Come the Firemoon, a temple apprentice would hang a dozen paper lamps on each of four long, tasseled ropes from the top of the Vindran shrine to nearby trees. The apprentice climbed atop the shrine several times to prepare all the lamps. Baru had volunteered for the whole task this year, hoping it would impress the Brahmans. He woke early, performed the morning prayer, washed his hands and face, forewent breakfast. The temple halls were empty. Out the back of the temple, near the kitchens, he took a net bag filled with the lamps and the ropes, and several old candles used routinely for this purpose, still not entirely burnt out. He took them into the wood.
Erected in the midst of an ashen clearing, a three-tiered stone pagoda served as a shrine to the Great Spirit of Flames and Justice, Vindra. The shrine was several strides tall, and a clumsy fall would certainly end in broken bones. The lamps and strings turned the Pagoda into a celestial compass, marking the way along the four cardinal directions. Baru spent his morning climbing up and down the tiers of the Pagoda, careful not to scratch the stone work or catch his tail on anything. He hung the ropes to the four hooks, climbed down, and stretched the ropes out on trees so that they were taut. He hung the lamps, one by one, climbing up and down and hanging by the ropes deliver each.
He was unknowingly several hours into his labors, when the bell rang for lunch. Baru climbed down the Pagoda and felt he would collapse at its base. He laid back against it, his drenched robe heaving with his labored breath, and his dog-like ears twitching with a terrible itch. He noticed someone approaching and could hardly wave.
“It was very kind of you volunteer!” Called Brahman Amara. She was dressed in the long, black robes and high collar of a Brahman, the clothes that distinguished her from a simple apprentice’s colorless, sleeveless robes. A tiny fan-shaped decoration held her gray hair into a ponytail, and her lips were colored a bright gold. Her status in the temple was evident, and it was the goal of every apprentice to wear the high collar as she did.
Baru raised his head, surprised at the visit. She had brought him a trencher with a few phakuras and some dhaal, and a cup of nectar. Her fan-shaped, gray-feathered tail opened and closed contentedly.
“Thank you,” Baru said. He accepted the food. Brahman Amara looked overhead, seeming to approve of his work.
“You will have to climb again to light the candles, I see.” She said.
Baru nodded dolefully. He would have to climb multiple times to light them all. He hardly felt like eating, knowing that. At once he tried to stand, but found Brahman Amara’s hand at his chest, pushing him back gently.
“I think you’ve done enough,” She said, her voice taking a sly turn. “Allow me.”
She took in a deep breath, pressed her hands to her chest, and sang.
Baru was startled, he saw no instruments but could hear a melody, whispers and chimes and drums.
Brahman Amara’s voice grew high and passionate with the mystical tune, and the words convoked, compelled and demanded a show of spiritual power in an ancient lyric. The air around her body picked up like a column, and swept past her hair, and carried her passion in colorful flames up the pagoda, across each rope, and through each candle. Baru felt no heat, and saw but a burst of colors. The music subsided and Brahman Amara’s hair fell again.
All of the candles burnt with bright orange flames.
Baru was rendered speechless at the power of the Spirit’s Voice, his heart still beating in rhythm with the phantom drums, the voice still reverberating within his mind. Brahman Amara sat next to him against the Pagoda, casual in her demeanor, and smiled. “You earned that song.” She said. “But don’t neglect breakfast next time.”
Divinity is palpable in Adel. Spirits reside in the wilderness and among the people. Though each Spirit will use its divine powers in whatever way it wishes, there are many who impart wisdom and bring hope and strength to communities in exchange for worship and attention. Whether they be helpful or hindering, the divine powers of a Spirit cannot be denied. Religion is an incredibly powerful force in Adel, and mythology, folklore and mysticism completely pervade the culture even in its most advanced branches. Everyone prays and worships – but there are those among them who take an extra step from routine obeisance to dutiful devotion. The most devoted adherents to the Spirits are themselves greatly respected, but also take on a serious responsibility when they give up their voice for that of the Spirits, and become Oblates.
The Oblates of the Temples
Most Adelians pray or participate in rituals, meditations and all-out festivals and celebrations to the spirits. These are their main methods of worship. To the Adelians, thought is as important, if not more so, than actions. As they go about their daily lives Adelians dedicate their actions to, pray for the blessing of and chant the names and purviews of Spirits. These common and frequent obeisances are enough for them. Festival days and celebrations occur a few times a month but are comparatively uncommon. Adelians worship in small ways and frequently.
A few Adelians will push their devotion further. These people will join a Temple – a community dedicated to serving particular Spirit. When first built these were grandiose but lonely monuments, such as tall pagodas, symbolic henges, ornate statues and sacred groves. Knowing that their conquest and expansion was exploitative, the Aptoan Empire created these spaces to appease the Spirits wherever they spread to. Over time, they realized the need to care for and maintain them. Community structures rose around the shrines and monuments, with their people living off nearby land in order to keep on them a devoted eye and hand. These dedicated caretakers inhabited what became known as Temples, and they were called Oblates. Temple communities have slowly become an inseparable part of the monuments.
To this day there exist numerous temples to different kinds of spirits. The temple is often a large building, sometimes a few linked buildings, within which the oblates live. They contain rooms, libraries, kitchens, baths, and everything needed for a small community of two to five hundred people to live well – luxuriant in comparison to nearby villagers. The Oblates have their own wells, and they tend their own fields, and practice self-sufficiency. The temple guards and maintains the shrines and monuments, observing the religious traditions associated with its Spirits. They also collect religious knowledge, and train Oblates in the beliefs and purviews of the Spirits the temple exists to serve.
Traditions And Hierarchy
Temples have a three-tiered population structure. At the bottom of the hierarchy are apprentices, who wear simple robes, often without sleeves, to visually distinguish themselves from the Oblates. These are people who live on the temple but have not yet been fully inducted into its traditions. Apprentices must learn and prove themselves worthy before being converted to Oblates, who receive a fuller white, blue or red robe with a plunging neckline and gold trim, that they wear over their ordinary clothes. Oblates are full members of the temple, and can begin to work toward learning the Spirit’s Voice, and receive the privilege of traveling, going on pilgrimages to worship at other great monuments.
At the top of the hierarchy are the Brahman, who wear black robes with a plunging neckline and a high-collared white and gold shirt beneath. Brahman are those who have both mastered the Voice of the Spirits and can sing multiple verses and speak commonly in the Spirit’s language. They must also have performed a special deed for the temple, and been part of the temple for at least 10 years. They are responsible for administration, as well as overseeing and training Apprentices and Oblates, and making the more complicated decisions about the Temple’s direction.
Outside the hierarchy exist Spirit allies of the temple. Each Temple is usually dedicated in part to one Great Spirit as well as many lesser ones. The Great Spirit is cannot casually present itself, as its power and majesty prevent it from routinely revealing itself to mortals. Doing so could steer their affairs too directly, and offend other Great Spirits. When a Great Spirit appears to mortals, it is either a great miracle or a dire omen, and must be considered solemnly.
Each Temple has a lesser Guardian Spirit from the local region that remains in the temple’s gardens and groves, and participates in festivities or converses with the Oblates. This Spirit need not be directly aligned with the temple’s Purview. Often they are chosen or recruited as a matter of convenience – it is not often that a Temple will find a local Spirit who is willing to remain with them as a Guaridian, so they cannot be picky about the Spirit’s purviews. The Guardian Spirit remains at the Temple for as long as it feels. Fickle Spirits may come and go, while more dedicated ones can remain Guardians for hundreds of years with the same temple, watching outside of Time as their beloved Oblates grow and wither and pursue their deeds. Guardian Spirits are always humanoid in nature, so the Oblates can easily interact with them. Tales even speak of bonds of romance between a certain Oblate and his or her Guardian Spirit, though these would be rare.
There are also a variety of mercurial-minded traveling spirits who appear seasonally to help or hinder the Temple. Not all Spirits are equal. Many Spirits are troublesome or even pest-like and have to be driven from the locality, but they are still respected even when they trouble the temple or directly conflict with the Spirits the temple serves. For example, intrusive Rain Spirits could flood out River Spirits and cause some strife that needs to be rectified by Oblates allied with those River spirits. Field Spirits may take up residence in the sacred groves and annoy the local Guardian Spirit, and Oblates and other locals may have to intervene before they come to blows. Spirits are thinking creatures with their own biases, agendas and ideals, which must be kept in mind even when they are incomprehensible or inconvenient to mortals.
As with all Adelian institutions, temples are open to people regardless of sex or gender or orientation. The only qualification necessary is that the person will have to spend a significant amount of time in the temple. An Apprentice must completely relocate to the temple, and an Oblate or Brahman can only leave on pilgrimages. Duty to the temple lasts a lifetime, and the temple will only take those people who seem willing to devote themselves fully. However, there are sometimes exceptions. For example, scholars and mages and other people interested in lore can join a temple temporarily, with the ability to leave once they have finished their projects. But they must be dutiful as any Oblate while there, or the Temple can limit their access to the libraries and Spirit partners and other resources they seek.
Each temple follows certain festival dates, rituals and traditions based on the Spirits that they worship. Important festivals are extensively planned, with colorful decorations and a plethora of food. Oblates put on plays, acting out local myths and important stories on a stage, as well as singing hymns and leading prayer chants. Ritual magic is used to renew the Shrine structure, to powerful effect – auroral lights could glow from the henges, or spirits could appear on the pagodas, and other dazzling miracles. Often the Oblates invite nearby villages or towns to participate in their festivals, and the villagers mark this date as a time when all the locals can come together to celebrate and worship.
Most temples have some form of vows that can be taken, but it should not be assumed that every Oblate is celibate, silent, or has otherwise taken some kind of vow. Vows are for self-improvement – they are not forced upon them by dogma. Many Brahmans take some kind of vow in order to show their dedication, but not all of them do, and Brahmans have been chosen that did not take any vows. It is, however, an impressive feat to maintain one.
The Voice of the Spirits
The Spirits have given many gifts to the Adelian people, some more direct than others. Adelians are biologically separated from the extinct cultures of the Lost World by their Spirit Markings. The ears and tails of the Iomadi, the skin patterns and fins of the Damakran, the floral growths of the Cuporo, and the entire biology of the Dromedae are considered marks of divinity. These subtle touches – Adelians don’t have overt animal-like biology like snouts or fur or quills – speak to the Adelians’ special place in Nature, as human-like beings capable of worship. They see this as a sign.
Beyond just this, Spirits also granted the Adelians insight into the language of the world itself, the Spirit’s Tongue. The Voice of the Spirits is the means by which the very essence of the world can be shaped and put to purpose. A spirit aligned with a temple will visit once each season to initiate any ready Oblates, giving each a piece of its own power and instruction on its use. One’s voice changes when given this ritual, but only mildly so. Those who knew the person intimately will notice a very subtle difference, a slight melodic quality, but most folk can’t tell the difference.
The more dramatic change is a newfound ability to sing in the voices of the Spirits. Hymn songs, powerful chants and traditional prayers can be sung to invoke magic from the world itself and the Spirits. The forces of the Spirits are fickler than the proven arcane magic of the colleges, but so long as the soul is strong and the words are powerful, an Oblate can sing the Spirits’ tongue to match any mages’ display of magic. Spirit magic cast by people is safer and purer than arcane magic, but roughly comparable in effect. However, Spirits who perform their own magic can have much more lasting effects than any humanoid magician. These displays of power are taxing and infrequent, however.
Spirit magic is performed by calling out to the world in the Voice of the Spirits. Spirit language is learned and applied by Oblates by singing hymns and chants that have been translated into Spirit language. These hymns have been translated for a long time, and each Oblate is already intimately familiar with the songs and stories, so they can more easily learn the language this way. Each Hymn and chant has a specific application (for example, “The Tale of Kufune,” a hymn about a tragic but noble hero, casts magic that gives greater competence in battle) because it’s sung in specific Spirit Words. A true master of the Spirit’s voice (or a Spirit) can use magic through speaking any sentence as a demand that power be conferred from it. For example, a Spirit can make Rain by calling for it in the Spirits voice – “Rain, draw forth from the Skies” or “Sky, I command you to bring Rain,” or other permutations. Such command of Nature is very demanding, and most Spirits do not employ these abilities. Most people wouldn’t either – but they are known to be possible, even if rare.
Deeds of Spirituality
Oblates often serve as medicine men and women for the local villages that they serve, either in exchange for things they cannot or don’t have the time to produce (such as textiles, or building materials) or for free if the care is really needed and the patient vulnerable. Oblates on pilgrimage to far-off places can often make a living as physicians and sometimes as chaplains to local guard or military units for the duration of their stay in those regions. They perform various ceremonies, such as being present as a witness at the signing of ordinances, or the delivery of legal judgments, or marriages. If they believe a place to be infested with some darker influence, they can seek to exorcise the shades or demons that are troubling the place. An Oblate must be careful with his or her use of the Spirit’s Voice, but is more free to help than a Spirit would be in the same situation, since an Oblate does not follow the same esoteric wiles that Spirits are bound to.