Religion in Astrom
This post follows on from my previous musing on Faith and Fiction, in which I explored the relationship between my faith and my fantasy stories. Now I will offer a closer look at what religion means in my created world. The peoples of Astrom are religious, just like anyone else. And just as in this world there’s a rich variety of different creeds and beliefs, with rich differences according to species and race.
It all began with Prélan as the creator God, playing a similar role to Yahweh in Genesis chapter 1. Yet where Adam and Eve were created from the dust of the Earth, the first elves were fashioned on Eluvatar, the Holy Star, and sent to Astrom in a divine starfall to be stewards of His creation. Thus awoke the three main kindreds of the elves, and they knew Prélan as creator and God because He came down to dwell with them for a time. After children and grandchildren had been born to this first generation, but before the second starfall brought ten thousand more elves, Prélan held a great feast with these His eldest children. This feast lasted many moons, during which time the elves when they learned at Prélan’s feet and received wisdom and instruction directly from Him. In this time of bliss they learnt all they needed to know for a life of relationship with their Maker.
This formative teaching was to them what the Law was to the children of Israel, only it was never codified and written down because it was engraven in their hearts. Elves do not forget, and what these elder members of their race received directly from Prélan they passed on faithfully to their descendants by word of mouth. Such was the capacity of their minds and the trueness of their hearts that this teaching was passed down through countless generations with remarkable fidelity.
All the elves shared this teaching and relationship with Prélan, but there were noticeably distinct flavours in the high-elf, sea-elf and wood-elf strains. Each had their own holy places: lofty temples for the high elves, glimmering grottoes for the sea-elves and sacred groves for the wood-elves, and each had their own separate practices and styles of worship. One trait they shared was that large religious gatherings were rare, for their relationship was in essence not congregational but mostly conducted as family or tribal units, or one elf by his/herself. They placed great emphasis on an individual relationship with Prélan, and needed no liturgies or supervision. Their priestly castes were small and had limited jurisdiction, being limited to a mostly ceremonial role and only occasionally being called upon to act as arbiters in religious disputes.
Things started to change as the great migrations took the elves beyond their original homeland of Kalimar to new realms in the south, west and north. In what later became the kingdom of Maristonia a pioneering priest developed a more corporate religion in which an organised church was cultivated, with temples as focal points and an expanded clergy to conduct holy rites and provide pastoral care. In the other realms the faith also diverged along different paths, subtly different to begin with but straying further and further apart as time went by. The original teaching, which had once been so clear and simple, was fast becoming complex and variegated.
The immortal elves were noble and godly beings, but ultimately they were fallible, as we are. The Fall for them was longer in coming and more drawn out than was our own, but it was no less inevitable. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It was during the Second Chapter – more than four thousand years after the Great Feast – that the elves first began to seriously err and stray from Prélan. They began to espouse conflicting values and pursue questionable teaching. Fuelled by their growing pride and mutual suspicion, these once harmless divergences gave birth to full-grown heresies, and worse was to come.
What we might call devil-worship was eventually practised as some parts of elvendom plumbed the spiritual depths, calling upon unclean spirits and revering the demons and fallen angels who were cast out of the heavens and yet plagued the world. The greatest of these fallen angels was a mighty being akin to Satan, and he took it upon himself to guide and accelerate this degeneration of Prélan’s truth, ultimately directing as much spiritual allegiance to himself as he could.
Things reached a crescendo at the end of the Second Chapter when hundreds of thousands of elves from across Astrom came together in mass apostasy. Gathering at unholy ceremonies, they publicly rejected and repudiated Prélan. Some were devil-worshippers, some were heretics, and some just wanted to be masters of their own destiny. Yet all alike fell from grace, and were afflicted with mortality by Prélan. They forfeited their undying life and became men. A curse they deemed it, and long and tangled were the unfolding ramifications.
The Great Betrayal, as it was known, was the catalyst for an explosion of religious diversity. The effect of mortality upon religion at the dawn of the Third Chapter was like a prism on light, splitting it into a vast spectrum of different styles, flavours and doctrines. Demonic practices persisted and darkened, atheism sprang up, schism rent the elvish church and sundered it into dozens of different creeds, with every shade of heresy and error between complete falsehood and the true faith. False gods were worshipped in dark forests, in burning deserts and on all the remote continents that the elvish diaspora had spread to.
And yet, at the same time, Prélan’s Spirit drew many lost souls back to Him in repentance, and successive revivals kept the true faith from ever being extinguished. The faithful transcended national and ethnic boundaries, so that elves and men were all able to follow Prélan in their own ways. The armists learned a version of the true faith from the elves they lived amongst, but the other children of the mountains, the dwarves, had their own completely different concept of God: Prélan still, but in a form the elves could scarcely recognise, remote and legalistic, whose favour hinged upon merit and worth.
By the Fourth Chapter, when the novel Oron Amular is set, religion in Astrom had been diversifying and evolving for nine thousand years, with some aspects of it passing into mythology and others enduring as a part of everyday life. By this time religion in Astrom was as diverse as it was around the ancient or medieval Mediterranean, when whole pantheons of pagan gods were worshipped alongside Yahweh, Christ and Allah.
That is where I shall leave things, for beyond the days of Oron Amular my conception of religion in Astrom is unclear, its fate not yet known. But one final thing I shall say: Prélan prophesied long ago that He would send His Spirit upon the world in a new way, making his truth clear to a new age of believers who wandered in darkness. The Word of God would be written down, made living and active, and propagated across the globe, so that the destiny of creation might reach its intended climax, where folk of every tribe and tongue turn back to Prélan, with whom it all began.