Strictly speaking, there was no religion in the Elder Days. The Elder Races prayed to the Earth Mother, but it’s a stretch to call their praying religion. Christianity, Judaism and the word of Allah have more in common than praying did with Sangrar’s religions during the Age of Man.
Sangrar’s religion during the Age of Man should seem more familiar to you, so I’m tackling it first. Conceptually, it’s similar to your polytheistic pantheons. Many of you know the legends of the Greek and Roman gods, or the Norse or the Egyptian, and learned in school how those ancient cultures gave obeisance to the gods. It wasn’t so different on Sangrar. Most people prayed to many gods, depending on their need and the occasion.
One significant difference between Sangrar and Earth is Sangrar’s common mythology. Here, each culture developed its own collection of gods and myth. On Sangrar, all the nations of man shared a common set of beliefs. Whether you lived in Endiron, Jeheris or Renk, you knew that Aeriel the Dawn Mistress won each morn, that Bangal judged from the Halls of the Dead and that the Lady of Esel watched man from Belecontar the Winking Star. Even in Sangrithar, the people knew these things, no matter how hard the curse maddened God-Emperors tried to make them forget.
From kingdom to kingdom, the gods enjoyed varying levels of popularity. Many factors came into play, such as location, industry, and of course, clergy. Just like here, a charismatic leader, whether prophet or charlatan, injected at the right moment of history could sway things.
In Colcester, where I lived my mortal span of years, Harnor, the patron of magik, was held above all others, but the Lord of the Spires wasn’t the only game in town. Finbardin had a massive temple (every nation gave the King of Heaven his due), as did the Seeress, the Lady of Esel, and Annumbra the World Walker. Even Bayonell the Herald had a small shrine, though his priests were ignorant of the Greater Realm and knew only that tiniest part of the Herald’s lore which intersected with Sangrar’s history. In Endiron, Finbardin won the hearts of the people, but Umbar, Solare, Nyllen, Beldar, Pugnar, Glorianna, and Deridean were also held dear. In Vanerum, the people favored Beldar first, but also found time for the Ravager, Glorianna, Aerdran, Grandar and Aeriel the Dawn Mistress. Even in Sangrithar, where Umbar and the Maiden were the clear favorites, sundry temples and shrines lined the streets until the curse struck the God-Emperors.
One thing all religions shared was belief in the power of prophecy. Each faith had its own set of omens and foretellings, usually revolving around the Warrior, Prince and Priestess, sometimes by a different, yet recognizable name. That makes sense to me because all those different prophecies were, in fact, the same. They were all echoes of the original prophecies, the one true prophecy, the Prophecies of the Ages. When the signs pointing to the Long Night came clear, many faiths held up their leader as the Priestess of the Prophecies. It was easy to make such a false claim, and believe it true, because that is the nature of faith, and because the true Priestess followed the Maiden, who had long since been forgotten by most.
Something our worlds had in common was the notion of the gods living in another realm, whether you called it Olympus, Asgard, or in the case of Sangrar, the Outermost Heavens. Like Zeus and Odin, Finbardin was a sky god. He made and named Esel, our sky, as a gift for his beloved, Spirit. In choosing Spirit as his consort, Finbardin hardly broke with tradition. It was just another example of the earth mother giving way to the sky father, as happened in so many of your myths. That theme, by the way, is no accident. It is the Necessity at work. The Balance is supreme over all worlds, yours included.
Also, your gods were known for, shall we say … strained family relations. Zeus ate his way out of his father’s stomach. Set murdered his brother Osiris, who married his sister Isis, Odin killed Bori. I won’t even go through who slept with whom, but you know as well as me that all of them suffered from an overdose of Oedipal complexes. Sangrar’s gods weren’t that different. Freud would have had a field day with them too. If you want a tale about incestuous begetting, then go read how the Vanara were conceived. That should satisfy your appetite, there’s plenty of sleeping around in that one.
The Elder Races might invoke Spollnar and Lillandra in the planting season, ask Solare for his blessing in the summer and bellow for the Laughing God at harvest time. They might call upon the Explorer when setting out on a journey, or Grandar before entering a cave, or Harnor when casting a spell. All the gods were invoked by thousands on a daily basis. Invocation was a casual act, very distinct from prayer.
As far as prayer goes, you should have nailed the basics by now: The Elder Races pray, priestesses channel the prayers, the Earth Mother reinforces the Stones. What I’ve danced around long enough is how the Elder Races prayed. It’s probably not what you’re thinking, unless you’re a pagan. If your mainstream religions were anything like the Maiden’s, your churches and temples would doubtlessly be overflowing.
Bottom line, the Elder Races prayed by having sex. When they gathered in the Stones to pray, they had what you’d consider wild orgies, everyone except the Dwarves, that is. There just weren’t enough Forge Folk women to go around.
Prayer meant abandoning yourself physically to the Maiden and sex was the best way to do this. You have to understand, the Earth Mother was a very sensuous goddess. Her honeyed-musk scent was a powerful aphrodisiac. If you could bottle it and sell it here, you’d be a billionaire.
The Elder Races drew a line between prayer and love. When not praying, they were not inherently promiscuous, some were flirtatious and others downright prudish, but they all prayed often and vigorously regardless of attitude, it was their sacred obligation. By their standards, Kandol and Velora maintained a monogamous relationship for centuries even though both prayed with others. Kandol and Calavenna were priest and priestess over Najahar, the Stones at Nammovalle, and fast friends. They led the Elves in prayer daily, with Velora’s full approval. Apparently sex with other goddesses also fell into the “doesn’t count” category. Kandol bedded more than one and I’m convinced Velora knew about each and every one of them.
Sex in the Stones was considered beautiful and wonderful, a memory to cherish, but not a declaration of love. When it came to love, the Elder Races believed in marriage and proclaimed their love by exchanging vows, often while standing in the Stones. Once married, they still prayed, sometimes with their spouse but not always. What happened in the Stones, stayed in the Stones, just like Vegas. When prayer was involved, infidelity was never an issue.
By the grace of Sudnar (translation: luckily. That’s one of those invocations I mentioned), prayer took place in the privacy of one’s own Stones, which meant that each race had its own places to pray. I said luckily because of Lillandra’s ban against mingling between the races. She had warned that from love gone wrong Sorrow would enter the world and praying was not proof against her doom. Sex in the Stones outside one’s race would allow Erlik entry as surely as Chitty Chitty went Bang Bang. Once the Stones fell, Lillandra’s ban had no teeth, but everyone still followed it to the letter, terrified by the evil the Traitor had wrought. After the Reckoning, there were rare instances of mingling, mostly between Elves and humans.
Incest was also taboo among the Elder Races. You could not love, or pray with, close family members. For Elves, particularly the earliest generations, that often meant marrying outside the tribe.
It’s not really fair to lump all the Elder Days together. Before and after the Stones fell were as different as night and day (sorry, I couldn’t resist). The time after the Stones was the dark ages for Sangarian religion, so we’ll ignore that for now and focus on the era when theystill stood. Back then, the Full Radiance still shone and praying to the Earth Mother was as close as the Elder Race got to religion. Why did things change so much?
By far the most important difference was the loss of the Stones. They were the center of religion in the good old days and without them, religion as the Elder Races had known it, ceased to exist.
Nearly as important was the retreat of the gods into Heaven. In the Elder Days, the Ealar and Elehu dwelled on Sangrar. They were living, breathing beings, known in the flesh (quite literally in some cases) to the Elder Races. By the time of man, they were as intangible as the wind, for the most part. I can’t overstate what a dramatic difference that made.
Lastly, the religions of Man seemed less pure than the simple faith of the Elder Days and for that I held the clergy accountable. In the Elder Days, priests and priestesses had but one purpose, channeling prayers to the Maiden. If the other Ealar or Elehu desired converse with the Elder Races, they did so directly, without intermediary. They were never the objects of prayers, had no rituals of observance and no need of clergy.
In the Age of Man though, the gods dwelt in Heaven. They let the clergy speak for them and that was a mistake. The clergy were human and had other agendas. They were susceptible to politics and temptation and lacking the channelers’ purity of purpose. They brought the stink of the mundane to the divine.