Way back in the beginning, one of the first essays I did, and one of
the first posted by Bill Hillman was "Religion
It was a pretty nifty piece of work, in which I used the two known Barsoomian
religions, the Cult of Tur and the Cult of Iss, to reconstruct Barsoomian
social history. I was quite proud of it.
Of course, I'm always on the lookout for constructive feedback, and
I was pleased to receive several emails pointing out that I'd missed a
Barsoomian religion. I'd completely overlooked the Cult of Komal,
which figures prominently in Thuvia, Maid of Mars. Imagine
my embarrassment. So of course, I'd have to politely write back to
thank them for pointing this oversight. Usually, I'd go “Die!
Die! Die! Curse you to hell you nitpicking bastard!”
Then I'd go off to lie down and not think about the subject for a while.
But anyway, blame Michel Vannereux (no relation) some wacky French person,
who got me to take a second look at my ‘Religions of Mars’ piece.
Since that time, I'd written a lot more, including a sort of pseudo-sequel,
Linguistic Archeology and Orovars, which analysed the Barsoomian language,
and found a lot of words and word roots which seemed to trace back to the
Tur cult. Check it out, I'd recommend it.
And I'd also written essays on other Martian novels which fit, or could
be made to fit into Barsoom. In particular, I'd recommend my two
‘Mighty OAK of Barsoom’
essays, which focus on Otis Adelbert Kline's two Martian novels and ‘Malacandra
on Barsoom’ about C.S. Lewis’ characters journey to a Mars.
Tangentially related to this essay are ‘Aelita:
Princess of Mars’ and ‘Gulliver
Anyway, let's start off with Barsoom proper, and the Cult of Komal,
which Burroughs wrote in Thuvia: Maid of Mars.
For the record, the Cult of Komal is the official religion of the Lotharians.
The Lotharians are a doomed race of long lived Orovars. Doomed because
their women have all died off and men aren't much good at reproducing.
The Lotharians are the ultimate backwater, so far as they know, Barsoom's
completely overrun by Green Men and they're the last humans.
They've been isolated and out of touch since the seas dried and they've
missed out on hundreds of thousands of years of Barsoomian history.
They've never heard of cities like Helium. The magazines in their
Doctors waiting rooms are really old.
The Lotharians have perfected their mental powers, apparently extending
their lives to near immortality. At the same time, their prodigious
mental abilities allow them to cast or project psychic illusions or ghosts.
Indeed, some of their ghosts or projections are so good that they actually
have material form, can carry weapons, fight, act, speak and think indistinguishable
from real people... Except of course, that they vanish when the Lotharians
stop concentrating on them. Most of the time.
In Thuvia, we meet Kar Komack, a psychic projection of a legendary
bowman, in whom so much psychic energy has been invested that he continues
to exist as a real person, even when no one is concentrating on him.
In fact, not only is Komack real, but he has the gifts of his creators
and can create his own armies of psychic ghosts.
But all this is neither here nor there. The Lotharians are
not followers of Iss obviously. They lost touch during the cataclysm,
before the Iss faith really took over. Oddly, they aren't followers
of Tur either.
Instead, the have Barsoom's third known religion: The Cult
of Komal. And what is Komal, you ask?
"Who is Komal?" asked Carthoris. "I heard your jeddak speak of him."
Jav bent low toward the ear of the Heliumite, looking fearfully about
before he spoke.
"Komal is the essence," he whispered. "Even the etherealists admit that
mind itself must have substance in order to transmit to imaginings the
appearance of substance. For if there really was no such thing as substance
it could not be suggested -- what never has been cannot be imagined. Do
you follow me?"
"I am groping," replied Carthoris dryly.
"So the essence must be substance," continued Jav. "Komal is the essence
of the All, as it were. He is maintained by substance. He eats. He eats
the real. To be explicit, he eats the realists. That is Tario's work.
"He says that inasmuch as we maintain that we alone are real we should,
to be consistent, admit that we alone are proper food for Komal. Sometimes,
as to-day, we find other food for him. He is very fond of Torquasians."
"And Komal is a man?" asked Carthoris.
"He is All, I told you," replied Jav. "I know not how to explain him
in words that you will understand. He is the beginning and the end. All
life emanates from Komal, since the substance which feeds the brain with
imaginings radiates from the body of Komal.
"Should Komal cease to eat, all life upon Barsoom would cease to be.
He cannot die, but he might cease to eat, and, thus, to radiate."
"And he feeds upon the men and women of your belief?" cried Carthoris.
Descartes wrote: I think therefore I am. Komal's
faith is: I eat therefore I am. Or more accurately,
since he is the source of things: I eat, therefore you are.
That's a rather philosophical proposition when you think of it.
We don't get too much of Komal's theology, but this glimpse is weird
enough. It seems that the Komal cult is an intensely philosophical
The cult of Tur was a reflection of the world that the archaic Barsoomians
saw, essentially a flat earth lorded over by a sun god, because early Barsoomian
villagers believed that the world was flat, that spirits ruled, and the
sun was the source of life.
The cult of Iss was a pseudo-rationalist mystery cult, which tried to
explain a more complicated world with a sort of ‘theory of evolution’,
which became the basis for a hierarchical ‘afterlife’ faith during the
The cult of Komal does them one better. Tur and Iss tried to explain
and justify the world that the Barsoomians knew, but Komal literally meddles
with the very structure of reality itself. Komal is all about
the real and the unreal, its sort of like Plato's theory of solids, except
that in this faith, Komal himself is the only platonic solid.
In another sense, Komal is Alice's Red Queen, dreaming the world into reality.
So, what is Komal? Two chapters later, we find out:
"What is to be our fate?" asked the Heliumite. "Tell me, man! Shake
off your terror long enough to tell me, so I may be prepared to sell my
life and that of the Princess of Ptarth as dearly as possible."
"Komal!" whispered Jav. "We are to be devoured by Komal!"
"Your deity?" asked Carthoris.
The Lotharian nodded his head. Then he pointed toward a low doorway
at one end of the chamber.
"He has come," he whimpered.
Carthoris and Thuvia looked in the direction the Lotharian had indicated,
expecting to see some strange and fearful creature in human form; but to
their astonishment they saw the broad head and great-maned shoulders of
a huge banth, the largest that either ever had seen.
Slowly and with dignity the mighty beast advanced into the room. Jav
had fallen to the floor, and was wriggling his body in the same servile
manner that he had adopted toward Tario. He spoke to the fierce beast as
he would have spoken to a human being, pleading with it for mercy.
Carthoris stepped between Thuvia and the banth, his sword ready to contest
the beast's victory over them. Thuvia turned toward Jav.
"Is this Komal, your god?" she asked.
Jav nodded affirmatively. The girl smiled, and then, brushing past Carthoris,
she stepped swiftly toward the growling carnivore.
In low, firm tones she spoke to it as she had spoken to the banths of
the Golden Cliffs and the scavengers before the walls of Lothar.
The beast ceased its growling. With lowered head and catlike purr, it
came slinking to the girl's feet. Thuvia turned toward Carthoris.
Are you shocked? I'm shocked. After wading hip deep
in existential muck, we finally get to meet Komal, and it turns out that
he's nothing but a great big pussy. He's just a frigging Banth,
that these idiot Lotharians have been making sacrifices too, slowly whittling
away at their irreplaceable population. The trouble is that
I didn't think that there was anything all that interesting to say about
the Cult of Komal. He's just a big frigging Banth that a bunch of
crazy mentalists worship. So what? Okay, he's the biggest
Banth they've Ever seen. But still... so what?
But actually, when we think about it, there are a few interesting notions
that suggest themselves. For instance, is Komal real?
Think about it. These Lotharians have developed mental abilities
that have made them effectively immortal, they psychically materialize
the food that they eat, they can temporarily create other people... and
indeed, with Kar Komack, they've achieved a permanent full scale person
who exists independently.
Now, its true that the Lotharians projections are deliberate acts of
will. But perhaps the worship of Komal has the same effect. Perhaps Komal
is not a real Banth, but a collective subconscious manifestation of the
mental powers and worship of the Lotharians. On the surface, Komal doesn't
appear anything more than a larger than usual Banth. Komal may not
see himself as anything more than a big Banth, and he certainly doesn't
act like anything else. But then again, Kar Komack feels like a Bowman
to himself and not an artificial being.
What's the life span of a Banth? According to the Lotharians,
they've been making sacrifices to Komal since practically forever.
Real Banths eventually die of old age, do the Lotharians have to keep choosing
a new Komal. Or does Komal simply never die? And why is Komal
so bound up with the elaborate philosophical conceits? Unless in
some sense, he is a product of those conceits?
But then again, why a Banth? Why didn't the Lotharians come
up with a God who might actually do some ass kicking on their behalf.
Where does the original worship of Komal come from?
There's just barely a hint that Komal might be a very old god.
The ancient legendary bowman's name is Kar Komack. Komack is
similar to Komal. Perhaps Kom or Koma was an original archaic
name for Banth. In linguistic archeology, Kar seems to mean
son or child or children, so Kar Komack is ‘Son of the Lion.’
The suggestion here in the naming of this hero of ancient legend is that
the Banth was, if not an actual god, then a powerful national symbol for
the ancient Lotharians. After all, no one names their heroes
“Son of the Housecat” or “Son of the Poodle.”
But animals are often significant national symbols. In this
modern day, we have the American Eagle, the Canadian Beaver, the British
Bulldog, the French Teen Tart and the Russian Bear. China is often
referred to as a Tiger or Dragon. In other sorts of cultures, these
animals would become powerful spiritual or mystical totems, or even Gods
in their own right.
The earliest Barsoomian religion was probably animist or pantheist.
It saw the supernatural everywhere in the world, and believed that spirits
guided and directed the sun, winds, rain, mountains and animals.
Over time, as the Barsoomian culture triumphed over nature, belief in nature
spirits gave way to belief in ‘civilized’ Gods. Or in Gods who represented
the things that were important to Civilization. Tur moved from nature
spirit to Sun God, and eventually to a monotheistic Sun God.
It's possible, even likely, that Komal also started off as a nature
spirit, and even for a time, shared space in the polytheistic pantheon
as a god in his own right, alongside Tur. It's also possible,
but a lot less likely, that Komal survived as a god, for a devoted cult
of followers. But the more likely outcome was that as Tur became
a monotheistic God, Komal was downgraded, losing status as a god, but perhaps
continuing as a symbolic figure. Well, that's life in the religion
business.... One day you're God of Lions, the next day you're Smokey
The Komal Cult may have originally been a part of a pantheon that ceased
to exist when Tur monotheism dominated, but remained in records or histories
and was revived during the social upheavals that followed the vanishing
of the oceans. So it may have remained hypothetically capable of
Was Komal worshiped by the Lotharians before they got to Lothar?
Probably not. The early Lotharians were desperate, frightened people,
on the run for their lives, and enduring unimaginable privations and horrors.
"Women!" exclaimed Jav. "There are no women in Lothar. The last of the
Lotharian females perished ages since, upon that cruel and terrible journey
across the muddy plains that fringed the half-dried seas, when the green
hordes scourged us across the world to this our last hiding-place -- our
impregnable fortress of Lothar.
"Scarce twenty thousand men of all the countless millions of our race
lived to reach Lothar. Among us were no women and no children. All these
had perished by the way.
"As time went on, we, too, were dying and the race fast approaching
extinction, when the Great Truth was revealed to us, that mind is all.
Many more died before we perfected our powers, but at last we were able
to defy death when we fully understood that death was merely a state of
Here's a little clue. That's not good for the God business.
People keep going on with prayers like “Dear God, why have you forsaken
me?” The Tur cult, and a Komal cult would have had no answers
and no salvation for their desperate followers. So if Komal
was being worshipped as an institutional, that would have probably been
it for the Komal cult. This was a time for mad prophets and bug eating
visionaries and mystics, not friendly local pastors. The people who
made it to Lothar were not a sect or cult retreating to their hideaway.
They were simply Orovars running for their lives. They were undoubtedly
So where did the Banth thing come from? Think about it.
The survivors fleeing to Lothar felt small, they felt weak, they were afraid,
their world had fallen to pieces. A Banth was big, powerful,
fearless and master of its world. Indeed, the Banth survived
the cataclysm which destroyed the Orovars, Banths continued to roam, Banths
did not fear the Green men but instead hunted and fed on them. In
short, the Banth was everything they felt they were not, a Banth was everything
they felt that they lacked in themselves and wanted to regain.
The Banth, or Komal, at this point was probably not much more than an
abstract concept originally. But in an age of desperate chaos, that
symbolic concept quickly took on spiritual overtones. Warriors sought to
emulate the courage of the Banth, to think and act like Banths. The
Banth became a standard. A symbol of both the devouring world
around them, and the fortitude to meet that world head on, Komal was ready
and set for a trip back to godhood.
We don't know when Komal worship formally began. It may
have been a wacky warrior cult before the catastrophe. Or it might
have begun as the ravings of a mad prophet during the catastrophe.
Or it may have been adopted in the later stages of the catastrophe by a
people abandoned by their old god and driven half mad by fear and stress.
Now, here's where it gets really interesting. Did I say
a people driven half mad? Think right around the bend. The
world of the Orovars had collapsed utterly. The oceans had disappeared,
the crops had failed, their cities fallen, everything they knew had fallen
to madness and chaos, their nation was being wiped out. In fact,
by the time they reached Lothar, they were done for. They had no
women and children left, and every survivor knew that meant they were finished.
Without women and children, there would be no next generation, no youths
to take up the burden of the old. They'd found a fortress which was
impregnable, but they might as well have been trapped rats. No food,
no water, no future, ringed by relentless enemies. These were
twenty thousand warriors who had watched their entire civilization fall,
who had lost their mothers, their wives, their sisters, their daughters
and sons, the survivors of a desperate forced march that might have numbered
hundreds of thousands, or millions. They had been under unimaginable
stress, fighting desperately for their lives, and now they finally had
a breathing space where they could rest for a second, contemplate what
they had lost, and how utterly hopeless their situation was.
So of course, they went completely insane. Seriously, what
other choice did they have?
Under the circumstances, its not surprising that the survivors of Lothar
would have started questioning reality. Reality had failed
them utterly. They thought they'd known reality, they had lived in
a safe Orovar world of cities and seas, a reality that had served them
well, and suddenly that had gone away to be replaced by unimaginable horror.
So there was a good deal of philosophical challenging of the very concept
of reality. Let's just say that their reality was pre-challenged.
Their faith in reality was coming to them pre-chewed. The no
longer had faith in the world, and that translated to a lack of faith in
They were clinging to two things. An abstract faith in some
intangible set of virtues or qualities, strength, courage, resourcefulness,
that they associated with their Banth symbol, or their Banth god.
That had kept them alive through the horrors as their world fell to pieces,
so that had to represent a deeper more profound reality. They were
also obsessing over the past. Let's face it, the future wasn't anything
to look forward to. They were compulsive of their remembrance of
things past, of the better days, the glory days.
Now, all Barsoomians are telepathic. For the most part,
this doesn't really amount to anything. It's only occasionally a
plot point in the novels, but mostly a minor one. For most
Barsoomians, telepathy only acts as a ‘helper’ to their spoken language,
allowing them to communicate more clearly and avoid misunderstandings.
This has probably resulted in their having more and bloodier wars than
terrestrial humans ever imagined.
But the fact that Barsoomians have a basic telepathy without effort
suggests that there are vast untapped possibilities. One might,
and in fact, John Carter has, jumped from world to world simply by an act
of mighty will. Conceivably, telepathy could project shared illusions,
perhaps might even remake or alter reality, create or dissolve matter.
Now normally one would assume that these tricks are restricted to mystics
who spend decades on mountaintops mastering the internal discipline.
Normally, but not necessarily. John Carter wasn't a mystic,
he was just a man, paralyzed, half crazed with fear, exercising an extraordinary
burst of sheer willpower.
So in Lothar, we've got a population of desperate, terrified survivors,
utterly bereft of hope, clinging to intangibles, obsessing over the past,
and questioning the very foundations of reality. An epic madness
and despair did what should have been restricted to mystics.... They
started to remake reality.
Of course, the notion that reality was completely up for grabs is terrifying
in itself. So Komal, the spirit of the Banth, became the ‘ur-real’
thing for them. It could have been anything they fixed upon,
their leader Tario, a chair, a thoat, even Tur. But because of their
privations, a Banth loomed largest in their minds.
Or, if you want a wild thought, perhaps Komal was a symbolic avatar
of a philosophical concept - 'Mind' or 'Will' over reality. The Banth might
have been venerated not for its physical prowess, but for the perception
of its indomitable will. This second line of thought is particularly interesting.
Let me follow it a little. The relic Lotharian population believes in the
primacy of mind, or will, over matter. This suggests that their worship
of Komal may well have a relationship to this philosophy. In
short, it may have seemed very natural, particularly in their state of
mind, that God would be a Banth. Or that they key concept of ‘will’
would be Banthish. Certainly they felt very chewed up.
They also self limited themselves.
"We might have killed them at any distance, but one rule of war we have
maintained from the first -- the rule of realism. We do nothing, or rather
we cause our bowmen to do nothing within sight of the enemy that is beyond
the understanding of the foe. Otherwise they might guess the truth, and
that would be the end of us.”
Except of course, that they can materialize solid objects. So
realistically, they could do anything. And yet, they cling to a belief,
or half belief that it is still unreal, that its all illusions.
But there's more to it. Why don't they materialize rifles for
their bowmen to fire? Why don't they project their own illusions
of green men. Even thousands of years later, they're still obsessed
with recreating or recapturing their pasts. They could, with
their powers, be gods. But clearly, the madness that opened the doorway
to their powers also constrains them. They could make Komal
into a real god, a thinking God who could do things for them. But
they're trapped by realism. Komal is a banth, so he must think and
act like a banth. Thousands of years later, the Lotharians are still
a maddened, traumatized, crippled population, still suffering from post-traumatic
stress on a massive scale.
I'll confess, when I originally read Thuvia, I didn't have a good opinion
of the Lotharians. They struck me as decadents, self indulgent and
self absorbed courtiers who'd found a refuge and practiced their mental
gifts in luxury. Thinking it over, I think I'm more inclined to pity.
In real ways, they are trapped forever in a nightmare, not wholly of their
The practice of sacrifice to Komal, after all, Banths must eat, means
that their philosophy has lead them ultimately to a slow racial suicide.
Sooner or later, Komal must eat the last Lotharian, and then what?
But why make sacrifices of themselves to Komal at all? Again,
this goes back to their traumatic flight as the world ended around them.
Sacrifice was what it was all about. Endlessly, the warriors, the
heroes, everyone sacrificed themselves so that others could go on.
Sacrifice, the necessity and the willingness to sacrifice, became key to
survival. The Lotharians are once again, re-enacting their
There, is everyone satisfied? I've dealt with the Komal
Now let us turn to another Barsoomian religion. This one
from Greater Barsoom, by which I mean, it is set on a Mars that Burroughs
did not write, but which I and other better writers, have cleverly merged
This is the Oyarsa Cult of the Malacandrans in C.S. Lewis' Out of
the Silent Planet. In this novel, an Earthman goes to Mars
and encounters three strange humanoid or semi-human races: The Sorn, the
Pfiltriggi and the Hrossa.
He also encounters their religion. The races venerate a sort of
mystical angelic being called Oyarsa. The centrepiece of their religious
ceremonies is that when individuals die or are ready to die, they travel,
or their bodies are taken down a long mystical river, at the end of which,
the Oyarsa assists them in leaving the world, perhaps transcending to the
Hands up anyone who notices that this seems to suspiciously resemble
the Iss Cult. Indeed, there are a great many interesting similarities
to and departures from the Iss Cult which suggest strongly that the two
religions are closely related.
But here's the thing. Oyarsa is a bona fide supernatural creature.
Specifically, Oyarsa is a sentient non-material being with extraordinary
powers. The Oyarsa can communicate telepathically with its
followers over vast distances, and can make matter vanish, it also can
perform feats of telekinesis.
In League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Alan Moore did not include
the Oyarsa, but he did confer the Oyarsa's ‘matter vanishing’ ability on
the Sorns. In Green Mars, Larry Niven included the Sorn and the Pfiltriggi
on Barsoom, but he took one look at the Oyarsa and decided he wanted nothing
to do with that. It does pose a problem, if the Oyarsa is really
and truly exactly what it says it is, then that's pretty incompatible with
all the rest of Barsoom.
But is it really and truly exactly what it says or believes it is?
Kar Komack in Thuvia, Maid of Mars, believes that he is the legendary
bowman, and certainly believes in his own reality. But for all we
know, the original Kar Komack may never have existed, may have been a fictional
character. In truth, Kar Komack knows only what his creators believe.
This may be true of the Oyarsa as well. It may be a psychically
created being, like Kar Komack, or even as Komal may be, knowing and believing
things, not because it's the literal truth, but because that's what its
Indeed, there are hints that this may indeed be true. The
Oyarsa's power is hardly unlimited. It can communicate telepathically
over great distances. But so what? Telepathy is hardly a big
trick over Mars, though distance communication is impressive.
Still, its interesting that Ransom and the other Earthmen seem pretty deaf
to telepathy, much as John Carter and Ulysses Paxton are. In some
ways, the Oyarsa is a more limited being. It's immaterial,
while Komack and Komal are pretty solid. Its ability to dematerialize
matter, while impressive, is a step below the Lotharians ability to create
matter. There's nothing that the Oyarsa does that the Lotharians,
individually or collectively, couldn't.
So, in the context of Barsoom, my thinking is that Oyarsa is simply
a psychically created being manifested by the subconscious telepathy of
But there's more. Consider the name, Oyarsa.
In Barsoomian, an ‘a’, ‘ah’ or ‘ia’ denotes a feminine name, usually its
attached to a fathers name to mean daughter. Thus, Tor Hatan's Daughter
is Sanoma Tora. Thuvan Dinh's daughter is Thuvia.
The Moon Thuria may translate as Daughter of Tur. So,
Oyarsa means ‘Daughter of Oyars.
Break that down a little further. Oyars comes out as Oyar-S.
Or Oyar-Iss? Oyar may be a corruption of Orovar.
The Iss cult begins among the white races, the Therns and Orovars.
If the Oyarsa cult is not original, but derived from outsiders, then it
must have been introduced by Thern or Orovar missionaries.
The local races might not have distinguished them, and might have used
Orovar as a generic term to identify them both. So the original
derivation or meaning of Oyarsa may be “Daughter of Iss, Goddess of the
Orovars.” Or perhaps another translation might be “People of
the Daughter of Iss”
Or, for an alternate interpretation, we could look to Tolstoy's Aelita:
Princess of Mars. In this novel, we have a word ‘Oeyeo’
which means concentrate, or concentration, expression of will.
Essentially, focused will. So this would give us an original
construction of Oeyea - R - Iss - A, or “Expression of the Will of the
Daughter of Iss.”
Either interpretation works. And either interpretation would
pretty conclusively mean that the Oyarsa Cult is simply an offshoot of
the Iss cult. One with a benign goddess for a change.
But then, that begs a question doesn't it? Why is this offshoot
cult allowed to exist? By all accounts, the Therns are pretty aggressive
with their religious monopoly. The Tur Cult survives in Phundahl
which is pretty much a literal backwater at the far end of the Toonolian
marshes. The Komal Cult is in Lothar, which no one has ever heard
So what's the deal here? If you read my Malacandra on Barsoom
essay, you'll see that I've pinpointed the Malacandrans location as a sheltered
hinterland at the extreme west of Valles Marinis and valleys sheltered
by Tharsis. In Barsoomian terms, its an extremely obscure location,
bordered by two of the most reclusive societies on the planet: Kaol and
Phundahl. It would also be clearly outside the Thern's canal
and river network which is their pathway to Iss and Dor.
So, in a sense, its an obscure backwater area, its well outside their
network and perhaps because of Oyarsa, the Therns are prepared to tolerate
some local traditions so long as the important theological points, whatever
they are, are respected.
I should take a moment and point out that a ‘River of Death Passage’
cult also exists in Gulliver Jones on Mars. Again, if
you read my article on that one, the geographical location seems to be
well away from the Thern's network. Interestingly, Issus, or Isis
comes up in Gulliver Jones conversation with the Martian Princess
Heru. In context, Heru is referring to an Earthly goddess.
But perhaps Heru was offering a verbal ploy, naming Isis as a bona fide
Earth Goddess, in preparation to revealing that Isis, or Issus also exists
as the Mars Goddess.... An interplanetary faith.
Another religion which shows up on Greater Barsoom is seen in Otis Adelbert
Kline’s Outlaws of Mars. Once again, I've got an article
floating around for a more general discussion of that novel and where it
fits on Barsoom.
This is another cult of Sun worshippers. Their name for their deity
is Sarkiss. At first, this seems to be another religion, but is it? We
don't get to learn too much about Sarkiss, except that he seems to live
in the sun and his worship is ancient.
But if we deconstruct the name, then it gets interesting. Sar-K-Iss.
Iss, is of course, the modern Barsoomian river cult. Meanwhile, in 'Linguistic
archeology', we've suggested that 'Bar', 'Far', and 'Kar' are all distinct
words which seem to have derived originally from Tur. 'Sar' would fit into
We find 'Sar' in the Barsoomian place names Dusar, and in Barsoomian
personal names like Sarkoja (Carter's green nurse), Saran Tal (Carthoris'
majordomo), Pinsar and Vosar (ships belonging to Ras Thavas). With
slight drift, we have the city of Zor, as well as names like O-Zar and
We don't know precisely what 'Sar' means in Barsoomian, but it shows
up enough that we can consider it significant. And given our experience
with Bar, Far and Kar, we can assume that its another derivative.
If we look to Tolstoy's 'Aelita', and her city Soatsera which I've located
in an area of Barsoom adjacent to Kline's, we have several words which
seem to contain Sar or variants like Zar, Zor or Ser. "Soatsar" - Sun,
"Sera" - Settlement, "Azora" - Home. The implication is that Sar might
be distilled to mean both 'sun' or 'place of dwelling', or perhaps 'place
of dwelling in the Sun'... Tur's cottage.
So, if we assume that Aelita's Mars is a part of greater Barsoom, this
may give us a useful meaning for Barsoomian 'Sar'. And it would fit reasonably
for city names like Zor and Dusar, or ship names like Pinsar and Vosar.
So 'Sar (Tur derived) - Iss is simply a hybridized god. The name translates
loosely to 'Iss of the Sun' or perhaps 'Iss, whose home is the Sun', or
most broadly 'Monotheistic God whose home is the Sun' which is just another
name for Tur, ain't it.
The old Tur cult has kept its sun worshipping ways and added a layer
of obeisance to the Iss faith as one would expect in the politics of religion.
This happened all the time on Earth, particularly in Christianity.
There's all sorts of instances of traditional local religions adopting
a Christian veneer but continuing to worship in the usual holy places,
dressing up their traditional gods as Saints, and continuing their local
religious practices like dancing around maypoles, feasts and fasts, and
putting up trees as 'Christian' rites.
It's worth noting that like the regions of the Malacandrans and Gulliver
Jones, the the region of Kline's Martian societies are probably outside
the scope of the world spanning Iss river/canal network. Kline's
Martian societies occupy a sea bed bounded on each side by continental
highlands and whose canal network draws down from the north pole.
So they don't connect up with the Iss Canal network at all.
The elevation is going the wrong way.
It's also an area of backwater relic societies and ethnic groups. In
Kline, the area is occupied by white Xancibarians, and brown Khalsifarians
with some relic pure blacks. Tolstoy's Aelita contributes a former
Orange people, now probably off-white.
Even in Burroughs, the edges of this region have the relic Orovar population
in Horz, as well as the pure blacks of the Kamtol valley.
So this is the sort of place that you would expect that the Tur cult
would have a reasonable chance to adapt and survive, with a few concessions
to political realities.
That said, the Sarkiss (Tur-in-Drag) cult is on the defensive.
The principle worshippers of Sarkiss are desert nomads, and underclasses.
Sarkiss is a revolutionary cult. Its got prophecies that Sarkiss
will be reborn on earth and will overthrow the old order, re-establishing
the good old days.
Now, this is pretty peculiar, because normally, we expect Sun Gods to
be at the top of the celestial heap. But its pretty clear in
the social narrative and prophecies that this is no longer the case.
This Sun God *used* to be the top of the heap, but has been dislodged,
and now, with his followers, awaits a return to primacy, which return is
predicted in prophecy with the return of the reincarnated God.
Well gee. How did that happen. If the Sun God's been
kicked out of top spot, that means that some other God has to have supplanted
it, doesn't it. This other God is not named. Who
could the other God be? Hmmm.... I notice that
in the novel, Sarkis’ followers conduct two major raids on canal building
operations. Isn't that interesting? Almost as if there
was a theological grudge match going on? Almost as if the worshippers
of the Sun God were throwing down on worshippers of a Canal or River God.
Isn't that peculiar?
Who's kidding who. It's Iss. Kline never spells it
out, but the argument holds water.
We get a little ethnographic history from Outlaws of Mars which
helps to sort out the situation a bit more. Originally, the
nation was ruled by the First Born, or blacks. Then, somewhere
along the line, a population of whites or Orovars came in and took over.
This resulted in a mixed race of Brown people.
Interestingly, in Aelita, we learn that the Orange Race, the Aols who
also lived in this general area were overrun by a race of ruthless whites
fleeing a cataclysm. Like the Lotharians, they somehow forgot to
take their women and children with them, or perhaps lost them in the journey.
Aelita has these as Atlanteans fleeing the sinking of their continent on
Earth, but they may actually have been Orovars, fleeing the collapse of
their civilization as the seas vanished. This implies that this region
of Barsoom wasn't hit as hard by the seas dwindling as other regions, the
process might have been gradual here. And this region also doesn't
seem to have been impacted by the Green Men. Instead, what seems
to have happened is that the region was overrun by Orovars fleeing the
collapse of their civilization and rampaging Green hordes elsewhere, events
which shaped the cultures in both Aelita and Kline's Martian tales.
Then, sometime later, another population of whites, more Orovars, came
in and took over once again. This time, they were much slower to
mix. Instead, they booted out the old brown nobility, aristocracy
and royal family. That old brown ruling class remained though,
nursing its grudges.
This allows us to figure out how the religious stuff got going.
Let's assume that the original inhabitants were Tur worshippers.
The first group of white Orovars who come in and take over are Iss worshippers.
These white Orovars merge with the black First Born population, from the
top down. So, they try to impose or introduce Iss worship.
But the Sun God cult is pretty tenacious. And so, just as the two
races merge, the two religions merge. Tur becomes Iss who becomes
a Sun God or Sun Goddess, and is renamed Sarkiss.
Everyone is happy, except possibly the Thern cult, who have eventually
mastered the rest of the planet and are starting to get concerned, as usually
happens, with doctrinal purity. Perhaps with the encouragement
of the Therns (or perhaps they really are all Therns and Jerry Morgan's
due for a big surprise), a surviving bunch of Orovars, Iss worshippers,
come in and take over again. This time, they don't compromise,
and the true Iss faith becomes the dominant ‘take it or leave it’ religion.
However, the newly subjugated brown underclass is not happy about the
situation, there's little or no mixing or merging going on, and the Iss
God is not sympathetic to their plight. So Sarkiss remains
in business as the ‘undergod’ looking for the day when the old order will
Anyway, so to wrap it up, we can chart the additional religions as in
the context of Tur and Iss. The cult of Komal is a cataclysm
era mystery cult which emerged at the same time as Iss dominated, and for
the same reasons, but which failed to take off. The Sarkiss
cult is essentially Tur in drag, trying to compromise with the eventually
dominant Iss faith, but getting left behind. The Oyarsa cult,
like Gulliver Jones nameless river cult, is an offshoot of the Iss cult,
whose supernatural aspects are similar to those of the Komal cult.
And that's that.