Benedict comes from Rithhan – a fairly realistic quasi-feudal/medieval world which allows mid-level magic and psychic abilities (albeit with powerful religious associations) and pre-gunpowder technology (but surprisingly good sailing vessels). Technological items usually translate into appropriate magical trinkets. Geographically, it centers on a fairly accurate version of Europe and the Mediterranean, distorted versions of Africa and the Middle East, and an almost totally mythical version of the far east. Benedict hails from the local version of Great Britain.
The western world – most of which once compromised the Empire of Kharlamagne – is dominated by the hereditary noble class and their monotheistic faith of the Enlightened Path. The deserts and trackless forests of the middle east and central Asia are dominated by monsters and by tribal barbarians and nomads (worshiping and bargaining with an assortment of local spirits). The semi-legendary lands of the far east are said to be dominated by the feline folk of Cathay – but such creatures are more rumored than seen. If this version of Cathay actually exists, it may actually be a part of another realm entirely.
Despite the pretensions of the Nobles, the western world is actually divided between two faiths: the monotheistic Enlightened Path of Kristos and Hanto, the traditional animistic faith of the Peasantry. While the Nobility regards the practice of Hanto as foolish superstition at best, and outright heresy and black magic at worst, they’ve never had much luck at stamping it out. More importantly from the nobles point of view, despite periodic crusades into the middle realms, the Enlightened Path has never spread much beyond the west. The Middle East and Northern Africa remain bound to various pacts with local spirits (some, admittedly, of great power), while the trackless reaches of Central Asia remain the domain of Monsters, Totems, and the primitive tribes which worship them.
The Enlightened Path bears some resemblance to the classical Church of Rome. It was founded by “Kristos” as a great teacher and an emissary of Wisdom who appeared among the desert tribes of the Middle East to lead them away from their worship of (and pacts with) various local spirits, it spread into the west, it encourages hermits, missionaries, and other holy men and women, recognizes wise and holy men and women as “saints” and enlightened spirits, and shares many other traditions and (slightly-distorted) teachings – but most core observers would say that it has incorporated elements of Gnosticism, classical Celtic beliefs, and even Buddhism.
The Path maintains that the “physical” world is the creation of the Demiurge – an entity not so much evil as foolish enough to fail to listen to his mother Wisdom – and that to achieve true enlightenment, and release from the bonds of the world, one should reject the base animalistic desires and nature of the Demiurge and focus on knowledge, thought, and meditation. Only thus can anyone transcend the bonds of the physical world and develop a true soul of their own. Most – especially among the peasantry – never so transcend. When those without a soul perish, their essence dissolves once again into the Sea of Souls, their individuality scattered and lost. Only those with true souls may hope to remain themselves and touch the face of Wisdom.
The magic of the Church is based on the belief that the physical world is fundamentally an illusion – albeit a powerful one – and that a focused will, and the words of an enlightened spirit, can alter that illusion. The Church teaches Theurgy, Martial Arts as a form of meditation, and various Immunities – allowing its devotees to deny the influence of the illusory world surrounding them. To deceive yourself is the worst of sins, to deceive others nearly as bad. Giving in to the temptations of the world – whether sensual, of power and ego, or of wealth, is a misstep along the path. The true way lies in study, abstraction, and simplicity – a belief reflected in their crafts, decorations, and celebrations: “Less is More” and “Truth and Perfection lies in Simplicity”. Kindness and charity are generally regarded as good things – but they’re not nearly as important as study and ruthlessly pruning away distractions and worldly attachments.
Those foolish enough to slip too far away from the path may find themselves infused with fallen or fragmented spirits, dropping below the station of humans – who alone may hope to devote themselves to study and so reliably transcend if they have not done so in a past life – to become shapeshifters, fey, lost spirits bound to the land, or even find themselves damned and bound to elemental forces (a fate from which even an escape into the Sea of Souls may require eons and without hope of transcendence – the closest approximation of “hell” that exists within the Path). There are numerous cautionary tales about foolish youths who fall to such fates, such as the tale of the Princess and the Swans, the Boy who Called Wolves, and many more.
Hanto, the faith of the Peasantry, is a simple form of animism – their devotions little more than making offerings to the spirits of nature and enjoying the simple pleasures which the world offers. Lush gardens, majestic natural beauties, fine food and drink, sexual pleasure, the majesty of the rolling sea, and the glory of a thunderstorm, are all evidence of the splendor and power of the natural world – and those who follow this path feel that the nobles are fools to deny it, and to seek to escape the wheel into a sterile, isolated, existence. Hanto is the way of nature: to refuse to dissolve into the Sea of Souls is to deny that nature – and to struggle against or even forfeit the eventual destiny of all living things, which is to become one with everything. The peasantry sees the widespread presence of shapeshifting animal spirits (fox and badger spirits are especially common for some reason) and lycanthropes as obvious evidence of humanities unity with nature. Similarly, they see the malleability of reality via Witchcraft, “Fey Powers”, and Shapeshfting powers (“Peasant Magic”) as obvious evidence of the joint nature of creation.
The nobility, of course, sees such beings as evidence of shattered and undeveloped spirits, and see both Witchcraft and (especially) Shapeshifting powers as impure and of the world – binding you more throughly to it and placing their users at serious risk of falling to the status of local fey or even into the abyss of the elemental forces which know not Wisdom.
Unfortunately, the Churches of the Enlightened Path have become the dumping ground for excess or embarrassing noble offspring – and, while some of them accept such a destiny and do their best to become holy men and women, others abuse their positions, seek worldly luxuries and power, intrigue against rivals both within and without the church, and even turn to peasant black magic or bind fragments from the Sea of Souls into themselves in search of more earthly power, becoming bestial lycanthropes. While powerful, the Church is also isolated; too much of its philosophy involves retreating from the world to allow it to play a major role as an organization.
Occasional peasants use the church as a route for advancement as well, although this is fairly uncommon.
1) There are a few noble groups which study Witchcraft as a method of reaching out through the Void in search of Wisdom, but this is generally regarded as heretical.
2) Both of the western faiths have some points: like most Manifold realms, quite a lot of the people of Rithhan are phantasms – realm “scenery” and communal embodiments of the passing thoughts and dreams of millions, and thus without true souls of their own. As manifestations of humanities racial mind, they do in fact arise from – and fall back into – something which might as well be described as “the Sea of Souls”.
3) Neither faith sees merchants, or the quest for profit, in a particularly good light: the nobles see them as failing to spend time on self-perfection and deeply involved with the world while the peasants see them as concerning themselves with abstract cash and detachment from nature.
4) In practice, noble children are usually presumed to have souls, while peasants are (at least according to the nobles) presumed not to have souls – hence noble children cannot simply join the peasants, that would be beneath their station in the universe (they do make good hostages though). Since peasants are presumed to not have souls, the “justice system” for them is pretty much up to the local nobles whims – and, since criminals are believed unlikely to develop souls, punishment is usually some form of disposal designed to make them an example. Lesser offenses (or major ones for nobles) are occasionally punished with fines, indentures, exiles, enslavements, and so on, but the death penalty is still pretty common.