Cult of Our Lady
Written in collaboration with Martin Drax.
Secretive and exclusive, the Cult of Our Lady is a faith that is adhered to almost exclusively by knights and nobility that originated in the area of old Kingdom of Reinhardt, now the Mountain Principalities . It is not a conventional religion because its adherents must be classified as ‘warriors’, and new acolytes can only be inducted by a current member of the Cult. This presents issues for a scholar looking to find out more about the Cult because the members are highly secretive about their practices. Most of what we do know comes from the former member Ludwig of Huttpach, who renounced the cult, moved to the Sultanate of Fashaddon for his own safety and became a monk dedicated to Walanni. Ludwig of Huttpach recorded some details about the cult in his work, Religions and Heresies in the Our Material Domain. Frustratingly he is more concerned with the theological foundations of the cult than in their organisational structure or operation, but does still give enough background information for modern scholars and theologians to go on. Ludwig’s work, which modern scholars date to around 168 S.E. describes the cult as forming an almost shadow society in the Kingdom. We know that the cult is divided up into lodges, but their number and composition are unknown.
Ludwig of Huttpach is clear that the basic unit of the Cult is the Lodge, which is comprised of a group of adherents who have been brought into the Lodge by mutual connections, rather than an association to a geographical area. This means that a Lodge may have members who are drawn from hundreds of miles away from its base to take part in its worship activities, which consequently means that the members of the Cult tend to be drawn from more affluent individuals, who are able to travel more freely. In addition, members of the Cult of Our Lady must be ‘warriors’, a term that has generally been restricted to mean elite warriors, knights or high ranking military personnel rather than your common or garden foot-soldier. Annoyingly, either due to ignorance or because it is not his focus Ludwig of Huttpach fails to discuss the average numbers in a Lodge, the total number of Lodges, the overall number of possible adherents, or their internal organisational structure. As a result, it is impossible for an outsider to know how each Lodge operates internally, or how they link to the other Lodges to make up the wider body of the faith. It has been speculated that each Lodge is run by the Lodge Master, who assumes the position of a lead worshipper within the Lodge, and who is the longest serving member of the Lodge currently living. These Lodge Masters are said to gather at an unknown central location once a year to commune as a governing body of the faith. It must be noted, however, that all of the information that has been gathered about the workings of the Cult aside from the information taken from Ludwig of Huttpach’s work, must be taken with a pinch of salt. This additional information was extracted by torture from suspected Cultists during the reigns of either Wulf II or Arnholt I of the Kingdom of Reinhart, during both of which there were big pushes to eradicate the Cult, so the information divulged may not be based on anything at all, other than simply the desire to get the torture to stop. Regardless, there are Paladins and Clerics that are dedicated to Our Lady, though rather than being linked to roles within a Lodge (though they will almost certainly be a member of a Lodge), they appear instead to be itinerant individuals driven to serve Our Lady, as opposed to officials who represent the hierarchy of the Cult.
There is some speculation that the Cult of Our Lady is a hybrid religion that has stemmed from the the worship of the Storm Giant Ludgera, that has spread beyond the confines of the Tafelland Valley and taken on a unique character of its own. However, Ludwig of Huttpach, the main source of information on the Cult of Our Lady does not go into the detailed historical chronology or facts of the Cult, so it is hard to be sure of its exact origins and root area. What is known about the history of the Cult of Our Lady is that on at least two occasions Kings of Reinhart attempted to destroy it, as they felt that the influence that it held over the knights and nobility of the Kingdom was far too strong. In both 104S.E. and 273S.E. when Wulf II and Arnholt I respectively attempted to eradicate the Cult they not only found that many of their best warriors refused to fight with them, but that many members of the nobility actively rebelled against them, declaring that they should have the right to religious freedom. On both occasions the monarch in question backed down and disaster was averted, but right up until the collapse of the Kingdom of Reinhart in 398S.E., the Cult of Our Lady was always viewed with suspicion by the monarchy and the people of the Kingdom at large, partly fuelled by its popularity amongst the nobility and partly by its secrecy. There has been some speculation that the members of the Cult of Our Lady were the driving force behind the coup that resulted in the deposition and murder of King Wulf XII in 394S.E., though the secrecy of the Cult combined with the fact that this event is one of the direct causes of the collapse of the Kingdom means that it is unlikely that the Cult would ever admit their involvement. Since the dissolution of the Kingdom into the Mountain Principalities, the Cult of Our Lady has been able to thrive more than ever before in its history as it has been helped greatly by the fact that their is no central power trying to monitor the allegiances of its adherents. Indeed, the Cult has spread well beyond the area of the Felsspitze Mountains, with reports of Cult Lodges coming from as far afield as the Republic of Castar . There is no evidence as of yet however, that the Cult of Our Lady has spread beyond the continent of Turoza.
Tenets of Faith
The Cult of Our Lady is named after the eponymous figure called “Our Lady”, whose origin is uncertain, but who is not linked to the deities in either the Pantheon of the North, or Walanniism, which are the two major religions on the continent of Turoza. The secrecy of the Cult means that not much is known about its central deity, however we do know that she is a duel form deity. As all adherents of the Cult are defined as being warriors, the duel nature of Our Lady reflects this military nature and has been interpreted as being one known as the Heavenly Judge that holds all sentient life to an exacting standard of behaviour and who stands and fights with the faithful, protecting them in battle and inspiring them to victory; and also as one known as the Loving Mother, who cares for the lands that these warriors have left behind, who ensures the safety and prosperity of the warrior and their loved ones in peace time and who ultimately provides for fallen warriors in the afterlife. A theory has arisen, stemming principally from Ludwig of Huttpach’s work, Religions and Heresies in the Our Material Domain to suggest that the deity Our Lady is in fact the same as the legendary warrior the Storm Giant Ludgera, who has her own Cult based in the Barony of Hohensten, from which Ludgera is thought to have lived before ascending to the position of deity. However, there is no concrete evidence to prove this association and the Cult of Ludgera in Hohensten is very different in terms of its characteristics, adherents and general concerns. As the membership of the Cult of Our Lady is limited to warriors, their belief system and relationship to Our Lady is ultimately shaped by this. Essentially believers hold that all life on earth is in a pyramid with warriors at the top. Souls cycle through each step of the pyramid, moving up for good deeds and down for bad ones, but only by achieving the standards of Our Lady in the guise of the Heavenly Judge as a warrior can one break the cycle and enter the afterlife. The main tenants of faith that acolytes of the Cult of Our Lady are expected to adhere to, and on which they will be judged are to;
- Protect the weak
- Humble the proud
- Fight evil
- Die well
Member of the Cult of Our Lady will carry out worship both as a collective body in their Lodges, or on their own when travel to the Lodge is not possible. They will often worship at a simple altar adorned with two wood carved statues, one representing Our Lady’s guise of the Heavenly Judge, and one her guise of the Loving Mother. The meetings of Lodges for worship frequently take place in the privacy of natural places such as caves or woods, rather than in settled areas, as the presence of the vices of civilisation and the influence of other so-called unworthy individuals is thought to pollute the worship of our Lady. However, if no such natural location is available, then worship of Our Lady can take place in private dwellings that have been suitably purified. During their worship, members of the Cult of Our Lady will frequently pray for guidance and strength in tasks that the Heavenly Judge will set against them to test their worthiness, whilst also asking for the blessings of the Loving Mother on their lives and lands. Cultists will often bear an image of the Heavenly Judge on their person either as a broach, or a small image, the woman will be depicted as a fierce older woman, blindfolded but holding a bloodied sword in one hand and a scale in the other. Adherents have been reported to use certain prayers and phrases in their day-to-day lives such as “May the Judge look for you” which is often used as a blessing before battle, whilst “May the Mother bless us” is often used as a greeting, or general benediction. In fact, the latter has been used to the extent that the greeting is in fact common even among non-adherents in the region of the Mountain Principalities.
Political Influence & Intrigue
Mostly historians can only speculate the role of the cult in the History of the Kingdom of Reinhart and beyond, but Ludwig of Huttpach suggests that many prominent knights and nobles of his day were members of the Cult and that the Cult was often used as a backchannel to promote peace, resolve conflicts, or right the perceived ‘wrongs’ committed by those in power who are not themselves member of the Cult. The secrecy of the Cult of Our Lady, whilst protecting its members to some degree, does unfortunately give rise to all sorts of speculation and rumours about their activities, and some scholars have suggested that the Cult of Our Lady has had a hand in causing the collapse of the Kingdom of Reinhart (for which there is some compelling evidence), through to the Cult having a hand in the Hobgoblin invasion of the Isthmus of Xana and the creation of their nation of Korinthos, engineered to further the Cult’s own inscrutable ends (for which there is much less evidence).
- Religious, Cult