For many Eorzeans, their relationship with their patron deity is a personal choice brought on by any combination of socioeconomic, geographic, and cultural factors, meant to grant succor through prayer in a world that far too often seems cruel and uncaring. For many players of Final Fantasy XIV, their relationship with their patron deity is a box they checked during character creation and never thought about again.
With the new alliance raid series, Myths of the Realm, via the post-Endwalker patch cycle, those patron deities are front-and-center and ready to take revenge on all of you fairweather devotees who have been skipping church, or so it seems. But who are these gods, The Twelve? If they’re so important to the daily lives of Eorzeans, where have they been this whole time? Other primals manifest and meddle in the affairs of their mortal followers. To paraphrase one Gaius van Baelsar, “Are The Twelve otherwise engaged?” And if so, “What drives men of learning — even the great Louisoix — to grovel at their feet?” Let’s take a look at what we know about the creation of The Twelve to get a better understanding of this, in the classical sense of the word, ‘epic’ raid series.
The Name “Aglaia” Sets the Stage
Like all Alliance Raids, Myths of the Realm is broken up into three distinct instances. The first leg of our journey through the Eorzean pantheon is known as Aglaia. While the names given to instances are not always diegetic, they can still give a sense of the raid series’ theme. For example, the “Father/Gordias,” “Son/Midas,” and “Creator” motif of the Alexander raid series emphasized the primal’s association with angelic Holy magic and role as savior for the Illuminati, while also foreshadowing the Gordian Knot that players found themselves in as the story progressed.
In Greek myth, Aglaia is the youngest of three sisters born to Zeus. In FFXIV, ancient Greek nomenclature is often reserved for just that: the Ancients — beings who predate written history, let alone discussion of The Twelve. However, invoking the names of the Greek gods is used here more as a way to set the tone for what’s to come: a confrontation with a pantheon of man-made deities, each with their own personalities, origins, faults, and relationships brought to life by the faith of their followers.
Much like the primals of the various tribes of Eorzea, it can be difficult to trace the roots of any given interpretation of The Twelve. Records are hazy, narrators unreliable, and even “definitive” accounts are amalgamations of tales that just sort of “fit” best in the eyes of fallible curators. That’s not to mention the game design challenges the lore team faces to ensure a cohesive world, for the shift from FFXIV 1.0 to A Realm Reborn 2.0 saw a major upheaval in the direction of FFXIV’s story.
There’s no doubt that The Twelve took a narrative backseat to the more pressing matters of the Dragonsong War in Heavensward, the liberation of Ala Mhigo in Stormblood, another pending calamity in Shadowbringers, and eventually the prevention of the Final Days in Endwalker. Despite these changes, The Twelve have been ever-present in the background of the Warrior of Light’s adventure, so the setting of Algaia will be familiar to some – especially particularly astute Astrologians.
The Heaven of Lightning
“In the third heaven rises an iron tower of spinning gears and taut springs constructed by the Builder himself. It is assailed without cease by the jealous Rhalgr, but the Destroyer’s mighty levinbolts only serve to power the spire’s clockwork soul.” – Arcana, Encyclopaedia Eorzea
In Essences and Permutations – A Treatise of the Six Elements, an ancient text that formalizes the relationships of the natural forces, the elements are presented as a cycle with no beginning or end: lightning begets fire, fire begets earth, earth begets ice, ice begets water, water begets lighting. But this raid has to start somewhere. No, the raid story isn’t starting with the first element of the Eorzean calendar (Ice) or even with the first heaven (Earth), but the third heaven: The Heaven of Lightning.
Anyone familiar with the “Spire” card from the Astrologian’s major arcana will recognize this monument: an intricate tower, pulsing with electricity. According to Eorzean myth, one’s deeds in life determine the heaven their soul will be sent to. The avatar of astral-aspected lightning is Byregot the Builder, and so the Heaven of Lightning is reserved for those who create and advance technology of all kinds. Byregot shares this domain with his father, the umbral Rhalgr the Destroyer.
As an agent of change and the tearing down of systems, Rhalgr welcomes into his halls warriors who fight against tyranny and bringers of liberation. If fervent belief and abundant prayer is the driving force behind how these realms manifest, then it’s no coincidence that this incarnation of The Heaven of Lightning assumes the griffin motif and architecture of Ala Mhigo, the poster child of bloody revolution in modern Eorzea and home of resistance fighters in the town of Rhalgr’s Reach.
Byregot The Builder
According to the most famous interpretation of Eorzean creation myth, written and compiled by Lewphon of Sharlayan, Byregot (with a silent ‘t’) and his sister Halone were born from the Whorl, an unknowable maelstrom from a time and space before time or space existed. Though raised by Rhalgr, he resented his father’s destructive ways and instead studied under Thaliak the Scholar. This balance of Byregot’s lightning-powered might and Thaliak’s tutelage made Byregot into the pantheon’s master craftsman. Disciples of the Hand will know him primarily through the crafting skill Byregot’s Blessing. Though Byregot has no formal organized religion, it’s safe to say that the ardent work of the many crafters of the realm ensure that prayer to Byregot for successful RNG will never wane.
Rhalgr The Destroyer
According to Lewphon, the goddess Nymeia saw the chaos of an unbalanced world of unbridled creation. To tame this land, she plucked a comet from the sky, gave it life, and hurled it into Eorzea, eliminating the excess and returning order to the land. This comet was Rhalgr the Destroyer, and his legacy as a force of nature that could physically and culturally reshape the landscape would continue into the modern era.
While escaping the floodwaters of the Sixth Umbral Calamity nearly 1,600 years ago, refugees seeking higher ground saw the sky ignited by a comet they believed to be Rhalgr himself, showing them the path to safety. Those people would be led to the peaks of Gyr Abania, where they founded Ala Mhigo. Due to the harsh climes of the region and the outlawing of magic (for its role in catalyzing the Sixth Umbral Calamity), survival relied on immense physical and spiritual fortitude. This led to the creation of the Fist of Rhalgr, a sect of monks who sought the strength and resolve of their patron deity.
You’d be forgiven for mistaking the visage on the “Spire” card for another lightning-aspected hirsute octogenarian. Many believe Ramuh and Rhalgr to be derived from the same religious concepts. When you consider that Ixion, who some believe to be Rhalgr’s steed, gets mixed in with The Warrior of Light’s idea of Ramuh during his summoning in the Eden raid series, it all kinda comes full circle, doesn’t it? Either way, the Rhalgr in Myths of the Realm certainly appears to be a traditionally Ala Mhigan interpretation of the deity, statue and all.
The Heaven of Fire
“In the Heaven of Fire sprawls an endless city built by Nald’thal from golden bricks fired in the heat of Azeyma’s sun.” – Hells and Heavens, Encyclopaedia Eorzea
If the domain of Rhalgr the Destroyer is shaped by the Ala Mhigan peoples’ thirst for liberation, then the Heaven of Fire is Ul’dah’s quest for balance — one that looks very different depending on your economic status. The affluent Monetarists at the top of the sultanate’s food chain will insist that equilibrium is already found — that the philanthropy of the rich will eventually, someday, definitely benefit the less-fortunate. It’s through this philanthropy that they must hope to gain entrance into The Heaven of Fire, a realm otherwise only open to the fair and just. But what would a religious city-state be without allowance for indulgences?
Ul’dah’s symbol of the scales (reflected in the scale motif found atop the buildings in the distance of the raid’s arenas and as an actual gameplay mechanic), with the jewel of prosperity on one side and the flame of might on the other, is its own sort of propaganda. It’s the promise that equity can surely be found in a nation that prioritizes strength and wealth. Even that identity comes from a revisionist history. Keep in mind that Ul’dah was once a sister-state to the nearby nation of Sil’dih. If balance was Ul’dah’s creed, then what equity was found in the war, subjugation, and complete destruction of its neighbor?
Going further back, Ul’dah and Sil’dih were once one nation: Belah’dia. In the time after the great flood of the Sixth Umbral Calamity, those who wished to continue their study of magic would need to do so in secrecy. The Lalafellan descendants of the mages of Mhach fled to the deserts of Thanalan, and on those sun-bleached sands they constructed Belah’dia. This is where they continued both their research into the arcane and the worship of their patron deity, the sun goddess Azeyma, under a standard depicting a scale not with a jewel of prosperity but the fruit of wisdom.
Azeyma The Warden
Not every culture requires the strength of military might, nor the wheels of industry. The context around a nation’s growth will invariably determine the values its gods carry. One would be hard-pressed then to find a culture that doesn’t acknowledge the one great common denominator: the sun. It’s for that reason that Azeyma, in particular, has seen many and varied incarnations throughout history.
The Auri legend of Azim, the Father of the Dawn, is the most notable of these, as we recognize upon visiting the Azim Steppe in Stormblood. Considering Azim’s association with the sun, it’s unlikely that the naming similarities are pure coincidence. It seems these phonemes carry some sort of weight… As if the etymological origin of these names resonates in the hearts and minds of people across the realm, reverberating through time — the sun, Azeyma, Azim. I’m sure it’s nothing.
The symbol specific to Azeyma is found outside Eorzea as well. In studying primals during their conquest of Meracydia, the Allagans uprooted a place of worship by attaching it to their massive mobile fortress known as the The Flagship. This cathedral of the worshippers of the god Sephirot can still be seen in the Heavensward zone Azys Lla. Azeyma’s distinct symbol can be seen adorning the building, which suggests that Sephirot, a being worshipped by a tree-like people, was understandably in close proximity to worship of the sun. This association with Meracydia may have exposed Azeyma to another of the region’s deities, Sophia, who is also depicted with the scales of justice. Perhaps a future expedition to Meracydia could clear up where these arbiter goddesses begin and end.
According to Lewphon’s recounting of Eorzean creation myth, Azeyma is the daughter of Althyk and Nymeia, and older sister to Menphina, goddess of the moon. She and her sister are notable for being the first gods brought into creation by the union of two other beings instead of emerging from the Whorl. Azeyma herself also had two daughters, Llymlaen and Nophica, with her lover Thaliak, whose image can be seen in the colossal statue welcoming travelers to the port of Old Sharlayan.
Nald’thal The Traders
When the goddess of life, Nophica, wept for creation’s lost souls, Oschon created the god Nald’thal to give structure to the afterlife and guide souls to peaceful rest. It’s this oversight of the passage from one plane to another that gave rise to worship of Nald’thal as two distinct entities, Nald (keeper of the realm of the living) and Thal (keeper of the realm of the dead).
However, in a lore panel hosted by FFXIV writer and localization lead Michael Christopher Koji Fox at the 2014 Fan Fest, Fox revealed the true origins of these twin gods’ names. “I wanted to get in as much swearing as possible… (and) blasphemy is part of putting strength behind those words.” Fox recounted his time working on the foundational lore of FFXIV 1.0. He wanted a curse that encapsulated the frustration of the commonfolk of Thanalan, something that the downtrodden could scream to the heavens after a long day of sun-drenched manual labor and little pay.
“I want to use ‘balls,” he said. “What rhymes with balls?” After proposing Thal as the name of the god to then-loremaster Kenichi Iwao, it was workshopped until they decided the god would comprise two beings. This allowed for a multi-syllabic name that would sound good in any language, and a single-syllable entity that writers could use to make the people of Eorzea swear to their heart’s content. The assonance of “Thal’s balls!” certainly has an undeniable mouthfeel.
The umbral fire to Azeyma’s astral, Nald’thal is the patron deity of Ul’dah, a nation built on the literal and metaphorical ruins of the sun goddess’s nation of Belah’dia. The flame and coin motifs atop their heads again bring to mind Ul’dah’s jewel of prosperity and flame of might. Black Mages will have visited Thal’s temple, the Arrzaneth Ossuary, many times during their days studying thaumaturgy. Nald’s equivalent, Milvaneth Sacrarium, was open to the public during FFXIV 1.0 but has been “closed for repairs” since the beginning of A Realm Reborn. The immediate area outside the temple has become the ersatz Blue Mage’s guild.
Someday the Masked Carnivale will earn them enough gil to put a roof over their heads, but until then, Ul’dah’s money will stay at the top. The Order of Nald’thal, the city’s official religion, is deep in the pockets of its wealthiest citizens — and often brazenly supported, if not outright operated by them. The Order’s doctrines include many promises of riches in the afterlife — the perfect way to keep lining the pockets of the church and the Syndicate in this life. It’s time for a little 24-player separation of church and state, if you know what I mean. Deicide is what I mean.
The Twelve were created by the original FFXIV 1.0 loremaster, Kenichi Iwao, while he was laying the groundwork for Eorzea. Eventually, Iwao moved on to other projects, and Banri Oda — FFXIV’s current loremaster and Iwao’s then-assistant — took the reins. As A Realm Reborn repurposed what was salvageable from FFXIV 1.0 and current director Naoki Yoshida’s vision for FFXIV’s future took the storyline in bold and unexpected directions, some of the foundational world-building that defined Eorzea’s culture in the early days took on more minor roles.
If Endwalker has proven anything, though, it’s that nothing really stays dead. And this bombastic revival of The Twelve is filled with lore Easter eggs to reward players who have been keeping the faith in The Twelve ever since Louisoix invoked their power during his final stand at Carteneau.