Up From the Mud
The Ashoum faith is the most prevalent of human creeds on Solevon, followed not only by all current kings of the realm but a great majority of common folk. Ashoum is a dualistic theology, believing in two deities, equal in power and opposed to one another. Asha, good-aligned, is the creator of the world, light, and life. Upan is Asha’s opposite entity, the one who introduced death and decay into Asha’s original ideal creation.
High and Low Ashoum
An informal schism splits the faith along social lines. While each creed fully recognizes the other, the madras in which clergy are trained tend to produce clerics of overwhelmingly one creed or the other.
The orthodox high creed, espoused most strongly in cities, castles and larger towns, is more conservative in its outlook, teaching the scriptural opposition of Asha and Upan more as a moral struggle within the souls of the faithful and downplaying the role of the angelic and devilish hosts as well as other demigodly beings. The high creed also favors a strict division between social classes. While Upan exists as an external tempter driving men to sin, the lower classes are discouraged from thinking of this, as it is only the noble classes which Upan considers worth tempting directly (thus, while persons of quality caught in a sin may appeal that they have been subject to a profane supernatural influence, the moral failings of the urban poor are theirs and theirs alone).
Low Ashoum is preached by itinerant clerics walking circuit in rural regions of the continent and followed in the hearts of countless peasant worshippers. Adherents to this creed voraciously follow the old mythological roots of the faith. Grandmothers lull children to sleep with tales of heroic angels winning over the forces of Upan, and terrify these same children by telling them the bone devils will carry them off if they misbehave. The ardent low creed believer knows that every stranger at a crossroads might be a devilish tempter sent to lead them astray and that every passing beggar might be an angel sent to test the piety of their village.
Observances and Practices
While the religion officially recognizes Asha and Upan as two equally-powerful gods, the practice of Ashoum is virtually synonymous with veneration of Asha as the god who brings life, light and good fortune to the faithful. Priests of Upan do exist, though they are rare (at least, those espousing their belief openly are rare). Followers gather on the morning of the last day of every week at their local temple, to hear a sermon from their temple priest and to reaffirm their devotion through sacramental observance.
In most small towns, the temple is the center of the community. When not used for services, the temple is a place for people to gather and to reflect on the events of the day. Most temples sit on a larger campus of land which includes housing for the temple clerics, a poor house, graveyard, infirmary and other vital facilities for the community.
One element that all temples have in common but few like to talk about is the Uppatad. Ashoum preaches that one day, Upan will see the evil of its being and come to Asha to beg forgiveness. This will herald and era of peace and eternal life. To symbolize this, every temple to Asha contains a symbolic Uppatad, or home to Upan. Because subterranean places are sacred to Upan, the Uppatad is always lower than the lowest part of the temple. It is adorned with trappings preferred by the adversary. In high creed temples, the Uppatad is barely the size of a closet; enough to satisfy the formal requirements of the faith but no more. In some cases, a high creed temple might enlist the services of a skilled artist to make their Uppatad look larger than it truly is from outside the door. Low creed temples will sometimes go the opposite route, constructing large and elaborate Uppatads beneath their temples and adorning them with trappings of death and horror.
The Uppatad serves one and only one ritual purpose. At the beginning of every harvest season, the community will gather for a celebration and dedication for the reaping. At this time, all those worshippers who dare accompany the temple’s cleric to the opening of the Uppatad. It is said that a community which has allowed evil to take root during the year will find Upan itself present in the Uppatad. The harvest festival itself is attended with great pomp relating to death, the dead and evil forces, and opening the Uppatad serves to tell the community that they have done well.
The Uppatad can sometimes become a hotbed of local controversy, however. Rumors persist in many communities that their Uppatad is in fact used for profane rituals to Upan. These rumors often run wild and can target both the guilty and the innocent with accusations of Adversary worship, sometimes with devastating results.
While modern Ashoumites may never even dare to speak the name of their Adversary in life, death is another matter entirely. A funeral is a time for the deceased’s loved ones to come to terms with the fact that the departed is now given over to Upan. As subterranean spaces are sacred to Upan, the dead rest beneath the earth. The poor are interred in solitary graves away from the homes and lands of the living. Noble families rest their dead in family mausoleums, full of rank upon rank of their ancestors, while the truly important highborn are laid in solitary monuments, alone or alongside their spouses in life.
Ashoumite tombs, while holy places, contrast strongly with their aboveground counterparts. Rather than the wide spaces and imagery of light and life, here, spaces are narrow, dark and deep. Where any decorations exist, they bear icons of death, war and sex. It is also traditional to inter the dead with some showing of worldly possessions, as the devils which bear them to the afterlife are avaricious and may be bribed to make the passage less painful.
In ancient times, the disparity between temples above and tombs below was even more extreme. The early Ashoumites were more ambivalent in their beliefs; one day they would pray to Asha for the strength of will to face a difficult time, an that night, make sacrifices to Upan in the hopes of seeing misfortune befall their enemies. Likewise, even the most pious of nobles might spend years concentrating on the construction of a dark and terrible final resting place, adorning it with graphic depictions of violence and lust and finally being interred with a legendary trove of wealth, works of art, enchantments and sometimes even their living servants. Today, these tombs are the stuff of bluster and legend, with connivers selling bogus maps to ancient resting places and drunken adventurers telling tall tales of having plundered the great ones.
Angels, Devils and Demigods
The scriptures of Ashoum feature a great number of lesser beings, most of which are angelic entities loyal to Asha or demonic creatures serving Upan’s machinations. A rare few beings are described as allied with neither deity; these are often similar to characters from early religions whose followers converted to Ashoum long ago; the most notable of these is Epal, the indifferent embodiment of nature who granted to people and animals the ability to stave off the death; many druids of the realm use Epal to introduce their beliefs to Ashoumites, though few druids literally worship it.
Though they are present in Ashoum’s holy texts, High Ashoumite temples rarely make mention of any of these mythological beings. It is the position of the orthodoxy that such tales distract the peasantry from the day-to-day duties as loyal vassals to their lords. The low creed, however, lay and clergy, revel in such tales both for their moral messages and for plain entertainment.