Spirits – Through the Mists
The tropical islands of Bukana are a highly magical place. Its people rightly believe that every person, object, and place has a spirit or soul. These entities are said to wield a myriad of powers and abilities and are the cause of many natural phenomena, as well as diseases and luck – good or bad. Furthermore, the spirits of the dead also play a major role in the lives of the native people, either as beneficent ancestors or as marauding ghosts. Everyday Bukanans make regular offerings and prayers to all of these spirits and more to ask for aid or allay their wrath. These spirits inhabit the ethereal plane that largely parallels the material world. Locally, this place is called the Realm of Mist, or simply the Mists. The last type of spirit is called an engkanto, or the enchanted. These fae entities do not dwell within the ethereal plane, but within the mysterious “Unseen Realm,” also known as the Feywild.
Despite their constant appeasements, spirits are rarely visible to most mortals. It falls to those rare individuals who possess the gifts of the medium. These folk are born with a power that, if nurtured, allows them see, hear and otherwise interact with the Plane of Mists. The training that each of these people receive varies from culture to culture. Once their powers are fully realized, these mediums become intermediaries to the spirits and through them to the gods. The eldest spiritual leader of each barangay is called a “babaylan” in the common trade tongue of the coasts. However, given the host of other names used throughout the isles, this term is often used informally to refer to all spell-casters capable of communing with the spirit world.
Communing with Spirits
When dealing with spirits, care and respect must be shown. They are usually addressed with an honorific title such as apo (elder) and attention must be paid to specific rituals. A large part of any medium’s training involves learning about each type of spirit and their idiosyncratic wants, needs, and taboos. A wide range of techniques are used to contact, entice, and appease the spirits of Bukana. Offerings of food and drink are very common. Candles and incense are sometimes burned. For some powerful spirits, only sacrifices are enough to cajole them. In this case, sometimes a small measure of the babaylan’s blood will suffice. In other instances, animal sacrifice is necessary. If a babaylan is very powerful, they may be able to force a spirit into compliance through threats or magical means. This is rarely done by the vast majority of mediums as spirits make dangerous enemies and such practices can gain the babaylan a negative reputation in the spirit realm.
Every rock, tree, bird, and mountain has a spirit. These elemental spirits are collectively known as diwata. The spirits of inanimate objects as well as places are generally tied to that location. The diwata of animals and elements tend to be more wide-ranging. When a nature spirit is seen, it often takes the form of an animal or plant. Rarely, they take more humanoid forms. Whatever shape they choose, it always bears natural elements as well as otherworldly characteristics. Birds with multiple eyes, an orchid with arms and legs, or civet that crackles with electricity. In the wilderness, these spirits often manifest in the physical world relatively frequently, but rarely in front of humans. It is quite common for mortals to catch fleeting glimpses in their peripheral vision or stumble upon an unwary diwata before it disappears back into the Mists. This is particularly true when encountered in places of natural power such as waterfalls, hidden glades, and inaccessible mountaintops. These locations are called “dambana” and are held sacred by local peoples.
It is these spirits that are contacted when a barangay must clear land, hunt, or plant crops. These souls are much more alien than those of ancestors and great care must be taken to ensure proper rites are performed to avoid angering them. Statues are never made to represent these spirits, but glyphs are often carved into natural rock faces to honor them. In ancient times, the mysterious first occupants of Bukana, known only as the “Old Men,” erected large stone pillars covered in intricate runes and imagery. The exact purpose of these megaliths is not known, but they appear in places of geomantic power and seem to both attract and glorify the spirits.
Diwata are the most likely spirits to serve adventurers as abyan companions. By binding themselves to mortals, they are able to maintain physical form indefinitely and to roam beyond their usual domains. When accompanying mortal “friends,” these spirits regularly take the form of familiar animals. Sometimes they take more exotic shapes such as small typhoons or anthropomorphic plantlife, but these are the mark of special entities that are bound to more powerful mortals. As an abyan grows stronger, they begin to display more extraordinary traits, belying their immaterial natures. A black crocodile with a stony ridge down its spine, a tarsier with glowing red eyes, or eagle with two heads are all examples of spirit companions that have grown in power.
The indigenous Bukanans are served by the spirits of their ancestors. The souls of humans are continually reincarnated until such time as they have reached sufficient enlightened power that they are claimed by one of the gods of their people. Once that occurs, a portion of the person’s essence remains behind as the rest of the soul passes on to its god’s domain. This forms the ancestral spirits known as anitu. These s[irits lack the personalities of their previous owners, since the rest of the soul has gone on to serve the gods. Therefore, anitu have many abstract characteristics. For instance, they could have four arms, two faces, or even animalistic and elemental traits. They usually wear archaic clothing with elaborate ornamentation such as piercings, skull trophies, tattoos, or headdresses.
Anitu are represented by their living descendents with small humanoid statues called taotao. These totems are usually carved from stone, wood, ivory, or bone. Wealthier families inlay their taotao with precious metals and stones. Even poor families keep simple statues in the corners of their homes to honor their beloved ancestors. Larger communities build wall-less structures out of sacred woods with frond roofs to act as dambana spirit houses. Here many taotao are kept, often with bowls to hold sacrifices of food and plants. These statues are not revered on a day-to-day basis, but in times of need they are used to contact the spirits and make offerings.
Ancestor spirits that serve humans generally do so in one of two ways. Some are bound by rituals to protect places. Called pili, these guardian spirits appear to shamans as being resolute warriors with aspects that denote strength and durability such as iron and stone. For those cultures that hold dogs as being sacred, their pili are accompanied by loyal canine spirits. Rarely, these custodians are set to watch over people who are thought to have a great destiny. The guardians receive regular offerings, with their magical pacts being reinforced annually as part of larger celebrations.
Anitu that act as spiritual guides and intermediaries to the gods are called pintakasi. Unlike the pili, these spirits rarely manifest physically and more often aid their charge with knowledge and divine magic. In this role, pintakasi are most likely to accompany adventurers as abyans. They too must be appeased with regular offerings. Should their ward perish, these ancestors will guide their soul to judgement and speak on their behalf.
The engkanto are by far the most capricious of spirits. Rarely are the fae truly appeased, and never for long. These creatures usually only manifest in the material world when hunting or looking to cause trouble. Most cultures in Bukana use simple warding phrases and sacrifices to try to convince mischievous and dangerous engkanto to seek their sport elsewhere. However, legends claim that a number of the peoples of Bukana descend from the engkanto. These folk, such as the elves, dwarves, gnomes, and merfolk, say that their ancestors chose to leave their immaterial selves behind and manifest physical bodies within the material world. These stories gain credence from the fact that the most magnificent of these people’s ancestral dwellings descend into the Feywild itself. The most ostentatious bane elf treetop palaces always seem much bigger on the inside. A merfolk’s underwater grotto is filled with water that is breathable by land-dwellers. The deepest blood dwarf forges somehow tap directly into active volcanoes without killing everyone. Here, you will find the true engkanto flittering about, causing mischief or acting as servants and assistants. These are the most unlikely spirits to accept life as a mortal’s spirit companion. When they do, it is usually to a one of the aforementioned fae descendants or so someone else with a connection to the Unseen Realm.