The Five Promises
- The Promise of the Sword: The Glorious First Age Will Fall & Creation Will Become Corrupted
- All things must end, but each ending heralds a new beginning. The riches and the glory of the First Age came crashing down. This event caused the deaths of hundreds of Exalted and millions of mortals. It caused the deaths of leaders and merchants, knowledge and Charms. Saturn’s sharp sword descended, and Creation shook under the mighty strike. But with the end of the First Age, the world began again.
- The Promise of the Quill: Creation Will Struggle Onward
- Creation was not destroyed by the ending of the First Age. Farmers still plowed their fields, and merchants still peddled their wares. Time and life flowed inexorably as Creation rebuilt. Mortals looked for guidance and found little as the Dragon-Blooded of the Realm concerned themselves with power struggles. The world continued, although lacking its former wonder and glory.
- The Promise of the Key: The Gods Will Not Forsake Creation
- The gods met and determined that a new Age must be ushered into the world. The mortals needed mentors and leaders, those who would guide them spiritually and politically. After much debate, the gods determined that they would send their children, the Shining Ones, to Creation to bring the world back to the glory of the First Age. These children of the gods would offer their knowledge and leadership to the mortals and scour Creation free of the Fair Folk and the Dragon-Blooded betrayers.
- The Promise of the Gauntlet: The Gods Will Send New Champions, the Shining Ones
- The Shining Ones will arrive in the dark of night, many of them alone and vulnerable from the hazardous journey from Heaven. Only when they can band together will they reach their potential. It is the purpose of the Cult of the Illuminated to find these Shining Ones and unite them, strengthening their power so that they may stand up to the corrupt Realm and the false leaders therein. A great war will follow, shaking Creation yet again, but the Shining Ones will prevail.
- The Promise of the Ewer: Creation Will Be Restored To Its Former Glory
- As the corrupt Dragon-Blooded lie in their graves or limp to the fringes of the Wyld, the Shining Ones will take their place on the thrones of Creation, lending their power and goodwill to lead mortals into a Second Great Age. Their faithful followers will lie at their feet and be among the favored of mortals, serving as their ambassadors, generals and courtesans. Only the Shining Ones can bring glory back to Creation, but they are unable to do so without the support of mortals.
The Illuminated Sutras
The primary teachings of the Cult of the Illuminated are contained within the tome called The Illuminated Sutras. This set of texts is old, dating back many centuries. Fragments of it are found all the time by those who know where to look, so it is an ever-growing corpus of lore. Some of its pieces include:
- The Golden Truths: The Five Promises (outlined above), with additional philosophical lore regarding them. Each Promise is given a book of its own, with the Promise highlighting one of the so-called Golden Virtues: Acceptance of Fate, Tenacity, Mercy, Glory and Faith.
- The Writ of Transcendence: A manual describing the ways in which those who wait to serve the Illuminated shall prepare themselves: study, strict diet, martial arts practice and ascetic practices (including fasting, prayer, self-flagellation and charity).
- The Satsuma Prophecies: Writings which give the signs of the coming of the Illuminated Ones, including the rise of the Deathly Ones, the death of the Scarlet Empress and a handful of other portents and signs.
- The Holiest Duty: A small pamphlet, written by one of the cult's earliest proponents, telling its adherents that their duty was to remain hidden and pure, that they were to wait for and recognize the signs of the Illuminated, and to aid them. It warns of the Immaculate Philosophy's lies and invention of the Anathema.
- The Ascendance Gospels: A series of prophecies that look to the rise of the Illuminated, to the sundering of the Scarlet Empire and the establishment of the Holy Empire of Light.
- The Book of Dark and Light: A simple book of prayers that form the corpus of Illuminated prayers, filled with lore about the superiority of the Illuminated, about the unworthiness of mortals and the promise of Illumination, prayers begging for them to return, prayers asking for protection from the Dragon-Blooded.
- The Letters of the Sainted Lantern: A series of letters from several hundred years ago, written by an elder of the cult of the Illuminated, describing the best techniques for hiding one's presence, preparing for the Hour of Illumination, how to stymie the efforts of the Dragon-Blooded to track down the Illuminated.
- The Fallen Blossom Sutras: Philosophy and martial arts training scrolls that focus on the duty of mankind to defend the Illuminated with their last breath, and describing a training regimen for those with enlightened Essence for embodying that philosophy into a style of martial arts, Fallen Blossom Style.
Prayers are held by cells and camps as group activities, and all who are able are expected to attend them. These are a daily occurance at camps, and everyone is expected to attend. In cells, they are held daily, with the understanding that many of its membership will not be able to attend due to the demands of their daily lives. All members are expected to attend at least once a week.
- First Prayer: This prayer is held just as the sun rises, and involves prayer to the gods who brought the Shining Ones to them, from the Incarna down to local gods. Priests lead these prayers, although any Exalts or other important figures may do so at any time.
- For the first half-hour, these prayers are done kneeling, meditating in silence. New initiates stand behind those kneeling, in marital arts stances meant to build their strength and begin their training.
- For the second half-hour, they chant prayers from the Illuminated Sutras, extolling the Gods of Day to bring the Illuminated to Creation, to bless and protect them. They also chant prayers of thanks and protection for the Illuminated Ones they know.
- Midday Prayer: Only the Illuminated and the Masters of the Cult gather for these, involving each Exalt sitting in the light of the open sun in lotus position, meditating and communing silently.
- Last Prayer: Once again, adherents gather to meditate and pray as they are moved, individually.
- Bowls of Bright Morning-laced water circulate. Most take a small sip, just enough to induce a light trance state, but priests and those who seek visions take larger drinks, dosing themselves on the Essence sight-granting drug and hallucinating for hours.
The Four Asceticisms
Aligned in concept with the four Virtues extolled by the religions of the First Age, the Four Asceticisms are means by which adherents of the Cult of the Illuminated purge themselves of the corruption of the Cycle of Night. These practices are engaged in by cultists during the Holy Days of the cult, and when either they or the priesthood judge them to be in need of purging. The priesthood engage in these activities regularly.
- Charity (Compassion): All acts of random and unobligated charity and kindness to others are means by which a failure in compassion may be expunged. Sacrifices of wealth and of time, in order to accomplish good works with no expectation of return, are essential to aligning oneself to the premise of mercy.
- Prayer (Conviction): A failure of faith and resolve may be tended with hours of prayer, often in ascetic conditions - outside at night, under a frigid waterfall, in a sweltering cavern or sweat-lodge.
- Fasting (Temperance): When one has failed to live up to the ways of proper self-control and moderation, expunging the urges toward spoiled behavior may return to balance. By foregoing the necessities of the body (though it's called fasting, it may be water, food or sleep that are given up), one's body will force one to recall that which is important and needful, and to not consume it greedily.
- Self-Flagellation (Valor): Acts of pain and the deliberate infliction of injury occur. Let the one who knows fear harden himself to the source of that fear. This is most often portrayed as self-injury to overcome a fear of injury in situations that require the postulant to be brave, but this practice is about facing down those things the adherent fears: a fear of spiders is met with the creatures placed on the skin, and a fear of heights involved prayer and meditation in a very high place.
Veneration & Worship
There are two kinds of figures of importance to the Cult: gods and the Illuminated.
- Gods of Day: The cult reserves its active worship for gods. Not just any god, it should be noted. The Cult divides its worship into the Gods of Day and the Gods of Night. The Gods of Night are those false or unworthy gods who do not wish to see the Illuminated bring about the Cycle of Day. They are the cowardly gods aligned with the Immaculate Philosophy, or selfish unaffiliated gods. The Gods of Day, however, are those gods who are eminently worthy of the Cult's worship, as they seek to bring about the Cycle of Day, aligning themselves with the Illuminated Ones and the Cult of the Illuminated. Though local cells of the Cult usually have one or two allied gods that they count as part of the Gods of Day, there are a handful of Gods who are regarded as Gods of Day by the Cult Creation-wide. For more on these gods, see The Illuminated Heavens.
- The Illuminated Ones: The Cult explicitly does not worship the Illuminated Ones. It venerates them, offering up prayers in their names to the Gods of Day and Heaven. It holds them in high regard - they are a combination of saints, bodhisattvas and deified cultural heroes to the Cult. The main point of distinction is that the Cult does not pray to the Illuminated - they are prayed for.
Testaments & Vision-Seeking
The Cult of the Illuminated believes that each cell's theology is based on two things: the Illuminated Doctrine and the visions experienced by the priests of that given cell. Priests use drugs such as Bright Morning and extremes of the Four Asceticisms (or sometimes, both in combination) to gain visions and prophecies.
- It is the responsibility of other priests in that cell to then interpret where those visions fit into the Illuminated Doctrine. It if forbidden for the one who experiences the vision to also interpret it, so as to avoid corruption.
- These combinations of vision and interpretation are called Testaments, and each cell has a Book of Testaments in which these experiences are recorded.
- Those cells who meet Solar Exalted have also taken to adding another Testament to their Books: the Testaments of Exaltation. Each Solar who Exalts hears the words of the Unconquered Sun in their ears, words which burn into their minds forevermore. Those Solars who will share those words have their experiences added to the Testaments as well.