When a monger whale beached on the shores of Buentoille in 1995, there was nothing that anyone could do to save it. It was some way down the coast, out of sight from the City itself, and by the time it was found by a fisher its lungs had already collapsed; it was too late. The death of any whale is a deeply sad occasion in Buentoille, where their hunting has long been illegal for hundreds of years. They are considered highly intelligent creatures, and are revered amongst fishers, who see them as the rightful owners of the oceans. There are, however, groups who take a more opportunistic approach to such sad events, and foremost amongst these opportunists are the The Church of the Goddess in the Deep (CGD).
After the mourners had left that day in 1995, the CGD set to work. They stripped the whale of all its blubber, organs and flesh, retaining the former and throwing the latter elements back into the sea. It was hard, visceral work, which had to be done quickly to avoid the whale bloating and then potentially exploding. They took the creature’s blubber and boiled it down into whale oil, which they stored in large barrels which were later removed to the CGD’s single place of worship, the High Church. They also sawed up the creature’s bones and took them too.
There were plenty of protests in response to these actions, which were deemed highly disrespectful; whales are usually left to naturally decompose, unless they are too close to the City where the smell would cause offence. The fact that it was a monger whale, the most intelligent species of whale, which had become beached meant that the disrespect was all the more keenly felt. There is, however, no law which disallows the collection of whale remains, just one which prevents their murder. CGD responded to these protests by stating that they didn’t want the oil and bones for material profit, and intended no disrespect. This fraught interaction was pretty much the first that most Buentoillitants had seen of the CGD, and today they are still known primarily as ‘those whale butchers.’
Despite having been around for about many years prior to these seemingly brutal actions, the CGD maintained a fairly low profile, which may explain why they are known for nothing else but the incident in 1995. The religion was started in the late nineteenth century by Phenol Estriss, a scrap merchant who specialised in reclaiming goods and materials from sunken ships in the Buentoille bay, using diving bells. She set up the Church shortly after she nearly drowned when her diving bell struck the edge of a rock on the sea bed and became filled with water. She slipped out of consciousness but was dragged, alive, to the surface by her colleagues. During the time she was out, she was allegedly visited by the ‘Goddess in the Deep,’ a ‘tentacled presence’ that had ‘reached out with promises of a life below.’
The Church of the Goddess in the Deep maintains a constant nautical presence, with members only going ashore for essential goods. Their vessel, the High Church, is the very boat which carried the diving bell that Estriss almost died in, and it is within this vessel that today’s festivities will take place. It mostly drifts around the Buentoille bay, but has been known to venture out into the Inner Ocean on occasion. The fact that the members of the church therefore rarely go ashore might explain to some extent the relative obscurity of the religion, which developed its practices in response to repeated ‘visions’ experienced by Estriss in her sleep; the concept of gathering whale oil wasn’t canon until at the latest 1913.
With the first glut of whale oil, the CGD lit their wave-top church, in the hopes that the oil would reveal messages from the Goddess in the shadows it cast when burned, as was theorised by their founder decades before: the 1995 incident was the first time we know of in which the acolytes actually had a whale carcass to strip. This oil was, however, all worked through by 1997. It was then that the acolytes turned to bone oil, a near-black substance that leeches from whale bones and produces acrid black smoke when burned. In accordance with the teachings of their leader, the CGD burn candles made from the oil in the diving bell itself as it descends into the ocean. As the bell fills with smoke, each member therein is said to experience vivid hallucinations, most probably through lack of oxygen rather than the chemical and spiritual composition of the smoke, as the Church claims. Monger whales, which are capable of diving to great depths, have had their bones infused with the ‘presence of the Goddess,’ or so the theory goes.
The issue with this new ritual that they created is that, whilst the bones do contain a tremendous amount of the oil, they only leech out enough for a single trip beneath each year. This being Buentoille, this is exactly what happens, with the CGD members carefully gathering whale bone oil all year, only to burn it all on one day, today, when they originally ran out of the blubber oil. Quite what sort of hallucinations each member receives is unclear, given their general lack of availability for interview.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Festival of the Ghost of Progress
- The Joyful Beating of the Cerna Street Monarchist Festival