Races and Cultures: Religions of the Empire of Splendour

The Celestial Emperor, Guide of Heaven
Imperial mythology is centred on the belief that all of creation is governed wisely and fairly by the Celestial Emperor, Guide of Heaven. Long ago, so the legends say, the Guide of Heaven was one of four brothers, suns who ruled the sky in turn. Through trickery and deceit, the jealous Lord Three Smoke of the Underworld set the brothers fighting against one another. Only after one of them was slain did the remaining three brothers realise that they had been tricked. The youngest brother, Eastern Sun, was given accoutrements and powers by the others whilst they went to defeat Three Smoke. Eastern Sun was made Emperor and Guide of Heaven.

The Celestial Emperor, Lord of the East Sun, Lord of the Four Corners, Guide of Heaven and countless other titles, learned many lessons in his life, of humility and wisdom in leadership, of the arts of civilisation and the joys of companionship with his wife, Lady East. He sent down a portion of his divine being, the Flame of Heaven, so that whoever had the courage to endure the Flame could bring a state of enlightment to the mortal realm, and thus the Empire of Splendour was formed.

The Ten Thousand Immortals
The Guide of Heaven is served by a myriad of greater and lesser immortals, the names of whom are recorded in The Rolls of Heaven and The Classic of the Four Corners amongst other ancient works. The Empire view the immortal realm as working much like their own, with a great bureaucracy dividing up the running of the cosmos between departments. Thus the Divine Minister of the Iridescent Pearl is the immortal in charge of the sea overall, but the Divine Minister of the Foam-Capped Wave is in charge of the weather at sea, and he orders the specific spirits who make the wind blow and the sea roil to produce the physical effects.

There is a difference between the post and the immortal occupying it, with some posts (according to the mythology) seemingly a bit of a hot seat to occupy. There are at least 15 different names given for the Divine Minister of the Quaking Earth, for example. In other instances the position and the sitter have become practically synonymous. Master Cinnabar is Divine Minister for the Art of Medicine, for example, and seems to have always been, even though his mother is the insane Lady Laughing Corpse who brings sickness.

Because there are so many Imperial gods, it has been easy for the Empire to incorporate foreign religions into their fold. Tyannah, for example, is a Denra-Lyr goddess of spring, love and fertility and under the Imperial system she is assimilated into the Divine Ministry of Verdant Abundance. This does not always sit well with the original believers, of course, especially in the case of a montheism like Vaarta.

Religion in Daily Life
To most people in the Empire, the Ten Thousand Immortals are all-pervasive but of little major import. Folk will make an offering at shrines and temples relevant to them, plus others that they pass just in case. There is not much in the way of organised worship, although ceremonies marking important stages in life (birth, marriage, death and so forth) usually involve the invocation of the more powerful immortals. Not everyone within the bounds of the Empire adheres to the Imperial Religion, of course. The Empire offers freedom of worship to all, although some strange cults arise occasionally with potentially dangerous attitudes (such as the Cult of Beauty in the city of Llaza, whose more extreme adherents murder those they find aesthetically unpleasant; or the Claws of the Opal Tiger who attack travellers who don't show proper respect to wayside shrines).

There are two types of priest of the Imperial gods: ceremonial and mendicant. Ceremonial priests officiate over important ceremonies (sometimes these seem quite obscure to the lay person) and tend to remain in one place. Mendicants wander the land seeking new shrines to honour; some tour a set area, making sure that otherwise unattended shrines and holy sites are cared for. Ceremonial priests tend to be quite wealthy and dress in multi-layered and heavy finery, whereas mendicants dress as peasants and delight in humility.

The Sages
The Empire sometimes honours particularly wise or pious men and women. Most famous of the sages are Teshnuvar, who wrote a 37 scroll treatise 'On the Workings of the Universe' and was arguably the foremost scholar of natural philosophy, that is to say the mechanics of the World of Conclave. Teshnuvar's writings are known by all educated Imperial citizens. Almost as well known is Manrupashnar, a woman who taught better living through compassion and charity. Although she did not write her teachings down, her pupils did and there are many slight variants of the Teachings of Manrupashnar in circulation. The followers of Manrupashnar Most Radiant even go so far as to say that the sage was admitted into the ranks of the Immortals upon her death.

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Some Imperial Gods
Lady East. Celestial Empress and fertility goddess whose name is invoked at Imperial weddings.
Tenora-Mishu. Known as Lady Moon Jasmine, this moon goddess brings inspiration to poets and artists on the heady scent of the night-flowering moon jasmine flower.
Dorvisha. A bull-headed male fertility god full of raw sexual energy and priapic abilities.
Master Cinnabar. Bringer of the Art of Medicine to the mortal realm, Cinnabar is widely worshipped in the Empire. His mother, Lady Laughing Corpse, was once a goddess of healing but was driven insane by powers from the Underworld. Now she delights in bringing sickness to mortals, but her dutiful son still looks after her.
Lord Three Smoke. Lord of the Underworld, this jealous immortal brought destruction to the world and overturned the old celestial order by trying to claim the celestial throne with an army of demons known as the Unwashed Horde.
Raincloud Fox. A lesser immortal charged with bringing rainclouds to the mortal realm. His mischevious nature means he enjoys making it rain when the mortals least want it to.
Three Mountain Sisters. These three earth goddesses laid down their lives to hold back Lord Three Smoke's Unwashed Horde. Their bodies now form the Three Sisters Mountain range that guards the eastern border of the Empire.
Yash-Yabha. A minor immortal of the light of dawn, Yash-Yabha was wounded as he fled to report the approach of the Unwashed Horde. As his golden blood fell to the earth, it formed magical locations known as the Seven Golden Footsteps.
Banarjahab. Elephant-headed immortal responsible for teaching crafts to mankind. Through his ties to public works and road-building, Banarjahab is also the protector of travellers in the Empire.