Indeed, that is one of the ironies of the Lady of Fates-by weaving the threads of destiny, and in creating its outcome, she makes us the master of our own fates and leaves us free to pursue our own paths in life. - Obennor Makhafta, Patriarch of Istus.
On the religions of the Flanaess: Istus
Domains: Fate, Destiny, Divination, the Future, Honesty
Home Plane: The Ethereal Plane
Alignment: Truly neutral
Alignment of Clergy: Lawfully neutral, chaotically neutral or truly neutral
Alignment of Worshippers: Any are possible. Although Istus is primarily worshipped by humans, especially the Baklunish, she is often invoked by other races for her favor in the workings of fate on Oerth.
History and Relationships
While most mythology and religion of the Flanaess states that Beory the Oerth Mother and the sun Pelor created the world with assistance from Boccob, the Baklunish hold to a different view. They claim that Istus wove first the concepts of Time, Life and Death, and then the ideals of Law and Chaos, Good and Evil, manifesting them in the Outer Planes, before she created the Elemental Planes, which gave rise to matter and allowed these ideals to manifest and take shape in physical form, through humans, demihumans and other mortal creatures. The ideas intermingled with one another, becoming separate and intertwined all at once, so that both good and evil could manifest in the same places and the same people.
And yet, out of this collusion there was also opposition, and out of opposition arose a great evil. Evil as woven by Istus possessed selfishness, cruelty, sadism and malice, but it was not in the end ultimately destructive; it sought to control, dominate and oppress, not annihilate and destroy for all time. This great evil, known to mortals as the Dark Lord, Dread Tharizdun, was foreseen by Istus to bring ruin and destruction to the tapestry she had woven, thwarting destiny by destroying it, so she intervened directly, assisting the gods in the banishment and confinement of the Dark Lord. Even so, she could not destroy Dread Tharizdun, her dark image and opposition, without destroying herself in the process, so she permitted him to continue to exist.
From this, Baklunish myth also claims that Istus weaves the fate of the universe through her actions and deeds, and that it is impossible to avoid her designs, although what they are is inscrutable even to other gods. If Istus is the most powerful goddess in the world of Oerth, as many Baklunish claim, then she is above and beyond all other gods in her actions and goals. The Baklunish claim that she inspired Moradin to forge the dwarven race, or for Gruumsh One-Eye to give rise to the orcs, but her motivations for doing so are impossible to discern. She is said only to be concerned with the proper workings of the Oerth and to prevent its harm or destruction, which suggest to those sages who study in the intermingling of religion that she may have a connection with Boccob and Beory.
It should be noted, however, that according to Baklunish myth Istus does not seek to order all things and dictate every choice and every action taken throughout the multiverse. The fate Istus weaves for an individual is not one of domination. Rather, she gives rise to a person and an individual, and they must make their way through her tapestry as best they can.
Istus’s church teaches that it is only natural that both the moderate and the extreme, the good and the evil, the light and the dark exist in tandem with each other in the world. Each of these opposing factors contributes to the formation of a being’s destiny and fate in the world, and one should try and understand how they work together, ebbing and flowing in shaping destiny, to best use the free will Istus gives to the living creatures of Oerth.
One of the central tenets of the faith is that a person is the master of his own fate or destiny. Anyone, with the proper understanding of the world and its workings, can achieve their goals and desires, for good or for ill. Istus gives a person the talents, tools and abilities they may need, but whether or not a person uses these gifts is their own responsibility. Istus does not arbitrarily dictate a person’s fate before they are born; rather, she shapes and influences the workings of the world to allow people to form their own destinies through the circumstances she arranges.
Whether or not people use their talents for good or evil is generally of no concern to the church-wicked tyrants who use their abilities to seize power and inflict misery and suffering on others, or humble leatherworkers who scrape together every copper piece they can find to make a better life for their children would both be cited by the followers of Istus as examples of people using the gifts Istus has given them in order to master their own destinies. People who use their own gifts and talents may come into conflict with one another, but this strengthens and develops destiny, shaping the future and those who will come into it. The actions of the past have influenced the present, and the actions of the present will influence the future.
Many Istusians teach that to ignore one’s own potential or to refuse to use their own skills and talents is a sin, as is passively accepting one’s own fate in the world and not taking the initiative to change or develop it. They also believe that actively attempting to force someone to follow directions or lead through mental coercion control and enslavement, subjugating their free will, is also sinful. On the other hand, physical coercion, tyranny and slavery are not necessarily sinful, so long as the victim remains conscious and in control of his or her mind. Populations may be enslaved or oppressed, if their masters do not employ mind control or mental enslavement. Allowing oneself to stagnate is among the worst sins of all. Ironically, it is one’s passively accepting whatever fate presents them with, or in forcing someone to accept what is believed to be their “rightful” fate, that truly thwarts the intentions of destiny.
Interaction with Outsiders
Just as Istus is viewed as aloof and reserved, so too are her followers. Istusians do not heal the wounded or sick, feed the hungry, support the forces of good or evil, exorcise spirits, perform weddings or blessings, or perform any other such service as clerics regularly do. Many of the priests merely spend their time studying or meditating, or occasionally receiving prophecies from Istus when they may bring to a particular person, from the humblest peasant to the mightiest sultan.
Rarely do the followers of Istus venture out into the world and actively seek to affect it; instead, people come to them. Many Baklunish people come seeking guidance in their lives, and may ask the followers of Istus to perform divinations or auguries for the, or to pray to Istus on their behalf for a favorable destiny. The goddess’s clerics may be asked for prophecies, but usually these are cryptic and difficult to decipher, usually left open for the penitent to interpret in his or her own way and thus shape their own destiny.
The followers of Istus do not actively seek converts. They claim that by taking up the mantle of the goddess’s priesthood, they are no longer fully part of the tapestry of fate that Istus weaves, and must conduct themselves accordingly. Should someone wish to join the clergy, they are welcome, but otherwise people should seek their own ways and their own destinies.
Certain nomadic sects of Istus, such as her followers among the Tiger Nomads, often claim that Istus actively shapes destinies for mortals to follow, actively giving them talents and abilities for that reason. They view it as a tremendous sin to ignore her gifts and take their own completely independent paths in life, and so they actively seek to determine, though signs and omens, what Istus wants them to do with their lives. Many of these sects, particularly among the Tigers, ask their ancestors in the invisible realm to intercede on their behalf to Istus, to better understand her wishes.
Other sects of Istus also dispute the orthodox belief that everyone has complete control of their destinies. They point to various accidents and unforeseen occurrences that may upset the best-laid plans and ruin the desires of the people they happen to, forcing them to divert from the original goals they had set themselves. They question if Istus makes certain plans for certain individuals, setting accidents and random happenings to put them on a certain path she desires. Mainstream Istusians dispute these beliefs, stating that the actions of someone somewhere else may have caused such things to happen, and it is the duty of the clergy to attempt to understand how these actions were shaped, and how they may shape the future.
Most of Istus’s clergy does not adventure, remaining as diviners and consultants for citizens from all walks of life. It is a common tenet of the church that clerics must assist and guide all who ask for it, regardless of alignment, wealth, or race. Nonetheless, some individual clerics do pursue a path of adventure, feeling it is their destiny to travel the world and see how fate plays out and how Istus’s will manifests in the realm of mortals. In such cases, they may feel they have a duty to use the powers Istus grants them to pursue their own initiatives and paths in life. They may advance agendas of good or evil, or simply be travelers and wanderers.
As such, Istus’s clerics may generally wear whatever armor they wish, although in practice the heaviest armor is seen as making the cleric more suitable to being a warrior than a priest, and leads to questions of whether they have made a mistake on their paths in life. Blunt weapons are generally favored, although there is no specific prohibition against magical ones. They may associate with whatever races, demihuman, humanoid or otherwise, that they wish.
This should not, however, be interpreted as Istus’s followers being free to do whatever they wish. Too-zealous crusading in favor of a given agenda may be seen as interfering in the destiny of others, rather than assisting others. Adventuring clerics of Istus are generally observers who assist others in their goals and quests, rather than pursuing agendas of their own. If a cleric of Istus is out to combat slavery or become a tyrant, questions may arise as to whether the person is using their talents most effectively-would they not have been wiser to join a different religion, if their goals and talents lie in this direction?
Clerics must sacrifice thirty percent of their treasure to Istus. In addition, Istus is said to look most favorably on those clerics who help others pursue their own goals and destinies, lead those who seek assistance in finding their way in life to make an offering to Istus, and strive with all their energy into finding their own path in life.