, but merely grasping for pride of place in the pantheon.

The Epic of Gilgamesh: The Flood
The Epic of Gilgamesh: The Flood
Noah before the flood
Noah before the flood

There is other textual evidence within the bible.   The Genesis story of the Flood appears to be clumsily lifted from the epic of Gilgamesh.   In Gilgamesh, four gods argue over humanities fate, with two bound on the flood, and two determined to save humanity.   In the biblical version, the debate remains, but now all the lines have been attributed to one God, leaving the Judaic God to schizophrenically argue with himself.

So, getting back to Tur, the likelihood is that if Tur is confined to the Sun, then it is likely that originally, other Gods were inhabiting other parts of the Universe.   Thus, although Tur was prominent as a Sun God, the sun itself was hardly all powerful, there was likely a God of Night to balance him.  There were likely seasonal gods of Summer and Winter.  A God of the Ocean.   A God of wind and rain and storms.  Even Gods of aspects of civilization.

It is equally likely that the Tur creation myth which comes to us is a simplified version, and that in the original creation myth, not only did other Gods participate, but that the complexities of the world are explained by the squabbling and jockying of the various Gods.

Now, its quite easy to see how Tur might become the Chief God of the Pantheon, either at the outset or over time.   The sun is, after all, critically important to life and agriculture, and any diminishment of the sun, as in winter, night or as a result of storms is bad news.   But how does Tur become a monotheistic God?

We do not, and cannot know.  But there are several terrestrial examples which may give us hints to Tur’s path to dominion.

Athena goddess of Athens
Athena goddess of Athens
Jehovah
Jehovah
Moloch
Moloch
First, on Earth, Gods tended to play favourites.   Among the Greek and Phoenician City states, specific Gods would become patrons of specific cities.   Athenia, for instance, was the patron god of Athens.  Moloch the patron God of Carthage.   Jehovah became the patron god of the hebrew tribes.   In such cases, it is easy to imagine a city state growing into an Empire, and its god becoming a monotheistic entity sweeping the lesser gods away, even as the empire swept the lesser city states away.

Alternately, it is possible that a monotheistic God could, for political reasons, achieve primacy as the ‘state cult’ in a pantheistic state.   This is essentially what happened when the Christian God achieved primacy in the Roman Empire.   Another example was in Egypt when the Pharoah Akhnaton attempted, during his lifetime, to elevate Ra to the level of a monotheistic God.  Note that like Akhnaton’s Ra, Tur is also a Sun God.  Perhaps Sun Gods had a built in head start.
 

The god Ra sails with the sun in his boat
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 an Empire.

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 growing flock.

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 and Bahai.

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, compromise.

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 movement.

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 in scope.

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 of Gods.

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 god-free.

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 developed.

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.

Ballantine-Del Rey Edition ~ Michael Whelan artThere 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 rebuild it.

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, the Orovars.

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 now.

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 field cosmos

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 sea creatures.

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 other Therns?

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 cult.

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 and 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 converts overnight.

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 river.

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 of Eden?

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 on Mars.

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 away.

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 the millions.

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 Carter’s time.

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 their society.

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 Iss.

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 anyone else.

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 existence.

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 thought.

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