The Mountains of Morpheus
Faith in Drau Mura
Human beings in Drau Mura keep a variety of faiths, and only the most devout are committed to a single one. Many belong to the dualist, highly organized religion of Ashoum, including kings and most Sibarii princes. Popular in the countryside are the Old Ways, a druidic folk religion that venerates nature, and is indifferent to questions of deities and the afterlife. Devotion to many “pagan” deities is common too, and often mediates between the first two faiths.
Elves follow their own version of a druidic faith. Veneration of ancestors is normal among dwarves and halflings, though those who live among humans adopt human faiths. The Vanir, the displaced half-elven people, are monotheistic; their god manifests as the sun. Pagan deities are popular across races, and even an outlander may come to hold one or two close to her heart.
Among religions, Ashoum has by far the highest number of clerics in proportion to its laypeople, and not every pagan deity has a meaningful number of clerics. Druids hew to the Old Ways. In Drau Mura, most warlocks choose a pagan deity — or Upan, the Ashoumite god of death and evil — as a patron. (Even if they don’t, it is convenient to present oneself as a warlock of a pagan deity, usually Pa Shal, the Great Hart.)
A mass religion guided by a dualistic theology, Ashoum teaches that the cosmos, the dynamics of life and death, and the struggle between good and evil, are driven by the deities Asha and Upan, who are equal in power but opposite in nature. Asha is the creator deity, who created the original world as a paradise where men and women enjoyed eternal life and sinlessness. The Adversary, Upan, introduced death and decay into the world.
The followers of Ashoum worship Asha as a matter of daily life, and are not shy about attempting to bring their neighbors into the fold. Churches are prevalent in settlements throughout Drau Mura, as are shrines and chapels in more isolated reaches. Although the churches are not united under a single hierarchy, their organization and cooperation gets pretty close to it. Priests, clerics, and paladins of Ashoum are typically commissioned with the approval of multiple priests from multiple settlements. Churches provide a space for common worship, as well as schooling, alms, and healing, and believers will even cross political boundaries to help establish a new church.
Ashoumite theology teaches that the dead, virtuous and evil alike, belong to the clutches of Upan, and will remain there until an eschatological day when Upan will reconcile with Asha, and the world will be restored to its original paradise. Therefore, it is normal for Ashoumites to pay tribute to Upan as a death god. In certain parts of Drau Mura, Upan is simply seen as an indifferent, albeit dangerous, psychopomp deity who delivers souls to whatever fate awaits the dead. Many people who believe this are warlocks who choose Upan as a patron. Such warlocks may not have malign intentions, but keep a low, low profile all the same. Only in Mercadia do Upanites dare practice openly, where they constitute a guild of funeral and cemetery management.
Ashoum is very prevalent in the Arius Kingdoms and Kala Anar. Among the Sibarii, it competes more fiercely with the Old Ways and pagan deities for prominence, and struggles to proselytize to the Eastern Tribes and the Tesia’s denizens. The faith is, in theory, open to all races, but the priesthood and leadership are overwhelmingly human.
The Old Ways
Although their star has waxed and waned throughout the centuries, the druidic Old Ways, also called the Votactii, are longest-lived faith in Drau Mura. Philosophically, the Old Ways are quite simple, as they teach veneration of nature in all its variety and interdependence. The religion refers to the permeation of spirits throughout the physical world, but druidic orthodoxy holds that this is simply a metaphor for the marvelous complexity and connection of nature. Orthodox theology is silent about deities, and teaches that there is no afterlife, only the merging of bodies and souls into and away from the world.
Practically, the Old Ways are locally focused, and the rites in one area may radically differ from rites in another. Generally, the believing masses are called to participate in several rites throughout the year, such as heralding the winter solstice or celebrating a harvest. Priests are responsible for leading observances and reading (usually from memory) the Litanies of Sky and Earth, the key oral literature of the faith. By tradition, a family patriarch or matriarch takes the role of a priest, which is rarely treated as a full-time profession. Druids advise communities, teach, preserve religious tradition, provide medicine, and at times act as priests. A druid and an important layperson may fight over who should have priestly authority in a community, and there is no standard rule for resolving this dispute.
Reclusive druids are inwardly devoted to the faith in the forms of scholarship and the protection of sacred sites in the wilderness (and in extreme cases, all of the wilderness) from encroachment. Quite a few form secretive mystery cults, and may take great pains to conceal the details of their worship from the public — and even other druids.
The Old Ways are popular throughout the human civilizations, even cities, whose followers might take pilgrimages to a sacred site to rekindle their faith each year. However, adherents of the Old Ways sometimes react badly in reaction to the bustle and diversity of concentrated settlements. Believers may bicker over whether practices such as drunkenness, entry into an Ashoum temple, wizardry, and racial miscegenation are abominations against nature. Like Ashoum, the Old Ways include non-human worshippers, but they are not well represented among the leadership.
The assortment of pagan deities is the largest religious commonality across Drau Mura. Two soldiers, an Ashoumite and a believer of the Old Ways, may not see eye to eye on many topics, but they might be found at a shrine to the God of War before a battle. However popular a pagan deity, its temple or cult of devotees rarely, if ever, reaches beyond a local scale.
Dozens of pagan deities that fill this or that niche; some are quite similar to each other, the overlap often explained (when it needs to be explained at all) as one deity being merely an aspect or “face” of another. The worship of some is locally confined, and believers in two areas may be wildly different interpretations of the god with the same name. Folk mythology invents numerous family trees and “how-so” stories explaining the pagan deities, but organized practice and priesthood is scant. The four most prominent gods are the nameless God of War; Talos, the god of storms; the enigmatic and mystical Serpent; and Pa Shal, the Great Hart.
The God of War is invoked by soldiers, marauders, and just about anyone who finds herself in the midst of violence. The nameless God of War is said to bless fearlessness with strength, and his worship is seen as pragmatic: Tribute and devotion are paid to him to ensure success in a great battle, and to gain absolution after one. Drau Mura legend holds that the deity’s sword is lost among the Mountains of Morpheus, and the warrior who finds and sheds much blood with it will ascend to take his place in the dawning and dusking sky. Temples of the God of War are small, and function essentially as martial academies for the elite, with clerics and paladins given the temple’s blessing to travel as mercenaries. The religion is sharply split along ethnic/political lines; for example, the Kala Anar sect and the Eastern Tribes sect are fierce, if honorable, enemies.
Talos is “worshipped” in coastal areas, including many parts of the world beyond Drau Mura. Depicted at once as an attractive man, an attractive woman, and an enormous kraken, the god of calamity and the sea is thought to withhold his destruction when appeased with sacrifice. Salt, wine, and livestock are usually offered up, but in the most dire times it is given treasure and human sacrifice — resulting in the execution of an imprisoned criminal, or the murder of local pariah. Talos worship is associated with the urban, madding crowd: Most of its worshippers swing between indifference and fervor, and their holidays can produce days of Saturnalian revelry. However, temples are austere, open-sky, seaside places whose priests emphasize martial discipline and the pragmatism of appeasing Talos. Clerics of Talos have an intimidating, often unwholesome reputation. The same is true for Talos’s warlocks, who identify him as a patron, or else one of his bizarre, oceanic minions.
Few are drawn to the worship of the Serpent other than wizards and warlocks, and to a lesser extent, sorcerers. As she is a deity of mysteries and arcane magic, most wizards respect, even venerate her, and custom holds that a certain degree of wizardry is impossible without performing the rites of the Serpent. Likewise, warlocks choose her as a patron. Regardless of the sort of magic wielded by its devotees, the Serpent’s congregations are small, and worship is solitary and contemplative. Non-magical folk heavily distrust the Serpent, sometimes seeing her as a deity of misfortune and deceit, a prejudice exacerbated since the Serpent is only worshipped at night, when visible as a constellation. The faith is frequently confused with a corrupted form of druidic faith, or thought to be a guise for Upan worship. Clerics of the Serpent are rare, and universally pious sorcerers who have exchanged their arcane gifts for divine ones. In Kala Anar, the Serpent is most popularly venerated among the aristocracy, as expectant parents give her offerings in hopes of a sorcerous blessing upon theiir child.
Although the orthodox Old Ways are nontheistic, outsiders to Drau Mura often confuse Pa Shal, the Great Hart, a fertility deity, as a druidic god. Such confusion is understandable, since worship of the Great Hart seems to have existed alongside the Old Ways for some time, and has much in common: veneration of nature, sacred sites in the wilderness, and rites to ensure healthy childbirth and plentiful harvest. (Some scholars suggest that the cult of the Great Hart may have been deliberately constructed by druids to gradually introduce Ashoumites into the Old Ways. Druids deny this.) The key difference is that the Great Hart’s worshippers include warlocks who choose him as a magical patron. Warlocks of the Great Hart are not treated as suspicious across the countryside — they may even be welcomed as especially devout believers. Other sorts of warlocks find it convenient to masquerade their beliefs accordingly. (Even so, his actual warlocks avoid publicly discussing how they may invoke his ferocious aspect, during which he is called Pa Kavak, the Great Wolf.) Devotion to Pa Shal is common among children, expectant mothers, farmers, shepherds, healers, and hunters, who may also count themselves among Ashoum or the Old Ways. Priests of either faith often must accept that such a pagan deity is firmly rooted in the community, whatever the theological inconsistencies.
To some, Morpheus is the pagan trickster deity of nightmares and mountains, though few if any worship him. Just as often, Morpheus is regarded as an evil spirit or (among Ashoumites) a fallen angel cast out from heaven. In any case, he is considered to be the capricious and malevolent being that enchants travelers through the Mountains of Morpheus with strange dreams.
Priests of Ashoum and the Old Ways caution against treating Morpheus as anything other than a weird superstition, though they generally take a dim view of pagan deities anyway. Folk belief that Morpheus literally exists, however, is unextinguishable across Drau Mura, since a number of travelers claim to have encountered Morpheus himself in his mountain realm. Although few believe it possible to literally meet a deity anywhere except in the afterlife, everyone likes a good story, and so Morpheus-tales circulate through the land, their verity as uncertain as dream.
The religion of the half-elves, both called the Vanir, is a monotheistic faith originating in distant lands. In Drau Mura, the Vanir keep a version of their faith that is influenced by their diaspora: Their theology holds that the god Sarael, which they also call the Godhead, created the universe, but a fragment of his essence was lost and trapped within the material world, and longs to be reunited with the Godhead. That fragment, the Khnya, manifests as the sun, which wanders the sky in lamentation over an imperfect creation; reunion with the Godhead will only occur when the Vanir (or in other interpretations, any sapient beings) have created a perfect society.
The Vanir tradition produces skilled wizards and clerics, both of whom are viewed to represent the Godhead in distinct ways. It is common for either to rise to leadership positions.
The Vanir and Ashoumites have noticed each other’s theological similarities. In some areas, they are allied, often against a heathen faith or foul warlocks. In other areas, Vanir are scapegoated by humans, and live in anger and distrust.
Afterlife and the Undead
Ashoum teaches that all souls end up in the underworld, the grim and doleful realm of the Adversary, but will be eventually freed to enter paradise in the future. The Old Ways teach that death is the end of both the body and soul’s life (or at least of the soul’s personal identity); the only fate after death is the harmonious rejoining with nature. Both religions, if they agree on anything, is that their afterlife teachings are not exactly an easy sell. The pagan folk belief in the Dark Forest, an afterlife realm that overlays this one, is held commonly (and privately — it can be embarrassing to believe in what the orthodoxy says is a feel-good fairy tale) across Drau Mura.
No one understands the animating force behind ghasts, ghosts, revenants, and other undead things, but it happens often enough without the living’s interference (e.g., necromancy). Cadaverous undead usually rise from their graves to seek out rest in swampy areas, the largest of which are the Ghast Fens, and their travel may take months, even decades (as ghouls don’t seem to have the most efficient sense of navigation). Such ghouls may rise anywhere from an hour or a year after death — sometimes, the urge to travel toward a faraway mire happens to the dying, who after death immediately pursue their goal with renewed vigor. It’s believed that after a good, long rest in the swamps, ghouls rise hungry for human flesh; after feasting, they rest in their swamps until hungry again. Spectral undead inhabit ruins and the wilderness, and can possess the bodies of the living. The ghosts of the Mountains of Morpheus are said to be the most evil in all the land, driving their chevals toward cannibalism.
Desecration of the dead is taboo among most faiths, though the Old Ways’ methods of corpse disposal (which include leaving bodies out as carrion) are seen as barbaric by many. In times of trouble, people are all too willing to destroy their dead to prevent them from rising. Three beliefs oppose the destruction of a corpse: First, it is thought that the threat of it is what makes the dead get up in the first place. Second, it is thought that it may make the deceased’s ghost haunt the offenders. Third, it is thought that it wounds the dead person in its afterlife state (whatever that is).