The Cult of Michaelis
Few other religious debates are as hotly contested or vitriolic as one concerning St. Michaelis, sometimes referred to as the Spear of Aeddon. Depending whom you ask, St. Michaelis is viewed as either a god in his own right, a blessed saint, a false prophet, or a heretic of the first magnitude. The debate continues to rage to this day, hundreds of years after his death and supposed ascension.
The Cult of Michaelis exists throughout Stormfell and consists of at least three distinct splinter groups. Fundamentally, followers of St. Michaelis believe that the great saint, once a mortal man, ascended to godhood upon his tragic death. From that foundation, the different cults diverge on their specific beliefs and practices, sometimes violently so.
The cult first appeared in the years following the saint’s death. Individuals experienced visions in which Michaelis spoke and called upon them to continue his works. Although initially viewed with disdain by other faiths, the worship of St. Michaelis caught on quickly and spread first across the Nerathan Empire and then into the vassal kingdoms. More and more people experienced visions of stunning clarity – far different than the usual cryptic and confusing visions often attributed to the gods. Their fervent belief proved remarkably contagious as it crossed cultural and language barriers.
At first, the new Nerathan emperor, Lord Lightbringer, refused to acknowledge the existence of the developing cult. His attitude surprised many people, especially given that Lightbringer and Michaelis had been brothers. Lord Lightbringer declared that his brother had died a hero’s death on the battlefield, but to attribute godhood to him was impious at best and heretical at worst. Nonetheless, the cult gained support and continued to spread.
In response, Lightbringer issued an edict forbidding the worship of St. Michaelis. He enforced his edict by commanding the Lightbringers to do everything possible to quelch the cult and bring its misguided followers to the true light of the gods.
Despite the harsh methods of the Lightbringers and several more edicts, the Cult of St. Michaelis thrived as an underground movement. No matter how hard the emperor tried, he could not kill this nascent religion. The image of the great man, the Spear of Aeddon (the Radiant Spear) in his hands, confronting the power of Raal Saraat, proved too powerful and too evocative to eradicate.
Emperor Lightbringer and his successors expended considerable wealth and effort into destroying the Cult of St. Michaelis. Numerous religious pogroms certainly weakened the cult and forced it deeper and deeper into secrecy, but the faith refused to die. Hundreds, if not thousands, of cultists were imprisoned, and others suffered banishment or, in a number of cases, death by fire, for their beliefs. Likewise, clergy many other major faiths stepped forward and lent the weight of their authority in declaring the same message: St. Michaelis was not, and never would be, a god.
The Cult of St. Michaelis remains in existence today, still spread across Stormfell in countless small pockets and underground movements. No other major religion has altered its views towards St. Michaelis, and few political leaders have ever dared voice their belief in the divinity of Michaelis. In general, individuals in positions of power and influence stand firmly against worship of St. Michaelis in any form. As expected, many of the people devoted to the cult come from the ranks of the poor, the disaffected, the lost, and the hopeless.
The Lightbringer Edicts and many other secular and religious laws still declare that St. Michaelis is not a god. These laws often forbid all worship of the saint, and likewise feature numerous punishments and sanctions against anyone arguing to the contrary.
Regardless of what one person or the next may believe about St. Michaelis, his worship has led to some remarkable events throughout the past centuries. The most famous and popular legend is known as the Chosen of Michaelis.
According to the stories, once every few generations the spirit of St. Michaelis is born in mortal form. He grows to adulthood, always ignorant of the truth of his existence. He reaches adulthood and goes on to achieve great deeds at crucial times. Often, such a man or woman leads an army against the forces of evil despite impossible odds. Inevitably, the individual dies a martyr’s death, sometimes at the hand of the enemy, sometimes at the hand of an ambitious noble or a zealous priest of another faith. Followers of the cult believe this phenomenon demonstrates that St. Michaelis truly cares about mortals and seeks to help them and guide them.
Although a number of individuals call themselves “clerics of St. Michaelis,” there is little more than anecdotal evidence of such clerics ever casting spells or performing divine miracles. The priests of other faiths argue that this lack demonstrates the simple fact that St. Michaelis is no god, and his clerics are merely charlatans.
The actual history of St. Michaelis is almost as controversial as the beliefs and actions of his cult. As the brother to the great Lord Lightbringer, Michaelis struggled his entire life to avoid his older brother’s shadow. The two men competed in almost every aspect of life, and their competition sometimes grew out of hand. The two, despite their bonds, rarely agreed on any issue, especially once Lightbringer became the high priest of Aeddon, the Living God.
While Lightbringer served as Aeddon’s chief mortal servant, Michaelis sought glory in warfare against the might of Shaddoth. Michaelis earned the right to serve as general to the allied armies, and his leadership brought many victories to the Nerathan forces.
As Aeddon revealed his plans for destroying Raal Saraat, he took the surprising action of giving his Radiant Spear not to Lightbringer, but to Michaelis. The Radiant Spear had been specially forged to slay Raal Saraat. By giving the weapon to Michaelis, the Living God was offering a signal honor to the general. Publicly, Lightbringer applauded the choice. In private, however, he felt betrayed and cheated by Aeddon’s choice.
During the final battle against the forces of Shaddoth, Michaelis and his knights confronted Raal Saraat. Although the details of that mighty battle remain forever shrouded in mystery, it is widely accepted that Michaelis slew Raal Saraat with the Radiant Spear, but at the cost of his own life. According to the popular legend, Michaelis breathed his last words and died in his brother’s arms.
Members of the Cult of Michaelis protest this “whitewash of history.” According to their beliefs, Michaelis actually survived his battle with Raal Saraat. As he stood over the defeated primordial, he shouted his thanks to the heavens. Moments later, Lord Lightbringer strode onto the field of battle to congratulate his victorious sibling. As the two embraced, Lightbringer fell victim to the gnawing jealousy and bitterness in his heart. He plunged a knife into his brother’s heart. Without witnesses, Lightbringer was free to make up any story he chose. He appointed a bard to compose a ballad to commemorate the victory and, at the same time, to disseminate the “true” story of what transpired.
Although this story is not new, most modern historians give it scant credence. According to historical accounts, Lord Lightbringer was nowhere near his brother or the battlefield that day, and thus could not have murdered Michaelis. These historians argue that, despite its embellishments, the original “Ballad of St. Michaelis” is, for the most part, an accurate account of the events of that battle. In their view, Michaelis died from wounds suffered in battle against Raal Saraat.
After the Nerathan Empire collapsed, worship of St. Michaelis faded for a time, often forgotten by the general popular. Small sects of cultists struggled to keep the faith alive in those dark times. Whether by happenstance or design, the cultists were able to connect their faith to a series of apparent miracles. As empires and kingdoms across Stormfell crumbled, more and more people held on to the hope that St. Michaelis watched over them. At a time when clerics of other churches seemed more interested in tithes and donations, the followers of the saint were genuinely helpful and caring.
Members of the Cult of Michaelis usually operate, to some extent, in secret. Although the days of the bloody religious pogroms have passed, cult members understand they still must watch against many enemies, both religious and secular. For a variety of reasons, most cult cells seek to overthrow or destabilize the local authority figures, be they priests, nobles, or dictators. At its core, the cult is an organization for the disaffected and the outcast, the people that might otherwise have no hope. Members of the cult have nothing to lose and everything to gain by upsetting the status quo.
Within the Cult of Michaelis exists a secretive sect known as the Knights of the Spear. These men are analogous to paladins of other faiths, and they perform similar functions in service to St. Michaelis. Unlike typical cultists, the Knights of the Spear often possess military training, good quality equipment, and experience in the arts of combat. The Knights provide the martial backbone for the cult, often making the cult a serious threat to local rulers.
Although these knights work to protect their fellow worshippers, they pursue a more important mission with deep fervor. The Knights of the Spear seek out the next candidate for the Rebirth of Michaelis, searching for dreams, omens, and portents to guide them to the next candidate. Whenever possible, the knights try to watch over and protect the candidate until he (or she) fulfills his role and becomes filled with the spirit of Michaelis.
Most mainline churches have come to grudgingly accept the existence of the cult. A few faiths, such as Bahamut’s, have learned to work with the cult on a limited basis. Many Bahamut followers view the cultists as good-hearted, albeit confused and lost. For the most part, however, it remains rare for the cult to cooperate with any other faith; they do not trust other priests, and those priests do not trust the cultists.
A few churches, such as the Church of Bane, actively hunt down and eliminate cultists and followers of Michaelis. These faiths view the cult as subversive and destructive. These churches may have other agendas; on several occasions the Church of Bane has attempted to prevent the Rebirth of Michaelis. Twice in two centuries, Banites successfully tracked down, imprisoned, and executed a person thought to have been touched by Michaelis. Members of the cult hold deep hatred for any Banite worshipper, regardless of circumstances.
Religious tolerance – or lack thereof – aside, there is one undeniable fact regarding the Rebirth of St. Michaelis. The event, when allowed to progress, always proves monumental, and always seems crucial. The person imbued with the spirit of Michaelis inevitably saves lives, stops the progress of evil, and prevents all manner of horrible disasters. Other faiths may scoff at the notion of St. Michaelis as a god, but they have a difficult time denying the importance of the Rebirth.
Another organization dedicated to the eradication of the Cult of St. Michaelis, the Lightbringers, clings to the dictates of their namesake. The Lightbringers have always been fierce and implacable enemies of the cult. The rivalry and hatred between these two groups remains startling for its intensity and longevity.
Role-playing a cleric of Michaelis offers many unique role-playing possibilities, assuming your DM has no problem with the concept. If your cleric casts spells like clerics of other religions, it strongly suggests that he is receiving help from some higher power, be it St. Michaelis or something else.
As described, worship of St. Michaelis is usually considered a cult rather than a true faith. His followers do not have a hierarchy, they do not build permanent temples, and they observe only a handful of specific rituals or ceremonies. For the most part, clerics and followers of St. Michaelis observe their faith in highly individualistic and unique ways, with little concern for the “proper” forms.