Religion and spirituality is a driving force of culture. It provided a way to unify people beyond family or clan or race for centuries before such concepts of Nationalism were invented. The extent to which faith impacts a fantasy world says a lot about that world. This is particularly relevant when working in a genre where the Gods can take a very active role. If you don’t believe me, ask Odysseus.
The religions of the world in which Ravensgate exists are also significant to the story. So, let’s talk creation of a pantheon, and what happens when new Gods replace old ones who are not quite ready to shuffle into the great beyond.
Within the history of the world, the first series of Gods were similar to the Titans which preceded what we know know as the classical Greek Gods. There were five, representing broad states of matter (Earth, Fire, Air, Water, and Wood), and because their focus was so large, they were incredibly powerful, but simple. During a period known as the Great Betrayal, a new, and chaotic god of oceans decided to overthrow the old Gods. He seduced Earth’s daughters, Fire and Wood, and turned them against their father. In the conflict Air was lost, Water was thought killed, and Earth was so badly injured that he slumbers eternally, deep within the planet, speaking to his remaining followers in their dreams and directing them towards his body.
The Dwarves of the Caliphate are the only people who still listen to the dreams of Earth, though they call him by his old name, Ben’kono. The humans follow only the newer Gods, with Masewi, God of Oceans at the top of the new pantheon.
Beneath him sit the two tamed forces of Fire and Wood, now known as Taksara, Goddess of Love and Other Hardships, and Caccia, the Greenmother. Beneath them sit the two children Taksara bore Masewi: Domuat the Gray Brother who rules the Ashen Lands, world of the dead, and Kalinde the Law Keeper who represents administration and laws, putting her in charge of the world of the living. Masewi also bred twins with a human woman, and these two Gods of Man are Aleph and Zhed, representing the best of human potential and the worst, respectively. And then there’s Qi, the God of Magic, Knowledge, and Secrets. The humans recognize all eight of these forces, but tend to have their favorites, dictated by station in life and nationality as much as personal preference.
Let’s look at these all in a bit more depth. Of the nine primary characters, five of them have strong ties to one church or another, and it helps inform a great deal of their story arcs.
- Masewi — Oceans — An angry and fickle God, he is widely represented by priests who file their teeth down like those of a shark. He is not openly worshiped so much as appeased, and most coastal towns will have a temple to him, complete with a ocean-fed pool to anoint initiates and, in dark times, to drown sacrifices. Keenly aware that he himself is an usurper, he does not allow armies to travel on his waters. This lends extra importance to overland routes such as the one through Ravensgate.
- Taksara — Love and Other Hardships — Traditionally, the church of Taksara is an all-female order that offers up healing and counselling. Patron of scorned women, her priestesses must imbibe a poison called the Flame of Passion which bonds them to Taksara and makes them infertile. They have a reputation as poisoners, and between this and the brothel-like atmosphere of her tent temples, the Vale Land has outlawed open worship of Taksara, forcing her priestesses to work in secret if at all. They operate openly in the Caliphate, and are headquartered in the City of Flowers deep in the desert where they train initiates.
- Caccia — Fertility and Harvest — Worship of Caccia varies depending on proximity to civilization. She represents not only agriculture, but the byproducts of agriculture (wine, beer, bread), in towns and cities, while rural communities give her dominion over animals in general, making her patron of hunters. The Bloodwood in the Vale Lands is said to have sprung from blood she spilled during the Great Betrayal. It is a wild, forbidding place, and the diminutive Bloodwood tribes who call the deep woods home revere her exclusively.
- Domuat — Death — All people come to the Ashen Lands in the end, unless the cycle is interrupted by necromancy. The church of Domuat see the undead as cheating the inevitability of death. His priests are called Gray Brothers, and handle funerary rites. There is also an order of monks of Domuat who reside in the mountains near Ravensgate. He is seen as impartial, neither good nor evil. Merely patient.
- Kalinde — Cities — Kalinde represents order. She has no priests. Instead, she is served by clerks, administrators, and Justicars who act as travelling judge, jury, and executioners. She holds stronger sway in larger communities, but is respected almost everywhere.
- Aleph/Zhed — Man — The twin Gods of Man are thought to be walking the world mysteriously at all times. Representing the extremes of mankind’s potential, Aleph teaches compassion and peace while Zhed is the patron of thieves and murderers. Aleph has no priesthood, instead maintaining a large network of service monasteries in both the Vale and Caliphate. Zhed tends to only be worshiped privately or in small circles of like-minded individuals.
- Qi — Magic, Knowledge, Secrets — No one knows quite where Qi came from. Some think that the God of a Thousand Faces arrived with the refugees who settled Yerba Kolo, as only those dense jungles were deep enough to hide Qi’s secrets. The largest temple to Qi is located in Yerba Kolo, but most good-sized towns recognize him. His temples offer people the opportunity to share secrets that they cannot share anywhere else, as the priests of Qi are incapable of sharing them with anyone else. He is patron of scholars, mages, and spies, giving him a large footprint in Ravensgate.
And then there’s the Goddess of Water, Del’b Kadah, long thought dead and gone. It is her return to Ravensgate that sets everything else in motion. And with my love of the Cthulhu Mythos, how can I resist an epic fantasy novel that plays with the notion of Old Gods returning?
The question of what is set in motion, who moves to stop it, and who moves to join it, will be discussed in the next post where we take a look at the characters.