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    Religion, Myth, and Ritual Among the Rovers of the Barrens
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    Adept Greytalker

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    Thu Jul 10, 2003 4:48 pm  
    Religion, Myth, and Ritual Among the Rovers of the Barrens

    Here's a long-**** "paper" I wrote on Rover religion. As usual, it was inspired by history, RL-religion, myth, folklore, literature, canon, other fans, & at least 3 different movies (extra points if you can name 'em). It'll probably be my next article for Canonfire. Let me know what you think.

    Rob Bastard

    Though many think of the Flan as a monolithic ethnic group, this is a misconception which modern scholars scoff at. Most scholars believe the word “Flan” to be a catch-all term the early Oeridian settlers applied to any human culture existing in the Flanaess before the Great Migrations. Though many of these early “Flan” cultures shared certain similarities, there were (and are) enough differences to classify a number of them as separate cultural groups. Linguists, historians, and natural philosophers have identified at least four main branches of the Flan:
    1. Northeastern Flan. This group inhabited the lands north and northeast of the Nyr Dyv. Modern descendants include the Tenha and the Rovers of the Barrens.
    2. Northwestern Flan (or Quagite Culture). Settlements of this group are most concentrated in the region of Lake Quag and the Yatils. Modern descendants of this group include certain clans of Perrenland.
    3. Southwestern Flan (or Sheldomar Culture). This group was found throughout the Sheldomar valley. The people of Geoff are the best example of this group’s modern descendants.
    4. Central Flan. This group was most prevalent to the south and southeast of the Nyr Dyv. Least numerous of the four main branches, the tribesmen of the Abbor-Alz are among this group’s modern descendants.
    More cultural branches of the Flan have been identified, but either little is known of them (such as the pygmy tribes of the Burneal Forest), or the branch has died out.
    One argument put forth as “proof” of a monolithic Flan culture (Pan-Flanism) is that the four main branches all seem to venerate the same, or similar, deities. Whether this is because all Flan cultures originated from a single source, or this is due to cultural cross-pollination is an issue much debated in scholarly circles today. Currently, no one knows how long the Flan inhabited the Flanaess before the Flan Tracking system was introduced (perhaps retroactively) with its first year designated equivalent to -2150 CY. Regardless, despite the fact that many of the same gods can be found throughout the various branches of Flan cultures, each group worships according to its own traditions. This work will examine the religious traditions of the one of the modern descendants of the Northeastern Flan culture, the Rovers of the Barrens.

    The Rovers of the Barrens
    Though many Rovers may choose a single patron god or spirit, prayers and offerings may be made to several such entities, as the situation warrants. For instance, prayers may be made to Obad-Hai before a hunt, to Velnius for rain, and to Beory for healthy children.
    Another important aspect of Rover religion is animism. Spirits inhabit all things: animals, trees, rivers, mountains, rocks, etc. The spirit of any animal slain for food is given thanks so that it may one day return to earth, ensuring a steady supply of game. Some spirits become powerful enough that they could be considered gods in their own right. These are often “archetype spirits,” especially where animals are concerned. The Coyote spirit, for instance, would not be considered the spirit of an individual coyote, nor the collective spirit of all coyotes, but would be better explained as the spirit of everything that makes Coyote, Coyote.

    Principal Deities of the Rovers
    Though the majority of the gods worshipped by the Rovers are Flan in origin, the Araphi also revere a number of non-Flan gods. How they came to worship these foreign deities is most likely due to cross-pollination with other cultures, such as the Oerids and Bakluni. In some instances these gods were adopted outright, while in other cases the deity was identified with a similar native deity, and the two eventually came to be regarded as the same god.

    Allitur – “The Lawgiver.” Allitur set forth the laws by which men may live in peace. Allitur teaches that “to lead the People, one must serve the People”—a proverb that wise Rover chieftains take to heart.

    Beory – “Grandmother.” The Earth, Sacred Mother of every living creature. The Rovers are primarily hunter-gatherers. When told to abandon hunting and settle down to farming, an old Rover priest is said to have replied: “You ask me to plow the ground! Shall I take a knife and tear my mother's bosom? Then when I die she will not take me to her bosom to rest. You ask me to dig for stone! Shall I dig under her skin for her bones? Then when I die I cannot enter her body to be born again. You ask me to cut grass and make hay and sell it, and be rich like the Tenha! But how dare I cut off my mother's hair? It is a bad law and my people cannot obey it."

    Celene – The Turquoise Moon. Goddess of seasons. Daughter of Pelor and Beory.

    Iggwilv – Though not worshipped by the Araphi, The Mother of Demons is a feared figure in Rover folklore. Iggwilv is described as a hideous, iron-toothed hag who lives in a hut in the mountains which is able to move by sprouting legs. Her home is surrounded by the skulls of her victims mounted on spears. She has a fondness for the flesh of children.

    Incabulos – “Lord of Sickness,” “the Black Rider.” Incabulos is said to ride at night upon the Barrens on his fierce nightmare, spreading disease with his arrows of sickness. Offerings are made to the Black Rider not to gain his favor, but to keep him away.

    Iuz – Iuz is not a Rover deity, but like his mother, the Old One (also called Iuz the Deathless) does play a part in Rover folk tales. It is said that Iuz really isn’t immortal, that he can be killed, but to do so one should find Iuz’s death, which is a task of epic proportions. Legend has it that there is an island in the sea, on that island is a tree, and underneath the tree is a gourd. Inside the gourd is a rabbit, inside the rabbit is a snake, in the snake is an egg, in the egg is a needle, and finally in the needle is the death of Iuz. The sea in which the island rests, whether the Icy Sea, the Nyr Dyv, Whyestil Lake, or Lake Quag, is not specified.

    Joramy – “Firehair.” In ages past, Ralishaz tried to woo Joramy by stealing fire from Pelor. He startled her with his surprise and accidentally set her hair aflame. She was not harmed but her long, beautiful hair was burnt away by the sun’s fire. Angered, she chased Ralishaz from her sight. The flame, being from the eternal sun, continued to burn and remains upon her crown like a cloak of fire, and Joramy took her place among the gods as mistress of fire and quarrels. With this newfound knowledge, Joramy taught man how to make fire.

    Luna - White Moon. Goddess of magic (“medicine”). The sister of the turquoise moon goddess Celene. Called "White Shell Woman" because she was made from abalone. Daughter of Pelor and Beory.

    Myhriss – “The Beautiful One.” Goddess of love, amity, compassion, beauty, and happiness. Myhriss moves among oppositions to create harmony.

    Nerull – “The Great Bear of Death,” “Gatherer of the Dead.” Nerull is said to carry the dead down with him to the underworld, where they must sleep with him for a year. The Araphi view Death as part of the natural order, and thus do not look upon Nerull with the same stigma as other inhabitants of the Flanaess. However, the type of Nerull-worship that was once found in the Horned Society is viewed as a perversion.

    Obad-Hai – “The Great Hunter.” Master of hunting to whom all game belongs. Taught the Araphi how to hunt, but at the same time made the bison, deer, rabbit, and other game swift and/ or clever so that they would not be easy prey. Obad-Hai is creator of the animal spirits and the Great White Bison.

    Pelor - The Sun, acknowledged widely as the most important Rover deity. Pelor rides across the sky every day on his great steed, Star Thought, destroying evil with his arrows of light. Though most cultures in the Flanaess depict Pelor as an old, bearded man, the Rovers depict Pelor as young and beardless, wearing a full war bonnet made from golden eagle feathers.
    The Rovers performed their famous Sun Dance in Pelor’s honor, to celebrate the cycle of life. Young warriors attached themselves to tall poles with strips of hide which were tied to sharp stakes. The stakes were driven through the skin and flesh on the chest. The warrior would then support his entire weight with the hide ropes as he slowly circled the pole following the sun's movement in the sky, while staring directing into the sun. This lasted for four days or until the stakes ripped out of the flesh. The Sun Dance has rarely been performed since the Greyhawk Wars, however, due to its repression by Iuz.

    Ralishaz – “The Trickster.” Ralishaz is sometimes identified with the animal spirits Coyote or Raven. Ralishaz is always lurking about, causing trouble and playing pranks. He was indirectly responsible for Joramy becoming goddess of fire.

    Rao - The good spirit, representing everything in nature good and helpful to man. Ancient stories tell how when humans were first created, they were constantly at war with the land and the animal spirits (or Beory and Obad-Hai). Rao is said to have facilitated the treaty by which the Araphi live in harmony with nature—the People may take from Nature’s bounty, but they abuse it at their peril.

    Telchur – “Winter Spirit.” Depicted as a white-skinned man with a demonic face and blazing white eyes. Not invoked as much as appeased, for fear that he will come. Valuables are burned to placate him. Telchur is responsible for the curse of the wendigo.

    Tharizdun – Rover creation myths speak of a “Great Darkness Before the World Began,” which many scholars identify with Tharizdun. In these myths, Darkness dreams the world into being, along with the gods and many horrid monsters and demons. The gods succeeded in banishing most of these demons and monsters from the world. Then, fearing that if Darkness awoke from its dream, reality would cease to exist, the gods used powerful magics to keep Darkness in eternal slumber.

    Velnius – “The Thunder Bird.” God of the sky, wind, thunder, weather, and war. Said to carry a lake on his back, from which rain falls. The Rainbow is his consort.

    Animal Spirits – Known archetype animal spirits, some approaching deity status, include Coyote, Raven, Elk, Deer, Snake, Fox, Wolf, Bear, Eagle, Rabbit, Spider, and Bison.

    Ancestral Spirits – Great ancestors are often venerated by the Rovers, and act as intermediaries to the gods. Ancestors are usually honored by those who knew them in life. Few ancestral spirits continue to be venerated after all those who knew them have died. The Ghost Dance is an example of a ritual invoking ancestral spirits.

    Rover Rituals
    A number of Rover religious rituals stand out from those of other Flan cultures, even those of the Tenha, their closest living cultural relatives.

    Ghost Dance – The Ghost Dance is a war ritual which is said to have come to the Rover shaman Tenskatawa in a vision in late 579 CY. Tenskatawa claimed that the ritual would bring back the spirits of the Rover’s ancestors to fight the hated “ironshirts,” as the troops of the Horned Society were called. A year before, the Rovers had overrun the northern border of the Horned Society, which resulted in punitive action. The Society allied with the Bandit Kingdom provinces of Warfields and Wormhall, and began a war of retribution against the Rovers (which soon led to an invasion of the Shield Lands as well). Tenskatawa’s Ghost Dance offered hope to the Rover tribes. Unfortunately, the real Tenskatawa had been slain days before, and his form taken, by a lesser Hierarch named Kolkis, who wished to use this manufactured “Ghost Dance” as part of an elaborate plan to turn the Rover tribes against one another. Fortunately, Kolkis’ plan was thwarted by adventurers recruited by a Rover shaman named Kanowatha, who was divinely inspired to use the slain Hierarch’s notes to create a real Ghost Dance. Kanowatha’s Ghost Dance resulted in a victory for the Rovers in early 580, summoning a sizeable force of spectral Rover warriors which decimated a numerically superior Horned Society army in the Battle of the Fellreev.
    The Ghost Dance is unlike other Rover dances, which tend to employ fast steps and loud drumming. The Ghost Dance consists of slow shuffling movements following the course of the sun. It is performed for four or five days and accompanied by singing and chanting, but no drumming or other musical instruments. In addition, both men and women may participate in the dance, unlike others in which men are the main dancers, singers and musicians. Other features of the dance include the use of hypnosis to bring about trances and aid in the communication with the dead, and the Ghost Shirt. Made of buckskin, and often elaborately decorated with fringe, beadwork, and protective symbols, the shirts are said to make the wearer immune to arrows, sling bullets, and other missile weapons.
    Unfortunately, the Ghost Dance was not enough to prevent the erosion of the Rovers’ way of life, and has been so heavily suppressed by Iuz that there have been no reports of a Ghost Dance being successfully completed for over a decade.

    Sun Dance – This ritual honoring Pelor is rarely practiced since the Greyhawk Wars due to the unwanted attention it draws from Iuz. The Sun Dance, during those rare times when a tribe risks holding one, takes place during the week of Richfest (the summer solstice), and lasts from four to seven days, from sundown to sundown. Celebrating the renewal of life that the Sun brings, participants dance around a central pole (the "sun-pole"—said by some to represent the penis of Pelor). The participants offer up their flesh as a sacrifice, skewering their flesh with pieces of bone or wood, which are attached to the top of the sun-pole by long hide ropes. The dancers then dance about the pole, staring straight into the sun, leaning away from the pole until their flesh gives way. During this time, participants often experience visions. After the dancers all tear free, or after four days, the Sun Dance ends. The exhausted dancers are laid upon beds of sage in order to recite their visions to the priest. These visions may hold new songs, new rituals, or even prophecies of the future. The overall feeling for all present is one of renewal and balance and the relationships between people and nature are once again reaffirmed. The self-inflicted torture of the Sun Dance represents death, the struggle with the Reaper that all must go through. The "breaking away" represents Pelor's victory over Nerull through rebirth and renewal brought on by the ever-rising sun.

    Sweat Lodge – The sweat lodge is a low structure which is constructed to let the least amount of light in, and the least amount of smoke out. A pit is dug into the ground in the center of the lodge. Rocks are heated in a fire, the placed inside the pit. Water is then poured over the heated rocks to create steam. Participants, who are almost always naked and separated by gender, will typically stay inside the lodge for as long as they can bear the hot and humid environment.
    The two major purposes of a sweat lodge are purification carried out in preparation for a significant undertaking (such as a Sun Dance, Vision Quest, or some other important event), and healing. The lodge represents the womb of birth and of creation itself. This is one reason that a sweat lodge is always dark inside. At its heart, the sweat lodge is a powerful symbol of death and rebirth, and thus has associations with both Nerull and Beory.

    Vision Quest – Occasionally, usually before or at puberty, a Rover will go off alone into the wilderness to fast and meditate for a period of several days. The goal is to hopefully receive a vision that will guide one’s development for the rest of their life. A secondary goal is to acquire a guardian spirit who will be close and supportive throughout their lifetime.

    Religious Leaders
    The Araphi priestly “caste” consists of three main branches, which non-Araphi often confuse, lumping all together as “priests” or “shamans.” The most common are medicine men, followed by priests proper, with the heemaneh being the least numerous.

    Medicine Men – Though, technically, all Rover priests can be considered medicine men, not all medicine men are priests. The medicine men/women are primarily concerned with healing the sick, and do not hold regular communion with the spirits and the gods as do priests. Medicine men/ women study herbalism and healing, and are most often members of the adept and expert classes, though rangers and sorcerers are not uncommon.

    Priests – Sometimes called “shamans,” Rover priests/ priestesses act as intermediaries between the supernatural (deities and spirits) and the natural (humanity) worlds. Though a Rover priest may have a single patron god or spirit, most of them serve or placate many deities, according to the needs of the tribe. For example, a priest may offer prayers and sacrifices to Beory to ensure healthy childbirths, to Nerull at funerals, to Obad-Hai before a hunt, or to Telchur to stave off the winter’s cold. A number of Rover priests are able to take animal form, and scholars who advocate pan-Flanism are quick to note the similarities to the shapechanging powers found among druids of the Old Faith, which has its origins among the Southwestern Flan of the Sheldomar.

    Heemaneh – If a male Rover doesn’t believe he can stand a man's life, he isn’t forced to. Instead, he becomes a heemaneh (“half-man, half-woman”). They wear women's clothes and can get married to another man, if such be his taste. Heemaneh are considered superior entertainers, healers, and herbalists, specializing in love-potions. Heemaneh are most often members of the adept, bard, expert, priest, and sorcerer classes (and never found among barbarians, fighters, rangers, or warriors). Ideally, no Rover war party leaves without a heemaneh. They also serve to give secret protected names to babies. These names were much sought after, and Durishi Great Hound and Vlek Col Vlekzed are examples of extremely influential people who benefited from them.

    Legendary Creatures
    Though the lands of the Rovers are home to a number of supernatural creatures, the following are exceptionally worthy of note:

    Fire (or Demon) Bear – A huge bear, said to glow with a supernatural fire. Legend has it that anyone who sees the Fire Bear would die in three months, unless he kills the bear.

    Great White Bison – The Great White Bison is a giant albino beast, sometimes described as spectral, that roams the barrens once every seven years during the winter months. Though not considered a malevolent beast, the bison is quite destructive, and many a rover village has suffered under its hooves. Some say the Great White Bison is sent by Obad-Hai, and is the price the Araphi must pay for the hunt, part of the treaty Rao facilitated between the People and the animal spirits. When the Great White Bison appears, one Rover warrior, usually a Wardog, is chosen to hunt down and kill it. In addition, the chosen warrior must always be someone who has lost a loved one to the Great White Bison’s rampage.

    Manitou – A Manitou is an evil spirit, usually of an evil shaman, who seeks rebirth by an unusual form of possession. The victim often does not realize he has been possessed until it is too late. The Manitou will first manifest itself as a cyst on the victim’s body, which gradually grows larger, incapacitating the host. Eventually the cyst will become nearly as large as the host, at which point the Manitou emerges, and the host dies.

    Wendigo – The wendigo is said to be the result of an ancient curse by Telchur. Any human who engages in cannibalism due to lack of food in winter, is transformed into this malevolent spirit which allegedly walks on air and devours the flesh of men. The wendigo may appear in any number of forms: a human in white robes, a white-furred werewolf, a man with white fur and the head of an elk, or even as a huge yeti. Some say that the Great White Bison is a manifestation of the wendigo, but most scoff at this, as the Great White Bison has never been know to eat human flesh.
    Kobold Pinata

    Joined: Oct 18, 2002
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    Thu Jul 10, 2003 5:15 pm  

    Damn that's cool.

    Sometimes I feel daunted by articles on CF simply due to the size and complexity of them. Reading through this one, though, reminded me that there is a reward for persistance :)

    One of the things that I think would be a great tie-in for this is my region specific barbarians and the idea chat had about the same thing for rangers and bards.

    If not whole classes, then there are definitely spells and feats I could see added to this article. Not that I'm saying it would be bad without them, or that I'm insisting you do that, just that it opens the door for such things.

    Maybe I might do them with your permission, who knows.

    I liked the Heemaneh. Where'd you come up with that concept? Is that a real-world concept or something you made up and adapted?

    I'm going to have to go back and read through it properly (ok, in all honesty I skimmed bits) to give better feedback. But regardless, very cool.

    Oh, and btw, welcome to the forums :)
    In more modern times, only Delglath of Rinloru is known to have crafted any items from the stone of this atrocious place. Even masters of the dark arts such as Xaene and Karoolck would hesitate to follow.
    Adept Greytalker

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    Thu Jul 10, 2003 6:06 pm  


    I really didn't want to throw in a bunch of spells & feats--someone else can do the "crunchy bits."

    Heemaneh is a Cheyenne word for "half-man/ half-woman" (so I've read--I don't actually speak Cheyenne), & they're pretty much like I described them. I first heard of the heemaneh, however, in one of the best movies ever made.
    Adept Greytalker

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    Wed Jul 16, 2003 12:29 pm  

    Here's a bit more that will be integrated into the full article:

    Funerals, Burials, and the Afterlife

    Rover funerals can be elaborate affairs. Following a Rover’s death, the family and tribe take a number of days (usually about four) mourning the deceased. During this time, the body is transported to one of many traditional burial grounds, which are usually in desolate, hilly regions. The corpse is laid in a tent where the women prepare it for the funeral, while the men construct the burial scaffold. The corpse is cleaned, any wounds are stitched closed, and the deceased is dressed in his finest garb. The corpse is then carried outside, where it is hoisted up to the burial scaffold and lain with its most valued possessions, which may include weapons, totems, pipes, or any number of items (true magic items, however, are rarely left with the deceased). Funeral services often include an elegy and blessing of the body by a priest, a “death dance,” and a “death song,” both of which are individualized to honor the deceased—sometimes the dance and song were composed by the deceased in anticipation of his death. Both death dance and death song are accompanied by a softly-beaten drum and other percussion instruments.

    In rare cases, an elderly Rover will have prepared his own burial scaffold in advance. When he feels it is time to embrace the Great Bear of Death, he will travel to the burial ground, sing his death song, lay upon the scaffold, and wait to die. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.

    The deceased are believed to spend their first year of death with Nerull in the underworld. After the year is up, the souls of the good, the brave, the honorable, and the innocent are believed to go to the Happy Hunting Grounds, an idyllic land where life is lived much as it is on Oerth, only that the land is wild, game is forever abundant, and cities, roads, and ironshirts are non-existent. Some of these souls become honored as ancestral spirits, usually for the lifetimes of those who knew them in life, sometimes longer. Not all Rovers go to the Happy Hunting Grounds, however. Those who are cursed or evil remain with Nerull in the underworld, where some are devoured by the Great Bear of Death, while others, like the manitou, are sent into the world as evil spirits
    Adept Greytalker

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    Wed Jul 30, 2003 10:01 am  

    Hopefully I'll have a Rover 3E specialty priest class ready to go with this article as well.
    Kobold Pinata

    Joined: Oct 18, 2002
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    Wed Jul 30, 2003 5:02 pm  

    Hey, I thought you weren't going to do any 'crunchy bits'?

    Ah well, there's still room enough for plenty of other stuff. I was actually going to ask if I could do an accompanying piece that detailed some feats and spells and monsters that tied in to the article itself.

    Out of curiosity and also a suggestion for something to include in the article, why do the souls of good people stay with Nerull for a year? Isn't that a sortof punishment?
    In more modern times, only Delglath of Rinloru is known to have crafted any items from the stone of this atrocious place. Even masters of the dark arts such as Xaene and Karoolck would hesitate to follow.
    Encyclopedia Greyhawkaniac

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    Fri Oct 15, 2021 6:08 am  

    It is hard to believe that this thread has been buried so deep and for so long in the past threads of the forum. Personally my Rovers are Kozak's not Amerinds but that bit of confusion goes back to the Ark or at least the folio.
    Adept Greytalker

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    Fri Oct 15, 2021 11:05 am  

    JasonZavoda wrote:
    It is hard to believe that this thread has been buried so deep and for so long in the past threads of the forum. Personally my Rovers are Kozak's not Amerinds but that bit of confusion goes back to the Ark or at least the folio.

    I think you and I might have debated this before, with my citing the illustrations in the 1983 boxed set as part of the basis for my considering the Flan to be fantasy First Nations.

    This is great stuff on Robbastard's part, and good on you for finding it! I've tried to throw in various references to more general Native cultures in my Greyhawk writings, referring things such as the 'four sacred medicines', warrior societies, sweat lodges or even clothing like beadwork and moccasins as elements of Flan culture that continue to exist in the modern era. In some cases, like canoe travel or moccasins as useful footwear, they've been adapted by demihumans and lighter-skinned human cultures. The Flan cultures themselves had metal weapons and armor long before the Great Migrations owing to trade with gnomes and dwarves. The Flan have provided everything from furs to foodstuffs in exchange.
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