The Bird-Monk Guild
Birds are more naturally attuned to the spiritual realms - the realms of gods. It is thought that birds have a deeper and clearer line of communication with the divine because of their ability to fly closer to the peaks of great mountains. They are in high demand as pets for priests and clerics, who hope the winged creatures may sometimes travel to the top of the Great Arcane Mountain and bring back messages. This is why you often see priests listening intently to the tweets of their small companions, and also why it’s popular among religious leaders to say to their congregations, “A little bird told me…” The religious rank of “Cardinal” was coined in honor of an extremely rare red bird of the same name thought to have been brought here from a distant world as a gift from the god Arden.
It is no wonder, then, that the half-man, half-bird race of Avari are so often drawn to the life of the cloth. Crowds of bird-monks of all feathers are often seen making pilgrimages throughout Gateway or congregating around holy objects and locations. The Avari believe that their innate connection to the gods gives them greater ability to refine magical energy (arcaea) into pure magic, also called “spiritas,” which they believe is more powerful when used for devotional practices.
The one common denominator between bird-monks of all faiths (with the notable exception of the Ravai) is that they all recognize the god Arden as the progenitor of magic. It is a widely-held belief amongst the Avari faithful that Arden was THE original Avari - a great and ancient bird that descended from the heavens and transformed himself into a form more approachable to the human tribes. Non-Avari don’t necessarily agree with this description of Arden; in fact, most people believe Arden was just a handsome chap with a smart-looking beard who brought magic down from the mountains in great clay vessels he balanced on his shoulders.
A common practice among Avari monks is something called the “mingling of the flocks,” which is essentially a mass religious social event. Spontaneous minglings took place at unplanned times and locations. But as Gateway grew and became more densely populated, bird-monks and citizens alike clamored for a place to host the social gatherings that wouldn’t interfere with the daily business of life in Gateway.
During Unification, the old City of Enescha became what is now known as “Templetown” because of the greater number of temples per capita in this region (the Unification Naming Committee used this method for determining many of the city’s regions). Over time a region’s name became its destiny, and hundreds of religious institutions relocated their headquarters to Templetown. As a response to the public outcry regarding the traffic-inducing minglings, a council of Elder Bird-Monks decided to create a guild (simply called “The Bird-Monk Guild”) and build a site in Templetown that would become a meeting place for bird-monks of all stripes to share in their devotional wisdom. Ground broke in 1503 on the complex, named “Avaritus.”
Over the years, Avaritus became a miniature city within a city … within a city. It had apartment blocks, five sprawling parks, a dozen gardens, scores of administrative annexes, a commercial district brimming with restaurants and markets that sold all manner of religious paraphernalia and souvenirs, retirement communities, and its own peace-keeping force called the Holy Garda. Eventually, this complex grew to encompass nearly 12 square blocks of Templetown, with Grantemple Arden at its center.
It was soon dubbed “Birdtown” (appropriately) by non-Avari, and in many ways it became an autonomous mini-state. The City Guard and Council kept their hands out of Avaritus business, instead choosing to officially endorse the Holy Garda as the arbiters of law and peace-keeping within the walls of the complex. The Bird-Monk Guild also funded a very powerful lobbying group in Center City and was firmly entrenched in the politics of Gateway. It was no secret that the guild essentially ran Templetown and no council member or local sheriff could dream of winning an election without the endorsement of the Bird-Monk Guild.
During the rise of the Church of Daeus and the subsequent Inquisition, the Bird-Monk Guild came under attack from the Central Governance since it was seen as more of a wizard’s society than a priesthood guild. The leadership of the Central Governance felt that bird-monks who gathered within the walls of Avaritus were practicing too much spiritas magic, which the Church of Daeus frowned upon. But because of the long-standing tradition of Avaritus, a compromise was reached, or rather “discovered.” The Church of Daeus produced long-hidden documents that suggested that the name Arden was, in fact, another name for Daeus. It was decided that the guild and any Avari temple aligned with the Church of Arden could remain largely intact if it embraced this “fact” and acknowledged that Arden and Daeus were one. Bird-monks also had to agree that they would strictly limit use of spiritas magic to religious ceremonies and prayer, and only within the walls of Avaritus and compliant temples.
Though not the ideal outcome, the Bird-Monk Guild accepted the compromise and formed the “Ardenist Church of Daeus.” One prominent member of the Bird-Monk Guild Council, Victar Tollemus, rejected the deal and spoke out in Avaritus Square. By the time the council defrocked and banished him from Avaritus, he had collected a sizeable following of loyal bird-monks, who declared Victar to be a living saint.
This splinter group of Monks of St. Tollemus left the safe-haven of Avaritus and started an illegal underground congregation. They have had several run-ins with the authorities. One particularly nasty clash took place in Buckner Square in Marketown. It involved the summoning of a giant lobster, which was not aware of who it was fighting for so it simply snapped in half anyone it could get its claws around, including innocent bystanders. Both sides took a beating; afterward, the rebel monks vowed to operate in greater secrecy so as to avoid another deadly brawl.
The split between the two groups remains acute to this day, and within the Avari community, even amongst those who are not monks themselves, there is a deep resentment toward each other. Families and friendships have been torn asunder over whether someone identifies more with the loyalists or with the rebels. It is a sad state of affairs resulting from the oppressive Church of Daeus’ unyielding quest for religious supremacy.