Gorean society has a firmly established Caste system, a very important aspect of their society. Almost every Free Person of the cities of Gor belongs to a Caste. Priest-Kings, slaves and outlaws are the three primary exceptions who stand outside of the Caste system. Priest-Kings are considered the gods of Gor and slaves are considered property and thus they have no status in the Caste system. An outlaw is a man who chooses to rebel against the Caste system. He either refuses to follow the Caste he was born into or tries to change his Caste without going through the proper procedures. Such a man, if convicted of being an outlaw, is banished from his city, losing his connection to his Home Stone and losing any Caste status. If he dares to return to a city, he will typically be arrested and subject to impalement. The loss of a connection to your Home Stone and the Caste system is considered a terrible loss and thus there are few outlaws on Gor. Outlaws live a precarious existence on the outskirts of civilization, hiding in the wilds such as the Voltai Mountains or the Northern Forests. Only the Peasant might aid an outlaw as the Peasant feels he has little an outlaw would consider worth stealing. Thus, some outlaws and peasants have formed a tacit agreement to assist each other. The peasant will help to protect the outlaw and the outlaw will then share what he acquires.
There are other people who do not fall into one of these exceptions but are still outside of the Caste system. There are some whom have lost their Caste for various reasons. For example, a slave who is freed has no Caste upon manumission. They must petition to join a Caste, even if they had belonged to a Caste before they had been enslaved. A few people are born outside of the Caste system such as the children of an outlaw. A few occupations are not associated with a Caste such as gardening, domestic service and herding. Some of these people still have a connection to a Home Stone and thus are not in the same predicament as an outlaw though their lack of a Caste is detrimental in various ways. We must also consider the barbarian cultures outside of civilized Gor as they do not have a Caste system. These would include such cultures as the Wagon Peoples, Torvaldslanders, Red Savages, Red Hunters and the Tribesmen of the Tahari. It is the people of the cities who can afford to be specialists within a Caste system. For the barbarian cultures, survival is a primary concern and thus they must become generalists to increase their chances of survival.
Caste is primarily governed by birth and children always take on the Caste of their father. Though upward mobility in the Caste system is infrequent it is still possible. In general, few Goreans try to raise their Caste. It would be even rarer for a Gorean to willingly lower his Caste. One way to change Caste for a woman is through Free Companionship. Normally, mating remains within the same Caste. But, in a Free Companionship a woman is permitted to take the Caste of the man if she so desires. This can serve to raise her caste, even from a Low Caste to a High Caste. But, a man cannot take on the Caste of his Free Companion. A person's abilities can also serve to raise their Caste though on the same hand, a lack of ability can lead to a demotion in your Caste. To change one's caste, the High Council of the city must approve the change based upon your qualifications for the new Caste. The new Caste must also be willing to accept you. Proper bribes can make this process easier, even if your qualifications may be lacking. Men and women are generally promoted and demoted by the same criteria in the Caste system. In practice, few Goreans actually change their Caste because they are proud of their Caste, cognizant that each Caste performs a valuable service for the community. Even the Peasant, the lowest of all the Castes, realizes that without their efforts many people would not be fed.
Except for the Assassin Caste, you must belong to a Home Stone to have a Caste. Each city has their own Caste system and each specific Caste has its own hierarchy particular to that city. Almost the only time that people from the same Caste, but of different cities, might ever meet to discuss Caste issues is at the Sardar Fairs. The Sardar Fairs are a very important time for the different Castes to share information. You cannot belong to a Caste in a city unless you also belong to the Home Stone of that city. In addition, you may only belong to a single Caste. Dual Castes are not permitted on Gor. Caste loyalty is far too important on Gor for someone to have dual loyalties by belonging to multiple Castes. Now, if one changes their Caste they obviously do not lose any knowledge or skills they acquired from the first Caste. But there might be some restrictions on their use of those previously acquired skills. For example, a Physician who became a Warrior might not be permitted any longer to operate in hospitals owned by the Physician's Caste. But, that Physician would still retain his medical knowledge and skills.
Castes also do not have complete monopolies over some of their skills. For example, any person can buy and sell slaves, not just a member of the Slaver's Caste. Anyone can learn how to wield a sword, not just a member of the Warrior's Caste. Obviously such individuals will not know or follow the Caste Codes of those Castes. In addition, there would be some restrictions on their use of those skills. A Caste would not generally permit someone to try to usurp their Caste to a major degree. Goreans also realize that commonly someone cannot practice the work of their Caste until they have satisfactorily completed an apprenticeship. This serves in part as a guarantee to the quality of the product. This guarantee would not apply to a person practicing the skills who does not belong to the Caste. It would be a matter of caveat emptor.
The Caste system is intended to provide some structure and stability to Gorean society. "It is apparently one of the socially stabilizing forces on Gor. It tends to reduce the dislocations, disappointments and tragedies inherent in more mobile structures, in which men are taught that they are failures if they do not manage to make large amounts of money or excel in one of a small number of prestigious professions. The system also helps to keep men of energy and high intelligence in a wide variety of occupations, this preventing the drain of such men into a small number of often artificially desiderated occupations, this tending then to leave lesser men, or frustrated men, to practice other hundreds of arts the survival and maintenance of which are important to a superior civilization." (Dancer of Gor, p.186-7) The welfare of the caste is of the utmost of importance to the individual Gorean. They will subsume their own individual desires and ambitions for the greater good of the Caste. It is clearly that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. This is a concept that is hard to accept for many people from Earth.
The Caste system is divided into High Castes and Low Castes. The High Castes are considered socially superior to the Low Castes. There are only five High Castes and include, in order of status and importance, the Initiates, Scribes, Builders, Physicians and Warriors. The Low Castes includes all of the other established castes. They are ranked in order of importance as well though this hierarchy is not clearly defined in the books. We do know that the Peasant Caste is the lowest Caste in the system. Some of these Castes, High and Low, also contain a number of subcastes. The lines between Caste and subcaste is sometimes vague and the subcaste may consider itself to be a separate Caste though legally it is not. Each Caste has its own Caste colors and some subcastes also have their own Caste colors. These colors are often publically worn as people are proud of their Caste. A person may own documents
Generally, except for the Assassin Caste, you must be sworn to a Home Stone to belong to a Caste. You cannot belong to a Caste in a city unless you also belong to the Home Stone of that city. Each city-state has their own Caste system and each specific Caste has its own hierarchy particular to that city. For example, the Warrior Caste of Ar and the Warrior Caste of Treve are separate Castes. Ar and Treve will each have their own First Swords. Almost the only time that people from the same Caste, but of different cities, might ever meet to discuss Caste issues is at any of the four annual Sardar Fairs. The Sardar Fairs are a very important time for Castes to share information especially such Castes as the Scribes, Physicians and Builders. They can share new discoveries, inventions and techniques. They can work towards more standardization in their practices. The Castes often take advantage of this opportunity though they may not always agree on some matters.
But, women do commonly work in some Castes such as Scribes and Merchants. There are even some female Slavers, including a few who engage in field captures. Another notable exception is that of the Physician's Caste. The Physician's Caste though often restricts women in one way. In many cities, the Caste will not permit a woman to fully practice medicine until she has first given birth to two children. At age fifteen, a woman of the Physician's Caste will don two bracelets. One will be removed for each child that is born. When both are removed, she is allowed to fully practice medicine. The reason behind this is that professional women tend not to reproduce. This would serve over time to diminish the quality and numbers of the Caste. Thus, the rule helps to preserve the future of the Caste.
The future of the Caste is vitally important to Goreans. The welfare of the Caste even takes priority over the ambitions and desires of specific individuals. The welfare of a larger number of individuals is more important than the welfare of a smaller number of individuals. Caste members often will subsume their own individual wants for the greater good of the Caste. Goreans truly care about the future of their Caste and they do not want to do anything that might jeopardize it. Caste is crucially important to Goreans in ways that those of Earth cannot easily comprehend. The importance of the Caste to Goreans cannot be underestimated.
The logic behind the restriction on women in the Physician's Caste applies as well to the Warrior Caste. Women would not be permitted to risk their lives in combat. If they were permitted, a significant number of women would die in battle. This would lead to fewer births overall. In addition, dead women could not raise their existing children. Goreans would not want their children to grow up without mothers. This would all diminish the quality of the Caste over time. With the welfare of the Caste at stake, Warriors would not permit women to engage in combat. In addition, women would not want to endanger the welfare of the Caste so they would willingly accept their role in the Caste. This is in addition to other reasons why women would not engage in combat, such as their lesser physical strength.