Raised in the house of the women who attended to the village priestess, the very vessel to which Idayen manifests in this world, Mayari knew of her purpose even before she was old enough to understand how important it is. She was an heir of sorts, next in line to the proud duty of being the priestess of the village of Idayan...
Idayan is a remote village in the far edges of the country of Timawen, an untouched world in the western rim of a boundless ocean. For years, they have kept to themselves, away from the other villages and cities, upholding ancient rites and traditions that most of Timawen had long forgotten or shunned.
Idayen has provided for the village (rightfully named after her) since time immemorial. Ancient texts and stories from the sages speak of a time when the goddess herself went down from the heavens to heal the sick of the world. When Bathala discovered this, he forbade the goddess from returning to the realm of men - for he feared that her providence would only corrupt them. Not heeding her father’s warning, the goddess struck a deal with the elders of the village of Idayan to offer up a bride into which she could manifest in this world - a vessel that would connect heaven and earth.
For years after the bargain, the elders would bring up a bride to the mountains and offer her up to Idayen in the light of the two moons (the night when the Mother becomes one with her Child). Idayen would the possess the birde and take hold of her body - using it as a channel through which her providence and grace would flow into the world.
For years, the elders have built temples and an altar for this very ritual, keeping this fountain from heaven open. Those who frowned upon the ritual chose to leave the village, while more flocked to the new community that now gathered in prayer to receive the grace of the goddess in this world.
Priestesses do not live long, weathered by being the vessel of great power. They serve the village long enough to produce their heir and are not allowed to have any human bond because to be a vessel means to be bereft of all things that kept one mortal save death itself.
Each priestess is groomed for two duties - to be the vessel of Idayen in this world and to produce an heir to keep the line of priestesses unbroken.
The heir is then groomed by the Babaylan and the attendants in preparation to become the next priestess.
When the priestess dies, the temple goes into a period of mourning, the temple attendants changing the white drapes into black, until such time that the heir is old enough to assume the responsibility of being the priestess. This period of waiting doesn’t usually pose a problem since most of the priestesses-in-waiting flower long before the current priestess leaves her duty.
Priestesses live and die serving Idayen. In life, they serve as vessels for the goddess. In death, they are interred in coffins stuck to the lofty cliffs and steps of the altar to Idayen. This is, according to ancient texts, to better offer their bodies up to heaven - closer to the grace of the gods. Their bodies also provide life to the rare flowers that bloom only in Idayen soil and only during the night of the rituals that the people harvest for their curative properties.
The elders of Idayan chose among them a leader who would keep the tradition and strictures of the goddess - to keep the wheel spinning should the years fail those who have learned the tradition of their worship.
A babaylan assumes power as the next supreme matriarch of the temple when the previous one dies. She is chosen among the chief elders of the village and is then tasked in training and grooming the next priestess of Idayan, aided by the attendants she handpicks from the women of the village.
For days, the village was in tense anticipation for Mayari becoming priestess. People would come to the temple steps bearing gifts of all sorts in hopes that they could coax her blooming sooner. The Babaylan would drive them away with assurances that Mayari would become priestess in Idayen’s will.
Young priestesses-in-waiting usually just wait for their blooming while being groomed and trained by the Order. When circumstances prove dire, the Order often turn to prayer and potions to coax the flowering sooner. When the young priestess finally bleeds, they are deemed ready by the Babaylan and is prepared for her first ritual come the next light of the two moons.
Held against their will and living their days in seclusion, priestesses often leave their sentiments and secrets in hidden letters, mementos, and tokens that they leave behind for the next priestess. For many years, this secret has been kept by each priestess, their way of silent rebellion, a resistance against a duty they can never escape.
When the light of the two moons is at its fullest , the priestess of the time is brought up to the altar made for Idayen. When the two moons are at their zenith, the goddess descends and possesses the body of the priestess and provides for the people who have come with their prayers and songs and pleas for help. After the ritual, the goddess leaves her mortal vessel for the Order to attend to.
One night, Mayari had a most vivid dream. She was standing in a meadow full of Idayen’s flowers, their petals dancing in the wind. Far in the hills, she could see a child. When she called out, the girl turned and began to run…
The priestesses of old often visit the new priestess in dreams to give them wisdom and knowledge to fulfill their duties as a vessel of Idayen’s power - to uphold the ancient office of being the very channel of Idayen’s power. These dreams are often recounted by the past priestesses as a disoriented mirage of their emotions made manifest in symbols, warnings, omens that often foretold what is to come in their life as the priestess.
The woods kept her running in circles. Mayari knew in her heart that she has offended the gods, that this is their way to spite her - trapping her in a loop that kept her from running away from her fated duty as a vessel. For hours, she pushed on, her feet bloodied by walking the forest in darkness…
The darker days of the past lay hidden in the bowels of the earth under the Babaylan’s temple. It is where the early keepers of the rites of the Order have kept the history of the people of Idayan, back when they still grovelled in the earth, away from the goddess’ grace. This passage, accessible through one of the secret rooms of the temple, lead to the spirit forest that surround the village of Idayan.
The Spirit Forest surround the village of Idayen is like an inescapable sea of trees - gnarled, untouched, and ancient. It is often described by the few brave souls who have tested and survived its depths as a dark and wayless labyrinth that could lose a wayward traveler into days of running in circles - hoodwinked by the dark spirits and souls that lurked in the forest.
Ancient and full of wisdom, the crone that most of the people of the village of Idayen referred to as the “Wise One”, the “Prophet”, or simply the “Old Woman” has lived in the spirit forest for as long as anyone could remember. A lot of people speak of the old woman only in whispers and in the confines of their homes - an unspoken fear that her presence brings whenever she can be seen in the village. Some people also speak of tales of people coming to the Old Woman in the forest to ask for help and be given provision albeit at a cost. Whatever she asks of these people though, it definitely wasn’t gold.
Mayari felt the coldness of the stone platform of the altar as her feet touched the stone steps leading up to Idayen’s statue - that blank face set in weathered wood and stone, its eyes indifferent. Does this happen often? How did the other priestesses feel during their first time? Did they look up to this statue and ask for help? Did their tears dry up on their cheeks as they finally accepted their fate?
When the new priestess comes of age and is ready for the ritual, she is taken up to the mountain to be offered to Idayen for her Unang Pagsasanib, the most important ritual of the Order - the pact that will seal the destiny of the priestess in her life of service to the goddess and the people of Idayan. This is when the goddess and the priestess are in their most vulnerable, tearing open the barriers that so separates our world from the gods so that they could meld into one.
Ancient prophets and texts found in the ruins of the very first temple to Idayen speak only in allegories and riddles of the dagger and the stone - said to be the very tools that the goddess Idayen forged with the very first Babaylan of the village to rip the tear that kept the world open for her to pass to and from the mortal realm. In the dagger’s hilt was a stone set in place by the goddess herself, a part of her soul she needed to grant power to the dagger.
No one knows where the dagger is now but fables and tales in the village say that a blow from it is powerful enough to kill a god.