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17 August 2011 @ 06:15 am
Fictional Facts of the Phoenix Empire Part two - Religion  
As promised, here's the next part, detailing the Imperial Church and their priests. As usual, please don't hesitate to ask if anything is missing or unclear. 


Fictional Facts of the Phoenix Empire Part two - Religion


Basics

The Phoenix Empire has followed ‘the church’ for so many years that its original name has gone lost in the mists of time.
Almost all humans follow the ‘imperial church’, and while it is neither inherently xenophobic nor human-centric, most alien races have kept their own religions. This text will deal with the imperial church, as the alien religions are obscure to most humans and in many cases provide the basics for fascinating encounters (and their stories).


Beliefs

The basic beliefs of the church are not directly related to any of the monotheistic religions of today, but they share most basic commandments and ceremonies, suggesting that the modern imperial church is a simplified amalgam of several pre-dark-ages religions.

Previous to the Second Succession War (SW II), the self-image and bearing of the imperial church could have been compared to our medieval catholic Christian church, including the corruption and political power. It was a monotheistic, missionary church selling absolution for money and obedience, promising a return to God’s grace and everlasting life after death.

With the emergence of Temple Aroona and the Purge of the Verata during SW II, the church went through a fundamental change in appearance and self-understanding. Today’s church is much less overtly political and less missionary. And while by no means silent, they have firmly placed themselves as helpers and caretakers into the public’s mind, making the church less powerful but much more influential in the long run.

An important difference to our religions today is that the priests of the imperial church are able to work miracles if their belief is strong enough. Long time scoffed at as a manifestation of inherently mundane psychic powers, those miracles of late have come under new scrutiny. Rumours increase of sightings of alien gods, appearing in person and taking part in the lives of mortals, all of them well aware of the human god and not amused at all about his existence.


Political relevance

Church relevance varies wildly from planet to planet. On the low end, there is atheist / capitalist Guild Central, where the church is tolerated as long as they pay. On the other hand, there are planets under Jehanni control like Kismet that feel more like a theocracy.

As Nobility avoids any involvement of others in their affairs like the devil avoids holy water, there is a clear separation of church and state, though. Only complication to this rule are fiefs directly owned by the church, wherein the church is considered the ruling noble house. Best know church fief is Earth, the sacred birthplace of humanity, a park-like, pristine recreation of an unspoilt planet under firm church control with almost no noble presence.

While religious fanaticism is not uncommon in individual members of the imperial church, the broad public can be considered ‘benevolently inactive’ towards their church.

In sum, the direct political relevance of the church is relatively small due to its small number of fiefs, and can be compared to that of a minor house. But as many priests are dearly beloved by the general population, nobles all over the Empire are very, very careful to stay on the church’s good side.


Structure

Since the Second Succession War, the church is divided into three branches, commonly known as ‘the heart, the fist and the mind of the church’. Those are Temple Aroona (the heart), Temple Belligra (the fist) and Temple Verata (the mind).
No branch holds any true claim to leadership, though it is worth mentioning that while the Aroona make up most of the low-level-priests, the council of Archbishops as highest authority under the patriarch is made up of all branches in equal parts.

As the three branches differ immensely in their perceived duties and the way they try to fulfil them, I will run through the branches one by one.

Heart of the Church - Temple Aroona

The Aroona are the youngest of the branches of the church, and yet they already are the most numerous. Most people will only meet Aroona priests in their lifetime, and their plain blue robes are a welcome sight almost everywhere.

The Aroona are the healers and caretakers of the church, and are well known for their practicality and sensibility. They are also notoriously meddlesome and irritatingly frank about romantic and physical love, something that has made them a little less than welcome on the more prudish worlds.

Even though the tanned, handsome village priest healing sick cows and broken hearts is the most common cliché, Aroona clerics also work as highly specialized surgeons, military support troops or masters of supernatural rituals.

Miracles worked by an Aroona priest tend to revolve around the energy of life and emotions, and are as subtle and practical as the priests working them. Also, Aroona priests tend to seek physical, pleasurable contact to those they heal, leading to rumours of orgies and worse in their temples.

Common rumours
 Founded by a former member of House Dracon, the Aroona are demonists working in disguise.
 The rituals (some say orgies) of the Temple create tremendous amounts of supernatural energy, which the Aroona sell to the Psions' Guild like fuel or drugs, thus controlling the guild.
 The Aroona possess the secret of youth eternal, and they use their knowledge to blackmail the Empire's elite to do their bidding.

Known Practitioners
Archbishop Rasputin of Serin - the legendary and notorious founder of the Aroona, son of a deeply respected Dracon family of Serin. Close childhood friend of Emperor Gregorius, Lady Lilith and Archbishop Stephanus of Terra, he is rumored to have discovered the miraculous rituals of the Aroona by subverting demonic lore to his own, hedonistic goals.
Sister Candice of Terra - Disconcertingly pretty and disarmingly charming, the young priestess is known all across the Empire for her appearance in 'I believe in Miracles', a church-sponsored TV show that scouts the Empire for evidence of miracles. Often assumed to be a carefully managed and staged affair, the church adamantly insists that the show is just Sister Candice and her guardian travelling the Empire, and that she simply is that adorable.  


Fist of the Church - Temple Belligra

The oldest still existing branch, the fearless warriors of Temple Belligra are the second most numerous branch of the imperial church. Their white knights in heavy armour are, if not exactly beloved, deeply respected, and tales of their battles against demons, rogue psychics and murderous aliens are the subject of many boys' dreams.

The Belligra are the military arm of the imperial church, charged with protecting the faithful and fighting enemies of the faith. They are famous for their fierce and fearless attitude, and cautiously kept at a distance for the very same.

Due to their rather military internal structure, the Belligra appear relatively uniform to outsiders. During the course of their education, though, each Brother will usually specialize either as Sword (offensive tactics), Shield (defensive) or Patch (technical support and pioneering).

Miracles of Temple Belligra tend to be direct and awe-inspiring, whether they conjure shields to protect their flock or fire from heaven to smite their enemies.

Common rumours:
 The Belligra are not contend with fighting demons, they are using heretic rituals to attack demonic realms pre-emptively.
 Some demons have learned how to bribe the Belligra, thus gaining the right of existence in our universe.

Known Practitioners
Father Kornelius of Malicorn, the living Saint - Having played a pivotal role in both breaking the Siege of Far 'Gesh and repelling the demon hordes that attacked Aylian, the surprisingly compact and short-tempered, strawberry-blonde warrior is one of the most beloved public figures of the Empire. A sly tactician both on and off the battlefield, he has known to make stupendous monetary benefits from his name (in forms of donations, merchandise and the numerous frachised dojos that bear his name), all the while managing to retain an image as pubility-shy, taciturn man of the sword. 
His monastery on Malicorn is famous for earnestly testing everyone for noviceship who knocks at its gates, including psychics and aliens even long before SW II. 
Brother Richard - A Malicorne native, Brother Richard is best known all across the Empire for his work on 'I believe in Miracles', where he appears as the Belligra guardian of Sister Candice. Invariably wearing his heavy ceramsteel suit of armor, he barely speaks and has never revealed his face on the air. Nonetheless, he is considered the epitome of cool by many young citizens of the Empire, his popularity adding noticeably to the numbers of newly accepted novices each year.


Mind of the Church - Temple Verata

The Verata only make up the smallest fraction of the imperial church, and among the general population their red robes still evoke fearful memories of their time as rabid Inquisition.

But since the Purge of the Verata during SW II, they have steadily gained renown within the church as reliable, immaculately fair and just arbiters and seekers of truth. As such, they have played an invisible but significant role in restructuring the church, changing its public perception from necessary evil to cherished friends and supporters.

The Verata rarely appear outside the church, but if they do, they are usually on a quest for truth, working as lawyers, investigators or forensic mages. And even though most people will never voluntarily talk to one of the red-robed priests, many professionals actually are happy to see one of them meddling, as their adamant honesty and impartiality is slowly becoming known and respected outside the church.

If the Verata work miracles as well remains an open question. If they do, those miracles are subtle and hard to notice.

Common rumours:
 It is impossible to lie to a Verata priest. All of them know rituals that enable them to tell between a truth, a lie and every gray shade in between. Just don't bother when you're in the unlucky situation to be questioned by one of them.
 The purge of the Verata actually was a hostile takeover by a Youh'Kai deity. More and more Priest openly show ritual scars these days, similar to the bone ridges of Youh'Kai, proof of their terrible heresy.
 The sudden moderation of the Verata is nothing but a ruse - they quietly gather intelligence on all of us, to one day start the one witch-hunt to end them all.

Known Practitioners
Abbot Nicodemus, the Iron Broom - Abbot of the only cloister on Guild Central, the tall and pale-haired Verata is little known outside the church. Within the church, though, he is notoriously outspoken and was one of the most prominent voices during the Purge of the Verata. His open hostility towards Patriarch Hesemedes is legendary. 
Father Theran - Little is known about the past of Father Theran, only that he has extensive battle experience from his years before his retirement on Malicorne. Today, he assists the Duchess' loval security forces on Malicorn as medic and forensics expert. His age and reluctance to leave Malicorn have led to the rumours that he was part of Saint Kornelius' original troops, but so far no one has ever found any conclusive proof. 
Hierarchy

Though the lines of hierarchy in the imperial church vary enormously from place to place, the basic structure is the same all over them Empire. Each parish is run by a priest, who answers to the Father (or Mother) Superior who in turn report to their local bishop.

Usually, the highest church member on a planet with a small population will be a bishop. Most planets, though, have several bishops overseen by an archbishop, with the council of archbishops electing the patriarch.

Parallel to this geographic hierarchy runs the structure of the individual branches of the church. Those come with different titles and usually are organized by rank, education and age.
Up until SW II those two overlapping hierarchies made for a perfect chaos, but since the purge of the Verata, matters of precedence are sorted out surprisingly swiftly.

 
 
 
aneiaikoukaaneiaikouka on August 18th, 2011 03:09 am (UTC)
A lovely clear post. Interesting to see the similarities and differences from our history – and the careful vagueness about the exact tenants of the faith. I have a few questions and points of clarification, some of which you may want to avoid answering too thoroughly for fear of giving things away that you're going to use later, or that you want to remain uncertain. Feel free to tell me to remain curious.

On Religious Miracles

You seem to imply that miracles are based on the belief of the priest and that people debate whether they are psychic phenomena but not whether they exist. Do miracles occur outside the priesthood or not? And if so, are they treated the same way that reports of miracles are today or are people to whom miracles have occurred likely to be scouted by the priesthood?

On Church Politics

You mention that the church is moving away from a sort of medieval Catholic politics. How much authority does the patriarch have? Is he just a figurehead, as the queen is officially the head of the Anglican church, or does he have real theological power? Is the church used by nobles as a career for younger sons as it was in medieval Europe or is it one of those institutions that proves that commoners (and slaves? What is church policy on slavery?) can rise to positions of power? (Not much power, necessarily, but still a much better bargaining place than average for that class.)

Also, you've mentioned a lot of changes made since the SWII. Are these due to the emperor's interference, a powerful patriarch, or a general sea-change brought on by a clear-sighted view of what the church is doing to it's own reputation? And are there “police” within the church to hold their members to a level of honor? From what you've said, the Verata serve this purpose to some extent, but the stories of their past beg the question of who watches the watchers.

Demons

What are demons? Do you mean the (possibly metaphysical possibly symbolic) demons of the Christian church, or is demon actually the name given to a different race? Are the Youh'Kai classified as demons by the church? I know that it's been mentioned that Thomar's alliance with them is linked to his dukedom being the (or a new) portal to the demon world – mixing information in comments with those in the main story – but it wasn't quite clear whether the Youh'Kai are demons or whether they're fighting demons.

Also, I love that you used the name Kismet. I always enjoyed studying ancient Egypt, and the reference is wonderful.

(A few notes on grammar – because I'm picky about stuff like that. Tell me if I'm being too pedantic.
You talk about “As Nobility shies any involvement” and say “the devil shies” later in the same sentence. This is not quite correct – mostly because of the way that the English idiom has evolved. “To shy” is a verb form originally referring to the way the horses will rear slightly and overreact to an object that frightens them. Shying does not necessarily involve a movement away, however, although it implies a desire to do so, and so when you use the word “shy” meaning to avoid a specific object, you need to specify that the startled reaction includes a movement away. So, idiomatically, the phrase you used should be “As Nobilitiy shies away from any involvement” or “the devil shies away from” which becomes a little cumbersome. The easiest way to write this would be to simply replace the word “shies” with “avoids,” but since “to avoid” is a much stronger phrase than “to shy away from” I am not certain which one you intend to use.
The section on the fist of the Church should begin: “The oldest.”
In your last line”swift” - should be “swiftly.” The last word is an adverb, describing the verb, and thus is modified to end with “ly.”)
osirisbrackhausosirisbrackhaus on August 18th, 2011 07:19 am (UTC)
Once again, thank you for taking the time reading and commenting on all the stuff we write. Can't stress enough how appreciated this is.

- Miracles -
Miracles almost always happen with involvement of ordained priests. Rumours of miracles outside the church are sought out and tested by the Verata. There actually is a rather popular TV show named 'I believe in Miracles' about a young Aroona priestess gathering evidence to present to her Verata 'judge', much like one of our casting shows today.
So far, only a handful of 'outsider miracles' have been accepted as such by the church, and none by the TV show.

- Church Politics -
The Partriarch has significant theological power, in theory at last. As the church these days accepts novices only on grounds of their faith and not out of political motivation, he is not able to change canon on his own, though. The current church, by its own volition, is moving away from a political body to a spiritual one, with all the hiccups and complications such a transition entails.

- Upheavals of SW II -
The massive changes of the church during and in the wake of SW II are based on a confluence of several important events.
A diasporan Verata monastery on Guild Central suddenly 'saw the light' and their specific beliefs and rituals spread through the Verata like wildfire, more literally then figuratively, actually.
Also, the Aroona were founded only a few years prior to the beginning of SW II, but their non-political and practical approach made them wildly popular throughout the Empire almost instantly.
In combination with many other things I can't tell here, the 'old church' rapidly lost its powerbase, and the 'new church' absorbed the whole structure within one generation. Only Patriarch Hesemedes and some very few of the archbishops remain of the 'old guard' these days.

- Demons -
Difficult to answer this one simply, as there are many things I can't tell without giving future stories away. But I'll try.
First, the Youh'Kai are not demons. The old church called them heretics and demon-worshippers, but they are just another race of this universe.
Demons are, for lack of better words, 'extra-dimensional entities of entropic alignment', that is, not a part of our universe per se. Unfortunately, they come in shades of gray, and this is where it gets complicated, reaching way back into the creation myth of this universe and way out of the reach of this post. So, in short, there are demons as in 'christian church', and then there are demons that have 'evolved', some of them to a point that they can be considered 'neighboring races'.
The demon Empire that tried to invade Aylian can be considered 'another alien race', though that is a crippling simplification.

- Grammar -
Actually, I am really happy for your help. I get a little blind when it comes to texts I have written myself. And as I said, English is not my first language, so I gladly take any help I can get. Errors should be fixed by now.

Also, in case you prefer to write this via mail (instead through the sometimes slightly cumbersome LJ UI) you can reach me at osirisbrackhaus (at) aol (dot) com. If cou prefer the LJ comment function, you're just as welcome.
osirisbrackhausosirisbrackhaus on August 18th, 2011 07:28 am (UTC)
On second though, it would probably be nicer for all the other readers if our discussions remained in the comments.
So, your choice, but I think I'd prefer you to continue commenting.
aneiaikoukaaneiaikouka on August 18th, 2011 10:39 pm (UTC)
On Miracles

I love the idea of a gameshow on spotting real miracles, And the church probably approves (very, very quietly), since it spreads the idea that they really do make sure that the "miracles" which they accept are real.

On Politics

The Patriarch is one of the Old Guard. Interesting. Is it a position for life, then, and how much is he struggling with the new ideas of the church? I don't want to ask too much about the church canon because - well - between controversy with real-life religion and the absolutely huge amount of information you need to actually form the basis of a believable religion, it's probably not the best thing to go into. On the other hand, I do wonder whether the actual tenants of the church changed? (Like the manner in which the buying and selling of pardons is now generally accepted as being against the tenants of the church, but it used to be sanctioned by the pope, or the backlash against iconography. I don't think that your outline lends itself to the kind of major split that led in our world to the creation of the different branches of the Christian church which seems to have provided your basis for the political structure.) Or is it simply a revival and a general clearing out of bad habits?

On Demons

I was rather wondering how much you could tell us. Interesting that they can be both corporeal and non-corporeal - must make determining who's what rather difficult sometimes. It would also make it really easy for the priests to abuse their power if it's possible to claim that humans or other races are demons or are demon-possessed (see our witch-hunts or crusades, for instance.) Can you tell us whether the Temple Belligra (and when you say The Temple I assume you're not only referring to one temple as in one physical building but to at the least a small town dedicated to training the devotees of each temple) has ever turned on the citizens of the empire as have the Verata in the Inquisition? Having an army at his beck and call could have been very useful for political patriarchs in the past.

I agree that commenting is probably the best form - I know that I like reading through the comments myself and wouldn't want to deprive anyone else, since I often find your responses just as compelling as your original posts and the world at least as interesting as the stories it contains.
osirisbrackhausosirisbrackhaus on August 19th, 2011 07:40 am (UTC)
On Miracles

The church is officially sponsoring the show. And yes, you are once again perfectly right about the motives behind it. Also, it gives them a platform to show people who do NOT believe in miracles (those who gleefully watch the show to see Mother Candice's 'evidence' being shredded by the Verata) to show very mundane reasons for adhering to the faith - happy people, a real, reliable community, and no hard-to-believe obscure 'miracles'.
There'll be a story about the show at one point in time, so I can't say more other than that it's one of my favourite settings in this universe.

On Politics

The patriarch is elected for life, and the current patriarch already wonders if he maybe has lived long enough. He's a tiny, old, shriveled man, bitter with seeing his 'empire' crumble under his hands. It is only a matter of time until we see a change of guard at that post as well.
The ideas the church believes in have hardly changed, only the manners and perceived duties of the priests. It is a re-orientation towards the actual beliefs that made them throw out many bad habits and those who couldn't let go of them.

On Demons

Yes, the classification of demons is a tricky business. There is a lot of confusion, insecurity, fraud and whatnot based on this, and the church is working overtime to sort things out.

The temple in 'Temple Belligra' and the others does not refer to any physical place. It was the origin of the name, but by now has come to signify the metaphysical place of worship that the branches represent as an organisation.

Of course the Belligra have been used by political patriarchs in the past, but that is also grossly simplified. While the Belligra make up one of the most powerful armies of the Empire, they are also the one hardest to control. Armies of highly empowered, highly pious men and women tend to develop their own ideas of what's wrong or right if pressed in the wrong direction.
So, the Belligra as a whole are the classic powerful weapon everyone prefers not to use.
aneiaikoukaaneiaikouka on August 19th, 2011 03:22 pm (UTC)
I can't wait to see your story about the gameshow - it sounds great.

Are the three Temples centralized still in terms of training and accepting candidates or do village priests pick up likely-looking people? In other words, how does the novitiate work? I know that Leesha was attached to the temple by his parents at one point, which implies that people can ask to be a part of it, and that the church accepts temporary devotees, so there has to be some sort of structure in place - probably a very old one.
osirisbrackhausosirisbrackhaus on August 19th, 2011 03:55 pm (UTC)
No, the temples are almost completely separate organisations, especially in recruiting.

Officially, any senior priest is allowed to take novices, though this rarely happens. Usually, applicants will go to a cloister or large church run by the branch they hope to join. But there are also 'scouts' of all three branches touring the Empire, and those are the ones a local village priest will tip off to some potential talent in town.

Leesha's stay was an exception as he is the nephew of the bishop he studied with. All noble youths are expected to do an 'annum nobilis', a year apart from their family living in another noble's household, to gain new allies and insights; and Leesha decided to spend it on Earth with the Aroona. But there's a story coming up about his time there, that'll explain a lot more things.
BerthaBlueberthablue on August 18th, 2011 05:02 am (UTC)
Seconding the request for more info on demons - this world has such wonderful intricacies! Thank you!
osirisbrackhausosirisbrackhaus on August 18th, 2011 07:21 am (UTC)
Thanks for your curiosity, but as I already said in my reply above, there's only very little I can tell right now without being modsmacked by my lovely wife for giving out spoilers.

But I promise we'll have several stories detailing more on that background, so it's only a matter of time.
BerthaBlueberthablue on August 21st, 2011 04:31 pm (UTC)
Must avoid the wife-modsmack! :D I totally get the slow reveal... but I am greedy!

Can't wait for more!