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A Luminary was a Covenant technology, modeled and sculpted after a Forerunner device recovered from the Covenant-controlled Forerunner dreadnought. Its purpose was to scan for and identify Forerunner relics and was required on all Covenant vessels.
The Luminary is described as a series of three silver pyramids: two smaller ones supporting an upside down larger one in the center. There are apparently several models of Luminaries, more advanced versions (presumably a better reconstruction of the original Forerunner devices), as it is revealed primitive versions of Luminaries lead the Covenant to discover the Lekgolo, shortly after the formation of the Covenant. Luminaries are of great religious significance to the Covenant and tampering with them was punishable by death. The Writ of Union concerning the Luminaries states, "A Luminary does not lie."
As the presence of a Luminary is required on all Covenant vessels, there are likely at least tens if not hundreds of thousands of them in existence, depending of course on the number of ships the Covenant control. The Luminary of the Minor Transgression is significant as it led the Covenant to the UEG colony Harvest, and precipitated the Human-Covenant war. It identified Harvest with several thousand Forerunner glyphs (referred to as Luminations in this context and called relics by the Covenant) that led the Covenant to believe the world held innumerable Forerunner treasures. Unfortunately, they misinterpreted the sign as "Reclamation," rather than the actual translation, "Reclaimers."
Although the newly appointed Prophet of Truth was aware of the mistake caused by this "misinterpretation," he refused to let the Covenant know of the human ties with the Forerunner and instead used this as motivation to begin the Human-Covenant War in order to ensure the survival of the Covenant, as the very basis of their faith is that there are no more Forerunners alive. Instead, he claimed that the Luminaries were all incorrect, despite a Covenant mantra stating that a Luminary does not lie. As a result, he claimed that the "filth" were out to destroy the holy Forerunner relics and most importantly, the Halo rings. He also planned to use this as a means of getting the location of all the humans so he could exterminate them.
In 2550, for some reason, there was a delay in installments of luminaries onto newly made covenant ships. Because of this, the Prophet of Truth ordered "On each vessel still lacking a Luminary, one Unggoy worker out of every 64 is to be executed. To preserve discipline between the Sangheili overseers and Unggoy, choice of victim and execution is to be by Kig-Yar death squads. This is to continue daily until that vessel's Luminary is installed."