On Oleric Round Temples, part I

[This is the first in a series of two posts on some aspects of religious practices and beliefs on the Eolians, the speakers of High Eolic. It’s a somewhat eccentric departure from the usual conlanging stuff on this blog, but I feel such background information (“conworlding”) is really important for fleshing out the feel one gets for one’s conlang and its speakers. Hopefully this will be of interest!

The religious terms in italics (such as šayhâna) are not in High Eolic, but Trevecian, the original language of Olerism, the monotheist religion of the Eolians (among other peoples that neighbor them).]

Oleric Round Temples

Oleric Round Temples (šayhâna) are centers of community religious life for Oleric believers, and are extremely numerous in all locales where Olerism is a prominent creed. In theory, anyone can start up their own Round Temple, as long as they have a jug of water, two fires, and can guarantee recitation of Taršemâ verses during daylight hours, as stated in Sôyhemi 22: 13-20 (and expanded upon later in greater detail by Rînayh). In practice, such temples are permanent fixtures, usually built of marble or other types of stone. Their construction can be financed by Great Temples, rich patrons, or local communities themselves.

As their name suggests, Round Temples are round in shape, and usually involve a flat roof or dome suspended on columns arranged in a circle. Inside the circle, there is a slightly raised stone (or packed earth) platform. This may or may not be enclosed by walls, as a separate room with two doors (at the eastern and western ends). In any case, a large jug of water (kôrami) is placed at its center. The platform usually slopes slightly upwards from the periphery towards the center, allowing overflow water from the jug to run off (temples may also have more elaborate drainage systems). The central jug is surrounded by metal vases filled with sand or earth and holding torches or candles that are kept lighted throughout daylight hours. Additionally, two bigger fires are set up, one each at the eastern and western sides of the outer column circle of the temple. They are usually located in large stone vases in between two columns so they point directly east and west, and must be kept burning throughout the day, but may flicker out during the night. Finally, there are usually some stools under the temple’s roof for the priest and the reciters to sit down, as well as a simple screen to shelter reciters from rain and a stand with a copy of the Taršemâ from which they can read verses. The copy of the holy book and other ritual equipment (such as bells, incense, rose leaves etc.) may be kept in a simple hollow or cellar under the temple floor, or may be brought by the priest from his place of residence each day.

Each Round Temple is operated by a single male priest (kâva or talanûf). No formal training is required to fulfill this role, but in practice certain local families often monopolize priestly positions, in collusion with Great Temples and community leaders. The priest performs most Oleric rituals, and is the only person authorized to handle fire within the boundaries of the temple, and is thus the only one allowed to light the torches (or candles) around the central jug, burn incense, and kindle the East-West fires. Priests are also responsible for temple finances, handling donations as well as income from ritual performances and peripheral activities such as selling rose water for the karâpath (a pious action involving a clockwise circumnavigation of the central jug, followed by a small amount of rose water being poured into it). Finally, they are tasked with taking care of the central jug, emptying it of stale water in summer and breaking any ice that may form on it during night-time in winter.

Along with the priest, each temple employs around 10 reciters, one or two of whom recite verses from the Taršemâ throughout daylight hours. Details of organizing recitation vary, but usually, the priest has the responsibility of negotiating shifts with reciters – many of whom may work in recitation part-time, or may perform in several neighborhood temples at different times. Unlike priesthood, recitation does require formal training, and each reciter should be introduced to a local Round Temple by his own instructor from a Great Temple or religious school. In practice, this requirement is often bypassed, and training is often informal – but local communities are quickly able to spot ‘usurpers’ who do not know the Taršemâ well enough or have subpar recitation skills. Essentially, the necessity for formal training is voided if a reciter is considered of good enough standard. This is especially important in areas where Olerism is not firmly entrenched, and where it would be extremely difficult to guarantee that all reciters have been formally trained.

The final category of temple personnel are ‘assistants’ – usually children or youngsters from the neighborhood who help the priest clean the stairs of the temple before sunrise or lower the sûrap (large white cloths used to cover the outer side of temple’s columns during the night) before the morning ritual (tražâna). They also take care of the barrels of rose water available outside the temple for patrons wishing to perform the karâpath: a silver coin or several is usually expected in return for a glass of rose water from these barrels.

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