Life on Elyria is not static. It is locked forever in a cycle of waxing and waning, ebb and flow, life and death. Not to be feared but, instead, remembered, there are many observations during this time of the celestial cycle. Whether one seeks balance, purity, or to rediscover life, these traditions stem from an ancient tale passed down from the end of the Second Age.
Excerpt translated from the journal of Olam the Auger:
It was on one such excursion that I came upon an old woman of the forest who shared with me the most complete rendition of the Miracle of the Second Age that I had ever heard. She spoke a difficult dialect of Croçais but her story went like so.
"So long ago, before we even know ourselves and the people fear the giant ones who stalk the world with wrath and magick, there is a great famine. Starvation and misery find its way to all. There are none who don't feel it. Forest is barren. Grassland is fallow. Fruit wither on vine and on branch. Only animal who stay are mad, desperate things who look at us as food.
"This suffering of Mannkind last six and twenty year. The ancient giants toy with us, the land keeps her gift from us, the beasts prey on us. The hunters who dare go out but very few return. The people cannot stay so they begin to wander. Far they walk but still the food to gather and prey to hunt is wanting. Our mothers and fathers who are on this long journey to survive come at last to the Ba'n, the mountain valley. Inside of three peaks it lay, and though its nature also hibernates, the sun is warm on their backs and the mountain passes frigid. They stay for a night. In the morn, a wonder to behold. They valley is set upon by a swarm of bright, red bees so vast that they cannot see the sky and all the valley look to be awash with red snow, buzzing and rolling across all. A miracle, the bees coax from the sleeping flowers their blooms. The petals open in just minutes of their touch. The trees set in that valley, they grow heavy with ripening fruit in time for midday. Bushes, too, bursting with sweet berries and rich nuts. So surprising, this is, that our ancestors can barely believe it. Even the creatures come out of hiding to watch. Then, as friends, the people and beasts feast aside each other until their bellies are full and their minds are drunk in wonder.
"The ruby-color swarm eventually move on, but our people follow. Not only because they hungry, but because of a learning to be done. The bees make a bounty with care and design and the people want to learn it. The great swarm move across the land from north to south and to west and east. Sometimes, the people decide to stay behind and take on the bee's work, gardening and tending their plants. Anything the bees touch seem better and stronger and heartier. Still, many follow and they leave a path for the others to follow with a flower they find in the Ba'n that wake instantly at the bee's kiss. It bloom bright and long to be seen for miles. Any friends who know can find them again with such a clear path marked for them.
"The journey wane and few are left who follow the swarm by the time it come to the ocean shore. The bees keep on east beyond the waves but some clever ones convince a queen to stay. They plant all their poppies on a high cove above the crashing sea so she and her kin stay to tend to them when the others fly off, like a blood-red cloud in sunset. The pilgrims keep the queen and make her happy and she give them honey and teach them more. Soon they can make their own gardens and grow their own foods. This was where the infants of Mann become the people of Elyria. This is how Mannkind spread far and wide, making cities and growing powerful. Because of this, the titans are put to sleep and the gods trouble us no more."
Though previously recorded versions of the story have different details, the core remains always with a migration of our forebearers, a red swarm of insects, and the first recordings of agriculture. When I attempted to share other accounts of the tale, that old woman laughed and laughed. Though I reflected on it as I prepared for sleep, I couldn't come to conclusion on what, precisely, she found so amusing. When I woke in the morning, she and her kin had gone and I could not find a trail to follow.
The traditions born from this tale are wound through many ceremonies and religious observances that incorporate its lessons.
Once a generation and twice in a lifetime, many Elyrians undertake a rite of passage called the Pilgrimage of Renewal. It is a solemn journey of self-reflection and spiritual rejuvenation. The distance and duration of the journey can vary wildly, from just a few miles out of town, to thousands of leagues across the known lands from the fabled origin of the Cardinal Bees in the mountains to the eastern cape where their ancestors were led.
Pilgrims begin by preparing a traditional meal meant to last them through the entirety of their journey. Grains, nuts, dried fruit, honey, and other local ingredients are combined into a long-lasting and nutritious meal. This traditional meal is made of raw ingredients and is meant to symbolize the simple hunter-gatherer ways of their ancestors. Eating only this over the duration of the pilgrimage is a means to purify body and spirit from within. A simple uniform of a wide-brimmed hat of woven straw - frequently with brightly colored decorations - and linen gloves makes pilgrims easy to identify and provides another part of the ritual: to keep the body pure. The hat protects the wearer from rain, sun, and snow and the gloves prevent the wearer from coming in contact with other things. They are worn the entire time, and much care is done to ensure that no part of the body touches any part of nature until the pilgrimage is complete.
The most devoted of pilgrims will journey to a particular mountain valley in the northern montane region, called the Baien. The valley is home to the Cardinal Poppy, though many a family own some of the cherished bloom to keep in their homes. Bringing a poppy from home to plant in the valley is frequently done and, as a result, the color and variety of flowers in the valley has become diverse over the ages. Pilgrims will spend several days reflecting and fasting in the valley and, for some, this is the end of the journey. Others, still, will follow one of the several paths believed to be traversed by their ancestors when the Cardinal Bees came to perform their miracle of nature. There are no less than three capes along the eastern shore believed to be the place where the swarm led the people so long ago, referred to as the Apovital Point. It is customary that several, living poppies be carried to plant along the way and at the cape.
After the final part of the journey, whether it was to an analogue endpoint near their settlements or to the historic terminus, pilgrims will remove their garb and bury it under their last (sometimes only) poppy. Then they are free to return to their lives purified in body and soul and having learned the great lessons that their forebearers had as well.
Every fifty years or so, Virtorians hold a festival where they celebrate by trying to "wake up" the Virtues throughout the year. Each month, the Virtue for that period is honored through festivities and, more importantly, through action. With so many among the people demonstrating, it is believed that the Virtue can't help but reflect and resonate its power back through the realm. This is in contrast to the Abolition of Vice ceremonies held at the midpoint between this bicenturial festival.
In the month of Angelan, followers of the Virtori are expected to awaken Pacyen with acts of patience. Fasting is common, as well as planting and sowing new crops, constructing new community buildings or repairing old infrastructure. It is also a time where virtuous crafters will often produce their most intricate and high-quality goods, the ones that require a steady hand and patient heart.
During the month of Daemi, tradition demands honoring Pudoros through abstinence and modesty. It is a month of chastity and any self-respecting Virtorian would balk at the idea of a wedding while observing this virtue. That is not to say there is no celebration! In fact, followers gather frequently and exchange goods and services freely in order to demonstrate to Pudoros that they can be unbound from covetous thought.
The Virtue Kedryn is honored in the month of Ocei with acts of kindness. Violence is strictly forbidden and entire war hosts filled with the devout will plan around this observance so as not to anger Kedryn. No weapons of any kind are held, if at all possible. Mercy and compassion are wielded instead. Food and shelter is provided for the poor, succor is given to enemies, and friendships new and old flourish in this month more than any other (although a Virtorian would counsel that the Virtues should be followed and adhered to at all times, not just during the festival).
During Terrarn, the virtue of justice is demonstrated to Iustus most keenly. Virtori followers flock en masse to their ministers to confess. So, too, will they make a point of apologizing to those they may have hurt or put too heavy a burden on. Scribes are often kept quite busy during this time with the flurry of hand-written cards and notes needed to commemorate this mass atonement. Lastly, it is considered one's holy duty to pay back any debt one might have accrued previously. Ending the month with a clean slate across all facets of life is how Iustus is honored best.
In the second to last month, Monarn, an interesting change of pace. This is a month of temperence to give worship to Modestos. No drink is imbibed during this month by even the least devout followers. Self-restraint is key so Virtorians will often take a vow of silence during this month as well. At the very least, it is expected that one will mind one's own business to demonstrate their worthiness to Modestos and receive her blessing.
Lastly, during the month of Lunai, Virtorians pay homage to Harbos with acts of charity. The month is a joyous one and culminates in gift giving among friends and family, as well as giving forgiveness throughout the community. This includes forgiveness of prior tresspasses and debts between members of the settlement. This forgiveness sometimes extends to taxes, tithes, or minor criminal transgressions in small towns, but larger cities can't afford to halt the great machine and the church tends to look the other way.
Accompanying everything is colorful decoration and revelry. In all months, except Monarn, these celebrations are raucous and lively at all hours. The idea being that the louder they celebrate and demonstrate, the more the Virtues will be able to hear them. During Monarn, the party doesn't stop but it is held in silence and with restraint. Underground Hrothi settlements will petition to be loaned an illuminated manuscript from the archives so they can lecture on one of the parables or accounts of virtue from the earliest times. Predominantly Neran settlements like to hold games and competitions in line with the monthly observances that often end in moral lessons.
Drasean followers of Al'tifali use this period to celebrate life in all its forms: sowing seeds and cultivating their lands, giving offerings and reverence to animals (wild or tame), encouraging new love and offspring in their people, and passing down stories or commemorating notable people or events. It is a time to feast and revel in the sensation of living so there are many potlucks, weddings, and rituals to attend!
For even the least devout, each day begins with a prayer to the Two-Fold Queen to ask for Her blessing. Each night the tifa pray to beg Her forgiveness. Drasean tifa wish to improve their souls so that, when they return to Her embrace at last, the soul will be in better condition than when She lent it - the Ledger will be in the black so that She has no barriers to her Work. Children born during this time are considered blessed and will be expected to pay back the Queen for her generosity twofold during their lifetimes. Many of these blessed children find their way into the tifa clergy or community governance roles in later years in order to pay back their debt.
This is thought to be a good time to begin new things so many Dras will go on a journey to somewhere they've never been, learn a new trade, make new friends, or enter into business contracts. Settlements are often a flurry of activity as each citizen tries to seek something new, preferring things that will benefit the community.