The faith of Adalmearc
The faith of the Seven Realms of Adalmearc was the worship of the Alfather and the Seven Divines, also known simply as the Seven and Eighth. That particular phrase is not completely understood. Sometimes, it seems to refer to the Seven Divines with the Eighth being a reference to the Alfather; but there are times when the Alfather and six of the divines seem to be collectively known as the Seven, and the Eighth points towards the last of the divines, who is called Nameless or Hidden. Both uses of the phrase seem possible with the former being the most ordinary; the discussion of the various divines will go more into detail.
Adalmearc had six priesthoods, one for each of the divines except for the Nameless One. The Alfather was not worshipped directly; although considered the supreme creator, he was also considered too holy to be approached by mortal men. Only one priest was consecrated to his service, the high priest of the Temple in Middanhal, known as the Highfather or the Archon, who was the highest spiritual authority in Adalmearc. Having no altars as such apart from the one in the Temple in Middanhal, prayers or worship were rarely directed towards the Alfather; even in Middanhal, many of the faithful sought towards the shrines of the lesser divines when showing obeisance. The exception were the two days of solstice, winter and summer, which were both holy days dedicated to giving praise to the Alfather. At summer, he was thanked for creating the world; at winter, for upholding it even in the darkest of days.
The Seven Divines
Also known as the lesser divines to distinguish them from the Alfather, the faith had seven deities, which were commonly worshipped across the realms; the exception was the last of the divines, the Nameless One, who was not worshipped. Here follows a brief description of each of them derived from the sacred texts of the norns.
The lord of the divines was Rihimil, which was considered his true name; it speaks to his power as lord of the sky and ruler of the heavens. He was also considered the lord of dragons, which fits very well with his faith being based in Adalrik and its strong use of these creatures as a motif; not surprisingly, a dragon was Rihimil’s insignia. Furthermore, he was the patron deity of warriors and the Order in particular, and the Templar guards of the Temple in Middanhal were considered warrior priests consecrated to his service.
Next to be mentioned was Idisea, goddess of water. Her priestesses, called norns in the north and sibyls in the south, were of the greatest importance as discussed on the entry for priesthoods. Idisea was thought to be present at both birth and death, and her priestesses assisted during births and were also responsible for the burial rites for the dead. This duality of birth and death was reflected in Idisea being associated with water, essential to life, while her insignia was a raven, the harbinger of death. With its many rivers, Ealond was the primary centre of the worship of Idisea.
The third of the divines was Egnil. Fire was his element in the sense of its creating force: the fire of the hearth, providing warmth for the home and where food might be made, bread might be baked. When houses were built, his name was invoked, but most importantly, the bounty of the harvest was attributed to his beneficence. Every farmer and peasant praised his name, but he was also a patron of the arts that could only thrive in societies of great wealth. Thus artisans, painters, and minstrels all showed him reverence. He was particularly worshipped in Korndale, and his insignia was the bull, a sign of vitality and life force but also an important beast in agriculture.
The fourth divine was Disfara, goddess of the sea. All those who travelled sought her protection, sailors and others travelling by ship, naturally, but also those doing so on land. Through this, Disfara became patron of commerce and merchants, and she was extremely popular among the islanders of Thusund, whose ships navigated the seas between Adalmearc and the South Cities as well as the rivers of Adalmearc itself. It was said that none but Disfara knew the depths of the sea, and in the same manner she knew the innermost thoughts of men. Therefore she was also invoked in matters of judgement and whenever agreements were struck, another reason for her popularity among traders. It was believed that she in particular punished those who forsake their oaths, who do not honour their word or fail to live up to an agreement. She was represented by a horse, apparently reflecting some belief that the first horse rose up from the sea as a gift to mankind.
Fifth among the divines was Hamaring. His domain was the mountain, and he was especially worshipped in the highlands of Heohlond. Craftsmen, smiths, as well as the natural philosophies were dedicated to him; hence why his priests were in charge of the astronomy and mathematics behind the calendar of Adalmearc as described on that entry. Those who worship Hamaring were often encouraged to prize physical strength, and quite naturally his insignia was a bear.
Austre was the sixth divine. Her name indicates a connection with the sun or the dawn, but she was generally thought of as the ruler of the forest. Hunters and those who make their living in the woods worshipped her, and she was credited as the one who invented archery as well as favouring those who pursue athletic exploits. She was also thought to be exceedingly beautiful and thus worshipped by those seeking to improve their physical appearance. Merchants selling fine fabric, jewellery, and items of cosmetic purpose were called ‘sun peddlers’ in reference to her. True to the conception of Austre as dexterous, agile, and graceful, her emblem was a hart.
The Hidden One or Nameless One was the last of the divine. It is important to note that while he might be referred to by names, these are all considered epithets; none are his true name. Thus while Rihimil declares his primary position to be ruler of the heavens, or Austre’s true name shows her deepest connection to be with the sun although she is the Lady of the Forest, there is no such thing for this deity. The most typical name for him was Holgast, the sly guest. He seems to have been a trickster of sort whom one might encounter anywhere, whether in the tallest mountains, the deepest seas, the darkest forests, or the open plains. He was typically referred to as male, but that may simply be a tradition based in comfort; it would seem true to his nature that not even whether he should be considered a man or a woman is known about him.
There was no worship of the Hidden One, and therefore no temples or priests were consecrated to him. No prayers were ever directed towards him; it is believed that he did not listen or would not answer them. Whether from lack of capacity or simply according to his whims, none can say. Tales of the trickster god were popular though; while they often seem to give the god a new name, the content of the story usually makes it easy to identify the protagonist as the Hidden One. The only thing he did have in common with the other gods is that he was represented by an animal; in his case, an eagle. Thus when the ritual words ‘under the eyes of the dragon, the raven, the bull, the horse, the bear, the hart, the eagle’ were spoken, the Hidden One is referenced by his animal representation. This incantation and the phrase ‘Seven and Eighth’ were the only times the Hidden One was ever commonly invoked, and it was always under the guise of the pantheon as a whole, never on his own.
The three female divines were considered a special constellation of their own known as the Fates. They should not be confused with the norns or the sibyls, the priestesses of Idisea, who were sometimes known as the priestesses of fate. Nor should it be perceived that these three goddesses were in charge of the fates of mortal men or somehow affect them. Rather they were its observers; they witnessed the fate of a child as it enters the world and wove the strands together to form a lifetime, but they did not decide its outcome.
Each of the goddesses lent a certain element to this task. Idisea was thought to know the birth and death of every person. Associated with the sun and its gaze from the heavens, Austre saw all deeds performed under the sun. And Disfara, who knew the depths of the human heart, could tell what thoughts stir inside each man. Together, they knew all there was to know about a person and whether they were worthy of reaching the land of the gods in the afterlife.
Another constellation was conceived of as the triumvirate of Rihimil, Idisea, and Egnil, who were sometimes considered the chief deities of Adalmearc; certainly they seem to have been worshipped more than the others. The reasoning behind this thinking appears to be that these three divines were considered as fundamental for the continuation of the world. Rihimil was revered the keeper and protector of the world, Egnil as bringing forth the harvest, and Idisea as the bringer of life through childbirth but also ending life through death, keeping it in balance.
Lastly can be mentioned that while the gods were not in actuality seen as having conventional relationships, family ties, or children, there seems nonetheless to be a tradition of pairing them. As the sun and the sky, Rihimil was often put in connection with Austre. Dividing land and sea between them, Egnil and Disfara were typically paired. The connection between Hamaring and Idisea seems more obscure; perhaps from some understanding of stone against water, mountain against river, or possibly because all the rivers of Adalmearc had their sources in the mountains. In any case, there are many depictions of the gods where they are placed in positions as husband and wife according to these pairings.
Afterlife and Hel
The sacred texts of the norns are curiously silent on this topic from what we can tell. Various beliefs seem to have persisted in the general populace, whether supported or opposed by the established clergy. One of these beliefs was centred around the land of the gods, sometimes thought of as a city. Its location was appropriately in the heavens, in Rihimil’s domain. The living might not access it, though some believe that a rainbow could act as a bridge between the worlds; thus if one could ever reach a rainbow, they would be able to walk on it into the heavens and reach this divine land. Otherwise it might be reached by the soul after the body has died. A curious belief here was that the eagle acted as a guide for the soul, flying ahead and showing the way. For this reason, it was blasphemous to harm an eagle in any way, and this was also the rise of certain sayings, such as ‘flying with the eagles’, ‘gone with the eagle’ and other variants. It should be noted that the phrase ‘Rats will reign when the eagle sleeps’, sometimes quoted in the opposite sentence order, is not related to this; it is a saying attributed to Arn of Old towards to the end of his reign when he faced near rebellion.
Opposite this land of the gods was the realm of Hel. It is not mentioned by the norns either, but it frequently figured in folklore and expressions; as usual, the common people were more interested in the wicked than the virtuous. The many phrases using Hel can be confusing, however, since they sometimes refer to Hel as a person, apparently a woman, and other times as a place: the underworld. It is speculated that in ancient times, Hel was the ruler of the underworld and eventually lent her name to it; as the faith of the Seven Divines became prevalent, the personal aspect of Hel was forgotten and only the aspect of death’s realm remained. A third, more radical interpretation is that Hel was the shadow of Idisea, who was in fact a sort of twin goddess. The side of her associated with birth is Idisea as she was known and worshipped; the side of her associated with death was her other persona, Hel.
Even more obscured is who exactly went to Hel. Certainly all burial rites were made with the expectation that the eagle would come and guide the soul to the land of the gods. Considering the old warrior culture of the North, it is possible that cowards, deserters and those who died ignoble deaths such as being sent to the Alfskog were believed to end in Hel; as the North became more settled, this belief faded and Hel was mostly seen as a place existing in nightmares but not part of the actual world.
Hraban the Madman
A note should be made concerning the curious person and fate of the man commonly known as Hraban the Madman. He lived in Ealond sometime in the 8th century. Most likely, Hraban is an assumed name; it is of northern origin and in the old form, as can be seen sometimes on the islands of Thusund. It is possible that he was an islander, but nonetheless Hraban seems an assumed name; it means raven in the old tongue, the animal messenger of Idisea.
The reason this is significant is because Hraban claimed that the goddess spoke to him; that he was her servant, her soothsayer. Hraban was not the first to say this, and indeed, the Order of the Raven has in the past acknowledged many to have been divinely inspired; the tradition of birth words is along this line of thinking too. A thorough explanation of the Order of the Raven can be found on the entry concerning the priesthoods, but briefly said, they are the priestesses of Idisea, known as the norns or sibyls. What was special about this case was that Hraban was a man, and the norns only acknowledge women as being able to receive the word of Idisea.
Hraban appeared in Fontaine in Ealond and began preaching words of discord. He scolded and scorned the priestesses and any other who came within reach of his tongue. His claims of being a prophet was blasphemy, and furthermore it was dangerous as some listened and a schism threatened to form within the Order of the Raven. In response, Hraban was imprisoned. He was not executed, which in Ealond is the usual punishment for blasphemy; it is possible that even the Veiled Sibyl was unsure about the veracity of his claims and dared not kill him. At some point, some began to write down his ravings, perhaps from the same view point that it seemed like the safest thing to do; being imprisoned, he did not have the access to the public as he did before and thus no longer incited riots, and it must have seemed safe enough to preserve his words for prosperity.
At some point, many years after Hraban died in his cell, somebody made a copy of the ramblings he made while alive. The text was copied further and made into books. They were banned by the norns and to possess one was considered an act of blasphemy in itself; nonetheless, many of his thoughts were disseminated this way. Most of them were extremely foreign to the general viewpoints of the peoples of Adalmearc. One notion that has been widely discussed, mostly in ridicule, was his insistence that the Alfather, Rihimil, and the Hidden One were all the same, one deity in several forms. It was also his interpretation that Hel was a shadow persona of Idisea. He had many other claims, foretelling many things that have never come to pass. Nonetheless, he is of interest due to the effect he had upon the Order of the Raven and how close it came to open strife; it is an example of an ongoing discussion concerning the role of the priesthoods, especially the norns with their great importance in many affairs.