Wanders of Maenar

Blood flows like a river

We must have crossed into Maenar country some ways back. On every river we've struck camp beside, we watch the bodies come floating down. Pale bloated corpses that somehow appease their watery gods.
Hamza Morinfold, Ucaranian wyndleroot harvester, 2725 AoR
T
he Wanders of Maenar is a religion dedicated to the worship of river gods. Wanders are found across Excilior, but the faith originated in the Elladoran lands of western and southern Islegantuan. In the original Tallonari, maenar roughly translates to "the essence of water" and wander is "one who seeks". At one point, the religion was one of the largest on the planet. In modern times, it's seen as more of a primitive anachronism, although there has never been a period when the faith has died out completely, and its roots remain strongest away from urban centers. Its reputation in more recent millennia has been sullied by its extremist offshoot which honors "the old ways" by occasionally conducting human sacrifices at headwaters across all three continents.

Foreign Relations

W
anders are often associated (at least, tangentially) with the Sylvan Guard. When the Sylvans lost their official state funding from Hineia in 1470 AoE, some local networks of Wanders stepped in to help fill the void. The connection was natural because many Sylvans were already practicing Wanders and Wander pilgrims - often vulnerable, and in need of protection - leaned heavily on Sylvans to guide them safely to their sacred headwaters.
 
Sylvan Sponsorship
The Wanders' formal sponsorship of the Sylvans continued for nearly a thousand years, although the scope of this support was often exaggerated and misunderstood. The Sylvans were sometimes portrayed as an explicitly-Wander order, but this has never been accurate. Even at the height of Sylvan-Wander cooperation, there was never a period when the Wanders had any explicit control over the Sylvans and there were always many members of the Guard who were not Wanders and had absolutely no allegiance to the church.
 
Limited Scope
There was also public confusion about the scope of Wanders' support. While it was not uncommon for some conspiracy theorists to sneer that the Sylvans were "bought and paid for" by the Wanders, or that the Wanders controlled all of the Sylvan's activities (financial or otherwise), the truth is far less expansive. Even at the height of their partnership, Wander contributions only ever accounted for a minor portion of Sylvan budgets. There were entire regions where the Wanders contributed nothing to the Sylvans. And even where Wander support was strong, the Sylvans still depended upon numerous benefactors, most of whom had nothing to do with the religion. Nevertheless, the idea that Sylvans somehow favor or are in league with the Wanders is a pernicious myth that persists in some circles to this day.
We're not in league with the devil. That, I could handle. We're in league with bloodthirsty savages who drag innocents to their unholy altars under our banner.
Berton Gorardi, Hetmaan Sylvan Guard, 2291 AoR
Unsavory Associations
Ultimately, it was the birth of the tyrans, combined with the rise of the Old Wanders, that pushed the Sylvan-Wander partnership to a breaking point. What began as a marriage of convenience ultimately brought dishonor upon the Sylvans and motivated them to distance themselves from all Wander connections. The public came to associate the Sylvan Guard, the Wanders, the Old Wanders, and the tyrans in one indistinguishable, murderous stew. To some extent, this was perfectly understandable, because Old Wanders (i.e., human-sacrificing Wanders) identify themselves publicly as just Wanders - and the Wanders were tied to the Sylvans. Even worse, some of those Old Wanders resorted to kidnapping and highway robbery as a means to find new fodder for their sacrifices - and they found these activities were easier to pull off if they actually impersonated the Sylvan Guard. This underhanded element continued to attract more rogues who were either happy to follow the ways of the Old Wanders, or were simply content to rob, pillage, and murder while under the guise of the Sylvan Guard. When the Sylvans realized that they were caught in a battle of public perception with the murderous tyrans and the barbaric Old Wanders, they made the strategic decision to break all public ties with the Wanders in an attempt to preserve their honor.

Mythology & Lore

W
anders believe in the holy divinity of the rivers themselves. It's commonly thought that they believe their gods reside in the rivers, but this isn't technically correct. Wanders would clarify that the rivers are the gods. Popular depictions of Wander theology portray godlike figures resting in, or rising from, the rivers. And even Wanders are prone to fall back upon such representations. But they see these personifications as a convenient shorthand, necessary for mortal minds to grasp the heavenly glory that is the river. By Wander teachings, most humans struggle to conceive of a river as a living, sentient, and divine being in its own right. So they find it acceptable, even for the devout, to depict those rivers in corporeal form. Adding to this ambiguity, many Wander scriptures talk of particular rivers spawning corporeal forms. So from this perspective, even though the Oastern Run, for example, is seen as a true deity in its own right, the destitute traveler plodding down a forgotten trail may also be the same god - incarnate.
 
Unique Names
For every casterway name that has been bestowed upon a river, there is an entirely different name by which the Wanders refer to that same waterway. So in the example given above, Wanders don't typically refer to the Oastern Run as such. They call it Sinabalok. Of course, there are thousands of rivers of all sizes across Excilior, and even the most devout Wander can't hope to know all of their "proper" names for all of the rivers in every distant land. So most followers know the Wander names for all of the rivers within their local region. They also know the Wander names for the world's grandest rivers - even those they may never see, flowing across foreign continents. But when they encounter each other far from home, in unfamiliar lands, they understand that the newcomers may fall back upon casterway names for at least a little while, until they can learn the chosen names of the local Wander gods. This practice of maintaining an entirely unique set of river names can, at times, be cumbersome for Wanders and non-Wanders alike. But it can also serve as a useful shiboleth. Because a Wander living in the local area of the Oastern Run would almost never refer to it as such. And a nonbeliever would almost never refer to it as Sinabalok.
I can't keep track of it. The rivers are gods. The creeks are gods. The sewers may be gods as well. And when I step out back to relieve myself of this vintage, I suspect the Wanders will anoint my stream with a holy name of their choosing - and promptly start praying to it.
Arphonse Barzac, Cheian fish herder, 2646 AoR
Individual Gods
To Wanders, every single river - big or small, wide or narrow, deep or shallow - is a unique deity. That deity in turn has its own particular set of skills and personality traits. Given the sheer number of rivers across the planet, it's unsurprising that Wander religious texts can span hundreds of volumes, with each volume containing hundreds of pages. Some devoted Wanders have dedicated their entire lives to authoring sprawling volumes that detail the eternal history of a single god (river). When put into context beside all of the other Wander gods (rivers), it's easy to see how their archives can quickly overflow.
 
Epic Sagas
The sprawling nature of the Wander pantheon, coupled with the faithful's desire to document the grand histories of their gods, places Wander literature in the forefront of epic fiction. No other religions offer sagas that can match the grandiose tales of the myriad Wander gods. The religious texts may be considered "canon", but they are also rife with bawdy tales of gods acting in ways that are altogether unseemly. The full range of human traits - from the honorable to the downright embarrassing - are reflected in the Wanders' gods. And their tales make full use of these traits to produce entertaining and intricate legends.
 
Complex Personalities
The tendency to ascribe personal traits to individual gods (rivers) leads many nonbelievers to make statements such as, "This local river is the Wander God of Charity," or, "That stream represents the Wander God of Knowledge." But such generalizations range from overly-simplistic to flat-out wrong. Wanders themselves make no attempt to assign a single domain, or a set of domains, to any single god. For example, the faithful may believe that the traits of a particular god make him (or her) more involved in matters of war, but they would never go so far as to claim that this particular god is The God of War. In fact, an adherent desiring assistance on the eve of a battle may decide to pray to any of the Wander gods (rivers). Staying with this example, in some Wander teachings, it's far more effective to pray to the "local" god, whom the worshipper presumably "knows" and has a stronger personal relationship with, than to pray to a god associated with some distant river in a far-off land simply because that god is thought to be more keen on matters of warfare.
 
Disturbing Forms
Every Wander god is recognized by local worshippers as having some type of "default" corporeal form. This needn't be confined to a single form. And more powerful gods (which are correlated with larger rivers) may be known to commonly assume as many as a dozen different shapes. Although many of the personified representations of these gods are indeed human, there are many other gods known to take the shape of animals, plants, or even elementals. Of these representations, secular observers find the inhuman, unnatural forms to be the most disturbing. For whatever reason, many Wander gods are shown, in great detail, as misshapen or hideous humans. Others are depicted as nightmarish monsters, ghouls, or demons. These startling images, of demonic deities assuming savage forms, tend to leave many casterways uneasy and contribute to misconceptions about the religion. Conversely, most Wanders shrug off such negative connotations. They don't typically perceive their gods as handsome-or-ugly, righteous-or-evil, frightening-or-comforting, hideous-or-sublime. Instead, they're more likely to accept nearly every depiction of Wander gods at face value - an emotionless representation of this god's chosen form that is neither "good" nor "bad".

Divine Origins

T
here is no acknowledged "beginning" to the Wanders. References to those worshiping "river spirits" or "river gods" can be found as far back as the Age of Cervia. Auld Cervia had no official religion and its population is thought to have been remarkably atheist/agnostic for its time. But that does not mean that the early casterways were entirely devoid of religious beliefs. Some of the first cognoscenti made note of a burgeoning practice of sun-worship, that would eventually coalesce into the Priori of Syrus. Similarly, sacred rituals were practiced in-and-around rivers almost since the dawn of civilization. These rituals were eventually codified in the Wanders of Maenar.   A tradition of river worship was perhaps inevitable on Excilior. The planet is a hot, wet, odyssey of rain. And these prodigious downpours ultimately foster a myriad of rivers, streams, brooks, and creeks. For those living off the land, Excilior's rivers are not merely a trivial fact of life. They are the lifeblood of a vast ecosystems, and humans have found many ways to flourish in those environments.
 
Global Reach
Although the Age of Expansion is named after the period when casterways spread out to claim and colonize every known scrap of land, the Age could just as well have been named after the sprawling influence of the Wanders' traditions during the same time. At the dawn of the Age, Wander rites were a quaint backwater feature peculiar to the remote regions of Islegantuan. By the dawn of the Age of Rivals, the Wanders were confirmed to have at least some marginal influence on all of Excilior's continents, and in pockets of every country's population.

Cosmological Views

We are not beside the river. We are not in the river. We are the river. The precious waters flow through us just as time flows through the valleys of our lives.
Sacred Wander text
I
n Wander mythology, the entire planet, and for that matter, the entire universe, was a river. Modern Wanders will usually concede that the early cosmos did not consist entirely of water. Rather, the use of "river", in a celestial sense, is meant to infer the flow of all that was in the universe. To Wanders, the proto-cosmos was a continual, churning, and never-ending soup of all that we now call "matter". This formless torrent first began to birth steady masses when the emerging gods gained consciousness and vied for their own agency. When the Aethyr Gods emerged from the hellish furnace of the early universe, they gathered the heavens for themselves - and what was left between these universal kingdoms was the stars and the planets. And on the individual planets, when the River Gods established their own domain, what was left between their kingdoms was the land and the sky. Although this hierarchy may suggest that Wander deities are a notch below, and somewhat lesser than, the Aethyr Gods, their mythology gives almost no account of these unseen and unknown proto-spirits. From their perspective, the River Gods are the only supreme power they will ever encounter, and the only divinity worthy of casterway worship. There are even some scriptures suggesting that the Aethyr Gods - the "old" order - are actually dead. And that the only remaining divinity are the River Gods. So it could be said that Aethyr Gods are to River Gods as Titans are to Olympians.

Ethics

A
lthough a good portion of Wander dogma is "standard" religious fare - do unto others..., love thy neighbor... etc... - they also have a natural affinity for the rivers that are their gods. With this in mind, they are particularly keen to shepherd the use of their beloved waterways. At times, this can cause significant conflict with secular locals.
 
Limited Environmentalism
Some have the mistaken impression that Wanders are, by nature, environmentalists. But this is a myopic view of the religion. While its true that they take great interest in all of Excilior's rivers, they have never shown any organizational imperative to protect and care for mountains, caves, oceans/seas, plains, etc. If it doesn't directly affect their rivers (and thus, their gods), the organization as a whole generally shows little interest one way or the other.
 
Twisted Conservation
Even with regard to their holy waterways, what the average casterway thinks of as "conservation" may look very different to a Wander, and vice versa. The extreme holiness that Wanders infer from their rivers sometimes leads them to dip (some would say: dump) almost anything imaginable into them. This includes departed loved ones, "offerings" of every type, problematic (read: broken) devices that are returned to the gods for "repair", decaying plant and animal matter - really, almost anything. This has led secular observers to comment that the Wander idea of "worshipping" the river seems, to a surprising degree, to involve treating the river like a liquid landfill. The Wander process of deciding what does-or-does-not go into the river also strikes many as arbitrary. The general rule of thumb seems to be: If a Wander places something in the river, it's a holy offering and the god will be pleased. If a nonbeliever dumps anything in the river, it's an unholy affront to their deity and the apostate should be punished.

Worship

G
iven the ubiquity of Excilior's rivers, it's quite possible for a Wander to pray while literally standing right next to one of their gods. Such activities are often supplemented by making an offering - which is either floated down the river, or simply chunked into it. Of course, Wanders are perfectly comfortable praying to their gods even when there is no river in sight. But they would greatly prefer to be riverside when engaging in the most crucial prayers.
It's not just that they bathe in the river. They wallow in it like carokins. If they had any self respect, the first thing they'd do after leaving that river... is take a bath.
Nim Sudham, Lahjian ferry operator, 1705 AoE
Bathing
Entering their beloved rivers is one of the holiest acts a Wander can commit. To bathe in a river is to truly be one with the god. Wanders are rather notorious for bathing in any river, at any time, regardless of the river's safety or cleanliness. Rapids and waterfalls see a steady trickle of drowned Wander zealots who simply could not restrain themselves and waded one step too far into dangerous currents. Casterways have also noted, with open disgust, the glee with which Wanders will sometimes dive, head first, into even the filthiest and most fetid waters, as long as those waters connect eventually, in some way, to the broader river.   Although worship can occur any place, there are three particular locations that Wanders truly think of as sacred ground. The first is any river's origin - its headwaters. The second is its end - the place where it finally meets the sea. The third is any place where two-or-more rivers converge.
 
Headwaters
Headwaters are the most notorious locations of Wander worship. In the Wander mindset, the most valuable offering (and thus, the one that will garner the greatest favor from the god) is the one that manages to traverse the entire length of the river. So nearly every headwater has at least a small outpost for Wander pilgrims who trek to the river's genesis - and then proceed to chuck all manner of crap into it, hoping that some random bit will make it all the way to the sea and bring great favor from the god.
 
Convergence
Wanders are a modest order and they are not known for their temples. But their grandest construction projects can always be found at the convergence of rivers. They view these natural intersections to be a continual miracle where the power of gods is combined - and even multiplied. Where small streams empty into grander waterways, there may be no formal Wander temple. But they still venerate the location and will go out of their way on local journeys to visit and make offerings. They see these locations as the site where a modest deity offers itself to be subsumed by the larger, grander god, creating an even-stronger spirit. Where larger rivers meet, there is almost always at least some kind of formal Wander presence. They celebrate this convergence as a grand union - something akin to a heavenly marriage.
 
To The Sea
Where rivers finally meet the sea, Wanders revere these locations as opportunities for heartfelt thanks and meaningful introspection. There are rarely any formal Wander temples at these points. But it's not uncommon to see a steady stream of quietly-joyful followers serenely watching the river end its run. In their ideology, the Sister Seia, the mighty Aequin Ocean, and any other body of saltwater is really just the "grand" river or the "final" river - a current of water forever circling the planet and ultimately providing the greatest divine oversight to humankind.

Priesthood

W
anders maintain only a loose network of acolytes. The outposts situated at the headwaters of most rivers are typically maintained by one or two believers who have made it their avocation to aid the other pilgrims who visit the holy ground to make offerings. These individuals are not ordained by any central hierarchy and the Wanders make no distinction in religious authority between men and women. Further downstream, the most formal gatherings of priests are found in the permanent temples built to worship where two rivers merge. These clerics are not appointed so much as they are generally acknowledged by the local parishioners as being sage and respected defenders of the faith. Wanders do occasionally establish modest presences in the cities. As a general rule, many of the followers don't much care for urban life. But most large cities are situated on major rivers - often, at the sacred convergence of the river with the sea. So with this in mind, it's only logical that the Wanders would put down roots in these locations - first to facilitate their own spiritual needs, and second to assist colleagues making their way to the river to worship amidst their normal city life.

Sects

T
here are no acknowledged sects of the faith. In official church doctrine, there are Wanders, there are nonbelievers, and that's it. But anyone with even a passing knowledge of Wander history realizes that they long ago spawned a disturbing sect that is primarily known for one barbaric practice - human sacrifice. This rebellious offshoot typically refers to themselves simply as Wanders. For in their minds, they are the "true" Wanders. When outsiders or church members feel the need to clearly differentiate this sect, they sometimes refer to them as the Old Wanders. This has nothing to do with the age of the members nor the age of the sect itself. It is a reference to the Old Wanders' insistence on following the "old ways".
You want Chopharnos to protect you. To provide for you. To heal you and sustain you. So what are you going to offer her? A rotting fish? A shoddy basket? A handful of wilting blooms? You can do as you wish. But I will offer her the beating heart of our youth. And Chopharnos will hear my prayers.
Omollo Odero, Tinsian Wander, 1735 AoE
Old Wanders
There is no firm definition of what exactly qualifies under the "old ways" versus the "new ways". On minor points of church doctrine, there has been great bickering about what should really be done (or discarded) as part of the "old ways". But everyone is in agreement on one key difference that always distinguishes a "regular" Wander from an Old Wander - human sacrifice. These murderous rituals had only been practiced briefly, early in the Age of Cervia, and some cognoscenti now debate whether the ancient sacrificers were even Wanders at all. Some have come to believe that those ancient primitives were merely random pagans, conducting their rituals on-or-near rivers, who therefore became associated in antiquity with the burgeoning faith of the Wanders. But whether human sacrifice was ever an acknowledged practice of the "official" Wanders, the Old Wanders took it up as a critical requirement to appease the gods.
 
Human Sacrifice
On some primitive, fanatical level, their reversion to human sacrifice almost makes sense. Even regular Wanders believe that offerings are a critical part of their worship. Greater offerings bring greater favor from the gods. "Greater", in the context of offerings, usually implies "that which represents the greatest sacrifice for those supplying the offering." And there are few sacrifices greater than a human sacrifice. Furthermore, Wander beliefs hold that an offering is more pleasing to the gods the longer it maintains its course on the river. So with this mind, the Old Wanders are known to congregate at-or-near the headwaters at which they perform their sacrifice, prepare the body of the just-murdered, and then float it down the river with the best possible outcome (from their perspective) being that the corpse eventually floats all the way out to sea.
 
Disavowed
Wanders have tried for centuries - to little avail - to publicly distance themselves from the Old Wanders. They have condemned human sacrifice. They have even gone so far as to ban all sacrifices of any living creature, fearing that the entire practice has become forever stained by the public knowledge of human sacrifices occuring at the hands of the Old Wanders. The church's inability to separate themselves from this murderous legacy is partly due to their lack of formal structure. With no "central authority" to act as the official voice of the faith, any disavowment can only come at the hands of local worshippers and modest acolytes of little-or-no renown. These public repudiations have also been occasionally undermined when the same clerics who loudly forbade human sacrifice were later found to be secretly facilitating the rites.
 
Unfair Stain
Anyone who takes the time to fully investigate the Wander faith as a whole understands that the vast majority of its worshippers despise the Old Wanders and want nothing to do with human sacrifice. But broad sections of the public, who don't feel bothered to take an objective and academic approach to the religion, have simply come to see all Wanders as savages who will murder the unwary and throw them into the river just to appease their river gods. This misconception is exacerbated by the fact that all Wanders wish to be "buried" by being floated down the river - ideally, by loved ones who have dragged the body as-near-as-possible to the headwaters. So even when there are no Old Wanders operating anywhere in the area, it's not uncommon to see a bloated body, adorned in ceremonial trappings, slowly floating toward the sea. To the casual observer living far downstream, it's difficult (if not impossible) to distinguish between the bodies that have been lovingly prepared by their friends and family, versus those who were cruelly slaughtered in an act of ritual sacrifice.
 
Lurking Influence
The influence of the Old Wanders has waxed and waned repeatedly throughout the centuries. They have never been in the forefront of casterway society. And they have never been officially acknowledged or accepted by the broader Wander faith. But they've never fully gone away. At times of great catastrophe, their influence inevitably swells up again as desperate layfolk grasp at any "solution", no matter how dire or amoral, to appease the gods and return their lives to normal. These disasters can come in any form - and indeed, many of them are manmade plagues of war and famine - but the Old Wanders also receive a regular boost every 247 years by the Trials of Syrus. It matters little that the cognoscenti can now chart every oncoming Trial like clockwork. And it doesn't matter that anyone with a basic knowledge of natural history knows exactly how long each Trial
will last. In the years directly preceding a Trial, the incidence of known Old Wander sacrifices always ticks upward, fueled by the delusional belief that they can avoid - or at least, alleviate - the next Trial if they can find some way to offer the perfect sacrifice. And once the Trial is in full sway, these sacrifices ultimately intensify from desperate locals trying to do anything possible to somehow allay the slow, ongoing catastrophe.

Maenar flows through all of us

Pronunciation WAHN-derz UVV MAY-nahr
Type
Religious, Pantheon
Demonym
Wander
Related Ethnicities

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