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The Church of Traladara

by Jeremy Morris

excerpt from The Journal of Pyotr Magdanov

Felmont 1, 1012

When I began this journal of reflections on the various religions I encountered on my travels over Mystara, I never thought that I would be reflecting on the faith of my birth. But here we are in Mirros, coincidentally on the Feast of Halav, the day commemorating the triumph of King Halav over the King of the Beast Men. I can hear the festival outside the window of my room, but I find that I cannot join in with the revelry of my fellow Karameikans.

I have never been a religious man, which is perhaps why I've always been interested in the faiths of others. I grew up in a family of devout Traladarans, and the tenets of the faith as well as the Feast Days were ingrained into me at quite a young age. Sitting in on the Celebration of Preparation today, I realised how much the faith of my parents has been ingrained into me, despite my lack of involvement or recognition of it.

Regardless, since I set out to do a comprehensive study of the religions of our nations, I feel that I must include my own faith. I hope that those who read this after me recognise that my own biases are within this description, but perhaps my previous observations are also flawed with bias. Ever the lot of the researcher, I suppose. Anyway, on with my observations.

The Church of Traladara is an ancient religion stretching back thousands of years to ancient Traladara, long before the crowning of the first Emperor of Thyatis. The Church centres around the teachings of three primary Immortals - Halav the Patron of Warfare and Weaponsmiths, Petra the Patron of Defence and Cities, and Zirchev the Patron of Forests and Hunters.

In addition to these three Immortal patrons, the Church also acknowledges the existence of a fourth Immortal. This Immortal is known by a number of names, including the Adversary and the Beast-King, but in the Concordance he is given the name Flaghr. Flaghr was the Beast-Man king that King Halav fought in his final battle. According to the epic Song of Halav, Flaghr and Halav struck killing blows against each other simultaneously. The Church teaches that Halav and Flaghr continue their epic struggle, Flaghr trying to destroy Traladara, Halav trying to save it. The Feast of Halav commemorates this struggle every year.

The primary document of Church teaching is the Song of Halav, an epic legend passed down through the centuries to modern day. The Song of Halav tells of the struggle of King Halav and the Traladaran people against an invading force of beast-men. The Song is a long work, and one that has moral and ethical teachings embedded throughout. Part of the traditional duty of the priests of the Church is to extract the teachings of the Immortals from the Song, and to pass this knowledge on to their faithful.

These teachings from the Song have been codified into a work called the Concordance. The Concordance is organised into a number of chapters, opening with the Song of Halav, and followed by the traditional teachings. The Concordance also contains a complete history of the Traladaran people, kept up to date by the priests of the Church.

Unlike many of the religions I have examined over the years, the Traladaran faith is neither very restrictive nor very demanding of its faithful. The only taboo of the faith is that the faithful must do no harm to others. Every moral tenant of the faith can really be boiled down to this simple belief. Compared to the regimen of the Karameikan Church and the fervour of the Ylari followers of al-Kalim, the Traladaran faith is very simple and relaxed.

Outside of ethics and morals, the Church teaches that simple, non-magical divinations can be used by the faithful to determine the will of the Immortals. The priests themselves teach fortune-telling through reading tea-leaves or cards to those faithful who are interested. Many priests are schooled in astrology and the daily ceremonies of the church usually incorporate some kind of non-magical divining to determine what the Immortals want on a given day.

(As an aside, this may seem awfully backward and superstitious to the more "civilised" among you, especially the Thyatians and Glantrians. In fact, from watching the priests perform these "divinations," I have noticed that most of them use them more from an aspect of counsellors. The believer asks the priest a question, and the priest "divines" the answer while asking questions of the believer and allowing the believer to divine his own solution. I invite anyone who thinks this is a backward custom or overly superstitious to sit down with a Traladaran priest for a card reading and see how unburdened your spirit feels afterwards. Often a very cleansing experience.)

The daily life of a Traladaran priest varies. The majority of the priests run the churches and temples of the Church. These priests spend their days performing daily ceremonies, ritual divinations, and leading their congregations in prayer. In addition, these priests are expected to act as "faith guides," advising their faithful on matters of scripture and Immortal will, as well as assisting them with their problems. The majority of these priests have also traditionally acted as teachers for the faithful, teaching the history of the Church as well as basic astrology and mathematics to those faithful who have an interest. Most "parish priests" are not followers of a particular Immortal, instead following the philosophy of the Church and honouring all of the Immortals equally. Some priests, however, feel the need to join a "holy order." Traladaran "holy orders" are similar to the orders of other religions about which I have written. In general, each holy order of the Church of Traladara venerates one particular Immortal above all others, and each member of the order focuses on one particular aspect of the Traladaran faith.

The Order of the Sword, for example, are a militant order dedicated to the protection of the Church above all else. The patron of the Order is Halav, and they are sometimes known as Halavites or Swords. Swords dedicate most of their time to perfecting the art of war and defence, and unlike the rest of the Church are not prohibited from the use of swords and edged weaponry. In exchange for this military training, Halavites have less training in the use of spells of faith, causing them to rely on their swords even more. The Order of the Sword is based out of the Temple of Halav in Mirros.

The Order of the Shield is an order dedicated to the protection of the believers. The Order has Petra as its patron, and they are known variously as Shields or Defenders of the Faith. Defenders are renown for both their healing abilities and their fighting prowess, although they are restricted to certain weapons by their patron. In addition, a Defender only has access to her superior fighting ability when actually defending someone. If the Defender is the aggressor in a conflict, Petra takes her favour away and the Defender must rely on her own (usually ample) abilities. The Defenders call the Shrine of the Shield in Vorloi their home.

The Order of the Wolf is an order dedicated to the celebration of life. Zirchev is the patron of this order, and his followers are known as Huntsmen or Wolves. Huntsmen are best known for their wilderness skills and their amazing tracking abilities, but are hindered when forced to stay within a city. The Huntsmen have no temple, but say that the Dymrak Forest is sacred and spend much of their time driving evil from the Forest.

Neither the traditional priests nor the members of the holy orders are required to be celibate. In fact, the Church encourages its priests to marry. Often the children of priests will continue on with their parent's occupation and become priests themselves. In addition, the Church allows both men and women to become priests, and entire families of priests have been known to run churches in some villages.

Like the rest of the Church, the hierarchy of the priesthood is very loosely structured. A young man or woman who wishes to join the Church begins as an Initiate. The Initiate is "apprenticed," for lack of a better word, to a more senior priest for a period of two years. Over this two year span, the senior priest is expected to teach the Initiate everything he can about the beliefs and history of the Church. In return, the Initiate assists with the daily duties of the Church, including performing the daily rituals and services, enacting the daily divinations, keeping the Church clean, etc.

After two years, the Initiate is officially named a Priest, and the new priest is expected to choose his future direction. Most priests choose to continue on as a priest in the church in which they were taught, although a few choose to travel to other areas and establish new churches, or travel to another church for a permanent home. Some choose to join the holy orders, and dedicate themselves to one particular aspect of the faith.

Within the local church, the most senior and respected priest is considered to be the leader, and all other priests are considered equals. The most senior and respected priest of a given area is considered to be a Patriarch. This title is partly based on geography, partly on scholarship, and partly on age. While the word of a Patriarch is not technically law within the Church, these and women are usually so well respected and so learned in the teachings of the Church that their opinions are often listened to by both the priests and the faithful.

The size of a Patriarch's area of influence varies from Patriarch to Patriarch. In general, each major city has a Patriarch, so the more populous south has more Patriarchs in a smaller area than the more sparsely populated northlands. Since the reign of King Stefan began, the most powerful Patriarch has been the Patriarch of Mirros, Father Aleksyev Nikelnevich. I'm not sure if this is due to the wide amount of respect he has across the nation, or if it is due to his proximity to the King. Although the King is not a follower of the Church of Traladara, he does like to understand the minds of his subjects. I suspect that he considers Father Nikelnevich an expert on Traladaran faith (which he is) and as such uses him as a resource for how his Traladaran subjects think and feel about various issues. This places Father Nikelnevich in a very powerful position.

(It is interesting to note that in the Traladaran hierarchy, priests and the faithful refer to each other as "Brother" and "Sister," so "Sister Misha" could be either a priest or a believer. The Patriarchs of the Church are usually referred to as "Father" or "Mother" by both the faithful and the priests. In the Church of Karameikos, every priest is referred to as "Father" or "Mother" and the Patriarchs are simply referred to as Patriarch, whether they are male or female.)

The Church of Traladara has a number of holy days or feast days. The most important to the Church is the Feast of Halav, a celebration that begins on the twenty-eighth of Klarmont and continues for a total of three days. The first day is the day of Preparation, a day when the priests of the Church prepare for the final battle of the King. The priests perform traditional divinations and rites to ensure that Halav will find success against his foe.

The second day of the Feast of Halav is the day of Triumph, a day celebrating the victory of King Halav over the Beast King Flaghr. This day is commemorated by more Church services, but also by parades, parties, and re-enactments of the battle. The Thyatian settlers adopted this day as a holiday, and it is officially recognised as "Beast Day" by the Karameikan government.

The final day of the Feast is the day of Mourning. This is the day when the priests perform traditional funeral rites for their dead King Halav, and perform traditional warding rites against the Beast-King Flaghr. Every faithful member of the Church is expected to participate in these rites, though it is not considered a sin to not attend.

The Feast of Petra is celebrated on the last full moon before the spring equinox. This Feast Day is traditionally the day that new defence constructions are started in the cities. All of the faithful are expected to come together to repair walls, make weapons, and generally prepare for any assaults on their city. Today, the Feast is still celebrated and the faithful still assist in preparations, but it has become more of a time for repairing and rebuilding the cities. New roads are constructed and old roads are repaired. At the end of the day, the city celebrates with a night-long party under the full moon, revelling under the guardianship of Petra.

The Midsummer Feast is the Feast of Zirchev, occurring every year on the day of the summer solstice. This Feast is a celebration of life and nature, and a time of remembrance of the natural world. Priests hold outdoor ceremonies away from the cities and towns, and the faithful usually celebrate with outdoor parties and revelry. In addition, hunting is prohibited of the faithful for this one day, and the faithful are expected to plant new trees and make sure that the forests and outdoor areas are in good condition.

The Church of Traladara remains a powerful faith within Karameikos despite the invasion of the Thyatians and the influx of new leaders and new settlers. In fact, the invasion may have done good things for the Church. A number of refugees fleeing from the invasion forces fled north to Darokin years ago. These refugees settled in southeastern Darokin, most in the villages of Armstead and Reedle, and when they did they brought their faith with them. Both villages have strong churches within them, each large enough to have its own Patriarch. The faith has begun to spread throughout the Republic, apparently because the merchants love both the relaxed nature of the faith and the number of festive holy days, which are always good for business.

In addition to Darokin, I've also seen missionary churches to the faith in Ierendi and (surprisingly) in the Five Shires. Supposedly, the Church has spread to the Shires by way of hin converts living within Karameikos. These hin priests have set up a church in Wereskalot and are working hard to convince their fellows that the philosophy of the Church is the way to spend their lives. I wonder if they are having any success at all.

The Church does have its own share of worries, however. Although the King is lenient of the religion of the natives of his nation, some fear that the leadership of the Church of Karameikos has an eye on eliminating the Church of Traladara from Karameikos. I've heard talk of Patriarchs of the Karameikan Church petitioning the King to make the Traladara Church illegal. I know that the Karameikan High Patriarch Olliver Jowett has no such designs, nor do I think that King Stefan would do such a thing. But Jowett is getting older, and will not be in charge of the Church forever. When that happens, many are predicting a schism of epic proportions. The Church of Traldara could survive or fail on the heels of such a schism.

Enough of these worries about things that may not happen. I grow weary now after this day of festivities, and I should get some sleep. Perhaps I will attend the ceremonies tomorrow, to mourn the death of King Halav. I haven't been to a Day of Mourning in over a decade, so perhaps it is time for me to attend one again. If nothing else, I may be able to make a few more observations for my research.

On another note, while I'm here in Karameikos again, I should try to do some research on the other faiths of the nation. I can't believe I've travelled as much as I have in this world and have not even bothered to chronicle the beliefs of my own homeland.