A’ae Eil is a religion unique to the Ariddian Isles, and found almost exclusively amongst the Indigenous Wishi community in south-western West Ariddia. This religion is indissolubly linked to the community’s claims for “national” autonomy.
The beginnings of Wishi Christianity
A’ae Eil has its roots in the arrival of Anglican missionaries among the Wishi in 1679. Christian missionaries attempting to convert the indigenous Wymgani population throughout the Isles were notoriously unsuccessful, but pastor Norman Foxwood, who settled among the Wishi, was welcomed with an uncommon level of attention and interest. By all accounts a kind, progressive man, with a genuine respect for (most) traditional Wymgani ways, Foxwood may also have benefited from the fact that he reached the Wishi during a period of crisis. Resisting repeated settler encroachments onto their lands, the Wishi had been devastated by violent “punitive raids” from the settlers seizing their lands. Foxwood took it upon himself to be the community’s protector, interceding with colonial authorities in Cité-Belle to crack down on unauthorised land grabs on Limea.
Before contact with Europeans, the Wymgani had had no concept of spirituality or religion, and were by default an entirely atheist people. They treated introduced religions with great scepticism, but Foxwood, recognised as a benefactor with the Wishi’s best interests at heart, was listened to to some extent.
U Leis and the “values of Isuhs Wais”
Foxwood died of illness in 1682, having made some converts, and a young local man, U Leis, emerged as his self-proclaimed spiritual successor. Foxwood and Leis had, together, translated parts of the Old and New Testaments into the Wymgani language, in an effort to make Scripture accessible to the people of the community. Leis, as the Wishi’s foremost Scriptural expert at the time of Foxwood’s death, proclaimed that the Old Testament was to be discarded as erroneous, and the New Testament studied in thorough detail to sort out fact from myth. In Leis’ teachings, the vital essence of Christ’s message was the core of Christianity, which needed to be uncovered and freed from the many errors, contradictions and fictitious stories which he said accompanied it in the Bible. In Leis’ view, the Old Testament was entirely wrong, because it was unconceivable for God to be violent, cruel and unjust. He began translating the rest of the New Testament, and preached every day in the Wishi’s small wooden church.
Leis explained that “Isuhs Wais” (Jesus Christ) had been strengthened by a mysterious power from the skies, known as “Ohd”. The existence of this spiritual power was proved by the fact that it was recorded in European histories (the Bible), which had been preserved over the generations and were accepted by most white people of Leis’ time. That the Wymgani had been ignorant of “Ohd”, he said, did not mean that there was no such thing.
He explained during his sermons that there was great strength in “Ohd”, which was a benevolent power, loving and protecting all living beings. Therefore, the Wishi should learn to understand it. He emphasised the value of knowledge for its own sake, rather than the benefits that might be derived from conversion to Christianity. If there was a great truth that was unknown, one of the fundamental truths of life, then it had to become known. For that, the Wishi would have to read and absord the New Testament thoroughly, and learn to interpret it.
In Leis’ teachings, the way to an understanding of Ohd was through the values and teachings of Isuhs Wais. He explained that Wais’ values were the traditional values of the Wymgani: communal cooperation, free giving and mutual support, respect for life. These values, Leis explained, were divinely ordained; they were the natural and spiritual way of the world and of mankind. The Wymgani had always practiced these values, but only now did they realise that their traditional values originated from the “strength from the sky” (a’ae eil). The practising of these values could and should be perfected through a close understanding of the values preached by Isuhs Wais. In Leis’ view, Chritianity re-enforced the traditional Wymgani way of life far more than it challenged it.
By 1700, an estimated 40% of the Wishi were practicing members of the A’ae Eil Church.
Consequences on the Wishi lifestyle
On the whole, the Wishi’s traditional lifestyle was preserved. For example, Leis did not accept that nudity was sinful. Like all Wymgani, the Wishi wore few or no clothes, generally covering their lower waist area alone, for reasons of hygiene rather than modesty. In Leis’ reading of the Bible, the Fall of Adam and Eve (in so far as this controversial story was accepted as factual) affected only white people, as cultural descendants of the original sinners; the Wymgani, whose lifestyle had evolved seperately with no recollection of the Fall, were unaffected. Therefore, traditional nudity was in keeping with the original, natural lifestyle intended by Ohd. Leis did, however, try to institute and encourage marriage, as the sacred union of two people alone (although they could be of the same gender); this was to be a symbolic pledge of commitment to the Church and its teachings. Likewise, he frowned upon sex before marriage, encouraging abstinence as a form of religious commitment. Reactions to these teachings varied significantly among the faithful.
One tradition which did disappear entirely, however, was cannibalism. Previously practiced on very rare occasions as the ritual annihilation and absorbing of one’s enemy, in cases where reconciliation and co-existence were deemed impossible, it was soon viewed as an offence to Wais’ teachings, and abolished.
The Church under the Social Republic
When the Democratic Communist Party came to power in Ariddia in 1985, ushering in the contemporary era of the “Social Republic”, the change in government ideology initially had almost no impact on the A’ae Eil Church. The Wishi were still living a mostly traditional lifestyle, with relatively little contact with Ariddia’s non-Indigenous population.
In 1994, however, 19 year-old Lal’i Os, a member of the Church, left Wishi territory for the first time and went to study history at the University of Aqeyr. She returned three years later with a degree and a mind full of new ideas after exposure to the wider Ariddian society. She had read extensively about communism, and learnt about the national government’s communist policy, with its emphasis on social rights, solidarity, communal work, human dignity and Indigenous rights. She shared her knowledge in detail with the members of her community and of her Church, explaining her view that Isuhs Wais’ teachings were essentially the values of communism. In her syncretic understanding, Wymgani traditional lifestyles, the A’ae Eil Christian Church and communism were, at root, one and the same – different approaches the the same core values and practices. This idea proved extremely popular. The Church had embraced communism as an aspect of its official doctrine by the end of the 1990s.
The Church after the Limean secession
Limea’s secession in 2012, which placed Wishi territory under the sovereign control of a radical capitalist government which advocated total deregulation of the economy, the embracing of a free market, and the promotion of individualism, was met by the A’ae Eil Church as a source of grave concern. Wishi Church members, who had begun to interact increasingly with the wider Ariddian society, reverted to isolationism, proclaiming themselves a bastion of communism and emphasising their autonomy as a traditional Indigenous society. This remains the case today.
The A’ae Eil Church today
Membership of the Church is mostly confined to the Wishi; an estimated 61% of the Wishi are at least nominally members of the Church, and 44% are regular practicing Church-goers. This makes the Wishi unique when compared to other Wymgani communities, all of which are almost entirely atheist.
At various times throughout its history, the Church has made some small attempts at proselytising beyond Wishi lands, and this has resulted in a small number of converts. Consequently, A’ae Eil faithfuls can be found throughout the Ariddian Isles, but their numbers are thought to be so tiny as to be almost insignificant. Religion of any sort remains a thoroughly alien concept to the overwhelming majority of Wymgani to this day.
There are only five A’ae Eil church buildings known to exist in the world. One, of course, is on Wishi land. One is in Aqeyr, one in Rêvane and one in Cité-Belle (all major cities of the Ariddian Isles). The fifth, surprisingly, is in Timiocato (Pacitalia). A small building, it is attended by fewer than a dozen faithful.
Contemporary doctrinal issues
As a Protestant Church, A’ae Eil emphasises the importance of learning, studying and interpreting Scripture. It is, however, unique in believing that the historical records contained within the Bible contain many errors, and that it is the role of the faithful to see through the text and reach the essence of Christ’s (Wais’) teachings.
This doctrine, which insists on the responsibility of the individual Church member to distinguish truth from error, has naturally led to a significant diversity in interpretations. Debate continues as to the true nature of the values and practices promoted by Isuhs Wais.
One of the most debated issues has been that of an afterlife, and particularly the question of the existence of heaven and hell. Most Church members deny the existence of hell, but are split over the issue of heaven. The concept of a soul is controversial in itself (but accepted by a majority of Church members); the issue of its immortality even more so.
The various views can be roughly summed up as followed:
- There is a heaven. The soul of any living being may go there after death, and be at one with the ‘’a’ae eil’’ (strength from the sky). Animals’ souls go there automatically; a human being’s soul goes there if that person has led a good life in accordance with the teachings of Isuhs Wais. Most members of the Church accept that a person can go to heaven if they have followed Wais’ values even without knowing about Isuhs Wais. Since most members of the Church reject the notion of hell (viewing it as contrary to the goodness of Ohd’s love), the question of what happens to souls denied access to heaven is problematic. Many believe those souls simply cease to exist, while others suggest they are re-incarnated for a new life and a second chance. Some believe that all souls without exception go to heaven, where all their sins are forgiven.
- There is a soul, but no heaven. The soul derives from the inherent spirituality of the world, and is a manifestation of mankind’s connection with both the divine and all living things.
- There is no soul, and consequently no heaven. The ‘soul’ is merely an abstract concept expressing mankind’s awareness of the spiritual.