Of all of the crimes that a person can commit, none is more loathsome than that of Heresy. The Throne of God on Earth is a kingdom built on ideals, and those ideals are carefully shepherded by the Church. The Church of Mankind’s goal is to create a perfect, sinless society – a society in which there is no longer any need for sin. To this aim it works tirelessly, steering, guiding, and snipping away at deviations from its path, for it not only has to amend the ways in which society is deficient now, but do so even as it changes and moves forward into the future. There are many ways a person can fail morally, but Heresy is the greatest of all, for it is a rejection of the entire premise upon which the Church is built – that the Church itself is wrong, that the ideals taught by Holy Benalus are wrong, and that all that is best in humanity should be eschewed for another way.
Heresy is the belief, the practice or the teaching of a corruption or deviation from the word of the Church. Any belief counter to the orthodox word, as practiced in Holy Lethia and supported by the Pontifex – the spiritual successor of Holy Benalus, can be declared a heresy and repudiated, castigated and punished by the Church. From time to time, heresies develop out of heterodoxy, those opinions and practices that stray away from the mainstream. A person, usually a priest, will express belief that they believe derives from the holy words of the Testimonium, and the opinions, earnestly argued, will be judged by the cardinals or the Pontifex and declared heretical. At that time, those who adhere to the erroneous belief are given a chance to recant their doctrine or be declared heretics. These so-called lesser heresies were common in the first several hundred years of the Throne, often question about the metaphysical nature of Benalus, the Archangels, or the Lord God, but they have grown less common over time. In the modern time of the Lion Age, the great heresy, the so-called Triumvirate of Thorns, is of more paramount concern.
The Triumvirate of Thorns is a triune of three great heresies, the worship of Kuarl, the worship of Lazarolth, and the worship of Tarranthalus, the corrupted identities of the three fallen angels Kurian, Laziel and Tarraniel who the Testimonium says broke the world during the Rebellionem at the dawn of creation. These heresies form the highest and most hated level of the sin of Heresy, and those that can be shown to adhere to their teachings are named Anathema by the Inquisition. Anathema have so thoroughly damned themselves that they have given up their humanity itself, having turned away from and made enemy of the Church of Mankind.
Each of the cults of Anathema worship their patron as a God. The Testimonium records that when the angels rebelled, their act of defiance and destruction stole some essential essence from the world or perhaps realized some true potential, and with this they became much more powerful than any other angels – unto gods themselves. The Church does not acknowledge the Triumvirate as equal to God, but does acknowledge that they are worshiped as gods by their followers, that they are the greatest and mightiest of daemons. After the three rebelled, the rest of the Angels followed suit and many eventually became the daemons of the ancient world, but none are mightier than the Triumvirate.
The Lazarine heresy’s witches are often called Necromancers, and they use black rites to raise the dead as putrescent, ghastly horrors. They seem to be strongly associated with the Night Malefic, though no one outside of their cults knows whether or not one causes the other. It seems true that Lazarines can’t be involved in every single haunting, sighting of corpsers scrounging dead flesh off of a forgotten battlefield, or incident of a cursed location or person – such events are widespread throughout the known world. However, it’s also true that Necromancers can often be found near those events, or even definitively found to have caused the event. There are some that think that every Malefic entity and occurrence is caused by a deliberate act of necromancy, and that the Necromancer is simply never found – either operating at a distance, or hidden very effectively within the local populace. Some believe that Lazarolth is a blight that seeps into the land over time, allowed in by the sin in the hearts of those that live there – especially sin in the hearts of powerful figures like the local rulers and nobility.
The gradual seeping of Lazarolth into the land, that Lazarolth is a dread presence in a wide area, is a popular notion among peasants and priests alike. It is well-known that ghosts and the dead can enter the body of the living and cause them to rot from within, and that then the soul of the faithful and the presence of God begins to drive it out. This phenomenon, disease, is generally understood to happen because of Lazarolth, and Necromancers are known to place the wicked dead into rats, insects and other living vermin and carrion feeders, and then command them to stride forth through the land spreading the influence of Lazarolth. Since disease is the presence of this evil, it thus is best combated through faith. The sacred medicine of the Lurihim priests can drive the wicked dead out of a body by helping to summon forth the inherent faith of the sickened, but the process is dangerous and terrifying itself.
Tarrantists almost never work alone, and if they’re found, it’s with a wide association of contacts and connections, many of which have been indoctrinated to their cause. The Inquisition takes special care when dealing with Tarrantist cults, because they have such regular and frequent contact with such a wide network. It takes extensive care to route out the entirety of a Tarrantist cell, and many Inquisitors would rather assume guilt than run the risk of the infection spreading because they missed someone in their inquest. The Tarrantist’s goals tend to place them in positions of temporal power, and their heresy seems to have something to do with the nature of social and power structures. Beyond that, the Inquisition doesn’t discuss any details to further spread their heresy by widely spreading Tarrantist dogma.
While both Lazarolth and Kuarl are worshiped as masculine figures, Tarranthalus is referred to in both masculine and feminine terms. Some texts refer to Tarranthalus simply as a “deity” rather than a god or goddess, while others give them a definitive gender, though not a consistent one – sometimes even in the same document, or so it’s said. Tarrantists are said to address Tarranthalus as a lover, a teacher, or other intimate figure, but the deity is always spoken of in superior terms, as the definite master in the relationship rather than a partner.
Witchcraft, Heathenry and Apostasy
The ancient world, during the Age of Heroes and before the coming of Holy Benalus, was haunted with thousands of daemons who were worshiped as gods by the petty kingdoms and peoples of that backwards time before the Church of Mankind. Benalus’ own city, ancient Lethia, was a sanctuary to a thousand different religions, all with their own priests, rites, offerings and sacrifices. While the Prophet destroyed most of these religions during the Eschaton, it took many centuries for the Church to completely eradicate them, and there are even some who survive to this day, having not yet been cleansed in the light of the Lord God of Mankind. Benalus himself called for a freeing of the world’s enslaved peoples, and they were slaves most of all to the daemonic forces they worshiped. He urged his followers to liberate their fellow man, rather than destroy them for their beliefs, and for the most part the Church and its adherents have done so. These enslaved multitudes whose greatest crime is ignorance are called heathens.
In modern times, the most important and widespread heathen religions are the Old Gods of the North, the nature goddess Vecatra, and the Shariqyn religion of Aa’boran. These pagan peoples cling to ancient beliefs that predate the coming of Benalus, and so the Church grants them forbearance while they work to convert them to the ways of Holy Lethia. Since they never had the opportunity to accept the Lord God, their relationship to the Church is not considered automatically antagonistic. However, most of these ancient religions have shamans, soothsayers and other kinds of witches that lead them through appeals to daemonic patrons like Vecatra or the Old Gods. Though they represent a heathen people, these leaders are nonetheless considered witches and the holy orders of Benalus demand that they be destroyed so that the influence of the dark powers that they serve can be driven out from the world. The conversion of these peoples to the religion of Holy Lethia, even as they put their cultural leaders to the stake, makes the process of bringing them into the community of Mankind an abrasive one.
Aa’boran, the desert religion of the Shariqyn, is heathenry, but has no witches. Aa’boran’s beliefs are rooted in a non-deistic interpretation of the nature of the universe and sentient life, and while it suggests philosophical principles to attain greatness and spiritual enlightenment, its lack of worship or the appeal to outside supernatural agents means that even its religious practices and rituals are not witchcraft, and its priest-caste, magi, are considered not necessarily a direct threat by the Church of Mankind.
Regardless, the Church still does not tolerate its faithful to dally with their practices, which are still fundamentally different and in conflict ideologically. The goal of the Church of Mankind is to create a perfect and pure world, and to them that means all humanity united as one in worship of the Lord God. If its faithful practice Aa’boran, or worse, defect from the worship of God to adhere to Aa’boran, it is considered apostasy.
An apostate is any individual who renounces their faith once they have it, and while the designation has existed for some time, the pontifical bull Ad Extirpanda declared that apostasy was a crime equal to heresy, and cannot be tolerated. Any renunciation of the true faith of Mankind once raised within the faith, even for other purposes, such as declaring a belief in atheistic disbelief in the Lord, is considered apostasy.
A Proclamation of the nature of good and evil in the hearts of the apostate, so that all men might know them. Nileas, the Pontifex, Servant of the Servants of God, to his beloved sons, the heads of state or rulers, ministers and citizens established in the states and districts of Gotha, Capacionne, Rogalia, Hestralia, and Imperial Njordr, and beyond the corners of the Throne to all hearts of mankind, salvation and an apostolic benediction. To root up from the midst of Benalian people the weed of heretical wickedness, which infests the healthy plants more than it formerly did, pouring out licentiousness through the offices of the enemies of mankind in this age, we must take great and certain action.
A Path to Corruption
Besides the absolutely heretical, there are other paths which can lead away from Mankind’s greatness and are cause for concern on the part the Church when overseeing their charges without being considered automatically wicked. A regular person spending their time in study of curses and monsters might concern the Church because these studies are also of interest to Necromancers. If one wishes to do battle with monsters or break curses, the ranks of the sacred exorcists of the Nuranihim are the best place for them, and one would wonder why one would be so interested in monsters but reject the calling of Holy Ordination if not for nefarious reasons.
Similarly, and perhaps more commonly, some academics find the inventions, beliefs and cultures of other races fascinating, such as the engineering of the Dwarves, or the artistry of the Elves. While it is natural to want to expand the power of humanity by seizing every advantage, or to understand the workings of the world that God created, an obsession with – or worse, emulation of – the beliefs and culture of such non-human peoples is a cause for deep concern, as it could be a tacit rejection of the glory and perfection of Mankind. Alien ideas and technology are carefully studied by the Church (through Curia Rectus), to determine if they are harmful to Mankind, or more simply, just incompatible with the essential nature of humanity and would never have been created without outside intervention. Until such a determination is made, indulging in such things is considered dangerous to the mission of the Church, and is again subject to suspicion.
Arcane sorcery, practiced by guild magicians and the Shariqyn Sahirim, is also considered a somewhat spiritually dangerous and distasteful practice, though its political relationship with the Church and the Throne is much more complicated. Holy Benalus himself ultimately fell to ancient sorcerers, who themselves went on to conquer the known world in an apocalyptic world war that is remembered as the Age of Witchkings – the world only finally being saved by the efforts of the prototypical Church. The scions of those liberators have not forgotten, and many a Magician has gone dangerously insane from their power, caused magical disasters, or considered themselves greater than any law – a small god unto themselves. Not a heretic, perhaps, but every bit as destructive and evil as any Necromancer or Warrior of Kuarl, and there are regular calls from some quarters for sorcery to be driven out of the community of Mankind.
Still, sorcery is not itself heresy, as it doesn’t espouse a specific ideology or have any particular comment on the truths of Holy Lethia. Sorcery and the sorcerers who practice it are mistrusted, maligned, and even hated by the faithful, but for all its association with vice, an uneasy truce still exists between the Magician Guilds and the Church. Magicians are a firmly entrenched part of military, political and economic structures in the Throne, and the outright banning of sorcery would almost certainly lead to a very difficult and possibly unwinnable sorcerous war. As well, the Throne’s nobility, concerned as they are with temporal and practical matters, often are in strong alliance with magicians, either individually or as a guild, and would be loathe to give up such powerful allies. Even as the guilds steadily grow in power as the decades wear on, no one has yet dared to find out where the chips would land if the unpleasant issue of sorcery were ever put to the ultimate tests of loyalty.