There are several theories as to the origin of the Order. Some have aspects of the divine, believing that the first Arma Superius Cassiel Memmius, in life a poor but kindly woman who had died during childbirth, returned to earth from the Elysian city of Ithildin to spread the message of community, healing and the uplifting of the poor. Others have a more mundane explanation, believing it more likely that Cassiel Memmius was the wife of a noble man who became the first patron of the Hands of Ithildin. Ultimately, it is likely that there is some truth to either foundation story.
The Hands of Ithildin are distinct from the general healers of the Temple of Althea in their approach, teaching the importance of mundane healing over miraculous means. Whilst divine favour is not eschewed entirely, often magical means are not available or affordable in impoverished or remote communities; as such, the Hands of Ithildin use mundane medicine, emphasising careful long-term care and herbalism over spells and potions.
This message is also expressed through education. In poor communities, the Hands will often invest much time and effort in training local women in healing, herbalism and midwifery, proving these women with important skills as well as a profession. These folk healers become known as gentis medica (pl. gentium medicae) and are often widely revered within their communities.
Doctrine & Teachings
Doctrine closely matches that of the main body of Althean teaching, but with some differences, which can be summarised through the three main tenets of the faith of the Hands of Ithildin, which are repeated several times daily during individual and group prayer.
- What is unnatural, is divine - This is the foundation statement of the faith of the Hands of Ithildin, which states that anything which is not supernatural (not only the gods, but denizens of other planar beings too) must be part of the natural world; this links humanoids to other creatures, emphasising their humility. Conversely, it also states that anything which is not natural must be divine. It is this tenet which calls the nuns into deep reverence not only of Althea, but of all the gods as well as the natural world.
- What is natural, is fallible - This simple statement highlights the vulnerability of all living things. The Hands of Ithildin use this as the basis of their tenets - even the strongest things can be injured, or otherwise fail, and so to restore order, they must be healed howsoever they can. It also indicates that even what seems natural can result in failure, and so care must be taken of all living things in all stages of life. It is this tenet which brings the nuns into working as healers, carers and midwives.
- As the natural, so the unnatural - This says several things, and is more or less the key tenet of the faith, tying together the first two tenets in saying that the gods can and may die, or otherwise fail. Should this happen, a divine healer's link to her god will be extinguished, and one may have no choice but to rely upon the mundane healing arts. Should the gods of healing fall, then it is likely that healing arts will be in greater demand than ever before required. As such, then, knowledge of herbalism and medicine must be preserved and spread throughout the populous, such that should they be required, the Hands of Ithildin and gentium medicae will be able to administer to the sick, injured and otherwise needy.
The Hands of Ithildin are based upon reasonably loose edicts that cover many aspects of a nun's life, a flexibility reflecting the variability of day-to-day activities of healers, midwives and community teachers. There are some edicts, however, which are based upon the monastic vows of other traditions, which are required to be followed. Some of these are mandatory, and some are optional; all have been developed as part of a lengthy tradition and are carefully controlled. The vows are as follows:
- Caelibati: the vow of celibacy asks that the Hands and Althea be the first in a nun's life. This extends to ties to a nun's birth family. Upon joining the Hand, the nun rescinds her birth name and takes one given to her by the cult. The nun's principle relationships, then, are her divine bond to Althea, her familial ties to her fellow nuns and superiors, and her universal links to the community. Some cells interpret this to honor the steadfastness between Althea and Daeus.
- Munditiae: the vow of cleanliness applies not only to a nun's personal hygiene, but also to the purity of her thoughts and deeds. It does not extend to not touching the sick, tainted or deceased, as these clearly form some of the tasks required of a healer; however, it does require several cleansing rituals when bodies are prepared for burial. This vow arose when they noticed that cleanliness reduced the recurrence of diseases.
- Ieiunii: the vow of fasting does not apply continuously to a nun. If she wishes, she may undertake a period of fasting, but she is required to abstain from all activities in the community at this time to avoid errors and mistakes. At this time she should remain in isolation, focusing on her relationship to the divine, or working in intense study of the mundane healing arts.
- Pacis: the vow of peace prevents a nun from acting in anger or engaging in violence, except to defend oneself, or those around her. This vow also focuses on inner peace, and on the importance of rest, repose and quiet meditation, which forms an important part of the nun's day-to-day activities. Staff note: While nonviolence is a good goal, a complete pacifist is difficult at best on a DnD game. So, acting in defense is a good interpretation of this vow.
- Penuriae: the vow of poverty is not always followed by the Hands of Ithildin, and is again an optional part of the nun's vows. This is most frequently undertaken when the nun is embedded in a poor community to provide training to the gentium medicae. In general, nuns are encouraged to avoid the collection of material possessions, and all possessions are technically considered the property of the corpus, and are handed down when elderly nuns pass away. Personal items are also discouraged, especially those which link the nun to her old life.
- Silentii: the vow of silence is also optional, although this is a part of the hermetic sabbatical year which nuns must undertake as the final year of their training. A nun may undertake other, usually shorter, periods of isolation during their lifetime, but this is not mandatory.
- Veritatis: the vow of truth is mandatory. Every nun must speak the truth, particularly when it comes to care, healing and training.
If a Hand of Ithildin breaks one of the mandatory vows (Caelibati, Munditiae, Pacis and Veritatis), they risk serious chastisement from her superiors and colleagues, and may be cast out of the order entirely. With the exception of a nun following the vow of Silentii during her sabbatical, the breaking of the elective vows is not viewed with such seriousness.
When the Hands of Ithildin train new lay members in the mundane healing arts (the gentium medicae), they also instruct them in some of the Ithildinis doctrine, but certainly not all. Additionally, a gentis medica is not required to follow any vows.
Organization & Nomenclature
When a woman joins the Hands of Ithildin, she becomes a manus minor (pl. manūs minōrēs), a 'minor hand', who undertakes training beneath more experienced nuns. Usually a manus minor is brought to the Order at her coming of age; training typically takes approximately 7 years. The penultimate year is spent in the community, providing care alongside other healers, and the final year is a hermetic sabbatical. Manūs minōrēs wear simple blue robes, without adornment or holy symbols, to distinguish them from other members of the Order
After the final year of a training, a nun is brought fully into the Order in a ceremony when her robes are exchanged for ones with silver piping at the hems, and with a deep blue image of the Evening Star Telmentar at the collar. At this point the nun is known as a manus (pl. manūs), or 'hand', and is able to work fully and independently in the community. A manus is instructed not only to provide healing, but also to teach others in the mundane arts of healing, particularly the poor and needy, as per the edicts of the Order.
Most cities or nations have a branch of the Hands of Ithildin, which are known as a corpus (pl. corpora), or 'body'. Each corpus may have a few dozen manūs and several manūs minōrēs, all under the direction of a single senior nun known as an arma īnferius (pl. arma īnferiōra), or 'lower arm'. Although in a position of power, the cult is somewhat egalitarian, and each manus has an almost equal say in the day-to-day activities of the corpus. An arma īnferius is usually chosen from nuns with a great deal of experience within the community, but the role can be turned down or relinquished at any time.
A council of arma īnferiōra, the corpus mājus, meets occasionally to discuss the general activities of the cult, and to elect an overall leader, somewhat of a spokesperson with the main Temple of Althea. This leader is again only slightly superior to the wishes of the general corpus mājus.
The order slowly seeks to expand itself. A recent foray was made into Am'shere. Though not rejected, the order was not officially permitted, either. Instead, it is locked in discussions with local elders and ultimately, the Empress. Of particular discussion are the vows, which must, they believe, be adapted to the requirements of that people, and their natures. Likewise, how the order changes to fit the tribal and caste system is in thoughtful discussion. Last but not least, any order must be under the guidance of the Empress, and appropriate castes. Yet, they have not said "no."
The day-to-day activities of a Hand of Ithildin are much less rigid than in other monastic orders, reflecting the flexibility required in the work of a healer, nurse or midwife. However, the general pattern of life for a manus is expected to be similar to the following.
A manus will rise early in the morning in an individual or shared room in the corpus house, typically several hours before a winter's dawn. Early morning activities include ablutions and private prayer, before a simple communal meal is taken at dawn. Following this, there is a period communal prayer and discussion of the day's activity with other manus. Lecturing of manus minores and gentium medicae usually takes place in the morning, usually finishing slightly before lunchtime, which may or may not be taken communally. Many manus treat this as freetime, to follow personal interests.
The afternoon is much more flexible; most manus will undertake community work or training until the early evening, when they will gather for communal prayer and further discussions. Following a large evening meal, the nuns are free to again follow personal interests, although typically remaining within the corpus house. Evensong occurs much later in the evening, with all nuns singing in unison in praise of Althea. Before bed there are evening ablutions and finally, personal prayer.
This is a Player-Made Org.