Would you like a reason to celebrate? March 23 is the Holy Day of the Acclivity, the most important day in the Pilgrim religion! We thought we’d celebrate with a little background on the origin of Pilgrim (or McDanielist) theology. Strap in, it’s going to be a rocket ride through 24th century history!
What is a Pilgrim?
The term Pilgrim has come to refer to several related, but distinct, groups. Most broadly, it can mean anyone associated with the former Pilgrim Alliance, a political entity which existed from 2325 to 2635, or the surviving culture it created. The term can also be applied to anyone (generally descended from early human space settlers) who carries any of a number of specific genotypes which are beneficial to space travellers or to a small group of militant terrorists who identified with the former Pilgrim Alliance and targeted the Terran Confederation in the mid-2650s (and their sympathizers.)
In the case of this article and holiday, it refers to the religious sense: followers of the writings of Ivar Chu McDaniel, also called McDanielites or McDanielists. While there is a great deal of crossover between these groups, they are rarely all one and the same. In the example of Christopher Blair, he is a Pilgrim because he carries the so-called “Navigator” gene and because, being the son of one Devi Soulsong, he is descended from a citizen of the former Pilgrim Alliance. At the same time, he was not raised on Pilgrim culture or theology (his mother died at a young age) and has no other connection to (or practical knowledge of) the McDanielite orthodoxy (similarly, he was actively involved in opposing the 2654 Pilgrim terrorist attacks and held no pro-militant sympathies.) Note also that while the church historically favored those displaying Savant abilities, they were never requirement to be a believer or a member of "the Elect."
The Origin of Pilgrim Theology
Ivar Chu McDaniel, the founder of the McDanelist religion, was born in 2257 in the Outer Planets of the Sol System. McDaniel was an organic chemist and lay-preacher assigned to the Neptune research station, generally regarded by his peers as a shy academic. In 2294, he began experiencing ecstatic visions, which he believed were prophetic revelations being communicated to him by a divine force who had identified him as a spiritually receptive person living at the very edge of human settlement (Neptune being the most distant human outpost at the time.) From these visions, he came to believe that the Abrahamic apocalypse had already occurred, in the form of the Great Pandemics currently isolating Earth. Humans who had already chosen to leave Earth were the “Elect,” destined for spiritual salvation and divine protection. He further claimed that the off-world colonies were a form of Limbo from which the Elect must escape in order to become fully empowered by the divine presence. Paradise, then, was the rest of the universe, whose dominion was promised to the Elect who could escape Sol. The Elect, he said, must travel to the stars in a “Final Exodus” to achieve spiritual and genetic perfection.
McDaniel initially wrote about these experiences and thoughts privately in correspondence with friends on Mars. These friends were taken with his writing and suggested he collect and publish his experiences. He did so enthusiastically, publishing a book about his experience and then shedding his shy persona to begin strongly preaching his vision of mankind’s “Final Exodus.” The socio-political climate in the Outer Planets at the turn of the 24th century was ripe for exactly this kind of thinking. Earth and the Lagrange transit stations had been quarantined for nearly eight years and had become largely reliant on the charity of the outer planets for resources. The long quarantine meant a cultural divide, with the outer planets developing their own distinct culture distinct from that of the disconnected homeworld. By the time McDaniel was experiencing his vision, there was a strong resentment towards the prosperous colonies and a general feeling among the colony worlds that they should not be so responsible for subsidizing Earth’s fuel and resource needs. Support for McDaniel’s writing and preaching was further ensured in 2304, with the development of the first faster-than-light engine, the Morvan Drive. Why expend resources keeping Earth alive, many reasoned, when they could now go towards interstellar expansion?
McDanielist also saw the rapid development of so-called ‘Savant’ phenotypes among those born off-world as evidence supporting their theology, abilities granted by the divine specifically for those destined to settle the stars. By 2300, McDanielists were referring to Savants (and especially Compasses) as "the Graced" and encouraging research into their abilities. Sloship missions went out of their way to recruit humans with these abilities and the church encouraged them to marry and reproduce. By the turn of the 25th century, Compasses had been divided into the three distinct subsets we know today, Navigators, Visionaries and Explorers.
The Final Exodus
By 2309, the governing body of the outer planets, the Outer Planet Policy Council (OPPC) was under the control of McDaniel’s followers and preparations were made to begin launching Morvan Drive “sloships” to settle distant stars. The first, the Exodia under Hella Ti and a crew of devout McDanielists, was launched on February 19, 2311 carrying McDaniel himself and 1,199 other colonists to settle Sirius A-B. On March 23, the Exodia made the final .22 light year hop to Sirius successfully. The slowship had barely launched its single-person scout when McDaniel felt an overpowering force making him look to the portside, where a glittering blue spot had appeared in space. The spot rapidly expanded, seeming to grow thousands of hostly tendrils until it had become a massive cloud five times the size of the Exodia. Captain Ti ordered scans, but they came back with nothing. The cloud quickly enveloped the ship, and McDaniel experienced a sudden happiness, a disappearance of ordinary human discomforts and a sound of music playing. His final recorded words: “Whatever it is, it’s beautiful.”
Further Pilgrim theology teaches that McDaniel and the crew of the Exodia were translated directly to a higher plane of existence and that McDaniel continues to spiritually direct his followers from this new plain. Surviving McDanielists insisted that leaving the Sol System was the responsibility of the Elect and additional slowship journeys were successfully completed. Colonies at Alpha Centauri, Proxima Centauri, Cygnus and Sirius were quickly established, followed by eight more in places like Tamayo, Triune, Luyten, Faith, Beacon, Promise and McDaniel’s World. By the end of the 24th century, all of McDaniel’s followers, who prior to this point had come to make up 75% of the population of the off-world colonies, had successfully left the Sol System for the twelve colony worlds established as the Pilgrim Alliance. It was around this time that the term Pilgrim came into use, initially referring to those who booked passage out of the Sol System and later coming to refer to all of the Elect. With the practical completion of the Exodus, contact with Titan and Earth was cut off save for the occasional semicovert trading mission and the two cultures continued to move in very different paths.
About The Faithful
Pilgrim culture is very family oriented. One of the first things outsiders notice is that Pilgrims have a distinct manner of referring to fellow members of their family: brotur for brother, sostur for sister, grandsontur for grandson, grandfrotur for grandfather and so on. Brotur and sostur are generally used to refer to both family members and members of the faith. Additionally, the Pilgrim calendar uses family roles to identify days of the week: Broturday (for the day of rest), Proturday (for the holy day) and so on.
The ceremonial aspects of the Pilgrim religion are heavily focused on storytelling. Pilgrims conduct “con/crit” sessions where they act out and discuss elements of their history, such as Ivar Chu McDaniel’s ascendance and the self-imposed exile to McDaniel’s World following the war with the Terran Confederation. The stated goal of these sessions is to, through music and conversation, exorcise ol ideas. The initial induction to the faith takes five days of sessions, with more following as a Pilgrim attempts to gain further connection to the divine. As a result, Pilgrim art is highly musical and dance-oriented, with different dances representing different aspects of the faith. The protur has a troupe of chanters and dancers who help perform these ceremonies, and a variety of special instruments adapted from Earth’s history (including the soultom and soultar, from the drum and guitar.)
Ivar Chu McDaniel’s teachings went beyond the broad belief that terrestrial humans were doomed and that the Elect must be saved through travel to the stars. He adapted Abrahamic traditions as he saw necessary, including attempts to alter the human conception of death. (Pilgrims, for instance, teach that what they call gomuth, murder by death, is sometimes unavoidable and should be accepted rather than feared. This element of the faith is sometimes seen as why it would later give rise to militants such as those that took power over the Alliance in 2615 or those that launched a series of terror attacks on the Confederation in 2654.)
March 23rd, the Holy Day of Acclivity, is celebrated by Pilgrims recognizing McDaniel’s ascension to a higher plane of being. The Pilgrim religion is headed by a spiritual leader, the “protur,” who is similar to the Catholic Pope. For the week following the celebration, the protur travels to a secret retreat known only to himself where he fasts and prays in order to seek communion with Ivar Chu McDaniel and others who have ascended.
It’s All True
The strangest aspect of this Pilgrim history is, of course, the fact that McDaniel’s ascension actually happened. Until 2654, most historians assumed that the Exodia had simply been lost in a gravity well, a fate not unheard of for Morvan Drive sloships. Then, at the height of the Olympus crisis that seemed it might end in the mass destruction of surviving Pilgrim worlds, McDaniel and his crew reappeared, apparently ageless, to complete the Final Exodus. Little is known about what actually lead to this point, but we do understand that McDaniel did not so much ascend to a higher form of existence as he came into contact with a supportive alien intelligence far beyond modern understanding. It is not known if McDaniel’s original visions were a lure or if the Exodia simply happened to encounter this intelligence for the first time at Sirius A-B. In either case, this unknown intelligence (experienced mainly as the color blue to humans) carried the initial 1200 to a star system which would take the sentient species of the Milky Way “a hundred billion millennia” to reach.
On his return, McDaniel offered to evacuate all surviving Pilgrims who wished to leave the galaxy and then insisted to the Terran Confederation’s Senate that his people had no interest in warfare or fighting those who remain. Nevertheless, there is some indication that the ascended Pilgrims will return again in our lifetime… and that there will be war.