Deities, Demigods, and Religion
The Ancient Lands are an animistic world. Everything is filled with life energy and therefore has a spirit. The spirit of a stone or an apple is so minor that it doesn't have any sentience or individuality but the spirits of mountains and ancient trees can become, and often are, very powerful beings. Often these spirits can take the shape of nymphs or plant beasts to interact with the physical world and the most powerful of them are called demigods. Most religious practice and worship is focused on these spirits of the land and demigods who provide the people who live in their domains with plentiful harvest and protect them from wild beasts and disasters. In the Ancient Lands it is impossible to maintain any settlement without the protection or at least the consent of the local spirits. Services to the spirits and demigods is a very practical thing that consists of showing gratitude and consulting the spirits will before important decisions that affect the village. While the spirits are highly revered, the relationship to them is usually not very different to that of a mortal lord. There are hundreds of demigods in the Ancient Lands and the number of other powerful spirits of the land is beyond counting.
However, there are even spirits more powerful than the demigods, which are the greater deities or true gods. They are spirits of such magnitude that their power and influence is not limited to any specific area but affects the entire world equally. While it is possible to visit the homes of the demigods and even come face to face with their physical manifestations in the spiritworld, the true gods are far above such limitations. Gods do not reside anywhere and are so high above the nature of mortal beings that they do not have any shape or it would be possible for mortals to communicate with them. Worship of the true gods is very different from services to the demigods and spirits, as they neither reply to the pleas of individual people nor grant any gifts or favors. Temples to the gods are much more rare than shrines to the spirits and they have more resemblance to spiritual and philosophical schools or monasteries. Worship of the gods is more similar to pursuing wisdom and meditation and mostly lacks the prayers and offerings found in the shrines of the spirits. While most people visit the shrines regularly to show gratitude to the local spirits, temples are not found in most settlements and perform public services only on certain sacred days of the year. But the gods are well known to most people and it is the common believe that by concentrating ones mind and emotion on the gods allows a person to take part in their divine nature. Reciting short prayers or invoking the deities names before a challenging task or during times of danger is believed to give a boost to ones own abilities and shift the odds in ones favor. By calling on the deity of the seas, sailors hope to avoid storms, reefs, and sea monsters, or one might call on the deity of healing to aid the recovery of someone in ones care, as focusing on the nature of the seas or the nature of healing focuses ones own soul to excel in these areas.
The major gods are the most fundamental forces of nature and the world and known and revered by almost all people all over the world even beyond the borders of the Ancient Lands. The vast majority of temples are dedicated to them.
- Deity of the Earth: The deity of the earth is widely regarded as ancient and one of the first beings that existed in the world. She is the deity if growth, mountains, and caves as well as the deity of the home and the family, which makes her one of the most important deity in almost all regions of the Ancient Lands. Many druids are both shamans for the local spirits as well as priests of the Earth Deity in a single role.
- Deity of the Sea: The deity of the sea is also the deity of water in general, but people living next to rivers and lakes often focus much more on their individual spirits rather than the deity itself. In coastal and island villages, the deity of the sea often is the most important deity and it is very common that the local shrine to the spirits is also a temple to the deity of the sea, who is worshiped in similar ways as the spirits of the land. The deity of the sea is of major importance to everyone whose life depends on the oceans like sailors and fishermen, who call on him to prevent disasters and see them safely reach their destinations without taking them to his depths.
- Deity of the Moon: The deity of the moon is the goddess of wisdom, dreams, emotions, and time, and also often regarded as a deity of the night. Temples of the moon are the most monastic ones with priests rarely taking major roles in public affairs, but most are open to laymen for meditation ceremonies after sunset. Priests of the moon also often guidance and tend for the needs of those in great trouble and despair. Most temples of the moon are found in the lands of wood elves, but there are also some among the dark elves and the moon is a major deities with the seminomadic humans of the far north.
- Deity of the Sun: The deity of fire is usually represented in the image of the sun, but its domain encompasses fire in all its forms. Fire is usually associated with vitality and determination and priests of the sun usually take great care about physical health and promote training of the body beyond the activities of ones everyday work. Temples of the Sun are relatively rare in the Ancient Lands, but it is the main deity of the lizardfolk in the southern jungles, who attribute their freedom from the slavery by the naga to the strength and determination the Sun had provided for them. A few smaller temples are found in some dark elven towns, but worship of the sun is relatively rare in the northern lands.
- Spirits of the Sky: The deity of the sky is not a single being but rather the combined essence of all the spirits of the air, wind, and storms. As they are constantly in motion and struggling among each other, there are almost no individual spirits to make out and instead they always speak in hundreds or even thousands of voices at the same time, that combine into a single voice that is different from each individual one. The spirits of the sky are the gods of weather, change, and fate. They do not determine what any given persons fate will be, but rather personify the randomness of things. They are both the gods of luck and misfortune and prayers to the sky usually consist of both warding off bad luck and providing fortune to a person. They are also the gods of travel and of storms, as well as rain, so they are very often called upon, but have very few temples or priests dedicated to them. What small groups of priests of the skies exist are usually treated as somewhat odd people who are regarded more similar to witches living at the edge of the village instead of shamans who usually take a very central role in the community.
- Deity of Darkness: While the deity of darkness is not evil, she rarely has any place in public life and usually is not mentioned in reputable company. She is the deity of the night, secrecy and fear, but also a deity of sleep and even protection. While all the creatures of the night fall into her domain, she is also the protector of sleeping people and a provider of rest and peace. In addition to being called upon by those who need to hide or evade notice, there are also many prayers and charms that ask for peace and safety during the night and to ward of any nightmares or evil spirits that prey on the sleeping. These prayers are often handed down within the family and far away from any other listeners, but the number of people who know them is much greater than most would expect as the deity of darkness is surrounded by a large number of social and ritual taboos that make it highly impolite and dangerous to talk about her in public.
The minor gods are mostly identical in nature to the major gods, but they represents aspects of the world that are not as universal and they are not known and worshiped in all places. While there are probably dozens of minor gods, only a relatively small number has worshipers in the Ancient Lands.
- The Deity of Forests: While the deity of the earth is the goddess of growth and plants in general, the deity of forests is focused more specifically on the great woodlands of the Ancient Lands and their creatures. He is worshiped mostly by those who make their living in the forests like hunters and loggers, who hope to avoid falling victim to the many dangers of the forests and increasing their chances to find the best places for hunting and cutting lumber. Temples of the forest god are rare and usually take the form of small communities of hermits living deep in the forest far removed from all civilization.
- The Deity of the Hunt: The deity of the hunt is also the deity of tracking and travel. She is worshiped not only by hunters, but also by many scouts and traveling merchants, and many consider her to be a goddess of horseriding as well. While being a minor goddess, she is quite popular and altars dedicated to her can be found on roadsides at the edges of many villages where travelers prey for a safe journey and give thanks when they reached their destination. Temples to the deity of the hunt are very rare and are only found in a few towns that have a long history of hunting rare animals for trade. She is most commonly worshiped by wood elves but also has strong support among many dark elven clans, and she also is one of the deities traditionally worshiped by the human clans that have migrated into the Ancient Lands in the last centuries.
- The Deity of Peace and Healing: While she does have few major temples, small communes of her priests that consists of only two to five people are quite common in many villages and small altars dedicated to her are found in the homes of most healers. Though some of her priests are actual druids dedicated to the healing arts, most are simple herbalists or alchemists who lack any real magic ability.
- The Deity of Snakes: The snake god is a relatively obscure deity but has significant followers among the naga and the lizardfolk that still live under their rule. The snake god is a deity of snakes, poison, and deception, but also of courage and pride. He is sometimes worshiped by dark elves as well as a few clans of wood elves that live in the south.
- The Deity of Beasts: The Deity of Beasts is the god of wild animals, monsters, destruction, and carnage. Very few people see any good reasons to call upon his power, but he is popular with several clans of savage warriors, mostly lizardfolk and kaas. Among the other races, he is mostly regarded as evil.
- The Deity of Twilight: The deity of twilight is an enigmatic goddess that even her followers find hard to pin down. She is a goddess of dusk and dawn, as well as mist, illusions, deceptions, and uncertainty. There are only a few cults devoted to her and their goals are a mystery to everyone, but her name is frequently invoked by many people who find themselves in situations of doubt or high risk, hoping to gain her power to see through the mists of uncertainty and make the right decisions and judgments. She is actually one of the Ancients, the oldest of deities that are usually associated with the underworld and its horrors. But being what she is, she can not be really put in either category and as such is often included with the other deities of the spiritworld.
The Ancients are beings of the underworld, a part of the Spiritworld that seems to have been isolated from the passing of time and still resembles a world as it has been many eons ago. The most powerful of the Ancients go back to the earliest days of the world and the beginning of time, being neither fully spirit nor fully demonic. As the world above changed, so did it's spirit and the spiritworld. But deep within the earth things change much slower if they actually ever change at all, and the Underworld is still home to horrors completely alien to the world of the present and so are it's gods.
While many people naturally associate the deities of Darkness and Twilight with the Ancients, only very few are really aware that the same thing is true of the deity of the earth. Some sages believe that the deity of the earth and the deity of darkness were the first spirits that were born when the world formed from the chaos of the eternal Void and they only changed gradually over time to conform to the world of the present, but never were replaced by new spirits and deities as the world changed from its primordial state.
While considered horrible monsters by most people, even the Ancients do have some worshipers. These cultists are usually regarded as dangerous madmen, and many of them are; but quite often there is much more to them than that and they consider their work just as sacred and important as that of the other temples. To most people the Ancients and their gods are the subject of whispered rumors. While the existence of the Ancients deep in the Underworld is well known, very few people have any desire to learn anything more about them and it takes the aid of sages who are well learned in very unusual matters to get any accurate information on what things are actually lurking in the deeps of the Underworld.
- The Defiler: Aside from the Deity of Twilight, which has some acceptance among most humanoid people, the best known of the Ancients is the Defiler. The defiler is usually described as the most repulsive and frightening being that ever existed and it is the manifestation of the alieness of the Underworld itself. What stories does exist of this abomination often describe it as a writhing mass of black and purple that haunts the caves and tunnels of the Underworld in countless places at once and it lacks any defined size or mass. Cultists of the defiler are usually regarded as the most deranged and abhorrent ones as few can ever get even a glimpse of what their motivations might be.
- The Mother of Beasts: While the deities of Earth, Forests, and Healing as well as the deity of beasts are usually considered to be the gods of animals, plants, and other creatures, the Mother of Beasts represents the greatest inevitability of life, that life itself is inevitable. There is no space as barren and inhospitable that life would not eventually find it's way there. There may be no life inside a rock, but eventually the rock will split and crumble and it is only a matter of time before lichen and fungi are making their approach. Life can be destroyed and it can be held back, but it can never be stopped and will find its way even in the most hostile places. Cults of the mother of beasts are the ones that are the most likely to not be hunted to extinction and in some cases are allowed to persist on the edges of larger villages. In the Underworld, the mother of beasts is often worshiped by driders.
- The Keeper of Secrets: The keeper of secrets is said to be at home at the deepest bottoms of the sea where the world is still in its primordial state, as it is in the deepest reaches of the earth. The keeper has existed for a very long time and might have even been around in the earliest days of creations. He has stayed hidden in the deeps through all the eons. noticing the passing of time and the events that shaped the world. It is believed that the keeper knows the answer to any question that can be answered and since the earliest days of civilizations there have been persistent rumors of almost forgotten rituals that can bring forth a manifestation of the keeper that can answer any question imaginable. However, the knowledge will always come with a price that is so terrible that no story tells of it. While there are a few mad cults in coastal villages that attempt to recover the instructions for these ancient rites, most of the keepers followers are aboleths.
- The Lady of Madness: The Lady of Madness is the manifestation of insanity and fear. She is said to wander the Underworld in a shape resembling a humanoid form and completely destroying the minds of anyone who sees but a glimpse of the ghostly white light emanating from it, or a small part of her shadow. In many ways, she is even more unfathomable than the Defiler and her only people with any interest in her are the Derro, who are far to mad and violent to ever provide any useful information of what she is and what her purposes are.