Shaman: The Masked/Chapter One
The world in which Shamans live is alive, constantly whispering secrets to those who can listen. These whispers can be maddening, but they are only the weakest manifestation of the world's very soul. This Soul can be seen everywhere, and some Shamans believe the World Soul to be the source of all that exists, that every physical thing is given substance by the dreams of the sleeping universe.
Becoming a Shaman
Shamans are usually born with a connection to the world. They may be keenly perceptive of people's emotions, they might have a preternatural knack for science and math, or they may just be really good with animals. Whatever their connection is, it's little more than an inkling of the majesty of the World Soul.
It usually comes when they come of age, whatever that age may be for their society, which can be a confusing and difficult thing to determine for Shamans from multicultural families. For anywhere from a week to a month, they are plagued with dreams and waking visions, as their personal Dream forces its way through the Outer Soul to meet with the World Soul. These dreams often hold symbolic importance, although they are layered in metaphors and pataphors until they can't be understood without years of study. Some Shamans devote their lives to understanding these dreams.
The dreams end with the Shaman seeing their own personal vision of the World Soul. This vision inspires them to create their first Mask, and begin their life as a Shaman. This has been compared to a vision quest or a mystery play, but whatever it is, it's the end of the mortal man, and the beginning of a conduit between the World Soul and the Physical World.
The World Soul
The World Soul itself is a strange realm, consisting of many layers. The simplest way to reach it is by dreaming. One finds herself in her own dream, and with the right knowledge, they can push out to the Outer Soul. In the Outer Soul resides mankind's collective consciousness, Astral reflections of human minds. This place is an illusion, a reflection of a reflection that exists only by virtue of the perfection of the True World Soul.
The World Soul is the perfected form of nature, from which the Physical World is borne. This place is a world of wonders, where the impossible is made real, and the real is made fantastic. T's a dangerous place for a person to be, however. The World Soul cares for the individuality of visiting mortals as a person would care for the individuality of their body's cells. Winds whip through the World Soul, returning individuals to the World Soul.
Some doubt that the World Soul is truly so great, but Shamans point to what exists beyond it: nothing. There is nothing deeper than the World Soul. It is Yggdrasil, it is Ein Sof, it is the Heaven of Heavens, it is God's Kingdom, it is Nirvana, according to some Shamans. Regardless of its cosmological importance, it's undeniable that Shamans have a powerful connection to the World Soul.
The world of spirits, some Shamans see the Shadow as a skin shed from the World Soul. Others see it as the manifestation of its Id, the primal dreamings of an infinite soul. Still others see it as a cheap knockoff of the World Soul, ruled over by false gods of spirit that claim greater significance than they rightly deserve.
Whatever the Shadow is, it's obvious that Shamans have some kind of power over it. The Spirits of the Shadow can be spoken to with Masks, and with enough power, they will kneel to the Masks' will. Spirits don't seem to be purely conceptual like the beings of the Astral, but they are certainly tied to concepts. A fire spirit isn't the idea of fire, but it delights in flames and hisses in rage at water as if it was.
The Shadow itself is a realm that ripples and resonates with the Physical world. Murder somebody there, and wisps of energy that resonate not only with that murder, but with the weapon used, the blood that sprays out, the place it's done, the scream he makes, the fear and rage and suffering, float out into the Shadow to feed hungry spirits. Some spirits grow strong enough to cross the barrier known as the Gauntlet, and enter our world, where they can influence things, making more essence to feed themselves.
Shamans speak of certain spirits who feed out of the wrong type of essence out of starvation. A Spirit's conceptual makeup is flexible. An owl spirit can reasonably feed on mouse spirits, spirits of wisdom, other owl spirits, and maybe even other predator spirits. This flexibility has limits, however. That same owl spirit, if it ate a fire spirit or a car spirit, risks going mad, having its being warped and distorted into a creature called a Magath. Such spirits are dangerous, unpredictable and difficult to control.
If the Shadow is the primal dreams of the World Soul, then perhaps the Underworld is its nightmares. Those ghosts that don't remain in the Physical World pass on to this place. It's a strange, stygian place, devoid of any life that isn't brought there from outside. The upper parts resemble a labyrinthine system of caves, caverns and tunnels, but beyond those exists an almost infinite variety of ever-shifting kingdoms of the dead.
These kingdoms are ruled by supremely powerful ghosts known to some as Kerberoi. Each Kingdom has its own laws, which stand somewhere between a physical law and a civil or criminal law. Ghosts both here and in the Physical World also feel the pull of the Shaman's Masks.
While there are many strange places in the World of Darkness, Shamans on the whole don't often concern themselves with them. A Goetic Shaman may have interest in the Inferno, and some Masquers may have a passing curiosity with the Hedge and Arcadia, should they hear about it, but they lack the means to contact these realms for the most part (although, with the right Mask it could be possible).