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Religion and Faith

 

By the soft light of a candle, a mother can be heard gently praying for the soul of her son Mabrin, who had been callously killed the day before by a bored Cardassian soldier: "... raka-ja ut shala morala ... ema bo roo kana ... uranak ... ralanon Mabrin ... propeh va nara ehsuk shala-kan vunek ..."

Translated into Federation Standard, the woman's words were, " ... do not let him walk alone ... guide him on his journey ... protect... the one named Mabrin ... take him into the gates of heaven ..."

Those words, traditionally recited repeatedly by Bajor's faithful after the death of a loved one, were heard far too commonly during the dark days of the Occupation. A dedication to the Prophets was one of the few things that allowed many people to keep going after such a loss instead of giving up in despair.

"For over 50 years, the one thing that allowed Bajorans to survive the Cardassian occupation was their faith," once said the Emissary, Benjamin Sisko. "The Prophets were their only source of hope and courage."

The Prophets and the Orbs

For hundreds of centuries, these holy and mysterious entities have provided wisdom and guidance to those Bajoran people who have sought in their lives to walk the path of the sacred. To understand the Prophets is one of the most important steps to understanding the Bajoran people.

Many Bajorans believe the Prophets replenish people's "pagh," or life force. Some Bajorans also believe that, along with providing spiritual guidance, the Prophets also occasionally physically intervene directly in their lives, perhaps to ensure a good harvest or to signal their disapproval by sending bad weather.

More than just a religion, the worship of the Prophets is a way of life for most Bajorans. Possibly the reason it has remained so unwavering a part of the culture is that the Prophets have repeatedly provided physical proof of their existence through the blessings of the sacred Orbs, the most holy of all objects ever to grace the surface of Bajor.

Approximately 10 millennia ago, the discovery of the First Orb forever changed the course of Bajoran religion. Also known to Bajorans as "Tears of the Prophets," the nine Orbs were each discovered in the Bajoran star system during the last 10,000 years in a charged plasma field known in the Denorios Belt. The Belt eventually proved to also be the location of the Prophets' home, known to Bajorans as the sacred Celestial Temple.

Possibly the first person to see the Celestial Temple - commonly known to non-believers as the Bajoran Wormhole - was Kai Taluno, who was travelling at the time on a disabled ship in the Denorios Belt. He said while he was there he saw the "heavens open up." Another Bajoran, the renown poet Akorem Laan, accidentally entered the Celestial Temple in 2172 and was returned to his normal time and space, healed by the Prophets of all wounds.

Most Bajorans believe the Orbs have been sent by the Prophets from the Celestial Temple to teach them and guide their lives. Many people believe that Orbs have allowed them to experience a direct communication with the Prophets. Such experiences, which lasted anywhere between minutes and days, were achieved simply - the subject just looked into an Orb.

One Orb could often be quickly told from another by the sight of its glow. Some of the recovered Orbs include the Third Orb (also known as the Orb of Prophesy and Change), which glowed blue and could grant visions of the future; the Orb of Time, which glowed purple and could actually allow someone to physically travel backward or forward in time; the Orb of Wisdom, which glowed pink and could grant deep insight into a situation, and the Orb of Contemplation, which glowed blue-white.

Most people who had Orb experiences said they were initially confused by the experience, but they felt changed by it. It is often said that one's Orb experience is a deeply personal matter not meant to be shared with others, although some people find themselves unable to resist describing it to trusted friends and religious leaders in hopes of gaining insight and deeper understanding.

When Orb experiences involved the future but did not seem to be directly related to the individual, then they were regarded as prophesies, and the subject was encouraged to make them public.

Many Bajoran clerics have devoted themselves to the study of these and other sacred visions, or "pagh'tem'far," which the Prophets have granted to the Bajorans over the years. These visions have often related to the future, but they normally have been metaphorical and elliptical in nature - they rarely provided straightforward information and advice about specific events. Often, such prophetic visions are only of a possible future that could be changed through the willing actions of the subject.

Following an Orb experience, a person may have had vision-like hallucinations. These after-visions were commonly known as Orb shadows and were believed to have occurred because the person involved had ignored their initial experience.

It was by no means guaranteed that anyone who looked into an Orb would experience visions. Because it was a form of direct communication with the Prophets, they could withhold it if they did not believe someone was worthy.

Despite the existence of Orbs, there were some Bajorans who did not subscribe to their religion. In particular, there were those who questioned the belief in an afterlife.

Bajorans traditionally are taught that they exist in both the physical and spiritual realms, and they believe that the souls of the dead - known as Borhyas - are far more important than their physical remains. Many Bajorans believe that their Borhyas will remain on the physical realm as ghosts until they make peace with their former life and allow themselves to enter eternity with the Prophets in the Celestial Temple. To help these Borhyas with the transition, loved ones of the deceased will often perform complicated rituals including the Bajoran Death Chant, which is usually more than two hours long, and the lighting of a special lamp, known as a duranja.

Walking the Prophets' Path

Heading the Bajoran clergy is a person known as the Kai, who naturally is one of the most respected and influential people to the planet's millions of Bajoran natives. Although a kai is uaually not directly involved with the political administration of the planet, it is unlikely that a Bajoran First Minister could survive for long with the face of their outright opposition.

The next highest-ranked members of the Bajoran clergy are the Vedeks. Traditionally, 112 of them together formed the Vedek Assembly, which has often been a strong force in its own right in working with the Bajoran government to decide courses of action that would affect the planet.

The Kai is traditionally elected by the Vedek Assembly, and the candidates are normally member vedeks. Once a kai has been chosen, he or she holds the position for life.

Also serving Bajoran spiritual needs are a large number of monks. Several different positions, including prylar and ranjen, make up the different positions within monastic orders.

Bajoran religion is free of sexual prejudice, and members of either sex may hold office. Unlike several religions practiced on other worlds, Bajoran clergy are not required to practice celibacy.

Members of religious orders are trained to sense a person's pagh, or life force. This is normally done by clasping a person's ear, which is customary for vedeks to do when they meet someone for the first time.

There are several different orders within the Bajoran faith, and their members place a different emphasis on certain aspects of their religion. For example, Vedek Winn belonged to an order that opposed any scientific teaching about the nature of the Prophets.

Some members of the clergy worked directly with Resistance groups. Prylar Quen, for example, had close ties with the Shakaar cell and could be quickly called upon for services - which unfortunately often were to perform funeral rites.

Vedek Bareil Antos, formally trained in the Ways of the Prophets during the Occupation, laughingly said some things about elder clergy remain the same no matter what the situation.

"I was five the first time one of the monks grabbed my ear - he was a stern old crow who could virtually squeeze the pagh right out of you with his thumb and forefinger - and as a chronic misbehaver, I was his favorite victim," Bareil recollected. "I swore that one of my life's goals would be to do away with that archaic ritual."

Bareil eventually began his spiritual service as a gardener at a monastery, and although he became an influential religious leader, he said he always continued to enjoy tending the grounds.

Not all religious leaders during the Occupation were always content with such simple pleasures. Winn, for example, was a controversial woman known for her love of power as well as her piety. Some people claim she often walked the fine line between serving the Prophets and serving her own ambition during the years of the Occupation.

But anyone who followed a spiritual path, including Winn, was at risk under Cardassian rule.

"The Cardassians arrested any Bajoran they found teaching the word of the Prophets," she said. "I spent five years in a Cardassian prison camp. I can remember each and every beating that I suffered. And where (members of the Resistance) had weapons to protect yourself, all I had was my faith and my courage."

Although Winn likely never fired a disruptor rifle during the Occupation, she managed to aid the efforts of the Resistance in her own way. As a result, an untold number of Bajorans owe their lives to the prominent religious figure.

About mid-way through the Occupation, just before the great famine that swept across much of Bajor, Resistance fighters attacked and destroyed the Cardassian outpost in Relliketh. In retribution, Gul S. G. Dukat had 100 Bajorans rounded up with the intention of sending them to the capitol for public execution.

"I was a Ranjen in those days," Winn later recalled. "I convinced the Vedek who led my order that we needed to take a more active role in the Resistance. He let me remove some gemstones from our tabernacle. I used them to bribe various Cardassians in exchange for small acts of leniency."

In exchange for one of Winn's bribes, a Cardassian dispatcher named Prenar agreed to reroute one of the transports of doomed prisoners away from Relliketh to a labor camp.

Few people ever learned the true story. Winn's act was kept a tight secret, and, according to Cardassian records, the people were saved from execution because the dispatcher had simply misread the orders.

As with Winn, Bareil experienced a portion of the Occupation as a prisoner of the Cardassians. For Bareil, it was spent inside the brutal Relliketh camp. Even after being released from the camp, Bareil ate only two meals of simple food a day, maintaining a strict routine he never deviated from to the end of the occupation and beyond.

"When you overindulge the body, you starve the soul," he was known to say.

But even while imprisoned in the camps, many Bajoran religious teachers still selflessly worked to keep alive the flame of faith and spiritual truths.

With no chairs to sit on, Bajoran prisoners would sit on the rough floor of the Singha labor camp to hear the words of Vedek Fala as he inspired them with devotions.

"What are the three keys to enlightenment," he would ask over and over. "Charity, humility and faith," the children would respond together.

"Of all the things I tried to teach you," he once said, "the most important was the need to forgive."

The lack of chairs "was good for discipline," Fala joked after the Withdrawal. "It made me seem more imposing."

But the good he did was no laughing matter, later noted one of those children who sat on that camp floor, listening to Fala year after year.

"You were a good teacher," Kira Nerys, who grew up to become a member of the Shakaar Resistance cell, once told the beloved Vedek. "Without you, I'm not sure I would've survived that camp. You kept us together - it was your faith in the Prophets that got us through."

During the Occupation, Bareil worked closely with Kai Opaka, one of the most beloved spiritual and political leaders in Bajor's history. Only a few months following the Withdrawal, Starfleet Commander Benjamin Sisko turned to her in hopes that she could help unite the many contentious factions that threatened to bring civil war to the planet. Opaka, in turn, identified Sisko as the Emissary prophesied to one day save her people.

"A Bajoran draws courage from his spiritual life," Opaka told the Emissary during their first meeting after the Withdrawal. "Our life force, our pagh, is replenished by the prophets..."

Her words were often a comfort for those burdened with physical and spiritual troubles.

"Don't deny the violence in yourself," Opaka once consoled Kira Nerys, a Resistance fighter who was morally struggling with the results of her actions after the Cardassian retreat. "Only when you accept it, can you move beyond it."

Many people feel that Opaka's wisdom and gentle spiritual leadership was one of the cornerstones of Bajoran strength during the Occupation.

"Opaka has always been a symbol of hope for me. Her words gave meaning to our struggle," Kira said. "Our religion is the only thing that holds my people together. If she would call for unity, they would listen."

Despite her high standing, Opaka always maintained her humility and constantly strove for serinity. "In the Prophets' eyes, we are all children," she said. "Bajor has much to learn from peace."

But pain and suffering can take its toll on anyone's spirits. Injured, having to use a cane to walk, Opaka by the end of the Occupation was living in seclusion, rarely seeing anyone - although those fortunate to meet with her reported that her inner strength was never anything but full and unwavering at all times. There always remained a centered calm in her, causing her to seem to exist on a higher plane. Yet alongside it was the a deep sadness in the woman who carried the pain of her people.

Either by choice or necessity, Opaka reportedly never left the surface of Bajor even once during the Occupation.

It was well known that she had personally chosen Bareil to succeed her as the next Kai after her eventual death. Bareil always responded modestly when asked how he felt about filling the position.

"I could never replace Opaka," he said before elections for a new Kai following Opaka's death about a year after the Withdrawal. "Bajor wouldn't have survived the occupation without her."

 

 

Theft of the Priceless

While on Bajor, Cardassian officials took for their own use anything they considered potentially valuable or useful.

"During the Occupation, the Cardassians plundered Bajor's historical treasures as if it were their right," remarked Winn several years after the Withdrawal.

There were a few items of value overlooked by the Cardassians. For example, Winn managed to come across a rare, very extraordinary vintage of Bajoran spring wine dating back to before the Occupation began. But such baubles do little to make up for the wholesale looting accomplished by the invading force.

Undoubtedly the most universally distressing of these seizures was the confiscation of eight Orbs of the Prophets, which the Cardassians sent to scientific laboratories in an attempt to analysis the source of their power.

The sole remaining Orb, known as the Orb of "Prophesy and Change", was kept hidden away on near Bajor's capitol city, where it remained accessible by Opaka and other spiritual leaders. When granted access by the Prophets, the Orb could allow a seeker to gain wisdom by mentally reliving past experiences.

Inside a nondescript monastery, illuminated within only by light streaming through cracks and holes in the walls, monks would gather to harmoniously sing hymns or make repairs to the building. After the Occupation, visitors would find the damage appalling - windows were smashed out, walls crushed and statues irreverently beheaded.

Deep within the monastery was a sacred area centered by a lovely reflecting pool surrounded by wooden benches, apparently there for casual contemplation. But with the touch of a button on a small remote, Opaka would make the holographic pool disappear to reveal a carved stone stairway.

Walking down past the darkened passageway lit only by candles, religious leaders would find themselves in a small cellar. Within would rest the sacred Ninth Orb glowing a transparent green within its containment ark, forever a secret to the marauding alien troops that controlled the city above.

Another Orb, the Orb of the Emissary, also escaped confiscation by the Cardassians, but only because it was buried on the planet Tyree. Its very existence was unknown to Cardassians and even to Bajorans until it was rediscovered by the Emisssary in 2375.

All of the other Orbs were taken by Cardassians during the Occupation. Two years after the Cardassian retreat, the Cardassian government, represented by Legate Turrel, concluded a peace treaty with Bajor, which called for the return of all missing Orbs along with other artifacts they had "appropriated" during the Occupation. Several years later, however, many of Bajor's treasures and sacred items remained displayed on Cardassian shelves or boxed away in Cardassian warehouses, and several of the Orbs are still missing to this day. Whether they remain in the hands of Cardassian collectors, research labs, in alien museums or buried under rubble on Cardassia Prime is known only to the Prophets.

Other religious treasures were also taken, including the revered "City of B'hala," painted nearly 20,000 years ago. The painting prominently showed B'hala's bantaca, which stood at the center of the city inscribed with symbols indicating it's position in the universe. Considered the most important Bajoran icon ever painted, it was for 10,000 years the only known proof that B'hala actually existed - that is, until the city's underground location was revealed by the Emissary in 2373, only a few weeks after the beloved painting was finally returned by the Cardassian government.

Cult of Rebellion

Most Bajorans who worship the Prophets just as strongly despise the Pah-wraiths, who are believed to have also once lived in the Celestial Temple. Eventually, however, they became evil and rebelled against the Prophets, leading to the banishment of the Pah-wraiths into the Crystal Fire Caves of Bajor in the southwest peninsula of the Kendra Province.

Although the hot and steamy caves would probably have made a Cardassian visitor feel at home, they ironically remained untouched by the ravages of the Occupation.

"During the Occupation, my people found the Bajorans' fear of these caves amusing," once said Gul S. G. Dukat, the last Cardassian prefect in charge of Bajor. "Yet somehow, none of us ever found the time to visit them."

As secure a prison as the Fire Caves proved to be, holding most the Pah-wraiths bound for countless millennia, a few of the evil beings managed to somehow escape over the years, causing much suffering to those unfortunate souls who were unlucky enough to grab their attention.

For reasons unknown or through methods best forgotten, Pah-wraiths have actually been imprisoned at times within man-made physical objects.

In the year 2374, after studying ancient Bajoran texts dealing with the cult of the Pah-wraiths, Dukat managed to locate on Cardassia an ancient Bajoran box about 30 centimeters long. Inside was a wooden humanoid figure of a Bajoran vedek confiscated during the Occupation by unwary Cardassians.

After lighting a pair of Bajoran votive candles on a table near the figure, Dukat chanted an blasphemous prayer before breaking the figurine in two. His actions freed the unholy energy of a Pah-wraith, which immediately took possession of Dukat and led him on a path of death and destruction.

Although most people appropriately revile or fear anything afflicted by the touch of the Pah-wraiths, a few Bajorans have actually worshiped these beings for centuries, possibly millennia. Although some members of the secretive cult (who used red arm bands to identify themselves) revered the Pah-wraiths for their pure evilness, many followers were apparently duped into believing that these beings were somehow the true saviors of Bajor.

Although the existence of such a cult was considered a joke by many people, it was deadly serious to those involved. Members were encouraged to commit their lives and souls to serving the Pah-wraiths with selfless abandon - even to the committing of murders in the name of their unholy faith.

During the Occupation, some people chose to blame the Prophets for all the suffering by believing they had abandoned Bajor. Once they lost their faith in the Prophets, these people often sought someone or something else to direct their affection.

Even the most devoted followers of the Prophets could find their faith in doubt - including Vedek Fala, who joined the cult of the Pah-wraiths a few years before the Withdrawal.

"I came to it toward the end of the Occupation," he said. "It's helped me make sense of the suffering we all had to endure. (The Prophets) turned their backs on us long ago."

Although the Cardassians stole many religious objects during the Occupation, they apparently had little regard for Bajoran spiritual texts. But that view was a two-edged sword - while the Cardassians did not feel such tomes were worth taking, they also did not feel they were worth keeping, and as a result casually burned or otherwise destroyed many irreplaceable ancient texts without remorse or concern.

To ensure their existence for future generations, many of the most valuable volumes were hidden away by the Kai and other Bajoran religious leaders. These secret libraries included both the most holy of records - and unholy. The Book of the Kosst Amojan, a blasphemous writing whose text that had been sealed for at least seven centuries and barred from the eyes of anyone but the Kai, remained secure and unread throughout the years of Cardassian rule.

Its name taken from the Bajoran words for "to be banished," the Kosst Amojan was a Pah-wraith who was prophesied to return to Bajor some day to fight against a Prophet in a battle known as the "Reckoning."

According to other prophesies, if all of the Pah-wraiths were released from the fire caves, it would mean the end of Bajor. Many worshipers of the Pah-wraiths believed that if the evil spirits were released, everyone would be judged, and those who were not found worthy would be destroyed.

At some point, the spirit of the Kosst Amojan was trapped along with the spirit of a Prophet within a holy symbol discovered below the Temple of B'hala on a wall that predated the ancient city by 10 millennia years - making it possibly more than 30,000 years old. According to a translation of writing on the symbol (which was unearthed by archaelogists in 2374), "The time of Reckoning is at hand. The Prophets will weep, and their sorrow will consume the Gateway to the Temple."

During the Reckoning, it is believed that both the Kosst Amojan and the Prophet would possess the bodies of physical beings in which to channel their energies. Some theologians believe the Reckoning to be not one conflict, but a series of battles that would eventually result in a decisive victory for one side or the other. If true, it is possible that the entrapment of the Kosst Amojan and the Prophet were somehow the result of one of their skirmishes, possibly through the intervention of Bajoran followers of one side or the other.

Both sides - actually, ever resident of Bajor - would have a high stake in the outcome of such a battle, according to Shabren's Fifth Prophecy: "If the Evil One is destroyed, it will bring a thousand years of peace. The Golden Age of Bajor."

Such an occurrence would be supremely glorious for those who are faithful to the Prophets, Winn told Sisko after the long-buried symbol was discovered.

"The Prophets and the people will be as one," she said. "Think of it. There'll be no need for Vedeks or Kais... or even Emissaries."

 

 

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