The Old Ways
Table of Contents

Introduction

The oldest religion on Galendor is a religion with no name. Until the rise of the Way of Eli, it had no need of one: it was simply the way things were. People did not pledge themselves to the service of this religion; evangelists did not spread its message, and crusaders did not die for its cause. The existence of the gods was not a matter of debate, nor was their power or influence over the world. The religious questions a person needed to answer were few: Who am I? What do I want? And in order to understand who I am, or to get what I want, who am I willing to serve?

In answer to these questions, people would pledge themselves to the service of one of the deities, or bring prayers or offerings to each deity as they needed their help, or simply leave the deities alone and go about seeking meaning and purpose for themselves.

For the last 1500 years there has been an institution in place – the Lothanasi, or Lightbringers – whose members have acted as mediators and go-betweens for the deities and the mortals in their dealings with one another. These priests swear allegiance not to any one deity, but to the Pantheon as a whole – and, even more than that, to the mortals whom they represent before the Divine. But the Old Ways themselves are far, far older than the Lightbringers, and while they are the most visible shepherds and defenders of what is now called traditional religion, that religion would continue to be practiced in its myriad forms even if the Lothanasi vanished completely from the world. As long as mortals and gods continue to be interested in what each has to offer the other, the Old Ways will continue to survive.

History

Since the dawn of recorded history the mortal races of Earth have been watched over by beings vastly more powerful than themselves. It is said that these beings came from the stars, that they found by chance a world that had been put in motion by the All-Father and then seemingly abandoned. The Earth was full of chaos and disorder, as sentient creatures struggled to find meaning and purpose in a confusing and dangerous world. The Ones who had come from the stars came to love these strange mortal races — these creatures that had emotions and intellect like them, but were bound into unchanging bodies of flesh and blood. For the sake of these younger races, the beings from the stars settled on Earth and made it their home, and slowly began to reshape the young planet in the ways they thought best – the ways that they thought would best help the mortal races to thrive and reach their potential.

Beings as powerful and beautiful as these could not help but be worshiped by those that they came to teach. Confronted with creatures who could transmute their bodies into light and energy, who could perform seeming miracles and reshape earth and flesh alike according to their desires, the mortal races fell down before them and called them gods and goddesses. The Elves, who were perhaps the most intelligent of these races (or at least the first to begin organizing their thoughts about the world), divided the deities into three categories: the Norsara, or Titans; the Aedra, or Gods of Heaven; and the Daedra, or Gods of Shadow. They were widely varied in their personalities, interests and strengths, but they all soon discovered one astounding fact about the mortal races: it was possible to draw on their worship and use it as a source of the energy that fueled their powers.

As soon as the deities realized that mortals were actually a resource for them, and not mere curiosities or “little brothers,” conflict between them became inevitable. The aedra and daedra already felt threatened by the power of the titans, who were the first children born to (or created by) the mysterious Elders and who vastly outclassed them in strength. An alliance was formed; the titans were defeated and imprisoned; and soon the aedra and daedra fell to fighting among themselves, as their differing philosophies about what was good for the mortal races (and for themselves) drove them apart. Each of the deities went their own way, gathering followers and influencing the world in whatever manner they thought best. Some formed alliances with each other, but these were usually temporary, and different deities often worked at cross purposes to one another. A pecking order was eventually established, with Kammoloth in charge of the Gods of Heaven and his younger brother Ba’al ruling over the Gods of Shadow, but even these two forceful personalities could not often convince their squabbling courts to act in unison.

From a mortal perspective, religion was a free-for-all: with eighteen major deities left to watch over the world, hundreds of lower-ranking princes and nobles serving under them, and supernatural creatures inhabiting every forest, stream and gully, the business of worship was a buyer’s market. Mortals could negotiate with the deities at will, buying favors in exchange for acts of service and devotion. While the gods could be temperamental, whimsical or even vindictive, few mortals would spurn the idea of seeking their aid when something really important was on the line. Given the cleverness of the deities, and the greediness and pride that are so common among mortals, it is not surprising that most who dared to treat with the gods ended up indebted to them … and while all of the deities claimed to have the greater interests of mortal-kind at heart, that was little comfort to those who lost their life, will, or sanity in the service of a god’s ideal. Clearly, some form of oversight was needed, if only to protect people from their own foolishness and ignorance.

For centuries no clear solution presented itself, for the deities were territorial by nature and resented each other’s meddling in their affairs. The Aedra Lords began teaching their followers to shun the daedra and persecute those who followed them, for many of the Daedra Lords had spheres of influence that were in direct opposition to the Aedra’s. Kammoloth and his court believed that the mortals could come to peace with one another if the daedra could be removed from the equation, so they attempted a systematic elimination of the temples and priesthoods that were loyal to the Gods of Shadow.

In response to this the Daedra Lords united behind Prince Ba’al, gathering their surviving followers and their own fiendish offspring into a vast army in the Northlands of Galendor. This horde, called the Great Darkness, swept down through Metamor Valley and into the lands of the Elves, intent on destroying all those who would not submit to Ba’al’s rule. The Aedra Lords sent their celestial warriors to aid the Elves; together with the Dragons and the Elves’ human and half-Elven subjects, they formed the Great Alliance of Light to oppose Ba’al’s bid for dominance.

The war against the Great Darkness dragged on for years. The end finally came when Ba’al’s son and chief general, Kagzenio, attempted to overthrow Ba’al and seize the Black Throne for himself; though Ba’al put down this insurrection, it gave the Alliance of Light the chance it needed to drive back the daedra’s armies and scatter them. The Alliance was victorious, the daedra stripped of their title as gods throughout the lands of Elves and Dragons alike. The victory, however, came with a horrible cost of lives: the Elves were greatly diminished in numbers and could no longer hold the vast territories they had once governed. They abandoned western Galendor to the humans, leaving their bewildered servants to fend for themselves. Civilization collapsed throughout much of Galendor, and it would be centuries before any human kingdom arose that had even the barest glimmer of the Elves’ former glory.

In the chaos of those times the Daedra Lords once again crept back into the lands and hearts of the civilized races. While the Elves of Aelfwood had been lost to them, the barbaric and divided human lands were a fertile soil in which the philosophies of the daedra were able to take root. The Gods of Heaven and their followers struggled valiantly to maintain their dominance and keep the daedra’s destructive ideologies from spreading, but their efforts were disorganized and lacked direction. Ba’al and his comrades had decided that infiltration and seduction were a more effective way of spreading their influence than outright warfare, and without a dark army on their doorstep the gods’ followers saw little need to cooperate with one another. Many priests and shamans returned to the old practice of bargaining with any entity that would deal with them, whether aedra or daedra. Though the daedra lords were no longer called gods in most of Galendor, the people didn’t hesitate to treat them as such if it would get them what they wanted.

Finally, after centuries of debate and negotiation, the Gods of Heaven came to an agreement on how to settle the matter. In –800 CR Kammoloth appeared to Lucien, a young priest living in the human kingdom of Metamor. Kammoloth commissioned Lucien to found the Lightbringers, or Lothanasi — an order of priests that would treat with all of the Gods of Heaven, and who could call on each of them for proxy spells or divine intervention. These Lightbringers would purify worship in the human lands, removing the priests loyal to the daedra and helping to keep the gods’ other disciples on the righteous path. For the first time, the ages-old religion of Galendor would have one priesthood that was recognized by all the gods, one set of ambassadors to the divine who would take precedence over all others.

Lucien and his followers faced heavy opposition from the religious establishment, as might be expected – but over time their influence spread, and the number of commoners who looked to them for guidance grew dramatically. After the Suielman Empire was nearly destroyed in the Human-Elf War (-559 CR to –549 CR), the Lothanasi’s dominance was assured: the start of the war was largely blamed on the daedra’s influence, and it was only the intervention of Artela that finally persuaded the Elves to lay down their arms and sign a peace treaty with the Empire. The Lothanasi went everywhere teaching that the war’s devastation had been a judgment from the gods for the Empire’s daedra-worship; the Emperor was persuaded by this, and named the Lothanasi the official, authorized priesthood of the Empire. By the time the Lothanasi finished cleaning house, a century later, nearly all those who served the daedra had been killed or driven into hiding.1

More to come…

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