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Religion in Onderland


Order and Chaos 

The Ondermen recongize two principle forces of existence: Order and Chaos. These forces create, sustain, alter, and otherwise impel the Middle World (see The Three Worlds).  They are coeval and evenly matched.  These powers have been imagined in different ways by different peoples, but their essence is undeniable.

During the Elder Days, the Fey-folk subscribed to a belief in the balanced dualism between Order and Chaos. However, by the end of that time, many Elder-folk had developed a preference for Chaos and had been led down a dark path thereby.  The Wisse, in reaction, threw themselves behind the Lords of Order.  After their victory and dominion, the Wissen faith in Law was justified and formalized as a pillar of the Old Kingdom.  This institution still survives, albeit in a much lesser form, as the Holy Hexadic Church.


The Hexadic Church

The Hexadic Church is usually just referred to as the Church, but is more properly called "the Holy Church of the Six-Fold Archons of Law".  It is dedicated to the six greater Lords of Order who are believed to have direct charge of the world and it's symbol is a six-armed sunburst.  The Hexadic Church is not a state-religion in the modern sense, as no state has the power to enforce such a thing.  However, the Church is seen as one of the foundations of Ondish society.  Anyone who professes an alternate religion will be veiwed most negatively and failure to respect the Church, its offices, and persons, is a crime.  Moreover, anyone who publicly venerates the Lords of Disorder in any way is automatically considered a "wolf's-head", that is, an outlaw. The Ondermen do not tolerate demon-worship and "freedom of religion" is a concept many centuries away.

Despite their reverence for the Hexarchs, Ondermen do not deny the existence of other gods.  Indeed, they recognize a whole slew of godlings, demi-gods, and spirits, from both the Over- and Underworlds.  The Six-fold Archons, however, are considered the supreme divinities and the only deserving of Ondish worship.   Outright worship of other Overworld entities is considered eccentric and embarrassing at best.

Priests of the Church are referred to as "Father".  Their duties are to perform the divine offices, giving proper worship to the Hexarchs; instructing others in the proper ways; and keeping the forces of Disorder from their communities.  Although there are many devout folk in Onderland, there are others who see the priests as essentially technicans of the divine -granting blessings and rebukes as required - and no different from any other artisan.

[In game terms, any priest may duplicate the effects of the Bless and Protection from Evil spells by performing the sacred liturgy in a sanctified space such as a church.  This cannot usually be done on adventure in a dungeon.]

There is no formal education system in Onderland, although pedagogy is a duty of the clergy; certainly nothing like a seminary.  Propsective priests are apprenticed to full priests as in any other profession and ordained by their master when they have proved their readiness (invoking the blessing of the gods).  It should be noted that there is no tradition of clerical celibacy in the Hexadic Church; although certain zealots fear the temptations of Chaos, such as succubi, in sexual desire, such persons are most generally regarded as extremists and cranks.  Hexadic priests are expected to marry and support families like anyone else and their sons are expected to be apprenticed to them.

Because their office requires at least minimal literacy, priest are the most likely Ondermen to learn magic.  The practice of magic is not considered wrong as such, however, the stench of the Wisse still clings to sorcery in many folk's minds. Nevertheless, there is nothing heretical or criminal about the practice of magic.



 

The Hexarchs

According to Hexadric Doctrine, the Six-fold Archons are more akin to natural forces than people, each having governance over certain aspects of the Middle World. However, most common folk ignore this teaching and beleive the Hexarchs to be much like ultra-powerful people, with distinct personalities, quirks, emotions, etc.

The Hexarchs are:
  • Geatar, whose domain includes Leadership, Governance, Lords, 
  • Diu, the Supreme Warrior, whose domain includes warfare, bravery, 
  • Wielent, the Divine Smith, whose domain includes crafting of all kinds and perfection. 
  • Huldra, often called "Mother Huldra".  She is the Mistress of the Crossroads and oversees magic and mysteries.  She also governs the Moon and is especially devoted to women.  She is frequently invoked during childbirth and naming. 
  • Ingvin, the Lords of Flowers, whose domain includes the fertile Earth and who succors those who fight to defend their lands (as opposed to the aggressive warfare of Diu) 
  • Neorth, whose domain includes commerce and its attendant elements such as coinage, horses, rivers (frequently called "water-horses" by the equestrian Ondermen).

The Cult of the Holy Men

The Hexarchs are not the only benevolent powers in Hexadic practice.  Certain men are beloved by the Archons for inscrutable reasons (although devotion is the usual explanation).  These Holy Men are granted some small share of archontic power in life and afterwards.   Relics of Holy Men are prized as retaining measures of their benevolent influence.  The are typically referred to in Wisse terms and thus are generally called "Saint" from the Wisse sanctus ("holy").


Some Saints

One of the most popular saints in Onderland during the Age of Lords was Saint Getorix.  Getorix was a general in the Old Kingdom, who refused to bow down to the Lords of Disorder and persevered in his Hexadic faith even after the Kings fell into sin.  He maintained his position for a time due to his outstanding martial prowess, continually driving off hordes of Wild Men.  Eventually, the King plotted to have Getorix murdered.  There is a rich tradition of "the Trials of Getorix" in which the King hatches plot after plot to kill the faithful general, only to have his victim foil the plan each and every time through increasingly miraculous occurrences.   At last, however, the King sends an entire legion after his opponent, a legion led by Getorix's faithless lieutenant.  Despite inflicting great losses, Getorix is eventually killed and his corpse brought before the wicked King.  But as the King gloats, the corpse of the general rises and strangles the monarch with its bare hands.  It is asserted that the holy corpse was secreted away by faithful soldiers and his relics preserved to this day.

As can be seen, Ondish hagiography often reads more like romance than sober religious reflection.   The two were not seen as incompatible by the Ondermen.  However, not all saints embodied the warrior-tradition of the Ondermen.  Saint Marcinus, for example, was a man of humble origin who wandered Onderland helping the farmers when crops failed and livestock took ill.  Saints Desidera and Euphania, two sisters, were princesses who were killed while still children as part of some palace intrigue; their cult is focused upon caring for the sick and destitute, particularly children.

Such humble saints were the exception, though.  More exemplary might be Saint Onorius, a nobleman of the Old Kingdom.  He was an active participant in court-life, an advisor to Kings during the days when the Hexadic faith was new.  He was also a scholar who wrote many of the important early Hexadic texts; he is particularly famed for his elegant yet emotional prayers to the various Archons.


Veneration versus Worship

The proper behavior of the living toward the Holy Men has been a continually vexing issue in Hexadic doctrine.  Saints are not divine and are not to be worshipped.  They are, in essence, heroic exemplars of religiosity and are to be venerated and emulated.   The line between worship and veneration, however, can get fairly narrow in practice.  During the end of the Old Kingdom, the Cult of Holy Men had become exceptionally popular among those who had not abandoned the powers of Law for the worship of demons.  The Ondermen who put the remnants of the Wissen polity to the sword saw little difference between demon-worship and the worship of humans, no matter how holy they had been in life.  Thus, practice among the Ondermen has tended to down-play the Cult.


Demons 

Demon is the usual Ondish name for the Lords of Disorder and their minions.  The Wisse eventually worshipped them as gods and, in the Elder Days, the Fey thought of them as impersonal forces equal and opposite to the forces of Order.  Have the powers changed to meet the expectations of mortals?  Who knows?


The Arch-Demons

Although there are countless beings of Chaos, the Hexadic Church traditionally counts six, great Arch-Demons as the counter-parts to the Hexarchs.  The names of these Arch-Demons, sometimes called "the Princes of Chaos,” come from the Wisse-penned Book of the Majestic Sapphire, a mystical text.  The names are therefore not Ondish (which probably adds to their uncanniness).

The Arch-Demons are:

  • Aaman, the Destroyer, master of violence and battle. 
  • Astorath, the Imprisoner, master of oppression and bondage. 
  • Baal, the Fury, master of storms, floods, droughts, and natural disaster. 
  • Moloche, the Whisperer, master of arcane secrets, alien sorceries, and things men were not meant to know. 
  • Nergal, the Torturer, master of cruelty, pain, and the slow death. 
  • Shax, the Deceiver, master of illusions, lies, and dreams. 

Although this is the most common version of the hierarchs of Entropy, it is not universally accepted.  Some scholars suggest that this is too great a simplification and that Chaos would never be bound to six, immortal lords. Certain texts indicate a vast series of Chaos Lords, ranging from princes to dukes to counts, in a bewildering array. Others have suggested that these may all be simply manifestations of the great Arch-Demons who, being of Chaos, can appear howsoever they will.

All of the above speculation is a little interest to the average Onderman.  There are demons, great and small, that seek to inflict chaos on the Middle World and its inhabitants and tempt Man into service after death.  That's really all that matters.


The Twelve Lost Kings

The following tale exists of various versions throughout Onderland in the Age of Lords. The number of Lost Kings and their identities vary; sometimes the details of their fate does as well. The following the is the most common variant.

After the disappearance of the Last King, many great lords sought to claim the Iron Crown.  As is well‐known, none have ever succeeded.  Twelve [sometimes nine; sometimes seven] mighty nobles have come very close over the centuries.  Each suddenly achieved great power; many demonstrating heretofore unknown sorcerous might.  Each stood on the verge of the kingship, but, at the last moment, each disappeared.

The source of their sudden power was the Pale Rider.  Each of the lords had made a bargain with the Rider for a throne in exchange for their service.  But the Rider is a clever bargainer; he granted them great powers, enough to approach the over‐lordship, but dragged them down to the Underworld before they could do so.  There, he made them Kings in Shadow; undying, with terrible powers, but all slaves to the Pale Rider.

Commoners view this tale as explanatory for the chaos of the age, as well as a pointed commentary upon the follies of the mighty.  Many clergy use it as a cautionary tale about the dangers of pride and ambition, as well as dealings with the powers of Chaos. Some nobles believe that the Iron Crown of the Old Kingdom is cursed and that any who lay claim to it will become Lost; others, however, see themselves as more clever than the Lost Kings and believe that they could avoid the traps of the Rider and become King of Onderland with his unwitting help.

The Pale Rider is, incidentally, a figure of some uncertainty.  He is implied to be a powerful Lord of Chaos and many scholars have suggested that "the Pale Rider" was an old title for Moloche the Whisperer, who promises much but whose gifts are always tainted.  However, on other tales (which may be of a later vintage) he is described as the chief lieutenant of the Archdemon Shax the Deceiver.

The original identities of the Twelve are forgotten, although some claim them to be the forefathers of whatever lord is currently hated.  Their earthly identities, however, are believed to have vanished into the shadows and they are now known only by their titles. The most frequently named of the Lost is the Horned King, who is pictured as a large man with a skull for a head and great antlers branching out atop it. He is frequently associated with the Wild Hunt.  Other Lost Kings include the Sword King, the Crimson King, the Witch King, and the Beast King.



After Death

Death is ever-present in Onderland and few take their lives for granted. On the other hand, death is expected and is a part of life, making Ondermen seem somewhat fatalistic.

The early Ondish conception of the after-death was bleak (as with much else of Ondish thought).  What remained after death was a mere shadow of what had been there in life and thus usual term was for a ghost was a “shade”.   This shade would wander the world for some period of time; held there, in some fashion, by the memories of the living.  Once the deceased was forgotten, his shade would wander out beyond the world into what the poet's call "the Black Mere" and disappear.

This gloomy vision explains the early Ondish appreciation, even obsession, with glory.  Since all men will die, the only thing a man can do is try to die as famous as possible, to be remembered as long as he can and thus forestall his extinction into the Black Mere.  The greatest of heroes will be remembered forever in song and story and thus (it is believed) that their shades will always be near.

This pagan notion was elaborated upon once the Ondermen accepted the Hexadic faith by adding a role for both the Under- and Overworlds and introducing the startling notion that the best hope was to remain a gloomy spectre.  The Black Mere was reinterpreted as a description of the Underworld and so the idea became that the natural course of death was for a person's shade to descend into the Underworld, there to pass an indeterminate period as a play-thing of the demons, perhaps occasionally bubbling up into the Middle World again as the Unquiet Dead, until his ghost finally fades away.  However, if a person has been devoted to the Church (even minimally) he is expected to be lifted up into the Overworld upon death, there to serve proudly at the sides of the Hexarchs in the Hall of Valour.  The usual formulation is that one is "under the grace of the Hexarchs" and this grace is seen as spiritual shield which protects one from the grasping of the Underworld.

As with the personae of the Archons, scholars contend that the Hall of Valour is to be understood as a poetic description of a spiritual state, but the vast majority of Ondermen beleive it to be a literal place in which the faithful will pass eternity as the beloved of the Hexarchs.


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