One way of thinking about Gloranthan communities is as confederations of local temples. So for example, most Sartarite communities can be viewed as a tight alliance of the Orlanth and Ernalda temples, with their associated cults (the Lightbringers, other Earth deities, etc.) and a couple of autonomous friendly or neutral cults (such as Humakt or Yelmalio).
In Sartar, this confederation gets led by the Orlanth Rex cult, which mediates between the various temples. In the Lunar Heartlands, we have two overlapping confederations – the Lunar cults (Seven Mothers, Red Goddess, etc.) and Yelm and his associates. The Red Emperor is head of both of those groups.
There’s always a lot of jostling here. A particularly charismatic or powerful leader might bring an otherwise less important temple into the fore. Some relatively small cults might have power and influence within their “confederation” far beyond their numbers – that is certainly the case with the Yelm and Red Goddess cults. Meanwhile, some very popular cults (like Lodril) might have far less influence than their numbers would suggest.
Anyways just another way to think about things that break up some of the more rigid organizational charts we might have been holding up as models.
Would Esrolia then be much the same associations as Sartar but with Ernalda taking the lead? Yes. Basically in Esrolia, you have a strong association of the Ernalda cult (aided by her associated Earth cults), the Orlanth cult (and its associates), Argan Argar (and his associates), and a few others like Choralinthor, Lodril, etc., and their associates. The Ernalda temple mediates, largely through its numeric superiority (about half the population), wealth, and the obligations the husband-deity cults have to her. The Orlanth cluster is second biggest but only about a third of the population. And various other large groups prefer working with the Earth Priestess rather than the Orlanth cult (the Shadow Plateau and the Caladralands). Combine that with the long tradition of Earth Priestess rule going back to the Grey Age, and you can end up easily with the described Esrolia.
But the Esrolian model is even less clear than the Sartarite model. The Earth Priestess has far less direct tools for ruling than Orlanth Rex or Yelm Imperator.
The Earth priestess extracts religious obligations from husband cults wherever possible and looks to them to keep their allies in line. She hands out gifts, and pits the cults against each other in contests for status and prestige. And wherever possible, remains outside (and above) of political jostling, performing her ceremonial role to be identified with the Earth Goddess as much as possible. And relies on her mother or grandmother in the Asrelia cult to do the dirty work of money, negotiation, and such sordid actions
This also ties into titles like “thane”. So thane literally means “Martial Companion,” this denotes a member of the Orlanthi martial aristocracy. Often transliterated as “Lord”.
Groups with enough wealth to support a full-time Orlanth (or similar martial cult) cultist with a horse or chariot and all the trappings can have a thane. A thane also is expected to take a leadership role in the local community, leading patrols, forcing off bandits, predators, monsters, etc. In Sartar, that is normally the local Orlanth cult, which at the very local level is a clan operation, and at the regional level it IS the tribe (Orlanth being the patron god of most Sartarite tribes).
Now remember that Orlanth Rex gets the backing of all the local temples and all the other key cult leaders. So within the tribal areas, we have two top dogs – the tribal king (the regional BIG MAN), and the Prince of Sartar (whom even the local big man is expected to defer to). Often two regional Big Men claim overlapping rights, and we get feuds and wars, unless the Prince steps in and moderates.
As you can see Orlanthi politics don’t have well defined organisational charts. You have basically two social tiers – tenants/free commoners and the lords/priests (many of whom come out of the tenant/free commoner families) – and the distinction between these tiers get very blurry. The Orlanth Rex cult sits on top of all of that, but there’s a lot of jostling.