Monday, November 10, 2008

Religion In Our Homebrew

Our homebrew setting of Irrin has been cobbled together by many campaigns over the years, but by and large it tries to be a "vanilla fantasy" meeting ground, a place where it isn't too hard to jump in and start playing with many of the standard fantasy still in place. That said, one of things we felt was underrepresented in a lot of fantasy was the idea of a monolithic, monotheistic High Church. We wanted there to be plenty of strange cults and sects, but also wanted that influential, might institution dedicated to a single deity. We also decided we needed a horrific dark power, a limited, sensible polytheism, and our old standbys of Law, Order, and Balance. So over the years, we've managed to cobble together these things into something that works well for us, yet remains easy to jump into. Keeping things in primer form is pretty key for us.

In honor of this month's Blog Carnival on Religion, here's the very basic outline of religion in our homebrew world of Irrin. I know the nations and the like won't be familiar to most readers, but I hope it gives some ideas (or at least entertains). (Please note when it mentions the Great Arrival below, most groups of Men on Irrin are thought to have arrived through several great portals connecting Irrin to other worlds millenia ago):

Religion

The High Church

Brought with them by a tribe of humans during the Great Arrival, the High Church has been established since the earliest days of the Kingdom of the West. It found much in common with the religions several other groups of humans had brought with them, and won over many with its simple doctrines of love, kindness, duty, and responsibility to one’s self and others.

The High Church follows the teaching of the Most High, in books set down by the first of those who passed through the portals to Irrin. These Revered Scribes, as they are called, wrote a series of law and direction now known as the Praised Tome. There have been other Scribes throughout history who have added to the Praised Tome, though it is a rare occurrence. The Most High (as his true name can never be known), they believe, rules over many worlds, and shelters his flock’s souls in the afterlife from the deprecations of Sercar or the nothingness of the Void.

Some 400 years ago, under the direction of the ArchPriestess Sayell, the Holy Return took place. Sayell worried that the church grew too corrupt and lazy to set a good example for its flock. She directed all clergy above the lowest levels to take strict vows of poverty, sold off much of the Church’s gold and gems and used it to build a series of devout monasteries throughout the Northern Confederation (many of which still operate today), and set strict punishments for those priests and priestesses found to be betraying their holy trust. These guidelines are still followed today, although many materialistic young clergy have arrested their advancement in the church so as not to lose their earthly goods. This is an ongoing problem the High Church deals with, and
they are considering a vow of poverty for all clergy. For now, it is only voluntary for the lowest tier of priest and priestess, but strongly encouraged.

The High Church has had its share of issues with the Apsectionists at one time or another, but with the recent influx of Sercar worship and dark cults on the rise in recent years, many old prejudices have been put aside. Officially, the High Church now recognizes Aspectionists as “Brothers & Sisters of The Larger Faith”, though there are still clashes of varying severity reported in various regions.

Aspectionism

Aspectionists lie firmly beyond the neat realm of the High Church, but fewer and fewer places see the differences between the two religious interpretations turn into outright violence.

The origins of Aspectionism goes back to the first interactions between the then-tribes of the east and the High Church of the west. Many of the tribes worshiped either the elements of nature or of natural phenomena. In order to relate to the tribes, the High Church claimed that all gods were the one god, or rather aspects of him. So whether a tribe worshiped Nature, the Sea, or even Death, these were elements of the Most High, and there was no sacrilege in worshiping him.

Over time, this practice turned into Aspectionism, and formalized in nature. According to Aspectionists, there is one god—but consisting of 12 parts, with 12 sacred names. However, each separate Aspect is also its own deity, while remaining a part of the larger deity (there also several reams of holy text dedicated to explaining this). Each Aspect has its own priests (and often priestesses). The main branch of Aspectionists believe that all possible aspects of a god somehow fall into these 12:

1) The Home and Prophecy (Neya, Female)
2) Knowledge and Diligence (Conthor, Male)
3) Nature and Freedom (Erineth, Female)
4) Honor and Justice (Arlor, Male)
5) Courage and Battle (Tolrain, Male)
6) Death and Renewal (Denriss, Female)
7) Love and Creation (Alann, Male)
8) Healing and Protection (Irothen, Female)
9) Mercy and Temperance (Taeya, Female)
10) Prosperity and Harvest (Falrend, Male)
11) Laughter and The Arts (Cillana, Female)
12) Travel and Song (Olslade, Male)

You will note that some names are given as being female; when the Most High is referenced however, it is as a male. Naturally, pure evil is not ascribed to the Most High or any of his Aspects, and so make no appearance on the above list.

There are some irregular sects of Aspectionism that have more than the 12 gods; in Pomaloth, for example, dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of aspects are worshipped. Aspectionism is strongest in the south of Irrin, especially in Cerras, Pomaloth (unorthodox), and Hastal, where it counts upwards as 40% of the populace as followers.

There are also notable followings both in the Northern Confederation and the League of Tormien.

The Three

Followed mostly only in Alrychium, The Three are worshipped as the Gods of Creation and All. This is an ancient religion, its origins dating back to the oldest Alrychi written records. They are worshipped as Law, Chaos, and Balance. Law is depicted as a strict female, Chaos as an empty-eyed male, and Balance generally appears androgynous in appearance. It is an informal religion, one whose priests are considered to hold state office, but inspire little in the way of piety or more than casual devotion.

The Oasis follows a bastardization of Law, disdaining the other two deities.

Sercar

Sercar is said to be the embodiment of all that is evil in this world, and indeed the universe. He is considered to have ruined 1,000 other worlds, and could be considered the Most High’s Opposite Number, a deity of overwhelming hatred and corruption. Although a disturbing number of Sercar cults have been found in human lands, it is the Orcs seem to take particular delight in worshipping a dark god, the same who is purported to be the antithesis of all that is good & sacred in both human religions. Dark priests of Sercar who are human have virtually nowhere where they can practice in the open, as they very thought of such is repugnant even to the most vile of nations.

Sercar also garners worshippers in some Kobold communities (though they still largely pracitce ancestor worship of great chiefs and warriors). Goblins, for the most part, have made a total break with Sercar worship, though generations of black ritual has made them somewhat wary of religion in general.

Sercar is purported to have a son, one who is reincarnated each generation, growing more and more powerful as he lives many different lives. When the time is right, he will use his garnered power and knowledge to sweep across this world, leaving it directly in his father's grasp.

Other Human Religions:

Those of the Dahani, several other barbarian tribes, and those of the Harmonious Lands practice ancestor worship, though it is worth noting the actual way they go about this is vastly different.

Other barbarian tribes tend towards elementalism or nature-worship, with a few following their interpretation of a singular Aspect of the Most High.

In addition to all these, strange cults do pop up quite often, being very popular especially in Alrychium and the Northern Confederacy. One recent religion claimed dragons were another Aspect of the Most High, and should be revered accordingly!

Non-Human Religions

-The Elvish religion seems to be very heavily-oriented towards nature and spirit worship, though it can hardly be called a simple form of animism. There is much rite and ritual in all the religions, and even the Night Elves have their hard-followed customs. The High Elves also consider their rulers to be demigods, and have their own rituals for this belief.

The Elven religion does indeed have priests and priestesses, with the split being
about 25/75.

The Wolfen worship the god Wolvenar, whom they believe rescued and brought them to this new world. Wolvenar is said to take mortal form quite often, and is also believed to actively choose Avatars and Speakers of his will from each generation. These individuals are always honored as the "Hand and Mouthpiece of Wolvenar".

-Traditionally, Dwarves worship the Stonemaker, but very few details of the religion are observed by outsiders. Some Dwarves now follow the religions of Man as well, much to the dismay of many Dwarven elders.

-Minotaurs worship the Most High, though they tend to frame in him in very Minotaur-esque terms.

-Gnomish religion has no central deity, but rather preaches a philosophy of good
works being their own way to release the soul from a self-induced hell. Many craft-oriented gnomes who have forsaken their woodlands have taken the “good works” bit to mean “better inventions”, and tend to go from there. There are no official clergy to speak of.

-Many Goblins in the fledgling Goblin Homeland practice a form of animism, and put their faith in their shamans, who seem able to control nature and the surrounding environment. A very few worship Sercar, but are not welcomed in most refugee communities.

-Orcs worship Sercar, if anyone.

-Trolls have never been known to bend the knee to any deific power, Sercar or otherwise.

-Those Kobolds not engaging in the reverence of great warrior (by kobold standard) ancestors are often found in the ranks of Sercar worshippers. In fact, due to the perverse nature of Kobold thought, the two are not entirely incompatible.

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