People often assume that the Seven Mothers cult thinks of itself like British imperialism – they are they to bring the benefits of Lunar civilization to the benighted barbarians of Dragon Pass and beyond. They imagine some 19th century colonial administrator or modern State Department staffer filled with condescension for the cultures they are ruling.
That’s not really the case. The Seven Mothers purpose is to prepare people to embrace the Red Goddess. Most people never become Illuminated, but the Seven Mothers creates an environment where Illumination can be welcomed and respected – not feared or killed. The Seven Mothers likes those things that like the Red Goddess, and it fights against those who would fight the Red Goddess.
Often Seven Mothers missionaries find themselves in cultures that are as wealthy, technically skilled, whatever, as the Lunar Heartlands. Carmania was wealthier, more developed, etc. than Rinliddi – that didn’t matter. Carmania threatened the nascent Red Goddess and needed to be defeated so that its population could be prepared to embrace her.
For most Seven Mothers cultists it is a universal goal – the Red Goddess needs to be embraced by the world so that we all can finally be healed. The Lunar Heartlands are in just as much need of healing as the barbarians.
Now add to that a level of imperial chauvinism – that it is only right and proper that the Red Emperor rules the world and that Lunar/Dara Happan/Pelorian society is the only right and proper society and that everyone not of Lunar/Dara Happan culture is a benighted barbarian. This cultural chauvinism is always present but is also at odds with the Seven Mothers mission. It is sometimes suppressed (by enlightened provincial administrators like Phargentes, Moirades, Fazzur Wideread, or Sor-eel), but just as often it suppresses the Seven Mothers mission (e.g., Euglyptus the Fat, Tatius the Bright, Halcyon var Enkorth, etc.).
These imperialists rarely justify their rule by saying they are building roads, aqueducts, whatever – because they aren’t! Maybe they introduce maize through the Hon-eel cult, if they remember to do that. They tolerate the Seven Mothers missionaries, but primarily they justify their rule because it is right and proper that the rule of the Red Emperor should be universally acknowledged. They are imperialists first and foremosts.
The imperialists and the missionaries often work hand to hand, but also are often in tension. Many suggest that the closer to Mirin’s Cross, the more likely the missionaries get their way – the further away, the more the imperialists get their way. But enough exceptions exist to make this a dubious political maxim.
Trying to imagine any real world analogue it might well be to Islam under the Abbasids around 1000. The Caliphate has existed now for nearly four centuries. Its religious justification is still there, but it has also a well-developed imperial tradition that is now ancient and hallowed.
The Seven Mothers missionaries are seeding elements of the Red Goddess story wherever they go, as preparation for the deeper mysteries.
Orlanth is less spiritually problematic than he is in their face screwing up the preparations. He rallies the non-Illuminated masses by pointing out the obvious – the Red Goddess embraces Chaos.
And since normal things are quite understandably terrified of Chaos, that’s a very powerful rallying cry.
The Lunar EMPIRE is imperialist. Comes with the name. And the Seven Mothers missionaries (see Cults of Prax) are missionaries. It is what they are. If you say Bronze Age imperialists and missionaries are automatically the bad guys, ok. But Greg was more nuanced than that.
They are imperialists. Proudly so. They are missionaries. Proudly so. That doesn’t make them good guys or bad guys.
What (arguably) taints the Lunar Way with evil is its embrace of Chaos, not imperialism or missionaries or nobles or whatever. Is using a soul-annihilating monster to devour your foes evil? Is constantly providing it with a supply of sentients to devour (and annihilate their souls) evil? How about when you run out of criminals to feed it and have to resort to innocents?
These are the moral questions that swirl around at the center of the Lunar Empire’s power. If Chaos is part of the cosmos, can it be used as a tool? Should it be used as a tool? Do the ends justify the means?