Heresy and the Seven Mothers


Heresy is a term that often gets thrown around, largely without thought about what that means in Gloranthan terms. So here’s a look at what might constitute “heresy” to the Seven Mothers cult.

Let’s start here – when thinking about heresy in RQ, it is always worth looking at a cult’s organization as there must be people who declare something to be heresy. Here’s the organization of the Seven Mothers cult:

The supreme priest of the Seven Mothers is the Red Emperor. The Red Dancer of Power guides the overall activities of the cult. Within the Lunar Heartlands the cult is overseen by the local satrap, and in the Provinces, it is overseen by the General Guide for the Lunar Way.

From who the leaders of the cult are (and what their basis of authority is), we can quickly figure out a few things that they might consider heretical:

  • Challenging the authority or legitimacy of the Red Emperor
  • Challenging the authority or legitimacy of the Lunar Empire as a temporal political institution
  • Challenging the authority or legitimacy of a given satrap
  • Challenging Lunar policy in the Provinces.

In short, the White Moon movement is pretty much the textbook definition of a Seven Mothers heresy. The problem there is that a 7 Mothers cultist can subscribe to the White Moon movement and unless that individual is Banned by a priestess, they retain full access to cult magic, spirits, etc. This gets even more thorny if the person is a Red Goddess initiate (and thus Illuminated). The Seven Mothers have no spirits of retribution, so the decision to call the White Moon movement “heretical” is fundamentally political, not easily enforceable without resort to coercive violence, and possibly poses the problem of being blown off by powerful Lunars.

And thus we can see the problems the White Moon movement poses for the Lunar political authorities. Much better to get White Moon followers to agree that they were wrong through debate and discussion.

Some other “heresies” in the past – the most significant was “misidentifying the Red Goddess”. So saying that the Red Goddess is actually a manifestation of Entekos or Dendara – that’s a no no. The Red Goddess herself slapped down Valare Addi for that one. And she had good reason for that – the Red Goddess was an active heroquester and misidentifying her could pose serious dangers to her!

This was important enough that Jar-eel the Razoress needed to spend seasons debating with prominent White Moon leaders to get them to agree that they were wrong. And even then – with all the power and charisma that Jar-eel could bring to bear – it was only partially successful. The Red Emperor ultimately resorted to violence to suppress the White Moon movement. The resulting rebellion crippled the Lunar Empire during the crisis of 1625.

I’d say that the White Moon rebellion is probably viewed as a far greater threat by the Red Emperor than anything going on in Dragon Pass. Probably a greater threat than even the Voor-ash (which are viewed as far more threatening than anything in Dragon Pass).

But now let’s compare this with the Orlanth cult. Individual temples are pretty much completely autonomous unless that have acknowledged a Rex – a tribal king or prince or similar “wide-ruler”. That Rex has the ability to bend the temples to his will, but needs to work to do it!Without the Rex, Orlanthi temples have historically done such radical things as agree that a mortal hero can become the new Orlanth or decide that we should learn the secrets of the dragons and give worship and sacrifice to them. The Rex is able to keep constituent temples from doing that – assuming that the Rex disagrees!

So for the Orlanthi, “heresy” doesn’t really have any meaning. “Blasphemy” does – violating a religious rule or treating a god or sacred site with disrespect – but that’s the sort of thing that triggers the Spirits of Retribution.

In short, if a temple can access the god, gain Rune magic from it, and there are no spirits of retribution being sent, then it is ok. Individual temple leaders may impose restrictions, but that is going to differ wildly.

Instead what you usually see is that if a temple is able to get a more effective relationship with the god – more or stronger magic, more success in rituals, more or stronger spirits, whatever – then other temples are likely going to adopt that approach. Because ultimately it works and we can see and feel the results!

So when the Feathered Horse Queen revealed that La-Ungariant was a title for the great goddess Ernalda – which also gave her the ability to confront the Yelm priests – she was able to magically defeat her foes, gain the support of the farmers, gain the support of the powerful Shaker Priestess, and get the support of the local Orlanth priests. The La-Ungariant priestesses embraced this because 1. she was the high priestess, and 2. it worked!

We can see a similar thing going on when Monrogh revealed the Elmal was but a name for Yelmalio. individual temples rapidly embraced Yelmalio because 1. it worked, 2. Monrogh could get the god’s confirmation and repeat it, 3. it was also in everyone’s interest (and had the support of other powerful groups in Sartar).

But if a temple tries to go too far, it won’t have access to the god. Or might not have the full range of useful magic and spirits. And so it fails.

So rather than thinking about this in terms of “heresy” it just ends up being a question of effectiveness.

Now what you might often see is a temple saying, “we worship god this way HERE” without saying that worshiping that god in a different way somewhere else is wrong. That’s pretty common in polytheism.

And of course we know that with the Orlanth cult. Specific temples might be dedicated to Orlanth Thunderous, but of course the members of that temple don’t think the tribal Orlanth Rex temple or the local Orlanth Adventurous temple are heresies.

 I introduced the term “heresy” in quotation marks for a reason. But let’s remember what it is – a heresy is a belief that violates important religious teachings but is not apostasy. With many Gloranthan religions, if you are able to contact the god, wield its magic, and do not trigger spirits of retribution or other forms of divine anger, then it is pretty hard to argue that what you are doing is wrong in the eyes of the god.And the follow up question is if it is ok with the god, who are you to argue?