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In the Court of a Pagan God

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There exists a fundamental problem in theology: If god exists and loves his children, why has he not revealed himself to them? Most modern religions answer simply:

He has.

This is known as the divine revelation, Deus openly revealing himself to the masses. Most organized religions celebrate various prophets of the faith, those who actually communicated with God himself.

As would be the case, divine revelations tend to remain purely in a culture’s history, leaving no real evidence of God’s contact with mankind. Many scholars have argued this trend has developed so humans could learn faith. After all, how can there be true faith with evidence?

Perhaps this is why the Zho’gyf people interest me so.

See, the faint reports of the Zho’gyf that exist, claim that their God has left undeniable evidence of his own existence, a continuous revelation to his children. If this turns out to be true, it would have massive repercussions on the church as we know it.

Accordingly, the Portuguese Empire commissioned me to examine this claim.

I made my way to southern Africa via galleon, in my inventory: the clothes on my back, as much currency as I could scrounge up, and a diverse collection of scientific devices intended to test the confident claims of this pagan clan.

The journey around the southern continent lasted several weeks with us making port at various civilized settlements along the way. Throughout the voyage, the sailors refused to provide me with any further details concerning the Zho’gyf culture, though I expect the sailors’ reluctance to speak stemmed purely from ignorance rather than animosity towards me and my venture. Very little is known about the lesser tribes of Africa, and I can conceive of no reason for any ill intentions towards me. Nevertheless, I must confess that I had noticed several sour glances towards my countenance.

Upon arrival at the southern-most port, a native guide agreed to ferry me to my destination. He claimed to know an old trading route that led right to their village. Due to the rocky terrain we traveled by foot, scaling craggily cliffs and passing through numerous caverns. The intricately twisting caves meandered off in countless different directions, and I thought to myself that I could not possibly manage to make my way back without my guide’s aid.

We made camp four times on the way. As we settled into sleep, I found the climate to be quite pleasant, very dry but breezy with open, clear skies.

I often asked my guide what information he could give me about the Zho’gyf, but he seemed hesitant to give any more details. He did inform me however that they tended to show hospitality to guests and I shouldn’t worry for my own safety. I accordingly inquired if there was something I ought to worry about, but he fell silent, refusing to discuss the topic any further after that.

At last the time came to bid my guide farewell, and standing at a rocky ridge looking over a dry valley, I thanked him for leading me so far. I tipped him what back home would be considered light pocket change. My guide looked thrilled with the meager payment and wished me luck.

As he turned back the way he came, I considered one last time returning to civilized lands as a nervous knot settled into my gut. Shaking the thought out of my head, I descended the valley wall and crossed the dry earth to the where the Zho’gyf dwelled.

I made it.

Though the Zho’gyf generally avoid contact with the outside world, I found them to be, in my presence, as generally hospitable as my guide had suggested. They provided me with quarter, water, warm food, and a translator, trained years ago at the settlement where I had landed.

On the first night, they questioned me around the campfire, wishing to know more about my homeland. Though I often tried to shift the conversation as to learn more about them, they continually turned the conversation right back towards their own interests. I found myself sharing every detail I knew about my own people, while observing very little about them.

My translator clearly had not spoken my own language for a long time, often struggling to come up with words. I suspected at a few points that he simply feigned misunderstanding to avoid directly answering my questions, such as when I asked him where the women and children where, none of whom I had encountered during my stay. In response, he simply shook his head and told me that he couldn’t understand what I wanted from him. Eventually, I gave up, realizing that he had no intention of answering me.

In time, the focus of the conversation gradually settled onto their religion, and they openly told me of their polytheistic beliefs:

The elder god Paantanibar, who ruled over the many realities, decided for the lesser gods to contend for control of his new creation. Each of the lesser gods would craft a new feature for this young universe, and Paantanibar would award control over the domain to whichever god created the most wonderful thing.

Paantanibar watched as the gods competed amongst themselves. They created massive suns and enormous constellations to fill the night sky, but still the elder god waited for something new to amaze him.

Then Zho took his turn.

In this primitive time, Zho had been the meekest god of all, barely able to craft even a moon. Despite Zho’s minor stature, Paantanibar watched with curiosity as Zho painstakingly matched the most miniscule elements together on a vacant planet.

Zho created life.

In light of his creation, the other gods, even Paantanibar, stared in amazement. They had never even conceived of what Zho had seen so clearly in his mind. Unanimously, the other lesser gods admitted defeat, and Paantanibar gave the reality to Zho to do with as he pleased.

As they finished telling me this story, the Zho’gyf people told me how Zho had personally assembled each and every person in the Zho-gyf tribe. Zho had meant for them to inherit his creation. They believed themselves god’s only true children and the rest of humankind a side effect of life, mere animals crawling along in the filth of the earth.

To my excitement, they told me that they could prove this to me as well, that I could see where Zho dwelled upon earth.

They invited me to observe his ongoing divine revelation.

Naturally, I agreed wholeheartedly, this being my original purpose for visiting their tribe. They told me that I could travel through an ancient cavern cut into the mountainside, where I would eventually make it to a shrine devoted to Zho himself.

Hardly able to contain my excitement, I eagerly thanked them for their kindness and asked when I could make my pilgrimage to this pagan god’s court.

They told me that first thing in the morning I could go, and sure enough, as morning rose up over the horizon, my translator led me to the mouth of the prehistoric grotto.

He told me that I would have to make the journey alone, as was custom among their people.

Holding nothing but air in my hands and burdened with nothing but the clothes on my back and a pack of scientific instruments to record whatever I would find, I looked over the massive maw in the mountainside. My translator, sensing my apprehension, assured me that no harm would fall upon my body within the caves. With a weary nod, I took my first steps into the stone passageway.

Into the dark, my footsteps rang out, their sound stifled by the sheer voluminous expanses of the grotto until their echoes came calling back. My palms pressed against the rock walls as I felt my way through the dark path. A cold draft slithered through the claustrophobic air and vibrated against the hard walls with every breath that the tunnel took. I could feel the breeze pulling into the dark stronger than it pushed back, as though something sucked the air within.

My hand pressed against something of different texture.

After my immediate recoil, I tentatively pressed back against the thing, feeling it to be a cylindrical structure that rose out of and sank back into the stone wall. Carefully examining the tough tendril and finding thin hairs growing from the side, I came to the realization that it must have been some kind of root.

Confused but undeterred, I continued down the crudely-cut cavern.

Several times along the way, I stumbled over the roots which ran chaotically over the uneven floor. My pace slowed to a cautious crawl as I carefully navigated onwards past the constant obstacles.

The air grew heavy with moisture, a dripping humidity that clung in damp swaths to my exposed skin, freely intermingling with my sweat. I forced myself to take deep breaths of the warm, wet air, and my lungs struggled to consume any amount of the significantly diluted oxygen.

In front of me, a soft red glow appeared.

Squinting my eyes, I looked towards the faint light coming from somewhere beyond a sharp turn in the tunnel’s path.

Led by my own curiosity, I quickly clambered forwards. I tripped badly over a root and cursed my own carelessness. Brushing myself off, I made my way around the corner. As my heart sped up in my chest, I peered out into the opened corridor beyond and saw the source of the light:

A tree.

Seemingly impossible, a massive tree sprouted up from the hard stone ground. Thick but presumably functionless leaves hung down off wide branches. A deep crimson glow radiated from luminescent veins running up the trunk.

Around the tree, bathed in the red light, the ground leveled out near perfectly. The chamber itself stretched out as far as they eye could make out under the dim light. Huge stalactites reached down from the ceiling, giving the illusions of uniform columns running down the corridor. This must have been where they say Zho dwells upon earth; this must have been his altar.

In awe, I approached the tree, carefully treading across the smooth stone floor. I reached a hand forward to feel the warm trunk. A slow vibration ran through its flesh, an un-ending chord being played from somewhere deep in its roots.

My hand froze.

From my vantage point near the trunk I could see behind the leaves that had previously shrouded the majority of the tree. My eyes stared in disbelief at a single fruit hanging from a branch. My mouth remained agape as my vision drew along the fruits’ soft pale skin, over its fine features and newly-formed face.

A human fetus hung from the tree.

Suspended by its umbilical cord, it swayed gently in the drafty air. Above, the thin cord sank into the branch, disappearing somewhere beneath the bark. My attention lowered back towards the infantile fruit, and beneath its delicate skin, I could just barely make out its embryonic heart beating.

It wasn’t possible. It simply wasn’t possible, but here it was before my face. There had to be some kind of trick; how could such a living thing exist?

Hours ticked past as I examined the being with the various instruments from my pack, trying to find something to give my mind rest. There had to be a rational explanation.

Using all methods of scientific analysis at my disposal, I found no errors.

All evidence I gather pointed towards the tree being genuine. All evidence pointed towards the undeniable fact that the Zho’gyf were right; they were right about everything.

I collapsed at the altar of the natural shrine. In hysterical disbelief, I offered a prayer to God and then in despair, another to Zho. Having heard no reply from either deity, I fled from that place and departed immediately from the Zho’gyf village. After days of wandering, I managed to find my way back to port, where I took the next available ship home.

Never since then, have I spoken a word of what I saw. Never since then, have I questioned the undeniable truth which I have learned: the answer to a question as old as religion itself.

There exists a fundamental problem in theology: If God exists and loves his children, why has he not revealed himself to them?

We’re not them.



Written by Levi Salvos
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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