The Bright and Shadow Hosts are served in their ways by Clerics, people who have chosen or been chosen to serve the Powers in assorted ways. This is a key point, as well, since the clerical orders for each are typically overseen locally and not always in agreement with each other.
The interesting thing to keep in mind is the difference between them: for many that serve the Powers, it is a job, no different from being a banker or a baker, a farmer or a stall worker. But for some of them, it is something they cannot escape, cannot avoid, and the hands of Powers are always in their lives.
Of note is that there ae no limitations on Priests in regards to family, marriage, or children – there is no chaste requirement, for love is sought by all the Powers for all people – though it is rumored that those who serve Dread Powers may indeed be required to forego such unless directly ordered. I am fairly certain the current Ikon for Belial is celibate. He whines enough about it.
There are three general kinds of Clerics.
First and foremost, there are those who choose to serve the Powers or those the Powers have chosen. They are the vast majority of those who do so, and they are ones who enable and make possible the particular work that doesn’t involve direct intervention or some great and grand and terrifying magical ability or ritual spell – and yet they are often able to do such things to a degree themselves once they have shown aptitude for it.
These are the priests, though the term is a generalized one for all of them as each of the assorted Powers has a term for them that is specific to that Power. The Powers recognize the importance and the commitment that comes from leaving one’s home an apprenticing to the service of a power – even if you will never be granted the incredible abilities that many will speak of.
Priests can be found at Temples or Shrines, but they generally will stay with a given one for the entirety of their lives – they are the backbone of the place, and what they may lack in individual power, they make up in ritual power through the collective of them all. In many ways, Priests are the balance to the Paladins and the Shrinewards, much as how even the mightiest Wizard can be taken down by the collective power of everyday people.
A Priest will always start out as a Novitiate, or Apprentice, to a given Shrine or Temple. In times of difficulty or trouble, they may be asked – never commanded – to move or to take up a role with a different Temple or Shrine, but always under the same Power. Once one is in service to Paria or Mansa, you will forever be in service to them unless you leave the priesthood.
They will begin instruction and learning, first of the earliest tenets and ideals and history of the Power they come to serve and begin to be initiated into the differing mysteries as they move forward and prove their commitment. Baptism is the first and most important of the many rituals, as without it they cannot set foot upon any consecrated ground for that Power. The largest such locations for this are usually attached to a given temple of the particular power, and the large buildings are very much common areas for sleeping, classrooms, and workshops. They will work in the gardens, the kitchens, the stables and assist higher ranking Priests with their duties as needed.
As they become more experienced, they will do more, but most find that advancement can be slowed by time and stubbornness. At the head of each Temple is a Curate, Domina, or Vicar – this is the head Priest, whose power is significant, often both locally as well as within the Temple proper. Shrines are headed by Shrinewarden – who, unlike the Shrinewards, is bound to that shrine – and have a similar role in overseeing all the work and functions of the Shrine in the same way the Curate, Domina, or Vicar does for a Temple. In practical terms, they ae the head of all religious activity for the power within their region – and for Temples that is usually an area equal to the borders of the Realm, whereas for Shrines it is far less centralized. There will never be a Shrine within 100 miles of another shrine or temple to the same power.
A Curate is a masculine Cleric, and a Domina is a feminine Cleric, a Vicar is a nonbinary Cleric. All are Priests, but some of those priests may also be Paladins or Shrinewards.
The heads of each order under a Power are called Bishops. A Bishop can be a Curate or Domina or Vicar. Each of them is the head of their particular following – though in some cases, there may be one of each, or two, who have to share power, depending on the Power they serve. Beneath them will be bots who will often serve as the local heads – an Abbot could be a Paladin or Shrinewarden as well – such is the power of a Bishop that they have oversight over all the Shrinewardens in terms of rank within a given realm. Abbots are usually Masters in terms of experience. Beneath them are Deacons, followed by Friars, then Chaplains.
Thus, within the religious orders there are still similar degrees of competence and skill equal to the world outside the cloisters. Bishops, Abbots, Deacons, Friars, Chaplains, Novitiates are all equivalent to the Grand Masters, Masters, Adepts, Professionals, Novices, and Apprentices of the wider word. This means Friars and other positions all serve some function within the faith, and whose work will include supervision of those below them, from Masters to professionals to Adepts and down to the novitiates. In a given life, it can take several decades to move up from an apprentice into differing degrees of experience.
Priests wear robes of office, with sashes that denote rank. Hese robes are always in the primary color of the Power, with decorations in secondary and third colors that highlight the power’s particular pleasures and symbols.
Priests serving a temple may live within small, utilitarian, and sparse rooms inside the Temple proper, where there is also a Working room (behind the altar), and a mess hall where all eat without regard to rank or station. Those who have families may live outside the Temple, and priests earn their wages through the sales of the goods offered from the Temples, through the nominals for the rituals performed, and through donations.
The Bishop is always housed separately on the Grounds of the Temple, in a place where dignitaries and related functionaries can meet. Grand Master Clerics are also able to communicate over great distances with each other – rumor has it they possess sacred devices that enable such. Grand Master Clerics have a staff that may include both Novices and lay persons.
The principal work done is rituals for the followers, ceremonies and care for the sacred space.
Those who serve in Shrines are often collectively just called Shrinewardens, though that particular term is actually meant to apply to the Shrineward who has been bound to that Shrine – and it is important to note that once bound, a Shrinewarden never leaves the consecrated ground again. It is where they will remain, and when they pass on, it is where their remains will lay.
Some Shrines will have one, other will have three, but all Shrines will have an actual Shrinewarden, and within the grounds of the Shrine, they are inviolate in person. While a Temple’s Bishop may decide they dislike a particular Shrinewarden – who may be equal to or greater in experience than the Bishop – they will never be able to unseat them directly. Nor can they seek the Deconsecration of a shrine without combating the Shinewraden directly. Ose who are candidates for the role of a Shrinewarden are called Shrinewards, and some of them may never find a Shrine – but the distinction of a Shrineward is that they are always called directly to service, and they are always granted unique abilities to defend and protect those of the faithful and the Shrine itself.
A Shrinewarden will often be accompanied by many Shrinewards who will be learning from them as Apprentices, as well as those who are in line to take over and those who seek to assist in the task of preserving the remarkable space they have been given.
Along with them will be Priests – sometimes trained locally, sometimes trained by the Temple if there is one (for not all realms have a temple), who will engage in much the same general work – but it is the Shrinewarden who is central to the Shrine itself.
While Priests can be identified by their robes and sashes, Shrinewards are identified by the distinctive uniform they wear. It consists of a tight fitting, mid-waisted white jacket with long, bell sleeves that drape dramatically and are set to be one finger longer than the length of their arms. This jacket is always trimmed in ribbons with the second color of the power and seems to never get dirty – it is always a bright white. Beneath it they will wear a wrap shirt of the third color of the Power, and then they will always wear a pair of very loose, skirt like trousers – dance is a frequent act for them, and range of motion is important. They normally wear sandals, but some will wear boots, especially when traveling. The trousers ae always the first color of that power. White is what stands out, and each is a solid color. It is said that the garments are gifted by the powers directly, as no one has ever been found to make them, and duplicating the dyes is seemingly all but impossible, and never for such clothing. They are potent and persistent reminder that these are people that have been specifically chosen by a power.
Shrinewards are also always able to seek shelter and community within any temple or other shrine of their Power – and there are always two or three well appointed rooms for them in any of these locations should they pass through. The same does not apply, however, to Priests, including the Bishop.
Shrinewards are chosen and have unique gifts, but they ae not the only ones so chosen. The role of a Shrinewarden, however, is to assist in the task of turning back the denizens of the Necrotic – often thought to mean that the role of a Shrineward is to turn the undead, though it is both narrower and broader than that thought. Shrinewards are often members of the Adventurer’s guild, as well, and they are the rare but still found folks who will travel, for they do not get to take time off – they are the representatives of their Power, and they haea mission to bring more people to follow that Power.
Shrinewards start their apprenticeship early. It is said that they begin training as early as 9, and that the vast majority of them are feminine in nature, though this is not an absolute nor a requirement. There are both masculine and nonbinary Shrinewardens – and notable ones, as well, but the majority of the Shrinewards are indeed women. They begin to seek out their own Shrines and go wandering, they are often 14 to 16 yeas of age, far younger than any others, and this often raises serious concerns by the wider communities, for the work they do is dangerous and deadly and often traumatic.
Most Shrinewards will “settle down”, whether becoming a Shrinewarden or turning to the aid and assistance of a Shrinewarden, by the time they turn 25. Again, not absolute, merely the most common outcome. The youngest grand master Shrineward ever was 23 – and to have a lifetime of knowledge in one so young is a mark that shows when you look to their eyes.
There is one final thing about a Shrineward to note: it takes significant long term contact to be able to identify them. They tend to fade from memory and thought, and identifying them after a brief encounter is very difficult – it is as if the work they do and the people they save ae meant to be only whispers and vague hints. A Shrineward out of uniform is pretty much not able to be recalled at all.
One of Antelle’s former shrinewards says that She only called her to serve for a while, and that it is a blessing, a part of the gifts they are giving, so that they can enjoy a normal life after their calling. I need to point out that I am an Ikon of Antelle, her living embodiment on the world, and I cannot recall her name or what she looked like after talking with her to learn more about it.
One of the things that folks often try hard not to remember is that we are always but a thin tear in the veil away from a disaster in many ways, for there are many different dimensions that are attached and attracted to our own Mortal Realm, stacked in interwoven, interleaving, interconnected layers that are held back only by the warp and weft of the Veil and Pale.
What works against one of those dimensions does not always work as well against another one – and there is no more critical a point to draw than that there is malice and malevolence in those dimensions we call the Infernal. Hell, The Abyss, the Dread Domain, and even, yes, the Mortal Realm of The Bleak.
Incursions from them are seemingly eternal, and it is not helped that there are those here who would listen to the seductive calls to power and domain if they would just let a bit of evil into their life…
And this is where the paladins come in.
To many, there is no need to have Paladins and Shrinewards, and given that some of the Shrinewards almost seem to be paladins in and of themselves, this might make sense to those who are not well informed, who have not studied the intricacies and the nature of these extradimensional enemies. No amount of effort to turn the undead will ever effect a Wight or a Wraith. Nor would they stand against a demonic presence or be able to defy with skill and the necessary heart a bit of deviltry in a downtown.
Not that any Shrineward would ever turn away from the fight, mind you – that simply isn’t what they are about. To fight Hags and Demons and Devils, you need a tool and a power and force of personality that is unyielding and unclouded. You need someone that the Celestial powers would support and guide and aid, and that means you need someone who is good in a way that few others are.
Not perfect, not incorruptible, but decent, fair, and able to stand against the wickedness of the evil that has brought many a man to ruin and misfortune.
Paladins start out as candidates and are tried through their apprenticeship in way that would harrow even the most noble of us. I am an Ikon and I could neve endure what they do just to become what they must. Antelle has seventeen Paladins and seeks to have 25 – but that is a struggle that she has been having for over 200 years.
Demons are among us. Devils are twisting and corrupting. Hags are ensnaring the unwary and all are causing dissent and fomenting rebellion and discord.
Mansa’s Ikon estimates that there are 30,000 denizens of the Internal Plane among us, all striving to widen the breach and trick others into summoning more of them, and I can say that even with he power I have been granted, a higher order devil is no small task, nor one assured of completion should I join against one.
That is what Paladins are for. You may have heard the stories – of Jonathan, of Paxarria, of the Knightly orders that were lost in those ages past during incursions such as we hope never to see again, of the battles that just recently took place in the far west.
Paladins are trained in Temples, and it is the role of older Paladins to do that harrowing of them, that strengthening of mind and heart, that binding of soul to self, to put them through ordeals the like of which most never emerge unscathed and many emerge no longer whole.
And even then, there is no certainty that they will become paladins. Many who do not will become vanguards or warriors, turn to the priesthood – and some may even be called to become Shrinewardens, though that is thankfully rare.
They are called only when they have endured and proven themselves – and sometimes it is not even when they have gone through those orchestrated trials and tests – the Powers sometimes choose those whose own personal ordeals have been just as harrowing. Paladins are strong people, but not cruel. They may not be nice, but they are always kind. They seek to serve and seek to bring others into the followings. Paladins are always found where disaster strikes – often appearing simply because they felt like it was a direction they had to go in, a place they had to see, an unknowable urge to be in that place.
There are legends and tales and songs sung of many who have been heroic, but it is paladins who can be nothing but, for that is part of their purpose: to be the light in the darkness, to be the balm of the wounded, to rally the troops and to stand in defiance of the greatest of evils.
One sage once suggested that Paladins are the opposite of Vampires. I find no fault with that, for there are few things as utterly unredeemable as Vampires or their kin the Lich.
Paladins who are in the whole of their power are annoyingly great. Their mail and weapons gleam and glitter, polished and shiny, and around them no one can feel fear or be turned to despair. And while many of the typical people will say that such things are “silly” or without real value, they have never faced down a demon in the fullness of its power and in the midst of its grand design.
IF Shrinewards are the ones who help the needy, Paladins are the ones that work to make it so that there are ever fewer needy.
After the long training, a paladin will become an Errant, and hence forth they will go where they are bid, according to the Power of Powers that called and granted them their blessings. Paladins may be chose by as many as three different Powers, who will then always work in concert for that given Paladin – and there is no way to tell who will choose them or why they are chosen until that moment when they are.
I have witnessed the empowering of five Paladins in the last couple hundred years, and I would much rather go to battle with them than not – but should it be not, let it be a battle they would have approved of. That is how these traveling clerics of steel and sword are. Also, they do a bang up job of healing, and you will always find illness stopped by one.
All of them are Clerics, though. Paladins, Shrinewards, Priests – each of them has a task, a role, a way and a place, and yet, all of them share the duties of all Clerics: to further the following, to be what a Power cannot in the moment, to prove that the Powers are worthy of worship again, and to make the world a more fit place for the people who live upon it, while performing the ceremonies and rituals of worship wherever they may be called upon to do so.