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Mystaran Churchesby Steven Carter
I don't know about anyone else but I've always hated the canon churches of Mystara as they were presented. At least the Known World. I'm sadly ignorant about the rest of the world. My chief problem has been trying to reconcile the pagan and polytheistic aspects with the medieval Christendom aspects. Maybe the solution I've devised for my campaign (should it ever get off the ground when real life allows) is completely intuitive to everyone. Maybe not. In any case I'd like everyone to poke holes into it. This is all IMC.
The primary faith of the entire sentient population of Mystara is Immortalism although it isn't really recognised. Why should it be recognised? There's nothing to contrast it against. (Is there?) Even druids, witches, mystics, shamans, et al have some immortal patrons amongst the spirits. (Don't they?)
About 1000 to 1500 years ago the Immortals entered into a treaty/alliance/pact to found One Great Church. Why? Perhaps it was to preserve religious artistic expression, religious culture, literature, or even an overly ambitious and optimistic attempt at detente - to attempt to steer Mystara away from paths of destruction. This might have been the case if the Immortals feared Alphatia's madness (the spiteful, purposeful destruction of their homeworld) could be repeated on the Immortals' cherished globe.
During the process of founding the One Great Church it became apparent that there were too many agendas at cross purposes. Nevertheless, after many councils and synods (both mortals on the face of Mystara and Immortals in the Heavens) the Holy Catholic (as in universal) and Orthodox (as in We decide what is right thought) Church of the Blessed Immortals was established. In Thyatis. Today it's the largest, most powerful church in the world. It has parishes, monks and clerics in most of the civilised world. But it's no longer the only church.
Some of the others are:
> Eastern Orthodox Church of Dawn (on the Isle of Dawn)
> Eastern Orthodox Church of Dawn (in Alphatian lands, a minority in Ochalea)
> Reformed Church (of Minrothad, but has spread elsewhere, began as a populist movement in those islands, founded after Minroth's departure by those who promoted his veneration)
> United Churches of Darokin
> Holy Catholic & Orthodox Church of the Blessed Immortals (in Karameikos, aka the Church of Karameikos, the CofK)
> Church of Cosmic Harmony (a faith native to Ochalea, contains aspects of M_Buddhism and M_Taoism as taught by the Immortals and their prophets)
Organised religion as we are familiar with is only 1000 to 1500 years old on Mystara. While the churches have co-opted most of the pagan immortalism they haven't transferred one "pagan/heathen" immortal's attributes onto a "true" immortal or saint. It has been an evolution of religion spurred by Matter and Thought and at times opposed or supported by Entropy and Energy while Time has remained mostly neutral.
Druids, witches and the old tradition clerics who either haven't heard the call to join the church or who were told to remain outside the organised religions act in different capacities for the immortals. Some are strictly against the organised religions. Some act in concert but don't enter the hierarchies of the churches.
Now here's the rub - why would an immortal tell one of the faithful one thing ("Join the Church my chosen son") and another of the faithful something else entirely ("The churches are wicked, avoid their poison.")
Immortals are fickle. This we know. They aren't omniscient or omni-present (are they? I don't think so) and they all have their own individual agendas. Immortals try to shape the world into what they think it should become. Clerics (et al) are their agents and only the Immortals know Their purposes in the great game. Therefore it may be more effective for an Immortal to have some "rogue" agents in the field who are not tied down by a large, hierarchical, social organisation.
In that case I imagine that should the Immortals agree to a One Great Church pact/alliance/treaty then:
1) The One Great Church will fragment into several purpose-specific churches that are loosely aligned with one another on a doctrinal basis.
2) The Immortals would agree that a certain number of clerics (et al) would be allowed to be "rogue" from the church organisations. And of course counting such rogues would be almost impossible.
IMC prior to deciding on taking this route I played the various churches as-is and inserted a few common beliefs that tied them all together. It would become part of my future campaign that these elements become part of the common doctrine of the churches.
Every one (educated or who paid attention to the priest/cleric/scriptures/lessons) knows that: 0) The Cosmos is composed of Elements, Spheres, Worlds and Planes.
1) Some of the Immortals were once mortal, some were spirit creatures, some were elementals, some were animals. Some are older than time.
2) It is possible for all mortals to transcend the mortal coil and become Immortal.
3) Exceedingly few do so.
4) Transcendence depends on what you do in life - only the truly exceptional can become an Immortal. (i.e. found empires, build monuments that survive for centuries, shape cultures, change the world basically)
5) Selfish and evil people that aren't exceptionally evil just die.
6) Exceptionally evil people can be tortured in the underworld for their crimes.
7) Super-exceptionally evil people can sometimes be chosen by the Immortals of Entropy.
8) Entropy is Bad but it's part of the Natural Order.
9) You too can become an Immortal of Entropy. Some say it's more difficult than the Positive (good) Spheres, some say it's harder. Do you know anyone who became an Immortal? Of course you don't.
10) How you die is very important to the fate of your spirit therefore die well. (Different people and different Immortals describe a good death in different ways. If you venerate a particular Immortal in life, then die as they would have you die.)