The setting for Numenera is a blending of science fiction and fantasy. I always think of it as the opposite of Star Wars: whereas the Jedi and Empire are really a fantasy story wearing the guise of sci-fi, Numenera is a science fiction setting and stories wearing the clothing of a fantasy setting.
The Aeon Priests
Almost certainly the strongest and most dominant organization in the Steadfast—and possibly the Beyond—the Order of Truth was established by the original Amber Pope, High Father Calaval, about 400 years ago… Although the Order of Truth seems like a religion, technically it’s not one. The papacy has a structure like a priesthood and calls its members priests, but it’s not a religion—it’s a veneration of intellect, understanding, and the wonders that arise from such things: science, technology, and the numenera.
–Numenera Core Rulebook, Chapter 14
The Order of Truth is not a religion, but if many people treat it that way then why not roll with it? As a pseudo-religious organization, the Order has a doctrine of seeking all forms of truth and information. Even if it’s dangerous or problematic, or perhaps especially in those cases, the Aeon Priests collect and interpret relics of the past worlds.
A cache of information is the closest thing that the Order of Truth has to a holy relic. Given the chance to retrieve one of these, they will go to great lengths to secure it. If someone defaces a cache like this, burns books, or erases data then they are treated by the Order of Truth as harshly as any heretic confronted by true zealots. This is perhaps where the Order fits most surely with a religion: they don’t have the ceremony or the symbology, but they believe strongly and they come down hard on those they think have done great wrongs.
This puts the Order of Truth at odds with many different religions including the Gaians, but since there is no commitment to a higher power then a follower of the Order can be an adherent to another faith. The trick is the commitment to truth: a true follower of the Order of Truth will need proof that an entity is a god before worshipping them. There are many relics of the eight fallen worlds, some of them entirely incomprehensible, but a real divine god? This is a stretch for many in the Steadfast and so the Order of Truth is presented as a religion and is at odds with other systems of belief.
Celestines of the Datasphere
If the Order of Truth is just four centuries old, what dominated the Steadfast before that? I choose to make use of the Data Gods from Ryan Chaddock‘s Celestial Wisdom supplement. Not only is tihs 54-page book awesome, it’s also free as a pdf so you have no excuse not to have it.
In this book, Ryan outlines a pantheon of “gods” who are powers within the omnipresent datasphere. From Anevene the Prophetess, who delivers visions of the near-future, to Praeten the Life Force, who protects life of all kinds from destruction, to the sentient program Ultrenara the Godslayer, who destroys the other Data Gods. There are also the Old Ones, who are a sort of cthonic host like the Titans who can be fought in old stories, and a list of dead gods who have fallen victim to Ultrenara and other dangers.
To me, this is a perfect set of gods for the “old ways” before the Order of Truth. However, the Order isn’t directly opposed to them in theory, just in treating them like gods. “They are useful tools,” the Aeon Priests say, “Artifacts of the datasphere which can be used like any other.” This is, of course, very insulting to the gods’ faithful.
I see this being somewhat like the medieval Celtic Church. The Order of Truth incorporates the data gods as lesser manifestations of their own Truth and the followers of the data gods acknowledge the abilities of the Aeon Priests while lamenting their foolish zealotry to numbers and books.
In the lands beyond the Cloudcrystal Skyfields north of the Steadfast is a land of strange practices and exotic beliefs. The Order of Truth has warned against the influence of the Gaians but some who have made the trip to that land claim it isn’t so bad. Called Lostrei (the “Spiritlands”) by those who live there, this warm and coastal land isn’t a kingdom of killers and sociopaths, and yet the Aeon Priests are right in saying that the Gaians could destroy the Steadfast.
In the first place, the Gaians of Lostrei eschew all forms of hierarchy meaning they don’t recognize nobility or servitude. Given that the political reality of the Steadfast is based on these concepts the Gaian philosophy could tear down the whole world of the Steadfast.
More importantly to the Aeon Priests, however, the Gaians are united by a loose animist religion. To the Gaians, everything in the Ninth World possesses a supernatural spirit that mortals can work with if they are respectful. The Order of Truth strives to understand everything so a belief system that labels any phenomenon as “supernatural” and calls it a day is anathema to the Order.
The worship of “angels” is a rival religion in the Steadfast to the Aeon Priests and Celestines. Entities from the black void of space can be powerful and mystical, and many choose to believe that they are capable of offering salvation to humanity on Earth. In fact, they believe that other worlds in the past ascended (literally) to a better place with the help of powerful, benevolent aliens.
Others in the Ninth World often dismiss Malakhists as insane. The Order of Truth, the Celestines of the Datasphere… hell, even the Gaians worship things they can see and interact with. Staring up at the sky and hoping the stars will save you. It’s all a little strange.
Past the Black Riage or down in the Frozen South people have many different beliefs. Neither the Aeon Priests nor the devotees of the Celestines are particularly concerned about these wild pagans. They are crazed barbarians and even cataloguing all of the twisted beliefs they hold would be the work of a lifetime. That’s not to say that some Aeon Priests are working on cataloguing them, just that they aren’t rushing to get the job done quickly.