Campaign of the Month: June 2012
Religion in Chuul
Religion is central in the lives of most Chuulish residents, yet it tends to be less formal and organized than in other regions. In contrast to the pantheistic churches of many civilized nations, the extreme disorganization of and natural barriers between small populations of worshipers in the Chuul Expanse means that religious devotion can take a thousand widely varying forms, even when the focus is a single god. And the people of the Chuul Expanse rarely see a need to restrict themselves to just one, instead seeing local spirits and deities everywhere and focusing their prayers toward whatever entity seems most prudent. Below are just a few of the most prominent religions in the region.
Ancestor Worship: Many Chuul tribes engage in ancestor worship as well as in other systems of belief. In jungle tribes, it is common to find villages in which the Chuul make offerings to Gozreh, look to their shaman for guidance in dealing with nature spirits, and conduct rituals to revere their ancestors. Most Chuul see no reason why all these beliefs cannot be compatible with each other.
The Chuul have long and complex lineages. The inherent danger of jungle life means that many Chuul women face early widowhood and remarriage, thus tangling family lines, and most tribes consider it crucial to remember and honor the dead.
Many Chuul prefer to visualize their ancestry in the form of trees, and sometimes huts display wooden planks on which sprawling trees have been carved. Some of these records contain carved names on each branch, but more often the owners use the carvings as memory aids to help them recite their lineages orally. Chuul adventurers entering a new village often face questions regarding their family lines and may find common ancestors in the most surprising places.
Although the Chuul people’s reverence for their ancestors is often termed “ancestor worship,” most Chuul people do not worship their ancestors in the way clerics worship deities, receiving spells and other divine powers from them. Instead, they often see the spirits of their ancestors as existing apart from the rest of their religion, helping to guide and defend them, and perhaps even interceding with a god on their descendants’ behalf.
Angazhan: The fearsome demon lord Angazhan inspires worship among the intelligent apes of the Chuul Expanse and terror among most everyone else. Angazhan, the Ravener King, demon lord of apes and jungles, appears to his followers as a slavering, six-armed ape with blood-red eyes and a screech that can shatter eardrums. The Spawn of Angazhan, a tribe of charau-ka and other intelligent simians, rule the ruined city of Usaro and lay claim to much of the Expanse, honoring Angazhan by descending on humanoid travelers and tearing them limb from limb while howling their reverence.
Aside from the grotesque Bekyar slavers, Chuul humans rarely worship Angazhan, considering it terrible luck to invoke the Ravener King’s name. Folk tales exist of travelers, lost in the wilds of the Chuul Expanse, desperately beseeching Angazhan for guidance, but such tales always end badly for the hapless traveler; in most, the traveler finds her way in the jungle only after Angazhan transforms her into a vicious charau-ka and sets her to hunting former companions. In others, Angazhan appears and guides the traveler out of the jungle, but by the time the traveler returns home, she has gone hopelessly mad and spends the rest of her short, feverish days raving about Angazhan’s terrible face, eventually committing murder and suicide in any number of atrocious ways.
Demon Lords: The Bekyar people of the Chuul are responsible for much of the slave trade, capturing other Chuul and any travelers unlucky enough to cross their path. They are a sullen and untrusting people, and those who choose to worship generally select a demon lord as a patron. Individuals select the demon lord who seems most appealing to their particular personalities and outlooks on life, although Angazhan, Dagon, and Zura are popular. The Bekyar are aware that their worship of Angazhan is seen as repulsive and unnatural by other Chuul, and they use their beliefs to terrorize those on whom they prey. Some slave drivers even wear demented-looking gorilla masks to assist them in keeping their cargo in line.
Gozreh: Gozreh is a combination of aspects of several gods, such as Urian, Eliwyn, and Shalymar of the the Lords of Heaven. Gozreh enjoys a strong following in the Chuul Expanse, but in a unique form. Where Shalymar, for instance, is often seen as a fickle but generally benign god in many civilized nations, in the Expanse, as Gozreh, he takes a much wilder and more destructive form. Here worshipers of Gozreh depict their god as an elderly but powerful man with darkly tanned skin and a long gray beard. Vines tangle in his hair and beard, and tribal tattoos mark his bare arms. Chuul worshipers see Gozreh as more temperamental, and prayers for his aid are made carefully and with great reverence. His worshipers do not see him as evil or chaotic, but rather possessed of the same detached inevitability that nature possesses. In a land where lightning storms, river floods, insect swarms, fever, and disease are common, a nature god takes on a slightly different aspect. Over areas of water and along the coastline, Gozreh’s other aspect often emerges. She appears much as Shalymar’s water aspect does in other lands, but with wild green hair interwoven with vines and leaves and a body of shifting waves, yet she too is every bit as violent and unpredictable as the sea itself.
Most Chuul druids revere Gozreh in some form. Even those devoted to a philosophy, such as the Green Faith, see wisdom in making the occasional offering to Gozreh or asking the Wind in the Waves for guidance. Religious travelers who must cross through jungle terrain sometimes wind a bit of vine around an arm or weapon as a sign of deference to Gozreh.
Lamashtu: Given the monstrous appearance of many jungle residents, it would seem only natural for Lamashtu to have a following in the Chuul Expanse. Though lesser demon lords like Angazhan have larger established congregations, Lamashtu is by far the strongest of them, and none would dare make war on the Mother of Monsters. Fortunately, Lamashtu sees little reason to debase herself by grubbing for followers and instead accepts the worship that f lows her way voluntarily, comfortable in the knowledge that if she ever desired control of all the Expanse’s monstrous residents, she could simply stretch forth her hand and take it.
Shamanism: Most Chuul people believe that natural spirits inhabit the jungle. Even Chuul humans devoted to a particular god easily reconcile their faith with the concept of tree-spirits, animal-spirits, and earth-spirits. The Zenj people believe most strongly in the existence of natural spirits, though all Chuul who have not actively broken ties with their heritage possess these beliefs to a degree. Shamans and other spirit-talkers and mediums are most common among the Zenj, though the Bekyar have almost as many practitioners of the darker arts known as juju.
Most shamans act as spiritual advisors to villages and assist tribal headsmen in their duties. A shaman operates on the belief that by speaking to the natural spirits in an area, he can influence them and bring prosperity to the tribe. In times of need, a shaman tries to influence the natural spirits to protect the tribe from danger, heal the sick, or bring good hunting.
Shamanistic rituals vary from village to village, and different geographical regions often have different rituals as a shaman tailors his rites to his followers’ beliefs and needs. In the jungles, rituals tend to make use of the abundant exotic plants growing in the jungle; many include burning particular herbs or f lowers and inhaling the smoke or ingesting animal and fungal poisons to induce trances. Animal sacrifice is somewhat less common, as domesticated animals are valuable, but the practice still exists in some areas. Shamans who practice animal sacrifice often believe that killing or consuming particular animals can convey aspects of the animals to themselves or their tribe—birds grant clarity of vision, burrowing creatures grant agricultural bounty, predators grant strength in battle, and so on.
While the Chuul people in general can comfortably revere both nature spirits and deities, shamans sometimes forgo traditional worship of gods and devote themselves solely to the spirits. Some take levels in cleric without choosing a specific deity. Instead they select among the domains of Air, Animal, Earth, Fire, Plant, Water, and Weather to represent their commitment to nature spirits. Others take levels in druid to cement their ties to the natural world. Most tribal shamans, however, possess levels in adept to represent their abilities.
Shimye-Magalla: The Bonuwat people venerate a unique deity they term Shimye-Magalla, and developed in Bonuwat mythology over generations. The Bonuwats’ reliance on both sea and stars (and their combination in navigation) is reflected in this combined figure of Shimye-Magalla. Little is known outside the Bonuwat people about their unique deity.
Totemism and Juju: In addition to ancestor worship and conventional shamanism, there’s also a dark side to the Chuul Expanse’s homegrown forms of spirituality. Little understood by outsiders, the practice of totemism and idolatry can be so strong in given tribes that the wood and stone idols gain their own mystic power, feeding off the energy of belief and taking on a blasphemous semblance of life. In addition, the mysterious arts known collectively as juju can do anything from convincing a dangerous spirit to pass a village by to turning the inhabitants of that same village into mindless zombies with the appropriate sacrifice.