Monday, October 1, 2007

Pantheism in the Flanaess: the Draken Pantheon of Ahlissa

[An almost-complete article, circa 2005, cannibalized for parts in other South Province-related articles]

It has long seemed a shame to me that fantasy campaign settings, despite multiple deities in almost every one of them, never quite seem to “get” polytheism. Most modern people have only been exposed to monotheistic religions and this shows in the campaigns I have experienced and the published material I have read where, instead of a true polytheism, the worship of individual deities is treated as competing monotheisms. Where is the sense of kinship among clerics who worship from the same pantheon? Why does each set of clerics duplicate the same hierarchy for their faiths instead of a shared hierarchy? Why does each god grant the same spells, instead of a cleric asking the appropriate deity from his pantheon for each spell he needs?
The above paragraph poses more questions than this article is long enough to answer. With those questions in mind, however, this author hopes the reader will approach the attempt below to forge a unique, pantheistic vision for just one geographic region of the Flanaess, with an open mind.


The Draken Pantheon is the relationship of gods as the people of the Draken Peninsula have come to understand them. These relationships are a mixture of truths the gods passed down to their followers and beliefs generated by their followers that the gods have never refuted. There has been no effort made to distinguish fact from fiction, theology from folklore, in this article.

The Draken Peninsula extends west of the Thelly River as far as Onnwal, and includes the Principality of Ahlissa (formerly South Province and Idee). 1Within this region, the Church of the Draken Pantheon is often considered synonymous with the Orthodox Church of Aerdy. As soon as the recent past, the Church of the Draken Pantheon was actually a heretical branch of the Orthodox Church of Aerdy and condemned as such in the cathedrals of Rauxes. Since the fall of the Great Kingdom, the Orthodox Church of Aerdy has schismed along lines similar to the new political boundaries of the former kingdom. Hence, much of the southern Great Kingdom now resembles the Draken Peninsula in faith while the northern Great Kingdom has moved towards the regional theology of the former North Province. 2

Dwarves, gnomes, and elves had all dwelt in separate areas of the peninsula before tribes of human Flan migrated here sometime before 4970 SD (-546 CY). Three hundred years later, the Oerdians migrated to this area and either eradicated, assimilated, or simply drove out the native Flan. As was Oerdian custom, the gods of the slaughtered natives were adopted so as to appease them. The Oerdians saved excellent records of the local Flan religion, and gradually converted the migrating Oerdians. By 100 CY, the Draken Pantheon was officially adopted when the reigning herzog of the South Province of Great Kingdom converted.

The gods of the pantheon are largely agricultural, warlike, and patriarchal. Urbanization (and its more civilized deities) has been slow in finding acceptance here. The Flan and Oerdian gods do not overly get along, but they do not war against each other either. Rather, they seem content to affiliate as pleases their worshipers.

Idol worship is common, with every shrine having at least one figure meant to represent the appropriate deity. The idol may be abstract or highly representational, depending on the artistic tastes of the community. Some idols may have multiple faces, either representing more than one god or the same god facing multiple entrances to the shrine. Local wealth plays a large role in the decoration of shrines, but the general rule is that villages have wood-carved shrines, towns have ironwork chapels, and cities have silvered cathedrals. A shrine is often little more than an open-roofed structure with a bench and an idol inside. Chapels vary widely in form, but are always roofed structures that hold at least one shrine inside. The length of the cathedral is devoted to a primary deity (most likely Zilchus or Hextor), with the wings of the cathedral being filled with shrines to the rest of the pantheon. Temples belong to an older organizational model for the church and are usually older buildings devoted to a single deity, whereas a chapel or shrine (especially a shrine) may be dedicated to several gods and a cathedral is definitely dedicated to multiple deities.

Godsday observances vary widely by locale, yet some common themes may be seen in them as well. For example, a living sacrifice is almost universally required, though whether it is animal or human is often a matter of geographic preference.3


The most urban area on the Draken Peninsula is the city of Prymp. It is a small city, but a new city. A young city has little use for old gods and old ways. Most Godsday observances, particularly in peacetime, are more entertainment than solemn reverence. At dawn, followers of Pholtus light candles and march to the cathedral. There, the most pious (decided by size of contributions) are allowed to light a golden brazier that is called “The Lighthouse of the Sun” before the cathedral. References specifically to Pelor are not made at the cathedral, though the older sun god receives his due at some smaller chapels. The highest-ranking shining priest of Pholtus leads prayers to Pholtus, wishing him godspeed in his journey across the heavens and vowing to maintain order on Oerth in Pholtus' absence. At this point, the warrior-clergy of Heironeous come forth to protect the brazier. Since their following in Prymp is small, their part of the ceremony is largely for entertainment value, as the clerics parade about the brazier, displaying their martial prowess with the battle axe. They extinguish the brazier, give their sermons, and carry the brazier back inside. By now a large congregation has gathered to follow the clerics into the nave of the cathedral. There, the clerics of Hextor wait to engage in ritual combat with the clerics of Heironeous. Though no love is lost between these two groups, the battle between them on Godsday is symbolic and bloodless. After this “dance” is complete, the clerics of Heironeous yield and the Hextorites begin their ceremony. They display their sword prowess as they ritually sacrifice an animal (usually an aggressive one, such as a jackal or even a bear). The highest-ranking Hextorite gives sermons on the glory of battle and honors those who have done bloody deeds, such as the veterans of Ahlissa's many conflicts with Idee and Nyrond in the past. Next come the clerics of Fharlanghn, who tell the congregation stories of far-away places. For the remainder of the morning, clerics of Olidammara perform music and share wine with the congregation - sometimes with a prankish splash in the face.

With the passing of noon comes a procession of Zilchite clerics, all pomp and splendor, handing copper coins to the children thronging the aisles in anticipation of their handouts. After they give, they take - collecting donations from the congregation while the church leader preaches fiscal responsibility and respect for authority, plus more propaganda the city's civic leaders have paid for them to say. The Zilchites end their part of the ceremonies by blessing the largest donors with holy water. Next come the clerics of Delleb, storytellers who regale the audience with stories of Prymp's past. Clerics of Celestian then lead a prayer for those who sail the sea (the only official nod to water deities is often made here) and divine the chances of stargazing that night (the closest most people in Prymp come to hearing the results of a predict weather spell). Before supper, clerics of various deities come together and lead the crowd in prayers of thanksgiving. Afterward, most law-abiding citizens leave the cathedral for supper. Those who stay are served a very light meal of water and fish, while clerics of Kurell amuse them with bawdy jokes and riddles. Those who stay do so at their own risk, for the clerics of Kurell are known thieves and recruit laymen thieves to help them work the stay-late crowd. What keeps people staying late, besides the lowbrow humor, is the chance to observe the unannounced arrival of the clerics of Trithereon. They keep an eye out for pickpockets at work, capture them, and punish them to the delight of the audience. Clerics typically receive paddling. Laymen thieves often meet far worse fates.
The cathedral can only hold so many, and the Godsday theatrics always draw a huge crowd, so clerics wait outside throughout the day to prosthelytize to the overflow.


Far across the Ahlissan Coast from Prymp is the smaller port town of Trennenport. Godsday observances are considerably different here because the community is smaller (approximately one-seventh the size of Prymp), poorer (possessing a chapel instead of a cathedral), and less subtly evil (worship of good deities is strongly discouraged here). The only structured godsday observances are led by the clergy of Hextor. The Hextorites beat gongs, clang swords, and speak prayers asking for victory in all conflicts and thanks for staving off defeat. They do this in the early morning, late afternoon, and late at night. The late night sacrifice is human, always someone weak and powerless. More mercurial are the services to Procan and Kurell. The clerics of Procan beat drums and their followers chant to the rhythm of the waves on the bay - and try to be as loud and disruptive as possible during the early morning ceremony of the Hextorites. The clerics of Kurell foment chaos in their own fashion, refusing to use the chapel in town at all. Rather, the priests spread the message by word of mouth as to where and when each Godsday's services will be. Since the Procan services are disruptive and the Kurell services typically end with group theft, the Hextories often figure into their ceremonies as authority figures come to end the proceedings.


The following 20 deities are the most prominent deities in the Draken Pantheon and are arranged in descending order of relevance to their followers in the region, as well as the relative importance of each god to the others. This is not always an indicator of the personal power level of each deity, or whether one is a “greater” or “lesser” god. This is also not a comprehensive list of deities, as there are many “hanger-on's” that are affiliated with the Church or considered semi-official.

Zilchus is considered the head of the pantheon. He is a leader and father-figure, though he has no children himself. He is the patron of the Oerdian people, and is responsible for their possession of the Flanaess. Those who wish to improve their lot in life revere him and tithe heavily to his church in coinage. He is the chief deity for whom temples have been built solely for his worship. Most iconography shows Zilchus as a king-like figure. He has no special holy days besides each Godsday. Atroa is the wife of Zilchus. One story is that Atroa wooed him by whispering words of love to him on the wind. He followed her voice to the east, unknowingly leading his followers behind him.

There are six greater gods in the pantheon - Procan, Zilchus, Pelor, Beory, Nerull, and Incabulous.

Procan the Elder, despite his prominence in the Orthodox Aerdy Church, has a minimal role in the Draken Pantheon. He is thanked for having provided the Oerdians with safe passage to

Pelor is the sun personified. He rises at dawn from his golden palace, and rides through the daytime sky on his horse-drawn chariot. The daily task literally takes its toll; the ride kills his horses, tarnishes his chariot, and turns Pelor into an old man each day by nightfall. Luckily, a lady star tends to Pelor each night, three comets seek out fresh horses for the next day's ride, and three planets mend his chariot. Before the Oerdians came to the Flanaess, Pelor was still young and vital enough to drive the chariot alone. But now Pelor is an old god, and young Pholtus often takes the reins for him while Pelor rests in the back. It is vital that the chariot not slow down or deviate from its course, for Nerull is always looking to overtake it and plunge the day into night.

On the first Godsday of each month, wooden icons of Nerull are burned, and icons of Pelor are submerged in holy water. Animal sacrifice is expected from his followers only once a year, on Goodmonth 18. Clerics in training must still sacrifice animals for advancement. A birch tree might be burned to commemorate an important event. One story tells of Pelor leaving his chariot one day because he heard two young warriors cry out for his aid while they were battling a dragon. The sky went dark as Pelor descended to Oerth, wrestled the dragon bare-handed, and strapped it to a plow for the two warriors to use. Pelor once dallied with the moon, Celene, in his youth, and courted Atroa before she married Zilchus.

Beory, the Oerth Mother, usually appears as an old hag. She may be as young as she likes, sometimes reverting from old to young and back in the same day. She often appears to be pregnant, for she is the godess of fertility. She can do good during the day, under Pelor's influence, or evil during the night under Nerull's influence, but always balances the two. She is the caretaker of the whole world, and her worshippers commonly appease her to keep the Oerth fertile and the rain falling. Although recognized by clerics of the pantheon, her most devout followers practice the "Old Faith" of druidism. Each festival week is an important time of sacrificing for the druids. Animals are sacrificed, and the higher level the druid the more intelligent the animal should be. Sacrifices are held at night. Beory has only family ties to the pantheon (she is the aunt of Velnius), and only cameos in much of the pantheon's mythology. One story tells of how Celestian and Fharlanghn were both wanderers of Oerth, until Celestian offended Beory by proclaiming the sky had greater beauty than the oerth. Beory appeared, picked up Celestian, and threw him far into the sky.

Nerull is night, darkness, and death. He has pursued Pelor and influenced Beory since long before the Oerdians arrived. Nerull schemes against Zilchus, believing that death is the ultimate power and that Zilchus encroaches on his sphere of influence. Nerull taunts Erythnul. Nerull is seldom worshipped, being a deity most people try to ward away. Instead of offering sacrifices, many burn effigies of Nerull. Still, fear and respect for the King of the Dead is common. The popular book, The Dance of Nerull, illustrates how everyone -- no matter their rank in life -- will succumb to Nerull. One story suggests that Nerull has a list of items of power he needs to ensure that even the gods will die. Some stories are humorous, making Erythnul the butt of Nerull's jokes. The god of slaughter is portrayed as a bumbler in these stories, delivering the wrong souls, and being punished with a beating from his own mace.

Incabulous, once placated like Nerull, has seen any prominence he once had on the peninsula decimated by the last outbreak of the Red Death. Now Incabulous is shunned by all but the mad and those few brave or foolish enough to call themselves his clerics are tolerated at best and usually shunned.

There are twelve lesser gods recognized in the pantheon -- Atroa, Pholtus, Telchur, Velnius, Celestian, Ehlonna, Fharlanghn, Hextor, Obad-Hai, Heironeous, Erythnul, and Geshtai.

Atroa has already been mentioned. She has served as matriarch of the pantheon in times of crisis when Zilchus has had to leave his golden throne.

Pholtus too has been mentioned in his relationship to Pelor. From Pelor's chariot, Pholtus watches his followers to see if they have strayed from the path of righteousness.

Telchur is most often encountered in the mythology as a pawn of Beory or Nerull in some winter-related nasty business. Telchur is an angry god, bitter for being half-forgotten by mankind.

Velnius is the cousin of Beory and the father of Atroa. Velnius sleeps on the highest cloud in the sky, pestered awake often by his wind daughters with stories of the mortal world.

Celestian has wandered the heavens since Beory launched him into space, but will occasionally return on the back of a shooting star. Ahlissan pirates, for all their evil, revere Celestian as a god of navigators.

Ehlonna was the patron goddess of all wild things that dwelt in the Thelwood. One day, she prophesized that the Thelwood would be overwhelmed by evil and become a forest of bones. She was so despondent that she turned her back on the Thelwood -- and even her own followers in Ahlissa for a time. Luckily, she loved the roses of Ahlissa. A centaur brought her roses to remind her and she came back to care for Ahlissa's horses, still forsaking the wood.

Fharlanghn has crisscrossed the Oerth, making paths for the Oerdians to follow. It is said that Fharlanghn is most interested in the affairs of man of all the gods, and so any passerby on the road may be Fharlanghn, casually observing or looking for good deeds to reward.

Hextor was once a powerful general in service to the Overking of the Great Kingdom. One day, he met six arch-devils on the field of battle. After bragging that he could defeat them all, the devils countered that he would then need six arms. They whisked him away to the netherworlds and grafted the arms from four devils to his torso. They transformed Hextor into an instrument of evil that eventually transcended its torturers and ascended to godhood. Hextor is worshipped by warriors everywhere. He is mistakenly viewed by some as a champion of the underdog, but in truth mankind is just fodder to Hextor now, tools in his plans for further conquest. Hextor was the favored deity of the Chelors, making him extremely popular under their regime.

Erythnul, representing all monstrous gods (Gruumsh is often mistaken for Erythnul by laymen), is seen as the simple country cousin to the rest of the pantheon. Portrayed in folklore as a bumbling oaf who is easily used by deities and mortals alike, Erythnul is either uncaring about such effrontery or cannot deny its veracity. Erythnul's worship has been tolerated where monstrous mercenary troops were used (i.e., South Province), and generally despised everywhere else those troops went.

1 Although an entirely different pantheon has been well-developed by the Living Onnwal group and can be found at, this list should be considered an alternative to that body of work and not supplemental.
2 “The Orthodox Church of Aerdy” is a term that was coined on the Greytalk mailing list circa 1998. The term has been borrowed here, but not used as originally intended (used elsewhere, for instance, as a monotheistic church of Pholtus).
3 The above four paragraphs are altered, but originally appeared in “Ahlissa: a Grehawk Gazeteer” in Oerth Journal (v.2, n. 16).
4 A substantial amount of the following information was shared with the Greytalk mailing list by this author circa 1999.

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