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
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
"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
"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?"
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
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 cataclysm.
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
"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
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
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
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 Bear.
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 revival.
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
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 Tur worshippers.
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 reality.
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
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 own making.
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
There, is everyone satisfied? I've dealt with
the Komal cult. Happy?
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 with Barsoom.
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 afterlife.
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 creators believe.
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 its worshippers.
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 of.
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 that mold.
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
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'
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
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
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 be restored.
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
And that's that.