The 1,000 Spirits of Old Cyrod
by Umalchio Tricho
Cyrodiilic religion can be confusing for outsiders. Most Imperials who frequent the provinces (Colovian soldiers and colonists, mostly) have rather formulaic relations with their gods, and consider attendance of a cult little more than a social obligation or investment. Besides the Eight and One Divines, most of these Imperials hold a private allegiance to one of Cyrodiil's many minor gods or saints, but to inquire into one's personal faith is considered rude, even among friends. At least, that is the pragmatic mindset most often encountered in Colovia or in the provincial colonies.
However, anyone familiar with the central valleys will tell you that not all Imperials adhere to this attitude. In the bustling river cities of the Nibenay and the Heartlands, thousands of gods, daedra, and saints are honored in extravagant fashion. Prophets expound in the streets, haruspics roam the marketplaces, gaudy processions carry mummified saints across the cities, canals are choked with chromatic funeral barges, pilgrims throng around the ancient shrines, and blind priests glide serenely through the crowd, shrouded in moths. Ancient cults compete for the loyalty of the people, offering vocational training, political favors, or life eternal - when they are not embroiled in their frequent intersectional temple-wars.
To an outsider, this wealth of religious fervor can appear overwhelming, even threatening -- ignorance of the dominant saints, doctrines or cults in any given place can spell doom for the itinerant traveler. This short guide, printed with the generous patronage of the Imperial Seminary, is aimed at the provincial immigrant wishing to understand this most vibrant part of Imperial society.
Worship of the Divines is universal throughout Cyrodiil, and almost every village has a shrine or temple dedicated to one of their number. Failure to observe proper respect for the creator gods is frowned upon, even within other cults. Provincials will no doubt know the Imperial Cult for their generous and compassionate missionary services, though they might not know that the Cult's teachings in the provinces differ from native Cyrodiilic practice. The Imperial Cult and its motherhouse, the Imperial Seminary in Tiberiad, are organizations directed by the Imperial authorities to spread the Faiths and the benefits of Imperial civilization to the provinces. They are generously sponsored by their patrons, the Great Faiths and the Talos Cult, who voluntarily contribute missionaries and funds for their good works.
Within the Imperial Province, the Great Faiths hold sway, nine syncretic priestly orders who cooperate to ensure that all Imperials have access to their blessings and services. The Faiths enjoy the patronage of the Emperor and his servants, and their message is so ingrained in the Imperial people that it is hardly possible to call oneself an Imperial without honoring the Nine Divines (or the Eight and One, as some still call them). The Talos Cult is considered one of these orders, though it is by far the youngest, and it differs from the other Faiths in its organization and operations.
Besides the Great Faiths, the Nine are also worshiped by a large variety of charismatic sub-cults who honor a single facet of a Divine instead of the abstract whole. Examples are the Red Dome Templars, the Temple of Scales, the Kynarchex Cult, the Citizenship Cult, the Order of the Psychopompoi, the Mehacherites, the Instructor Order, or the Therati Knights-Merchant. Some of these are considered subordinate to the Great Faiths, other distinguish themselves in terms of doctrine or political affiliation.
THE MINOR GODS, SAINTS AND SPIRITS
Imperials also honor many hero-gods and protector spirits. Such gods are usually of regional importance, influential only in their home cities or near their most dear pilgrimage sites. It is always a good idea to inform about local cults when arriving in any eastern town. Most notable are the Al-Esha Cult, the Order of the Breath-of-Kyne, the Cala Cult, the Temple of the Missing, the Remanati Cult, the Order of the Ancestor Moth, the Cult of Heroes, the Pelinati Cult, the Emperor Zero Cult, the Esoteric Order of Shor, and the Temple of the One. Many more exist.
Related to the category of culture heroes are the Saints of Cyrod, a vast and eclectic hagiography of exemplar spirits closely linked to the Divines. In Imperial theology, saints are mortals who have transcended the sphere of the Mundus by way of exceptional virtue or adherence to the principles of the Divines, often defined by way of a covenant with a patron Divine. The saints are so numerous that any listing is per definition incomplete.
While most provincial cultures maintain a superstitious fear of the Daedra, the people of Cyrodiil have long embraced an enlightened attitude towards the intercessors of the Void. The Daedric Princes are regarded as any other god, no more dangerous or amoral than any other spirit worshiped on the mortal plane. Any nefarious intent from them or their agents is easily waylaid by the pacts of Akatosh, Arkay, Talos, and the Emperors, which shield the mortal plane and its inhabitants.
The most important Daedric Princes in Cyrodiil are Sanguine, Clavicus, Vaernima, and Peryite, whose worship is institutionalized in the Red Dancer Cult, Little Key Cult, Dried Lotus Cult and False-Worm Cult. Other Daedra are also honored, though the more violent and nihilistic cults are, of course, prohibited. Dagon worship, quite popular until the events of the Simulacrum, has been censured thoroughly.
THE TOTEM SOCIETIES
The last and, perhaps, oddest category of faiths are the animal spirits worshiped in the rural Nibenese east. A remnant of early Nedic practices, the Totem Societies exist as representative triads for certain professions, communities, and social classes. The nature of their faith is difficult to grasp for outsiders: the Societies do not worship an animal so much as the idea of an animal, understood as the conscious manifestation of a denomination or of their ancestor spirits. A totem is only as powerful as the group it represents: if they are wealthy, powerful, and united, so is the totem. Many Nibenese consider the Empire as a whole a kind of totem-society, dedicated to the Dragon spirit.
Most Societies lack a clear hierarchy or organization: they are heterogenous, and membership is determined by class, profession, location, or family. The most influential Societies are the Bull, the Moth, the Snake, the Coutal, and the Gila, though many more exist across all social strata. Rumors speak of a prohibited Tiger Society which worships the ancient gestalt-spirits of the jungle, though it seems doubtful that any sane individual would seek to appease such grotesque and outlandish gods - if they even exist at all.
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An introduction to native Cyrodiilic cults and worship practices. Seeks to explain the different kinds of cult as clearly as possible to provincial immigrants. Should be a cheap, common book.