Alsara: Requiem and Revolution
The Vokayan Sept originates from the period called the Uplift, when a collective of dragons came together to form the nation of Vokaya from the various tribes and clans north of the Rampart Mountains. The most basic texts of the Vokayan Sept were written by the Metal Dragons themselves, though they have been appended numerous times since then.
There are seven Gods, all dead. They create souls in their own image, so there are seven archetypes of person in Vokaya that might be slightly…odd. While nobody has to like people who behave like one of these archetypes, they are both more common and more accepted than they have any right to be.
Strange But Iconically Vokayan People:
- Merchant + Police + Baker + Homebody
- Warrior + Prostitute + Anger Issues + Community Manager
- Gardener + Midwife + Teacher + Biologist
- Germaphobe + Sailor + Accountant + Neat-freak
- Artist + Sex Machine + Prankster + Useless Person
- Engineer + Wizard + Superhero + Dragon
- Vigilante + Spy + Judge
Also: Hell is oblivion, you’re already in heaven, and the Gods can’t save you.
Beliefs and Ethics
The Vokayan Sept teaches that the Gods created the world, and every person in it, for a divine purpose. There was, at the beginning of time, a division of labor, and each deity created a part of the world to their liking. However, unlike literally every other religion, the Vokayan Gods then died (drowning). They have no ability to change the world now that it is in motion. There is no divine intervention waiting for the believers. This does not make the Vokayan Sept a very popular religion.
In detail, though, there IS a way that the Gods continue to influence the world: the crafting of souls. Their presence in the Land of the Dead means they sit at the end—and the beginning—of every soul’s existence, and they can create those souls to be sent into the world, or change the souls that return to them in death. Every living soul is created by the Gods, and each God creates a soul with a purpose in mind. Specifically, each God creates a soul in their own image. But, with no way to communicate to the souls once they are forged, all those individuals are left to their own devices to discover what their place in the world might be.
Many faithful Septists will, after a journey of self-discovery, choose a deity to Personify. They will attempt to behave in accordance with that God’s teachings and generally attempt to act like them, as they have determined that the deity in question was the one that forged their soul. Personification—by that name, anyway—is rare, though the archetypes have so thoroughly permeated Vokayan culture and public identity that many people will Personify a God whether they intended to or not.
But, it is in the process of forging souls that the Vokayan Sept proves itself most terrifying: not even the Gods know the future. They might have crafted your soul for a purpose, but that purpose may either be impossible to fulfill, or even fatal. They have your best interests in heart, but they’re not always right.
It’s this fact, more than any other, that explains why this church is so unpopular, even among its own citizens. If not even the Gods can save you, what good are they?
In terms of mythic history, the Vokayan Sept is separated into two parts: the Creation, and the Fall. The Creation is when the Gods were making the world: the pulled the islands up from the sea (the Sea was there first, after all), they formed all the plants and animals (not fish, though), and the created the Kith of the world. The Creation lasts quite some time, and most of the stories that describe the attitudes of the Gods are placed during that period. Then, the Gods left the world in the most horrifying way: they died. The Creation ended, the adventures turned to more mundane things, and the Dragon Age began. The Gods continued on in the underworld, where they watched over the earth and crafted the souls of Kith in their own images.
The god of trade, oaths, and earth, Lir crafts the souls of merchants, judges, and nobles. He is associated with the winter. In stories, he is depicted as jovial, hearty, and fat, and he is unrelentingly hospitable to guests and strangers. When he’s not cooking, baking, or accommodating, he takes himself very seriously, and his role as Oathkeeper is solemnly maintained. There are several stories of him demanding vengeance or justice for oathbreakers, and is often at odds with Aonan; after all, a god of secrets must sometimes lie, and, while both gods are judges, their judgments are not always in agreement. Lir is the Vokayan god of law and order, and it is by his command that order is maintained.
Temples to Lir are some of the most common in Vokaya, as his priests are trusted adjudicators of disputes. Such adjudications are often held in high regard, and frequently a Liric Priest is called upon to witness business agreements, solemn oaths, and other matters in which contract law is important. For this reason, Lir is, ironically, the most popular deity of the entire Sept.
It doesn’t hurt his popularity that his tenants include a rigid demand to welcome strangers into the home. If someone shows up at your door, you let them in. You let them in, you feed them. You feed them, you give them a bed. These things are required and expected of you.
This set of rules has been mostly forgotten in recent times. The Neverwar damaged the trust of many Vokayans, and the Church doesn’t have the influence it once did. Still, the tenants survive, so perhaps, someday, they will return to favor.
Lir’s holy symbol is
The goddess of children, agriculture, and wood, Gwenna crafts the souls of midwives, farmers, and teachers. She is associated with the spring. In stories she is depicted as an unrelentingly motherly figure, though she is often depicted as eternally youthful; unlike Morgana, who is often quite old. She is also a gardener in most stories, though sometimes her ‘gardens’ are rather terrifying. Several stories depict people dealing with seeds from her garden, either in good ways or bad ones. One involves a dragon stealing the first wheat plants for the earth, and giving them to Vokaya.
Gwenna’s churches are actually also fairly common, though they usually serve multiple purposes. Seed vaults, schools, and greenhouses (in wealthy areas) all can bear the markings and tenants of Gwenna.
Gwenna’s holy symbol is
The god of community, passion, war, and fire, Belenus crafts the souls of warriors, healers, and courtesans. He is associated with the summer. Belenus is a two-faced god, who is filled with compassion and empathy in his best form, and lashes out with anger and destruction in his worst form. Fire is a pernicious thing, and Belenus is no different. It is his heart of compassion and love for his community that he fights, but when that community is threatened, his compassion turns to wrath. Belenus’ stories depict both sides of him, without much condemnation of either.
Belenus’ followers are often found among the citizen-soldiers of the Stratos, as well as the brothels and pleasure-houses of the Seven Cities.
Belenus’ holy symbol is
The goddess of the sea, cleanliness, preparation, and water, Marian crafts the souls of sailors, doctors, and the builders of infrastructure. She is associated with the fall. Marian is the goddess of sanitation, and it is her tenants that push the regular washing that most Vokayan’s indulge in. In stories, she is depicted as either the sage adviser of preparation, of planning, of setting the stage…and she is also depicted, from time to time, as a neat freak. Even in her best stories, the Marian bits often digress into tremendous and exacting lists of items needed or used for a particular task.
Because of her association with the sea (not as its creator, but as the one God that really understood it), most sailors personify her, at least in part. Those that really get into it can be quite insufferable, as they keep their spaces on the ship clean enough it nearly hurts to look upon. Officers that personify her are even worse.
Marian’s holy symbol is
The capricious deity of wind, sexual exploration and artistic expression, Sionnon crafts the souls of hedonists, artists, philosophers, and useless malcontents. They is not associated with a season, though they does manage to sneak into a lot of holidays. Sionnon is a genderless deity, which makes it all the easier for them to commit the highly implausible acts of sexual congress that most tales of Sionnon include. More than any other god, their stories run the spectrum between bawdy and reverent. While on the low end, Sionnon is often a trickster, arranging narratively hilarious pairings between other characters, or constructing implausible scenarios in which the god themself participates. There is a cunning underside to their tricks, however. Sionnon is often seen as a matchmaker, even in the bawdiest of stories. In a few rare cases, they even serves as a judge of sorts, when the crime is one of infidelity or passion; they will manipulate the evildoer into a foul end, or at least receiving a humorously just desserts. It isn’t just sex that Sionnon embodies, however, as they also has a great love of wine and narcotics. All manners of excess are Sionnon’s domain.
It is this focus on whimsical excess that separates Sionnon’s lust from Belenus’ passion. Belenus is the god of intense emotions, while Sionnon is too playful for anything that might last. One looks to Belenus for love—be it love of a wife or husband, or love for a child, or love for a home—and one looks to Sionnon for a good lay.
When not serving as a figure of mockery or sexuality, though, Sionnon is also a powerful muse. They holds the divine spark of inspiration, and their influence creates the greatest pieces of art. Most of those who personify Sionnon are artists, and a surprising number become Clerics; then again, art does attract the kind of mind that might.
Sionnon’s holy symbol is
The goddess of magic, knowledge, and metal, Morgana crafts the souls of wizards, scholars, and artificers. Most importantly, though, she is depicted as crafting the souls of the Dragons as well, and they are the ultimate manifestations of her mission: they accumulate knowledge, and they build great works. Much like the Vokayans should do. She is not associated with a season. In stories, Morgana is depicted as an involved and curious figure, attempting to work and build more and more magnificent things, usually with the help of others. She’s famous for drafting heroes to go out and get components for her creations, or for supplying them with powerful artifacts. Her most popular story involves her building Cascade itself, creating the souls of the dragons and even supplying them with fevered dreams of the city’s designs.
Unlike other pantheons, Morgana is always seen as benevolent, her creations always beneficial. Evil monsters or foul wizards are her enemies, not her mistakes.
Morgana’s holy symbol is
God of truth, secrets, and light, Aonan crafts the souls of spies and kings. He is not associated with a season. Aonan is the ultimate judge of your life’s worth, and to find that out, he spies. Called, sometimes, the Watcher, or the Eye, or other things that aren’t so creepy, Aonan is nevertheless depicted as a trickster figure. He will go to great lengths to find secrets, and in the stories he isn’t always doing it for selfless reasons. Even so, his work is worth it in the end. Aonan is no fool. He finds evil. He destroys it. He just…does it in his own way.
More complex are those who personify him. He espouses a philosophy that is controversial: to know how to do good, one must first know. The best solution to evil is often the one that is roundabout, indirect, or downright sneaky. Aonan is a deliverer of cosmic justice, of ironic reversals. His adherents aspire to be as well. It makes them difficult to trust.
There is a cult—barely tolerated—called the Watchers. They exist to learn things about people, and to write them down. They don’t, usually, act on their knowledge; thus, with no agenda, they’re not as popular as most people assume. Aonan is their central deity, and they learn what they learn for his benefit. They have more clerics than any other order of Vokayan priesthood.
Aonan’s holy symbol is usually a small glass prism. The difficulty of reliably producing glass usually results in the prism being cracked or flawed, but that is accepted—even encouraged—among his followers.
Aonan has gained in popularity since the Neverwar. The Demonic vulnerability to glass has become well-known, and it has dramatically shifted the narrative of Aenor’s character. He is not only a spy, now. He is a hunter.
The common form of the demonic detection amulets worn by the legendary Glass Ghosts is that of a small glass prism. It did not have to be.
There are seven Gods in the Vokayan pantheon. But…there is space, in the legends, for an eighth. A hole. This thing isn’t given a name, precisely; it doesn’t have a voice, it doesn’t talk, it doesn’t have an agenda like the other Gods do. But, especially in the stories that tell of the Fall, there is something out there that opposes the Gods. It often disappears into the background of the text (“but the plan was foiled,” “but they were impeded,” “but a tricksome wind turned their craft aside”), but if one pays close attention, it is obvious: the Gods have a nemesis. In the end, they drown in the sea, but the text reads: “and they were drowned.” They did not do it on their own.
Those few who call it anything call it the Dark.
The name comes from an old story written by a Watcher many centuries ago. In that story, he told of a time when the Dark would come to reclaim the world in a great war. It would come in the guise of many things—as that is the Dark’s way of fighting—but it would arrive in blood and violence, and it would never end. He called it the Neverwar.
Church and Hierarchy
Death and Afterlife
When a person dies, their soul walks to the sea, where they step into the water and travel to the Underworld. Here, they walk through the coral seafloor until they find their way to the land of the Gods, where they confront the Gods in Judgement. Primarily, these Gods are Aonan, who reviews the causes and results of the person’s actions, and Lir, who examines the person’s actions in accordance with the law.
The two Gods often fight. Rarely, but occasionally, the contest is physical.
There are two possibilities. If the person sinned terribly, or their sins had no great cause that they served, they are destroyed, their soul cast into the currents and lost to oblivion. If the person did well, though, and brought good into the world, then they are reforged (perhaps by the same God as before, or perhaps by a new one), and sent back to earth once again.
The Vokayan Sept is unusual, as it contains no paradise, no glorious afterlife in service to the gods. Just eternally returning to earth, over and over, to make it better for the people who are already there. The message is clear: heaven is what you make. If you’re not in heaven yet, then get to work.
Coming of Age
The Vokayan Sept doesn’t have a coming-of-age ceremony per say, but it does have something similar: Personification.
Personification can happen at any time in a person’s life, and even more than once. It begins with a literal physical journey to a temple of the deity that the person wants to Personify; any temple will do, but if one is particularly devout or able, or it is convenient, they will go to the Grand Temples in Cascade, as the capital’s temple complex has the most complete record of the Gods.
There, the seeker begin a series of dialogues with a priest in the temple. These dialogues are intended to reveal whether the seeker really understands the deity they claim to Personify, as well as inform the seeker what such a Personification might entail. It’s a fairly didactic exercise, somewhere between a lecture and a test. Each dialogue is punctuated by sessions of study or practice, which the seeker performs independent from the priest. Once the priest is satisfied that the seeker understands the path they’ve chosen, the seeker is sent on their way, confident that they understand their purpose in life.
For the, ah, less devout, there’s another way to Personify a God. It works like this:
1. Pick up a religious text.
2. Open it to a page detailing a God.
3. Say, “Oh! That sounds like me!”
4. Throw away the religious text.
Congratulations, you are now Personifying a deity. It’s not very helpful in telling you how to best live your life, but it’s a great fact to share at parties or to impress potential partners. Just don’t mention it around a priest, or they might slap you.
Funerals in Vokaya are about the living, not the dead. Bodies are burned, traditionally, by the dictates of Marian, but even that’s to protect the living from rot and disease. As far as the mourners are concerned, the soul is off to go get judged. There’s nothing left to be done for them.
So, a Vokayan funeral is more of a wake then a corpse management procedure. People get around a fire and tell stories about the dead. There’s a lot of drinking and weeping. Families come together, or are broken apart. Those close to the fallen are supported as best the can be by those who know them…or they’re abandoned. None of that is dictated by tradition. It’s all very practical.
Except when it comes to messing with the body. A dead body is supposed to be destroyed, somehow, and as quickly as possible. It’s not really just about disease: a body is a link to the soul. Mess with the body, and you might mess with the soul, destroying it forever or preventing it from reaching the underworld. Only magic can do that, but magic can do that. The precautions are justified.
The darkest day of the year is a day of baking.
This holiday is the very apex of a Liric holiday. Everyone sits
This is a very old tradition celebrated on the last day of winter; well, at least, celebrated on March 20th, which may or may not actually be the last day of anything. Winter was the season created by Lir, and at the end of this time, once one knew one was going to survive, it is a good time to make promises.
These promises are like goals for the year to come. Frequently, they are promises of growth, or correcting faults. Perhaps they are ambitions, or hopes. They are rarely promises of love; this is Lir’s time, after all, not Belenus or Sionnon.
The atmosphere of responsibility makes this something of a low-key holiday. The most popular tradition for celebrating Oathday involves a large breakfast with a special dessert (all Liric holidays involve a special dessert) of honey almond bread (or just sugared almonds, for the lazy), followed by a short period of private contemplation. During that time, each person writes down an oath, and at the end they burn the paper in the hearth. From there, the person goes about their day.
There is also a tradition of drinking a glass of mead during breakfast. Traditionally, the mead is reserved for those who fulfilled their oaths from the year before. Some places are stricter about it than others.
The great Harvest Festivals of Vokaya are two-part affairs, occurring over days in the cities and even weeks out in the countryside. The first half is preparation: endless, meticulous accounting, in which work is done, budgets are balanced, roofs are repaired, walls are shored up, doors are fixed, and all things are put in their places. This is Marion’s time, and her exacting precision is demanded for the months ahead.
However, it’s not all boring work. At the end of the Harvest, there is a huge party. The Harvest Festival is held in late November and usually lasts for days, sometimes as much as a week. During the festival, every evening is filled with public feasting, dancing, and romantic pairings. The exact nature of these things vary widely depending on region, but communal food—usually duck or other meats—is a staple of the holiday, as is dancing and public gatherings.
In some places there is a religious procession, in which members of the community reenact the Fall. The most famous of these are in Cascade and Everlight.
In Cascade, every one of the Gods is represented in a caravan that travels around the city, then eventually ‘drowning’ in the moat around the Keep of Rivers, to represent the sea. The event is a legendary spectacle, as, ever since Vadim Serendi Rex made it a tradition, the ruling Rex has played the part of Lir. This tradition was shaken up, however: first Devorah, then Merik, have begun assuming the role of Aonan instead. Beyond that simple fact, though, the occasion is also simply ludicrously extravagant, and the costumes and decorations for the capitol are the most incredible in the country. Many people travel to Cascade for the Harvest Festival simply to say that they’ve seen it.
In Everlight, though, things are quite different. Instead of the Gods travelling the city in a line until they walk into the sea, they actually move about, playing their particular characters as best they can. Then, one character literally representing The Sea hunts them down and ritually murders them all. This happens over the course of days, and the process of the Sea tracking down and swallowing up the hapless Gods can sometimes be an incredibly involved affair, including spies, plans, and even hired help.
In recent years, these processions have taken on a much darker tone. The existence of the Neverwar changed the Fall forever: while before it was customary to treat the Dark much the same as the stories did—where the Gods are simply opposed, but there was nothing there to do the opposing—now the enemy is given form. People have begun to build effigies of Demons for these processions, and after the Gods are ‘drowned,’ the angry crowd will burn, crush, or violently tear the effigies apart. The event can be quite frightening to witness…as can the crowd, for some time afterward.
Beyond that, though, there is the nature of the romantic pairings. The Harvest Festival is always a time for romance, but how it plays out depends on where you are.
In the more conservative places of Vokaya—the rural areas, where everyone knows each other—this is considered the time of year to pursue serious courtship. Many a sweating teenager has approached a paramour during the Harvest Festival, and often there is a dance specifically for couples to pair off. Many places also have traditions of running out into the woods or onto the mountainsides to find some privacy, where the night’s events are “ignored in the eyes of the Gods.” What this means depends on the individual, really. Pregnancies that result from such trysts are hard to ‘ignore,’ though, so most new couples do not get so far.
In most places, anyway. In the cities, among certain circles, there is a tradition that the Harvest Festival is a time apart from the rest of life, and that what happens on a Festival night is gone when the parties are over. Pregnancies that result from these occasions are similarly rare, however this is the result of no great effort on the part of the revelers; one of the famous Harvest Festival drinks is a gin distilled from the same plants that are used to produce maiden’s tea: a popular birth control agent.
But that’s rare. While there are extremes in every area, the most common romantic thought during Harvest is for fresh partners to see if their newfound love can survive the winter. The last stage of the Festival is a somber affair, as everyone packs in for the long dark. The celebration lasts for days, true, but it doesn’t last forever, and thoughts of Marion are not kept far away.