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Old Gods is the oldest religion known to the Ailor race, predating any and all religions, but also being wildly different from its original inception due to the constant modification as the centuries passed by. Old Gods is inherently a very disorganized religion, meaning that regional differences and small custom exceptions may exist, though generally speaking, its core principles are well followed. Among the Velheim, Old Gods is by far the most practiced religion, and all major changes and religious sites also exist in their lands. Other notable populations of Old Gods worshipers exist in the Highland Ceardian, Fridurfolk, Tarkkin, Höglander, Zvorun, and even Vladno populations, particularly in the northern mountain regions of Drixagh where Unionism reverted back to Old Gods. Old Gods is a polytheistic religion, setting it apart from most other Ailor religions, though it has many aspects in common with the Faith of Estel, and is often accused, by Altalar, as a copy of the Altalar faith even if Velheimers will violently disagree with this assertion. Old Gods as a religion shrunk considerably since the creation of Unionism by Theomar at the rise of the Regalian Empire, however it remains a massive religion for the Ailor, far outclassing all other minor religions isolated to various cultures, and second only to Unionism. To some Unionists even, Old Gods has a certain allure of freedom and spiritual absolution not revolving around back breaking work or self sacrifice. While Old Gods is certainly shrinking in the Regalian Archipelago, where whole regions have not a single worshiper left, elsewhere, Old Gods is actually on the rise as populations among the Velheim and Heartland Ceardian kingdoms continue to grow due to an increase in welfare, following their introduction into the Regalian Empire, increased food supplies, and Regalia’s relatively moderate religious freedom laws.
Among the Velheim and Highland Ceardians, there is no real official term for Old Gods, rather, the term was invented by the Regalians upon the creation of Unionism to create a clear distinction. To the Velheim and other Old Gods believers, the Old Gods simply are “The Gods”, and so there is no official term for them. Commonly however, Velheim and other Old Gods worshipers accept that for the sake of easy communication, the term Old Gods suffices. It is curious to note, that Unionism, Unionist Scholars, and even Unionist Clergy never fully reject or debase Old Gods as a religion. In fact, it could be claimed that because of their distinction between the “new god” (namely the Spirit) and the Old Gods, that they universally accept that the Old Gods dogma was true, but that with the blessings of the Spirit, they became redundant, or subservient to the Regalian Emperor. Indeed, the clergy have no official stance, and the Creeds do not have any particular concept of denying Old Gods as a true faith, rather simply stating that upon the arrival of the Regalian Empire, the Spirit deemed the Ailor more worthy than the Altalar for the mantle of the world, and sought to raise up paradise through them and for them. Old Gods as such was mostly left behind as a cultural and traditional curiosity, and it is notably that relaxed attitude towards Old Gods, that has mostly kept their religion alive amid aggressive proselytization and missionary activities. Even the Skagger wars were never truly about religion, even if some Emperors used the concept of Holy War to rile up the masses to fervor, as the Velheimers were allowed to keep their religion intact in Drixagh in particular.
Old Gods, because of its central lack of clergy or a unifying clerical body (like the Unionist Sancella), does not have the same exact consistency across all lands. There exists a diversity of ideas and traditions from region to region, culture to culture, and even nation to nation. Generally speaking however, Old Gods are divided among polytheistic and pandeistic lines. The former claiming that all gods were born as seperate and unique individuals, the latter claiming that all gods were born from a single all-god, who after creation ceased to exist as a single entity and instead became many. The different terms used for these two spiritual denominations are Fleregud, and Enkelgud, or Flere and Enkel.
There are, primarily, eight Herrehem (Archgods) in the Old Gods faith. Archgods is not a term used within the Velheim or Common language, rather, it is a Regalian distinction to create a clearer boundary between the Herrehem and Maarda, as the Velheim call them. The Old Gods faith has a form of derivative god birth where each Herrehem in theory exists out of the combination of several Maarda (part-gods), but these Maarda are also individuals. Furthermore, of all the eight Herrehem, each of them are paired in two called Unions or Gudpar in Velheim, with various religious implications. Beyond that, Maarda are also capable of interacting with mortals and the living, and as such, Maarda are also capable of siring demi-gods among the people, something that commonly is a recurring theme in Old Gods folklore. To understand the Herrehem, one must first understand the primary Unions and what they represent.
Union of Fire
The Union of Fire is commonly described as “all that feels”, and that is roughly what the Union of Fire also represents. Their primary element is fire, representing protection, parentage, passion and rage, and a wider variety of emotion. The Union of fire is supposedly responsible for all the feelings and emotions that the mortals have, and in ways also affect their emotions during the daily life, depending on their favor or disfavor.
Union of Air
The Union of Air is commonly described as “all that wants”, and that is roughly what the Union of Air also represents. Their primary element is air, representing freedom, change, ceremony and combat, and a wider variety of human needs. The Union of Air is supposedly responsible for the needs and wants of people (detached from emotion, which belongs to Fire). The Union of air is commonly blamed for all calamities in the world.
Union of Water
The Union of Water is commonly described as “all that perils”, and that is roughly what the Union of Water also represents. Their primary element is water, representing grief, fear, treason and death, and a wider variety of pestilence and misfortune. The Union of Water is supposedly responsible for all the bad things that happen on a personal level for all mortals, but has a duality in that it also represents acceptance, forgiveness, peace and tranquility. The Union of Water is more complicated, because it not as strictly positive like the Union of Fire, or (almost) strictly negative as the Union of Air. It represents both good and bad sides of death and sorrow.
Union of Earth
The Union of Earth is commonly described as “all that knows”, and that is roughly what the Union of Earth also represents. Their primary element is earth, representing will, justice, learning and yearning, and all knowledge based aspects. The Union of Earth is supposedly responsible for storing all information and knowledge, memories and remembrance.
Lensa is usually depicted as a woman with exceptional beauty, long hair flowing all the way to her ankles in a variety of braids and golden blonde. She usually has a variety of feathers and green budding twigs in her hair, her body covered with various pieces of traditional male body wear, such as male-fitted armor or male pants and shirts. Rather than being an outright cross-dressing god, the implication here is that beauty can be found in even the rugged of man, a reflection of their subjective beauty through the judgement of the beholder. Lensa is tall, moves with poise, and the wind always sweeps her hair in ways that accentuate her tallness and floaty movements. It is common for Velheim to compare a woman they love dearly to “the beauty of Lensa”, or to call their sweetheart a Lensån, meaning daughter of Lensa. Lensa is commonly believed to be of a soft temperament, caring and loving, soothing and embracing. In other ways, she also represents the obedience and loyalty of children, and the closeness of friendship and lovers. She is bound to Ellmår in a same-sex female union, though is sometimes also considered Ellmår’s daughter in other regional variances, where their Union represents the dedication of parents and children to each other instead of lovers. Those who dedicate their identity to Lensa, have a tree-like tattoo applied to the nape of their neck, running from the top of the spine adjacent the shoulders, to the lowest edge of their hair. This tree represents Lensa’s wide and covering care, the shade of her embrace sheltering the person’s heart.
Ellmår is usually depicted as a woman with exceptionally strong masculine features, short hair and with a very strict and average face, with fiery red hair. She usually has a variety of chains and necklaces around her neck, as well as belts around her arms that represent the duty of parentage and the bonding of offspring. Ellmår wears traditionally female clothing such as long flowing dresses and knee-high skirts with sashes and over skirts. Rather than being an outright cross-dressing god, the implication here is that any parent can take any role they need to for a child, and that a woman and a man are both equally capable of acting in a parental role. That being said, the existence of Ellmår has become a bit of a curious Regalian oddity. Some Regalians (even though they believe in Unionism), have created an exceptional fondness of Ellmår, as she (more so than Lensa) represents gender-dimorphism among religions, perhaps being the only deity that is so obviously non-gender conformist in a patriarchal and male-dominated world. As such, even if they are Unionist, some Regalians sing the praises of Ellmår through the scope of a cult or society to feel a sense of divine inspiration and connection over trials and happiness that is unique to them. Ellmår is also invoked for women who behave in traditionally male roles and societal standards. A woman who fights with the ferocity of a man is considered an Elmark, or a Warrior or Ellmår. She is believed to have a measured outwardly, yet passionate internal personality, remaining very stoic and reserved to outsiders, but extremely involved with those closest to her. She is bound to Lensa in a same-sex female union, though is sometimes also considered Lensa’s mother in other regional variances, where their Union represents the dedication of parents and children to each other instead of lovers. Those who dedicate their identity to Ellmår have tattoos of chains applied to their wrists, not as a sign of slavery, but as a sign of dedication to their family or their lover. Among Velheim, traditional chaining is not often if at all seen, which is why being chained by a Regalian guard is considerably humiliating to Velheimers, given that they see this act as a religious dedication, not a part of a judicial prison system.
Basjtur is usually depicted as a man with exceptional strength, a wide frame and a muscular body, with long hair and a body covered in tattoos, pitch black hair on his head. He usually wears nothing on his upper body, instead wearing only battle pantalons and boots, but always wielding at least one weapon, if not more. Basjtur is the simplest and easiest representation of a a warrior god, and lives up to that expectation to the T. He is always depicted in some sort of battle, either with Mærsjel as some sort of combat spar, defeating some sort of beast, or taking on a whole horde of enemies. Basjtur is commonly seen as a the guardian of the Gods, and is also the only one truly depicted taking on Demons, who are frightfully absent from the Old Gods faith, unlike Unionism. It is commonly said that through Basjtur’s blessings, the Velheim people and the Old Gods worshipers don’t have to deal with the negative side of Demons, as Basjtur is in an endless battle with them in the nether world. Basjtur is always invoked on the eve of battle or a duel, for the sake of invoking his rage and skill in battle. Inscriptions of him are placed on weapons to grant them the durability of his body, and warriors bring offerings to his name to grant god-like strength in battle. Basjtur is bound to Mærsjel in a same-sex male union, though is sometimes also considered Mærsjel’s student in other regional variances, where their Union represents the raging beast that is liberated by the calm mind. Those that dedicate their identity to Basjtur have an axe-like tattoo applied on their back, the blades on their shoulder blades, and the stave on their spine.
Mærsjel is usually depicted as a man with exceptional youthly beauty, a thin and slender frame of body, with short curly hair and a youthful face full with lips and rose cheeks. Mærsjel usually wears Altalar clothing, as Old Gods considers Altalar culture a high standard worth emulating for those seeking fortune in culture and art. He is never depicted without his harp or flute of soothing, often playing it, or dangling by his side. Mærsjel represents the arts and culture that flow from the freedom and liberty afforded by peace and prosperity. In many ways, Mærsjel is the natural consequence of Basjtur keeping everyone safe. Comparing someone to Mærsjel is an extreme complement of their entertainment capacity, and any tavern called a “Hall of Mærsjel” is the highest honor bestowed by an Old Gods worshiper, believing that spending time there is roughly equal to the afterlife in pleasure and comfort. Mærsjel is bound to Basjtur in a same-sex male union, though is sometimes also considered Barjtur’s teacher in other regional variances, where their Union represents the idea that no warrior or great sage is too good to learn new things from a young thinker or an amateur who is not set in their ways. As lovers, Mærsjel is usually depicted as the fawn chased by the wolf, but also the soothing tune that brings peace to the raging bear, a moment of comfort in a world of misfortune and misdeeds. Inscriptions of him are placed on the backs of paintings and in the wooden engraving of wooden instruments,
Bev is usually depicted as a flying cloth, devoid of a physical body inside, though it can also be depicted as a man covered in black robes with a white mask, blood coming out of the eyes and mouth sockets that are pitch black. Bev is always depicted through the frame of a mirror, as if looking into a mirror, with Bev on the other side. Bev is an often unspoken God, because it is believed that to invoke his name is to bring misfortune itself, Bev is the reason why Old Gods worshipers are uneasy with those who wear masks, in their culture, masks are seen as the faces of Bev, worn by those who wish to do Bev’s bidding, which is to cause death, but also to act as Bev’s eyes. Those who are seen by Bev are believed to be on their way to the grave sooner for each time they are seen by Bev. It is largely why devout Old Gods worshipers refuse to participate in masquerades. Bev is usually depicted in a loving and tender desire for Alu, but never being able to actually reach Alu, as he is a reflection of her in the mirror. Those that have surrendered themselves to become dealers of death have a twin-sickle tattooed across their shoulder blades.
Alu is usually depicted as a haunting beauty, a woman floating off the ground with long hair that is wispy and longer than her own body, extending all the way to the ground, almost holding up her body like the stand of a street lamp. She is usually depicted caressing the mirror from which she looks at Bev, or admiring herself in a reflection. In many ways, Alu represents life and the obsession that life has with itself, a mysterious longing and curiosity for death, but equally a fear for it that prevents them from utterly embracing it. Alu’s expression is always different, depending how the light strikes her face. From some angle, whe may look at ease, peaceful and kind. In other angles, she may look ambitious, sneering, prideful, and others yet sorrowful, sad and in anguish. This shows the many faces of living and being alive, and her hair represents the length of life, each strand of hair cut off, representing a person who has died, passing that single hair through the mirror to Bev like a love letter to the dead. Those that wish to strongly represent Alu have the infinite braids of life tattooed all across their chest and stomach.
Handrin is usually decpited as a sagely old man, who is so old that his eyelids are permanently closed, his busy eyebrows furling over his eye sockets, and a beard that reaches all the way down to the ground. He is usually depicted seated on a great throne, but more bending over and hunched as he no longer has the strength to sit up from age. Handrin is presumed to know everything, the guardian of knowledge and fact, and forever true. Yet, at the same time, he represents the inability to move, narrowmindedness and dogma, stuck in his chair through roots that have started growing from his robes into the ground. Handrin is usually depicted seating opposite to Julvira, in a pose traditionally seen as debate among the Old Gods and Velheim. The Old Gods worshipers believe in healthy debate and discourse leading to new ideas and new contexts from which to see the world, and so Handrin always represents experience, knowledge and sageness, while Julvira represents new ideas, revolutionary concepts and upsetting established dogma with new information. Those that wish to represent the knowledge-seeker tattoo a pair of hummingbirds on the back of their hands.
Julvira is usually depicted as a spritely young woman with very short hair, wearing a collection of colorful robes with exotic plants and items hanging from chains and belts on her. She is seen as worldly, travelling around the world absorbing new views and new ideas to bring back to Handrin and upset him in his established notions and beliefs by constantly challenging him. In a way, Julvira and Handrin also represent the struggle of the older generation with the newer, as well as child versus parent. Still, Julvira and Handrin can also be depicted as lovers, one who is moving ahead in the world with ambition and want, while the other is stagnant, unable to move and content where things are, representing the eventual loss of love because one partner moves faster in the world than the other. Julvira and Handrin can mean a great deal of things, which is why the Union of Earth is not as clear cut as the Union of Fire and Air. Those that wish to represent the worldly ambitions of Julvira have waves and wind patterns tattooed across their forearms and their ankles.
- The Maarda of Lensa are Beauty, Loyalty, and Fertility, three women clad in dresses made of leaf and flowers each with beauty rivalling Lensa. It is often said that the three sisters compete with each other for who is the most beautiful, with beauty dolling herself up with make-up and fancy clothes, Loyalty seeking the adoration of others through their loyalty to her, and Fertility seeking the adoration of offspring. It should come as no surprise that Fertility is said to have the most demi-gods under their wing.
- The Maarda of Ellmår are Femininity, Command, and Virility, three men clad in simple fur robes and harnesses. As opposed to the Maarda of Lensa trying to rival her beauty, the Maarda of Ellmår try to disgust Ellmår to be rejected. Femininity does this through deceiving others of their gender, Command through the slaughter of soldiers by commanding armies, and Virility by siring too many useless demi-gods, which is considered a grave insult to godhood among the Herrehem and Maarda alike. The Maarda of Ellmår are often accompanied by their respective sibling Maarda from Lensa.
- The Maarda of Basjtur are the so-called Hounds of War, Masculinity, Pride, and Combat. Each of these are believed to be wolf-men, gods with the heads of wolves and the bodies of men. They are also often called the giants, as when seen in the world, they were as tall as houses, slaying many foes and allies alike in berserk combat.
- The Maarda of Mærsjel are the so-called Virtues of Beauty, Art, Poetry, and Music. The three of them always compete to outdo the other, proclaiming they are the truest of beauty, whether through the painted piece, a spoken poem, or a played melody. The Maarda of Mærsjel are often accompanied by the Maarda of Basjtur as their protectors.
- The Maarda of Bev are Forgiveness, Empathy, and Compassion, the three heralds of death, and those also most commonly depicted as Valsung, and invoked by the Valsung to aid their song in reaching the ears of the dead. The Maarda of Bev commonly walked Aloria, found wandering through Helbolwen hills and graveyards.
- The Maarda of Alu are Revenge, Murder, and Betrayal, the bringers of death. It is said that while the Maarda of Bev announce the arrival of death, the Maarda of Alu actually bring it forth, inspiring those without Soldi to take lives. The Maarda of Alu are universally feared, as they have had a habit of forcing good people to commit heinous crimes.
- The Maarda of Handrin are Age, Wisdom and Knowledge, though they have never by themselves been seen in Aloria, and they also have no demigod offspring. They are rumored however to exist as tomes and books all over Aloria, Artifacts of centuries past that collect the memories of those who touch them.
- The Maarda of Julvira are Glee, Whimsy and Wanderlust, the sisters of the world. It is said that their running all over the world is what causes the world to rotate, and the sun to rise, and the moon to sink from the horizon to herald a new day.
Soldi is perhaps the single most important term in Old Gods, as well as Velheim culture. Every living being has a Soldi, but it is not quite the same as a soul (which is more specifically Sjele). Soldi represents the honor of the bearer, a quota that exists in either having, or not having, and there not being any greys in between. Every person is born with a clean Soldi, regardless of the crimes of their ancestors or parents, and through life, Soldi is affected by nearly every action. Generally speaking, all things that are good uphold Soldi, where/as all things that are morally or ethically bad result in loss of Soldi. Betrayal is the worst kind of Soldi loss, resulting in an instant evaporation of virtue, where-as self-sacrifice is the greatest of Soldi gain, reinstituting even the worst of affected individuals who lost their Soldi long ago due to betrayal. In a sense, Soldi represents the ability of everyone to find redemption and forgiveness, albeit some at a heavier price than others. Soldi is a necessity to travel to Speillørgard, the Old Gods version of the Afterlife. Soldi is in most cases a personal matter, meaning that if a son loses their Soldi, that the parents are unaffected. There is however a practice called Soldi Redda, in which case a family member may take it upon them to restore the Soldi of a person who has lost it, whether they are alive or dead. This frequently occurs for sons to fathers and fathers to sons, and the Old God Worshipers believe that if they can redeem the injustice perpetrated by their relative, that their soul will be saved from the Imellomgard, or the in-between realm, and be permitted to join the others in Speillørgard. Those with exceptional Soldi that goes beyond the basic maintenance and slow accrue of Soldi, become Soldigurd. This is usually reserved for great heroes of mythical deeds, as well as kings, and those who are touched by the
Sjele is in the simplest way of putting it, the Old Gods version of a Soul. Unlike other religions however, the Old Gods believers believe that souls exist in two forms, the soul in the Egetgard (what is commonly understood as the real world as perceived by the living), and the soul in the Speillørgard. The two souls always live apart from the moment a child is born, but live in an inverted manner, since Speillørgard is a mirror-realm to Egetgard. For example, if a soul in Egetgard kicks another person, it is believed that the Sjele in Speillørgard is kicked in turn. This is where the concept of Karma comes from, the Old Gods believe that every little thing a person does, is done back to their Sjele in Speillørgard, and vice versa. It is believed that the more a person damages their Soldi until they become outcast, the Soul in Egetgard and the Sjele move further and further apart, until they can no longer become one when the person dies. In such a case, the soul is transported to Imellomgard, while the Sjele in Speillørgard becomes a wandering flame in the valley of forever warmth.
Draugr and Gaudr
Draugr are the restless living, while Gaudr are the wandering dead. The terminology can sometimes be confusing to an outsider, because in Regalia, there is no difference between a Poltergeist and an actual Undead, though the Old Gods worshipers have many unique distinctions. When it concerns Draugr, they are the dead who have come back to life, their body wandering the Helbolwen (or other places) and living as if they were still alive. It is up to the Staargir to put the Draugr to rest, they are also called upon if there is an infestation of Draugr away from Helbolwen, as it is not uncommon for old burial sites to be washed open. The presence of Draugr is a considerable problem in Drixagh, because Velheimers do not burn or behead their dead, like is common practice in all other regions of the Regalian Archipelago due to the Undead problem. To other Regalians, the dead body is just a piece of leftover meat after the soul has passed on, but to the Old Gods worshipers, the dead body is in a way seen as a conduit to the Sjele, from where those still alive can send messages to the dead and sometimes receive messages back through the Valsung. The Old Gods worshipers consider the Undead a relentless problem, because it upsets the balance of the living and dead between Egetgard and Speillørgard. It is believed that if too many Undead or Draugr roam Egetgard, that the two realms will flip upside down, and all chaos will break loose as the living will suddenly be dead, and the dead will be alive. The valleys of Speillørgard will freeze over from the cold, while all life in Egetgard will end, without being able to pass on to the afterlife. This potential event is called Dodarrøs, which is practically synonymous with the apocalypse in Old Gods beliefs. Gaudr on the other hand, are far more benign, even if they can sometimes have streaks of deceit and violence. Gaudr are body-less spirits of the undead, usually left behind due to some unfinished business, their soul unable to merge with their Sjele in Speillørgard. It is up to the Valsung to approach the Gaudr and commune with them, whether they are visible or not, and speak to the living to resolve their business.
Speillørgard is considered the Old Gods afterlife, or at least the positive version of it where a person can go to live a happy after-life. Speillørgard is describes as a world with endless valleys, one for each Sjele, plus three, one for the Herrehem, one for the Maarda, and one for the Sjele that have dislodged from their souls in Egetgard, and become flames in the valley of forever warmth. It is believed that if a soul arises to Speillørgard with adequate Soldi, that they live in a valley of plenty, where rivers teem with fish, the wildlife is abundant, and the frost of winter is far away. A warm cabin with plenty of mead and good company await. There is even a greater version of these valleys called the Herrehem Himmel, which is roughly located in the sky far above all the valleys. This is where the Herrehem, Maarda, and the Soldigurd come together for the great feasts and boasting sessions where they praise one another’s deeds and live in an eternal feast above the other souls in the valleys below. It is believed that a Soldigurd Sjele can travel between the eternal feast and their valley, content to sit among the gods, but also find the comfort of solitude.
Imellomgard is where the souls of those who lost Soldi during their life go to wander into endless twilight. This realm is described as made of obsidian, endless plains and seas and mountains of obsidian with howling freezing winds, all the snow and particles of the wind made of cutting glass that torture the souls that wander. Souls stuck in Imellomgard are condemned to always wander the endless barren wasteland in search for comfort and warmth that they will never find, occasionally bumping into each other or objects that should remind them of their life, but they can no longer place in memory. It is said in a way that Imellomgard is a torturous hellish existence, this also where the term “Hel” comes from in Velheim language, that was later adopted by the Common language to describe a terrible place or doomed location. The bards who record the tales of Imellomgard are not exactly clear on whether the souls stuck there are aware of what is happening, since often it is described as a place of never-waking or not being able to perceive the passage of time, yet it has also been described as a place where the souls are caught in a cycle of punishment, and as such, the implication is made that they indeed are aware of their endless torture.
Curiously enough, the Old Gods worshipers acknowledge a concept called “Second Death”, that can only occur to those who are struck in Imellomgard. It is said that the souls wandering Imellomgard can only remain present there for as long as their names are known among the living. It is believed that the moment someone’s name is spoken for the last time, that their soul in the Imellomgard simply vanishes and ceases to exist, or indeed, as if it never existed to begin with at all. Yet, in the spirit of redemption, even a soul that has been removed from existence might be revived in Imellomgard. A name might last part someone’s lips five generations down, and for all intents and purposes experience their Second Death. Then, 200 years later, a Navner finds a lost tome, or written record of the dead, speaking out their name. It is believed that when a Navner speaks out a name of a person who has died centuries ago, that if they were lost in Imellomgard, that they are brought back to life, for as long as the Navner remembers their name.
Death is a very important aspect of Old Gods worship, and caring for the dead is doubly so. For this purpose, Helbolwen are created like necropolises, housing hundreds if not thousands of dead, mummified into alcoves, rowed in tunnels that reach ever deeper underground, usually hewn from stone. Helbolwen frequently are placed near each other, the largest collection of which still actively used in Irvainvik, where the coastal Helbolwen of Himmelgard sits atop a valley flanked by tall jagged mountains. Helbolwen have a central entry room called the Endrerom, where the dead are mummified and prepared for burial by the Staargir, all the while guided from Egetgard to Speillørgard by the song of the Valsung. Beyond the Endrerom is the Fjorarom, which usually contains a pedestal and a statue of Bev, who in a Helbolwen represents the afterlife, usually flanked by a large collection of candles which the Old Gods worshipers use to remember the recently deceased, having carved their name in the candle wax. These candles in and of themselves also represent the hope and will that the name of the dead person is not forgotten. Even if a person’s soul has transferred to Speillørgard, it is believed that the Second Death is a profoundly sad thing, even if it can no longer affect them when they have passed on without issue. Beyond the Fjorarom is the Haardrom, which in itself may extend to further Haardromma, which is where the dead are stored in alcoves. Most of then just wrapped in linens with parting gifts, but also commonly in coffins. Raiding a Helbolwen, or stealing items from it without the approval of the spirits, is considered a grave sacrilige and assured to ruin someone’s Soldi, yet it still happens, especially in Drixagh where life can be hard in the more desolate places.
Navner are religious individuals within the Old Gods community. The best way to describe them, is to call them “Those who seek out the names of the forgotten, and bring them back from Second Death”. Some Navner in fact take this duty a step further, and even take it upon them to engage in the practice of Soldi Redda, to save that person from eventual Second Death again (or Third Death in this case) when the Navner forgets their name, and to allow them to rise up to Spellørgard. Navners are not specifically solely a Navner. The act of being a Navner is often combined with being a Valsung, or even a Skorda. Most Navners can be told apart from non-Navners by the bearing of a thick tome attached to a chain on their hip, or a large scroll in a holder on their back. This piece of writing is used to record the names of those who have passed their Second Death, so that the Navner can remember the thousands of names they might encounter while they live, and occasionally recite the names again to stave away Second Death. Navner frequently travel the world, scouring old records in Velheim towns, or even down ruins and forgotten places, hoping to find a shred of names to bring back to life. The act of being a Navner in itself grants Soldi, but it is a decision for life, as those who believe in the Old Gods also value the weight of bearing the potential soul-death of all those people on their shoulders.
Staargir are a revered and reviled bunch in equal measure by different groups of people. By Regalian Empire terms, they are nothing but soothsayers that claim to know the future. As such, Staargir occupy a very strained position within Regalian Empire lands, though the Velheim greatly appreciate their services and advice. Staargir are chosen from children who are either born blind or become so after a disease or simply from malnutrition. Staargir specifically look frightening since their lips are cut off, while their eyelids are darkened with charcoal dust, all acts done in the belief that it will make them invisible to the Undead who wander the inner halls of the Helbolwen, and it actually seems to work. Their face is often also littered in scars, lines drawn with knives to resemble Old Gods runes to allow them to hear the gods. Finally, they blacken their teeth with charcoal paste also, cutting all hair and dressing head to toe in black. Even if a Staargir is reluctant to become one at an early age, they eventually realize the benefits of having the adoration of the Velheim as well as a position of power for little work. They are provided everything they require by donations from those living near Helbolwen.
The accuracy of Staargir predictions and fortune telling is a hotly debated topic among the Regalian Scholars in particular due to their unusual far-higher average than usual prediction correctness. It is as such believed that their practices through the dead and the soul essence that drifts in these great cities of the dead, somehow has an impact on their ability to perceive events from far away or to predict natural occurrences before they take place simply by reading the world around them through the essences. The dead are tended to by the Staargir, who actually live inside the Helbolwen from where they dispense their fortune and potions to the people when they seek them out among the dead. It is also their job however to put the restless dead back to sleep, the so called Draugr, usually by removing the head and then sewing it back on when they have been returned to their alcove.
It is said that the Staargir live in the cities of the dead, while Valsung are the tenders of the restless Spirits. There are two known Helbolwen in the City of Regalia, and many more scattered across the Velheim-populated areas of the world. Valsung in particular can be found on the fringes of Helbolwen, singing the songs of the dead and laments of the dead, or simply standing guard in them or the traveling Staargir. The Valsung sometimes are told to have dyed red hair, and this is only partly true. It is in fact because Valsung sometimes, while singing the laments of the dead, wash their hair with the blood of the recently deceased, because it is believed in allowing them to perceive the lives and stories of those who have died, so that they can sing their name one last time, until they are sent through the mirror of Earth, and sending them to Speillørgard. Valsung and Skorda are very similar, though the bigger difference is that the Valsung pre-occupy the majority of their time talking to the restless Spirits called the Gaudr (and avoiding the Draugr which are the business of the Staargir), and doing only minimal fighting if the interior of a Helbolwen is breached by an invader. The Valsung and the Staargir equally rely on the Skorda to make sure that the invaders never reach the Helbolwen.
Skorda are religious warriors who protect the Helbolwen, and by extension the Valsung and Staargir, and sometimes also the Sammun. Skorda are more often than not hermits who live on the edges of society, and have taken the charge on them to protect a Helbolwen from incursions, tying their own Soldi to the Helbolwen in particular. If the Helbolwen is never breached during their lifetime, they ascend to Herrehem Himmel in Speillørgard. If however the Helbolwen they protected is breached, their Soldi is destroyed, and they must go on a pilgrimage to secure their honor and justice. Skorda are usually excellent warriors, many of them in history having been blessed with weapons from demi gods and the Maarda to execute their duty. Many Skorda have gone into legends, defending great Helbolwen from invaders, particularly during the Skagger wards and the incursions by Gallovians and Clannadh Alban Highlanders. Skorda in particular have a dislike for the Highland Ceardians, still avidly remembering the rampant plundering and wanton destruction left behind by them during the Skagger wards, and the many Skorda that were lost defending the Helbolwen from looting.
Sammun are religious guides and priests for the living, business not related to the dead like the other religious figures of the Old Gods community. The Sammun in particular specialize in soothing the worries and anguish of the living related to earthly and living matters. The most common practice of the Sammun, is to engage in confessions of personal failings, acts against Soldi, and other wrongdoings. It is then the Sammun’s responsibility to provide guidance on how to best make amends for the Soldi loss, or how to best deal with a situation that the person sees no way out of. It is distinctly not the Sammun’s position to tell the living what to do, but rather to equip them with the knowledge and context to make a decision for themselves. Sammun are never part of any noble families, and if they decide to become a Sammun while part of a family, they usually disavow the family and take no name, so as to avoid personal involvement and bias in their position. The worst loss of a Soldi that a Sammun can ever receive, is to betray the confidence of their charge, if they ever reveal the secrets or the statements made by someone seeking guidance. While Sammun do not operate from Helbolwen, and frequently just take those seeking comfort to their home, they do usually hand around a Helbolwen, just because it is a religious nexus from which to seek out all other religious activities.
Highland Ceardian Variant
Old Gods as a religion is not unique to the Velheim people. Parts of populations of Highland Ceardian, Breizh, Zvorun, Riklander and Fridurfolk Ailor follow the same faith, just with minor variance in terminology and focus. Zvorun, Riklander and Fridurfolk follow the same variant of Old Gods as the Velheimer do, while Highland Ceardians, Old Ceardians, and Breizh follow the so-called Cellik Old Gods (Old Gods itself translating to Seann Dhiathann, as it is Stor Gudr in Velheim). Here are the notable differences:
- Herrehem are instead called Thighearn
- Maarda are instead called Iosalearn
- The Goddess Lensa is called Lenna, and is instead a large moth-woman
- The Goddess Ellmår is called Ella, and is instead a large owl-woman
- The God Basjtur is called Bannor, and is instead a large wolf-man
- The God Mærsjel is called Mannor, and is instead a fox-man
- The God Bev is called Delu
- The Goddess Alu is called Anu
- The God Handrin is caled Hanna
- The Goddess Julvira is called Alvir
- The Maarda do not exist in Cellik Old Gods.
- Soldi, Sjele are called Urram and Arram
- Speillørgard, Imellomgard are called Sgàtantalla and Meadhantalla
- Navner, Staargir, Valsung, Skorda, Sammun are called Ainman, Splechdman, Seinnma, Dìonma, Eìstma
- Helbolwen, Draugr, and Gaudr are called Dachaigh-na-tinn, Corpolc, Corpmath
In the Old Gods faith, there exist Demigods, children of the Maarda who in turn were created by the Herrehem. Maarda as extensions of the Herrehem are a representation of those Arch-gods, and as such, their children are imbued with some level of divinity. That being said, these Demigods (commonly also called Tyrva) are still subject to Soldi, and just because they are divine in creation, does not mean they are divine in being. The Old Gods worshipers in fact believe that the Tyrva were born to achieve great things, but if they squander that potential then they lose their Soldi by default, and also lose the privilege of feasting with heroes and gods in Herrehem Himmel. The view of Demigods is controversial in modern times, as the old belief held by Old Gods worshipers was that anyone with abnormal eyes was in some form a Demigod. Indeed, that would include Vampires and Werebeasts. Many in the Old Gods community refuse to believe that Vampires and Werebeasts are also demigods, the conflict between believers reaching a boiling point until one of the Maarda, Loyalty, came before the faithful in Irvainvik in 106 AC, announcing the will of the Herrenhem.
According to this so-called Compromise of Solmonr, those with Vampire and Werebeast eyes are indeed in the possession of a Demigod soul, but not their own. Instead, the Old Gods believe that what infests the Vampires and Werebeasts is the passed soul of a demigod who could not pass over to Speillørgard, and become a Gaudr which eventually was twisted by their lack of Soldi into malevolence and evil. They have progressed beyond being a Gaudr and Draugr and instead became a Mængr, something that the world should be saved from. That does however still leave the other Demigods. All of these Demigods can be roughly categorized based on the color of their eyes listed below. It is important to note that in order to be classified as a Demigod, a person would need to be born with an abnormal eye-color, they cannot gain it at a later time in life. If they do, then that is considered a Gaudr or Mængr possession, and not true divinity. It is also important to note that just being a Demigod does not make one important to Old Gods worshipers. Old Gods worshipers in fact are trained to treat Demigods just like normal people, until such a time arrives that they achieve something legendary or worthy of respect, at which point they might start singing praises of their divinity. Among the Old Gods worshipers, divinity is not taken or given by birth, but earned through hardship and trials set out by fate and the gods.
- Gold eyes with a red limbal ring are believed to be the Demigods from the Union of Fire. They are believed to be prideful, raging, greedy, war-lusting, lustful, slothful and full of anger and yet cooperative and loyal.
- Silver eyes with a blue limbal ring are believed to be the Demigods from the Union of Air. They are believed to be whimsical, merciless, arrogant, righteous, stubborn and yet compassionate and empathetic.
- Purple eyes are believed to be Demigods from the Union of Earth. They are believed to be defensive, pensive and slow to act, tone-deaf to the trouble in the world, yet stronger than all others
- Pale green glowing eyes are believed to be the Demigods from the Union of Water. They are believed to be offensive, quick to act and not to think, too busy getting involved in everything, yet smarter and capable of greater intrigue than all others.
Worship of the Old Gods is fairly simple and easy to do anywhere. The most common practice is to create a bowl of incense along with dried flowers, herbs and spices, as well as additional food offerings for the great feast in Herrehem Himmel. More complex rituals of worship include the sacrifice of cattle and livestock, as well as the burning of large quantities of grain and fruits. A common way to disturb someone’s luck and favor of the gods, is to deposit rotten food items into their prayer bowls and offerings, so as to offer something bad to the gods, by which punishment is handed to the person who owns the bowl. Personal prayers can also be said to the gods however, usually through meditation, or through drawing Old Gods runes on the body of the worshiper themselves, or to draw them onto others for blessings or protection.
Rites of Passage
All Old Gods worshipers go through a Rite of Connection at the age of 15, where they perform a certain ritual depending on the chosen patron god they wish to associate with. Each Rite is different, and each rite must be completed before the age of 20, otherwise they lose Soldi.
- The Rite of Lensa requires the initiate to breathe life where there is none. This one is rather flexible, allowing one to choose bringing life to a barren garden, children in a home that is unlived in, a school that does not know the laughter of children, or a retirement home that does not hear the stories of generations past.
- The Rite of Ellmår requires the initiate to serve for two years as a Livgardet or Husgardet. Livgardet are the personal guards of jarls and the nobility and other wealthy persons. Husgardet are healing houses of the ill, using herbology and mundane healing principles to cure the ill and give comfort to the dying.
- The Rite of Basjtur requires the initiate to defeat a 3 on 1 duel in the arena of Basjtur, such arenas exist in many cities where Old Gods worshipers live, one even exists in Regalia in Old Town. Those challenged must always be warriors, and must always be older than the one going through the Rite of Passage.
- The Rite of Mærsjel requires the initiate to tame a wild beast. This does not necessarily mean an actual animal, the rite can also involve attaching one’s self to a wild criminal or savage person, and bringing them to discipline and calmness.
- The Rite of Bev requires the initiate to die, and to survive. This does not necessarily mean they actually die, but rather, can also imply near-death experiences, or experiences that would normally kill others but not them, like ingesting lethal amounts of poison, yet surviving. Not many of Bev’s initiates survive the ritual, and it is not a commonly chosen one.
- The Rite of Alu requires the initiate to save the life of someone who is destined to die, in whatever way they can think of, medical, or simply by killing a would be assassin.
- The Rite of Handrin requires the initiate to go on a 2 year information sabbatical that causes them to write a Jovbok, a book of knowing. The book is then presented to the great library of Jokkalan found in the capital of Nordskag. If the Sammun at this library deem the Jovbok of adequate new information or new theory, the rite is accepted. If not, the person is sent back to start over.
- The Rite of Julvira requires the initiate to travel the five Julvin Gates. These are massive contraptions at the heart of traditional Velheim homelands, each of the five great Heims. The first is Old Yervonth, near old Ceardia, the second is Cain Folkar in the Cain Kingdoms, the third is in New Yervonth, which is now the Yervonth Kingdom, the fourth is in the Throatcap Mountains in Drixagh, and the fifth and final gate is in Tryllejag in the North Belt. It is believed that once these gates were all connected allowing instant transportation between them, but no longer so, they are just massive inert stone gateways.
- 17th of May represents Freedom day, where all Old Gods worshipers celebrate the freedoms they were given by the Old Gods, and their ability to live the life they want to live, the way they want to live it. It is said that during this day and this day alone, Soldi crimes that are not the worst (like betrayal and grave robbing) are forgiven by the gods. Many do not tempt fate, but still, the 17th of May is a day of dressing up nicely and drinking copious amounts of mead to get very drunk.
- 2nd of April represents the Gladdamat Festival, a festival where Old Gods worshipers bring thanks for food abundance, and celebrate the diversity of Velheim cooking by creating a large collection of dishes from the Old Gods cultures, and offering them up to strangers in the street. It is very common to bake sweets and savory bites, put them in a bag, and hand them out to passer-by’s in the street to enjoy, while telling them a bit about Old Gods cultures cuisine.
- 5th of June is the Øya Festival, where the Old Gods worshipers celebrate the arts of Mærsjel in Music. This is commonly a large music festival where numerous musicians both within the Old Gods and outside of the Old Gods community come together to make music for 24 hours straight, while all the spectators get immensely drunk.
- 10th of August is the Traldi Festival, wishing for the Union of Air to bring calmness to the sea and the winds, to pray for safety among the sailors and fishers and explorers. This festival is celebrated by wearing bright blue clothing and offering cloud-cakes to travelers and fishers alike, which are made out of white-fish cakes that are steamed with salt and vinegar.
- 11th of November is the Traalbess Festival, wishing for good fortunes to come for the next year, and signalling the final harvest of Ripebær from the highest coldest mountains. This festival is usually celebrated through the eating of berry and fruit rich compote pies, and wearing crowns of dried blueberries and raspberries.
- 5th of January is the Solstiger Festival, where the Old Gods worshipers celebrate the Maarda and the demigods. Anyone who claims or is known to be a demigod is put on a pedestal where they speak about their experiences and feats on a stage, and the crowd gets to throw cabbages or flowers depending on whether they approve or disapprove. The one with the mosty cabbages is crowned the king of cabbages and will smell for a week of rotten cabbage, while the one with the most flowers becomes the favored god-king for a week who all Velheim are compelled to listen to.
- For as far is remembered, Old Gods was simply called Old Gods. Why they are Old, and not just Gods, is not exactly known.
- There are many correlations between the Avatars and the Gods in Faith of Estel and the Maarda in Old Gods.
- Unlike the Avatars of the Gods however, the Maarda are said to still walk Aloria, with numerous sightings all over the world.