The Celestial Emperor, Guide of Heaven.
In Imperial mythology, all of creation is governed wisely and fairly by the Celestial Emperor, Guide of Heaven. Long ago, so the legends say, the Guide of Heaven was one of four brothers, suns who ruled the sky in turn. Through trickery and deceit, the jealous Lord Three Smoke of the Underworld set the brothers fighting against one another. Only after one of them was slain did the remaining three brothers realise that they had been tricked. The youngest brother, Eastern Sun, was given accoutrements and powers by the others whilst they went to defeat Three Smoke. Eastern Sun was made Emperor and Guide of Heaven.
The Guide of Heaven is responsible for imparting the laws of civilisation to the mortal realm. He sent a portion of his fiery being down to the mortal realms as test. Whoever could enter the flame and survive would become Emperor of the Mortal Realm, and from this stems the custom of the Imperial Flame.
The Ten Thousand Immortals
The Immortal Realm is arranged like the mortal realm. Below the Guide of Heaven are the Ten Thousand Immortals - gods, demi-gods and spirits of varying levels of power. Several well-known works describe many of these immortals --the Classic of the Four Corners, the Roll of Heaven and The Commentaries. Because the Imperial Religion absorbs foreign deities, many more gods have been added to the Imperial Pantheon over the centuries. A handful of Imperial gods are described in the side-bar.
Some immortals are Ministers, overseeing the sea, or earthquakes, or animals, for example. Less powerful immortals act as clerks and underlings for these ministers. Some are minions of the Divine Ministers, serving their masters in specialised capacities like creating tidal waves, adding colour to fish's scales, making the wind blow etc.
The role of the mortal Emperor, Bearer of the Flame of Heaven, is to intercede on behalf of his mortal subjects with the Immortals. Many have holy places where they may be found, guarded by powerful spirits.
As well as the Immortals, the people of the Empire revere certain wise and holy men and women - the sages. Foremost amongst the sages are Teshnuvar and Manrupashnar. Teshnuvar lived about five hundred years ago and was a natural philosopher who wrote a thirty seven scroll treatise on the workings of the universe. His more metaphysical concepts have been worked into a magical system known as the Path of Water and Mountains, based upon Imperial Geomancy.
Manrupashnar lived about four hundred years ago, and her teachings were based more on the ways of correct and decent living. She wrote nothing herself, but some of her followers later published collections of her sayings. Over the years, some of these versions have become diluted with apocrypha. Amongst her followers are those who believe in Manrupashnar Most Radiant - that she became one of the immortals after her death.
The mix of cultures in the Empire means there is a variety of funerary rituals, but the predominant belief is that the soul reincarnates, just as the sun is reborn every morning. A common folk belief is that a person must live seven lives as a beggar, then seven times seven lives as a farmer, then seven times seven times seven lives as a landlord and so on. Only the soul of the Emperor is allowed to ascend to the immortal realm, to sit at the right hand of the Guide of Heaven.