One of the strangest customs in Aegia is the so-called “Tetragrammaton Pit.” It apparently originated at the height of the monastic movement in early Orthodox Christianity and repurposed a sprawling set of subterranean ruins from Mycenaean times (or earlier) which the first monastics on the site excavated as a form of meditation.

The resulting structure was reportedly a labyrinth in the truest sense, rivaled only by the palace of Knossos on Crete in neighboring Greece. Codices contained in the adjoining monastery record that, after one of the monks became lost in the labyrinth, the order realized that the structure could be used to aid in an ascetic lifestyle. They began deliberately sealing themselves in to wander in the darkness without light, food or water.

Eventually, pilgrims came to the site as well, and the monks allowed them into the labyrinth. The holy name of God, the Tetragrammaton, was carved on a rock in the middle of the Pit by that first monk; to be released, a penitent had to find their way to that stone and feel its shape well enough to utter the name to the monks at the entrance. The Tetragrammaton contained within the Pit reportedly differed from the classical version; those that came to the trial knowing the latter were often surprised that the monks refused to accept their answer.

The only other option was collapse from hunger and thirst. The monks would attempt a rescue if someone was reduced to such a state, as indicated by a lack of echoing noise from the labyrinth for a period of two days, but often they were too late and the penitents would perish. Those who survived were lauded by their peers and the local Byzantine officials would often use the Tetragrammaton Pit as a rough civil service test, appointing those who had mastered it to high civil and military positions. The conquering Ottomans, repulsed by the practice, attempted to stomp it out.

But the trials continued, in secret, until they were officially acknowledge again after Aegia regained its independence following the Balkan Wars. Kjrnic Psuculos, the major postwar leader of Aegia, had completed the Tetragrammaton Pit, as had the first King, both in secret under the Ottomans. In time, the Pit resumed its former function as a brutal civil service exam and persisted as such through the coups, military rule, and ephemeral civilian governments that characterized the next century.

It was certainly possible to advance oneself without the Pit, and many did so. But within a country as conservative and close-knit as Aegia, completion of the Pit almost always guaranteed advancement and perks, even if only when all other things were equal. Of the last 20 leaders of Aegia, whether prime minister or president, colonel or king, 16 completed the Pit. This even after the Pit became so popular that the monks began requiring the completion of other trials, and a full physical exam, before allowing a supplicant to enter.

One to five people die in the attempt every year.

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