The Voluval is both one of the Minmatar's least understood, and most important rituals. Involving a specialized sort of tattooing process that marks the subject's body, the Voluval is a rite of passage practiced by nearly all sub-clans of all tribes in the Republic. It is also known as the Test of Destiny and is the seminal event in a young Mimatar's life, representing their coming of age and official recognition as a member of the tribe.
There have always been various ritualized rites of passage amongst the Minmatar. While different rituals have been favored at different times by different tribes, none has ever been so pervasive or wide-spread as the Voluval.
It is believed that some of the earliest Minmatar rites of passage were designed to test the subject, not so they could pass or fail, but to identify what areas they may need help in as they moved into adulthood. Some of the most barbaric and torturous rituals were designed for these benign purposes. Later rites of passage began to develop towards a physically easier curve, and as they did so, the negative associations with failing the tests grew in significance. Initially, this resulted in the subject of a 'bad' or 'failed' rite of passage being shunned by the tribe or given distasteful jobs.
The Voluval was developed by Vherokior mystics during their time wandering the Greater Sobaki Desert. When the Vherokior emerged from the desert around five thousand years ago and began traveling in small caravans amongst the other tribes, the Voluval spread with them. Tattoos were already such an important part of Tribal life that the practice caught on quickly. Population pressures on Matar soon saw the introduction of banishment with certain, rare, bad marks.
During the Amarr rule of the Minmatar, all cultural tattoos were banned, and the secrets of the Voluval were thought lost. When the Amarr yoke had been finally been thrown off, tattoos were one of the first things to be returned to their place of cultural importance. Even before the formation of the Republic, Vherokior mystics announced that they had held on to the knowledge of the Voluval all through their long subjugation. In a culture striving to re-establish its identity and tribal roots, the resurrected ritual achieved an even greater importance.
Now, in a curious parallel to how the ritual initially spread, Vherokior mystics make regular trips to both the Federation and the Great Wildlands, in an effort to include the Gallente-Minmatar and the Thukker in the practice. In the Republic, many returning Starkmanir and Nefantar have also shown an inclination to fit in by undergoing the ritual, even those that hold on to their Amarr faith. While normally undergone in adolescence, exceptions are being made regularly as the Republic opens its arms to its returning people.
Conversely, while the practice of the Voluval is growing in importance, the significance of the marks themselves seems to be on the wane. Even so, there are still those that experience harsh consequences for their marks. Enforced vows of silence and banishment are still practiced, though some families are now in a position to support those with bad marks, and they simply disappear following an unfavorable outcome for one of their kin.
The Voluval in Practice
The Voluval uses a special type of tattooing process, consisting of two injections. One is an injection of tyrosine, the amino acid precursor to melanin, and it is administered to the heart. The second injection, delivered to the ventral root near the base of the spinal nerve, is a formula known only to Vherokior mystics, and is a secret still closely guarded by them even today.
A few decades ago, the Quafe company investigated the possibility of using a similar form of tattooing as part of an enhanced marketing strategy. The Quafe company sent a small team of scientists to the Greater Sobaki Desert to gather flora and fauna. They claimed great results using acetylcholine as a neurotransmitter, along with oxytocin, calcitonin, and vasoactive intestinal peptide hormones extracted from Sobaki Water-Root. Unable to identify any further ingredients, nor willing to commit any more resources to the venture, the project was shut down. There is evidence to suggest the Amarr may have figured out the formula, but it is circumstantial at best.
Vherokior mystics have since confirmed the inclusion of Sobaki Water-Root in the Voluval formula, saying it is simply one tooth of the key to unlock one's Voluval tattoo. They believe the formula of the second injection directs the subconscious to manipulate the melanin from the first injection into forming a permanent tattoo. It is for this reason Vherokior mystics insist proper mental preparation is a necessary part of the Voluval.
Proper preparation for the Voluval ritual is of such importance that those about to undergo it study for weeks. In the past, rituals were performed individually, with each person having their own Mentor. Over time, the Voluval came to be done in larger groups and the duties of the Mentor were assumed by an Essence Instructor.
This job is usually handled by a local shaman and consists mostly of relating legends, providing instruction in clearing the mind, and giving advice and guidance. This is never more important than the day of the Voluval itself, where it is common for the Essence Instructor to be sequestered for up to six hours with those about to experience the ritual.
The Voluval can be done anywhere the tribe can gather, though the many sacred sites on Matar tend to host the largest ones.
Though the exact proceedings of the Voluval vary slightly depending on circumstances, the main sequence of events remain the same. As the leader of the ceremony, the Spirit Conductor's entrance signals the commencement of the Voluval. Once the Spirit Conductor and their various attendants have taken their place, the music starts. Adults in the crowd who have already gone through the Voluval join the Spirit Conductor in the singing of a traditional song. This is where the greatest deviation among Voluval ceremonies occurs, as the song is often a local one, though the musical accompaniment is usually provided by Singing Staffs.
One at a time, those being tested kneel before the Spirit Conductor, who applies to their head an elixir meant to cleanse the spirit. As he plunges the first injection directly into the heart, the Spirit Conductor chants sacred words in a quiet prayer. The Spirit Conductor then circles around behind the subject, and injects the second mixture into the base of the spine.
At this point it is the participant's turn to speak. What is said is up to the individual, though it was originally intended to be a declaration of their outlook on life, themselves, or their surroundings. Over time many sayings have become standardized amongst certain families and sub-clans.
The Spirit Conductor places a black mantle around the subject's head and shoulders as the injections begin to work. Within a few minutes, the Voluval mark appears. The Spirit Conductor then removes the mantle, and the mark is revealed to all.
After all the participants have their marks, the Spirit Conductor closes the ceremony by leading a short group prayer.
Most Voluval ceremonies end with the participants being welcomed and recognized by the tribe. Nearly all marks tend to be benign, with some even tending towards being hereditary, like the horned triangle of the Graur family. Karin Midular's mark, the Ray of Matar, is the rarest and most auspicious of the Voluval marks.
The rarest of the negative marks such as the Pale Eye, the Face of Helina, or the Broken Shield can see its bearer out cast by the Minmatar, banished to Arzad II. Less rare, though still not common, are the other detrimental marks such as the Spiraling Circle, the Scarecrow, the Purple Cross, or the Slaver's Fang. These marks may force the bearer into a self-imposed, life-time vow of silence, under traditional penalty of having their tongues cut out should they ever break it. In recent years it has become common for those with these marks to choose a life of exile over the burden of bearing their shame amongst their kin.
The Voluval and Capsuleers
Given that there are significant physiological differences between a baseline human's birth body and capsuleer clones, which are biological constructs, the physical processes involved in the ritual of evoking a voluval mark have a different range of effects to those seen when a standard human goes through the ritual. The effects are as variable but any marks produced are frequently quite different and seen as uninterpretable in the framework of the voluval ceremony. Put very simply, the traditional voluval often does not work properly on a capsuleer clone. There are believed to be radical variants of the process and ceremony that can reliably produce a traditional mark on an active clone, though this is the stuff of rumor, conjecture and, perhaps, unorthodox shamanic practice.
When a Minmatar capsuleer's birth body is terminated, any voluval marking they may have can be effectively reproduced on a cellular level when their prepared capsuleer clone is sculpted. This is similar to reproduction of birth marks, freckles, scars, inked tattoos and other such marks as a capsuleer wishes to retain on their body according to their specifications. In the case of the voluval a similar level of cellular alteration is replicated but the cellular structures are essentially artifical and the replication is an artifice of the clone preparation process. While the mark is to visual inspection identical to the original, there are basic differences that can detected with the correct equipment.
Capsuleers can choose to dispense with skin marks, defects and scars as a simple change of specification when the clone is prepared. Relatively simple body-modding techniques can also achieve such alterations of an active capsuleer construct body without cloning taking place. This has a variety of implications when it comes to the voluval mark and different interpretations have generated several schools of thought on the matter.
Related to this topic is the fact that in Minmatar society body- and mind-cloning are considered matters of deep personal ethics within the overall Matari traditional framework. Discussion of these things are not "taboo" in any strict sense but it is considered unseemly, to the point of infringing social ethics, to talk of the private cloning choices of another Matari in public, unless they themselves have openly spoken of it beforehand. Careless talk of private matters of this kind in front of non-Matari is considered a grave infringement of traditional ethics on a par with wearing an unearned ritual tattoo or tribal marking.
This aspect of Minmatar attitudes to cloning has important implications for non-capsuleers who avail themselves of cloning of one kind or another but, while still important to understand, certain of those potential implications are rendered moot by the simple fact that capsuleer status is a matter of public record. Even a first generation capsuleer, from the period when birth bodies were adapted for capsule pilot service, has always had to have a ready and prepared construct clone as a matter of legal requirement.
Even though the fact of having a clone body prepared is unavoidably a matter of public record, other related choices can be considered private unless openly shared. Included in this would normally be whether or not a non-facial voluval mark has been reproduced through cellular sculpting or not. This can be an important matter in some contexts. Opinions across Minmatar society vary on the legitimacy of reproducing voluval marks on capsuleer clones. The issue is necessarily a relatively recent one but certain strands of thought have emerged in the last century or so.
For some Matari traditions, and typically for the more conservative in the relevant traditions, the reproduction of a voluval mark can be seen as an affront to an aspect of Minmatar culture that was preserved despite the privations and horrors of the Amarr occupation. This viewpoint is respected as valid within the broad family of the Matari traditions and the framework of Minmatar tribal society but it is a minority view, even among those Minmatar who place great importance on the voluval mark.
The large majority of Minmatar who even stop to think about this matter are not so conservative in their attitudes. Most consider the reproduction of the voluval mark by cellular sculpting on a capsuleer clone to be essentially a matter of copying an outward sign of what was revealed by the evocation of the mark in an individual's voluval ceremony. As attitudes to the voluval in Matari society vary hugely, even within individual tribes, it is not a topic of general controversy that many Minmatar capsuleers copy their marks over to new clones.
There are moreover approaches to Matari spirituality and traditional practice that would consider it only sensible and proper to prepare a familiar physical form for a spirit crossing from a dying body to one in which it may fully live again. In these traditions, the manifestation of ultra-conservative thinking may occasionally verge on seeing a failure to reproduce the voluval mark as problematic. On the whole, though, these traditions of spiritualism, often being the most animistic of the Matari world views, are notably more relaxed than many other strands of thinking.