Blood of Vol
Souls and the Afterlife
Seekers maintain that blood itself is the “soul” of life, coursing through the veins of sentient beings like a liquid god. In the mindset of most Vol cults, creatures that know nothing of blood — constructs, plants, oozes, and the like — are thus removed from true divinity. Vol doctrine holds that blood truly is life, and that without it, there is no real life at all. As a result, Seekers believe that blood holds the key to myriad doorways of power and wisdom, including the greatest passage of all: the door to life everlasting.
The concept of the Divinity Within is central to the Seekers’ view of the soul and to any notion of an afterlife. They absolutely believe in Dolurrh, and a few of the most powerful in the faith even claim to have been there and returned to tell of its vast emptiness. These grim testaments are often spoken in cult sermons all across Khorvaire to further embolden the Seekers’ drive to escape that gray fate. The Blood of Vol maintains that the key to such an escape lies in the Divinity Within. Those who look outward for succor are destined for betrayal by the very powers they revere, doomed to a soulless eternity. Only by looking inward, and by drawing strength from the Divinity Within, can a soul hope to find its own afterlife: a beautiful creation crafted to its particular nature and character, and filled with an eternity of happiness.
The high position of the undead within the church might surprise those outside the faith. Vampires, liches, and mummies no longer have blood or life, and so can never fully bond to the Divinity Within. The Seekers believe that the intelligent undead have made this terrible sacrifice to overcome mortality and to serve the sect. Thus, they are revered and respected, but they are also pitied, for they can never touch perfection. The undead are champions of the church, guiding the people of Vol to their true destiny, but few who follow the faith would make that terrible choice.
Servants of the Blood of Vol
Unlike the cult’s enemies in the Church of the Silver Flame, the people of Vol are an exceedingly diverse lot who would be surprised to learn that they have anything at all in common. The faith incorporates all the diversity of the Sovereign Host, and is spread out just as far, but with fewer members in its global congregation.
Coming to the Faith
The most telling characteristic of the Blood of Vol is the variety of ways in which its followers come to the faith. Only a specific type of person actively seeks to join a religion such as the Silver Flame, and being brought up within the Church is no guarantee of continued faith. By contrast, almost anyone could seek out a Vol cult. One trait is common to every Seeker, regardless of race or region — unshakable belief in the power of the self. Any true student of Vol’s mysteries is a devotee of the Divinity Within, and whatever else a soul might be, so long as it stands firm by this single creed, it will always be a Seeker at heart. This unifying belief not only lends strength to the faith as a whole, but fosters power and versatility in its congregation.
Becoming a Priest
The bulk of the faith’s priests hail from the lay worshipers. Once their understanding of the Divinity Within has progressed beyond a certain point, some Seekers feel compelled to help others find the path and are subsequently exalted to the role of priest. In theory, joining the priesthood takes nothing more than a clear understanding of its role in the journey of the individual, and a strong desire to serve. In practice, of course, things play out somewhat differently.
When a potential new priest appears, the local temple head sends word to superiors in the Church. While waiting for an official reply, the temple head begins to test the would-be priest on matters of faith — specifically, knowledge of the twin subjects of life and death. He also conducts a special Sacrament of Blood in the petitioner’s honor. When the Church finally does address the request, it has usually accumulated enough information about the applicant to provide a detailed recommendation one way or the other. If all goes smoothly, the temple head is permitted to induct the petitioner into the priesthood.
The specifics vary from one group to the next but most new priests go through some period of probation akin to seminary study. Usually, probation lasts no longer than three years, and no less than one year. During this time, the priest studies intensely in matters of death, history, and spirituality. An individual who displays a propensity for adept or cleric magic receives additional education and training in these areas.
Although it might seem disorganized in comparison to certain faiths, the Blood of Vol is a formal hierarchy, as rigorous as any other. The difference lies in the levels of secrecy maintained, and in the flow of information throughout every level of the faith. While many are unaware of it, the religion maintains a number of suborders and titles, the most pivotal of which are as follows:
The Abactors: A network of Seekers known as abactors. Each is a temple head, responsible for the operation of both a temple and cult of substantial size. Abactors are, by definition, Seekers who are clerics of the Blood of Vol. Their ability and trustworthiness sets them apart from other priests, and they are inducted into the deepest mysteries of the faith. In return, they coordinate the induction of new cult members.
The Order of the Emerald Claw: Not beneath so much as beside the network of abactors is Vol’s paramilitary arm in Karrnath and beyond, the Order of the Emerald Claw. Ties to the Blood of Vol are known only to the highest ranks of the Order. Given the Order’s high profile, especially in Karrnath, security is a top concern, and even the most trusted unit commander typically knows only her immediate superior in the Covenant (often by a false name or face). In this manner does Vol protect herself and her secrets.
The Order of the Ebon Skull:
The Clergy: The lowest rung on the ladder of faith hierarchy is the general priesthood. The magically active clergy of Vol includes a number of clerics but is primarily composed of adepts, with the remainder being necromancers of various stripes. Clerics are inducted into the truth of the faith more often than noncleric priests, due in part to the depth of their connection to and understanding of the Divinity Within. Priests of Vol hail from all races and walks of life, and were it not for common ritual and symbology, they would fail to recognize one another on a busy street.
Duties of the Clergy
Every priest of Vol shares the same duty as every follower: Seek out the Divinity Within. Even those who have already unlocked their own potential divinity, becoming immortal in the process, are expected to continue research in the mysteries of life, death, and beyond (furthering the cause of the lich-queen Vol in the process). All priests of Vol must obey reasonable orders from their superiors in the faith. For most, this means executing the local temple head’s commands without question.
The clergy of the Blood of Vol conduct ceremonies and lead important rituals, just as priests of other faiths do. In all but the most savage of cults, priests of Vol can be found fulfilling mundane roles in the lives of their fellow Seekers, offering counsel to the faithful, and even taking confessions. While it is far from common, a priest might even host and witness the union of two Seekers in the congregation, although the ceremony generally needs to be repeated before a civil representative to be legally binding (especially in Thrane).
There is no single, mandated holy symbol associated with the faith. While the Blood of Vol has a symbol, which sees a great deal of usage as a holy symbol, it is not the holy symbol of every priest. Each is allowed (and indeed, expected) to find a symbol that resonates with him, and to keep it sacred. This unorthodox practice not only reflects the faith’s focus on the needs of the individual, but also keeps its activities private. Along the same lines, priests of Vol are not expected to don any particular attire outside their temples. When conducting services, they wear garb of predominantly black and red. Shaved heads are common, especially in some cults, but are not mandated.
Clerics of the Blood of Vol pursue and master spells of the necromancy school, especially those dealing with death or the animation of the dead. A strong grasp of how divine magic interacts with death and the soul is fundamental to understanding the Divinity Within. Those who have the power to raise the dead, for example, are seen as spiritually advanced, thus gaining greater status and respect. Any Vol cleric capable of true resurrection is deemed particularly blessed.
The procedure for removing a priest of the Blood of Vol is disturbingly uncomplicated. As a rule, something grievous enough to warrant defrocking is enough to justify the priest’s death. Death before divinity is the worst fate a Seeker can conceive, so execution is the only suitable punishment for a betrayer. This harsh treatment typically occurs only when a priest is discovered to be actively serving the interests of a rival faith, most often the Church of the Silver Flame. In the eyes of many Seekers, particularly those who know the truth about the faith, such punishment is “too good” for the offending traitor.
Ostensibly, most quests in the name of the faith are intended to acquire something Seekers hope will provide insight into the mysteries of life, death, and beyond. Often a relic or scrap of data from before the Last War, such an item could also be a vision or even a living being. In practice, the majority of quests are little more than dirty work, commissioned by the higher-ups in the faith (often on behalf of the Crimson Covenant) to advance the cause of the lich-queen. The faith’s leaders have no qualms about deceiving those who have not yet been brought into the fold, and indeed, service without question determines whether one is likely ever to be so inducted. In this regard, quests serve double duty as tests of faith and loyalty. Those who return successful move one step closer to earning a valued place in the Covenant. Those who do not have proven their ineptitude or cowardice (or both) and are treated accordingly. Those who fail to return at all were clearly never worthy in the first place.
Rites and Rituals of the Blood of Vol
The Blood of Vol does not conduct rituals in the name of a specific deity, as many other faiths do, nor does it celebrate or revere the natural world. Yet ritual is no less important to Seekers than it is to members of other faiths. The difference lies in purpose. Seeker rites are not intended to garner the favor of a deity but must serve a particular purpose, and that purpose must be not only worthwhile, but vital.
Followers of the Blood of Vol make little use of conventional prayer, since no specific deity exists to entreat. Seekers of certain variant sects, especially those whose worship involves one or more named deities, often pray to those deities, but usually only during rites of greater import. Most Seekers only pray to themselves, often to steel their souls for an upcoming challenge or event. Such “prayers” consist of a quiet or even soundless recitation, the most common being “As the blood is the power, and the blood flows through me, the power is mine.”
The Blood of Vol as a whole maintains no minor rites, as any faith-wide practice is considered a major rite, by definition. All localized practices and rituals are therefore considered minor rites, and these vary from cult to cult. Most cults prefer to leave many minor rites to the individual, as the pursuit of the understanding of the self is of paramount importance in the faith, and therefore they keep few (if any) such rites as a group. Other cults, however, choose to focus on the communal identity of the faith, and thus encourage all local Seekers to be in attendance. These situations are more accurately seen as examples of how the faith uses ritual to build the bonds between members, rather than any indicator of the importance of the ritual itself. In these circumstances, minor rites can include things such as the celebration of a fellow Seeker’s enlightenment (often represented in game terms by advances in class level), the induction of a new member into the cult, or, perhaps most commonly, the communal meditation circles held regularly in most Vol cults.
The Blood of Vol as a faith does not mark life events as others do (although individual worshipers might). By its very nature, it has little interest in what passes for daily life among the civilized peoples of Khorvaire. Weddings, for example, are of no significance to most Seekers. However, the faith is concerned with matters of life, death, and beyond, so two events of daily life hold as much import for Seekers as they do for others: births and deaths.
Unlike other faiths, the Blood of Vol ritually marks the passage of life-giving or life-ending events even if they occur outside the ranks of the faithful. The faith is not indifferent to the births and deaths of Seekers (these, too, are marked with ritual), but it also pays attention to the lives of important figures regardless of religion. This unusual habit puts Seekers in the position of ritually venerating the birth or death of complete strangers.
On rare occasions, a cult leader calls the local Seekers together to mark a birth or death of an unknown or otherwise unremarkable individual. Even so, no loyal Seeker questions the decision. This rite happens most often with deaths but can also occur at births from time to time. The order to conduct the rite almost always comes straight from the Crimson Covenant, and even local leaders are often mystified as to the significance of the individual so honored. Most never realize their leaders are acting on orders from above, of course.
Beyond this veneration of the twin passages into life and death, the Blood of Vol has two “high holidays” that involve substantial ceremony. The first, the Sacrament of Blood, is held at irregular intervals throughout the course of the year, and is the cornerstone ritual of the faith entire. The second is held during Crya, the thirteenth and “lost” month of the year.
The Sacrament of Blood: This is the most sacred practice in the Blood of Vol. During the Sacrament, all the local Seekers gather in a specially prepared chamber, far from the eyes of prying outsiders. The cult leader begins with a brief chant in Draconic, welcoming the assembly as both individuals and parts of a collective soul. After the chant, the leader moves in turn to each participant, who ritually cuts himself with a special dagger known as a bloodfang. He then allows the Seeker seated next to him to hold his hand while it drips blood into the ritemaster’s ruby chalice. The ritual continues in this manner until every Seeker in attendance has given of his own blood. Unknown to many who partake in the ritual, the blood so collected is stored in barrels of preserving pine and shipped across Khorvaire for use in a wide variety of necromantic practices.
Revelations Day (Crya 13th): As the year grows colder and finally dies, each Seeker examines whatever spiritual progress he has (or has not) made in the preceding year. Revelations Day, also known as Ascension Day, offers every member of the faith the chance to take back a portion of what he has given throughout the year, and to reflect on the insights so gained. During the Revelations Day ritual, the ritemaster convenes the assembled Seekers for a Sacrament of Blood. This time, though, the ritemaster conducts a magical ceremony over the filled chalice that simultaneously cleanses the blood of impurities while concentrating the life energies inherent within the precious liquid. (Secretly, it is often mystically altered in other ways, depending on the ritemaster’s orders.) When this ceremony is complete, the ritemaster passes the chalice around once more, with each Seeker drinking from it in turn, taking back no more than he had put in. This ingestion always results in a mind-altering episode whose duration and intensity varies with the individual, and to a lesser extent, the amount consumed. These “blood trips” offer faithful souls the chance to visualize the truths that lie within not only their own blood, but within that of their fellow Seekers.