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Sunemrah and Sunarian Polytheism

THIS PAGE IS OUT OF DATE IN SOME PLACES AND MAY CONTRADICT WITH INFORMATION FROM THE SUNARIAN EMPIRE PAGE, THAT PAGE IS THE CORRECT ONE IN THESE CASES  

Deity or Religious Structure

The Goddess Sune, the Mother Goddess, the Imperial Goddess   The religion of Sunemrah is a cross between monotheistic and pantheistic, with its followers believing in the existence of a preeminent goddess, named Sune, as well as a unspecified number of lesser patron deities. These lesser gods, are in many cases disregarded, or ignored by the higher officials within the religion, who focus their worship upon the imperial mother goddess, Sune.   Greatly celebrated across Sunar today, Sune was not always as widely worshiped as she is; but began her existence as one patron deity among an untold many. Initially the patron of exclusively the city of Sunas, Sune rose to prominence following the growth and expansion of the city, into the Sunarian Lower Kingdom. Eventually she would become the primary goddess of the First Empire, where her association with the entire Sun River, for which Sune, Sunas and Sunar all derive their name, first started to appear.   While foreign gods are respected by the Sunist faith, and considered legitimate beings dwelling out beyond Sunar, they are also viewed as lesser deities, akin to patron gods within Sunar's many cities. Sune, as the great creator goddess, is seen as the one responsible for their existence just as she is man's, and the world as a whole.  

History

Foundation

Before Sune became the primary goddess, dozens if not hundreds of deities were worshiped and believed in, in Upper and Lower Sunar, with each being worshiped within their own individual cities, exclusively. While each was seen as interconnected, there was no cross over in worship. A believer prayed and made offerings to their city's specific god, and no other. As Sunas came to preeminence during the Kingdom of Upper and Lower Sunar, so too did Sune as the patron of the greatest city of the period. Special status began to be afforded to her shortly before the eruption of the First Intermediate Period though, as tribute began to be demanded by Sunas' kings, not as a show of respect for them, but rather, for their goddess. Furthermore, these kings, publicly denounced and mocked the patron deities, as lesser individuals, since their worshipers were submissive vassals to Sunas. Understandably, many subject cities were outraged at this change in policy, perceiving the offering of tribute to Sune as an act of betrayal against their own patrons, and Sunas' mockery, a wake up call to growing Sunarian tyranny.   Despite this outrage though, the subject cities remained largely in line. There were small uprisings here and there, no doubt, but none that indicated any large structured effort to overthrow the established order. Overall, the client cities simply grew more and more disloyal towards Sunas, recognizing their "protection", was no longer needed, nor desired. When the royal dynasty finally collapsed during a succession crisis in 680 FD, and weakness was shown, this anger among Sunas client cities spurred many into revolt, and brought the whole kingdom into ruin.   The widespread adoption of Sune would only appear with the arrival of the First Empire several generations later, when it was decided that a singular, primary deity was needed to unite the fractured cities and peoples of Sunar into one. This would be the work of predominantly Akenit I, otherwise known as the First Emperor, who after re subjugating the cities of Sunar, saw religion as one of the best methods of uniting his large and centralized empire. Still identifying themselves as a citizens of particular cities, most of Sunar's population did not see themselves as part of a greater Sunarian identity. Akenit resolved this in part, by creating a common deity, worshiped like a mother among all "Children of the Sun" (as the Akenit, and later his followers would refer to the people of Sunar).   Meeting with the high priests of Sune, Akenit I and his high priests, restructured the ancient polytheistic beliefs of Sunarian Polytheism into Sunemrah, a new religion centered around the Goddess Sune. He remained tolerant of the many patron dities throughout the empire, however, by encouraging their worship. Elevating Sune beyond being just Sunas' patron deity, Akenit converted the goddess into a being responsible for the Sun River, and its yearly flooding, depicting her as the life giver and creator of the world. The patrons, as such were her children, lesser than her in scripture, but in practice treated the same way that had for millennia, as gods and goddesses. The overarching religious texts that would outline this transition, would be the Codex of Life and Death, and the Codices of Order; both of which would be created by the Akenit and his disciples, as holy books for his religion.   These changes and alterations, would be portrayed and presented to the people of Sunar, as a direct teaching of Sune herself, and were far more generous than previous attempts at elevating her had been. Providing a skillfully crafted place for the patron deities of other cities, Sunemrah was a very careful attempt to not alienate their practitioners, and it succeeded in winning over many. For this reason two variants of temple exist within essentially every city and major community in Sunar; one for Sune, and one for the community's patron deity.   Following the proclamation of the reformed faith of Sunemrah, Akenit I, would make a great effort to construct a temple to Sune in every city, but in so doing he was careful. To build to boldly, and to glorify Sune to much to soon, would only enrage the citizenry of his subject cities; and so he built her temples, at first very modestly. Putting up simple shrines, the earliest temples to Sune, were nothing amazing, merely a place in which people could worship the new imperial goddess. In contrast though, Akenit I spent a fortune renovating, and glorifying the numerous patron temples; his motivation no doubt being to win over some lee way with his newly conquered subjects, and to reinforce the separation between his rule, and that of Sunas' former kings.   This strategy at first proved a failure though, and very few people bothered to worship Sune, outside of her core patronage in Sunas. Despite adopting a slow and agreeable growth meant to avoid heavy resistance, Akenit's reformed religion did little to attract new worshipers to Sune.   In 758 FD though, divine intervention would turn his failure into an unparalleled success, for in that year Lower Sunar suffered from a massive flooding of the Sun River. Generally a calm river, with regular seasonal flooding, the Sun River's Great Flood, as it would come to be known, came out of season, unexpectedly, and was a massive disaster for the empire. Recognizing in this disaster an opportunity though, Akenit reminded his subjects of Sune's dominance over the river, and portrayed the crisis as an example of her wrath. Angry, at being ignored, and left by the way side, Sune was punishing her children for favoring the patrons, and no amount of worship to them would alleviate a crisis she herself imposed upon the country. Most, however, did not listen, and continued to give offering to their traditional patrons, desperate for their favor.   As days turned into weeks and the flood waters did not recede, Akenit's words were proven true, the patrons could do nothing to stem the disaster. Many people lost faith in their traditional patrons around this time, realizing that since this was an empire wide crisis, offerings to an individual patron, could do nothing. Recognizing for the first time the weakness in their patron deities, people began to pay serious respect to the idea of an imperial deity imposing her wrath on them, just as Akenit had warned. Quickly, worshipers began to appear at Sune's shrines and holy sites, giving unto Sune great offerings, and prayer; realizing the goddess of the river was their only hope of salvation.   According to annals from the time, this new worship to Sune worked. Disappearing, apparently, over night, the river receded and the crisis ended. Convinced now of her power and preeminence, many deserted their old patron temples in the days and weeks that followed, to make offerings at holy sites devoted to Sune. Onward, Sune would be viewed with far more respect, and reverence, her legitimacy assured by calming of the Sun River.   Akenit would reinvigorate his religious reformation after the crisis, investing massive sums in renovating Sune's numerous shrines into temples that won even more people over to her worship. To maintain order and peace though, Akenit would at times, spend great sums of money, throwing empire wide religious festivities, paying for offerings, and celebration in the name of patron deities. These actions were clear attempts at quieting unrest in the provinces by way of pandering to any lingering elements of regional identity, which while a great show, were meant purely to keep the population quiet and tolerable to Sune's slow, growing presence. We know this today, because in most cases these offerings either followed, or came before acts of aggrandizement towards Sune, such as temple renovations, or Sunist festivals.   Over the years that followed, more and more people began to worship Sune preeminently, caring less for the patron deities, who slowly fell to the way side in the wake of a new shared religious identity across Lower Sunar. To keep up with this demand of worshipers, temples to Sune grew into magnificent palaces devoted to her worship. In contrast, as they grew less relevant, and imperial backing eventually disappeared, the patron temples were forced to relocate, shrinking as they grew to rely on public charity and good will. Today, many patron temples exist only as small shrines or holy sites, catering to the most, devoted, or desperate, of locals.  

Foreign Occupation - the Drumidians, and the Zanarids

 

The Black Emperor, and the Cusireen Dark Age

 

Basic Practices

Prayer, Self Accountability, Fasting, Ritual Bathing, Religious Trinkets, Religious Markings.

Prayer and Fasting

There are numerous forms of prayer for Sunemrah, with each having specific functions and way of being recited. Some, are reserved exclusively for priests and religious leaders during heavily ritualized ceremonies; while others are meant for personnel usage when alone. Some furthermore, have incredibly important fasts associated with them, during which the worshiper must refrain from eating, to truly acknowledge the blessing of the Sun River and the divinity of its waters.   The Nehes, and Metjan: The Nehes is a general set of prayers used by Sunists, in private, and in groups, at religious gatherings. Used to ask for favor from a specific patron deity, the Nehes is usually recited in times of trouble, or to ask for divine aid; it is specifically not conducted towards Sune, who is the primary target of the Amekh Sa prayer. It is also used as a group reciting, during set religious festivals held throughout the year, as a way of asking for collective good fortune from a city's patron. When reciting Nehes, the ceremonial fast, Metjan, must be preformed, during which the worshiper is expected to refrain from eating for three days (Nehes being conducted on the second, or middle day). To be caught eating during Metjan, is considered an act of the utmost betrayal to the patron deity, and has resulted in the individual guilty of the act, being ostracized from their family and community.  
Prayer to Sune
A depiction of ancient Sunarians worshiping the Goddess Sune who is represented by a scarab.   The Amekh Sa, the Petema and Metjanar: The Amekh Sa is a set of prayers, devoted specifically to Sune, which are often recited in closed religious ceremonies by priests. The general idea being to express adoration of Sune, as the mother goddess of mankind, and to express gratitude and bestow praise upon her, before an undertaking; such as a harvest, war, or great effort of the collective. It is usually considered the highest form of prayer that can be made, and is reserved for requests of great importance; whereas the Nehes, is primarily for smaller, or more personal matters. Immediately following Amekh Sa, the Petema, is hummed as a group, with its purpose being to mimic the song Sune hummed to the first of her children, at the dawn of the world. Like the Metjan, the Metjanar, is a religious fast conducted around the Amekh Sa, lasting from two weeks to an entire month. It is exclusively preformed by priests who can consume only water, and lamb meat during its course, with Amekh Sa being conducted during a predetermined day towards the middle of Metjanar.   The Tu'atu: The Tu'atu is a daily prayer conducted by all Sunists, as a form of thanks to Sune. It is the most widely made prayer, and an entirely individual one, made either upon awakening in the morning, or before bed in the evening. The basic purpose of it is, to reflect on ones reliance on the Sun River, and acknowledge gratitude towards the Goddess.   The Alemana and Divine Marriage: The alemana is the ceremony in which the emperor's wife ascends from her mortal life, into that as the incarnate of the Goddess Sune. Most women are eligible for the ascendancy, however, women are rarely selected outside the heavily isolated priestesses of the Sisterhood of Sune because of the responsibility and zealot piousness ingrained in such a life. The alemana is a public ceremony, preformed under the open sky on the steps of either the Great Temple, or the Imperial Palace, and usually attracts a large crowd of attendees. Following the ceremony, the wife of an emperor can no longer assume her old identity, she must for the remainder of her, or her husbands life, behave as the goddess herself. To fail in this task, is one of the greatest of sins, and can result in serious repercussions, including divorce, exile, and even execution for blasphemy. The life of one of these women, is not an easy one, permitted to leave the Imperial Palace only for religious ceremonies, it is heavily frowned upon for her to interact with anyone outside the Sisterhood of Sune, or her husband. For this reason she is rarely alone, and is often accompanied by a number of priestesses who speak for her. When an emperor outlives his wife, the widow ceases to be the goddess and is readmitted into her old life, or the Sisterhood of Sune wherein which she is given no more respect than she would have had prior to her ascendancy. The idea being, that it was not her who lived that life as and emperor's wife, but the goddess, she was simply the vessel by which the pairing occurred.  

Self Accountability

Mankind in Sunist teachings, has the incredible ability of free will. This impacts upon them the burden and blessing of self accountability, that most animals lack, making their lives their own to live, as they so choose. They are not, however, given free reign to act however they wish, without consequence. Upon death, everyone is judged for the way they went about living their life, and if found lacking by the Goddess Sune, punishment for their life will be met out.  
We are creatures that possess the wonderful ability to take responsibility for what we think, do, and say, and to make our lives expressions of diligence and loyalty, rather than selfishness, fear, and sloth.
 

Ritual Bathing

While it is not a heavily structured tenant of Sunemrah, bathing within the waters of the Sun River, is considered an important part of a Sunemte's day. Perceived to have cleansing properties, the Sun River, as the life giver, washes away filth, and is often considered to have even healing qualities for those who bath along its banks. Because of this belief, temples are often situated near or even out over the river, so as to give their priests easy access to the water for ceremonies.  

Religious Trinkets

Holding a special significance to worshipers of Sune, gold is believed to be the blood of Sune herself, and as such the usage of it in jewelry is widespread, and granted special divine status. Most Sunemites possess an amulet, bracelet or similar trinket for this reason, as a personnel point of connection with Sune. Shaped more often than not into the form of a scarab, or young women, trinkets are not officially used in religious ceremonies and prayer, but are none the less, frequently displayed or held during them in the belief they may bolster one's faith.  

Religious Markings

Priests and important ceremonial figures of Sunemrah often paint their bodies with gold paint during rituals and prayer, as a form of better connecting with Sune. The markings they draw on their skin, are usually done by hand, or by brush, and have no specific style or pattern to them beyond symbolizing the intricacy of life.  

Chastity of the Sisters of Sune

The Sisterhood of Sune is a priesthood of women active since the First Empire, who serve as the attendees to the emperor's wife, and act as potential brides to yet unmarried emperors. Unlike other priests and priestesses the sisters of the Sisterhood of Sune are required to maintain their virginity, and live chaste lives. This is because as potential brides to the emperor, sisters may go through the process of Alemana should they be chosen, and ascend into godhood as a vessel of Sune.  

Prohibitions

Face Shaving

Men practicing Sunemrah are expected shave their faces regularly and refrain from developing facial hair in any form. The only exception to this rule being the emperor, who is allowed to go as he pleases. This is not a particularly strict tenant, however, and at various points throughout the empire's history practitioners have grown beards without any repercussion. Prominent cases being during the Zanarid and Cusireen periods of imperial history, where foreign influence in government weakened the Sunemite religion greatly.

Shaved Heads

Sunist priests are furthermore expected to shave their heads entirely, and maintain a bald appearance; part of the purpose for this is derived from practicality, to better allow the marking and painting of their heads during religious festivals and prayer; but also, as a means of standing out from the masses as the chosen holy men of Sune, or their patron deity.

Lamb Meat

Lamb meat holds a special place within Sunemrah, with it being viewed exclusively as pure, and pious meat, only fit to be eaten by priests, during the religious fast Metjenar. As a result, the sale of lamb meat, and shepherding of sheep is very meager in Sunar, however, it is still sold and consumed by not Sunemites within the borders of the empire.  

Creation Beliefs

The creation mythos of Sunemrah are recorded in great detail, within the preeminent Sunarian holy book, the Codex of Life and Death.  

Death and the Afterlife

The Children of the Sun believe in both an underworld, and a system of reincarnation. Beginning before death when possible, the passage of a person from life in to death, requires that person give up their earthly belongings. This usually takes the form of the sick, or dying individual, giving away their possessions in the form of gifts, and is often supported by a will; which are commonly kept by most Sunarians. Ritual surrounding this system of wills and gifts, is not strict, or heavily managed by the government or priestly castes; and is instead a matter handled largely within the family of the departed. As a result, in the case of unexpected death, say on the battlefield or in one's sleep, it is expected, that the departed's closest relatives or friends would divvy up their belongings, based upon the outline of their will.  

The Underworld

The Timeless Underworld, Nu   Upon death proper, the deceased splits; into two aspects, the body and soul. In this parting, the soul, passes over from one plane of existence (the mortal) to that of the timeless underworld (known as Nu). The body in contrast, exists in either world, remaining where it fell in death in the mortal world, and appearing suddenly in Nu. Nu as a result, exists as a perfect copy of the mortal world, depicted in artwork only as a darker place, where life as mankind can imagine it, does not exist. Nu is also, in many accounts described as simply being, a land to the west, where or what this means exactly is not well know, but is thought to predate the formation of Sunemrah at the foundation of the First Empire as a carry over from Sunarian Polytheism. This has led many throughout history to view the the Umbral Shroud, as the location of Nu, and the Sunarian underworld; as a result many legends of people journeying out west into the darkness exist, with few ever returning.   In any case, both regions, be they separate or the same, are widely known and feared for the supposed creatures and beings roaming through the inky blackness, their minds driven only by a desperate hunger to consume mankind and the energy they carry within them. These creatures, originally seen in the polytheism as simply monsters and demon like figures, are in Sunemrah expanded upon, and directly named the First Children of Sun. Disloyal, and desperate for her power, they were banished to Nu, after attacking her; there deprived of her love and affection, they search out the souls of mankind, her Second Children, to steal from them what little energy remains to them in death. These First Children, are in fact, wicked and corrupted versions of the patron deities of Sunemrah; their brethren, those few loyal ones who today remain among mankind, receiving worship in their respected cities and lands with the blessing of Sune.   Once in Nu, the soul slowly begins to try and escape the body, which at this point exists purely as a husk; a final earthly possession. If it is not able to escape quick enough, and is caught by the strange beings who roam Nu, the soul and its energy are devoured, ceasing to exist. For this reason, bodies of the dead must first be claimed my someone, be it family, friends, or in the case of casualties of war, the emperor, ruler, or what have you. This claiming of the corpse, is often seen as the final loss of all possessions, with the departed literally abandoning their body, so they can journey on into the next life fully. The body of the departed, must then quickly, be stripped bare (discarding yet more possessions), and cremated as soon as possible (freeing the soul trapped within). If left to linger for to long, or not claimed, it is believed that the soul cannot escape on its own and will quickly be found and eaten by the beings of Nu, who hunt for fresh souls to satisfy their never ending hunger. This outcome, is seen by practitioners of Sunist beliefs, as the worst possible fate, for to be devoured means and end to the cycle of reincarnation.  

Reincarnation

Should a soul escape, and abandon its final possessions, its mission becomes to find the Sun River, and descend to the bottom of the river. Here, the idea of an afterlife, begins to waver between ancient beliefs, and those developed during the First Empire. Earlier beliefs, prior to Sune's elevation to master deity, give no consideration to morality, or judgement, perceiving the arrival at the bottom of the Sun, to be met immediately, with rebirth as a human infant somewhere in the mortal world. There is no way of predetermining what life one would live next, for such an event occurs at random, with nothing done in mortality swaying the results of chance. Within the earlier polytheism, kings, could as a result, be reincarnated, as the son of a beggar, or worse; their former lives paying no matter in the ultimate outcome of what person they would become.  
Those who live today will die tomorrow, those who die tomorrow will be born again; Those who accept this, will live forever.
  In contrast to this, later beliefs, established at the founding of the First Empire, developed the idea far more. Meeting Sune herself at the bottom of the river, the soul is judged, with the decision being made, upon how pious a life they lived. With this simple addition, the Sunist idea of the afterlife, changed over night. No longer, could rich and cruel men, escape into a new life unabated. Instead if someone was judged harshly, Sune would do one of two things. Firstly, If their slights against the goddess were forgivable, the soul would be reincarnated as an animal, to repent. Looked down upon by and large, this outcome, was considered shameful and humiliating, but nonetheless functioned in a manor that could see a soul redeemed down the line if the experience humbled them.   If they were deemed unworthy of redemption, however, a far worse fate awaited them. Banished from the Sun River, these souls, were left to wander Nu. Here they would be devoured eventually, by the strange monsters that prowled the darkness, the souls existence coming to a terrible and painful end. These wicked souls, occasionally, survive in Nu though, be it by their wickedness or blind luck. In these cases they are forced back out by Sune, to pass over into the mortal realm as warnings to her children, to show what awaits wickedness, and evil; a moral lesson to ensure mankind remain moral and lawful under her watchful gaze. These travelers between the worlds, appear in Sunar as ghosts and strange spectral figures; knocking at walls, whispering in the night and terrifying those they encounter. Given little freedom in their eternal torment, the dead, are often viewed as malicious entities, feared by many in Sunar for the horrors such a being may have caused in life. In any case, this final punishment, is uncommon, used only upon the worst of people, who were beyond Sune's forgiveness.  
Man must learn to increase his sense of responsibility and of the fact that everything he does will have its consequences. - "Akent I, The First Emperor"
 

Funerary Customs

For the loved ones, or handlers of a dead body in Sunar, urgency was of the utmost concern. Left for too long, the deceased began to rot, and this decomposition, was perceived as the death of a soul, at the hands of the carnivorous beings in Nu. Deemed one of the worst things a person could do, allowing a corpse to rot and decompose, was a source of humiliation for those related to it. Marked to anyone aware of their failure, as a disrespectful, and lazy person, it was not uncommon for mobs to attack and run off persons found guilty of such an act, though, no law has ever existed punishing it. The only real exception to this is in the case of criminals, who when executed, would often be left to rot as a warning to others and a show of disrespect.   Because of this belief, the destruction of the body, was of tremendous importance. Cremation has served throughout history as the primary method used by Sunists, but other more brutal ways are considered valid, if a little unorthodox. As an added, but not universal step in the funerary process of the departed, the corpse is often brought to the Sun River to be destroyed along its banks. The thought process here being, that it would aid the soul in its journey, making its path safer and simpler on towards reincarnation. This aspect is not always followed though, as many Sunists live to far away for such a step to be reasonable of them, when time is off the essence; though, it has nonetheless resulted in a trend of "pilgrimages" if they can be called that, where person's near death will travel to the river to die near its waters.  

Symbolism

Sune is the goddess of the Sun River in Upper and Lower Sunar and is represented on earth firstly, by the water of the great river. Responsible for the annual flooding of the Sun, Sune is considered the great creator goddess. For this reason, she is often viewed as not only the Sun river, but also Sunar itself; with her followers seeing no divergence between the two, as Sunar and they themselves, could not exist without the river.   The goddess Sune has traditionally been depicted in a number of forms. Ranging from a young dark haired woman, to the native Sunarian scarab, Sune's forms are numerous and vary greatly in appearance. The scarab for example has always had a tremendous importance to the empire, serving as the main symbol of Sunar and her people. Despite its origin as a religious symbol though, the winged scarab has overtime emerged as a separate, and secular symbol, thanks largely to the growth of numerous other religions present within the empire.   Gold in Sunemrah

Gold in Sunemrah

Another major symbol of Sune on earth, is the mineral gold. Holding immense religious significance, gold is perceived by worshipers of Sune, as her blood. Seeping from the earth in massive quantities across Sunar, gold is used as a sort of connection to the great mother goddess, with its usage as jewelry being perceived as a sort of ritual in it of itself. For this reason, and the massive quantity of gold in Sunar, most people possess at least some of the mineral, often with it taking the form of a holy trinket.   These people do not legally own the gold in their possession though, as all gold within Sunar is the property of the Sunarian emperor, who's responsibility it is to safe guard the lifeblood of Sune and ensure it remains within the country. This duty is entirely delegated down unto the Priesthood of Sune, however, who stockpile the empire's gold reserve and oversee its transformation into trinkets, decorations and jewelry, which they parcel out to Sune's children for prayer. A strict paper trail is kept by the temples to tract who legally has been given permission by the temple to posses gold, recording both the exact quantity, and form of the material. This is undertaken, to ensure that no one is hoarding gold save the empire, and priesthood, as well as to ensure no gold leaves the borders of Sunar. This system of regulation was implemented early in imperial history by Akenit II, and has remained a core tenant of most rulers ever since. Violation of gold regulation laws in any form is a high offense that is taken very seriously, with perpetrators often receiving the death penalty simply for their involvement.   Because of the massive amount of gold in Sunar, and its heavy handed regulation, legends and rumors have spread abroad, of Sunar being a land of unbelievable wealth. Portrayed as an empire where even a beggar may carry with them great wealth, more than a few foreigners have met their end trying, and failing, to smuggle gold out of the country.

The Goddess Sune
  A bust, depicting the Goddess Sune.
Type
Religious, Organised Religion
Demonym
Sunemites, Children of the Sun
Location
The Great Temple
Related Ranks & Titles
Related Ethnicities

Assets and Structure

Sunemrah holds sway over just over sixty percent of Sunar's population, with its followers coming from both the lowest and highest walks of life. For this reason Sunemite Priests maintain an immense degree of power, and possess hundreds upon hundreds of temples throughout the empire. These religious centers, are almost always split into one of two castes. Firstly, are temples devoted exclusively to the Goddess Sune, which are run by the aptly named, Priesthood of Sune. The second,and unarguably weaker of the two, are the patron temples. Relegated over the centuries into irrelevancy, these temples today, are more often than not, glorified shrines, who's worshipers are both few in number and often times impoverished.   Before one can look too in depth into the division of priesthoods, one must really start at the top, and to do that, one can go no higher than the emperor.   The Emperor
Perceived by practitioners as a figure halfway between mortal and deity, the Sunarian emperor is the absolute head of Sunemrah, with the power to shape and change religious doctrine to his liking if he so wills. This position is garnered through the emperor's divine marriage to the Goddess Sune, who bestows upon him the right to rule as an absolute monarch. Legitimized by their marriage, the practice is universal, and has been undergone by essentially every single emperor, save a small number who are largely seen by history as illegitimate.   In the modern age this idea of divine marriage has changed somewhat with the ascendancy of not one, but two female rulers to the throne of the Fourth Sunarian Empire. Rather than drop the custom, or go through the process of alemana themselves (as some predicted), both women assumed the title of emperor and took a wife (for the purpose of divine marriage to Sune) as their male predecessors had. Operating essentially as a man, the two shaped themselves to fit the tradition rather than shape the tradition to fit them, and as such oversaw remarkably stable reigns. Holding both titles of emperor and empress, both women allowed themselves to be styled as empress in vocal company, for simplicity's sake; while insisting they be referred to in the male styling of emperor, for the purpose of ceremony, scripture, and record keeping.   Ultimately, the only area either of these woman fell short, was in the production of an heir; but in either case the existence of capable relatives rendered such an issue a non factor to the security of the empire, and their reigns.   The current ruling monarch of Sunar, is Emperor ( or Empress) Anipara II.   Highest of the High Priesthood
Despite holding absolute authority over the religion of Sunemrah, the emperor has historically tended to delegate this responsibility down unto a specifically favored member of the High Priesthood. Often times selected for his loyalty, and obedience to the emperor, this individual, often styled Highest of the High Priesthood, has immense power and can enact religious doctrine in the emperor's name should he or she chose to. However, this great power does not come without restraints. Should a change or alteration be met with dissatisfaction, or worse, anger, from the emperor, it is a simple matter for the emperor to replace the Highest of the High Priesthood and revoke any doctrinal decision.   As such, the Highest of High Priests maintains his authority, not on his own merit, but specifically to stand in for the emperor, in an area of governance most ruler's would rather not involve themselves. Perceived as dull, and calling for a mastery of both the Codex of Life and Death, and Codices of Order (Sunemrah's twin holy texts), the religious leadership of the emperor is almost always pushed aside in favor of the more grandiose, secular role. This is not to say, however, that the emperor neglects his duties in regards to ceremony though, for in either area, only the most foolish of ruler would refuse to carry out Sunemrah's numerous holy festivals. This is because these religious festivities serve as the primary pillar upon which the imperial faith rests. If an emperor were to neglect them, and not attend he would be in essence undermining the very religion meant to give him authority. By attending he asserts his divine right to rule in the eye's of his subjects, and shows himself not as a man, but as the highest of man, second on earth only to the Goddess Sune herself.   The High Priesthood
The High Priesthood of Sune, is a small caste of priests in the upper echelons of Sunemrah, who operate as the guiding and governing authority within the religion. Numbering only a few hundred, ascendancy to their number falls only unto the most devote of priests, upon which time they are required to relocate to the Great Temple in Sunas.   During periods of calmness, when a strong emperor rules over Sunar, the High Priesthood act primarily as the caretakers of the religion's main seat of power, the Great Temple of Sune, in the Sunarian capital of Sunas. This is no easy feat though, as the Great Temple maintains the status as the largest building on earth, and has no rival. As such the management of its vast network of rooms, halls and chambers is a herculean feat, requiring the High Priesthood to employ thousands upon thousands of lesser, not priestly, staff.   As if the administration of the largest building on earth were not enough, the High Priesthood is also unofficially responsible for guiding and overseeing the faith. This position gives the greatest of its priests as well as the Highest of the High Priesthood, the power to enact new religious policy and canon law. It is further the duty of the High Priests to maintain and protect the original copy of the Codex of Life and Death, written under the scrutiny of Akenit I, the First Emperor. The Codex is only really accessible to the High Priests and a few other individuals, and for this reason they are required to study and memorize its teachings for the purpose of relaying its message and mythos onto the lower priesthoods of Sunemrah.   Leadership of the faith also brings with it the obedience of numerous other priesthoods. As one might expect, the base Priesthood of Sune, answers to the High Priesthood, and operates in the numerous other temples spread out across the empire's many communities. Another priesthood managed by the High Priesthood though are the Sisters of Sune. These priestess dwell within the Imperial Palace, and act as the servants of the emperor's wife, who through the process of alemana ascends into godhood as the vessel for the Goddess Sune. Eligible as brides to any unwed emperors, the Sisters of Sune, are required to maintain celibacy until they are chosen, with this requirement being devotedly monitored and enforced by the High Priesthood's loyal Temple Guard.   The Temple Guard, act as the military arm of Sunemrah, and are directly answerable to the High Priesthood. Operating within every temple in the empire, and its surrounding community, the Temple Guard are a sizable armed force that hold the legal right to enforce canon and imperial law upon property owned by the faith. Acting in essence like a secondary form of city guard, the Temple Guard often serve as a form of deterrent, keeping non believers out of faithful, Sunemite neighborhoods.   Because of their prominent role within the faith, and the reliance of the Highest of the High Priesthood upon the emperor, the High Priesthood has on multiple occasions become the de facto head of the faith. This is because, when a universally accepted emperor is lacking (during a period of civil war or similar turmoil),and the Highest of the High Priesthood loses his significance, religious authority moves downwards into the hands of the High Priesthood who form a theocratic council. The purpose of this council is primarily to safe guard Sunemrah, for however long is needed, until such a time where a strong faithful candidate arises to retake religious power as an emperor. It has rarely been the goal of the council to retain power for itself indefinitely, though they have been accused of this exact motive on a number of occasions, causing Sunemrah to lose legitimacy and followers around periods of great unrest.
  The Priesthood of Sune
The Priesthood of Sune is the basic priesthood that comprises the overwhelming majority of Sunemrah's clergy. Numbering in the tens of thousands, the Priesthood operates across the entire empire; and even beyond its borders, with their temples existing as far afield as Tantum Valona in the east. Their primary responsibility is handling the day to day religious management of temples which often includes the enforcement of religious or canon law upon believers, the administration of temple finances, and the organization of religious festivities. While the primary purpose of the Priesthood is to manage provincial temples located beyond the walls of Sunas, a vast number train as acolytes directly within the Great Temple, operating as assistants and trainees to the High Priesthood from whom canon law, doctrine and religious education are all derived.
  The Patron Priesthoods
The Patron Priesthoods are a religious order that have been in slow decline for millennia. Rendered largely irrelevant with the rise of Sunemrah, the worship of patron deities is an irregular affair carried out only by the most zealous, or desperate of Sunarians. Most of their followers, in fact, directly challenge the supremacy of Sune as a universal god; and instead practice Traditional Sunarian Polytheism, which predates Sunemrah by an untold number of millennia.   Lacking any proper place in the hierarchy of Sunemrah, the patron temples are unique in that they answer solely to the Sunarian Empire, but almost never receive any form of leadership. For this reason, they are given far more autonomy, but in turn lack any where near the same level of influence as their Sune devoted brethren. Given no financial support by the imperial government, patron priesthoods are often time grass roots organizations, requiring the financial support of their worshipers.The main reason for this is that they directly challenge the centralizing purpose of Sunemrah. Devoted to provincial, or regional deities, rather than an all uniting imperial goddess, the patron temples promote provincial identities, that the central imperial government would rather see disappear.   They are, however, tolerated as their presence is of no real threat to the authority of Sunemrah's Priesthood, and despite being largely irrelevant, do provide some basic educational services to the public.
 

Non Hierarchical Religious Orders

  The Sisterhood of Sune   Less numerous, and subservient to the high priests in Sunas, the Sisterhood of Sune is a priesthood of women active since the First Empire, who serve as the attendees to the emperor's wife, and act as potential brides to an unmarried emperor.   Unlike other priests and priestesses the sisters of the Sisterhood of Sune are required to maintain their virginity, and live chaste lives. This is because as potential brides to the emperor, sisters may go through the process of alemana should they be chosen, upon which they will ascend into godhood as a vessel of Sune. Sisters live and operate in a closed of branch of the Imperial Palace, rather then in a temple.   Smaller Organizations

Sects and Cults of Sunemrah

  Basuums   A sect of priests active in rural communities of the Sun Delta, who believe that the Sun River has both healing qualities, and the capacity to purify sinners of their sins. Maintaining no temples, the Bassums travel through the countryside preforming priestly duties. They practice a form of baptismal rebirth that is considered invalid and heretical by the main priests of the faith. It is, however, not directly combated or considered a serious threat, merely looked down upon as "rural" mysticism.
  The Codices of Order   The structure and hierarchy of Sunemrah, involving the divide between priestly castes, and role of the emperor is gathered from the Codices of Order. a religious text, dating back to founding of Sunemrah as an evolution of Sunarian Polytheism.  

The Temple Complex

Temples in Sunemrah are of major importance, and are considered by many to be the center of a community. This idea, has a sizable amount of logic to it, as temples are often established quite literally in the center of cities; along the banks of the Sun river; or give birth to micro communities around them when built separate from the cities they primarily service. The reason for this stems from the massive amount manpower required to care for and maintain a temple, or temple complex as they often are multi building structures. Priests, sit at the top of the temple's pecking order, but below them are scribes, acolytes, artists, gardeners, cleaners, guards and an even vaster array of provisional roles such as butchers, farmers, animal tenders, cobblers, potters and especially gold smiths. Because of this reliance on the surrounding area to survive, temples frequently emerge as micro cities with the communities surrounding them being pivotal to their existence.   Temples also serve as the center for a city or provinces gold reserve, overseeing the management of the mineral in the emperor's name. They are not, however, responsible for the financial reserves, which are a secular responsibility handled within the imperial bureaucracy. The distinction here being the temples manage gold, in any form, which within Sunar is not treated as a currency, but a heavily regulated material of religious significance; whereas the imperial government manages silver, for coinage, circulation, stockpiling, or minting. The largest of these reserves is within the Great Temple in Sunas, in Sunas; where in most imperial gold resides.  

Property and Power

Because Sunemrah focuses massively on temples, the faith frequently expands out into more secular areas; owning warehouses, docks and parks; while also running a menagerie of civil services, such as orphanages and hospitals. The religion also employs its own military force, which function as guards and enforcers within the boundaries of the temple complex. Known simply as the Temple Guard, their authority exists solely within the boundaries of the temple's immediate influence, but nonetheless serves to keep outsiders, or non-Sunemites away. Regular, imperial city guards, rarely patrol or delve to deeply into these areas as a result of the special relationship between the religion and the empire.   The Priesthood of Sune also oversees the empire's numerous gold mines, with regiments of the Temple Guard acting as overseers and pit guards for the highly secure sites. Recruitment of miners is also entirely managed by the temples, who select only the most loyal, or fanatical, of applicants for work in the mines, as a means of weeding out potential thieves and smugglers.  
The Great Temple of Sune
The Great Temple in Sunas, in Sunas.

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