The Ciosans are a cult of Avennorian traditionalists who still worship the ancient Glandorian God Hanranns and Goddess Meanra, as well as venerating almost to a state of being a demigod Ciosa himself, the founder of Avennoria from whom they take their names. They are separatist, desiring to split Avennoria from Santharia, and believe that Ciosa is not dead but sleeping, and will rise to lead them in accomplishing this goal. While their beliefs are to a large extent twisted from those which would have been held by Ciosa himself, they insist that only they worship the true Gods - in which at least they sound like followers of the Twelve or the Northern Gods. Indeed, it is hard to understand how the beliefs they hold could not differ from those of Ciosa, with thirteen thousand intervening years for them to change in.
The Ciosans, as Avennorians,
inhabit the area of old Avennoria,
and are particularly highly concentrated around Gebl's Nose Cap and other areas
where Glandorian descent is most marked, in particular because those Glandorians
who remained in the area were more frequently of the conservative disposition
displayed by cult members, but also because when families following the old
beliefs saw them begin to die out, they returned to what they saw as their
spiritual home in an effort to keep away from the loss of belief. Some Ciosans
live further afield, but they are a rare breed, and usually out of touch with
the cult. These families are usually tied to where they live, and take the form
of a family, or perhaps two, with an even more twisted version of the Ciosan
Belief Outlines. The Ciosans worship Hanranns and Meanra, God and Goddess of the ancient Glandorians, as their deities, and have also practically deified Ciosa. Hanranns is worshipped as the masculine God, of war and other manly pursuits, while Meanra is worshipped as a sort of mother Goddess, but also as a capricious and dangerous mistress of the seas and the weather.
In relation to the ancient Glandorian religion, there have been many changes through the millennia. The most major of these is the removal of Fate, a sexless, sometimes faceless, being whom the ancient Glandorians rationalised as a shipwright, older and wiser than the deities, and far more powerful. The rather militaristic take of the Ciosans on the faith is probably the reason for the removal of a being who in its utter incomprehensibility seems to disdain such pursuits; the Ciosan mindset also does not accept the idea of a creator of deities, holding that both Hanranns and Meanra are eternal as land and sea.
In full, with all their honorifics and epithets, the pair are known as "Meanra, Goddess of the Sea, and of the Gift of the Sea, which is Life, and the Breath of the Sea which is Wind"; and "Hanranns, God of the Land, and of the Gift of the Land, which is Strength, and the Breath of the Land, which is Language". Both are seen as very primal deities, with strong overtones of power and even violence - storms, wars, earthquakes and the like. Hence, the cult's members tend to be very much in that vein - loud, brash, not mild like worshippers of Nehtor, for example.
The central tenet of Ciosan belief, beyond their belief in their deities, is that Ciosa is asleep, not dead as people say, and that one day he will rise and lead Avennoria to glory her darkest hour. Since the unification of Santharia, they have believed that this means he will rise to lead them in secession, as the destruction of the Kingdom of Avennoria - as they see it - is truly her darkest, most dismal hour.
Organization. The cult is split into two groups, the Priests of Meanra and the Soldiers of Hanranns, each of which has its own hierarchy. The cult is led ultimately by the High Priest of the Order of Meanra and the Captain-General of the Soldiers of Hanranns, working in what it referred to as a "tokonigmerk", a Glandorian word meaning duumvirate, or two leaders ruling side by side; however, most day-to-day affairs in each of the divisions is overseen by the relevant leader - the High Priest or the Supreme Captain, as the case may be.
The Priests are a fairly simple body, with a small number of senior priests who run the group as a whole, while the Soldiers have a series of Captain ranks above the simple "Soldier of Hanranns". The elite soldiers of the branch, however, make up Ciosa's Guard, a significant minority of the Soldiers, whose members in effect are a rank above their given rank - for example, an Undercaptain of Ciosa's Guard would be more important than an ordinary Undercaptain, and the equal of an ordinary Captain. Only members of Ciosa's Guard may bear arms within a temple of the cult - even the Captain-General has to leave his weapons outside unless he is also a member of the Guard.
Both men and women can be members of the cult, though the Soldiers are exclusively male; women join the Priests if they join at all. While the cult has a fairly male dominant worldview, it is more concerned with the purity of someone's racial background than their sex.
Soldier Ranks. Listed in order of most to least senior. The ranks are roughly divided into the "lower" ranks - ordinary Soldiers and Undercaptains - the "middle" ranks - Captains and Overcaptains - and the "senior" ranks - Commanding Captain and Leading Captain, as well as the Captain-General:
Captain-General - The most senior member of the Soldiers, and joint leader of the cult
Commanding Captain - Next most senior, with great authority over the Soldiers
Leading Captain - The lowest-ranking of the senior Soldiers
Overcaptain - The more senior of the middle-ranking Soldiers
Captain - The lower of the middle-ranking Soldiers
Coat of Arms. If there is a coat of arms
for the cult as a whole, it is unknown; more common are the emblems of the
Priests and the Soldiers individually. The Priests' coat of arms is set on a
blue field and consists of a cutlass blade suspended, point down, over a ship.
The Soldiers' emblem is a bare hand clutching a naked cutlass by the blade, set
on a red field. The hand enters from the right of the field - the left for an
observer - and the blade points up.
People. Appearance. The Priests tend to wear robes, dyed either blue - the colour of the seas - or white, while the Soldiers wear armour - sometimes just of padded cloth - and carry weapons with an air of competence. Soldiers wear a leather thong around their neck that holds insignia of authority - Soldiers of higher rank have wooden strips attached to the thong as a symbol of their rank, and members of Ciosa's Guard have an additional circular amulet strung on theirs, stained with the blood of a sacrificial animal.
There is nothing in the way of compulsory ritual scarring in the cult, but some more fanatical members of the Priests practise such things as tattooing - usually on the shoulder or the back of the hand - or blood sacrifice. The blood sacrifice is a one-time act of dedication as a general rule, and leaves the Priest with a scar of approximately a handspan's width across over his or her heart. Those priests who carry out the sacrifice more than once, in extreme fanaticism or a desire for greater favour with the Gods, will cut the other breast so that the number of scars on each side is equal, and any further scarring returns to the left and begins again. The most scars ever recorded was an astounding total of nine - five on the left, four on the right - and, unsurprisingly, the perpetrator died of blood loss trying to make a tenth scar. We can only wonder at his dedication.
Personality. In general, members of the cult are highly arrogant and very prejudiced against those of non-Glandorian descent - some are utterly obsessed with bloodlines, and spend long days or weeks tracing their own or others'. A burning hatred of the Twelvern pantheon and their worshippers is also evident, as the Ciosans blame the worship of the Twelve for turning so many of Glandorian ancestry away from their ancestral God and Goddess, and this loathing is particularly intense with regard to those of the Twelve, and their worshippers, who are viewed as specific rivals to Meanra and Hanranns - Grothar and Baveras for Meanra, and Armeros for Hanranns.
The other defining characteristic of the Ciosans is their steadfast opposition to the United Kingdoms of Santharia. The cult's origins, and their belief in the superiority of their bloodlines and practices, preclude any acceptance of another nation ruling Avennoria, and the cult is, fundamentally, in favour of a split with Santharia and the reinstatement of Avennoria as a sovereign nation.
Worshipping Practices. The practices of this cult are to a large extent secretive, but seem for the Priests to involves fairly routine sacrifices of livestock, involving the cutting of an animal's throat with a single swift cut and the pouring out of the blood on a wooden altar. Sometimes this is done in order to bless objects - a weapon, or an amulet - and all of the Ciosa's Guard pendants are dedicated in this way. An object blessed like this must be left untouched, in the open, on a white linen cloth until the blood has washed or worn off; the cloth must then be burned in order to complete the dedication of the item.
The Soldiers have no worshipping ceremonies of their own, but rather worship in drill and battle - they see their prowess and dedication as their sacrifice, and serve their God in training for and the act of war.
Temples. Ciosan temples are wooden, and relatively low key, though it is common for the altar itself to be outside - animals are always sacrificed outside. There are no grand, soaring temples, and the buildings of the Ciosans are never made of stone. They can only be where there is no objection to their presence, naturally, and so tend to be in the countryside, as city folk either object to animal sacrifices in the street or - in areas where sacrifices are thought of as normal - are priests or devout followers of the Twelve.
Festivals/Celebrations. Both of the important celebrations of the Ciosans take place in the month of Singing Bird, as it is believe by the cult that both of the significant events in Ciosa's life took place in that month.
On the third day of Singing Bird, the cult celebrates the supposed anniversary of Ciosa's birth with singing and dancing by all, displays of military prowess by the Soldiers, and the induction of new members by the Priests, as well as several sacrifices. The new Priests are daubed in the blood of the sacrificial animal, and must leave the mark alone for the next week.
The Soldiers induct new members on the twentieth day of the month, which they believe to be the anniversary of Ciosa's arrival at Gebl's Nose Cape. They also formally announce membership of Ciosa's Guard on this date, and the schedule is filled with displays of physical and military ability - sword demonstrations, wrestling, even staged battles with blunt swords - and sometimes races and other competitions of athleticism.
These festivals take place near the temples of the cult, and the open space required by this is another reason why those temples tend to be in the country or in small villages rather than bustling hubs such as Ciosa itself. Due to general opposition - after all, the cult is a significant minority - the ceremonies also tend to be fairly secretive, kept well out of the way of prying, hostile eyes.
History. The cult is believed to have formed not, as legend has it, from the words and actions of one man, but from a gradual and natural grouping together of like-minded traditionalists. Originally a solely religious grouping, dedicated to worship, the followers of Hanranns became more and more militaristic, until by around the time of the unification of Santharia it is believed that the divide between the Soldiers and the Priests was finalised into more or less its present form. The Ciosans have opposed all deviations from Avennorian tradition, and were bitterly opposed to the establishment of Santharia.
In recent centuries, the cult has become less and less prominent, as its militaristic and extreme approach appeals to fewer and fewer people, and the prowess of the Soldiers is no longer needed in war. However, there are still those for whom the Twelvern do not hold the allure of these two old Gods, and the cult seems to be far from dying out.
Myth/Lore. The Ciosans believe that their faith was founded by a man named Fjorkolf Nikskun as faith in the old Gods was fading to be replaced by the Twelvern. It is claimed that Meanra's hiveling appeared to him, as it did to Ciosa when he landed in Avennoria, and, overcome with religious ecstasy, he swore to keep the old faith alive, forming a cult of devout people and attracting many because the Gods themselves spoke to him.
Other tales include miraculous stories of warriors gaining a desperate strength as they pray to Hanranns and barren women bearing twins after sacrifices to Meanra - but these are fairly standard tales, applicable to any Gods of appropriate areas with only a minor changing on names.
Importance. The cult is noteworthy for its determined opposition to Santharia, both before, during and after unification, and its status as a vocal and extremely conservative faction of Avennorian society through its history, though it has lost influence in recent times. The Soldiers often fought in Avennorian battles as the highly-trained and well-disciplined core of professional soldiers in armies formed for the most part of peasant levies - provided they were willing. The Ciosans have always been very difficult to coerce into anything, due to their fanatical devotion to their ideals.