Cosmology & Beliefs
Long ago, in time before time, the Creator decided that the vast void was not enough to keep it occupied. So the Creator rolled up its sleeves and planned a new world. However, the Creator couldn't settle on a theme: should this be a world of light, or a world of shadow? The Creator alternated between the two plans back and forth for millenia until it finally decided to just make them both. Each seemed so perfect on its own, it would be a shame to only make one. And so two realms were created: Tir Anam, the Land of Light, and Tir Scáth, the Land of Shadow. Into each the Creator placed that which seemed good and right for its realm. Tir Anam was a land of blue skies and eternal day, lively forests and singing birds. Tir Scáth was plunged in the deep velvet midnight, lit only by the moon and stars, a place of endless seas and deep caverns where giant cattle grazed. Between the two the Creator placed an impenetrable magical barrier that their perfection not be marred by one another. After much work, the Creator was content and settled in for a well-deserved nap.
The Creator's plans soon went awry, however. The various living things of each realm - Tir Anam's ghillies dubh and fire spirits, Tir Scáth's mermaids and storms - discovered music, and they created a magical band, the Ceolbhuíon an Cruthú. The powerful music broke the barrier, and into the void spilled parts of each Tir. Now a new world was born: Saol, the Land of the Living. The sound of the band's lively playing stirred the Creator, who furiously revoked the band's immortality and shattered their instruments. The "mess" of Saol was such a stain on the Creator's work that it was too despondant to clean it up, instead settling put place barriers once again between the realms, this time permeable to one direction. The creatures that were birthed in the new world would have a scáil in each - a spiritual double. In their mortal time in the Land of the Living, their actions would lead them to be truer to one or the other. Righteousness, generosity, forgiveness - these strengthened one's scáil in Tir Anam. Cleverness, voracity, wrath - the scáil in Tir Scáth grew. When the mortal body finally fell, one's true foladh (essence) would reside in one of its spiritual doubles forever. The other would crumple and cease to exist.
Seanmhuinín lacks any firm moral teachings. One's actions in life merely bring one closer to Tir Anam or Tir Scáth. One is not considered better than the other, and one's foladh would find the most eternal satisfaction with the scáil it most ultimately matches. For most, it may be difficult to say during life where their foladh will finally reside, as many people have a mix of traits of Light and Shadow. There are always exemplars, of course: a woman of great generosity and kindness may be said to be "among the Anamacha" while a miserly and cold man could be described as "friends of the Scáthanna."
Gods & Figures
Although the Creator has a prominent role in the Seanmhuinín creation story, the being rarely appears beyond that. The Creator is seen more as a force of nature than anything, a fickle being who couldn't even settle on how the universe was to be created. Beyond the a tempermental personality and primoridal existance, the Creator has little else to distinguish it, not even a gender or name. Notably the Creator has little power over Saol, the Living World, since it came into existence, merely separating it from the other realms and revoking the immortality of the Band of Creation. The Old Believers do not worship the Creator, merely ackowledge its existence and reality.
The Dual Gods
Given the duality of the Old Faith's cosmology, it is unsurprising than many deities come in pairs. The Old Believers say the gods were naturally occurring, springing up as the newborn folk of Saol complimented the world around them. The Creator tried to force them into his preferred realms, but succeeded only in dividing them, creating dual gods that have an aspect in each Tir. These gods are worshipped individually, but their double in the opposite realm is recognized, even as the antithesis of the other. Many of the gods are said ot have names incomprehensible or unpronouncable by man, sounding perhaps like rolling thunder or a babbling brook. Thus they are often only called by their titles.
The Verdant and the Feral
This pair is a representative of nature and the wilderness. The Verdant is the god of nature's bounty, timber and sun and game. She is generous nurses the great forests and glens with her abundant breasts. Hunters ask her for aid in finding quarry, and timbermen pray she reveals the finest trees for felling. The Verdant rules over the forest nymphs, ghillies dubh, and other magical beings of nature.
The Feral is her opposite in Tir Scáth. She is the wild, the untamed and unforgiving. She is storm and serpent, wolf and wood. Her servants are the Allaculla, the ferocious wolves of the Thicket; the mysterious creatures that lurk deep beyond the sacred Font of Saol in the Smaragaid Forest; the terrible storms and bolts of lightning. Farmers ask her to spare them, granting only enough rain to water their crops; rangers beg her to spare them from her fanged underlings.
The Benefactor and the Dealer
There was once the god who created trade and commerce, but the positive and negative aspects of such are now split between the Benefactor and Dealer. The Benefactor is generous and fair, providing favors to those that ask while extracting only promisese to do well and help others. The poor are especially fond of him who always carries through on his contracts with no strings attached.
The Dealer is more mercenary. He is quick to offer bargains, but his contracts are full of loopholes for him and hidden costs for his partners. His stories involve what other cultures might call "deals with the devil," perhaps nominally granting the negotiator's wish but at unexpectedly high costs. Nevertheless, many turn to the Dealer in times of desperation. Merchants also try to curry favor, hoping for a modicum of his guile and skill.
The Protector and the Ravager
War is the domain of both of these gods, but in different aspects. The Protector of Tir Anam is the guardian of the righteous and innocent. Clad in armor of pure light and bearing a sword of fire, he protects those who ask from aggression and war. His sword is mighty, but only drawn when others are attacked, but his great shield is always present. In the old days his blessing was daily invoked by soldiers and in the great duns; since the fall of the Tir and the collapse of a central state, travelers ask him for protection and town constables for his aid.
The Ravager is the Protector's inverse. He is pure violence, destroying without motive beyond seeing death. His armor is made of impenetrable black shadow, and he wields a great axe made from the crescent moon. In times of war, the warriors of Tir Siogal invoked the Ravager to grant them ferocity and endless strength in battle. Nowadays he is popular among the pirates of Conlow and small bandit gangs that hang around the Thicket. Others generally avoid him, "Ravager's wrath" being a common curse by those suffering damaging misfortune.
The Lass (or Lad) and the Elder
Age and time were under the domain of a single god, but the Creator split the deity in twain, creating this pair. The Lass (also called the Lad, depending on the context) is fecund youth, hearty and spirited. The Lass is a fertility deity, lust and fruitfulness personified. The deity is thought to have both male and female gender, hence the double name. Women seeking to conceive or farmers planting their seeds will seek the Lass's blessing, and older men trying to stay virile and healthy pray to the Lad, both recognizing the single deity's multiple facets.
The Elder is age and wisdom, with all its benefits and frailties. Unlike the Lass who is both genders, the Elder is neither, too old for such distinctions to serve much use. Although thought of as physically weak, the Elder is sought for wisdom and experience, serene and calm compared to the erratic youth of its double.
Seanmhuinín was effectively the state religion while Tir Siogal was formally ruled by a king. Tir Siogal had a caste of priests, drawn from the clans who lived near the Smaragaid Forest, the most sacred site in the Old Faith. There were several different ranks in the priestly caste.
The Ardsagairt were the high priests of the Tir, serving in the court of the king. Drawn from only a small number of clans in the south, theirs was a male hereditary caste that made them effectively nobility. The only men permitted to enter the temple at the Font of Saol - the sacred magical spring where the River Draoicht starts - were Ardsagairt. They advised the king on matters that concerned them, though their counsel was capricious: they might consider minor details of crop rotation their highest priority and neglect to advise the king on an oncoming war. Such were the visions of the Ardsagairt, said to be able to look beyond the veil dividing Saol from Tir Anam and Tir Scáth to see what the gods were up to.
After the fall of the Tir, the formal ranking of the Ardsagairt collapsed, and some of the ancient clans disappeared into obscurity. Now clan Diarmhaidh is considered the root of this high priest caste, and its head appoints members of other clans in Fiodin as Ardsagairt. Their religious role has declined since the fall, as formalized sacraments and services are uncommon outside of Fiodin, but they still regularly receive pilgrims seeking guidance, particularly from the clan heads who still follow the Old Faith.
While the male Ardsagairt held the most powerful position, the female Bansagairt were arguably more influential and sacred. The Bansagairt dwelt in the temple at the Font of Saol, its caretakers and oracles. They drank only water directly from the spring, or else beer made from the water and sacred grain offerings, and ate only donated food blessed by the Ardsagairt. They were called on by those high priests to discern the future by peering into the spring to ask the will of the gods. No one was permitted to touch them, and only the Ardsagairt were allowed to see them. The temple was protected by a magical barrier and fierce animals were enchanted to stay within its grounds to enforce its sacrosanctity.
The priestesses were small in number, not drawn from clans but rather hand-selected by the Bansagairt themselves. Annually at an appointed day those who believed they were called to the priestesshood would gather before the temple at the Font of Saol. Aside from gender there were no set requirements: young or old, virgin or grandmother, those of any clan were permitted to offer themselves. The Bansagairt would appear and test each one. They were asked many questions: about their lives, about their relationship with the gods, whether their foladh would take them to Tir Anam or Tir Scáth. After questioning, each candidate would be held by the priestesses beneath the waters of the Draiocht. If they believed the woman belonged, they would draw her out and take her into their fold. If not, she was drowned in the river and offered on a pyre as a means of drawing magical power from their bodies. Applicaition to be a Bansagart was thus a risky proposition with the highest cost. There were years where none arrived to offer themselves as candidates, but at other times dozens of women attempted to enter the fold.
When Tir Siogal fell, something happened that caused the magical seals surrounding the Font of Saol to break. The temple was invaded and its priestesses vanished. There are some today who claim to be Bansagairt, but they have few followers. Hunters and lumbermen in the Smaragaid Forest sometimes bring back rumors of lone women with white robes who had a powerful air about them, causing those who see them to flee with fright. The Dairmhaidh clan that controls the Ardsagairt is silent on the matter, neither confirming nor denying them. Could these be the Bansagairt of old, hidden by still present?
Scológa are the lower rank of priests who were found throughout Siogalish settlements. Each of Tir Siogal's major settlements had at least one clan of the Scológa caste, who were respected by lacked the power of the Ardsagairt. They ministered to the needs of locals, consulting auguries or directing rituals. Often a scológ is a musician, songs conveying the stories of the faith to the illiterate rustics. If a settlement was large enough to have its own temple,they would manage it; if not, the home of a Scológ often served as a village sacred space.
Scológa still exist in County Siogal, though since the collapse of the Tir they have litle oversight by the Ardsagairt in Fiodin. The title of scológ is passed down from father to son, and they are respected members of their communities with ancestral knowledge of the Old Faith carried by stories and song. There are no surviving temples now, but the scológa tend small shrines in towns and villages.
Since the ancient days, not all trusted the Ardsagairt or Scológa with absolute religious authority. In rural villages Siogalish folk were just as likely to consult an asarlaí, hedge-wizards and sorcerers who claimed knowledge of the divine. Asarlaithe function as medicine men and diviners, advising those who consult with them on sacred connections to their mundane problems. Away from the authority of the Ardsagairt, they often hold contrary views that may border on heresey, if the Old Faith held much regard for orthodoxy.
Asarlaí is a common profession in Siogal, often indistinguishable from herbalists or physicians. While a scológ is preferred for annual rituals and rites of passage, common folk will rely on their favorite asarlaí in a pinch.