The Order holds significant clout and power throughout the empire due to legitimacy given to it by the emperor and his court.
The Order of the Moon itself is not ordered by empire-wide hierarchy per se, though there are exceptions; that is to say, there is no patriarch in the religious organization of the Pale, with the exception of the emperor himself and a figurehead called an Aulryin.
Shulryi & Aulryin ... "Head Shrine" and "Head Priest"Edit
Each god-spirit has a "head shrine" called a Shulryi, a physical location in which it is said that the god-spirit resides encased (away from human eyes). There are thousands of sub-shrines or branches to the head shrine, some grand in scale, others rather quaint; it is said these minor shrines are connected via a spiritual medium to the head shrine. Nonetheless, there are yearly pilgrimages to various head shrines and travelers will come from hundreds of miles away just to visit the head shrine of a god-spirit they wish to speak intimately to. For god-spirits who were once real people, their remains are usually encased; for other spirits, there are certain encased "essences" (typically objects associated with that spirit that Luseysi himself touched or presented; these objects are not known, but assumed and implied).
Presiding over each Shulryi is a "head priest", or Aulryin. The emperor has supreme control over who becomes the head priest of a Shulryi. Yet, to even be considered, one must first be a Pale Priest of a minor shrine (this type of priest is called a Eulryin).
To become part of the Pale Priesthood is to subject oneself to a grueling, ritualistic process. If a lay practicioner or member of nobility wishes to become a priest, they must present themselves to the priest of a specific shrine without any semblence of status or wealth; additionally, one must first abandon their house of origin before being accepted, as a show of exceptional faith. If one is not accepted after taking this drastic step, it can be a cause for tension, depression, outcast, or even suicide. These requirements are specific to the New Order of the Moon and of the Order during and shortly after the life of Luseysi; centuries after Luseysi's death, the Order (Old Order) allowed any member of nobility to become part of the priesthood, their heraldry intact, which was one major source of its eventual corruption (or as the Old Order would call it: "effectiveness"; the Priest-Lords of House Dyre are remnants of this historical reality). As such, the New Order reinstated strict rules in which priests must abandon their inheritance -- nor can they own land in any meaningful way.
Despite this strict code for priests-in-training, once a man becomes a priest, they may marry and start a new family (as if they have been transformed into a new individual entirely), though only within the means provided by the shrine (typically a small plot of land and a spacious series of quarters within the shrine itself). Today, the families of priests are regarded highly by the populace for their simplistic and communal lifestyle and dedication to the Faith; indeed, the Taunesii of a shrine often collectively participate in the raising of a priest's child. When a priest-in-training loses his original family name, he adopts a single name of the Faith, which in turn becomes his new family's name. A priest's sons and daughters can be married off into houses of nobility, though this does not provide the priest or his shrine with any sort of inappropriate status in the realm -- in fact, it is considered moreso as a symbolic boon for the house, as a child of a priest is in good favor with the Faith and the Emperor.
Today, the way a priest lives is often under close scrutiny. Traveling priests must request simple beddings akin to their quarters in their home shrine, even if they are visiting the household of their daughter's lord-husband, or a visiting quarters of the Lunar Shrine; a priest's lifestyle and desires must always be separated from that of the rest of the populace. Indulging in the fruits of wealth, generally, is greatly frowned upon. The populace is aware of these customs, and will seldom tempt a priest with an extravagent lifestyle.
Only men may become priests. There is no leaving the Pale Priesthood, except by condition of natural death, or execution if one betrays the Order. The actual ritual behind becoming a priest varies from region-to-region and shrine-to-shrine, but it typically involves the consistent ingestion of various herbs to induce certain visual and auditory hallucinations, a general lack of sleep, intense feats of physical endurance, and strict mental conditioning; it is not uncommon for a Mauzhin (one in the process of becoming a priest) to die during this process.
This ritual process is meant to replicate physical and mental conditions during the Aulesiri migrations, and was prescribed by Luseysi and his companions.
Muylin, or MonksEdit
Different shrines and bodies of the Order of the Moon operate differently. Most priests become part of an intimate collection of individuals who belong to a single shrine. However, there are other religious schooling bodies, such as priories and monasteries, that train and condition muylin (or monks) on a larger scale (typically refugees, orphans, or even accepted, forgiven criminals).
Monks are not the same as priests; priests have more religious clout and power and intimately live in and manage an entire shrine, whereas monks are simply devout followers who are tied to the Pale Faith indefinitely. These monks typically become general "messengers" of the Pale Faith, or, if they gain exceptional prestige/reputation, perhaps serve as part of a lord's council (Counsel Monk, often referred to as a Green Monk, or Green-throat, for their ornate jadeite necklaces and eloquent way of describing the Faith). Many monasteries act as rehabilitation institutions; unlike the priesthood, becoming a monk is not for life, but to join a monastery is to have an insured source of food and shelter (in exchange for labor or administrative duties).
The Old Order of the MoonEdit
The Old Order of the Moon, typically abbreviated to simply the Old Order, and often referred to casually (slang) as the Order of the Stone (posthumously) was the original priesthood founded by Luseysi (though it changed significantly between Luseysi's death around 300 A.R. and the begnning of the Solemn Age around 800 A.R.). Originally, the Order of the Moon was a respected religious body, maintaining a strict spiritual code for its priesthood. By the time the Solemn Age began, the Old Order had begun to exhibit significant influence over the emperor, and had greatly relegated the Aulesiri populace: the Priesthood during this time was the highest class, and they exerted this power by presenting themselves to the populace as supreme religious authority in competition with the emperor himself; therefore, Solemn Age-era emperors were typically cozy with this Order and maintained the status quo.
After the ritual, when a Mauzhin became a Eulryin, priests were endowed with great wealth, swaths of valuable land, and power, either using household lords as puppets or themselves becoming competitive land-owners (especially in the case of the Aulryin). The Order of the Moon of this period used the Storm of Stars, a 500-year-long meteor shower, to advance its agenda, especially as many of the meteors became meteorites and hit areas ranging from Earth's Vein to northern Jyotnun. These five centuries are what compose the Solemn Age (see that article for more information). It was during this time period that the Old Order commanded the construction of ornate and labor-intensive shrines and temples, fantastically huge and decadent structures. This culminated in the use of much of the populace as slave labor in exchange for simple amenities and "protection".
The power of the Old Order during the Solemn Age was further extended due to the attack on Aulesiri colonies by various Esurkish tribes and city-states in Surotsi, which created a militaristic arm of the Order. Subsequently, the Empire ordered various imperial expeditions and invasions of northern Surotsi. Thus also begins an air of extreme ethnic persecution, and why today, many Esurkish or Aulesiri-Esurkish lands are looked down upon (though the New Order has relaxed many of these pressures, the atmosphere is still tense).
Because of various military expeditions to Surotsi and the Old Order's tight command of imperial armies, there developed a significant warrior class, composed of veterans and honored knights, by the end of the Solemn Age. This fact, along along with the end of the Storm of Stars, and the continued plight of a distressed, tormented populace born under hardship (and the continued gaining of influence of nobles in court), all contributed to the end of the Solemn Age, the beginning of the War of the Pale Brothers, and eventually, the fall of the Old Order altogether.
After the fall of the Old Order, Emperor Auren I ordered an empire-wide execution decree to any members of that priesthood and their followers. As such, most of the Old Order was publicly executed in whatever region they exerted the most influence over, while all Aulryin were executed in the Pale City and replaced by new appointments. The remainder of the Old Order, and/or their relatives, are currently in hiding.
The New Order of the MoonEdit
The New Order of the Moon, referred to simply the Order of the Moon or the New Order, is the body of priests and religious entities that replaced the Old Order, and was informally established by Auren I as a continuation of Luseysi's original vision for a collective of priests who honor his companions and the essence of the Pale Faith.
The New Order is markedly different from the Old Order. The rituals as prescribed by Luseysi and his companions still exist (rituals which are largely meant to replicate the plight of the Aulesiri people during the migratory period). However, the construction of new religious structures is strictly regulated, only occuring via imperial or noble decree and specification, and the use of slave labor is strictly prohibited. Additionally, the Pale Priesthood only lives within its means, part of a renewed lifestyle of simplicity indicative of the original post-Luseysi Order. There is no longer an environment of entitlement for priests who finish their rituals; as such, a priest's only reward is service to the Pale Faith (a concept, most would argue, that is most similar to Luseysi's original vision).
While the grand stone and hardwood structures of many shrines and temples still stand (though may be scorched or renovated), the extravagent uses of gold and silver have typically been looted and melted down, and the structures have adopted an aesthetic of simplistic interiors and bare-bones worship. Despite this, many of the jadeite figures and decorations were untouched, along with the god-spirit altars, as those materials and vessels were and still are considered sacred by the general populace.
Additionally, the New Order maintains a policy of "relaxed racial discrimination". The New Order is more willing to give ground in the culturally diverse regions of Surotsi in which Elákyçít, the Esurkish cult, has synthesized with a number of Aulesiri traditions. This is not a formal position, though it is implied through the New Order's religious policies (and indeed, this policy is more or less required in order to appease the mixed blood houses of Surotsi, who have used their assistance to Auren I during the War as a mandate for further autonomy). Despite this policy, many nobles and citizens of Jyotnun still look down upon members of the mixed blood families of the Frontier, and the general idea of the Pale Faith mixing with other cults (a somewhat hypocritical notion, considering the subtle influence the Raayakin cult of Qaanoiyin has had on some folksy mainland traditions).
Glossary of TermsEdit
Kauyhin: One who has decided to become a priest, but must wait to go through the ritual. They have been accepted.
Mauzhin: One who has begun the "becoming rituals", but has yet to finish.
Eulryin: One who has finished the ritual, and has become ordained as a Pale Priest. A group of Eulryin is called a Taunesii ("clergy").
Aulryin: The head priest, who manages a Shulryi (main shrine) dedicated to a certain god-spirit.
Muylin: A monk associated with the Pale Faith.
Shulryi: A main shrine or "head shrine"; there is only one per god-spirit. Each one is headed by an Aulryin.
Thulryi: A minor shrine or "branch shrine"; there can be up to thousands per god-spirit. Each one is headed by a group of Eulryin, or Taunesii.