The Winter Crusade
Religion and Spirituality in the Western Kingdoms
Although the average subjects of the King of Avignus may never see a spell cast, they are still well-aware of the existence of magic. Spell-casting wizards, druids and clerics are all visible and practice their trades out in the open. The knowledge of magic’s existence and the uncertainty and fear of living in a land under constant threat of orc attack (and other more mundane, but just as serious threats) creates a superstitious outlook among the lower, less-educated classes. Myths and stories are just as important to the spirituality of Avignus subjects as the spells cast by high-wizards and chief priests.
Stories about actions of the gods and the creation of the world are more than mere myths. Wizards and clerics commune directly with the supernatural world, and, as a result, relate creation stories more like epic tales or recordings of ancient histories. Despite the opportunities for direct communion with spiritual beings, not all wizards or clerics are able to adequately or fully accurately translate the messages from these divine entities. Their understandings and interpretations of spiritual messages are gathered together among ancient prophecies and other revelations to help build religions texts for the people of Avignus.
Prophets and sooth-sayers have a special, trusted place in the Young Kingdoms. Anyone with the ability to interpret signs or portents from the divine or nature are expected to give guidance or assistance to the lost or those in need. Clerics and wizards are often taken as advisors to royalty or even local leaders. The inspect the skies or summon spirits for warnings about the future. Farmers far from civilization trust the advice of local druids about planting and harvest times, or example. Unscrupulous spiritualists who try to spread false prophecy are harshly punished.
Divine instruction, such as spiritual laws which are supposed to aid the growth and prosperity of civilization, are tended by the clergy. Meanings of signs and prophecies are seriously debated, with their potential value to civilization seriously considered. Some sages take a literal approach to the messages; they are not seriously considered as academicians, and potentially ruled by emotion. In recent times, more paladins have come from the more literal-interpretation sects of the church.
Creation myths and other divine messages carry a heavy weight in Avignus and the other Young Kingdoms. The creation stories themselves are treated like epic history, and not merely allegory or speculation. Not all of the prophecies or messages were simple to interpret, and many sages had different translations or interpretations of the creation stories. The most trusted and accepted translation of the creation of the world, and the will of the gods, was collected by the Imperial Archivist 2000 years ago. The collection, titled Logos, was the first formal recording of the stories and instructions in the history of the civilized world. Although many of these stories weren’t at all new and were already well-known, the Archivist’s text was the first fully-compiled, complete, trusted volume.
“It has always been, and it will always be.”
This is the first line of Logos, revealed to the Imperial Archivist. Its most commonly accepted meaning is that all of creation is infinite, with no true beginning and no true end. The life and times of all creation has always existed, and will always exist…as will man, his troubles, and his way of life. Some scholars claim that the real translation should be, “She has always been, and She shall always be.” These scholars believe that “She” refers to the life-giving and nurturing earth, and that mankind and its troubles are no concern, when considering the whole of creation. Many sages consider that interpretation based on mere artistic license, a result of a play with ancient language. There are no other references to “She” in the text of Logos, and they point out the lack of matriarchal religions or cults throughout imperial history1. There is, though, a cult of scholars who believe “She” refers to the Conquorer Wurm, and ancient aspect and personification of cosmic, elemental Chaos.
Regardless of the phrase’s meaning, most people take some comfort from it. Should everything they know pass away, some aspect of it will continue on.
That Which Endures
The creator-god is sometimes called Alef, or is represented in writing by the old runic first letter of the alphabet. Its also known as “That Which Endures.” Alef is thought to be without consciousness, but with a will. Alef is never personified; there are never icons or statues made to represent “his likeness.” Alef is that will which put order to chaos. The world was created by Alef imposing Will and Order.
Philosophers debate how it is possible to have Will without Consciousness or Self-Awareness. Some sages resign themselves to belief that order is a manifestation of the Will. Therefore, the Divine Will is simply one of the two natural conditions of the universe: Law and Chaos.
A very few fear that the Divine Will is merely a tool for a greater consciousness that cannot affect reality without some intermediary force. The Divine Will, then, is potentially a tool used by an entity that cannot have meaning in reality.
To some others, the Divine Will is a cosmic set of instructions, set in place by nature. Reality is woven in the nature of the Divine Will, and the universe cannot help but follow the path set forth in those instructions.
One thing scholars agree upon is that Alef does not answer prayer, does not have a conscius desire for worshipers or supplication. The desires and beliefs of the people of creation do not alter the course of the Divine Will. Alef is a spiritual monolith, respected but never supplicated.
The Innumerable Saints
Most people venerate, in some way, the saints of their ancestors. Some ancestors may be remembered for their crafting skills, their wisdom, their battle-prowess, or just for their personalities and influence. Living family members may venerate and celebrate their ancestral spirits for that aspect they remember and, by remembering, that spirit becomes associated as a type of household god representing that aspect. Ancestor worship is a very personal belief structure. A home is likely to have a shrine to their particular patron or patrons (an ancestor or ancestors the family remembers and has taken on as a symbol for their prosperity, strength, or courage). Small tokens representing the spirits would be carried, or left around the home. No temples or shrines would be built in public for these uniquely personal saints.
The spirits and divine entities that inhabit the world, who came as a result of the creation of Nature, are without number. Some answer to prayer, or to ritual. Some display godlike properties. They do not name themselves, or reveal their names (except in extraordinary circumstances), but take names from the people of the world. One entity may be known by a dozen names. Temples are built in their honor. Religious rites are perfected and designed to please them. Feast days are celebrated in their honor. The spirits answer prayers, grant powers, perform miracles, and are revered as gods.
No one has successfully counted the number of gods who are active in the world. So many take on different names and different aspects. A god known as a protector of travelers and roads to one tribe or culture may be known as a saint of thieves in another. The gods’ mysterious natures keep their true natures somewhat secretive as well. The god a cleric reveres as a patron of growth and home may, as well, be a spirit of the harvest that a druid would revere. The god may be known by different names, even different aspects, and may well be the same spirit.
Religions in the Young Kingdoms also tend to have animistic tendencies. People acknowledge that there may be spirits of particular places or aspects. Though these lesser spirits may not be worshiped, they’re acknowledged and revered, in the same manner as ancestral spirits.
This collection of saints, gods and magical spirits is collectively known as the Rolls Sable. The name is taken from a tradition held by the high priests of the empire, who attempted to collect the names and aspects of all the multitudinous gods and spirits. They were kept on a black scroll, penned with silver or gold ink. The scrolls were transported and stored at the Amber Tower, shortly after it was built.
1Neither the Anavaren of Avignus, nor the Witch Cult of Vinlund, nor the Sisterhood of Bretta of the Mistlands were ever acknowledged by churches nor the leadership of the empire. Imperial religious and social leaders expected such cults to simply die off quietly. They didn’t.