The Watchers englobes the ancestral ethnic religion that the dark elves used to define themselves as a people, as well as the religious practices of peoples brought under Elvic rule, in so far as they became widely followed in the realm of Vael'Aser. The Dark Elves thought of themselves as highly religious, and attributed their success as a world power to their collective piety in maintaining good relations with their foremothers and former leaders.
According to legends, most of Dark Elves's religious institutions could be traced to its founders, particularly the first queen and the liberators, who negotiated and leaded the rebellion against the white elves. This archaic religion was the foundation of the "the way of the ancestors" or simply "tradition", viewed as central to Dark Elves identity.
Dark Elves religion was practical and contractual, based on the principle of "I give that you might give". Religion depended on knowledge and the correct practice of prayer, ritual, and sacrifice, not on faith or dogma, although Elven literature preserves learned speculation on the nature of the divine and its relation to human affairs. Even the most skeptical among Dark elves' intellectual elite saw religion as a source of social order.
For ordinary dark elves, religion was a part of daily life. Each home had a household shrine at which prayers and libations to the liberators were offered. Neighborhood shrines and sacred places such as springs and groves dotted the city. The dark elves' calendar was structured around religious observances. Women, slaves, and children all participated in a range of religious activities. Some public rituals could be conducted only by the nobles.
Proper, respectful religion brought social harmony and prosperity. Religious neglect was a form of atheism: impure sacrifice and incorrect ritual were impious errors. Excessive devotion, fearful grovelling to the foremothers and the improper use or seeking of divine knowledge were superstition. Any of these moral deviations could cause divine anger and therefore harm the State. Participation in public rites showed a personal commitment to their community and its values.
Official cults were state funded as a "matter of public interest". The acolytes prepared ritual substances for use in public and private cults, and held the state-funded (thus public) opening ceremony for a sacred festival, which was otherwise a private rite to household ancestors. Some rites of the household were held in public places but were legally defined as private in part or whole.
Public priesthoods and religious law Edit
The highest authority within a community usually sponsored its cults and sacrifices, officiated as its priest and promoted its assistants and acolytes. Specialists from the religious colleges and professionals such as oracles were available for consultation. In household cult, the Matriarch functioned as priest, and members of her family as acolytes and assistants. Public cults required greater knowledge and expertise. Acolytes were constrained by the requirements of ritual purity; they had virtually no simultaneous capacity for a political or military career.
The Acolytes of the Watchers supervised regal and state rites in conjunction with the Queen or in her absence, and announced the public festivals. With the impeachment of Queen Nualia, the collegial power and influence of the priesthood increased.
Public priests were appointed by the a college of nobles. Once elected, a priest held permanent religious authority from the eternal divine, which offered him lifetime influence, privilege and immunity. Therefore, civil and religious law limited the number and kind of religious offices allowed an individual and his family. Religious law was collegial and traditional; it informed political decisions, could overturn them, and was difficult to exploit for personal gain.
Priesthood was a costly honour: in traditional practice, a priest drew no stipend. Cult donations were the property of the deity, whose priest must provide cult regardless of shortfalls in public funding – this could mean subsidy of acolytes and all other cult maintenance from personal funds. For those who had reached their goal in the Cursus honorum, permanent priesthood was best sought or granted after a lifetime's service in military or political life, or preferably both: it was a particularly honourable and active form of retirement which fulfilled an essential public duty.
The Sacred College of the Watchers Edit
The Sacred College was the highest relgious institution in the dark elves country and was composed by five women from the noble clans who devoted their lifes to the Watchers- A girl chosen to be a part of the College achieved unique religious distinction, public status and privileges, and could exercise considerable political influence. Upon entering her office, the new sacred leader was emancipated from her mother's authority.
A Sacred leader's dress represented her status outside the usual categories that defined women, with elements of both virgin bride and daughter, and matron and wife. The exceptional honor accorded a Sacred leader was religious rather than personal or social; her privileges required her to be fully devoted to the performance of her duties, which were considered essential to the security of the community.
Omens were observed by the acolytes within or from a divine temple – especially the flight of birds – were sent by the first watchers in response to official queries. A magistrate with the right of augury could declare the suspension of all official business for the day if she deemed the omens unfavourable. Conversely, an apparently negative omen could be re-interpreted as positive, or deliberately blocked from sight.
Prodigies were transgressions in the natural, predictable order of the cosmos – signs of divine anger that portended conflict and misfortune. The Assembly decided whether a reported prodigy was false, or genuine and in the public interest, in which case it was referred to the priesthood for ritual expiation.
The discovery of a bad omen against Queen Nualia was expiated by the priesthood after she was ousted from the office. Queen Mujeri was crowned after that while the acolytes were singing a hymn to avert disaster: a lightning strike during the hymn rehearsals required further expiation.