Sunday, February 26, 2017

Religions for Eastwylde Setting pt 1

The Cult of the Saints - By far the biggest faith among western humans.  Decentralized clergy centered around temples in major cities, which are run by a Primarch.  Each temple has its satellite shrines, whose priests are called Rectors.  Each shrine has the remains or artifacts of a certain saint, and most bear that saint’s name.  Additionally there are abbeys and monasteries, which are centers of prayer (and powerful land-owning organizations).  There are innumerable saints, but only a handful are widely known.  Saints are understood as persons or beings who manifest the ineffable divine, a kind of universal Godhead.  As representatives of that power, they are invoked and prayed to.  

The saint of saints of course is St. Beatrix, the savior of the world.  Almost all the temples bear her name (“The Temple of St. Beatrix Triumphant,” or “The Temple of St. Beatrix Ascendant,” for example).  Beatrix’s domains are magic, protection and good.  She is the particular patroness of wizards, the city of Limmodes (where she was born), of books and libraries, of oak trees (she carried an oaken staff), lensecrafters and other things.  Her birthday is January 3 but for various reasons her Feast Day is July 5 (both are holidays). 

The Life of Beatrix

Although she now reigns as the Queen of Heaven, Beatrix of Breciliande* was born a perfectly normal human baby girl, to a modestly successful physician and his alewife spouse.  The townhouse in the city of Limmodes where she was born is now a carefully preserved historical site.  Tours are conducted by a minor order of Poor Sisters between nine and four five days a week.  

*yes she was a Breton basically

There are countless folktales and fables now surrounding Beatrix's childhood wherein she displays heavenly wisdom and insight.  These are all apocryphal.  Historians carefully interviewed those who knew her in her mortal lifetime.  According to the Masters of the Wizards' School at Ranblys, she was a talented but unexceptional student from the ages of 14 to 21. 

It was after her graduation that Beatrix's life took an exceptional turn.  At that time the Northern Orcs were unbowed and untamed, and periodically spilled out of their tundra to menace the domains of Man.  Beatrix took part in the First Northern Crusade against the orcs and other monsters.  She drifted among several of the many adventurer bands then going north but took part in many great deeds: slaying the White Wyrm of Icewall Keep, putting an end to Petroblastus the Mad Alchemist, and other adventures.  By 30 she was an accomplished Master Wizardess. 

It is said but repudiated in official histories that Beatrix traveled to the furthest north, to the Sea of Ice where she met the demigod lich called The Ice Father, and studied under him for a time.  Those proscribed accounts say this is where she first learned of the Ritual of Nine Seals, a pathway of ascending to godhood.

Then the Giants returned, and everything changed.

Banished beneath the earth millennia ago by the gods, the kindreds of the Giants of Frost, Fire, Stone and Storm burst their bonds through the sorcerous power of their kings, who it's said made pact with the very Forces of Hell.  

For thousands of years the Order of Rangers had held a watch from northern mountains, begun by the elves and passed on to men, for the return of the Giants.  Their charge was to oppose the earth's once-masters.  They failed.  Everywhere the armies of giantkind emerged, smashing all who opposed them.  Other enemies of the gods once driven to dark places--dragons, dark elves--joined the march.  Cities were ground to dust and kingdoms collapsed.  Man and his allies retreated to scattered bastions as monsters shook the earth.

In those dark days Beatrix gathered a band of heroes around herself who would all become saints in their own right.  [Sidebar: official Cult history is that she did the gathering, but in many versions she was one of the gathered and not initially in anywise the leader of the band.  Still, they're known to history as "The Companions of Beatrix" so whatever].   Foremost among these was St. Justin, known to history as The Giantslayer.  Some say he was a survivor of the fallen Rangers, others a Paladin (official Cult history says both but nobody believes that; the Paladins have taken to calling themselves "the Order of St. Justin" anyway).  The number of her companions is controversal; aside from St. Justin and a few well-attested others, several are considered fictional. 

Regardless of how many of this Fellowship really existed or ever knew Beatrix, what is clear is she and her band of heroes were a light in the darkness, driving back Giants and bringing hope to Men and their allies.  Under the auspices of the remaining Kings of Men and Elves, Beatrix led her companions on a quest to many far-flung places and deep beneath the earth, even to the Sunken World and the dominions of Hell.  They quested for nine seals, powerful arcane devices that united in an ancient ritual could banish the Giants once again.  [Sidebar: some say the purpose of the Nine Seal Ritual is to banish bad things from the earth; a small number of iconoclasts argue it's actually a means of drawing the souls from thousands of living beings at once to boost the caster to godlike heights of power.  Yes there are a few Chris Hitchens types who argue Beatrix was a supervillain, lol.]  

The eleventh hour came at a place called Holger's Pass, where the last kings of Men and Elves made a final stand against an all-out attack, even as Beatrix and the remaining Archmagi began the Ritual of Nine Seals.  Laufi, King of the Frost Giants and Angyrbor, King of the Storm Giants and Wytelsex the most massive red dragon ever seen, rampaged over the Armies of Man.  St. Justin and many of the Companions were martyred in this battle. [Sidebar:  Angyrbor, Laufi and Wytelsex are so infamously remembered from these days that they are known as "the three demons" and are a popular subject in artwork, usually depicted as battling St. Justin or some number of the Companions].  

In virtually every variant of the story, of course, Beatrix completes the ritual just as the Giants breach the very citadel and all seems lost.  In any case all accounts agree that as she completed the spell (which involved conjuring and sealing nine Archdemons in walls of nine elements pure and mixed--earth, fire, wind, water, dust, slime, ice, steam and magma), Beatrix realized the power would not be enough without one final sacrifice and poured her very essence into the spell, dying as it were, but in the same instant ascending.  So great was the power of the spell that the caster's consciousness spread over the whole cosmos, becoming one with the ineffable godhead.  Thus did Beatrix "wed the godhead," or "wed the universe," as is sometimes said. 

During Beatrix's lifetime 500 years ago, the Cult of the Saints was just one among many competing and irreconcilable faiths among the Men of the West.  It was large to be sure, as the Cult had been adopted as the state religion towards the ened of the Imperial Age, but didn't have the lion's share compared to many old and strong cults of divers gods, much less the Druid faith.  Of course, all chronicles and histories state that Beatrix was a faithful observant of The Saints, although a few scoffers in scholastic circles have noted Wizards end not to be overly pious.  

Through her death/ascension however, Beatrix gave the Cult of Saints a total ascension of its own, over the hearts and minds of The West.  She gave them something they had been lacking: a popular, humanizing figure to take as the symbol of the faith, a narrative around which to hang all the high-minded cosmogony.  Beatrix loved all the world, even you poor sinners.  She suffered death so that mankind in its darkest hour would see another day.  Beatrix is us: she could be your mother, your daughter.  And she joined with the One Who is All, in recorded history, before witnesses.

As a literary character, Beatrix has been interpreted and depicted in many ways.  In terms of visual art a particular 'look' has become traditional: that of a dark-haired maiden hooded in blue, holding a staff and spellbook in her hands, eyes closed in serenity with a faint smile on her lovely face.  However many details about Beatrix's life and person are up for speculation.  There is a popular tradition in one region, for example, that Beatrix's spectacles are retained at one Fons Abbey, a powerful relic associated with miracles.  The more learned protest that spectacles did not exist in Beatrix's day (rather a halved glass orb held in the hand was used).   

Perhaps the most contentious of all is that many versions of Beatrix's legend speak of a love between her and St. Justin Giantslayer.  Many poems and chronicles relate that they devoted their hearts to one another as totally as they dedicated their lives to saving the world.  This romantic tradition is dear to many who believe in Courtly Love.  Others however insist on the point that Beatrix died a virgin--that she left this world a pure woman with soul dedicated only to heaven.  Dramatizations and retellings of Beatrix and her companions are a whole genre unto themselves and range from the reverential to the burlesque.  For dramatical and no doubt sexist reasons, Beatrix is often played as the vulnerable naif who comes into her own through St. Justin's love (of course, several critics have pointed out the prominence of St. Justin seems almost more of a sop to macho types who don't want to pray to a girl, but whatever).  Versions where Beatrix has quasidivine wisdom and perfect moral clarity exist but are far less popular outside the pulpit and schoolroom.  

Most of the small details about Beatrix and her story probably never will out.  It is true there are some powerful clerics who have the power to speak directly to Those Above and ask questions of the Godhead itself.  They tend to get the answers they presupposed and inevitably there are conflicting "divine truths."