Created out of four smaller sects in Yanwei in antiquity, the Church of the Four has become widespread in Yanwei, Kavera and southern Nessiny. Most adherents feel a greater allegiance to one sect than the others, though in many cases, that’s just whatever church is available in their town.
The Church of the Four is the state religion in Yanwei. The Church has a central ruling body in the capital with close ties to the aristocracy; the national standing army of Yanwei evolved out of the Daranite faith; and the government and the Church are still closely intertwined, often forming checks against one another’s power.
However, the word of the Church’s central ruling body is not legally binding outside the country. Some churches in other countries stand by their decisions, and some do not. They have history and prestige on their side, but many churches don’t find foreign concerns to be relevant to their lives – the Kaveran church is cut off from the Yanweian Central Church due to Kaveran law, and Nessiny’s churches are too far away to be in close communication.
The Church in Kavera is a fairly flat organization without much structure/leadership, mainly because of past Church leadership’s role in the Kaveran civil war. The reunited government has discouraged top-down/centralized leadership in the Church, and the individual churches have become more self-governing as a result.
The Church in Nessiny is not a major player in politics, though some individual churches enjoy the favor of influential nobles. It is more common in the south, and there it is most common in the form of small-town and rural churches. In Nessiny, the Church of the Four has a bit of a reputation as a faith for country folk. Some rulers and ruling family members have, in the past, leveraged its followers against the Church of the Divine Balance in their power struggles.
A common inroad of the Church into Nessinian culture is through naming conventions: many Nessinians, especially in the south, have names drawn from Church of the Four scripture. Ex. Lunden (originally Lundren), one of Rone’s classmates, along with Lunden’s sister Tufara and brother Daran; and Agna’s aunt Naire, who named herself after an acolyte from Tufarian scripture.
Darano, the Protector
Darano is the god of power, justice, order, and the rule of law. He is often depicted as either a man with a sword and shield or a man holding a set of scales, symbolizing justice and law.
His prayer gesture is with flat palms, crossed at the wrists and facing up, depicting a set of scales.
Darano’s festival is in late spring (early May); its full title is the Feast of the Resurrection of Darano. The story goes that after Darano’s mortal beloved was killed in battle, Darano died of grief, lay dead for a time, and resurrected himself in order to protect the mortal world, with a promise that he would no longer leave the world. The festival commemorates his resurrection.
In Kavera, the Feast of the Resurrection has branched out of its religious roots to serve as a secular beginning-of-summer festival.
In mythology, Darano is attended by a number of half-mortal battle nymphs of various genders, who are frequently depicted either charging with him into battle or attending his graveside.
The symbolic colors of the Daranite faith are red, white and silver, symbolizing blood, holy raiment and steel. Fully fledged priests wear white robes with armor (more below); acolytes/apprentices wear red robes.
Daranite priests wear decorative armor to symbolize their role as protectors of the Faith, but they are not necessarily combat-trained. A militarized wing of the Daranite faith, more or less analogous to the swordmasters in the Church of the Divine Balance, evolved into the national army of Yanwei. Most churches no longer keep armed guards, although some priests train in combat arts as a way of honoring/embodying Darano’s teachings.
The priests take the title Protector (name), with more specific, military-style titles in some larger churches, based on each priest’s position in the heirarchy.
Darano’s epithets in scripture include the Lord of Truth, the Lord of Justice, and the Great Protector.
Lundra, the Connector
Lundra is the god of love, compassion, human relationships and interrelatedness, birth, death, and other life events, as well as the cycle of death/birth/rebirth. She is often glossed over as a “love goddess” by nonbelievers, but her realm is quite complicated.
She is commonly called “the Lady” or “the Mother of All”. She is usually depicted with outstretched hands, symbolizing her acceptance of her followers. This is echoed in her prayer gesture, which is open palms, held upward or slightly outward.
Her festival is in late summer (mid-August), and is called Lundrala. The custom for Lundrala is to give a single thoughtful gift to people within your inner social circle (partners, friends, family) and to give the same small gift to acquaintances and business associates. (The potential for personal strife in this division is common knowledge.) Grapevine wreaths are popular Lundrala decorations, as are other circular decorations, representing the cycle of life and death and/or eternity.
Though priests in all four churches can act as counsellors, especially when they are the only clergy available in a town, the Lundran faith takes this role as a central part of its doctrine. Lundran priests sometimes act as matchmakers as well, particularly in Yanwei, where arranged marriages are very common.
Lundran priests also commonly perform marriage rites, funeral rites, and confirmation rites. The confirmation rite is a coming-of-age ceremony in which a child (seven or eight years old in most countries, ten or eleven in Yanwei) is officially named and welcomed into their family / community / church. If their gender is different from the one assumed at birth, the child chooses a new name at this time. The ceremony is done later in Yanwei than in most nations because this is also the common starting point for parents to begin searching for arranged marriage partners for their children. They will generally take several years to hammer out the details, until the marriage is completed around age eighteen or twenty.
The garb of Lundran priests is a blue robe. They take the titles Father or Mother (name).
Eytra, the Traveler
Eytra is the god of the natural world, mystery, travelers, and personal freedom married to absolute respect for others’ personal freedom. It is proper doctrine to refer to Eytra without gender, based on the linguistic conventions of the language being used.
Their festival is at the vernal equinox, around March 21, which is also New Year’s Day to all of the countries involved in the story so far. Decorations tend to involve natural materials, such as boughs and flowers; flowering boughs from trees, such as apple or cherry, are strongly associated with the Feast of Eytra.
Their prayer gesture is with cupped hands held palm to palm, symbolizing a shelter or secret, or perhaps the bud of a plant.
Eytran churches are constructed without glass or shutters in the windows, to symbolize their openness to the natural world. Most are carefully sited and constructed to minimize weather damage, such as siting them under tall trees or in the shadow of a hill. Most Eytran churches in areas of the world with cold winters tend eternal fireplaces, to keep the interior conditions bearable. These fires also carry a connotation of welcome and sanctuary, where any travelers may pause and rest.
Of all the Churches of the Four, the Eytrans tend to be known for their rules of sanctuary: Daranites and Tufarians tend to expect repayment for their services, and Lundrans will ask questions, but Eytrans do not. Eytran churches take anyone, regardless of intention or ability to pay. Some churches can become crowded, and the amenities tend to be nearly nonexistent beyond walls, a roof, and a hearth — but they never turn anyone away.
Eytran priests wear hooded green cloaks, symbolizing the garb of travelers and woodsmen. They take the title Traveler (name), regardless of gender. Eytra is also known as “the Traveler,” which suits many Eytrans’ flat and collaborative organizational structure. This is also rendered as “the Wanderer” in some languages (ex. Kazi’s speech to the strikers in book 2).
Earthbreaking and watermoving, as arts, evolved out of Eytran practices. In Yanwei earthbreaking is taught exclusively by Eytran priests, but in other cultures it has split off into a secular art.
However, Eytran doctrine puts strict limits on earthbreaking practice — any material such as stone or soil is supposed to be used as close as possible to its point of origin, and any remains of living creatures (animal or plant) are to be left in place or returned where they were found. Eytran churches support the study of the natural world as a discipline (crossing over with Tufarian practice), but they insist that only recreations be exhibited. Over the centuries, the Eytran church has ultimately lost the ideological battle over shiny non-living objects — gold and other metals are still mined and used as currency, and gems are still hoarded by the wealthy as status symbols. As such, and also because of its association with the destitute, the Eytran church as a whole tends to be affiliated more with the common people than the powerful. There are exceptions, however, and the Eytrans’ ability to literally cause the earth to swallow people has earned them respect in any case.
Because of Eytra’s role as the god of the natural world, It is common to depict them with animal-like features such as a fox’s tail or feathers, or plantlike features such as flowers or leaves woven into their hair. In various texts they are accompanied by a retinue of godlet followers, not unlike Darano’s battle nymphs, depicted in traveling garb and/or displaying animal-like or plant-like features as well.
Because of the fantastical and mysterious aspects of Eytran iconography, it has come into vogue frequently in Nessinian secular art.
Tufar, the Builder
Tufar is the god of learning, knowledge, history, industry, commerce and healing: essentially all things made by human hands.
Tufar’s festival, the Golden Anniversary, is around the winter solstice (Dec. 21). It commemorates Tufar’s gift of written language to the world. It honors history and the dead, in the sense that the living remember and maintain a connection with those who came before them through writing, art and other works of culture. The Golden Anniversary tends to be a solemn, but not grim festival, in which people gather, feast more or less moderately, and remember those who came before them. The iconography of the holiday tends to involve handmade decorations, such as paper chains and candles, rather than natural materials. Bonfires are also common.
Tufar’s prayer gesture is with palms facing one another and fingers interlaced, the overall shape of the hands like an X. This stems from the strings on a loom.
Tufarian priests study the same energy-based healing arts as the healers of the Church of the Divine Balance, though they understand it as channeling the divine grace of Tufar. They study as apprentices under practicing priests, one-to-one or in small groups.
Tufarians wear long strings of prayer beads (often glass or ceramic, though wood is also found). The rest of their garb varies by sect and culture. They take the titles Brother or Sister (name).
Of the Church of the Four churches, Tufarian churches have the greatest emphasis on architecture and beauty in their church buildings. They often collect art and religious iconography, since art is a human creation, and as such falls under Tufar’s domain. Tufar himself is shown in many forms, often with tools such as hammers, or with books and writing implements.
In some areas of the world, Tufarian priests are in direct “competition” with Church of the Divine Balance healers. Their attitudes toward one another depend upon the cultural influences surrounding them: some coexist peacefully, as in most areas of Nessiny, and some view one another with suspicion, as in some areas of Kavera.
Tufar is commonly called “the bronze god” and “the Builder” in writing and by his adherents. It may be worth noting that Tufar is not considered the creator of the earth itself, but the god who taught humans to create.