Religions of Elanthia (book)
The Religions of Elanthia
By Pentaith Illistim
Throughout our history, many religions and cults have existed in these lands which we now call the Five Realms of the Dragon. Some have gained more power and popularity than others, and have worked to suppress these lesser religions. Others were just brief movements that possessed a minor following that quickly died away. Right or wrong, these religions have influenced all our lives -- perhaps through devastating warfare, or through the means to extend lifetimes. I present here a study of just a few of these religions, in order for students to better grasp our history, our culture, and our beliefs.
The Thirteen Immortals
If any one religion can be said to have had the greatest impact on our world, it is that of the Thirteen Immortals. It is the oldest recorded religion, and is the most widely practiced religion, with temples and believers virtually everywhere in the Five Realms. Worship of the Thirteen dates back more than seven thousand years. Since most are familiar with this religion, I will not go into too much detail.
Most ancient knowledge of the Immortals, primarily their names, aspects, and origins, comes from the Annals of the Timeless Ones. According to these chronicles, all things began with the Void. The Void was complete nothingness, yet an existence as well. Out of the Void came into being the One, who joined with the Void. They created children, the Planes, each separated by uncrossable boundaries. Because of this, the Void shed tears, and each tear created a new life form. The One filled these forms with his own essence. These beings became the Immortals (the god Urrem'tier contained less of the One and more of the Void than any other god, and so Urrem'tier is vastly different than the other twelve Immortals). The One had given up too much of himself, and could no longer survive, and the Void was now filled with gods and Planes, and her own existence ended.
The task of the Immortals was to guard and care for the Planes. It is in the Plane of Abiding that we mortals, and the gods themselves, exist. In the Plane of Abiding, each Immortal created a world, and so there are thirteen planets. Elanthia was the last planet, created by Truffenyi. On Elanthia, the gods created mortal life. Each race was born from the First Beings, and the First Beings were created from the various elements of Elanthia. The Elotheans, however, were created from "the pure thought and will" of the Immortals -- or so say the Annals of the Timeless Ones, at least.
Though the Immortals number only thirteen, each one has two aspects, a dark and a light. Among the priests of the Immortals there is much dispute as to what these aspects actually are, but I will save that particular discussion for the theologians. These thirty-nine gods conflict, and there is great strife between them, as their purposes are usually exact opposites. Because of the varying goals of each Immortal, mortals will usually choose to serve one or two gods. Immortals are the creators and patrons of different things, so a mortal will usually choose to serve a god that is patron of something dear to said mortal's heart. Or, in other cases, one particular god may hold a great following in a specific region (due to blessings of the god on that area, or perhaps the closeness of a shrine to that god) and a mortal will serve the god of that place. Some mortals choose a god based on race. There are many different ways to choose which god to devote one's life to, and anyone seeking help on this topic would be better off with the advice of a priest, rather than a rambling scholar's book.
A special note, though -- when one does not pay proper homage to the Gods of Darkness they will often grow angry and take revenge upon the mortal people. Wise mortals will venerate the Dark Gods, if not out of love, out of fear and respect. For example, the Shard holiday Ten'ra Agalith, which means Heaven Truce, is a day to placate the gods of darkness. Shard was nearly ruined by the Dark Gods before the people realized their failure to venerate those fickle beings, and to this day, each year they hold a festival to honor the Dark Gods, and so appease them.
The World Dragon
Another sizable, and influential religion, is that of worshipping the World Dragon, its followers being called the "Dragon Priests." The World Dragon is a being that hatched from the fourth moon of Elanthia, Grazhir. Shards of the moon did tremendous damage to Elanthia, but that was unmatched before the chaos wrought by the World Dragon itself. The World Dragon consumes the life-fire of planets to survive, and it drained most of the fire from Elanthia away. The Immortals, fearing the World Dragon would next destroy the sun, battled the Dragon. They were unable to wound it severely, or kill it, so Phelim used his sands to put the World Dragon to sleep. The Dragon was then placed in the center of Elanthia in order to provide energy for the planet, and is kept asleep by the singing of the goddess Peri'el. Should the Dragon reawaken, Elanthia would be destroyed. This is all common knowledge, however.
Dragon worship is commonly divided into two sects -- the Sect of Sh'Kial, and the Sect of Dzree. Sh'kial's sect came first, springing from the discontent and poverty of the S'Kra people during the corrupt times of the Empire of the Seven Pointed Star. Sh'kial taught that the World Dragon should be appeased and pacified through worship. Sacrifices and other offerings should be made to the World Dragon, and rituals performed in its honor. Sh'kial's teachings gained popularity among other S'Kra Mur, and he accumulated a good sized following. However, very little of the Sect of Sh'kial survives to this day, primarily because of the other sect of Dragon Priests.
Dzree was at first a student of Sh'kial, but she later rejected his teachings in favor of her own beliefs. Dzree and her zealous followers began making sacrifices of Humans and Elves to the World Dragon, and when Sh'kial opposed, he was killed by Dzree herself. Dzree's Dragon Priests had built up strong military power, which they put to use, conquering much of the Five Realms. Missionaries to the S'Kra homelands converted the people there. People ruled by the Dragon Priests were usually sacrificed to the World Dragon, or deported to labor camps. The Bard Guild of that time was completely destroyed by the Priests.
The Dragon Priests were eventually defeated, but a hatred of them exists today. The priests hid themselves away, and today live in the shadows. Those who publicly follow the World Dragon are often killed, perhaps by lynch mobs, perhaps by government executions. Even the believers of Sh'kial's teachings fear to reveal their religion, for hysterical mobs rarely make the distinction between the two sects.
An interesting note about the Dragon Priests is that even with all their cruelty, and the slaughter of the Bards, they had a strong devotion to knowledge. The Dragon Priests produced many scholars, though most of these people actually just claimed that the ancient beliefs of the Immortal followers were lies. One such theory, held by a Dragon Priest named Miele, was that the Elotheans were not as the Annals of the Timeless Ones claimed, but were in fact Elven-Human hybrids that had developed into a separate race over the generations.
The Ru'atin Peri'el
To explain this name, I first must describe a particular aspect of S'Kra Mur culture. S'Kra Mur consider their friends and family to be part of a circle. Those not in the circle are considered outsiders, people not worth considering. The outsiders can be lied to or cheated freely by the S'kra, while those within the circle are given complete and absolute trust and loyalty. This circle is called the "ru'at," and the people within the ru'at are "ru'ati," or "ru'atin," which is plural. So the Ru'atin Peri'el are, literally, the Sisters of Peri'el.
The beliefs held by the Sisters and the Dragon Priests are similar, but in many ways different. The Dragon Priests worship the World Dragon. The Ru'atin Peri'el are loyal to the gods, though it is a unique extension of Immortal-worship. Their task, which they devote themselves to, is singing songs to aid Peri'el in keeping the World Dragon asleep. The Sisters are a peaceful people, that would never take part in the brutal warfare that so marks Dragon Priest history. The Ru'atin Peri'el actually fled for their lives from the Dragon Priests during the war, as Dzree surely would have had them killed, seeing a threat in their peaceful beliefs. All sects of the Sisters of Peri'el have been destroyed, save for the group which lives in Aesry Surlaenis'a, or the Place of the Ocean's Song.
There are some that believe that only one god exists. The worshippers of the All God claim that the thirty- nine Immortals are just different faces of their One God. Though the popularity of this religion has greatly declined in recent years, there are still some isolated areas where belief in the All God reigns.
Some people worship various elemental forces as "gods," in a sense, though that word is not entirely accurate. Though mainly Elves, some of the other races hold these beliefs as well. Many River Elves believe that all life came from the Ocean, when the Ocean became lonely and created children. According to the River Elf teachings, the Ocean then created land, and upon the land were the Elves. To these Elves, the Ocean was a friend, a parent, a sage. The Elven ancestors were forced to leave the Ocean, and have been waiting ever since to return. The Call of the Ocean comes to the River Elves at death, when they then return to the Ocean.
Among the River Elves is a religious group called the N'ai Jrana. This group seeks to return to the Ocean while still alive, and takes sacred vows to do so. But all who try end up dead. The N'ai Jrana strictly adhere to the ancient lifestyles and traditions of the Elven people, scorning outsiders and change itself. More on the Elven connection to nature will be mentioned later.
Little is known of the man called G'Nar Peth, and little is known of those who followed him, all now long dead. In the early days of the Empire of the Seven Pointed Star, a sect of fanatics rose up, worshipping he whom they called Master G'Nar Peth. These Prophets as they called themselves possessed little sanity.
At early ages, they went through an initiation, much as other religions' followers do. But the initiation of the Prophets was not quite normal. They would remove their eyes and thereafter would wear blindfolds over the empty sockets. Yet even without eyes, these people saw, though their sight was also strange and twisted.
The land surrounding the Lesser and Greater Fists of Heaven, the two volcanoes in northern Zoluren, is called the Blasted Plains, and suitably so. Generations of volcanic eruptions, ash and smoke covering the skies, have ruined the land. This is the area where the Prophets of G'Nar Peth lived. They called it the Master's Garden of Paradise, and saw the Blasted Plains as a beautiful, tropical landscape. Though all the followers of G'Nar Peth are dead, some people in modern times have taken a fancy to the religion and have begun reviving its practices.
The Heralds are beings of great mystery. Not even the greatest scholars truly understand what they are or where they come from, though theories (often quite colorful ones) abound. There are some people who worship the Heralds, though it is most unlikely these followers know anything more about their masters. Who can say? Those who worship the Heralds probably do it out of some sense of fear, perhaps an attraction for the unknown. But I digress. The Heralds are as unique in appearance as Humans, so they cannot be easily described, though they are usually very tall. The Heralds act to diminish magic power, though, again, for reasons unknown.
Some say the Heralds are the creators of the Immortals, some say the Immortals created Heralds to prevent themselves from achieving too much power, some say the Heralds come from another Plane which was destroyed by magic. All theories. In the end, nothing is known of the Heralds save that they possess great power.
A quite modern cult which lasted only a short period of time was known as The Circle. The Circle believed in the existence of a being, or beings, called the Powers. They claimed that these Powers created the Immortals, and all other things. Like other cults, the initiation of Circle members was bloody, and savage. A follower of the Thirteen Immortals was kidnapped, and each member took part in his sacrifice on Immortal holy land.
The Circle was made up of thirteen members, and no more than thirteen. Males were called Morak'thu, and females Morak'tha. The cult ended when it lost its founders.
There are many theories and legends regarding death, and what happens to a person upon death. Oftentimes these legends will vary from place to place, religion to religion. I will only cover a few of these death legends and explanations here.
Returning to the Ocean
The River Elves believe that when they die, they return to the Ocean. It is at death that they hear the Ocean's call once again, and their spirit travels to that place, forbidden to the living. Their spirits become one with the Ocean, and live on in a different existence. Similar to Returning to the Ocean, the Forest Elves believe in Fading, where when an Elf's time to die has come, they simply return to the forests and fade away.
An ancient and widely believed story is that of the Great Peace, Fostramor, a land no mortal has ever entered. The form taken by Fostramor is different for each race, according to the old legends. For example, Halflings believe that the Great Peace is Fostra's Inn, a place of eternal happiness, wine, and song. Elotheans believe that the Great Peace is across the oceans, where the soul attains complete wisdom. What the "Great Peace" actually is depends on what that person wishes it to be, the ideal and perfect existence. But in all the legends, there are common links. To reach Fostramor, the spirit must go through Fostra's Haven. Any living mortal that enters Fostramor, it is said, will become immortal.
By my hand, Pentaith Illistim