Corpseborn Society

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The Corpseborn are a stigmatized class of living humans who, despite possessing spirits and all the attributes of human personhood, are relegated to a lower class of being because their mothers died at the time of their birth. The norm is that mother and child must witness the sunrise together, in order to avoid this fate - if the mother dies before this happens, the child does not remain with its birth family, but is carried away by the Hand of the Dead (who supervise births) to a local Corpseborn community. Given the current rate of medical care, the maternal mortality rate is around 2-3%. Having a Corpseborn child is no particular stigma for the family - it is simply carried off by the Hand as if it had died and never spoken of again.

In urban areas, Corpseborn live in segregated quarters of the city, sometimes walled but always specially designated. In other regions, Corpseborn live in separate small towns / villages outside larger towns. Corpseborn are socially restricted to have minimal contact with other humans. Corpseborn are not permitted to touch other humans, enter into their homes, buy or sell goods from them, or even to speak to them, except in highly regulated circumstances. They may not bear any blade longer than the palm of a hand or bear any weapons in public. They have developed a particularly sophisticated unarmed fighting style, specific to them, as a way of defending themselves despite these prohibitions. Although they are physically indistinguishable and cannot be detected readily by magic, they dress distinctively relative to the local community around them - often in clothes made of patches and pieces.

The social stigma of the Corpseborn is also the source of their greatest power, their sense of untouchability and social invisibility. They learn to pass unremarked in society, except when they choose to violate the norms of society and use their stigmatized status as a weapon against other humans. Corpseborn are seen as having the ability to control fortune and misfortune and to profoundly alter the fate of those with whom they come into social contact, if they choose. Of course, their ability to curse others is both caused by their stigmatized state and reinforces it.

Corpseborn speak Ombesh, Aummesh, or any other language spoken by their local community. However, they also speak Sardesh, a specialized argot of slang terms, inverted meanings, unusual rhymes, and seeming nonsense, allowing them to communicate among one another. Ordinary folk are aware that this speech exists but studiously avoid learning it - Corpseborn words are perhaps as polluting as the Corpseborn themselves. It is not a full language, but does allow for secret communication on a variety of subjects.

Corpseborn operate subsistence farms and gardens, but work for pay outside their communities only in a highly prescribed range of tasks - waste cleanup, the slaughter of animals, tanning hides, collecting leeches, and other tasks deemed polluting and/or disgusting. They operate their own informal economy within their communities and have many of the craft specialists that other communities might have, although of course on a much smaller scale. Corpseborn are often prostitutes in larger centers - this is seen as somewhat disgusting, if socially useful, and is of course rejected by most people of high moral virtue.

Corpseborn do not have their own religion, nor their own religious practitioners. They are permitted in churches, but must use a special entrance reserved for them. The use of the hallow ability of a Hand or Voice will allow limited contact with clergy for their pastoral care. They may not speak to their biological ancestors through the intermediary of the Voice, nor are they (except in highly unusual circumstances) raised from death. Most of them do not even know who their birth mother is, although in smaller communities it is usually no secret. After death, Corpseborn are cremated rather than buried - they have no ancestors, strictly speaking, and thus no place in the cosmos after their time on earth. Corpseborn have a strong sense of fate or destiny not present in most other adherents of the faith. They also have positive relationships, where possible, with the Hulti(adherents of the old, shamanic faith), who do not regard Corpseborn as particularly stigmatized. Hulti do regard children born to dead mothers as somewhat unlucky and having a particularly strong connection to death (which they fear). For their part, Corpseborn must be careful not to seem too friendly to Hulti in places where the latter are persecuted, because ultimately they are dependent on the Hand and the Voice.

Corpseborn communities are sustained only through the infusion of new corpseborn from maternal death - it is not an inherited status, by definition. Children born to Corpseborn mothers are normally exchanged with the Hand of the Dead rather than living with their birth families. These children are adopted into the regular community (sometimes in a family that has gifted a Corpseborn child), or, in a larger than expected number of cases, are raised within the church and become priests appropriate to their sex. Only if a Corpseborn mother dies in childbirth does her child remain in the community, raised by its father and other community members. Corpseborn nuclear families are weak - rather, they are organized into extended kin structures in which communities collectively raise children after they are weaned at around age three. Corpseborn friendships and romantic relationships are very strong, however, in the absence of children connected by birth.

Moving around in large urban centers, or travelling far from the place of their birth, it is entirely possible for a Corpseborn to pass unnoticed within ordinary society. The lack of ancestors and kin is certainly an issue to be surmounted in the long term, but for short-term everyday interactions, if one doesn’t know you’re Corpseborn, there is no obstacle to a full social life. Marriage with a Corpseborn is not unheard of but is grounds for immediate ostracism from ordinary society and from contact with your ancestors, and is thus rare.