If you ever begin to lose hope...look above to the beauty of the cosmos and surrender yourself in prayer. You are a part of everything, and it is a part of you.
The Faith, officially The Essharan Celestial Church, or the Church of Celestialism, is the sister branch to the Order of the First Light and the state religion of Esshar, with clergy serving on multiple fronts, as much priests as they are scholars of magic and philosophers. They are tasked with documenting and preserving the details of history, as well as the day to day of missionary work, such as working to improve the community.
The holy book of The Faith is the Codex Cosmos, detailed accounts from wise scholars to the Angels themselves, a guide to how to live and how to prosper, and the writings of the Saints. The Church is an ever growing wealth of knowledge, with a vast collection of books safeguarded in their endless library halls. The symbol of the Church is a pair of golden wings in front of a starry night sky.
When the world was young and the Divine War raged, the angel Maltziel took pity on thousands of refugees and brought them to a new land. This place, free of strife and human influence, would be the seed of a new empire, basked in the shelter of the divine storms that were soon to come. Maltziel would look into the hearts of those he had brought and muster forth those of strength and virtue. In his wisdom he knew that humans left completely alone would squabble and destroy themselves before they could ever prosper, yet it was the interference of angels that brought forth the War in the first place.
In the end Maltziel drew the attention of humans towards the heavens, where he taught them of the constellation Leonaus and the angels that governed it. Maltziel divided the finest candidates of the refugees between the stars and enacted a great divine ritual for the humans to pledge themselves to these celestial objects. One for the constellation itself and three others for the branches that made it up.
In this way the guardian angels and the influence of the stars would nurture all their descendants, producing men and women of resounding power. The empire of Esshar is entwined with the heavens and those chosen humans. Such a decision caused much dissent in the early years from those that aspired for power, yet the empire would endure for over a millennia and its grip would become like iron forged in unwavering faith.
Though the angels were revered, the official church of Celestialism would be established later once Osrana was built and its tenants were solidified by St. Niles following a spiritual journey.
Stellus: The speaker of the stars selected, the head of the Church. They are the direct ambassador of the star's will upon this plane and revered as highly as the stars themselves. To become a Stellus is the highest honor for any member of the Church to hold.
Priest: A fully realized member of the Faith. Priests hold a variety of duties, but most typically find their days lost in study, research, or direct action on behalf of the church. A priest acts as an administrator over Deacons, allocating their tasks and overseeing their charitable actions. Further, they also begin work on making new additions to the Codex Cosmos.
Keeper: A Keeper bears similar authority to a Priest, but differs in that they take a specific oath to protect the Church, the faithful, and the stars. The Keepers are known to some as the Church-Knights, and bear a sacred duty to protect the lands and people of the Church. Advancement for a Keeper is slowed, the position above being High Keeper (equivalent to Radiant or Priest) for veteran, well-renowned Keepers. Generally, as a Keeper ages and is no longer able to fight, they’re brought back into ordinary church structure.
Many Knights of the First Light have also made the pledge to become a Keeper, given how intertwined the two organizations are.
Deacon: An official member of the faith with all standing powers that it grants. Having mastered the Codex and honed their spiritual center, a Deacon has successfully become a full-fledged member of the clergy. They now fully represent the church in their day-to-day actions and can host their own sermons / projects. It is not uncommon that Deacons are sent on missionary work to outside lands, or even to less well-off districts of Osrona itself in an effort to uplift the people.
Acolyte: An aspiring faithful of the stars. An acolyte is one with the drive to succeed but without the knowledge or experience to do so. Often younger, sometimes even barely into their teens, Acolytes spend much of their time that isn't locked in prayer or study following around older Priests and Deacons in an effort to glean experience from their day-to-day lives. Like a squire to a knight, an Acolyte is expected to support the clergy in all that they do and question few of their teachings. Many men and women fail the trials that face the acolytes with only a select few becoming deacons.
The stars are seen as bastions of knowledge, clarity, and a guiding force that invigorates a person's spirit should they maintain a connection with them. They're the pillars of the world, where the lifestream flows in and out of and all souls journey towards. The stars contain the wisdom and memories of all of humanity.
Creation of The World
In the scripture, there's a detailed retelling of the world's creation by the High Angel Andriel.
Prior to the beginnings of Eternia, there was a great civil war in another dimension, the post-apocalyptic realm of Atmos that lasted for thousands of years and without an end in sight. The dimension was chaos in motion. One of the seven ruling Archangels, Kraus Eternia, became disenchanted with the cosmic fate of Atmos and rose up in rebellion to change its direction, confronting the all powerful nebula of energy that governed the laws of creation within Atmos. Aided by many, the Archangel managed to create his own Universe, separated and sealed off from Atmos. Roughly three hundred Angels managed to join him in the escape.
This newly formed world, Eternia, comes into existence following the spark of life, a divine flash of light that ushered in the beginning of time, and the cosmos as a whole - powered directly by the soul of its Creator. The lifestream is born, which fuels all magic. This act wasn't without sacrifice; it put a great strain on Kraus's soul and body to the point where his form was torn apart and scattered.
The ten divine spirits, five dragons and five great beasts, were the first creatures to take shape, alongside another darker, more sinister entity. Their slumber was awoken by this malicious presence; the desire to overcome strife ultimately willed them into action, and they remembered their purpose. Together, the divine spirits triumphed against the challenges ahead and put their father's vision into action.
The world, sun, moon, and stars came to be.
Soon after, the angels appeared. They followed the instructions they were given and planted the first seed, which then bloomed and spread out to become the garden of Eden. The lifestream, the energy of the planet that flows out from the core, seemed to react to this instinctively, giving rise to the creatures of the world - including humanity, who were born of the earth - while the angels took the early role as their caretakers. Over the centuries to come, the first civilizations would rise, including Zechoris and Astya, and thus begins the Mythical Age.
Confession, Council, Prayer
Prayer is an essential practice. Often morning and night, sometimes before a meal. Prayers are usually focused on asking an individual star for its aspect or quality to be bestowed upon them or their work or life, or praying to the greater constellation for guidance or strength. Generally, more learned people give more specific prayers, while farmers / peasants are more broad.
Religious services often take place in late evening or night in villages and are short so people can rest and wake up early to work. Though in larger cities great churches bear a painted depiction of the constellation above, and this is used to represent the stars. This allows services to be done whenever, usually early in the morning. Ideas about the daytime being seen as a time of ‘scholarly’ work for a priest, talking to people and learning and reading, while the nighttime is more ‘sagely’ work were they pray and meditate.
Confession is important, and priests have a rule not to give information to other people unless that information may cause harm. Interpretations of that rule vary per clergy member. They’re supposed to be people that can be confided in, however, and priests aim to give counsel when they can. Confession is a sometimes anonymous act of telling a priest what you’ve done, after which the priest will sometimes give advice. Counsel is a non-anonymous back-and-forth talk with a priest about their life and problems that the priest aims to give them enlightened judgement upon. Priests, when they hear about crimes, will often advise the person to turn themselves in, as spiritual atonement is only one half of worldly redemption, as the person must then go on to admit what they’ve done to an official and meekly submit themselves for judgement in order to be truly redeemed.
In the holy book, angels are revered as beings of Light and have acted as humanity's benevolent protectors and distant guides, on behalf of the world's creator, Kraus Eternia. Of all the gods, their idealized forms are admired for their extraordinary beauty and often depicted in large stone statues or on glass windows within the church. It's written that behind each star there is a guardian angel, and the prayers are heard by both the cosmos and the being of light - if the cause is righteous enough, then the angel might even (subtly) bless the person, renewing their willpower and spirit.
All angels dwell within heaven, and very rarely leave as they might risk their white wings losing their lustre and potentially falling. They do communicate using messengers, and in dreams, but the likelihood of this occurring is incredibly low and most claims are not considered credible. Through various recordings, it is estimated that there are three hundred angels, and some of them include:
- Kraus Eternia: An Archangel, and the world's creator. In a civil war in the realm of Atmos, Kraus, with the aid of his loyal followers, manifested the world of Eternia and sealed it off from the ruined dimension, where his creation, humans, would thrive. Unlike the angels, humans are born, grow, and change, living many lifetimes rather than in a singular state. Notably, this is referenced as an act of sacrifice and love as to fuel the ritual, Kraus's wings and body were destroyed in the process and used as the energy that begun the lifestream (and by extension, magic itself).
- Jaethael: The High Angel of Wisdom. In the gospel of Althus, Jaelthal warned that to pursue immortality is to forsake your humanity, as it's a human's nature to be born, to live, and to die within a single lifetime, and that this makes them more alive than any angel will ever be.
An important foundational principle of Celestialist morality revolves a duality of nature. Men are both spiritual and worldly beings, with ties to the earth they live upon and the stars above. Though their Eternian form is temporary, their astral soul is eternal, and one should always balance temporary gain with the more long-term enrichment of living a virtuous life and moving close to paradise.
That duality is taught to be leaned upon to avoid temptation - things such as the lure of drink and excess should be healed through spiritual cleansing via confession, prayer, and asking the stars for guidance, while spiritual dangers such as the lure of other religions and dark power should be healed via turning oneself to hone and improve their physical self through exercise and giving to others (a practice that’s seen as helping one’s physical self, as the giving away of material items is a form of worldly cleansing since items such as money or goods exist only within the physical world).
Major identified lures grouped into two broad categories, with worldly lures being grouped under ‘worldly excess’ in the form of excess greed (the unrighteous collection of worldly wealth or possessions), gluttony (the taking of more than what is needed for oneself and one’s own) and lust (a dangerous draw towards the fleeting pleasures of the flesh) - poisoning one’s worldly connections with others and stunting their growth as they travel their path. Spiritual ills are grouped under ‘spiritual poisons’ and deal with wrath (a drive towards violence and cruelty), sloth (a lack of a drive towards action and observance) and envy (a resentful desire to possess what another does - different from greed in that envy pertains to status and power). Premarital sex is a special topic within the Church - as it’s very much frowned upon in doctrine. In practice, however, mostly Knights, Clergy and members of the Nobility are looked at with severe scrutiny, as their indiscretions could be linked to discrediting their own institutions or even - in the worst case - triggering a dangerous event such as the Bastard Rebellion of old, to which these rules were placed a heavier emphasis afterwards.
Keeping one cleansed of these dark draws is important for a Celestialist, as a key belief is the view that the soul is on a journey that spans multiple lifetimes - with the final goal being Paradise, the land of the saints and stars. To reach this place, one must continue on their great path diligently, proving themselves virtuous during each lifetime - as each lifetime is a leg of that greater path. Still, fate guides all but it’s not absolute, people were made with choice imprinted upon them, and even though their path through one life and even their greater path is laid out for them, temptation can draw them away from it.
Righteous actions done for the sake of a virtuous end are codified as important to the church doctrine. This leads them to sometimes be slow on the draw when it comes to new - especially unpredicted - events as they send out scholars and clergy to assess the event and discern information about the event. Many within the higher church do not act unless a clear path of righteousness is found. Even acts done for the sake of a good end - such as the killing of an enemy Knight in war - requires that the killer seek redemption and atonement.
This redemption and atonement is two-faceted, as they should speak with a priest and look to the stars to purify their spirit, before admitting what they've done to a worldly figure such as a senior Knight or crown authority, bowing their head and submitting themselves meekly for judgement. They should accept whatever worldly judgement is visited upon them, for in that acceptance, even if they've strayed from their path, such meekness will help them move back upon it.
- Initiates into the clergy of the Faith go through a ritual where, regardless of any cosmic magic, they are 'chosen' by a star. This is similar to having a horoscope done, with the star they are 'chosen' by being meant to reflect their future.
- Members of the Clergy are expected to spend at least three days a year performing charity. This usually involves the poor being offered food or small amounts of money, although many Initiates into the Church are recruited through this manner.
- The clergy give up all claims on titles or land.
- It is not uncommon for higher ranking members of the church to have the Constellation of Leonaus tattooed on their bodies.
Canonization is the official process, established by the Church, in which deceased individuals of great faith and consequence are admitted into sainthood; sainthood presumes that the dead man or woman has lived so virtuously and that their spirit has been cleansed so deeply by the stars between their last life and this current one that their soul is admitted into paradise, living in everlasting joy at the side of the Creator.
Canonization is not a simple process. First, the canonization of someone who's died - the length of time does not matter - must be proposed to the Stellus by a Priest. If the Stellus approves, the candidate's canonization is granted.
Here are only a few examples of saints within the Church, for there are as many as there are stars in the night sky.
St. Mikhail - Saint Mikhail Petrakis was among the most prominent archagi of the Astyan Empire and the spells he cast during the mythical age before the Divine War would be considered miracles today. It is thanks to him that the people of Astya were transported to Esshar, saving them from total annihilation. The patron saint of Esshar, all magi, and the royal family.
St. Niles of Astya - The founder of the Church and the theological father of Celestialism, no saint is more highly regarded than Saint Niles. He is the patron saint of clergymen, scholars, refugees, and House Pelleaux.
St. Ermis - Saint Ermis was a lay healer who held a fragment of the Creator's soul; he performed miracles and sacrificed himself to save the world from Azrael's genocidal machinations. He is the patron saint of doctors, the sick, and Astya.
Reserved for only the most wicked in the eyes of the Church, Excommunication is the highest punishment that Stellus may dole out. Theoretically, any offense is sufficient enough for excommunication so long as the Stellus signs off upon it. This, historically, can lead to both abuse and political leveraging. The most famous example of such was in 916 AC when Stellus Leoric Iramas issued an Excommunication on then-head of House Astor after a particularly scathing comment about the efficacy of the Church's work.
However, in righteous times the standard for Excommunication is high. Many criteria can be met, but they revolve around the same:
- Unrepentant Heresy
- Unrepentant Moral Debauchery
- Unrepentant antagonism against the Church / The Stars
- Impersonating an Official Member of the Faith
- Maiming or otherwise killing a Member of the Faith
...among other, more clerical and mundane offenses (attempting to host a sermon without the Church's blessing, being a priest and falsely charging one with heresy, etc.)
Effects of Excommunication:
Though a grave offense, Excommunication is not a death sentence. The following penalties are applied to an Excommunicated individual:
- Any rank the offended had within the Church is revoked.
- Any attempt to stand upon holy ground uninvited is now considered criminal trespassing.
- If the offended held membership to a guild or faction, Excommunication is grounds for termination of membership.
- If the offended rented land, Excommunication is grounds for eviction.
- If the offended held a noble title, Excommunication is grounds for disowning.
- If the offended further commits a crime, the state of Excommunication allows Capital Charges to be granted for otherwise minor offenses.
Excommunication can be, but oft is not a permanent state of affairs. The Excommunicated is able to work with the Celestial Church to arrange a fitting atonement to have the status annulled. Oft does this mean that the offended must make a grand gesture or otherwise large donation to the Church.
Indeed, even in the above example the then-lord of House Astor, after years of political pressure against his house, eventually caved and atoned to the church with a vast sum of coin to absolve his crimes.
However, the willingness to accept atonement falls upon the Church and those found wicked enough are often unable to live within Osrona forevermore with the black mark upon their soul...
The Three Houses and the Petrakis Bloodline
In the earliest days of Esshar, Maltziel explained to his first people the significance of the stars; their guardian angels, their powers and the constellations that shaped the sky. He declared that Esshar would fall under the protection of Leonaus, the Celestial Lion. To this end the Petrakis bloodline would be chosen as the true inheritor of all the lands of Esshar. They are watched over by each of the eighteen stars of the constellation and expected in turn to lead with humility and reverence.
The constellation itself could be split into three different branches, differentiated by stars of differing colors. Each branch was deigned to another noble family, which would form the basis of Esshar's rule. House Astor was blessed beneath the yellow stars of the Lions Body, House Pelleaux beneath the blue stars of the Lion's Head and House Grimmore beneath the crimson of the Lion's Paws. The attributes of the stars beneath these bodies are well studied by scholars.
When a member of any of these three families is born, they are taken to the church to be blessed under a specific star beneath their domain. In this way the parents beseech the heavens for qualities that they wish their child to inherit, and give reverence to the old pacts that formed their kingdom.
Constellation of Leonaus
The constellation of Leonaus is the brightest and the closest in the region, heralded by the divine spirit of the same name. The eighteen stars make out a lion when the night sky is clear.
Yellow Branch - The Body of the Lion
☉ - Leo - The Brightest Star - House of Leadership - Likely to promote leadership
⚶ - Geist - The Moving Star - House of Vision - Likely to promote visions
♄ - Alph - The Center Star - House of Judgement - Likely to promote charisma
Ξ - Lyzel - The Tail - House of Movement - Likely to promote efficiency
♐︎ - Phos - The Pinned Star - House of Determination - Likely to promote firmness
♎︎ - Sae - The Neck - House of Speaking - Likely to promote understanding
Blue Branch - The Head of the Lion
Δ - Hiero - The Old Star - House of Revision - Likely to improve interpretation
♈︎ - Biblos - The North Star - House of Emotion - Likely to improve passion
☌ - Uner - The Comet - House of Testimony - Likely to improve invention
☊ - Iberl - The Poles - House of Firsts - Likely to improve observation
Θ - Rhyt - The Mane - House of Wisdom - Likely to improve rationality
♒︎ - Syph - The Tooth - House of Smoothness - Likely to improve coherency
Red Branch - The Paws of the Lion
♓︎ - Ios - The Large Planet - House of Banners - Likely to grant morale capacity
♆ - Vrona - The Three Ringed Planet - House of Force - Likely to grant offensive capacity
δ - Twe - The Dull Planet - House of Bankers - Likely to grant economic capacity
♊︎ - Anos - The Grand Planet - House of Guardians - Likely to grant defensive capacity
π - Yiel - The Bright Planet - House of People - Likely to grant religious capacity
♅ - Neoi - The Swift Planet - House of Scouts - Likely to grant intellectual capacity
Mikhael Beseeches the Heavens
It was the height of the destruction wrought by Amalia’s creation. The earth itself groaned in protest, cracked and barren. Lava boiled to the surface and pestilence thickened the air of the land. All the peoples of the once great Astyan Empire were doomed.
Mikhael Petrakis, the man whom had exposed Amalia’s wicked ambition so long ago, stood alone atop the highest mountain of the land. It crumbled now like a brittle tower, the rock unsteady beneath his feet as it, too, threatened to return to dust.
It was the third day he had stayed here. For forty-eight hours he sat in despair, unable to swallow his emotions, reluctant to accept the truth of the matter. Though he spoke to the heavens, he received no reply. Pride had curled tightly around his heart, a magi as powerful as the world had ever known. As hunger churned in his belly and his lips cracked dry, he knew that he could afford to wait no longer.
His people would die, and his power would be meaningless.
The man raised his staff to the heavens and called out, finally casting aside his reservations and beseeching with all his grief and sorrow.
“Kraus and Avalon above!” The words echoed into the heavens themselves, clouds stirring with the weight of his prayer.
“Kraus and Avalon above! Have mercy on me, most misguided of magi! Have mercy on my people, steered by folly! Have mercy on the Astyan race—save us, your people, and release us from our folly!”
The sky darkened above him. Thunder crackled in the distance. For a second, there was nothing—then a voice spoke in return.
“Mikhael Petrakis. It is the arrogance of your council that bred this creature. None dared oppose Elaide so long as her power was used for the council’s sake.”
“We were fools!” Mikhael cried. Another crack of lightning echoed in the distance. The angel continued.
“It is your own arrogance that escalated things so far. You believed yourself above all others. You did not act decisively, and Elaide was victorious.”
“I was blind to the truth!” He responded. A third lightning bolt crackled, closer now.
“Then, it is the arrogance of your people that condemns them. They have grown complacent and hungry. They are conquerors. Are these really the people of Kraus?”
At this, Mikhael could not reply instantly. His breath choked, before he spoke. “No- it is not so!” He insisted. “The people are innocent! It is the sins of the shepherd that lead the sheep astray. Do not punish them, O Angel! Please- Save them!”
The final strike of thunder did not come. His last words echoed for what felt like an eternity- before the sky finally cleared. When the voice replied for the last time, it was softer. Benevolent. “… It is as you say. For the sake of the innocent people of Astya, I will act. Return here at the coming dawn. Break upon the stones your staff and your bracelet. Beneath Maltziel’s wings, your people shall be saved.”
… So Mikhael would do as was asked, and twenty thousand of the surviving Astyan’s would be saved. Through a divine ritual of unfathomable proportion, they would be taken away to the land known now as Esshar. This was the First Contract, the miracle by which we all live our lives. Glory to Osrana, glory to the heavens.