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

How ordinary mortals worship the Nine, work in progress

I've used many historical and literary sources to develop Scarterra's religious cosmology, but this particularly article is largely based on the Practical Polytheism by Professor Bret Devereaux adapted to the world of Scarterra taking Professor Devereaux basic principles and applying the logical results of Scarterra's magics and metaphysics.
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 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 in 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 the sea floor. Ordinary mortals wish 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 all powerful kings and queens and all of them must be placated, even that one whom you don’t like or trust.   Mortals generally do not try to please the Nine with their virtue or character. 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 will 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. The challenge is you need to be able to bow to the East without mooning the West and visa versa.   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.   While the Nine can communicate via spirits or oracles, spirits and oracles rarely if ever give any guidance on the specifics 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. If the rituals are performed, and good times follow, then the rituals must have worked. If the rituals are performed and something bad happens, someone 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 either no longer useful or at least no longer sufficient. A new ritual needs to be created, and if things improve, then that 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 of the rituals. 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 they aren't all brought low by a plague, and they want to make sure the realm isn't devastated by a giant monstrous spirit enacting a sort of “Release the Kraken!” type wrath on behalf of a vengeful god. 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.   On a personal scale, an individual family wants to pray to the Nine for their own personal prosperity. They to make sure the family dairy cow doesn’t run dry. They want to make sure Grandpa Zale survives the next winter They want to make sure that Grina’s upcoming childbirth to be swift and complication free for mother and child alike, and they want to make sure Uncle Demid returns safely from his long journey.   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.   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.


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.   Many priests and priestesses are also theurgists, but many are not. Many theurgists are priests or priestesses, but many are not. You don’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. 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 who otherwise live normal secular lives and have normal jobs are ordained as priests or priestesses on an honorary basis, assisting the local priests during special occasions but otherwise eking out a living as normal farmers and craftsmen most of the year. Some of these individuals are theurgists and some are not.   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 but 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. 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.

Cover image: Symbol of the Nine by Pendrake


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