As one might expect from a nation built up of ten thousand different cultures, Lareth has no shortage of religions. As you would also expect for a nation so dependent upon the sea, most of these religions are in some way connected with the ocean. Here are some of the most important religions found in the archipelago:
The Auld Faith
The Auld Faith, or the Old Religion, are variant names for the ancient practice of druidism that was once a world-wide phenomena and is now largely only followed on the continent of Urova. There are very few druids in Lareth, and those there are usually pay lip service to Domordis as opposed to following the teachings of Eldagaire. The one great exception to this are the Oceanic Order.
The Oceanic Order are an off-shoot of the druids with slightly altered powers and abilities. They are equally at home in or on the waves as they are on land, and their remit is to protect the oceans and the creatures within it from the depredations of civilised kind.
Long ago the Seawalkers were tasked with restoring life to the seas in the northern world after the end of the war with Karatath. In order to do this they created hundreds of Towers of Repopulation – submerged artefacts that opened doorways to other parts of Iourn, and even other worlds. This responsibility has been carried with them over the centuries, and they have taken on a highly regimented and structured culture.
Seawalkers are flamboyant dressers favouring long robes of blue and orange. Like the Norandon circles, they answer to an inner circle made up of nine druids, three archdruids and one great druid. The current great druid is a triton named Aramendus.
Considered by the Hadradans to be simply an “elven god”, Domordis is much more than that. It (for Domordis has no gender) is the soul of Lareth. It is a powerful spirit of nature that exists where-ever there is solid land in the chain. Domordis is a being of Earth, not of water. He is personified by living creatures, by the plant life of the islands and by the awesome power of nature.
The priesthood of Domordis has a paternal regard for the peoples of Lareth, having worked so hard to defend them under the Hadradan yoke, and helped to rebuild the nation in the chaos that followed the Hadradans’ departure. They are mediators, mentors and guides. They give their powers of healing and magical protection freely to those who cannot afford it, and at a fair price to those who can. They are, at their heart, a great philanthropic organisation that sees a symbiosis between Lareth and the people who live there. By defending one, they defend the whole.
This opinion puts the priesthood into opposition with the Seawalkers, who tend to see thinking life as more of a cancer than something to be celebrated. Clashes between the priesthoods is not uncommon, and there is little love lost between them – the Domordi see the druids as dangerous, and the druids see the Domordi as misguided mollycoddlers.
The priesthood of Domordis is extremely racially diverse, with anyone who shows the talent and the calling being excepted into its traditions. Many are elves, but there are also a large number of human priests – often driven by the desire to somehow make recompense for the behaviour of their Hadradan ancestors long ago.
There are few permanent churches to Domordis. Often a cairn of stones is all that is required as a focal point for the religion. After all, Domordis is everywhere throughout the islands: every island is his church.
The six moons that appear in the sky over Iourn are actually the earthly representations of powerful divine entities. The Moon Gods each represent one of the six fundamental elements that make up all matter: Calafax (Fire), Mortis (Death), Sharrash (Water), Terranor (Earth), Vítaeous (Life) and Zephyre (Air). All objects, entities and creatures are made up of different portions of these six elements, and so the priests of the Sixfold Faith experience a profound understanding of reality denied to others who do not commune openly with the moons. Or at least, that’s what they say.
Unlike in Urova, there are no formal churches that promote and support the worship of the moon gods in the Isles of Lareth. There is no set of instructions or guidelines for each individual priest to follow. As such, members of the Sixfold Faith are a rather unpredictable lot. One Redcloak might be an extremely helpful soul who gives his last penny to help the orphans, while another might be the sort of malicious git who burns down orphanages for the hell of it.
While this gives moon priests in Lareth a degree of freedom that doesn’t exist in Urova, it also removes their support structure. They have no one to go to for help; no one in authority to turn to if they stumble across something that is too much for them to handle. As such, the priests tend to band together with other like-minded priests for their own mutual protection and support (and of a way to learn new spells). There are literally thousands of different elemental cults across Lareth, all of them expressing a slightly different interpretation of the gods’ will.
While all members of the Sixfold Faith worship all six moon gods – they understand that all six are necessary for existence to continue – each tends to favour one god more than the others. This will have something to do with the personal outlook of the priest, but it will often be out of necessity. After all, a cleric living in the shadow of an active volcano might find the worship of Calafax to be by far the most attractive option.
It should come as no surprise that the worship of Sharrash is by far the most prevalent of all the moon gods – in fact Sharrash worship may be the most widespread of any religion in Lareth. Clerics of Sharrash are sought out by captains who want them to smooth their journeys, and island communities are always on the look out for a cleric that can create pure water, and tame the odd tsunami.
Priests of Zephyre with their power over the wind are also in demand by sailing ships. A captain with a priest of Zephyre onboard always has the wind behind him, which can only be a good thing. Priests of Calafax are less represented, but as much of Lareth is heavily volcanic they still have their role to play. Plus, blowing things up always has its attraction for certain types of individual. There are surprisingly many servants of the Flaming God to be found.
Conversely, the open worship of Terranor is a very rare thing. Not only is there very little land in Lareth in the first place, Terranor’s niche is largely occupied by Domordis who has a larger and more established clergy. Clerics of Terranor and Domordis are not necessarily opposed. Some Terranites see Domordis as an aspect of Terranor – and some Domordi see Terranor as an aspect of their god.
Equally, priests of Vítaeous and Mortis are also fairly rare. Much of the work these priests do in Urova (officiating births and wedding, caring for the dead) have found their way into the purview of Domordis. Cults of Mortis who tamper with the dead and research into things man was not meant to know are certainly out there in Lareth somewhere, but they are not the sort of people who advertise their presence.
One would imagine that with no firm hierarchy governing the practices of these priests, that the Sixfold Faith would be utter chaos. And on the whole, one would be correct. They are not a coherent force in the world as the Domordi or the Vandanians are. The only thing governing their activities is the infamous Cloaked Cabal.
The Cloaked Cabal is as close to a ruling body as the Sixfold Faith gets. They are an ad hoc collection of powerful priests who meet periodically at Moon Peak (see the next post!). The cabal generally has a laissez faire approach to the rest of the clergy. You have to go something pretty bad to get the attention of the Cloaked Cabal.
The Cabal is mainly concerned with activity that “brings the Sixfold Faith into disrepute”. Any cleric or cult that oversteps the line can expect the full force of the Cloaked Cabal and their inquisitors to seek them out. Of course, members of the Cabal change from time to time, so no-one really knows where ‘the line’ is drawn until they cross it.
As is suggested by their names, the members of the Sixfold Faith tend to dress in cloaks that exemplify their god, and these cloaks give the individual priests a handy collective noun: Redcloaks (Calafax), Greycloaks (Mortis), Bluecloaks (Sharrash), Browncloaks (Terranor), Greencloaks (Vítaeous) and Whitecloaks (Zephyre).
Once the state religion of the Hadradan Empire, Vandanism has rather gone out of vogue over in Hadras. Its driving tenants of expansion and subjugation did not sit well with an empire humiliated by stirring up a hornet’s nest of foes they could not defeat. However, Vandanism has not died. The emperor might follow the introspective Timinite doctrines, but the teachings of Vanda are still very much followed at the extremes of the Hadradan Empire. And that still includes the Isles of Lareth.
Vanda was an Hadradan prophet who lived around the time of the first great war against Karatath. He dismissed altruism as a rod for the Hadradan’s own back and rewrote the Laws of Elyas that had been the founding doctrine of Hadrada into something more palatable. Vanda’s thirteen laws are still the core of Vandanian doctrine today, and all clerics are required to learn them by heart.
- Every Man has the right to be free in body, free in mind and free in deed.
- Fight to protect the weakest of God’s people.
- Never lie to one of God’s Chosen People. Such duplicity is forbidden.
- Do not lay with the husband or wife of another unless you are also married to them. Marriage is blessed in the eyes of God.
- Be hard-working and industrious for the good of Hadrada.
- The beasts of the world are a gift from God, but they are less than us. Use them wisely.
- Resist the demon of jealousy, for in that is strife and mistrust.
- Do not steal from your brother. It is not theft to take from those who deny God.
- Always be polite and courteous in your dealings with others, but do nothing that would make you appear weak in the eyes of the heathen. We must all strive to do justice to God’s great plan.
- Be generous with your time, your wealth and your love. All of God’s Chosen are equal in His eye.
- Be humble in your accomplishments. You strive for the grace God, not yourself.
- Be brave. Stand up for our beliefs and challenge those who would deny the true god. Spread the Word of God with no thought for personal safety.
- Follow these laws as laid down by God with honour and without deception. God is all-knowing, and expects great things from His people.
Vandanian Hadradanism is a monotheistic religion that believes all reality can be traced back to one god named Helian (although he is most often simply referred to as “God”). Helian has willing entered a cage of fire, represented by the Sun, where he suffers for the sins of his people until such a time they have proven themselves worthy. In the meantime, the Helian communicates to his people through prophets and his clerics, but often through dragons who are considered his special emissaries.
To the Vandanians, proving themselves worthy in the eyes of Helian means spreading their religion as far and wide as possible. It means converting those humans who can be converted and putting to the sword those who can’t. It means destroying non-human races, until only the Faithful remain on the surface of Iourn.
However, these guiding principles have had to be somewhat tempered by the reality of life in Lareth. The Vandanians returned to Lareth about three hundred years ago, where they took over the vast fortress of Mandatum Veritatis that was once the centre of Hadradan power in the islands. From here they sent out clerics around Lareth with the intention of converting the population.
They have made slow progress. The truth is that even after all this time, there is still a great deal of resentment and antagonism toward the Hadradan religion. Although the Vandanians found a fair number of humans who agreed with their doctrines and were willing to join their church, they have not gained the numbers necessary to really crack down on Lareth. Therefore, they have had to adopt more subtle methods.
Most Vandanian clerics are missionaries. They travel to Larethi islands, build a church and start to subtly convert the human population. They don’t spread vitriol and poison, but they gently undermine relationships between humans and nonhumans until the humans seem to have no choice but to join the protection of the church. Of course, not all Vandanians are evil men. Many believe whole-heartedly in what they are doing. They believe that non-humans are already damned, and are simply doing their best to make sure that Mankind is not dragged down with them.
Indeed, the Vandanians have no truck with crime, murder or slavery. They hate demonic creatures and will do their utmost to oppose the undead and other depredations that would attack humankind. Vandanian clerics are often useful allies in the battle against evil. Many spend their entire lives as freelance troubleshooters and monster-hunters.
A rather worrying development (as far as the ruling council of Mandatum Veritatis) is concerned is that some Vandanian priests are in danger of ‘going native’. They are so eager to fit in and serve the human populations, that they forget the guiding dogma that should be at the centre of their lives. To this end a Third Inquisition has been set up, and Vandanian inquisitors are often sent to visit out-of-the-way priests to make sure they are following their religion to the letter.
Vandanian Hadradanism is a religion obsessed with ritual, pomp and appearance. They get through more incense in a week that most other religions get through in a decade. They covet wealth and respect the powerful. A Vandanian cleric would think nothing of spending a fortune having his temple inlaid with gold while there were children starving on his doorsteps. His first duty is to glory his god, after all.
The Daughters of Sharrash
Despite the name, The Daughters of Sharrash have nothing to do with the Sixfold Faith. In fact, they have nothing to do with the Moon Gods at all – although many of the clerics of this religion would want you to think otherwise. The Daughters are an evil triune of destructive water goddesses that are worshipped by capricious and terrible individuals, and placated by cautious sailors everywhere. The three gods of the triune are:
Umberlee: The Bitch Queen. Umberlee is a malicious, mean, and evil deity who breaks agreements on a whim and takes great pleasure in watching others die by drowning or in the jaws of sea predators. Vain and desirous of flattery, she is excessively greedy for power and revels in exercising it. Umberlant temples are mainly vehicles for sailors and merchants to make offerings of candles, flowers, candies, or coins to appease the Bitch Queen’s wrath. Her clerics support themselves with these offerings and sometimes hire themselves out aboard ships as guardians, since sailors think Umberlee won’t take one of her own. Clerics spread respect for the goddess by preaching of the doom she has wrought on those that ignore her. The two main rituals of the faith are First Tide and the Stormcall. The first involves a parade through town with a caged animal, which is then tied to a rock and hurled into the sea. If it reaches shore alive, it is treated as a sacred animal for the rest of its days. Stormcall is a mass prayer to summon or turn aside a storm. Its participants pray around pools upon which float candles on driftwood planks, and throw sacrifices into the pools.
Yeathani: The god of the evil depths, mistress of the gasping last breath and lady of the deep darkness below. It is rumoured that Yeathani was once a water elemental who brooded on darker and more insidious matters until she was warped inside and out with the taint of Barathrum. She is the patron of all things foul and malevolent about the sea. Her temples are always submerged and unlighted, filled with things found only in the deepest blackwater trenches. Her symbol is the hand of a drowned man, its fingers bent in a particular arcane gesture than can vary from church to church. Yeathani’s clerics tend to be quiet, brooding individuals with quick tempers. They wear dark greens and blacks, and are often adept at hiding their presence.
Zeboim: The sea witch, the Darkling Sea, the Monarch of Strife. Goddess of storms and the sea, Zeboim is moody and wayward; she flies into rages that whip the seas into a frenzy and send ships to the bottom of the ocean. She is flighty, however, and may be appeased by sailors who make the right offering. Zeboim represents the sea’s uncaring and tempestuous nature, though she also has fleeting moments of tranquillity. Clerics of Zeboim have the dual nature of their goddess. They are not above resorting to extortion, frightening sailors and ship owners into paying tithes in exchange for good weather. When on land, priests of Zeboim take a ritual swim early in the morning, in any weather condition, to pray for their spells. While on board a ship, a priest of Zeboim is a welcome addition to the crew, leading the sailors in prayer and making offerings to the Sea Queen. On board ship, priests pray for spells at sunset. The Sea Queen’s Share is an extraordinary ceremony that is performed every year on the 33rd day of Stormtide when Sharrash is full. In this ceremony, the cleric sacrifices most of the wealth he has acquired to the Sea Queen. If she is pleased with the sacrifice most of the objects will float back. If not, they are never seen again.
Although temples to Umberlee, Yeathani and Zeboim exist separately the cults are most often found working together. The cults are led by a coven of three priests (one of each of the deities) who direct the actions of the clergy. Although the three gods usually have mutually compatible goals, strife and mistrust are not uncommon within the Daughters. Indeed, clerics of Zeboim actively encourage it.
Despite appearances, the Daughters of Sharrash are not considered an “evil” religion and are, indeed, more readily welcomed in some places than Vandanians. They do not feel the need to hide themselves away, and often their shrine and their clerics can be found operating openly in otherwise civilised and respectable places.
The only member of the Seldarine (the elven pantheon) that is still worshipped on Lareth. Sashelas is the patron of the nenedhel (the sea elves) and in some accounts is also their creator god. Somewhat separate from the rest of the Seldarine, Sashelas decided to stand by his creations despite the schism that created the Greymere.
Sashelas’s actions in standing by his people is in direct contrast to his usual portrayal in literature and song. He is described by bards as a fickle and flighty deity, and many tales involve his amorous exploits with such creatures as mermaids, nenedhel, human females, and even the odd demigoddess. How his consort, Trishina, puts up with him has not been revealed.
Sashelas charges his clergy as follows: Swim the great currents and the shallow seas. Exult in the dynamic beauty and life of the bounteous Undersea. Revel in the joy of creation and increase its myriad aspects. Seek not to hold that which is everchanging, but instead love the change itself. Seek out fellow swimmers who honour the ways of the Lord of the Undersea, and ally with them against those who see only the darkness of the deeps. Follow the way of the dolphin. Promote knowledge and use of the sea by reasonable folk, and fight those that would taint or deplete its beauty and bounty.
The church of Deep Sashelas is a broadly based church organised along regional lines. The clergy is highly organised, largely due to their role as mediators and befrienders of nonaquatic races. Sashelas’s clerics, known as delphions, interact regularly with dolphins who inhabit the region surrounding their home communities, and senior members of the clergy are almost always accompanied by dolphin companions. Although almost all members of the faith are sea elves, other aquatic races sometimes join their ranks. The only prerequisite to join is the ability to breathe underwater. Even some Seawalkers have been known to eschew the teachings of Eldagaire and start again as Delphions.
Delphions do their best to maintain ties and contact with land-dwelling elves, and there is a close union between the Delphions and the clergy of Domordis. Many elves see Sashelas and his clerics as their one remaining link to Arvandor. Sometimes this gives them comfort, other times it makes them terribly angry. Sometimes in trying to foster stronger ties, the Delphions actually make matters worse and stir up terrible enmity in their land-dwelling cousins.
Sashelan clerics consider themselves the mortal enemies of the sahuagin race, and seek to defend the land from the incursions of the sea devils. Delphions also conduct shark hunts, and attack sahuagin communities. These efforts have gained them the undying hatred of the sea devils and their terrifying god, Sekolah.
Clerics honour Sashelas through the creation of works of art and other wonders, and prayers are given to the Lord of the Undersea upon initiating and after completing such projects. Daily observances by Sashelas’s clergy thank Sashelas for his benevolence and the beauty of the undersea world, but the most important rituals are timed to coincide with especially high and low tides, known as the High Flow and the Deep Ebb, respectively. During such ceremonies, the Delphions make offerings of precious natural objects and items of great artistry. Meanwhile, acolytes swim in complex patterns accompanied by dolphins, and sing deep, reverberating songs of praise to the Lord of the Undersea and his creations. While both ceremonies are similar in form, the Hig h Flow is a joyous celebration emphasizing beauty, creativity, and artistry, while the Deep Ebb is a grim, martial ceremony emphasizing the remembrance of those who are lost and vigilance against the enemies of the Undersea.
Although the dwarves of Zalak’kûn continue to venerate the Moradinsammen with an equal to fervour to the dwarves of Gunstadtan or Angdor, their unique circumstances have led them to appeal for the help of other gods. Chief among these is awe-inspiring Aegir – known to some as the “lost dwarf”. He is the patron of the Aesir – the greatest dwarven nation in Lareth. He is a god of the seas and of the mind, and he helps the dwarves to control the great zaratan of which they depend.
Aegir is said to be an enormous undersea giant, who dwells in a great castle on the sea bed with his wife Ran and his nine daughters. There he responds to the prayers of the faithful and sea-goers in general. It is said that he throws great feasts for any of the faithful who are able to find his home. In fact the feasts are so enjoyable that no cleric who has ever found Aegir’s great castle has ever wanted to return.
Aegir is the personification of strength. He is often inclined to send an aspect of his power into the mortal world. This takes the form of a dwarf of prodigious size (about sixty feet high) that rises out of the water brandishing an enormous club. Not the most subtle of deities, many scholars have wondered how Aegir’s reputation for strength, destruction and heavy-drinking squares with his other portfolios of persuasion and the mind. Theologians believe that clerics of Aegir who follow his more cerebral aspects are actually granted their powers and abilities by Ran. Beyond such speculation, Ran remains an entirely enigmatic force.
In addition to those religions listed above, there are countless other faiths, cults and sects that are worshipped throughout the Isles of Lareth. Many races continue to pay service to their own gods: Eadro of the merfolk and the locathah, Blipdoolpoolp of the kuo-toa, Sekolah of the Sahuagin. The demon lord of depths, Dagon, is still a strong force in some areas and more exotic gods such as Osprem, Procan, Xerbo and Valkur have their followings.
The Gazeteer of Lareth!