Gods And Cults
There are many gods in Thule, my King: Protectors of cities, patrons of merchants, spirits of forests or beasts, and dark things remembered only by a few savage tribes or vile cults. This is a superstitious age, and humankind is surrounded by mysterious powers. In such a world, people naturally seek to understand the forces around them by giving them names and seeking to win their favor or avert their displeasure. Whether the gods take note of such things or not, few indeed could say, for the gods of Thule are inscrutable.
Gods and other divine entities of this land fall into one of three broad groups: The Nine Powers, a pantheon of mythological figures who are the gods of the civilized peoples; the Forest Gods, myriad spirits of beast, wood, and weather that are worshiped by many of the savage and barbarian tribes; and the Other Gods, dreadful prehuman entities that are venerated only by the most degenerate cultists and tribes.
The Nine Powers
Most civilized Thuleans recognize a distinct pantheon of greater powers with wide influence and temples in the more important city-states. This group of major deities is sometimes known as the Nine Powers. Not all of the Nine are known in all cities; different priesthoods wield different amounts of influence from city to city. In fact, many Thuleans would argue about which deities are properly numbered among the Nine Powers, usually substituting a civic patron, a legendary hero, or (in some cases) an anthropomorphized version of one of the Great Old Ones.
The Nine Powers are generally held to include:
|Asura||NG||Goddess of dawn, fire|
|Herum||CE||God of beasts, rage|
|Ishtar||CN||Goddess of love and luck|
|Kishar||LN||Goddess of the earth, agriculture|
|Mithra||LG||God of sun, sky, lordship|
|Nergal||NE||God of war, the underworld|
|Set||LE||God of night, secrets, snakes|
|Tarhun||CG||God of storms and battle|
|Tiamat||CE||Goddess of the sea, chaos|
The Forest Gods
The idea of gods with human representations and human concerns is relatively new to the people of Thule, my King. Before the time of Atlantis, no one knew of gods such as Mithra or Asura. Even the old, primal deities — Herum, Set, and perhaps Tiamat — had no priests or houses of worship. In those years, humans worshiped only the unseen spirits of hill and field, beast and tree. The people of the cities may have forgotten their names, but the tribes of the jungles and the plains remember the Forest Gods, and they still pay homage to them.
Those who worship the Forest Gods are not priests or clerics. They are druids, shamans, or totem warriors of one kind or another. Their magic is derived from the spirits of nature, not the power of faith or the divine intercession of the gods. In fact, tribal people are mystified by the rites and doctrines of the city gods; to the typical barbarian, gods don’t want anything from humankind — they just are. Honoring the natural spirits is simply good sense, since angering the spirit of the deer by failing to express gratitude for a successful hunt might lead the spirit to keep game away from the hunter in the future, while angering the spirit of the mammoth is a good way to get oneself killed.
Civilized travelers are sometimes inclined to treat druids and shamans with skepticism — after all, they have their own explanations for the mysteries of nature and do not look at the world in the same way more primitive peoples do. But there is no doubt that shamans and other practitioners of nature magic deal with powers every bit as real and capable as the mystic forces harnessed by a wizard’s spells or a cleric’s prayers. It seems that for the wilderness tribes, believing is seeing. They perceive a world where every animal, every tree, every rock, and every stream possesses its own living spirit, and for them, it is so.
The Great Old Ones
The Nine Powers are the gods of Thule, but they are not the only gods in Thule. Long before the gods of the human pantheon or even the myriad spirits of the natural world came into existence and assumed their places, primordial powers — evil, ancient, inhuman — came to the young planet and established their alien dominion over land, sky, and sea. Only the most fearless (or foolhardy) of sages study these creatures, but from these scholars a few terrible names are known. These Great Old Ones include:
|Cthulhu||CE||The Caller in the Deep|
|Dhuoth||CE||The Giver of Eyes|
|Hastur||NE||The King in Yellow|
|Lorthnu’un||NE||Lord of the Golden Chalice|
|Nyarlathotep||CE||The Crawling Chaos|
|Shub-Niggurath||CN||Black Goat of the Woods|
|Tsathoggua||NE||The Sleeping God|
|Yga-Ygo||NE||The Dweller in Dreams|
|Yog-Sothoth||CE||Opener of the Way|
Driven into hibernation in the desolate places of the world or exiled to the far reaches of time and space, the Great Old Ones hunger to return and reclaim what was once theirs. Some who bargain with these beings do so in search of power, some are degenerate tribes that cling to their monstrous gods, and some are vile cultists who pray for the end of all existence. Few indeed dare to name these Other Gods aloud, but that does not mean They are not worshiped. It is better not to pry into these matters, Majesty.
Worship, Beliefs, And Devotion
The gods of Thule are more secretive or aloof than those of many places. This is not a land where gods move mortals like chess pieces or appear in shining visions to direct their followers to take on quests or launch crusades. A priest in Thule is generally left to his own devices and determines the nature of his service on his own.
In the beliefs of Thule, gods have little to do with mortal souls or the afterlife. Most city-dwellers are not terribly religious; the idea of seeking eternal salvation through faithful service to a deity simply isn’t a part of most cultures. Instead, pious citizens observe rituals and make minor sacrifices more as a matter of participating in civic culture (and perhaps invoking a little good luck) than as a matter of seeking favorable treatment in the hereafter. Piety and moderation are the virtues of good people, and good people need fear nothing that awaits after death.
Some holy texts state that gods can reward their loyal servants or punish the very wicked, but these are usually portrayed as bounded fates — a great traitor may be sentenced to spend an age in Nergal’s black hells, or a courageous hero may be chosen to feast at Tarhun’s table the day she falls in battle. But if the writings of Thule’s priests are to be believed, most souls simply depart the world on death, and the gods have limited power or interest in decreeing otherwise.
Clerics And Magic
Clerical magic is rarely seen, and is every bit as secretive and mysterious as arcane magic. In Thule, clerics don’t pray for spells. Instead, they gain their magical powers when they are initiated into the deeper mysteries of their chosen deity’s worship. To put it another way, once a priestess of Ishtar is initiated into the secrets of Ishtar’s priesthood and invested with power, she gains the ability to use spells. What she does with those powers after that point is up to her.
Because priests can only be judged by the observable actions they take, it is far from certain that any given cleric is serving his or her deity faithfully. Priests, like all other mortals, are fallible and corruptible, and their magic has no special divine imprimatur that makes it holy or good. Magic in Thule is mysterious and not well understood, and Thule’s priesthoods are nothing if not mysterious.