Oeridian Religious History
Date: Sat, March 08, 2003
Topic: Heretic's Nest
A short treatment of the religious history of the Oeridian people; with grateful acknowledgement given to Taras Montand-Guarhoth, whose Imperial Orthodox Church has been used in my campaign and to Professors Cary and Scullard, whose 'History of Rome' gave me the idea in the first place.
Author: Olias of Sunhillow/MoorgladeMover
Oeridian Religious History
by Olias of Sunhillow/MoorgladeMover
Used with Permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.
Early Oeridian Religion
In the early Oeridian community religious usage clearly reflected the agricultural basis of the people’s life. Each household worshipped the protectors of the home and its livelihood: the Velaeri, the arbiters of sun and rain, who stirred the plants to life in spring, and in general aided or hindered the work of herdsman or husbandman; and the Numina, who guided the members of the family through the critical stages of birth and childhood, wedlock and death. In his devotions the Oeridian tribesman hardly looked beyond the practical needs of day-to-day life. His idea of the gods whom he addressed was so hazy that he could not envisage them in any clear shape and was not always sure of their sex; his conception of the next world was so dim that he could think of the dead only in a collective sense. His acts of worship consisted of a simple invocation and libation of milk or (more seldom) of wine; an offer of a cake or sacrificial animal, on an altar of turf. Magical spells were occasionally practised but formed no part of his ritual.
The religion of the tribe was in large degree a duplication of the private cults. The tribe gave public worship to Velnius and the other Velaeri, to Fharlanghn and Celestian, and to the other Numina, with ceremonies that did not differ substantially from those of the individual household. But certain of these rustic deities were transformed in the tribal cult into protectors of the community as a whole in all its activities. Heironeous and Hextor turned the tide of battles in the tribe’s favour; Pholtus mounted guard over the tribe and helped the lawgivers deliver judgements; Fharlanghn and Celestian became the watchers over the tribe’s general welfare.
As the influence of the Suloise Imperium increased markedly in the life of the Oeridian people, the tribal religion was elaborated under Suloise influence. Deities were regarded more anthropomorphically, and if gods were fashioned in the image of men, they needed housing in temples and to be provided with cult statues. The Oeridians did not give a ready welcome to the Suel gods and goddesses. But their earliest cult images were of Suloise type, and the sanctuaries were copied from Suloise models.
At the time of the Twin Cataclysms the tribal Oeridian religion had acquired those permanent characteristics which no catastrophe or upheaval could obliterate. It combined the practical give-and-take attitude of the Oeridian peasant with the ceremonial formalism of the Suloise. The Oeridian acts of worship were in the nature of contractual acts, by which the priest bargained for certain benefits, or abstention from certain penalties, on the part of the worshippers, in consideration of certain services, which were performed with exactitude. Of all the human religions of the Flanaess it was the least emotional. Oeridians admitted at least a vague awe in the presence of the deity, whether in temples or sacred places, but they did not approve of acts of unchecked emotion.
This meant that Oeridian religion never became like that of the Suloise, the foster-mother of art, music and literature; although in some ways similar to the religion of the Baklunish, it never could produce a comprehensive code of conduct – it produced priests, not prophets. But it had a tremendous social value; by being devoid of emotion, it was free of such things like human sacrifice, and as a social ‘cement’ which bound the tribes of the Oeridians together, it formed the foundations of the qualities within the Oeridian people that held them together during the Great Migrations, and equipped them to build lasting communities - and eventually, kingdoms – in the Flanaess.
The Twin Cataclysms
By the time of the Invoked Devastation, and the Rain of Colourless Fire, the outward changes in Oeridian religion had become quite marked. Temples with statues had replaced the turf altars; the rituals of the Suloise had been adapted by Oeridian priests for their own festivals; newer gods and goddesses had appeared and taken their place in the Oeridian pantheon (chief among them Zilchus, Boccob and Ehlonna); but the ancient Oeridian religion of the home, flocks and fields remained largely untouched by these exotic influences, and the introduction of foreign influences into the tribal cults of the Oeridians was carefully supervised by the Oeridian priests. The growth of the priest in Oeridian society as a link between different communities and tribes dates from this period; as Oeridian families and communities were spread around the Suloise Imperium, it was the priests who kept the communities in touch with one another and enabled the Oeridian tribes to remain strong and unified during the difficult times ahead.
Up until the breakup of the Suloise Imperium and the Twin Cataclysms, the Velaeri had been the most important deities in the daily life of the average Oeridian; other deities may have been propitiated at specific times, but Velnius and his offspring, Atroa, Sotillion, Wenta and Telchur, were remembered, spoken of and looked to daily throughout the tribes of the Oeridians. The Cataclysms were to herald a change in that situation that became permanent. The Numina were more fitted to a society in a state of flux; the Oeridians changed from an agricultural society regulated by the turning of the seasons, to one where the future was not mapped out ahead of you, but rather was dictated by the choices you made. The brothers Fharlanghn and Celestian in particular achieved prominence; their roles as watchers over the journey through life of both the individual household and the community as a whole seemed tailor-made for the Oeridian people during the Great Migrations. The Velaeri would always be the object of devotion for the Oeridian peasant farmer; but when decisions have to be made about whether to stay or go, to turn north or south, to settle down or keep moving, it is only a natural consequence that people would turn to gods who could guide you through such a difficult journey, both literal and metaphorical.
As the Oeridian realms were founded in the Flanaess and subsequently the establishment of an empire by the tribe of the Aerdi, the role of the priests and the relative importance of the gods changed once more. The priests had corporately been reasonably successful in keeping out unwanted foreign elements from Oeridian religious life by emphasising the civil and political importance of their role to the Oeridian tribal nobility; but this had the unforeseen effect of establishing within those same power structures a readiness to exploit religion as an instrument of their ascendancy. No more clearly can this be seen by the decline in importance of Fharlanghn and Celestian in the religious life of the Oeridian communities, and in particular by the rise of Heironeous, Hextor, Zilchus and especially Pholtus, within what became the Imperial Orthodox Church of Aerdy. Once again the needs of the Oeridian community changed; from being a migrant culture looking somewhere to settle and form communities, they became traders and soldiers – and conquerors. Their need now was for gods who could aid them in wars of conquest, could provide law and order to end a period of instability, and would help them to prosper in the new lands they found themselves in.
As the Great Kingdom grew in power, the religious structures within the Oeridian communities began to ossify. The priesthood of what became the Imperial Orthodox Church that had assisted the rise of the Aerdi to pre-eminence across the Flanaess, used that prominence to solidify and preserve their importance within Oeridian religious and secular life. This had two consequences; one, that the priesthoods within Oeridian society in general lost their value as a unifying factor; and two, the priesthoods of those gods that had achieved pre-eminence (Pholtus, Heironeous, Hextor and Zilchus) became a power grouping within Oeridian society on a temporal rather than spiritual basis. In effect, they became a second set of nobility.
While at first glance the effects of this seem small compared to their influence on the Great Kingdom, one of greater significance was set in motion; Oeridian communities over time became more fragmented, enabling foreign elements (chiefly Flan, although Suel and Baklunish too, to a lesser extent) to enter their religious life; also, the various Oeridian tribal communities forsook their ancient links in favour of more localised ones with their immediate neighbours. In short, the rise of the Imperial Orthodox Church of Aerdy, while a direct factor in the rise of the Great Kingdom, ultimately laid the foundation for the breakaway of Furyondy, Veluna and Nyrond in both a religious and secular sense.
religion, history, gods