Topography, economy & cultureEditThe Feline Homeland of Barmenia is a nation of pristine lakes, stunning mountains and picturesque villages nestled in cosy grassy valleys. Situated on the continent of Majatra, it is bordered by the Verranderlijke Ocean to the west, Beitenyu to the north-west, Pontesi to the north-east, the Majatran Sea to the east, and Vanuku to the south. An extensive coastline makes fishing the largest industry, with tourism running a close second. Barmenia's famous golden beaches have been zealously protected from over-development, making them amongst Terra's most precious beauty spots. The country's spectacular natural environment is a Mecca for mountaineers, hikers and nature lovers, not to mention enthusiasts of every variety of mountain and water activity, from canoeing to paragliding.
Barmenians pride themselves on farming, which is big business here. Most agricultural land is owned by large democratic worker collectives which give a stake to every employee and use efficient natural methods to provide our citizens and their beloved cats with a huge variety of the freshest and choiciest produce all year round. Second to the cat, the honey bee is the animal most associated with Barmenia. A beehive in the backyard and a bee-keeping club meeting in the village pub are everyday sights in a land which makes oodles of the thickest-flowing gorgeously sweet oozing honey available anywhere in Terra. The national drink is mead, a luscious wine made with honey which is adored by locals and constitutes one of Barmenia's most successful exports.
Barmenians love authentic handicrafts, homemade clothes and homemade food, shunning the mass manufactured products which have swamped other nations and wiped out once valued skills.We like to have an idea of who made the things we own and how they were made, prizing individuality and disdaining bland uniformity. Craftsmen, tailors, painters, musicians and other creative types swarm to Barmenia from all over Terra just to be in amongst the atmosphere and culture here. One of our greatest passions is oral storytelling, where village groups meet up within a friendly atmosphere in pubs, living rooms and public spaces to regale each other with tales, each speaker trying to be more entertaining than the previous one. Skill in this art is greatly esteemed, and many who began as storytellers have found themselves - often almost unwittingly! - propelled up the ranks of local or even national politics.
HistoryEditBarmenians consider much of their history before modern Felinism as a dark age of confusion, instability and backwardness. Leaders, religions, inventions and ideas came and went, but in real terms nothing changed much. All the time people were living in a bubble, blind to the glory all around them in the form of the cat. Sad to say, cats were not given the honour they deserve, and were often neglected or abused. That has all changed now.
The work of historians and archaeologists reveals a period in ancient history when the True Religion, or something close to it, was practiced on a considerable scale. Newly-found scrolls tell of ancient cat worship. Bodies of mummified cats are frequently being dug up, as are monuments and obects associatied with cat deities. Several sites have been located where it is believed temples devoted to cats once stood. The National Cat Museum in Uthena is dedicated to studying and showcasing these artifacts which radically demonstrate the longevity and authenticity of Barmenia's proud national religion.
Cult of the Sacred FelineEditMost Barmenians are adherents of the Cult of the Sacred Feline, known as the Sacred Cult, which was founded by Lady Elizabeth Rochford following a rich spiritual journey stretching across four decades of companionship with cats. After receiving revelation of the innate omniscience of cats, she set up the Sacred Cult in order to share the secrets of feline wisdom with those less privileged than herself. The movement she inspired is known as Felinism, also called the Way of the Cat or the Feline Path. Its followers are called Felinists.
Orthodox Felinists, like Lady Elizabeth and the priesthood of the Sacred Cult, literally believe that cats comprise the Godhead or Feline Divinity and that serving cats is the moral purpose humans are created for. Less orthodox Felinists, whilst according cats the highest place of honour, may take a more pantheistic view, seeing the worship of cats as a powerful metaphor for developing a closer relationship with the spirituality present within ourselves and in nature. Others take a syncretistic approach, venerating cats whilst also drawing on concepts from other religions. It is common for Felinists to also regard themselves as, say, Christians, Muslims, Jews or Buddhists and still feel comfortable with their beliefs and be fully accepted within the Felinist community. Felinists tend to feel especially close to other nature-based religions, such as paganism, Wicca and Heathenry.
The Sacred Cult is relaxed about the diversity within Felinism, requiring conformity to orthodox teaching only from its registered priesthood, which is jointly headed by Lady Elizabeth Rochford as High Priestess and her son Jonathan Rochford as High Priest. It is now the official established religion in Barmenia and plays a special role in running the office of the Head of State or Felis Supremis.
Outsiders are sometimes perplexed that the rules of the Sacred Cult require its Priesthood to include meat in their diet, prohibiting them from being vegetarians. This does not stem from any disapproval of vegetarianism; many Felinists are vegetarians, and the Sacred Cult sponsors a special society for Felinist vegetarians. The issue is that being a Priest or Priestess requires an intimate embracing of the carnivorous attribute of the Feline Divinity. Some of the priestly rituals also require a priest or priestess to eat live food whilst entranced by cosmic feline forces.
Lady Elizabeth RochfordEditFelinists regard their faith as a natural religion which has always existed in some form or degree, and so are reluctant to credit any single individual as being their founder. However, Lady Elizabeth is inarguably the spark that began the modern Felinist movement. Although personally a very modest woman who shies from public attention, she has acquired the status of a towering figurehead not only for the Sacred Cult and Felinism but for Barmenia itself.
Lady Elizabeth hails from Barmenia's aristocracy and was born to great wealth, but her life has not been an easy one. She became divorced after only six years of marriage because her husband resented the time and affection she lavished upon her growing menagerie of cats. The marriage produced two daughters and a son, but her youngest daughter, Maria, was sent to live with her father because of her worsening allergy to cats. Maria lost her father soon after, and had to live with an aunt instead, which was not a happy experience. Maria never forgave her mother for choosing cats over her, and her hostility towards feline worship and cats in general has ensured a continuing poor relationship between the two women. In contrast to this, Lady Elizabeth's son Jonathan and daughter Jessica are very close to her, and both are leading lights in the Sacred Cult.
Lady Elizabeth currently resides in her family castle in Uthenia, where she plays host to 284 little gods and godesses.
Discerning the General Feline WillEdit"Discerning the General Feline Will" is a phrase visitors to Barmenia mention hearing a lot in all sorts of situations, and they are often confused about what it means. The term is of religious significance to Felinists, describing the process or state of mind which enables one to humbly wait upon the Feline Divinity for guidance. Discernment may be conducted in a multitude of ways as there are no rigid rules. You can do it whilst riding a bike in the park or watching television with a cat sat on your lap. You may find yourself entering the state of discernment whilst in discussion with friends or colleagues. Felinists often rely on a Guide, meaning a cat who has come forward to help that person make their life choices.
Most Felinists spend time in consecrated Cat Temples expertly designed to encourage personal encounters with the Feline Divinity. The physical presence of cats and a cat-honouring environment is conducive to accessing the profundity of cat sprituality, but is neither essential nor a guarantee of success, since what is sought comes from a higher plane than the material world we perceive around us with our limited human senses. Cats see far more than this, and they are generous animals who may share their visions if we approach them in the right way.
On that last note, a frequent pitfall, especially for newcomers to Felinism, is to consciously or unconsciously demand instant answers. Seekers commonly become so intoxicated by their first fleeting brush with the Feline Divinity that their nervous systems become over-excited, they assume grandiose pretensions and then enter psychological breakdown as the feline pantheon collectively flick their tails in disgust and desert then. More than a few of those pursuing the Way of the Cat have shipwrecked into the madhouse. Bastet only purrs for those who are worthy of the quest. Adventurers who are permitted into her presence but then incur her disgust can expect short shrift. It takes patience, devotion and humility to mature in the Feline Path. This is part of the reason for the organisation of the Sacred Cult which exists to befriend and inform would-be travellers.
Cat TemplesEditEvery Barmenian city, town or village is blessed with a network of Cat Temples, almost all of them affiliated to the Sacred Cult. Cat Temples are run for and by their cat residents, whose wishes are communicated to their appointed priests and priestesses who administer their decisions into practice. The average Temple features every facility for cats; plenty of space for them to roam inside and outside; and opportunities for worship and discernment, including shrines and religious seminars. Many Temples site farms and specialist kitchens on campus in order to provide the highest quality of fresh produce and cooked meals for their residents.
The Temple Priesthood are assisted by a secular class of Servers, who may work in a Temple on a permanent or temporary basis. Most Barmenians spend at least several months of their lives as Servers. The experience is considered both personally and spiritually invigorating, and is a social rite of passage for young adults. Many Barmenians spend a large chunk of their active post-retirement years as Servers.
Evidence substantiates the wonderful therapeutic value of working in an environment ruled by cats. Many of the sick, especially those with mental health problems, have experienced an improvement in their condition after working as a Server. This experience is also proven to help rehabilitate convicted criminals from prisons who have been assigned to Temples on special secondments. Barmenians have the Feline Divinity to thank for this and much, much more.
The concept of a Feline HomelandEditBarmenia is the first and only nation in Terra to declare herself a Feline Homeland, which is to say the full energies of her state and society are committed towards service to cats. Barmenia has the highest possible legally-enforced standards of cat welfare in history, and every cat - living or dead - is accorded full citizenship status. This means that the mistreatment of cats by by anyone, anywhere, anytime is an offence against a Barmenian citizen and can be prosecuted in the Court of Cat Law (CCL), which severely punishes crimes committed against cats.
Felis SupremisEditThe Felis Supremis, or Supreme Cat, plays a dual religious and secular role in Barmenia, serving both as a focal point for cat veneration and as the nation's ceremonial Head of State, in which capacity she is also Head of the Judiciary and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Orthodox Felinists acknowledge the Felis Supremis as the living incarnation of Bastet, the Cat Goddess of Fertility worshipped in ancient times by our ancestors. Whenever a Felis Supremis dies, the nation subsides into ten days of official mourning, during which followers cease all significant business activity, fast, pray, donate their riches to Cat Temples and wail loudly through the streets whilst crawling on all fours with their eyes facing downwards, fearing that unless Bastet returns the plants will all die and all living life perish. On the eleventh day a search begins, supervised by the Sacred Cult, to find the next Felis Supremis from amongst the kittens in Barmenia's most prominent Cat Temples. The selected kitten is usually a queen (female), although there have been occasions when Bastet has chosen to return as a tom (male). After the new Felis Supremis has been anointed, there follows a spontaneous outburst of religious fervour and wild celebrations.
As Head of State, the Felis Supremis receives dignitaries; presides over state ceremonies such as the opening of the Grand Cat Parlour (GCP) and the swearing in of the Cabinet; and holds weekly audiences with the Head of Government, known as Chief Servant of the Cats. The administrative functions of the Felis Supremis are shouldered by a small bureaucracy run by the Sacred Cult and funded by the central government.
Felis Supremis resides in the luxurious setting of the GCP, where she is attended by a large team of servants working day and night to maintain her in the comfort necessary to ease the burden of her onerous responsibilities.
Grand Cat ParlourEditThe GCP is first and foremost a consecrated Cat Temple affiliated to the Sacred Cult. Alike other Cat Temples, it features numerous feline residents; a Priesthood and team of Servers devoted to their welfare; a range of facilities dedicate to feline comfort and needs; opportunities for visitors to mingle amongst the Feline Divinity; and extensive surrounding grounds for the use of cats as well as various outdoor monuments and shrines for the facilitation of cat veneration. In addition to this, a minor part of the GCP's space and activity involves hosting Barmenia's elected legislature, which sits regularly in a disused food preparation area.
Barmenian voters are expected to carefully meditate upon the guidance of the Feline Divinity before casting their votes, remembering that what matters is the General Feline Will rather than insignificant selfish personal interests. Similarly, elected legislators are expected to reflect that the Feline Divinity put them where they are, and that their duty is to serve cats rather than becoming distracted by pointless squabbling. The chamber in which the legislature sits is open to the comings and goings of roaming cats, since within a Cat Temple it is sacrilegious to close a door on a cat. This is designed to afford legislators an enhanced opportunity to earnestly discern the General Feline Will. For example, it is not uncommon for debates in the chamber to be swung one way or the other by a cat showing favour or disfavour to a particular legislator at a critical moment.
Chief Servant of the Cats and CabinetEdit
Barmenia's Head of Government is known as the Chief Servant of the Cats, his official title being designed to let him know he is and what he is meant to be doing. He is assisted by twelve minister, who with himself comprise the Cabinet, which he chairs. The Cabinet is appointed by the legislature and is constitutionally expected to command a majority of support within it, although periods of minority government are not impossible.
Barmenian law is mainly administered by district and regional courts. Above them, sits the Federal Court, which hears appeals against decisions made at lower tiers of the judiciary. Judges are appointed by the Justice Minister on the recommendation of an Independent Judicial Appointments Commissions. As with other senior public officials, judges must swear an oath of allegiance to the Felis Supremis and pledge to uphold the Constitution.
Court of Cat LawEdit
Barmenia also has a Court of Cat Law (CCL), the highest court in the land and spiritually the highest court in Terra since the Law of Cats over-rides the Law of Man. CCL sessions are conducted on the authority of the Felis Supremis, whose decisions are communicated to priestly interpreters appointed the Sacred Cult. The CCL scrutinises legal developments on an ongoing basis to ensure Cat Law is being respected. In practice the CCL has never overturned a judicial decision, although it has occasionally issued notes of guidance or requests for judges to clarify their rulings.
The CCL reserves for itself the right to try crimes involving the mistreatment of cats, and it has a reputation for issuing tough sentences.
Office for Covert AffairsEditMore controversial is the shadowy Office for Covert Affairs (OCA), a division of the CCL which also functions as the national intelligence agency. Nicknamed "the Feline Inquisition", rumours persist that the organisation has been involved with intimidating, kidnapping, torturing and murdering suspected perpetrators of cruelty to cats who escape prosecution. Its operatives have also been accused of conducting operations overseas to wreak retribution against those who harm cats. Such unsavoury rumours have always been officially denied, and a recent investigation by a parliamentary committee found that although certain interrogation methods have been applied too enthusiastically, there is no evidence of torture or murder.
Politics and partiesEditBarmenian culture frowns on bickering, and this attitude is reinforced by a national religion which suspects spiritual inattentivity in heated argument or insult-slinging. Housed within the precincts of a Cat Temple, Barmenia's legislators are especially sensitive to this, knowing the opprobrium which will fall down upon them if they are seen to offend the sacredness of their surroundings. Politicians tend to be more loose-tongued outside legislative sittings and in the press, but foreigners are struck by the courtesy and friendly camaraderie which characterises our political life. Whilst differences always exist, there is a tradition of trying to achieve consensus across party lines rather than passing Bills on slender majorities.
Sacred Feline AllianceEditThe Sacred Feline Alliance (SFA) was set up in April 3133 by Jessica Rochford, eldest daughter of Lady Elizabeth Rochford. It promotes an unashamedly Felinist agenda, drawing from a range of thinking including socialism, liberalism and environmentalism, whilst ultimately aspiring to eschew the limitations of man-made ideology in favour of dependence upon the Feline Divinity in every aspect of formulating and applying solutions to human and ecological dilemmas.
Many SFA activists are very active in the Sacred Cult, but the two organisations are strictly independent of each other, and the Sacred Cult prohibits its Priesthood from standing for election to public office. Jessica is by far the most politically-minded of the Rochford family, the others being more concerned with religious affairs. Elizabeth and Jonathan are known to be supportive of her endeavours, but are careful to appear aloof from politics. However the SFA is perceived by commentators as intimately entwined with the religious establishment.