The Lands under Shadow
For the average Dalesman, like most residents of the Heartlands, religion is just one part of daily life. With no state religion or monolithic church hierarchy, there is no mandate to participate in the worship of any deity. That said, the gods are undoubtedly real: their priests receive the ability to invoke miracles, the injured and sick are healed and encounters with emissaries and avatars of various deities are the stuff of many bardic tales. Most find that the worship of one or more gods, along with the appeasement of others, makes life easier. Some select one god as a patron deity: this does not necessarily reflect a fanatical devotion, but such individuals are often referred to as the “faithful” and considered members of that god’s church.
Theologists usually divide deities into ranks, based on their perceived power, their functions and the size of their church:
- Greater gods are the heads of subpantheons of allied deities and often have huge international temple hierarchies and hundreds of thousands of worshippers. Their portfolios usually feature fundamental concepts or broad elemental forces.
- Lesser gods often have their own churches, but less influence than the greater gods. They may be restricted in geographical reach or represent more specialised portfolios. Some lesser gods operate alone, but most are members of a subpantheon led by a greater god.
- Demigods are the divine servants of the greater and lesser gods and, while they may have their own cults, are greatly restricted in both power and reach. Most demigods were formally mortals that have been raised to that status, or were elemental or place spirits that gained a significant following. Historically, a number of lesser gods began as demigods and were elevated as a result of divine politics.
- The term exarch is often used to refer to an emissary of a god, sent to deliver messages or carry out specific missions. Exarchs have no divine status and no cults.
The human gods of Faerûn number several dozen, coexisting uneasily in a sort of homogenous pantheon. As they have a number of different points of origin, there is no universal family hierarchy and a given pair of deities may have no connection whatsoever. Despite this, they do, however, seem to find it advantageous to form into small groupings or alliances, called subpantheons and usually based on common interests, ethos or origins. Generally four or five demigods and lesser gods will ally with a suitable greater god, coexisting in the same dominion (celestial plane) and often sharing a church hierarchy.
Oddly, no two deities in the pantheon share a specific sphere of interest; even though there are several gods of magic for example, each takes an interest only in a particular form of magic (illusion, divination, etc.). There are records of transfers of these divine portfolios from one deity to another, but the process by which this occurs is not recorded.
Confusingly, the Faerûnian pantheon also acknowledges the existence of the gods worshipped by dwarves, elves and other non-humans, and even other non-human cultures, and incorporates them in subpantheons of their own. There is even some cross-over: Tymora is also worshipped by hin, Gond began in the gnomish pantheon and Sûne shares her Dominion with Hanali Celanil of the elves. A number of non-humans have joined the churches of human deities, sometimes achieving high office, but have not rejected the worship of their ancestral deities.
Places of Worship
Day-to-day worship and placation takes place at small shrines to all the gods within one’s own home, but more important ceremonies and festivals usually require the intercession of an ordained priest. Consequently, many faithful make the journey to a local temple or shrine several times a year, if not more often.
Most towns in the Dales support at least one temple, usually to a deity of particular interest to the local inhabitants, staffed by several clerics and a number of lay members. This temple will include shrines to a number of allied deities: each is usually tended by a cleric of that cult, but sometimes by the temple’s priests. A village will maintain one or more shrines to gods of interest, tended either by a local priest or by a priest who performs a regular circuit of a number of shrines in the area. Services and ceremonies will be performed on whichever days are considered holy and attended by the faithful and many, but not necessarily all, of the more casual worshippers in the area. Similar shrines can be found at uninhabited locations of significance to the deity.
- The form of any temple varies according to both cult and local tradition, but most will have some common features: an atrium for general functions and pre-ceremonial ritual preparations (washing, prayers, donations), a hall or open area for the congregation during ceremonies, usually fronted by an altar or idol of the god, and an inner sanctum for more sacred ceremonies attended by the priesthood and faithful. Shrines or chapels to allied deities will usually be to one side of the atrium and the priesthood often have tied housing built in to the structure. Major temples (in large cities) will have dozens of clergy and congregations in the thousands.
- Shrines are much smaller and occasionally lack any structure at all. At the centre will be whatever feature is considered sacred to the deity, with ceremonies taking place in front of or around that feature.
- Also of note are abbeys, temples with attached communities of monks (although not usually of the fighting variety). Abbeys are usually open to worshippers but large portions of their grounds are cloistered off for the use of the monks, who spend their time in scholarly or ceremonial pursuits. There are only three abbeys within the Dalelands: to Silvanus (in the western forest), Tyr (Tasseldale) and Tempus (Battledale).