Alsara: Requiem and Revolution
Orthodox Imperial Sept
The Imperial Sept is perhaps the oldest religion in the world that does not revolve around the worship of dragons. Records state that it began in the city of Heiligtum—now known as Hauptstadt—before the end of the Dragon Age, formed by clerics among the slaves that escaped from the tyranny of a nearby dragon king. Its beliefs surround the claim that there is a natural order to the world that defines the purpose of every living thing; and that the dragons are not a part of it.
You’ve got a job to do. It’s the one your parents had. If your job sucks, it’s because you were a prick in your last life. If your job’s great, it’s because you did well in your last life. The only way to get a better job is to do your current job really well until you die. Better job next time.
The best job is Personal Helper of the Gods, and you only get there by doing fantastic over the course of many, many lives. People above you in rank are closer to the Gods, and so they are better than you. This is the basis of the Natural Order. People who are lower in rank than you are idiots: either they are new souls, just beginning on their journey, or they are old souls that just suck. Either way, you are obligated to make them work.
The exception to this system is the dragons and their offspring. You hate dragons. Boy, do you hate dragons.
Beliefs and Ethics
The Orthodox Imperial Sept teaches that the Gods created all people so they could gain in knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual strength until they are ready to stand at the Gods’ side and serve them in Heaven. The way this knowledge is imparted is through reincarnation, with each incarnation granted by the God, Aenor, to teach the soul a vital lesson, and to increase their knowledge of their divine purpose. As one masters the purpose of each life, the soul is advanced to greater and greater tasks before ascending to the status of a Saint, and joining the Gods to serve them in Heaven.
The core to determining how to master your place in life is simple: you do what you were born into, generally what your parents did. Serf, merchant, farmer, slave, noble, soldier, emperor; all of them pass their duties and their purpose to their children. This creates a system of social classes, which is called the Natural Order. While there is some flexibility in the details of a person’s position in life (some nobles are richer than others, and some farmers are more successful than others), an individual is forbidden from attempting to take on a purpose different from the one set before them. Advancement comes in the next life, not in this one.
The one exception to this rule is Clerics, who are chosen by the Gods to be heralds of truth in times of trials. Priests have their own place in the Natural Order as well, which is covered in-depth in the Church and Hierarchy section.
There are some people without a place in the Natural Order, and chief among them are the Dragons. Dragons are evil creatures that warred with the Gods, and spent millennia doing their utmost to disrupt the Natural Order in an attempt to weaken the Gods. They were eventually cursed to sleep, creating the Torpor and saving all humankind, but their influences continue to spread in the form of Dragon worship, magic, and their Dragonkin descendents. These things must be destroyed and resisted whenever possible, as they have no purpose but to defy the Gods.
There are seven gods in the Imperial pantheon. They are all related to one another in some capacity, though their primary associating link is Aenor, who serves as the core of the pantheon.
Aenor the Just
The god of truth, justice, and light, Aenor is the central deity of the Orthodox faith. He is the manifestation of the natural order, as well as the epitome of moral clarity. Though he is the primary guiding force in the Orthodox Sept, there are few stories that surround Aenor to the exclusion of the others; rather, instead, he is generally at the end of most tales and parables, as the figure that presents the righteous solution to whatever problems the other characters have gotten themselves into.
The sole exception to this is the story of Morrigan’s betrayal, and Aenor’s banishment to the afterlife.
In addition to his place as moral role model, Aenor is the god responsible for judging the souls of the departed, and determining their place in the next life. He does this through confession, which has led to the practice among those who still live.
His holy symbol is that of a three-sided stelae, which can be represented in miniature on a necklace or pendant. These are usually inscribed with the holder’s name, and perhaps some words to be left on the person’s grave when they die.
Govannon the Brawler
The god of strength, bravery, and fire, Govannon is a deity of brawlers and soldiers, and is Aenor’s shieldbearer. Stories of Govannon often involve eating, drinking and, fighting (usually wrestling). He also has a great love of boasting, which gets him into trouble constantly when facing those clever enough to call his bluffs; though, for every story in which he is caught in a lie, there is another where his sheer stubbornness wins the day.
His holy symbol is a bear’s paw print, though over the many years it has been heavily abstracted and is often confused for a hand or fist
Lugaid the Sentinel
The god of protection, construction, and earth, Lugaid is the deity of diplomats and guards, and is the son of Aenor. Stories of Lugaid depict him as gentle with his words, and first to attempt to defuse violence, but swift to strike at those who would threaten the natural order. He is also the builder and watcher of walls, and is often depicted on castles, towers, and other fortifications.
His holy symbol is a shield engraved with a tower.
Branwen the Fertile
The goddess of fertility, growth, and nature, Branwen is the deity of farmers and midwives, and is the wife of Aenor. Branwen does not have many stories of her own, but features often in the tales of other deities, much like her twin sister, Morrigan. Branwen is depicted as the exemplar of a woman’s place in the natural order: she is kind, wise, nurturing, and most of all she is fertile. It is said she gives birth to the spring every year, and without her the winter would never end; just how she becomes pregnant so reliably, and so frequently, is the stuff of drunken sonnets.
Like her husband, Branwen has a place in the reincarnation cycle of the Imperial Sept: after being judged by Aenor, Branwen takes the soul and creates the new vessel that it will inhabit. She is depicted as doing so without judgement or prejudice, simply acting as a beneficent creator. She is sometimes referred to as the All-Mother.
Her holy symbol is a locket or other pictographic necklace that depicts a pregnant woman, usually young (though often indistinct, depending on the quality of the artisan who made it.)
Maeve the Secret
The goddess of music, knowledge, and air, Maeve is the deity of scholars and poets, and is the daughter of Marian and Lugaid. Stories of Maeve speak of a young woman that sings the truths of the world. She is a keeper of knowledge, wisdom, and secrets, but she is often reluctant to share it. Maeve is not well-loved in her stories, for she often keeps knowledge from those who seek it in order to protect the world. Whether it is right for her to do so—whether the knowledge she hides protects the natural order—is inconsistent at best. She does, however, love riddles, and will dispatch knowledge in the form of prophetic songs or poems that only reveal their truths after it is too late to change them.
Her holy symbol is of a series of three concentric circles, which is referred to as a Maevan Braid.
Marian the Wrathful
The goddess of storms, vengeance, and the sea, Marian is the deity of sailors and the few who might reject the natural order. Stories of Marian are often about her pride, her vanity, and the ruthlessness of her revenge. She strikes out against any who would spite her, and those who fail to show proper respect have much to fear indeed. Even so, sailors pay great homage to her, in fear of the wrath that might find them. She is the wife of Lugaid, though they are famously estranged, and it is for this reason that she is powerless on land.
Her holy symbol is a stylized bolt of lightning or a small vial of water.
Morrigan the Betrayer
The goddess of lies, murder, and steel, Morrigan is the deity of the evil and the cruel. There are many stories of Morrigan, but the most popular one among them is the tale of her betrayal of her stepbrother, Aenor: furious about Aenor’s judgement of the dragons, she murdered him as he slept with a dagger he had given her. She is depicted as a smith and crafter of careful and intricate things, as well as a practitioner of magic; however she uses her tools and gifts to kill and destroy, and is highly protective of her creations.
Her holy symbol is a circle divided into thirds, also called Morrigan’s Mark. It is rarely forged into a portable amulet or symbol, though it is known for some to paint or brandish it as a threat.
Church and Hierarchy
Death and Afterlife
The Orthodox Imperial Sept shares the Septist belief in reincarnation, supplemented with an eventual afterlife. The deeds one performs in life determine the nature of their rebirth, and how close they are to entering the afterlife.
When a person dies, they linger until their bodies are put to rest or a stelae is erected with their name (or their name is added to another stelae.) If this process takes too long, they will eventually turn into hungry ghosts, which will attack people until a stelae is made.
Once the soul departs the mortal realm, they will walk down a Road of Trials, which consists of revisiting the pivotal moments of their life, one after another. The soul must grapple with their mistakes, regrets, and unanswered questions, a process that is depicted as agonizing, especially for those who have defied the Natural Order. At the end, they are faced by Aenor, and they must receive his judgement: their future, and their next life in the cycle. The station, power, and position of their birth is often related to the soul’s failures, and if the particular soul is unrepentant, malicious, or defiant, they will be punished harshly in their next life. There is nothing more humbling than being poor, after all.
Once the soul has been judged, they pass on to Branwen, who find them a mother and imbues a newly conceived baby with the soul. It is universally a comforting experience, resplendent with the kindness and motherly affection for which Branwen is known; and in direct contrast with Aenor’s cold attentions.
Children that do not come to term, or die when they are very young, are believed to return to the reincarnation cycle in the same position that they left it, skipping Aenor’s judgement and going straight to Branwen.
Giving birth to a child is a matter of some celebration, though the act itself occurs behind closed doors with the aid of a midwife. Involving men in the birthing process is forbidden, as it is believed that their presence prevents Branwen from protecting the expectant mother in the last stages of the child’s creation.
The day after a successful birthing there is a celebration, involving food and drink (provided by the relatives of the mother and father) and the giving of gifts (provided by the community). In the winter months, the celebration tends to be leaner.
Coming of Age
The young man has to go through a year’s worth of tasks, supporting the young woman’s family, in order to prove his worthiness. This rite is very different depending on social class, and each task is usually set on a holiday. In the instance in which a young man is unable to complete a task, he is expected to get a cousin to do it for him; such a thing is shameful, but failing to complete the task entirely is thought of as even more shameful.
Noble men are usually tasked with producing art and expensive gifts for his intended. In addition, it is customary for active lords to take counsel from their prospective fathers-in-law when making decisions of state.
Merchants are similar to nobles, but without the art. Often, the gifts are supposed to be from distant realms.
Craftsmen make things for the bride and her family.
Farmers and shepherds do hard labor for their brides.
Soldiers bring back weapons claimed in honorable combat from their enemies, and often fight judicial duels against the woman’s other suitors.
In addition to these general tendencies, there are specific tasks on each holiday.
Most people, once married, remain so for the rest of their lives; because the average serf lives in such a tight-knit community, there is tremendous social pressure to work things out before a legal separation is needed.
When one dies peacefully (or at least at home), a stelae is erected as soon as possible, inscribed with the name and deeds of the deceased. Then there is a funeral gathering of friends and family to mourn the fallen, which traditionally includes a recitation of deeds and the interment of the body into the ground. It is a somber but cathartic affair in most cases, though usually without much pleasure.
In cases where the deceased’s ghost lingers, it is traditional for the immediately family (parents, spouse, or children) to arrange for an exorcist to tend to the spirit. Under no circumstances are the family (or anyone else) to speak with or acknowledge the ghost; the Orthodoxy teaches that such interactions can disrupt the natural cycle of reincarnation.
If one dies away from home, it is traditional to bury them as best as possible, and to use their necklace to erect a stelae inscribed with their name and whatever deeds are known. Truthfully, the name on the stelae is the most important part: it is this act that frees the spirit to move on. The rest is simply to ease the soul into its Road of Trials.
Midwinter + New Years
There are a lot of places that worship the Imperial Sept, and not all of them share the same climate. As such, The Keeping is not always celebrated the same way, and there are regional variations depending on how cold it is when the new year begins. The one thing everyone agrees on is this: it happens on December 30th, the winter solstice. on the longest night of the year.
Originally, the Keeping is a celebration, focused around feasting, drinking, prayer, and a great deal of blankets. The day begins with woodcutting, as all the able-bodied men in the family go out and cut up some firewood for their celebration. With the time left over, many young men either prepare for their tasks (or complete their tasks) or go ice skating.
Come nightfall, families gather in the largest house among them, start a huge fire in the fireplace (larger lodges tend to have a huge hearth in the center of the meeting hall for expressly this purpose) and they eat a massive feast. Once that’s done, they’ll start drinking. While so drunk, it’s customary for inter-family feuds to be settled before dawn, so that the new year can begin cleanly. Then,everyone clears out the leftover food, cleans up the mess, pulls out blankets, and, while sitting atop their blanket, they will pray; usually to Branwen, so she gives birth to spring properly, and to Lugaid, that their homes survive the winter, and to Aenor, because always Aenor.
After the prayers are over, everybody burritos up in the hall and goes to sleep right there. Usually the host remains awake through the night, to tend to the bonfire; if there’s a knight trying to earn the hand of a young lady in the family, however, he will hold vigil as well. Come dawn, everybody goes home.
In the Steppelands, the Dunvales, and the Westlands around the Hungry Mountains—the coldest parts of the Empire—the Keeping is a sordid affair, closer to a long vigil than a celebration. The motions are much the same, but they lack much of the fun that the warmer regions of the Empire enjoy.
Nobles: Throw a special ball in the woman’s honor. The more guests, the better the food, and the more lively the entertainment, the better.
Knights: Stand vigil for the entire night, while dressed in the finest arms and armor that they own.
Merchants: Present a lavish gift. Usually something that keeps the bride warm.
Craftsmen: Same as laborer.
Laborers: Present extra firewood for the bride and her family, in addition to his own.
First rain of spring