As with any other cultural tradition or custom on Aeva, religions exist in such variety that it is impossible to discuss them all. Here, we will discuss only the major belief systems that exist on Aeva, particularly those which are followed by the people of the Saelmarian Empire.
Faith on Aeva
Unlike other places in the omniverse, Aeva’s gods do not take an overt role in the lives of their worshippers. In general, Aevan deities are basically neutrally aligned, more akin to forces of nature than to actual personae. These gods rely on their clerics to spread the word of their teachings. By granting spells to their most devout followers and prophets, members of the Aevan pantheon ensure that they are not forgotten by mortals. However, because these deities do not usually manifest as avatars and because they rarely speak directly to their followers, the gods usually seem aloof—even indifferent to the perils of their followers.
In reality, the gods of Aeva are very interested in the choices their followers make. Long ago, for reasons unknown to any church, the gods decided to let the mortal world set its own course. While they would continue aiding their followers with divine favor, the gods would no longer manifest as avatars or otherwise directly interfere with the lives of mortals. No god has set foot on the world of Aeva for thousands of years.
As a result of this “divine non-interference” policy, mortals developed their own philosophies. Some eventually abandoned worship of the gods altogether. The majority, however, simply continued to follow in the traditions of their ancestors. The continued favor of the gods was evidenced by the spellcasting ability of their clerics. But even traditions change, over time. Without the actual voice of a god dictating which actions could or could not be taken, religious factions soon arose based on interpretations of scripture. The ability to cast divine spells became the measure of a cleric’s virtue—the belief being that the god would not grant divine favor to one who was not true to his faith. In the end, the cleric of the local church became the mouth of heaven to be obeyed. In return, the community earned the benefits of divine favor.
The Holy Triad
The Holy Triad is a divine organization that grew out of the Sankta Allianco, an alliance of three separate faiths—Khemed, Ashvi, and Tavril. Over eight hundred years ago, the clerics of these three deities gathered together out of mutual respect and understanding and forged an alliance to battle a common foe—the Chaos Flood. After the inhabitants of Acheron flooded through a great interplanar rift, the clerics of these three faiths worked together to battle otherworldly monsters and their minions wherever they made themselves known. While many of the outsiders worked alone, sowing chaos and destruction in small communities, others waged great battles that devastated the countryside.
In the cases where whole kingdoms were at risk, the Holy Triad worked to gather the forces of the disparate kingdoms of Saelmaria under one banner. Using the power of their gods, they eventually stopped the Chaos Flood and restored order to Saelmaria. The Holy Triad had created a massive union for the common good. By the time the immediate danger of the Chaos Flood was over, the three faiths had already become a major part of Saelmarian life. The high priests of the Triad had become heroes for their leadership and faith and would eventually be named the first Saints of the Holy Triad. Over time, that popularity would provide the Triad with political power and eventually would lead to the creation of the Holy Saelmarian Empire.
Today, Triadism, the religion that worships the Holy Triad, is the only sanctioned religion in Saelmaria. Worship of other gods is considered dangerous and can be considered grounds for imprisonment. If there are other, complicating factors, the Imperial Court may decide that such worship is treasonous and put the “infidel” to death.
Gods of the Holy Triad
"So much of our history is lost to us. We have wiped clean the slates that once held valuable knowledge. It is the duty of the faithful to reclaim that which we have so foolishly thrown away." -- Germann ven Tabliss, Heretic Priest of Khemed
Despite his common name as the Teacher, Khemed is a god of knowledge and learning, not necessarily a god of teaching. He does not necessarily say what one must do with the knowledge one obtains. Instead, he supports the accumulation of knowledge. What his followers do with that knowledge is entirely up to them. So long as information is truthful and it supports a stable community, it is acceptable to pass that information along to others. Some knowledge need not be passed on, particularly if that knowledge could be deemed harmful.
In the Holy Triad, Khemed’s role is that of “keeper of traditions” and the transmission of dogma. Clerics of Khemed are typically the ones who give sermons on holy days. They are responsible for organizing religious schools and ensuring that all citizens of the Saelmarian Empire are duly indoctrinated in the ways of the Triad and the importance of the Holy Alliance. Khemedians are the keepers of Imperial history and never let the people of the world forget that the Holy Triad defeated the forces of the Chaos Flood and are still keeping the world safe by guarding the now-sealed Chaos Rift.
Khemedian clerics are also the premier healers of the Holy Triad. With their focus on the storage of knowledge, they are the keepers of medical tradition and practice. This has enabled them to add the domain of healing to their repertoire, and gained them a primary place among the people of Saelmaria.
Ashvi is the god of trade and travel. He is the Guide who leads wanderers home and tradesmen to safe harbor. Ashvi supports the rule of law in business relations, recognizing that strength and resourcefulness are reasons to become powerful, but not sufficient to allow for unfair practices. However, Ashvi is also a god of trade in all forms. There are aspects of Ashvi’s portfolio that allow for things like black market trade, since fair trade does not necessarily mean the sale of such products is allowed by the local government. These aspects are, of course, frowned upon by the Empire.
Holy Triad clerics of Ashvi typically serve as regulators of trade and trade law and guides and navigators for caravans and ships. Some Ashvian clerics also study the weather in an effort to predict the best times for ships to sail and for caravans to set out overland. Their knowledge of the stars has also been expanded into astronomy, which provides them with knowledge of seasons and the passage of time. Some of Ashvi’s clerics also use the stars to interpret omens and signs, and ways to improve the fortune of a journey or business venture. These clerics are often frowned upon in the hierarchy, but they are not explicitly discouraged by the Church.
If Khemed is the divine scholar and Ashvi is the divine trader, then Tavril is the divine warrior. Tavril is the god of guardians and protection, particularly the military aspects of those functions. Tavrilian clerics function as the military strategists and divine warriors of the Empire. More paladins come from the ranks of Tavril’s followers than from the other two gods.
Tavril is a god of strict, draconian justice. Laws are meant to be obeyed and it is through the enforcement of those laws that the safety of the people can best be assured. A strong offense is often the best defense, so Tavrilian clerics and paladins are usually at the front lines in any major conflict.
As a guard and protector, it is Tavril’s job to maintain the Divine Barrier which closes off Aeva from the rest of the omniverse. Similarly, his clerics are responsible for providing both mundane and magical protection. Tavrilians are the keepers of wards in addition to their duties as soldiers and guards.
The Holy Niverian Church
As the religious organization that represents the Holy Triad faith, the Holy Saelmarian Church is recognized as the sole authority for interpreting the teachings of the Triad’s teachings, collectively known as Triadism. Triadism teaches its followers three main principles, from which all other principles are derived. These principles are:
Triadic clerics teach their followers that when they die, their souls are absorbed into the deities they worship. Triadics have come to believe that the chaotic or animalistic nature of the lesser spirits will lead to suffering of the soul that is absorbed into them. Only the Holy Triad offers the opportunity to be a part of the eternal peace and prosperity that their gods represent. Those souls who have returned from the dead and report that the realms of the lesser spirits are not as bad as the Triadics claim are said to be either mistaken or, more often, tools of their dark gods, meant to draw faithful Triadics from the true path of salvation.
While the Three Saints are venerated as legendary heroes and clerics obviously channel divine energy in casting spells, Triadism is surprisingly not a prophetic or messianic faith. While other religions refer to ancient prophets as being mystically linked to, or even incarnations of, their deities, Triadics believe that it is only through their clerics’ strict adherence to the laws of faith that they are able to speak for the Holy Triad. A Triadic cleric’s relationship with his god is codified and ritualized, providing a clear and logical reason for his divine connection. In contrast, the clerics of many elemental cults claim that the spirits speak directly through them and that their spells are evidence of the spirit’s essence within them. Triadics scoff at this possibility, claiming that the clerics of the lesser spirits are often mislead by their vanity and desire for mystical power. Not surprisingly, this is the same type of argument that ancient church leaders used against wizards and sorcerers who claimed that their magic was not inherently dangerous to civilization.
Triadism is a hierarchical religion that places profound importance on strict laws and rules. It teaches the importance of the Greatest Good, that which is best for the most people, rather than the satisfaction of an individual’s or small group’s base desires. If a Holy edict represses individual freedoms of expression or movement in order to improve the orderliness of trade, then it is assumed that the improvement of trade is better for the people as a whole than their ability to cause trouble by moving around too much or voicing dangerous opinions. Of course, the importance of knowledge is that it directs the faithful in the proper ways of thinking—both in method and content—so such edicts will not be necessary. Law and order are necessary to allow everyone to pursue their lives without harming the lives of others.
Because Triadism is a religion that focuses on the community as a whole—the majority of its teachings describe how its followers should behave, both individually and in the context of social relations. Triadics believe that the Seven Deadly Sins of sloth, pride, wrath, envy, greed, lust, and gluttony are the tools evil uses to break down society. Since Triadic clerics alone are capable of speaking directly to the gods, it is important to confess all sins to the clerics in order to receive absolution. By confessing sins to, and doing the penance prescribed by, the clerics supplicants can cleanse themselves of sin and attempt to do better next time.
The Lesser Spirits
The Holy Triad regards all other deities as lesser beings. The fact that they are not as widely worshipped (and that their worship is not as centralized) has affected the power of the other Aevan deities, reducing their influence, if not their fervor. The Lesser Spirit faiths are basically pagan religions that venerate a certain aspect of the physical world. While there are numerous cults that worship aspects of mortal behavior (like war, peace, good, evil, etc.), most of these belief systems revolve around a spirit or being who has an interest in a particular element or aspect of nature. Most common are cults to the elemental spirits, and those of who worship the spirit of Aeva, herself—particularly her aspects of fertility or the harvest. The favored weapon for a Lesser Spirit cult depends on the choices of the cult’s founder.
Fire Spirit (Lesser Deity)
Domains: Chaos, Fire, Destruction, Hatred
Earth Spirit (Lesser Deity)
Domains: Earth, Law, Cavern, Protection
Metal Spirit (Lesser Deity)
Domains: Law, Metal, Craft, Strength
Water Spirit (Lesser Deity)
Domains: Healing, Water, Knowledge, Fear
Wood Spirit (Lesser Deity)
Domains: Craft, Chaos, Plant, Creation Prestige
Domains: Strength, Destruction, War, Chaos
Domains: Protection, Healing
Domains: Death, Destruction, Fate
Domains: Healing, Protection, Renewal
Aeva (Intermediate Goddess)
Domains: Air, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, Plant, Protection, Healing, Sun
These are only the most common spiritual cults. There are countless others for every aspect of the world. It is even possible that there is more than one deity for a particular aspect of nature, meaning that the suggested domains above are not the only ones available to a person who venerates a listed spirit.
Air spirits are not venerated in Saelmaria, because Aevan cosmology does not recognize air as an element. In Saelmaria, Air is seen as the fundamental breath or energy of life. As such, the Air domain is referred to as the Breath domain. Similarly, those who venerate the spirits of life (even some who venerate those of death) will learn to cast spells from the Breath domain.
The Hidden Ones
Aeva is also home to a number of “hidden gods”, deities whose existence is known to only the few members of their cults and the secret forces who work against them. These are the cults whose practices are the subject of whispered rumor among the uneducated populous and whose machinations are bent toward the fulfillment of orders from unknown beings. Some of the hidden ones are actually beings who were never driven from Aeva during the wars of the Chaos flood and who have since gathered a small following of mortals, elevating themselves to demigod-hood. Others are ancient gods of Aeva whose influence in the world is almost forgotten. Still other gods are newborn deities who are anxious to increase their power in the world of mortals.
The Shadow King (Intermediate God)
The Shadow King
Portfolio: Revenge, Shadows, Illusions, Deceit, Hidden Knowledge
Domains: Death, Evil, Illusion, Magic, Shadow, Domination Prestige, Madness Prestige
Cerebrus (Lesser God)
God of Psionics
Portfolio: Psionics, Psionicists, Development of Mental Powers
Domains: Knowledge, Divination, Mentalism, Mind Prestige
Outsiders: Celestials and Fiends
The Chaos Flood had profound effects on Saelmarian society. Most importantly, it led to the formation of the Saelmarian Church (which in turn led to the Faiths Wars, the Dragon War, the Elf and Dragon War, and the overall formation of the Holy Saelmarian Empire) as has been discussed. However, the Chaos Flood also introduced numerous outsiders (of both good and evil persuasions) to the Prime Plane.
According to the Saelmarian Church, the erection of the Divine Barrier has prevented the intrusion of additional outsiders into the Prime Plane. When the Chaos Flood was finally turned back, not all outsiders could be driven out. There are plenty of clerics, even seven hundred years later, who focus on driving these beings from the universe, or at lease from the lands of Saelmaria. Triadics believe that all outsiders should be driven from the world, for their influences draw men away from the path of true salvation, regardless of the good or ill intentions of these beings.
Within the last century, a body of scholars has begun to theorize that the nature of the universe (and mortal relations to it) is such that some outsiders will always be able to breach the Barrier. This theory is hotly debated (and has led to the labeling of a fair number of heretics), but even those Triadics willing to accept the possibility say that the Barrier is a preventative measure against a second Chaos Flood. While it may not prevent every outsider from crossing over, its most important function is to prevent the mass invasion of the world by those who do not belong. Among Sealmarians, the continued existence of outsiders in the world is generally explained by two basic theories, neither of which is really mutually exclusive.
Referred to above, the first theory is that peoples’ behavior (in both mind and body) unwittingly allows outsiders to cross over. By wishing for the wrong things or giving in to sin, the “evils that men do” coalesce into embodiments of chaos and wickedness, drawn from the aether and given life by otherworldly forces. In other words, evil thoughts, intentions or actions create gaps in the Barrier (or simply bypass it) and draw those beings who embody evil into the world.
This theory is extremely popular in the Saelmarian Church, for it provides a direct relationship between evil acts and long-term unintended consequences. This relationship strengthens the argument for the Church’s claim that its teachings show the proper way of living. The problem with this theory is that it does not explain the existence of celestials in the world. The Church’s teachings address the vast majority celestials as distractions from the true faith. If evil thoughts and deeds can draw demons and devils into the world, the converse theory should be that good thoughts and deeds can draw angels into the world. While this might seem like a good thing, the fact is that celestials on the Prime Plane do not always act as servants of the Triad, so their behavior must be explained in other terms. It is here that the second theory gains its strength.
There are many who believe that the Holy Triad was not able to make the Divine Barrier exactly as they wished. These people argue (convincingly) that the clerics of the lesser spirits are still able to cast spells, so there must be some way for other gods to breach the Barrier with their divine power. If this is true, then it is possible that these other gods could open portals through the Barrier that allow outsiders to enter the Prime Plane. The Saelmarian Church fully recognizes this possibility and has used it as the basis for condemning the worship of all other deities. They represent a significant threat to the safety of the world by creating the potential of another Chaos Flood.
So what does all this mean for Saelmarians? It means that, while the prospect of facing a massive invasion of outsiders like the Chaos Flood is no longer a worry, there are still beings in the world that pose both a physical and spiritual danger in the world. There is still a need for demon-hunters, as well as for divine magicks that provide protection against them. The continued presence of these beings also means that peasant superstitions for protecting against them are still prevalent. This is true even in the heavily urbanized regions in the world, although it is more common among the rural peoples who are not constantly watched by large members of the Triadic priesthood.
This is not to say that encounters with outsiders are at all common. Most Saelmarians today will go through their whole lives and never even feel the presence of an otherworldly being, much less see or come in contact with one. Adventurers, because of their tendency to get involved with things better left alone, will be more likely to run afoul of such creatures, but even they are not bound to meet either a celestial or a fiend in their entire career. However, the existence of such forces in the world is acknowledged by nearly all Saelmarians, either in actuality or by clinging to old superstitions “just in case."
The presence of these outsiders also presents the possibility for even more minor cults to arise. Exactly what happens to the souls of those who worship outsiders not born of the Aevan cosmology is unknown. However, there are always those who are willing to give up the unknown possibility of "eternity" in return for the much more immediate rewards that many of these outsiders promise. As such, there are cults--and even clerics--that draw mystical power from demons, devils, and celestials, alike. The motivations and schemes of these cults are innumerable, leaving plenty of opportunities for characters to get into all sorts of trouble.