The Wisdom and Power of the Kodan
They first appeared in the world as rumor, as legends. Travelers told tales of great ships made of ice and bedecked with sails glimpsed among the fjords. Then norn hunters returned with more stories of white furred bear-men—unlike those norn blessed by Bear—who possessed great power but who were also filled with great fear. They were fleeing the north, the land of the Elder Ice Dragon Jormag. They were creatures of wisdom and judgment, weighing the races of Tyria and finding them wanting. They were the kodan.
No race weaves the thread of life. We are all strands in it, seeds upon the earth, inheritors of nature's balance.
The kodan are intelligent, ten-foot tall, bipedal, polar bear-like beings from the distant north. Culturally, they have a strong belief in the importance of being in balance with the world around them, but this does not mean they are pacifists. Taking a cue from the natural world, they see hunting and killing as a normal part of life. What is most important is that an individual's actions are in balance with nature. Originally from beyond the northern Shiverpeaks, the kodan tribes inhabit floating iceberg fortresses called Sanctuaries; one per tribe, they live and travel upon these mighty ice peaks, building entire cities within their shelter.
Long ago, Koda, the Ancient One, Founder of the Earth, Keeper of the Sky, formed the world. In the beginning, the spirits of the world were wild and untamed. In time, many took physical form: spirits of stone, spirits of water, spirits of wind, spirits of soil, spirits of plants and birds and creeping things. All things with form have spirits… as do many formless things.
But one day the bear stood up and looked around him and saw that the spirits of the world were restless and chaotic. He could not understand the endless cycles of creation and destruction. And so bear was the first creature to speak, and with his first words he asked Koda, "Why is this so?" And Koda was pleased and made this offer to the bear: "If you would watch and learn, then watch and learn, and you shall protect and guide the spirits of this world." And those who praised Koda and accepted this offer became the kodan. And those who were not ready and did not wish to change remained as bears.
The kodan venerate Koda the Founder above all else. They believe that all beings are fated to come back again and again, but each time reborn as members of the same race—a sort of spiritual purity maintained throughout reincarnations. Humans come back as humans, charr return as charr, kodan come back as kodan. Only when you are greatly enlightened do you "advance," and are reincarnated as a member of the next race in the balance. Of course, the kodan believe they are the most spiritually enlightened race in the world, and that as the top of this reincarnative food chain, it is their duty to watch over the world, judge others, and maintain the balance—by force if necessary.
They believe that the kodan are the only ones who understand this "balance" (a word often used when the kodan are justifying their actions) and that it is their holy purpose to maintain it, even if that means fighting or killing.
Although a member of an individual race won't be summarily judged according to their race's general activities, the kodan do approach other races with a certain amount of expectant anticipation. They have already begun to "judge" the people of the southern lands, as they believe that Koda would wish them to do. There's a debate among the kodan shamans known as Voices as to the fate of the dwarves. Did the dwarves somehow "skip ahead" and proceed directly to enlightenment, or did they fall out the bottom and destroy themselves? Either way, they have been removed from the world.
Over the seasons, the kodan spread and multiplied across the land. Their journeys were bounded only by the sea. And everywhere they went, they brought balance to the spirits. They watched and they learned and they hunted, and so served the will of Koda.
Now all things grow and all things die; even the glacier is not unchanging. And there came to be a great storm that did not end though month after month and season after season passed. And the great seers, the Voices, of the kodan said it was time to wait and to watch and to learn. With their thick white fur, the kodan would be safe. But waiting was not easy, for there was little to hunt in the storm. And in the great halls, the rumbling of bellies echoed like the roaring of bears. And there was a Claw without a Voice, a hunter among the kodan who refused to stay. He said that fur or no fur, storm or no storm, a hunter must hunt. And he led many others with him into the storm to seek hunting grounds in the lands to the far south, where the snow was light. And they were never seen again.
The kodan do not claim any connection or relationship to the norn race, but some Voices choose to interpret early stories of a lost group of kodan as an explanation of the origin of the norn. If this is true, they argue, then the norn are failed kodan who have forgotten their place as judges and protectors of the balance, and that is why their true "bear" form has been replaced with a fragile, furless state. Because of this pressure from their shaman, the kodan often treat the norn as spiritual failures, possibly even a race moving backwards in the cycle of life, toward primitivism and destruction — and that even as the dwarves before them, if this is true, the norn are a race on the edge of extinction.
When the great storm had finally passed, the kodan saw their gift from Koda. Great sections of the seas had frozen, creating floating islands of ice. And the kodan climbed onto these and so could now live upon the land and the sea. And they watched and they learned and they hunted.
The kodan build and maintain cities of ice known as Sanctuaries. These Sanctuaries float on restless seas far to the north, beyond the lands where the norn have traveled. These Sanctuaries are spiritual havens as well as shelters, and at their icy core, the Voices live in shrines to Koda. In order to teach enlightenment, maintain a certain distance from the world, and meditate on Koda's true wishes, each Sanctuary's Voice shuts themselves off from the world. Only the battle-leader of each Sanctuary, the Claw, has the right to approach the Voice and ask for guidance. That guidance and spiritual wisdom is then brought back for the benefit of every kodan in the tribe.
However, with the rise of the Elder Dragon Jormag, the great ice ships of the kodan were driven apart. Some fled to the north; others were capsized, torn apart, and destroyed by the dragon's wrath. Some few escaped southward, cut off from their fellows by the destruction and rising tide. The land to the far north cracked and shattered with Jormag's waking, allowing the icy northern ocean to flood through and create new, inland seas on which the kodan were cast adrift.
Society and Hierarchy
Kodan exist in a close community on their Sanctuaries, acting in concert and living in peace. They have disputes and disagreements, of course, but they consider themselves "above" most interpersonal conflict. The balance is more important than an individual's needs; holy Koda's will, as translated by the Voice, supersedes any single kodan's wishes.
Each Sanctuary is led by two important individuals; the Voice and the Claw. The Voice cares for that Sanctuary's "spirit," giving them guidance, meditating on Koda's will, and sensing the balance of the Sanctuary and the world around it. The Claw protects and guards the Sanctuary, leading the hunters, or when necessary, the warriors. The Claw operates as the physical presence and visible leader, but in fact it is a partnered role; the Claw guides the people martially while the Voice remains in a place of safety deep inside the Sanctuary. Both are needed to rule. Between these two powerful kodan, the Sanctuary is run in a very organized and social style. Each member contributes and works to maintain peace, encourage sharing of resources, and provide support for others within the Sanctuary.
The Voice and the Claw are, essentially, partnered leaders within kodan society. Neither has the right to overturn the other's decisions, and both have clearly delineated spheres of influence—the Voice, spiritual; the Claw, physical. They are chosen at the same time if possible, and serve for centuries together, leading and guiding their Sanctuary and the kodan within. If a Claw dies, it is tradition for the Voice to retire; so, too, if the Voice should go mad or pass into Koda's arms, will the Claw step away and give another his post.
Let it be me, mighty Koda, that gives his life for peace. Let it be me that dies for balance. Let it be me that rejoins with nature knowing that I have fought and sacrificed for that which I believe. For such is the journey of a warrior. Such is the path of the Claw.
The Claw is the outward face of leadership among the kodan. Chosen for their charisma, strength at arms, and public leadership potential, it is the Claw's duty to tend to the day-to-day running of the Sanctuary as well as its safety. They move openly through the Sanctuary and maintain a small group of Guardians whose purpose is to defend the Sanctuary and to interfere in (rare) disputes among the populace. The Claw is essentially the "ruler" of the Sanctuary, to those who do not fully understand the kodan culture.
However, maintaining the Sanctuary's peace is only one of the duties of the Claw. A second is far more important: to serve as the intermediary between the Voice and the people of the Sanctuary; to help interpret and carry out the will of Koda. The Voice's purpose keeps him sheltered from the outside world, and it is the duty of the Claw to be the link between the Voice and the Sanctuary; between the people and the channel to the will of their god.
The kodan believe that the fates of the Claw and the Voice are linked, symbolically and mystically intertwined with one another and with the Sanctuary. Any failure on the part of one taints the other, and must be purified in both. Therefore, a Claw takes his duties seriously, realizing that if he fails, he has not only brought harm to himself or his people, but also to the Voice, and therefore the very spirit and soul of the Sanctuary.
Let it be me, mighty Koda, that gives his life for knowledge. Let it be me that dies so that truth can survive. Let it be me that rejoins with nature, knowing that I have looked into your eyes and brought back wisdom for my people. For such is the journey of a shaman. Such is the path of the Voice.
— Bitter Tears of Plenty, Voice of the Gentle Tide Sanctuary
The Voice is a spiritualist, chosen for their innate, deep connection to Koda and their understanding of his will. A combination of High Priest and record-keeper, the Voice maintains a memorized record of all things of great import that have occurred to the kodan of his Sanctuary, and passes that history down to a successor when he is near his death. Because the Voice is attended by a small staff of shamans, even if he dies prematurely, most of the knowledge will not be lost. However, as the Voice rarely leaves his ritual chambers, it is an extremely uncommon occurrence that the Voice leaves his post from anything but the passing of his Claw – hopefully, after several hundred years of service to their people.
It is the Voice's duty to seek and interpret the will of Koda, and to bring spiritual guidance to the kodan of his Sanctuary. In these things, the Voice is all-knowing and blessed, possessed of supernatural knowledge, authority, and freedom from any error and sin. They can sanction laws, proclaim judgments on a grand scale, and interpret Koda's will in any situation.
Unfortunately, the rituals and pathworking that a Voice must go through in his duties, and the simple fact that their mind is always open to the Mists means that the Voice can become unstable. Only through the will of Koda does a Voice remain grounded and able to do his duty; it is the Claw's logical interpretation of the Voice's mysticism that provides structure and law for the Sanctuary as a whole.
It is rare, but not unheard of, that a Voice might be so completely overcome by the visions that they go insane — a sickness known as the "Rage of Koda." This is called a "Time of Trial" by the kodan, who believe that it means Koda is personally testing their spirituality and the strength of their Sanctuary. Usually, the Voice dies only a few years after a Time of Trial occurs, as their body shuts down from the strain and the insanity. At that point, the Sanctuary is believed to be purified of all sin, judged and set to order by Koda himself.
- The Wisdom and Power of the Kodan, ArenaNet blog