Mitra The Shinning Lord
There is no greater god more worshiped in Talingarde than the divine Mitra. In fact, to someone born in Talingarde it might seem that there is only one god. Mitra’s worship is so dominant, so pervasive, that rivals are hardly noted.
No god is more present in the lives of average Talireans and yet Mitra remains mysterious. His statues (and the deity is always described as a ‘he’) have no face. In his holy book “Mitra” is revealed to not be his true name. Mitra simply means “friend”. To know his true name is to be part of Mitra and no living mortal can accomplish this.
Further, Mitra is not one deity. One of the central tenets of the Mitran faith is that while Mitra is one, he is also three. These three aspects have individual names and natures. They are Mitra the Shining Lord, Mitra the Beneficent Sun and Mitra the Fire Undying. Different priests and sects emphasize different facets of Mitra and thus it can seem they are worshiping very different gods.
The Shining Lord is a god of kings and conquerors. This is the god of righteous might and great civilizations. He is a patron of the strong and the lordly. The Shining Lords bids that those with power use it for the greater good. He is lord of paladins and heroes, true enough, but he is also the patron of scholars and sages.
He urges all to seek a greater purpose and to find within this world the truth. Together we can make a better world and if we will but keep the faith, then one day all will be light. When portrayed in stone the Shining Lord is often portrayed a great king wielding a sword, wearing a crown and resplendent in the finery of kings.
The Beneficent Sun is more passive. Yes, we should help those in need. But it is more important to be at peace and to find within ourselves the light. The sun shines on both the wicked and the worthy. Its blessings extend to all. This aspect is much less anthropomorphic. In fact, it would be easy to say that this aspect is not human at all.
Instead this is the aspect of peace, healing and abundance. Mitra made all life and with his warming light he sustains it. Everything that happen, weal or woe, is his will. Be at peace with this truth even in dark times. The Sun may set but it will rise again. When portrayed in stone, this is the god of healers often clad in a robe with arms outstretched.
The Fire Undying is not so patient as the gentle sun. This is the inquisitor’s god – the god of the pyre and the witch hunter. The Fire Undying seeks out evil and burns it from this world. The Fire cares nothing for civilization or serenity unless they aid in this unyielding cause. The fire of war has been lit. It was not Mitra who started it. This war for the souls of all mortals was started in the pits of hell. But now the war cannot be ignored and it is a struggle that the Fire must win. When you extend mercy to evil, you are only allowing it fester. The Fire will burn the rot out and from the ashes, we will at last have peace.
These three aspects may seem at odds with each other, but the true theologian of Mitra sees their hidden unity. Behind them all is a great benevolence and a will to see the mortal races improve and ennoble themselves. The three aspects have different methods – but they all have the same goal. They would see the free peoples of the world turn their backs on evil and embrace nobility and goodness. Behind all three here is the light of Mitra.
Overwhelmingly most priests follow the Shining Lord or the Beneficent Sun. Less than one in fifty hears the call of the Fire Undying.
Mitran priests are allowed to marry and in fact about half do so. These priest-wives hold an honored place in the Church and often become temple care-takers. Many of the more monastic orders of the church either require celibacy or strongly encourage it. This has less to do with the teachings of Mitra and much more to do with the practical matters of living in a monastery.
Mitran priests are not required to be male. In fact some of the most famous orders of the Church (for example the Abbey of Saint Cynthia-Celeste) are entirely female. Still the majority of priests in the hierarchy of the Church are male and this shows no signs of changing. This again has far more to with Talirean culture than any requirements of Mitra himself. The teachings of Mitra are completely gender equitable. Neither man nor woman is called superior to other. Both must seek the light of the blessed Mitra.
There is a difference between being a member of the Church of Mitra and being a priest of Mitra. Though the overlap between these two groups is almost total, there are occassionally exceptions. The Church of Mitra includes the seven levels of service (detailed below) and all the associated minor orders (for example the Order of St. Macarius fits here). These individuals have all taken an oath not just to Mitra but also to serve the Church and its High Cardinal.
A priest of Mitra is simply anyone who chooses to worship Mitra and in particular anyone who Mitra chooses to grant the ability to use divine magic. Every once in a while someone will manifest the ability to use divine magic who has never taken the oath to the church and who has never perhaps even worn a priest’s robe.
These are rarities to be sure. The relationship between these “freelance” priests and the Church has always been a strained one. The Church would prefer that as soon as such a priest is revealed that he take the oath and join the Church hierarchy. However, sometime the priest refuses and goes his own way. These rogue priests often become adventurers or wandering servants of Mitra. Their very existence is infuriating to the Church. They cannot deny that Mitra has chosen these individuals, they just don’t understand why they can’t join with their brothers and support the Church.
Ceremonies and Practices
There is no standard canon of Mitran worship and so the exact nature of that worship varies from temple to temple. However certain things are shared more or less everywhere that Mitra is revered.
Mitra is worshipped at the start of every week on the appropriately named Sunday. At first light on Sunday all the ordained devotees of Mitra are ready and robed and bow as the sun arises over the horizon. The intone the Blessing of the Light giving thanks that the light of Mitra has returned to bless another week.
This is followed by a purification ritual of washing in fresh water (preferably conjured by divine magic) that makes the priests ready to conduct the weekly service later in the day. The Sunday service is primarily social. Followers gather and discuss the business of the week before beginning the more formal portions of the ceremony.
The Priest calls the followers to order with a prayer. After that, this is where the ceremonies really vary. In some places, the lay people then light a candle or a representative lights a candle. Sometimes there’s singing. The specifics really matter very little. All that matters is that the gatherings are done with an open heart and with genuine devotion.
However the service is not over until a priest prays to Mitra, lights a candle and then as the candle burns delivers a short lesson on how to live in accordance with the will of Mitra. The tradition is that the sermon cannot continue longer than it takes the small traditional wax candles to burn (which is about thirty minutes). Every follower of Mitra has heard the joke about the priest and his wicked congregation that begins with him hauling in a candle the size of a tree trunk.
With the lesson done, the congregation is dismissed and the priest makes himself available for personal discussions or private moments of advice. Often this is a priest’s major role in the community. In small farming communities the priest may be the most educated and respected person in town. The priest may serve as the marriage counselor, legal advisor, and town psychiatrist. They can answer questions about law, read documents (illiteracy is the rule amongst Talingarde’s peasants) and generally advise the townsfolk in any matter that may be troubling them.
Mitra has no formal ritual of confession and yet that is what many priests end up doing after the worship services.
Besides the weekly ceremonies there are other days of great importance to Mitra. The Summer Solstice -- the longest day of the year is the most important Mitran holiday. A week of festivals and religious celebrations lead up to the day of the Solstice itself. At the dawn of the longest day of the year a special communion occurs. The high point of the communion is ritual Calling Forth Light.
Every congregation of Mitra tries to have a divine spellcaster in attendance who can cast a light spell. Failing that, a minor magical light is used (usually a specially prepared sunrod). More influential Churches might even have someone cast daylight. The great Cathedral in Matharyn has the spell sunbeam cast seven times by seven different priests. The super-intense beams are focused upon a great crystalline sunburst of Mitra that breaks the beams into a dazzling cascade of angelic light.
After the communion, later that day, is the Feast of Abundance where everyone enjoys the gifts of the sun in one great meal. Anything can be served in these feasts but a Feast of Abundance is deemed poor indeed if you can’t afford one of the traditional angel cakes. An angel cake is a hearty confection sweetened with honey filled with fruits and nuts and then soaked in brandy. After the brandy has had enough time for the alcohol to evaporate, whats left behind is a sweet, dense dark cake enjoyed by everyone. There are some monastic orders who specialize in preparing these angel cakes and sell them during the festivals before the Solistice and use the money to help the poor of Talingarde.
The other day of almost equal importance is the Winter Solstice. Upon this day candles are lit and prayers are made that in the darkest depths of winter, still eventually the sun will return. It is a much more solemn occassion but still no less observed. And after the service, there is another feast. The Winter’s Feast is a racuous fair where gifts are exchanged, food is eaten and often a great deal of wine and ale is consumed.
Special “warming” wines are prepared by steeping herbs and fruit in wine and sweetening it with honey. The Church of Mitra usually takes a dim view of drunkeness but upon this one day a year it is almost encouraged. After all one of the most important parts of the Winter’s Feasts is all the toasting and well wishing for the sun to return and for there to be a prosperous new year.
Many saints also have important festivals but these are usually more local. No other holidays are celebrated as universally as the two solstices. After all, first and foremost Mitra is a sun god. What days should be more revered than the longest and the shortest days?
Heirarchy of the Church
The church of Mitra in Talingarde adheres to a fairly rigid hierarchy. This hierarchy is little understood or cared about outside of the church and very few nonpriests can name all seven tiers of the hierarchy.
The Seven Tiers The First Tier – The Novices
Before a priest can be a priest, he must first become a novice. To join the ranks of the novices an applicant must find a full priest (third tier and above) and receive their sponsorship. Applying for sponsorship can be an intricate process in the most influential temples or it can simply mean showing up and helping the priest clean up (as is often the case in the more rural temples).
Priests vary on what they require to sponsor a novice. The larger temples usually require some sort of education and understanding of basic Mitran theology. In the rural areas it is usually enough to simply show an eagerness to serve the priest and a genuine devotion to Mitra. Novices can be of any age but typically they join somewhere between twelve and fifteen years of age and remain novices till they are eighteen or nineteen.
Novices have no formal title, though they are often called “little brothers” or “little sisters” as more a title of affection.
The Second Tier – The Initiates
After a Novice has satisfied a priest (rank three) and met with his approval, they may petition a High Priest (rank four) to be initiated into the Order. Most High Priests perform this initiation only once or twice a year on certian high holy days. And it is almost unheard of for an initiate to be accepted without a sponsoring priest. Special exceptions may be made if, for example, their sponsor died.
The Initiate now takes the Church Oath. The Oath is long and formal but the gist of it is this: I live to serve the divine Mitra and his Church. They are my first loyalty and I will never betray them. I will serve them forever and may Mitra smite me if I forsake this oath.
The oath is often traditionally recited in Celestial and some older more traditional high priests still require this. Note that reciting this oath does not require speaking Celestial. You can simply memorize the words and in fact many initiates do not fully understand exactly what they swore. As soon as the oath is taken the novice is transformed into an initiate and from then is entitled to be called a “Brother” or “Sister” of the church.
Initiates are assigned all the menial tasks that the church requires. They often learn a useful trade. It is not uncommon for many initiates to also be skilled carpenters, painters, masons, scribes, brewers or herbalists. All that they do is to for the good of the church.
Though there is no formal difference between peasants and noble initiates codified in the law of the Church, in reality there very much is. The noble initiates are often on the fast track to become high priests and bishops. The peasant initiates may serve for years before they are even given the chance to become priests.
The Third Tier – The Priests
After an initiate has served at least two years (and sometims considerably more), he comes before a bishop (rank five) and presents himself for testing. The bishop asks as many questions of the Initiate as the bishop deems necessary and the initiate must answer them fully and faithfully. Exactly what the bishops ask is at the bishop’s discretion. Some ask questions of theology. Others inquire about the initiate’s past and loyalties. Other might ask if the initiate wants some tea.
Whatever the questioning entails, if the bishop is satisified with the initiate’s honesty, integrity and committment to the Church, then the priest is ordained. The ritual of ordainment requires no further oaths and is in fact a magical ritual. The priest is blessed and touched directly by the hand of Mitra. Exactly what this means is a very personal sensation and few priests will ever speak of it. What is certain is that experience changes many men. Many novices enter into the priesthood of Mitra merely eager for a place to stay and a way to live. By the time they are priests, they are almost certainly faithful adherents of the worship of the divine Mitra.
Once ordained a priest is then and forever a full member of the Church of Mitra. They now have the title “father”.
Priests are the work horses of the Order. The tend the temples, manage the day to day affairs, recruit and manage the novices, assign the initiates to tasks and generally make the Church function. In the smallest temples (particularly rural temples) a single priest may be the sole and highest ranking member of the clergy present.
Priests can preside over marriages, births and funerals. They can give blessings in the name of Mitra and even have some special legal priviledge in Talingarde. For example, a sheriff may hold a normal citizen on suspicion of a crime. A priest of Mitra can only be held if the Sheriff brings formal charges.
The Fourth Tier – The High Priests
Each Cardinal from time to time selects priests (usually the most senior and veteran of the priests) who must lead the ceremonies and generally manage all the doings in the temples. If the Church of Mitra is an army, then the High Priests are its sergeants. Most priests will never rise higher than this rank and this is the highest rank most peasants have a reasonable chance of achieving.
High Priests have all the same responsibilities and priviledges as normal priests and are still addressed as “father”. The only really visible difference is that while priests usually wear a blue robe, high priests wear a blue robe with a white sash. The difference is subtle enough that many followers of Mitra may not even be sure who the temple’s high priest actually is.
In many smaller temples, the high priest is the most veteran member of the clergy present.
In some of the more rural communities there is a tradition of high priests being armed. They often carry ceremonial longswords and have titles like “Guardian of the Church” or “Sergeant of the Church”. Whether these armed priests no how to use their blade is another matter entirely.
The Fifth Tier – The Bishops
The gulf between the High Priests and the Bishops is wide. Almost all bishops are of noble blood and they are addressed as “Blessed Father”. Bishops are men of power in Talingarde and often sit upon the councils of the local lord. Many of them have personal guards and private retinues. They often live in a palace. They are wealthy, influential members of the community at the least.
Bishops are the assistants of the cardinal and his direct underlings. They control the larger and more prominent temples and see to the management of the lesser temples (which are assigned to high priests).
The Cardinals assign each Bishop to manage a region or town and is is there responsibility to see its spiritual needs are well met. This level of the priesthood is almost completely unconcerned with conducting the rituals and ceremony of the church. Instead, these are managers, keeping the affairs of the church in good working order.
They have another important function. It the responsibility of the Bishop to collect the Tithe. Every lord of Talingarde, by order of the king, is required to pay ten percent of his income to the Church of Mitra. This tithe is often a lot of money and it is the bishop’s responsibility to collect and manage these funds.
The Sixth Tier – The Seven Cardinals
The High Cardinal (the seventh tier) may elevate a bishop to serve as a cardinal. There are only seven Cardinals in Talingarde: The Cardinal of Ghastenhall, Daveryn, the Wilds (includes all of the Caer Bryr), Havelyn (effectively the northern Heartlands), Vaasten (the southern Heartlands) and Estyllis (effectively the borderlands). Between these seven regions and the High Cardinal in Matharyn, the entire isle of Talingarde south of the Watch Wall is divided up.
These powerful princes of the Church oversee all church business in their area and their orders can only be countermanded by the High Cardinal himself. In Talingarde almost all Cardinals are of noble blood and usually come from prominent families of great renown.
To be a cardinal of the Church of Mitra in Talingarde is to be one of the most influential men in the kingdom. Only the greatest of lords and military commanders can rival them. When a cardinal issues an order it is a serious matter.
Cardinal are always addressed as “Your Eminence”.
The Seventh Tier – The High Cardinal, Most Holy
The High Cardinal is selected by the election of the seven cardinals. The seven cardinals can technically elevate anyone to this post who is a devout follower of Mitra, but they always choose one of their own number. The appointment is for a lifetime and there has never been a case of a High Cardinal being removed from office prematurely. If such a thing needed to be done there is no real mechanism for it.
The High Cardinal lives the life of a king and in many ways a king is exactly what he is. Only one man in Talingarde wields more power than the High Cardinal and that is the King himself. Fortunately the House of Darius and the Church of Mitra are close allies. If they were to squabble it is uncertain which would command greater respect from the people, the aristrocracy and the military of the kingdom.
The High Cardinal dresses in a robe of pure white silk that can upon command glow with the light of the sun. He doubtless wields countless other magical treasures. He is always addressed as “Most Holy”.
The High Cardinal commands a sizeable personal guard and has the complete loyalty of the Knights of the Alerion should he require other military forces. He has the entire wealth of the Church at his disposal.
There can only be one High Cardinal of the Church of Mitra in Talingarde and currently that is Vitalian of Estyllis. He resides in Matharyn in the almost unimaginably opulent Palace of the Sun and presides over a Church of Mitra that has never been more politically powerful or more widespread across Talingarde.
Vitalian is an older man of noble blood and is a distant cousin of the Duke of Daveryn. In fact, he was cardinal of Daveryn before his elevation. He is one of King Markadian’s most trusted advisors and therefore wields immense power within the kingdom of Talingarde.
Priests and Politics
The Church of Mitra touts itself as a non-political organization that does not care to meddle in matters of kings and countries. This is quite frankly a blatant lie. The Church o f Mitra is an immensely political organization deeply involved in the politics of its day.
The Church of Mitra has three objectives which inevitably entangle in political matters:
1) Keep House Darius on the Throne of Talingarde
2) Keep Foreign Gods out of Talingarde
3) Limit the Influence of Scholars and Wizards
The first goal is not particularly controversial. The overwhelming majority of the people and aristrocracy of Talingarde support King Markadian V. There is no serious movement to dethrone him.
But the second goal puts them in direct conflict with both merchants and the Duke of Ghastenhall. Merchants want open trade with anyone who cares to visit this island. Open trade means foreign influences and where foreigners congregate, the inevitably bring their heathen faiths.
The Church is realistic that it cannot ban outside trade but it has petitioned for a rule that foreign ships can only dock at Matharyn. Docking at the capitol would mean that the Church could keep a close eye on foreign visitors and in its orthodox stronghold the chance of any outside gods gaining much purchase is basically nothing. This ban is vehemently opposed by Duke Hadrian. The duke has grown rich taxing foreign ships eager to do business with this rich but isolated island. So far the duke has managed to keep this ban from gaining any serious traction but the Church is patient. It has not given up.
The third goal also has earned the Church no small number of enemies. The City of Ghastenhall is a center of learning and the scholars chafe under the ever growing number of outside books that are banned because they contain some tiny amount of content the Church considers dangerous. The Great Library of Ghaster could be one of the great repositories of learning in the world if only the Church of Mitra would lift its bans.
In this matter the Church currently has the upper hand. The King has no patience for heretics and any scholar who steps outside of Church orthodoxy could find himself meeting with an inquisitor in less than pleasant circumstances. It is not illegal in Talingarde to believe in other gods besides Mitra. It is however illegal to blaspheme against Mitra. Blasphemy is a very vague law and exactly what it means can depend on how greatly someone has offended the Church. Every year or two, a scholar steps over the line and earns himself a trip to the pyre. Every time it occurs the hatred between scholars and priests only deepens.
Wizards too chafe under Mitran rule. Mitran priests willfully spread distrust of arcane magic amongst the people. There are whole hosts of avenues of magical study that are forbidden to pursue under the edicts of the church. Knowing even a little necromancy or how to summon a fiendish creature can earn you being purged with flame.
Time and time again the Church has shown it has no tolerance for arcane casters who question their authority. This means that there is a very powerful group of largely good aligned wizards who would love to see the Church disappear. How this will effect Church power remains to be seen.