How ordinary mortals worship the Nine Tradition / Ritual in Scarterra | World Anvil

How ordinary mortals worship the Nine

Scarterra has zero atheists. Mortals can see the presence of divine in everyday occurrences like the sun, moon, and rain. In addition, while some mortals in isolated rural communities may be able to go their whole lives without seeing a theurgist cast a divine spell or a witness manifesting spirit, everyone has heard of them at the very least. Some mortals see these sorts of demonstrations of divine power every day.   Most Scarterrans acknowledge the existence of the Nine, though they may refer to them as different names or different genders. They may prescribe different abilities and personalities to them, but the fact that there are nine distinctive divine beings is pretty much universally agreed upon.
  What is not universally agreed upon is the proper way to worship the Nine.  
Most mortals view the worship of the Nine in practical terms rather than moral terms. Collectively the Nine can make your crops grow or not grow, they can dispense sickness or health, they decide whether ships make it safely to their destination or sink to a watery grave.
  Ordinary mortals want to do whatever they can to make sure the Nine bestow them with many good things or at the very least they want to make sure the Nine don’t bestow them with too many bad things.  
On some level, it doesn’t matter if the local king or queen is a benevolent ruler or is an ironfisted tyrant. Either way, a commoner wants to try to stay on the local monarch’s good side. For a Scarterran mortal, it is like having nine kings and queens and all of them must be placated, even the one whom you don’t like or trust. Especially the one you don't like or trust.
by Me with Midjourney
by Me with Midjourney
Mortals generally do not try to please the Nine with their virtue or character. Few lining up to weigh their heart against feather. the Nine are so different from each other, chances are good that if the contents of one mortal’s heart greatly pleases one deity, it greatly offends another deity. Mortals usually try to please or placate the Nine with actions, rituals, or ritual actions.
Another way to look at it is from the perspective of the ruler of a small nation surrounded by several much larger, much stronger nations that all can cause grievous damage if upset. Every nation needs to be placated with diplomacy, and you have to make sure you don't accidentally offend country B while providing a nice gesture to country A. Can you bow to the east without mooning the west?
Excerpt from Practical Polytheism, Part I by Professor Bret Devereaux
  If the dwarf nation requires an envoy to recite an epic poem of his ancestor’s noble deeds, than the envoy better memorize that poem. If another nation requires the envoy to bow five times and then do a dance, then the envoy needs to bow five times and dance. If you aren’t sure what the neighboring nations want, your best chance is to talk to older envoys and ask what works and what didn’t which overtime will create tried and true rituals that are performed more or less exactly the same way.  
by Eron 12 with Hero Forge
While the Nine can communicate via spirits or oracles, spirits and oracles rarely if ever give any guidance on proper worship rituals, so mortals have to rely on tradition which usually means placating the Nine with rituals that your predecessors used to placate the Nine. You listen to the local grey haired people and ask them what worked and what didn't work in years past.
  If the rituals are performed, and good times follow, then the rituals must have worked. If the rituals are done and something bad happens, someone must have made a mistake with the ritual but because we are still here, our ancestors’ rituals must be right on the whole.   If something goes catastrophically bad, then the old rituals are no longer good or no longer sufficient. A new ritual needs to be created, and if things improve, then the new ritual will be added to the roster and repeated the exact same way next year.   Rituals and religious observances vary tremendously by which deity or deities are being addressed, what is being asked of the deities, and on the scale ranging from lowly peasants to mighty kings.  
Kings and queens and other potentates oversee grand rituals and observances that commoners cannot afford. They want to make sure the nation is burned to the ground by an opposing army. They want to make sure the land isn't brought low by a plague. They want to make sure the kingdom isn't devastated by a giant monstrous spirit enacting a sort of “Release the Kraken!” type wrath.
  In addition to avoiding calamity they want to encourage prosperity on a national scale. Ordinary people cannot afford to sacrifice bulls, or throw lavish tournaments, or patronize fancy religious plays, but kings and queens can afford these observances and an obligation to placate the Nine on a grand scale is a burden all rulers are expected to undertake.   On a personal scale, an individual family wants to pray to the Nine for their personal prosperity.  
They to make sure the family dairy cow doesn’t run dry. They want to make sure the firewood supply holds out and Grandpa Zale survives the next winter. They want to make sure that pregnant Grina’s childbirth is swift and complication free for mother and child alike. They want to make sure that Uncle Demid returns safely from his journey.
Frieze of a Medieval Wedding by Thomas Stothard
  In between the small rituals of individual households and the grand rituals of mighty nations are medium sized rituals on a community level led by community leaders and mid level feudal lords and ladies. These rituals collectively want safety and prosperity for the local community, whatever form that community takes. Many community level religious observances piggyback off of weddings or funerals as weddings and funerals tend to cement community ties by their very nature.   Worship of Mera, Korus, and Greymoria tends to gravitate towards small personal and household observances. Worship of Hallisan, Khemra, and Phidas tends to gravitate towards large national level rituals. Worship of Zarthus, Nami, and Maylar tend to be centered on community level observances.   All that said, all nine deities are commonly worshiped by all strata of society via both grandiose large scale rituals and small personal observances.


Almost every religious organization on Scarterra likes to speak of ancient traditions dating back to the First Age and the Second Age.   This is an exaggeration at best, a complete fabrication at worst. The First and Second Unmakings caused most previous ritual knowledge to be forgotten or abandoned.   We who keep the Compact held on to more knowledge than most largely because our rituals are more simple and pure than those of the Nonagon. All that said, even we had to create new rituals from scratch after both Unmakings.   -Priest Benek Of The Cult of the Compact

Components and tools

Besides the Cult of the Compact and the nine broad priesthoods of the individual Nine, there are numerous schisms, factional, and specialist divisions of the various priesthood.   On some level, every religious faction is competing for donations against the other factions. Some temples and priesthoods are flush with coins and others are fairly impoverished. You can often tell how financially well off a temple is by the quality of their regalia, vestments, temple decor, and ritual tools.
by Me with Midjourney


Many rituals and prayers are performed by secular leaders or even ordinary commoners but many are performed, led or at least assisted by priests and priestesses. Priests and priestesses are men and women whose full time job is to help peasants and princes alike keep track of all their proper worship rituals and make sure that they are performed correctly.  
by Me with Hero Forge
Many priests and priestesses are also theurgists, but many are not. Many theurgists are priests or priestesses, but many are not. A person doesn't have to be able to cast spells in order to preside over a worship ceremony, wedding, baptism or funeral. Likewise, being able to cast divine magic does not immediately impart a knowledge of proper rituals.
  Most priests and priestesses are part of a holy order. Most holy orders follow a single god or goddess, but a few “Compact Orders” seek to serve all of the Nine collectively. The Cult of the Compact only has a fraction of the number of theurgists of the the Nine's individual priesthoods, but they have many priests and priestesses overseeing rituals every day in every corner of Scarterra.  
Holy orders don’t just have priests and theurgists. They also have holy warriors, some are theurgists who can fight and some are simply ordinary warriors who fight with religious zeal. Holy orders also have scribes, blacksmiths, gardeners, quartermasters, and all sorts of skilled individuals needed to support the priests. Some of these support staff are also theurgists, some are not. Also, some individuals are ordained as priests or priestesses on an honorary basis and some are not.
Krogresli by Eron12 with Hero Forge
  Most of the time religious services are conducted by the full time priesthood (when they are available), but honorary priests and priestesses are trained and ordained to step in if needed.   In theory, the holy orders sole task is to make sure the general population worships the Nine properly, and if this was their sole task, the various holy orders would all be staunch allies working seamlessly together, but most members of most holy orders believe they also have a duty to act as their patron god or goddess’ agents in the mortal plane.   Thus priests, theurgists, and their support staff often play the role of proxies in the political and ideological struggles of the Nine themselves making more than a few holy orders act as rivals or “frienemies” with each other.   All the priesthoods (and presumably the Nine themselves) are hoping to increase their imprint in the mortal world. They want to convert the masses, steer princes and potentates to passing laws in favor of their deity, and they want to imprint their ideology on cultures.   The priesthoods of Korus, Greymoria, and Mera focus primarily on quantity over quality trying to win over as many commoners and possible and hopes this will rise up to the upper classes. The priesthoods of Khemra, Phidas, and Hallisan focus the dragon’s share of their efforts on lobbying kings and queens to follow their gods and hope this will flow down to the commoners. The priesthoods of Nami, Maylar, and Zarthus generally focus on promoting their abstract ideology more than specific worship.   Rivalries between priesthoods are usually based on rivalries between the Nine themselves. The rivalries can be pretty provisional and petty as they try to symbolically score points against each other.   Often some of the fiercest religious rivalries are from followers of the same deity. Korus is the god of agriculture and the god of the wilderness. Most of Korus’ mortal followers are Stewards of the Gift which focus almost exclusively on helping farmers or Stewards of the Dominion who focus almost exclusively on protecting the wilderness. The two groups of Stewards butt heads a lot and only a set of formal protocols keeps them civil.  
by Eron12 on Hero's Forge
Other factional divisions are less civil. Sometimes leaders of priesthoods deliberately encourage their members to fight amongst themselves believing the internecine conflicts make the order stronger as a whole. Other times, bitter rivalries arise against the wishes of the priesthood’s leaders.
  Scarterrans talk about "the Nonagon" the way commoners talk about "the nobility", lumping all priests and priestesses together. It is not always clear if the Compact priests are part of the Nonagon or if they are something separate. The Compact priests and priestesses are generally much more apolitical which often as a side effect that they are more liked and trusted by the general populace.


There are specific days prescribed for specific ritual actions, both large and small.   Other times, religious observances are scheduled purely for conveniences. When people have the time to stop working long enough to participate in a religious ceremony? A lot of the most time consuming ceremonies for farmers are between harvest and planting time largely for convenience.
Medieval art of farm workers (public domain) by unknown artist


  This article is heavily inspired by Professor Bret Devereaux's excellent series of articles, Practical Polytheism as the baseline.   Then I took the baseline, and asked "How do the supernatural elements of Scarterra and the Nine alter Professor Devereaux's principles?"   The baseline was significantly altered by the fact that the Nine have the ability to interact directly with the mortal plane via spirits and theurgists among more extreme and rarified acts of divine power.   To a lesser extent, Scarterra is also subject to supernatural forces that are not immediately attributable to the Nine, arcane magic of many forms, the Fair Folk, and spirit loas.

Religious Rituals Outside the Nine's purview

  Part IV of Professor Devereaux's series covers "Little Gods and Big People".   little gods in Scarterra normally take the form of semi-independent spirits or fully independent Fair Folk who play the roles of gods on a small scale.   Scarterra doesn't have "Big People" in a sense of literally deified (the Nine aren't interesting in accepting new gods into the ranks, even little ones) people but they have Tapukeah who represent blessed people who are roughly analogous to Catholic Saints.   Also, the honored dead sort of collectively embody the role of "Big People". Many cultures, families and individuals in Scarterra practice some form of filial piety which features ancestor worship prominently.  
by Me with Hero Forge
  There are rituals that even non-spell casters can perform to talk to spirits of the honored dead on specific days of the years when the dead and living are close together. Spirit loas can channel the spirits of the deceased every day. Sometimes a skilled or lucky person can call on specific spirits but it often results in summoning a spirit that happens to be nearby or especially interested in what is going on.   This generally breeds an attitude in Scarterran societies that one should be respectful to all the deceased and not simply one's ancestors, just in case.

Cover image: Symbol of the Nine by Pendrake


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