Sisterhood of the Den Mother
A faith advancing the rights of women in the orcish patriarchal culture -- and much more
As seen in To Know Your Enemy
The Sisterhood of the Den Mother is a religious organization devoted to the Orc goddess Cethlenn, the Den Mother. It is an order concerned with the healing of warriors and the well-being of women and children. However, it is also a powerful political entity that advocates for women's rights in a culture with a strong patriarchal tradition.
Content Warning: Mention of Sexual Violence, Mention of Suicide, Prostitution
The Grandmother was happy enough to receive them in her lavish suite of rooms, where younger acolytes of the Sisterhood attended to her needs. She reclined in her chair like a queen, and Y’Anid supposed that she was the closest thing to a queen that her people had. Draped in gold and finery, silk and fur, she regarded them with sly amusement. Her silver-frosted black hair, still full and luxurious, formed a fine mantle about her terra cotta shoulders. They did not bow or make obeisance. They were ladies of the Bloodfist clan, and they declined their heads in mutual respect, a gesture the Grandmother matched. She folded her six-inch lacquered claws beneath her sharp chin. “Welcome, Ladies Bloodfist,” she greeted them with a twinkle in her eye. “I’ve been expecting you. Leave us,” she said to the acolytes sharply. They obediently filed out after touching fists to foreheads.
GrandmotherThe Sisterhood elects a Grandmother from the elder High Priestesses to serve as their leader. A quorum gathers on the Island of the Mother when the leadership is contested or a new Grandmother must be chosen. Consensus nominates two candidates, represented by a white and black stone, given to each Priestess. Votes are cast by dropping the appropriate stone into a clay vase, painted with the Goddess' sacred animals, as it rests in a crux of the Mother Tree. The other stones are returned without being shown to anyone. The different coloured stones are counted to determine the new Grandmother.
High PriestessesHigh Priestesses are recognized by the Grandmother as having the wisdom, knowledge, faith and training to be leaders of the faith, often (but not always) chosen from the ladies of the Thirteen Clans. They teach the Priestesses beneath them and advise the Grandmother in council. Each Temple is administered by a High Priestess.
MothersTraditionally, the position of Mother is only held by a woman with sufficient faith and training who has also borne children. However, Priestesses who run orphanages and schools have also been granted the title. Their duties include midwifery, healing, and administrations of Shrines.
SistersAll other Priestesses are Sisters. They witness to weddings, heal warriors, and tend Shrines and Temples.
The Sisterhood is concerned with the well-being of women and children, and the smooth functioning of society in a warrior culture. They assume responsibility and authority for all matters of women's health, including childbirth and end-of-life care. They see to the physical, mental, and emotional healing of warriors. All household activities must be blessed by a Priestess. They keep the sacred hearth fires and are responsible for overseeing their smooth transition in the seasonal migration. They also manage most of the affairs of an orcish household, and acquisition and serving of food.
The Sisterhood controls a Temple in every major Fomorian city, and a shrine in most towns. They control vast hoards of treasure, books, food and medical supplies, thanks to the tithe of the Great Clans, and donations from Temple visitors. Show Spoiler
Secretly, the Sisterhood also controls a small cache of ships, weaponry, and poisons.
When the Balorian orcs first settled Elatha, society coalesced into clans. Women had no power, and were bound to the clans they married into. There was one exception: Clan Doomspear, with a warrior tradition for both men and women. After Elatha's death, the Thirteen Clans fell into infighting and competitions for dominance. Political ideologies further divided the Balorians. Some pushed for greater acts of conquest, to build a Great Horde for their inevitable war against the elves and the Avalonian Imperial Navy. Others believed they should build a strong government and society first. Common Fomorians also agitated for greater rights and influence. A few ladies from the Great Clans formed an alliance to protect themselves and improve their political standing. Historical sources conflict as to which clans were involved, but the Sisterhood's records credit Hrutta Bloodaxe, Tashaka Bloodfist, and Katya Icefell, with support from Grokka Doomspear. As witches in service to their clan mother goddesses, the Clan Ladies recognized a common thread. They created a pan-goddess movement, centered on the most universal Fomorian goddess, Cethlenn. Subsequently, they recruited as many ladies of the Great Clans as possible. Their movement might not have have spread as quickly were it not for the capture and rape of Katya Icefell. By the standards of the time, Katya was considered "damaged goods" -- unmarriageable and a liability to her clan. She choose vengeance and suicide by poisoning her captors in a very intimate way. The surviving High Priestesses raised an enormous public outcry. Orc women of all social classes flocked to the Sisterhood's banner and declared themselves Priestesses. The women of Elatha demanded more control over their own destinies. Clan Baneblood , the Imperial Clan, responded by executing 300 women for treason in an event history calls the Day of Scythes. The Sisterhood struck back. They distributed contraceptive herbs to every Clan Lady, and as many Orc women as possible. They then spread the story that Cethlenn Herself had raised Her hand against the Empire for its blasphemy, and would hereby deny them heirs, unless restitution was made and the balance restored. Most Clan Lords scoffed. A few tried to force the issue by asserting their conjugal rights aggressively. But they quickly discovered that those who had done so either met with horrible accidents, or vanished. Mysteriously, their wives all had airtight alibis for each such event. The Clan Lords learned that the Den Mother had indeed withdrawn her blessings as the birth rate plummeted. High Chief Garlghak Baneblood 's popularity plummeted with it. Eventually he was forced to accept a challenge from Keltar Bloodfist , who defeated him in single combat and assumed the High Chieftainship. The new High Chief promptly approached Hrutta Bloodaxe and Tashaka Bloodfist with great humility, and offered on behalf of the Empire to make whatever amends the Den Mother saw fit to request. The Grandmothers demanded an ongoing tithe to the Sisterhood from each of the Great Clans. Each Chief must either take a Priestess to wife, or their Clan Lady must be instructed in the ways of the Sisterhood. Lineage was to be traced through the Clan Lady. Rape, particularly rape of a Priestess, was declared a blasphemy and high crime, and not only were suitors required to have the means to provide for their wives, but the intended brides must consent to the wedding. Soon, most Clan Ladies were expected be Priestesses, and the Sisterhood secured a great deal of political influence.
Tenets of Faith
The maiden lifted his feet and washed them in a basin. It had been so long since anyone had lain such gentle hands upon him that he shivered. Seeing this, she smiled a little at the corners of her mouth and took even more time and care with the process, right up to massaging knots he had been unaware of until she touched them and the pain stopped. “Nôrr'lakaârr,” he said roughly when she was finished. “You will go for a massage, won’t you, my lord?” the maiden suggested. “It’s clear you have great need.” At something in his expression she added, “The wounds of war weigh heavy on you.” Shaundar surprised himself with a noise that was something between a cough and a snort. “I just came for a bath, actually.” He wasn’t sure he wanted anyone getting that close. The maiden just smiled and, after kissing the top of each foot, guided him into a private room with a steaming pool. Without waiting for him to confirm or refuse she unbuckled his armour and hung it up on an armour rack. It was amazing what relief he felt when its weight was lifted from him.
The Mother Goddess is the giver of life, and women are Her vessels. The power of life is the greatest power in the universe, and it's a power men do not hold. Men are built for war and women for peace, so while men should handle the affairs of war, women should manage the business of civilization. Yet civilization cannot continue if men don't participate in it. Hence, when they return from the battlefield, they need to be cleansed of blood to become husbands and fathers again. Without this cleansing, men carry ghosts with them into the family home and the marriage bed, and it makes them strange and dangerous. That healing might require talking, sacred dreaming, magic, touch, or sexual touch, and all of these are the sacred calling of the Den Mother's daughters. Women and children are to be protected. Children are to be cared for. Sex is a sacred gift of the Goddess, and should never be cheapened or defiled. Therefore, rape is a blasphemy, and sex is only sanctified if it takes place within the bonds of healing work, or of marriage. But never forget that the Goddess gives life as She chooses, and She may also deny it, or take it away. Thus, women, as the Goddess' daughters, should control their own fertility.
Let Me Take the War Out of You by Sable Aradia
Political Influence & Intrigue
Because they exert influence and control over marriage, fertility, births, deaths, and inheritance rights of women, the Sisterhood subtly manages the Balorian political structure in ways that most of their erstwhile leaders don't comprehend. The men of the Great Clans are literally in charge, because the women of the Sisterhood tells them that they can be. Many times they have managed marriages, and controlled birth rates, to force a shifting of power, and they are capable of plotting their designs over a period of generations.
The Dark SistersThe Goddess gives life, but She also takes it away. When the Sisterhood needs to eliminate an enemy, they call upon the Dark Sisters, who serve the Den Mother's grimmer aspect. Not only are they Priestesses, but they are assassins, seers, and spies. They also serve as the intelligence branch of the Sisterhood.
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Ffĕth Mĕkarra, Zà Tû ~ "Den Mother, Bless You"
Tashaka Bloodfist by digitalstorm
3rd First-Month, Year 51 from the Founding