A history of religion in the Flanaess
Date: Thu, May 02, 2013
Topic: Myths & Legends

Being a survey of the development of religious traditions and holy texts among the Flan, Oeridian, Suloise, and Baklunish peoples.

The ancient Flan had a thoroughly animistic society. Besides their great gods like Obad-hai and Beory, the druids of the Old Faith worshiped the spirits of trees, the moons, and the rivers. Many of the beings once worshiped as gods by the Flan still exist today in the form of nymphs, treants, and other faerie folk. Some of the old gods have been absorbed by the greater deities, while others have died from lack of worship, their corpses still and silent in the Astral Plane.

At some point, thousands of years before the Twin Cataclysms and hundreds of years before the birth of Vecna, the herdsman followers of the moon-god Rao in the Vale of Luna took it upon themselves to invade the surrounding lands, imposing the worship of their deity on the druids of the Old Faith and the vile followers of the Ur-Flan alike. They built cities to wall out their enemies and wall in their subjects, channeling the energy of the moons to keep out the forces of evil. The druids turned against the Raoites, and their inadvertent creation Vecna completed the work of slaughtering most of them, driving them back to a few remaining communities in the Vale of Luna, where they were encountered by the migrating Oeridians in the following millennium. Tired and hungry, beset by orcs and goblin-kin, the Voll tribe of Oeridians thought all was lost when their own kin, the Erythnul worshiping Graeki, used the Book of Vile Darkness they had looted from the ruins of Vecna's tower to conjure demons to destroy them. And then: a miracle. The Crook of Rao was discovered in the long-overgrown ruins of the Flan city of Almadia, and with it the fiends summoned by the Graeki were banished. Taking this as a sign, the Voll elected to remain in the Vale of Luna, learning more of this great god of goodness, Rao, from the gentle natives of the vale. Over Almadia's ruins they built Mitrik, which meant Salvation in their tongue. Unlike the ancient Flan, the Voll never made Rao their only patron (though even the ancient Flan accepted Pelor, Zodal, and Allitur as lesser deities subservient to Rao, and Beory as his mother), and added many of their own Oeridian deities such as Heironeous, Delleb, and Celestian to their pantheon.

The Great Migrations were a time of great religious change as thousands of Oeridian and Suel poured into the Flanaess, rewriting its ethnic paradigms.

The Oeridians, as a migratory group of horse nomads, worshiped mainly gods of the winds and sky, of trade and travel. For the most part they honored all of their gods equally. They had no formal temples, and so they would burn offerings to Celestian in the hope he would guide their dead to the afterworld, to Fharlanghn to guide their paths on Oerth, to the wind gods to ward off storms or celebrate the turning of the seasons, to Heironeous, Erythnul, and Hextor for victory in battle (though Heironeous and Hextor were rapidly eclipsing the old god Erythnul, hated outside of the fanatic Graeki tribe), to Zilchus in the hope of gaining wealth, status, and prosperity and to his dark brother Kurell in the hope of taking vengeance for that which was unjustly denied them. Wherever they went they brought with them their great revelation, the Prophesies of Johydee named for the ancient queen who inspired them to travel to the edge of the eastern sea, they were initially written on the inside of Johydee's famous Mask. As the tribes began to disperse, driven by internal conflicts, revelations in Mitrik, attacks by nonhumans, outraged natives, and the rival Suel, copies of the Revelations were made, each differing in crucial respects. When the Mask of Johydee disappeared, the Oeridians had no way of telling which copies were accurate and which were not. And so the first religious schisms formed among the Oeridian peoples.

The Prophesies of Johydee remained a crucial part of Oeridian holy texts, included among most of them to this day. Traditionally they begin with Johydee singing of creation itself, portraying the creation of the world as a process of revelation, with first light obscuring everything and then darkness. The details and interpretation of this vary from sect to sect. Only when a seer was born among the gods is creation able to be perceived. The gods in the Prophecies are named only as the Twelve, and arguments over which twelve gods Johydee was referring to, and who the Seer was, have raged ever since.

The text went on to describe Johydee's liberation of the Oeridian people from the tyranny of evil/ignorant deities/malevolent forces (again, the details vary) and the establishment of her own government of justice. The final part of the text are the prophesies themselves, in which Johydee predicts the establishment of a permanent empire where the Oeridians can dwell in safety and enlightenment on the shore where the sun rises. While this was taken by the Aerdi to mean the shores of the Solnor itself, various other Oeridian kingdoms have versions of the text in which they claim their own homelands were meant. A few heretics, not least among them Johydee's own priesthood, claim the whole book is only a parable that masks the truth of the story, which is an allegory for the process of enlightenment from ignorance.

In the Sheldomar Valley the Oeridians merged (for the most part) peaceably with the Suloise, who brought their pantheon of their ancient, alien empire with them. The Prophecies of Johydee were interpreted to mean an empire that reached the Azure Sea, from which the rising sun was certainly visible, and the mysterious Twelve were enumerated to include Suel deities as well as Oeridian ones. Religion in Keoland has always been a relatively chaotic affair, as the founders of the nation decreed that sectarian rivalries between the feuding Suel houses and incoming Oeridian tribes meant there would be no national church. As a result, each local temple has come to define the cosmology for itself. Religion is mainly a local affair in Keoland, although adherents of northern Church of Veluna are permitted to practice their faith in Keoland unmolested.

While Suel gods have always been popular in Keoland, their theology was greatly restructured among Oeridian lines, inspired by the Prophecies. Elsewhere in the Flanaess much of the same evolution has taken place, with the rigid Suloise theogony hybridized with Oeridian ideas and myths. Only in the isolated kingdom of Shar has the classical Suloise mythological system been left more or less intact, though Pyremius and Syrul are given a far higher place in that nation's religion than they had been given in the ancient Suloise Imperium, and the evolution of Wee Jas from the goddess of magic to the goddess of magic and death has proceeded even there, inspired in part by the great death inflicted by the magical Rain of Colorless Fire.

One of the greatest evangelists of the Velunese Church was the legendary St. Cuthbert. While the precise time of his mortal life and the nation of his origin are lost, St. Cuthbert's teachings - a stern, homely interpretation of the faith the Voll tribe had learned from the Flan in the Vale of Luna - are well-remembered, faithfully written down in tracts and chapbooks throughout the central Flanaess. It is St. Cuthbert's version of the Vollite faith that has become the most popular religion among the commoners of Verbobonc, Greyhawk, Dyvers, the Wild Coast, and Urnst states, and he is the chief reason for the power and status of the Canon of Mitrik in the hearts of thousands of faithful. St. Cuthbert never sought to deny the other gods, and his followers commonly revere many like-minded deities as their version of the mythical Twelve, even including shrines to them in St. Cuthbert's temples. Rao in particular, thought be some to have been St. Cuthbert's specific patron, is greatly honored by Cuthbertines.

In the eastern Flanaess, where the Aerdi founded their Great Kingdom, religion has always been much more hierarchical and statist. When Prince Mikar of Rel Astra conquered the Medegian Bladelands, the resulting Kingdom of Aerdy was decreed the fulfillment of Johydee's prophecy and Medegia was declared the Holy See where all true doctrine would be set. Subsequent Holy Censors of Medegia redefined the true doctrine that all churches of the Great Kingdom would be required to believe: in 1 CY, the Holy Censor Paulianus identified Pholtus as the Seer of Johydee's prophecies, who first identified Creation in the midst of the Blinding Light. While many deities were tolerated in the Great Church, those clerics who did not conform to the doctrine as it was established in Medegia were stamped out as heretics by imperial troops. Partisans of other deities compensated by inventing other divine titles other than Seer, each as important in their own way: Divine Prince, Divine Magus, Divine Warlord, Divine Knight, Divine Bard, Divine Censor. The pantheon of the Twelve, and associated lesser deities who acted as servants of the Twelve, was envisioned as a celestial template of the Overking's own court with its own squabbles and intrigues much as the court in Rauxes had, much like the struggles the temples of the individual deities had for power and recognition within the empire's shared faith.

The greatest holy book in the early Medegian Great Church was known, not modestly, as the Tome of the True Gods. Written by the corpulent priest Embrosius, this work collected four different books, first among them the Prophecies of Johydee. The second book in the Codex was the ancient Oeridian Song of the Primordials, which told of the war between the gods of Order and the gods of Chaos at the beginning of time. This work was not alluded to in the Prophecies of Johydee and likely represented a separate tradition, though Embrosius did his best to reconcile the two.

The third book in the Tome was the Book of Creation. This is the oldest and most sacred text of the Ahlissan Flan, a hauntingly enigmatic series of images that appears in every divine Manual of Golems to this day. Embrosius, very daringly for his era, works this as well into what is otherwise primarily a work based on Oeridian scriptures. He does not do the same for other Ahlissan Flan holy texts, however.

The last part of the Tome of True Gods was Embrosius's masterwork, The Theogony. This was a geneology of the gods, tracing the origins of gods and primordials back to primal Chaos and the deified personifications of abstract concepts. There is only a single pantheon in Embrosius's vision, with twelve greater gods ruling all the others. The gods of other races were decreed to be mere aspects of the gods of the Aerdi, which simplified the myth tremendously.

The first significant schism in this faith occurred in 252 CY, when Toran II removed the ancient priesthood of Pholtus from the office of Holy Censor and granted the office to the priesthood of Zilchus instead. Immediately the new Holy Censor declared Zilchus, the Divine Prince, to be the Divine Overking, the ruler of all the gods just as the Overking in Rauxes was the ruler of all humanity. Many of Pholtus's faithful, not willing to take the reduction of the status of Divine Seer lying down, migrated north to the shadow of the Rakers, where without priests of other deities clamoring for attention their beliefs grew more and more Pholtus-centric, denouncing all other deities as blind idiots unworthy of worship.

Embrosius's Tome of the True Gods fell victim to this religious upheaval. The original version gave too much credit to Pholtus and not enough to Zilchus for the new Holy Censor's taste, while for the tastes of the new Pholtans of the Pale the Tome was far too polytheistic, with too much credit given to gods that were not Pholtus and not enough credit to Pholtus as the only god that mattered. While most subsequent holy books owed something of a debt to Embrosius's Tome, the Theogony chapter was revised heavily by both groups and decreed a new, superior revelation.

In 356 CY the second and most significant division of the Great Church occurred when Nyrond seceded from the Great Kingdom, taking with it the clerical fief of Almor. While ruled by clerics, Almor had long languished in the shadow of Medegia, but with the establishment of Nyrond as an independent kingdom it suddenly saw the opportunity to become a major force for religious doctrine in its own right. Pelor was identified as the Divine Prelate of the Twelve, and Heironeous as the Divine King. The editor of the new Almorian Book of True Gods, which was named simply The Pantheon to avoid confusion with false Medegian texts, was a prelate named Anda, and she is perhaps one of the most influential theologians of the modern era.

Anda, a stout, gregarious woman, consulted many works that weren't known to Embrosius or his successors, visiting the priests of the elves, dwarves, halflings, and gnomes in order to create a work with far less syncretism than the original. Anda's work portrays the gods as belonging to many different families corresponding to the pantheons of various human and nonhuman peoples, all descended from the goddess Beory, who personifies the Oerth. Beory is one of twelve original divine beings, the others personifying Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Life, Death, Good, Evil, Law, Chaos, the Astral, and the Ethereal. Anda strove to remain as faithful as possible to the scriptures of nonhuman peoples, and it is from this work that such myths as the battle between Corellon Larethian and Gruumsh entered human lore (Embrosius had made it a battle between Hextor and Erythnul, thereby distorting it considerably). The pantheons described in this Second Amorian Codex include the elven, dwarven, halfling, gnomish, Baklunish, Oerid, Flan, Suel, orc, goblin, and giant. Deities of the underdark races were apparently not known to Anda, and the only draconic deities mentioned are Bahamut and Tiamat. The Touv and Olman pantheons are also not mentioned. While this work has been widely circulated and is used by priests of many different faiths, it is not without its critics, and it has not become universally adopted in the central Flanaess or the Sheldomar, where religion is much more fluid than in the stultified Great Kingdom. Anda's respect for the myths described here were such that high elves and hill dwarves are mostly satisfied with the treatment of their faiths here, although more isolated demihuman peoples often reject its implication that the gods of other races are equally important.

Other upheavals in Medegia include Ivid I removing the priesthood of Zilchus from the Holy Censorship in 450 CY, replacing them with the clerics of the Divine Warlord, Hextor, subsequently decreeing that Hextor was the true Divine Overking and that Zilchus was merely the Divine Merchant Lord. This was reversed again in 587 CY, when Xavener removed authority from the See of Medegia entirely and vested it in Kalstrand.

The other notable religious thread is that of the Baklunish. Prior to the Invoked Devastation, the Baklunish people revered countless gods, demons, celestials, elementals, saints, and idols, with the priesthood of Xan Yae the most powerful just prior to the Devastation. In the wake of the Devastation, the priest Al'Akbar rose as a great healer and missionary, eventually becoming the first ruler of the theocracy of Ekbir, designating those who came after him as caliphs, or successors, in the djinni style. Al'Akbar radically simplified the Baklunish pantheon in his great work, the Tubrat, recognizing only Al'Asran (Pelor), Al-Zarad (Boccob), Istus, Xan Yae, Geshtai, and a few others as true gods and decrying the worship of elementals, idols, and "lesser spirits." In centuries to come, Mouqol and Zuoken would be recognized by Caliphs of Ekbir as gods worthy of worship, as would Al'Akbar himself. The Exalted Faith of Al'Akbar was never able to entirely stamp out the worship of the elemental rulers, though it remains frowned upon. It should be noted that "Exalted Faith of Al'Akbar" is a misnomer; Al'Akbar was always seen as a prophet of the gods, but not himself the greatest of gods, and priests in Ekbir and elsewhere have always revered the "Exalted Gods" identified by Al'Akbar as the highest beings who are most worthy of worship.

The nomadic Paynim tribes and their descendants, the Wolf and Tiger nomads, have a much less formal approach to religion, revering a mix of elemental lords, ancestral spirits, and deities, although many of the Paynims treat the Tubrat as their most sacred text.

In 219 CY, the Exalted Faith was ripped in two when the Cup and Talisman of Al'Akbar was stolen. The Exalted Faith, over the centuries, had become much more lax and permissive, incorporating into its traditions elemental cults frowned upon in the Tubrat, but the Grand Mufti who founded the rival True Faith in the Yatils declared these anathema, accepting only Mouqol, Zuoken, and (with reluctance), Daoud as acceptable additions to Al'Akbar's original canon.

So it is that the religions of the Flanaess can be divided into several broad traditions, each descended from recognizable holy texts shared by adherents of many deities. Most people in the Flanaess worship many different gods, as the situation merits it, according to the rites and traditions prescribed in their holy books of choice, and the great state-controlled churches recognize multiple acceptable deities even if the high priest of each church primarily worships one.

Behind all these texts is one legendary tome: the Book of Exalted Deeds, which has appeared and disappeared miraculously after imparting its wisdom to countless holy men and women for thousands of years. Al'Akbar, Embrosius, Anda, and Johydee herself were all believed to have read its contents before being inspired to write their own works. A crippled elven mystic (some say this was the hero Lafarallinn, whose hands were cripped by Corellon Larethian himself) composed the original of this work in the form of a song honoring the heroes of the wars against the demon-summoning troglodytes who ruled much of the Flanaess before the coming of the elves. The singer used richly metaphorical language to describe not just the deeds of those heroes, but to describe the nature of good in as insightful a manner as has ever been done. After he completed the song, he was invited into the presence of the Court of Stars in Arvandor, and it said that Lady Morwel wept to hear it. The ursinal lady Bharrai, who had attended the ceremony, begged Lafarallinn's permission to record the insights in the form of a book. When permission was granted, Bharrai made three copies, one of which she gave to Raziel, one of the seven ruling archons of the Seven Heavens, who made seven copies of his own. Since then, the book has been under the care of the gods, appearing in seemingly random places throughout the world only to vanish after it is read. The book spent centuries trapped beneath Castle Greyhawk, teleporting from room to room as it was discovered, striving to escape. It is known to have been under the care of the archmage Philidor the Blue for a time, though since Philidor's disappearance it could be anywhere.

Heretical Texts:

Drawmij's Codex of Alien Gods:

Idiosyncratic and bizarre, the archmage Drawmij completed two editions of this obscure work with the help of books he claimed to have found in libraries beneath the ruined castles of Greyhawk and Maure. Drawmij's Codex, which he originally titled simply Gods, Demigods, & Heroes, postulates many different, parallel worlds, each with their own pantheons of gods sharing the same Outer Planes. Most of those familiar with the work consider the notion both dizzying and sacriligious.

The Book of Vile Darkness:

Originally appeared as a single scroll written by some nameless mystic in the time before the sea drowned the Sinking Isle. On the mainland, a copy of the scroll made its way to the mages who created the Causeway of Fiends and the Cauldron of Night. Eventually it fell into the hands of the corrupt druids who worshiped the bone god Nerull and the bards who served them, moving across the Flanaess to the city of Fleeth, where the priesthood of Vecna added to the scroll. Vecna himself recovered the scrolls later in life, binding them into a book and adding his own hard-won insights into the nature of darkness and evil. After Vecna's apparent destruction at the hands of his servant Kas, his servants spirited away his body to a small temple near what is now the village of Nulb, where the invading Graeki tribe of Erythnul-worshiping Oeridians invaded it and seized it for their own. When the Graeki destroyed themselves in a civil war after the death of their king, Carashast, the last surviving Graeki priest stole it from his master, stabbing him in the back and escaping with it into the Wild Coast. From there, it passed through many different hands before ending up in the personal library of the archdevil Baalzebul, who made further additions. This copy was stolen by Iggwilv and Zagig Yragerne, who kept it in Zagig's library in Castle Greyhawk for many years before Iggwilv absconded with it, along with the Tome of Zyx, incorporating some of its priestly spells and insights into her Demonomicon. When Iggwilv lost her powers after her battle with Graz'zt it remained in the hands of her son Iuz, who lent it to the cult he and the demoness Zuggtmoy were starting in the temple outside Nulb. When Iuz was imprisoned, the book remained until after the Temple's fall, after which it is believed to have been looted by the rogue knight Sir Robilar of Greyhawk, who traded it to his associate Rary of Ket. Rary is believed to still have it.

There are at least five other complete copies of the Book of Vile Darkness, one of which exists in Castle Greyhawk, where its cover is indistinguishable from that of a number of similar dweomered tomes entrapped there by Zagig Yragerne, including a Book of Exalted Deeds, a Libram of Ineffable Damnation, and a Tome of Silver Magic. The Castle Greyhawk copy was used by the apprentices of the Ring of Five until their defeat by Vayne, after which it became lost again somewhere in the dungeons. Zagig owned at least one flawed copy as well, which is said to transport the reader directly into one of the Lower Planes.

Another copy of the Book of Vile Darkness is believed to be in the library of Ivid V of Aerdy, and one in the hands of the Horned Society in Molag before that land's defeat (after which it might have been looted by one of Iuz's Greater Boneheart). Still another has come into the hands of the priestesses of Lolth in Erelhei-Cinlu, and the last among the Slave Lords of the Pomarj until the fall of Suderham in 580 CY, after which Stalman Klim spirited it away, trading it to the cambion Rule-of-Three in the City of Doors during his sojourn abroad. Some of these may be incomplete copies.

Finally, there's an alternate version of the Book of Vile Darkness written in the Sinking Isle itself prior to its great deluge. This copy has strange tales of a primordial deity known as Atropus, a race of prehuman sorcerers known as the Vasharan and the secrets of the Elder Elves, and it also has all the attributes of a Libram of Ineffable Damnation. It ended up in the hands of the House of Rax after Aedorich unearthed it from the Isle, and the wizard Jaran Krimeah, the Black One, secreted it off with him just before that house's fall. The Black One is said to have added his own insights to it, including much lore of the Plane of Shadow as well as lore drawn from the Tome of the Black Heart while that book was in his possession. Currently it's thought to be in the hands of the First Protector of the Vale of the Mage, the drow Tysiln San.

The Book of Inverted Darkness:

Thought to have been scribed in whole or in part by the baernaloth Tarsikus ibn Meth'kultesh, the Book of Inverted Darkness is older than worlds. It is a deeply disturbing yet seductive book, its cover the color of midnight and its pages red vellum, obviously crudely cut from some older scroll. It fell into the hands of Vecna in his mortal days, and if he was not utterly corrupt before, he was after reading this tome. The book is openly contemptuous of the gods, crediting the creation of the outer planes and their major races to older entities, among them the baernaloths, who were single-handedly responsible for creating the demons, devils, yugoloths, and demodands, as well as the Lower Planes themselves. The book contains dark rituals involving something called the Three Words, a history of the lower planes, and more. Vecna included insights he gleaned from this tome in his copy of the Book of Vile Darkness, which served as his workbook. Even Vecna was unable to mark the Book of Inverted Darkness, which actively resisted any attempt to mark or damage it. It is said that Vecna's library tower was once white as bone before the Book of Inverted Darkness came to rest in it; the corruptive magic of the book was such that the tower itself grew black and twisted as the lich's soul.

For the most part, mortals in the present day will only have access to excerpts from the Book of Inverted Darkness. The only one known is Pihnmid's Translation, a book of fragments copied by the scholar Pihnmid millennia ago, who had briefly studied the tome in the tower of Jabel Shammar and managed to escape. The Translation is currently housed in the Great Library of Sigil.

This article comes from Canonfire!

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