Wee Jas Dissected Part I
Date: Fri, March 25, 2005
Topic: Gods & Followers
Okay, canon fans. Here it is. Wee Jas! Brought to you by E. Gary Gygax, Len Lakofka, Carl Sargent and Sean Reynolds. Then, by Sean Reynolds again, and finally, the various authors of 3E Deities and Demigods. An All-Star cast, with cameo appearences from a number of other Greyhawk sources. SIX, count'em, SIX versions of Wee Jas! And no two are alike! Make sense to you? Read Wee Jas Dissected Parts I and II and then tell me it makes sense. Then, read Wee Jas Resurrected to see how Wee Jas should be handled. Wee Jas is not just a pretty face. She's gonna kick your . . . assuming that's the worst she does, you're lucky.
WeeJas Dissected Part I
By: Glenn Vincent Dammerung, aka GVDammerung
Used with Permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.
Wee Jas. Goddess of the Suel. Goddess of Magic. Goddess of Death. Perhaps one of the most controversial of deities. She has been variously described in every edition of the game. Yet, her essential nature remains open to a great deal of both interpretation and speculation. Who exactly is Wee Jas? This article will not attempt to answer that question definitively, for nothing suggests that such a definitive answer is to be found within canon. Rather, by looking at primary source material, this article will attempt to place Wee Jas within the context of her own descriptions from which it may be possible to better understand the goddess.
The Controversial Goddess
E. Gary Gygax, of course, created Wee Jas. However, he described her almost not at all. When he did speak of deities of magic or death, at greatest length in the Gord the Rogue novels, he spoke of Boccob and Nerull. Why? Because those gods were most involved with the story.
The Gord the Rogue novels tell the story of the imprisoned god Tharizdun’s release and eventual destruction of Oerth. Opposition to the dark god comes not from a union of the forces of weal but principally from those who seek Balance and who espouse the cause of neutrality. Chief among these is the arch-wizard Mordenkainen, leader of the Circle of Eight, who reveres Boccob. Nerull appears in the Gord the Rogue books as standing in opposition to Gord, who works with Mordenkainen and those allied with the forces of neutrality.
Wee Jas plays no role in the Gord the Rogue novels. Of course, Wee Jas is a Suel deity and little of the action in the Gord novels takes place in those lands predominantly inhabited by the Suel - Keoland and its surrounds. When this is recognized, the Gord books may be understood as giving primacy to Boccob as God of Magic and Nerull as God of Death over and above Wee Jas as a Goddess of Magic and Death. The story did not principally touch on those lands where Wee Jas is held in the highest regard. EGG was writing a story; he was not writing game material in the Gord the Rogue novels. The needs of the story determined that Boccob and Nerull would figure prominently and that Wee Jas would not.
In all, the Gord novels are largely irrelevant to an appreciation of Wee Jas. That she does not enjoy the same prominence in the novels as Boccob and Nerull says nothing of Wee Jas’ standing, either as a goddess or as a goddess compared to Boccob and Nerull.
Comparison between Wee Jas and Boccob and Nerull is nonetheless inevitable. Because Wee Jas, as a goddess of magic and death, shares the same portfolios as Boccob (magic) and Nerull (death), comparisons are going to naturally occur. Because the portfolios of these gods overlap, the question comes easily - what is the relation between these deities?
Boccob is identified as the God of Magic and Nerull is identified as the God of Death. Because of their prominence in the Gord novels, and because Wee Jas has a broader sphere that encompasses both magic and death, it is too easy to jump to the conclusion that Wee Jas, as Goddess of Magic and Death, must somehow not enjoy quite the same control over the domains of magic and death as Boccob and Nerull do individually.
On the other hand, even if the foregoing impulse is not a work, there remains an impulse to explain how Wee Jas’s relationship to magic and death is different than that of Boccob and Nerull individually. Unfortunately for Wee Jas, because Boccob and Nerull are described as gods of magic and death (respectively) in very broad terms, explaining how Wee Jas is different often amounts, practically, to defining her relationship to the domains of magic and death in less broad terms. If Boccob and Nerull are 100% of magic and death, or nearly so, and Wee Jas, as goddess of magic and death is “different,” any quantification of that difference sees her less than the maximum 100% relationship already accorded to Boccob and Nerull respectively.
By itself, this might not raise any eyebrows. Two facts are, however, inconvenient.
Wee Jas is the Suel deity of magic. Of the Suel Mages of Power, little needs to be said. The Suel were mighty mages and Wee Jas, as their goddess of magic, by any but the most tortured of reasoning must reflect more than a little of this. At the same time, no race more than the Suel has such a notable experience with death. The Rain of Colorless Fire caused the death of the Suel Empire. At the same time the magical Invoked Devastation (see the 1st Ed. Fiend Folio Hordling entry), killed much of the former empire of the Baklunish. Whether speaking of the death of her people or the deaths of others, no deity has such a documented connection with death as does Wee Jas. Wee Jas trades in the deaths of millions upon millions.
That Wee Jas is initially described by EGG as a greater goddess makes her all the harder to dismiss as anything other than Boccob’s and Nerull’s equal.
This then is the origin of the controversy that clings to consideration of Wee Jas. It is perhaps catalyzed by her “demotion” to intermediate deity status in later editions.
Rather than acknowledge Wee Jas as the equal of Boccob and Nerull, both greater deities, and unable to do otherwise given her pedigree, was Wee Jas “put in her place” by main force? Or, by arbitrarily assigning her intermediate deity status? That may well depend on just how Wee Jas is depicted in the various editions. It is to this exploration that we will now turn.
In 1st Ed., Wee Jas makes her first appearance in the Greyhawk folio and the subsequent expansion thereupon, the 1983 World of Greyhawk boxed set. Wee Jas is literally nothing more than a line of text. She is identified as a greater deity of Suel origin. Her portfolio includes only the domains of magic and death, without explanation or elaboration. This is in contrast to Boccob whose portfolio is one of magic and arcane knowledge and Nerull, whose portfolio is one of death, darkness and the underworld. Wee Jas aligns lawful neutral. Nothing more is indicated.
That Boccob and Nerull are both written up in some detail, while nothing more is said of Wee Jas, begs the question of any comparison or relative relation of the deities and their portfolios. Given the prominence Boccob and Nerull have in the Gord novels, it does not stretch credulity to imagine that these deities were perhaps foremost in Mr. Gygax’s mind and thus received a greater discussion. The first Gord the Rogue novel, the Saga of Old City, was published in 1985.
Wee Jas next appears in the 1st Ed. pages of Dragon #88 on page 11. Written by Len Lakofka, the article describes Wee Jas in the mechanical terms of 1st Ed., but also provides some insight into who Wee Jas is as a (greater) goddess. In pertinent part, it is said of Wee Jas:
“Weejas is a master of magic. She knows every magic-user spell of any level, plus every cleric, druid, or illusionist spell of 5th level or lower… Wee Jas is loath to allow anyone to be raised or resurrected who is lower than 9th level or not lawful… She can summon groups of lawful undead … to do her bidding, but the tasks she sets for them must not be in violation of their alignment… she is highly lawful … She is not on good terms with any chaotic deity… She is on favorable terms with all lawful deities because she is known to uphold law above all else. Demons and all other chaotic figures loathe and despise her. Chaotic undead avoid her, but must obey her if she commands them into service.”
From this description, one fact becomes immediately obvious – Wee Jas is lawful. As regards the undead, Wee Jas can command both lawful and chaotic undead. In 1st Ed. terms, her access to magic-user spells is unlimited.
Wee Jas’s clerics are not limited either. Wee Jas is only loathe to raise or resurrect characters of less than 9th level. Such is not forbidden, however, to her clergy so long as they “consult her in the matter . . .”
Nothing suggests that Wee Jas is a “limited” deity with respect to her portfolio of magic and death.
With the advent of 2nd Ed., Wee Jas next appears in any detail in the From the Ashes boxed set. Without explanation, Wee Jas is listed as an intermediate power, not a greater power. Her alignment shifts to LN with LE tendencies. Her description on page 93 of the Atlas of the Flanaess states, in pertinent part:
“WeeJas is primarily lawful, but she inclines toward evil through her preoccupation with power. She is a protector of the dead, and her priests are only rarely allowed to command undead creatures, having to commune with Wee Jas to see if this is acceptable to her.”
Is this the same deity? Without preamble, Wee Jas is suddenly a protector of the dead. There is no necessity that this be so based on prior description. Without preamble, her priests can only command undead if a commune spell is first cast. Previously, there was no such obvious limitation. Her priests merely had to “consult” with her if they wished to raise or resurrect characters of less than 9th level.
Carl Sargent, author of From the Ashes, has limited Wee Jas’ divine power by demoting her to an intermediate goddess, rather than having her as a greater goddess. He has limited her role with respect to the death domain by declaring her a “protector” of the dead. He has limited her priests by requiring a commune spell before undead can be commanded. Sargent did all of this without explanation and without any basis in prior description. Wee Jas is no longer a deity equal to Nerull. Wee Jas will next be diminished with respect to Boccob and the magical domain.
In The Scarlet Brotherhood accessory, Sean K. Reynolds describes Wee Jas in detail. She is once more a greater goddess and her portfolio has expanded. She is now a goddess of magic, death, vanity and law. She is also noted to be a “witch goddess.” She is described on pages 80 and 81, in pertinent part:
“Wee Jas oversees death and the application of magic in the world. Unlike Boccob, who oversees magic in all of Oerth, Wee Jas’ domain is the creation and usage of magic items and spells. . . [she is] Worshiped mainly by wizards (and especially necromancers) . . .[But] Note that she is a protector of the departing soul, not the body; therefore she does allow use of spells such as animate dead. She is supportive of wizards who wish to become liches . . .”
Much as described by Sargent, Reynolds’ Wee Jas is a “protector of the Soul”, but her clerics are not limited in their ability to command undead; indeed, they may freely animate dead, which one can imagine they would then command. Wee Jas is worshiped by necromancers and is supportive of lichdom. Reynolds’ Wee Jas, with respect to the death domain, takes something from Sargent, but also something from Lakofka’s more “sovereign” Wee Jas. Confused? It gets worse.
While increasing Wee Jas’ power with respect to the death domain from Sargent’s description, Reynolds sharply limits Wee Jas’ magic portfolio. Wee Jas is limited to creation and usage of magic items and spells. This pronouncement is made with a specific comparison to Boccob, who is given oversight power over all magic. The right hand it seems gives, while the left hand takes away.
Arguably, Wee Jas as described by Lakofka, Sargent and Reynolds is sufficiently different to be almost unique definitions. Obviously, it is the same goddess, but the precise details vary significantly. Reconciliation between the disparate descriptions is difficult, bordering on the impossible.
At this point it may be well to ask, so what? If Wee Jas’ description (pick a card, any card) reveals a different relation to the magic or death domains that those of Boccob and Nerull, respectively, so what? How does this “diminish” Wee Jas?
With respect to divine status, greater goddess versus intermediate goddess, the answer is obvious. The greater a deity, the more worshipers and influence the deity may have and the more spell power the deity may be able to grant to its priests, depending on edition for exact details.
With respect to the Magic Domain, a deity with an essentially unlimited relationship to “magic” must be more esteemed and powerful than one whose relationship is in some fashion circumscribed. When Reynolds defines Wee Jas as a deity of the creation and use of spells and items, he is essentially making her into a magical craftsperson of a deity, while he reserves to Boccob oversight over all things magical. Boccob’s position is then one of ruler ship, while Wee Jas is a divine guild master. Wee Jas is then subordinated to Boccob in practical effect.
Much the same occurs when Nerull is given broad oversight over the dead and undead, but Wee Jas’ relation to the Death Domain has prerequisites for her priests or practical limits. The meta-game considerations are critical. Undead generally have great prominence in the game. Any deity whose relationship with or to the undead is limited will suffer in comparison to a deity unburdened by such limitations, along with their priests. Sargent’s Wee Jas is subordinated to Nerull.
But again, so what? Recall the initial look at Wee Jas as the Suel goddess of death and magic and what that said about her and the Suel people and Empire. That is why it matters. Diminishing Wee Jas radically alters more than just Wee Jas. It impacts an appreciation of the Suel in the game and their historic role. That it does so without explanation only makes matters worse. Beyond the difficulty of three distinct Wee Jas,’ there is the illogic of any Wee Jas that calls into question the Suel in history. EGG’s Wee Jas and Lakofka’s work with the common understanding of the Suel. Sargent’s and Reynolds’ by various degrees do not and in so doing diminish not just Wee Jas but the Suel and a consistent understanding of setting history.
But the saga is far from over. Enter the Greyfans (In Part II)!