Building A World: The Aelvari Faith

I’ve been working a bit more on my new campaign setting, Seliit. Something I’ve been wanting to hammer out lately is the religious beliefs of the Elder Races–elves, gnomes, and various other early peoples of the world. Building pantheons is one of my favorite parts of crafting a new world; for some reason, myth and religion has always been appealing to me. With the Cattorites and Wildfolk, their gods are a huge part of their place in the setting, but with the Elder Races? It was a little trickier to figure out their beliefs.

One major theme of the Elder Races as a whole in Seliit is that they are a sort of fallen civilization: they used to rule the world, but their time has long since passed. Some (like the villainous Rehledar Empire) are trying to recapture their former glory; others (like the elves of Syltharrel) quietly cling to the ruins of their once-great cities; and still others (such as the gnomes of Ubri) have abandoned their ancestral ways altogether and resolved to simply make their way as best they can in a new world. Keeping all of that in mind, I wanted their religious beliefs to reflect some of those same themes.

One of the earliest decisions I made about these deities (which I’m tentatively calling the First Gods) is that they weren’t around any more. The First Gods were dead, and had been for quite some time. Originally, when I’d planned for elves in general to be more antagonistic, this fed into their arrogance–their race had outlived gods, so surely it was superior! I realized pretty quickly, though, that by ratcheting up these aspects of elves, I was falling into the same trap as saying “all orcs are evil.” The idea of an inherently ‘bad’ race is outdated and harmful, and it’s not something I want to include as a central part of my world. So, then, how did the Elder Races (generally speaking) regard the deaths of their gods? And, for that matter, how did the First Gods die?

For the latter question, I decided to tie the demise of the gods to a major piece of Elder Race history: the war between the elves and the orcs. If you haven’t read my other ‘Building A World’ posts, the war broke out after orcs–an alien species–arrived on Seliit en masse, an event called the Night of Falling Stars. Eventually, using powerful magic, the elves pulled the orcish ships out of the sky, stranding the orcs on the planet… but at a terrible cost. The elvish ritual tore asunder the gods who had fueled it.

Ah, but that’s not the end of the story! According to the Elder Races, gods can’t truly die; they were instead shattered, and their spiritual essence dissipated throughout Seliit. That’s the core conceit of the Aelvari faith: the spirits of the gods remain in the world, invisible, intangible, but ever-present. From there, different cultures interpret these spirits in different ways.

The most widely-held belief is that, when the gods ‘died,’ their essence suffused the whole of Seliit. Fragments of divinity rained down and took root in every living thing on the planet, and now the gods live on in the people, plants, and animals of the world. Those who believe this see beauty and godliness in everything, viewing the natural world (and the many peoples who inhabit it) with limitless wonder.

There are others who feel that the many fragments of the gods are attracted to each other as if magnetic; that, slowly, the scattered divinity is reassembling. Someday–none can say how long it may take–the essence of the deities will fully coalesce, and the First Gods will be reborn.

Finally, there is the view taken by the Rehledar Empire. They believe that the scattered divinity of the gods can be harnessed and turned to the Empire’s use. A prime example of this is the race of awakened constructs known as the Conjured: powerful robotic bodies occupied by divine spirits, bound into their mechanical forms by Rehledarian priests. The Conjured seemed at first to merely be an innovative new way of crafting automatons, but it was quickly discovered that they contained a spark of life that was absent from other such constructs. This is far from the only way that the Empire has learned to utilize the ambient power of the First Gods, but it is one of the most prolific–Conjured make up an increasing chunk of the Empire’s military.

So, that’s where I’m at with the First Gods and the Aelvari faith! I’m sure I’ll keep tweaking it as I go, especially as I decide more details of places like Syltharrel and Ubri, where practitioners of the religion are likely to be common. Let me know if you’ve got any thoughts or comments!

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