The Gods Gathering
Excerts From Poet Hafuens Journal
by Paul Comstock
Moons 290, Suns 12
In many places throughout Britain, the old religion has returned. Magic and superstition flourish. The peoples belief and trust in the old ways have returned with the departure of Rome, and the adversity they face. Although many have been converted to Christianity, the reality of magic in the world of Dawn of Legends has helped to provide hope for the Celtic people across the Isles.
The Celtic people have a rich mythology, filled with hero-gods and goddesses of terror and serenity. Mystic places abound, inhabited by the spirits of the gods in which the very laws of nature pay homage; no wind will blow here, no rain will fall. No ice will touch these powerful sacred places. Sometimes these gods will demand an awful price for their intervention and aid. Yet, the Celtic people always believed in the souls immortality and ability to be reborn. Such eternal places remind them of this. These places are venerated across the Isles, and even priests of other religions remain respectful at such magical places.
The sacred place might be a special oak grove of ancient trees. It might be a natural formation, wrought of time and erosion. Or it might be a deep well, spring or river. Often, a particular deity will be venerated at a holy place, giving rise to a special cult of priestesses who serve the needs of the sacred place. Usually, the cult is not widespread and is still under the authority of the Merlin , Lady of the Lake, or one of the priestess Queens.
The Dryads are an example of a powerful cult that has risen within the Celtic religion. This all-female cult seeks to protect nature from the depredations of any creature; be it human or Otherworldly in nature. Sects of the cult, tied to particular groves of ancient oak, actively recruit Magically Gifted women, and those who have fey blood or ancestry. Lead by a Dryad Queen, each sect is independent and acts on its own accord and purpose. However, these Dryads receive training similar to bards, poets, and priestesses and have a similar hierarchical system. In fact, Dryad cults will work in cooperation with the druids and priestesses to satisfy common goals. The Dryads view themselves as a separate but equal cult. (Some druids and priestesses may feel otherwise, but they generally keep this to themselves.)
The cult has few members, as those of Fey lineage and magical talents are exceedingly rare. It is known to the priestesses of Avalon that there are scattered Dryad sects in Britain and Ireland, but they are not known to exist in Pict land. Dryads prefer hidden oak groves in the hearts of old growth forests, just as the druids do. They may sometimes gather for a Dryad Court in a rounded hollow near a river or a hidden spring. Here they may work powerful magic in cooperation.
One cult is known to exist not far from the isle of Avalon in Glastening. It is located in an old grove four or five days travel northeast of Avalon. Lead by a mysterious figure known as Queen Adwen, the Dryads here often work in partnership with the aims of the Lady of the Lake, the High Priestess who ostensibly maintains authority over the female side of the druid tradition. See the section on Famous Figures for specific information on the Queen of the Dryads.
Who Are the Druids?
The druids (which refer to the male priests of the old Celtic religion) and priestesses (referring to the females) are the keepers of the Old Ways. They venerate the old gods, and act as preservers of the Celtic culture. They have memorized all the laws, stories and knowledge of their ancestors and act now as judges, religious leaders, and advisors. They travel the lands in search of knowledge and stories. This they share with other druids and priestesses. The more a druid learns to contribute to the combined storehouse of knowledge, the greater his ultimate standing shall be.
One of the most noble things a druid can do is to undertake a quest to solve a riddle. In fact, riddles are of key importance to the druid way of thinking. This kind of problem-solving ability has earned them a reputation of incredible wisdom amongst all the people of the Isles, but sometimes it's very difficult to get a straight answer out of them. Druids wish to encourage thinking at all times, and will prefer to guide people to find their own answers, rather than simply provide them with the answers.
Youngsters wishing training to become a bard, poet, or ultimately a priestess or druid can come from all levels of society, except slave. In addition, this training is generally only open to those of Celtic descent, although exceptions may be made if a proper sponsor is found. Training almost always begins at the age of seven. Girls are taken to the isle of Avalon in Glastening and remain there until the desired level of training is received. Boys are taken to the isle of Mona (Anglesey) in Gwynedd. These children are usually, but not always, from the noble class. It is very possible for a child of low aptitude to be refused by priestesses or druids. Bardic training is generally less intense (and therefore takes less time) than training as a poet, which is less than the training to become a druid/priestess.
If the young student show an aptitude and desire to learn the mystical arts, special training is arranged. Any number of skills and spells can be taught at Avalon, Mona, and within cults. Cults tend to follow a cohesive theme which matches the aspects of the deity celebrated.
The topmost position of the druids is that of the archdruid, referred to as the Merlin. This title is theoretically bestowed upon the foremost druid by a council of druids. When the title is assumed, that druid forever takes the title, Merlin, as his name and casts away his old name. This serves not only as a badge of honor and recognition among the druids, but also to create the sense of an immortal mystical being at the head of the eternal order of druids. It is true that the high levels of the druid priesthood do not know for certain if the Merlin has been the same man throughout the ages, or if there have been many. His seat of power resides at the venerable, ancient isle of Mona which has always been the focus of druidic knowledge and power since the earliest arrival of the Celts to the British Isles.
The Lady of the Lakes position is similar. Her place among the priestesses is said to be chosen in the same way by the high priestesses, as the Merlin was among the druids. Where the Merlin will often hold his own council, mysterious and separate from the greater druids, the Lady of the Lake claims three advisors, styled as queens.
The first, titled Queen of the Fey (known on the Continent as Le Fey) traditionally presides over the nine maiden priestesses who care for the body of the fallen King Arthur and his son. It is said they watch for the Once and Future King to rise again. The Saxons fear the prophesy means that their terrible enemy will rise from the sleep of the dead to lead the British. But the truth may be even stranger; the druids believe Arthur will be reborn. This Queens domain is prophecy and maintains strong connections with the Otherworld. It is the Lady of the Lakes hope that the Fey Queen can predict when Arthurs soul returns once more.
The second, referred to as the Queen of the Northgales, has dominion over the priestesses of the north of old Hadrians wall. This roughly includes all the Celtic lands north of Rheged, but including the Isle of Man. The domain of the Picts and islands of strange sea creatures and giants are included in this.
Finally, there is the Queen of the Wastelands. Although this position also has Otherworldly connections, it also refers to the lands controlled by the Saxons. In this way, the Lady of the Lake can maintain contact with conquered Celts and still provide aid for them.
More information about the Isle of Avalon and the Isle of Mona can be found in the kingdom descriptions of Glastening and Gwynedd, respectively.
Bards are highly respected, even though they officially occupy only the lowest levels of the druidic hierarchy. Although the Merlin of the druids is widely known, especially in the tales of High King Arthur, famous bards have made their mark upon the hearts and minds of the British people. For instance, perhaps the greatest bard ever known, Taliesin was not only a man of great poetry and musical talent, but he was extremely powerful in the magical arts, as well. In Britain as well as Ireland and Brittany, bards are venerated.
When traveling, bards can expect hospitality. Even the poorest of farmers will attempt to treat the bard with respect and provide food and shelter. In return, the bard is expected to honor his hosts with tales and song recounting the glories of the British people.
Skilled and famous bards are often asked to the courts of kings or powerful princes and nobles in order to record their deeds (which will bring the noble fame) and to remind them of the old stories. Bards, with access to centuries of experience and wisdom, are excellent choices as advisors.
The bardic profession is not gender-specific. Either sex may hold the title of Bard, and both are expected to be treated with the same respect. After all, it can be lethally unwise to insult a bard. A scalding tale describing such an ignoble act can quickly erode even a kings power even costing him his throne. A man who has much, has much to lose, as it is said.
Poets have received further training. They can recount even more epics, and are more skilled in devising poetry. They often have abilities which allow them to serve as seers, or prophets. Their ability in shaping words lends itself well to shaping magic.
Poets receive the same recognition and respect bards do. They are somewhat less known to perform song and music than bards, although they tend to have even greater skill. Their quest lies ultimately in becoming recognized as a druid. To do so, the poet must complete the training and then travel abroad to learn the final lessons from life itself. The final challenge facing a poet before becoming recognized as a full druid is to find the answer to a riddle assigned him by his superiors.
Often, poets are often to as druids by outsiders; the difference is usually lost on the common people. Indeed, the difference is merely a point of technicality within the order itself. Like bards, poets have no obligation to move further through the ranks. As with bards, poet is the title given to both male and female adepts.
Druids tend to be quite rare. Even on Mona, much of the teaching is often done by elder poets. The Merlin himself is rarely at his seat of power on the isle, preferring instead to roam the lands following his own mysterious agenda. Circles of druids will gather at sacred places, and sometimes a few will appoint themselves guardian of an open air shrine. This is especially common for older druids who, though possibly quite magically powerful, find extensive travel too uncomfortable at their age.
Still, these elusive mystics tend to be surprisingly well informed and meet often. They gather from time to time based on the time of year and meaningful astrological events at sacred places. When and where this occurs is a secret rarely revealed to outsiders.
Note that even this high position in the old religion does not require magical gifts and knowledge in spell casting. Instead, sheer knowledge and intelligence is what is needed. Often, druids will have a particular area of expertise and endeavor to expand this knowledge in order to pass it on.
Unlike the title of poet and bard, the title of druid is male-specific. There are no female druids. Instead, they are referred to as priestesses.
Priestesses are those women who have moved through the ranks of bard and poet to gain the highest positions of respect and power. Priestesses have the same amount of independence as the druids do, however, they tend to attach themselves to a location more often. As the druids specialize in a particular field of knowledge, priestesses specialize in a particular god or goddess. Priestesses capable of spell casting will specialize in knowledges favored by these deities and can be granted gifts of knowledge and spellcraft by these deities. Often a powerful and learned priestess can form a cult of her own at a sacred place.
The Role of Good & Evil
The Celts have a neutral view of the world. To them, good and evil are entirely subjective concepts. In other words, what is good for one individual may or not seem good to another individual. All these things have their place in life. Gods of death represent a basic force of nature. A goddess of healing and nature represents other forces of nature.
Heroes and hero worship is common in Dawn of Legends, even among non-Celts. The Celtic heroes and heroines, like their gods, are never perfect. The greatest of heroes still have an important lesson to learn, and a fatal flaw.
Their view of spirituality often influences how the druids handle appeasement of the gods and balancing of nature. Rites considered bloodthirsty by outsiders are considered merely balancing the score between the Otherworld and the Middle or physical world. Sometimes sacrifices of animals must be made to soothe an angry god, or to cause the land to become fertile. Sometimes a god of war for instance, will require a willing human sacrifice to be made to him to prove the faith and loyalty of his followers. For the benefit of the community, a man or woman may be honored to make this sacrifice. In exchange for this heavy price, they shall have a boon in their next life or old soul-debts forgiven. Death is only temporary. A strong belief in a true form of immortality in reincarnation gives them the strength and ferocity to confront the worst hardship and the hardest battles with spirit and vigor. This is not to say human sacrifice is common among all the Celts. In fact, it is rare and done in only the most solemn of circumstances. When the odds are against the people, the faithful always have the druids to call upon to find the answer and if necessary, perform the rites.
Some Important British Gods and Goddesses
Realm: War, battle, and death.
Associated Tree/Knowledge: Alder, Elder
Description: This is the war goddess to whom the legendary Boudicea offered sacrifices in a sacred grove when she lead the revolt against Rome. She is said to be both mysterious and terrible. Some cults which revere her use the bear totem to manifest her power.
Realm: Father god. A king of the Underworld.
Associated Tree/Knowledge: Ivy/contacting spirits of the dead
Description: This god is the husband of Dôn, the British father god. It is said that he lights a bale fire upon the Tor of Avalon to purify the entrance of the domain of the god of the dead, Gwyn ap Nudd.
Cernunos (usually simply, the Horned God)
Realm: The Underworld, land of the dead. Also reigns over animals, hunting and fertility.
Associated Tree/Knowledge: Oak/Holly
Description: This antlered god has been pictured holding a ram-headed snake in his left hand, a symbol of Otherworldly wisdom. He is the master of hunting, whose purpose it is to gather the souls of the living to take to the Underworld. He is also guardian of the Otherworlds gates, prince of the animal kingdom, and god of the woodlands and male fertility. Many Celts believe their people are decendended from him.
Realm: Wisdom & prophecy
Associated Tree/Knowledge: Willow/Shape shifting
Description: This powerful but dark goddess is known for her ability to brew a potion from which all knowledge may be ingested. In Celtic lore, the great bard Taliesin gained his powers of knowledge and magic by accidentally imbibing three drops of the potion. After taking many shapes and fleeing his pursuer, he eventually became a single grain of wheat which was gobbled up by Cerridwen. She then became pregnant upon resuming her natural form and bore the child. He was so beautiful, that Cerridwen could no longer bring herself to simply kill him. Instead, she sewed him into a bag and threw him in a river. It is said that he was found by a boy fishing, and when he opened the bag he first saw the babys forehead. So beautiful was the child, the boy named him Taliesin, which means beautiful brow. Thus the great bard, Taliesin entered our world.
Realm: God of the Sun and Harvest
Description: This is the god for which one of the major Celtic holy days was named. Lughnasadh, also called Lamas in Britain, is a celebration of the grain harvest. He is the patron of bards, money, arts and the sun. He is the most widely celebrated of the Celtic gods.
Gwyn ap Nudd [gwin ap neeth] white son of darkness. Also known as Arawn, Lord of Annwn.
Realm: War, death, the Wild Hunt. Patron of fallen warriors.
Associated Tree/Knowledge: Ivy/when attempting to communicate with the dead.
Description: This gods domain lies within the Underworld. The portal is said to lie beneath the Isle of Avalon. This is the ruler of Annwn, land of the dead. The Christian are coming to view the underworld god as the Devil himself because of these associations.
Realm: God of the sea, son of Llyr
Associated Tree/Knowledge: Alder, Ash, Sea
Description: A chameleon-like god who roams the sea between Britain and Ireland. He is said to often visit the Isle of Man, which was named for him, as well as isles near Dal Riada to the north. His arms consist of a yellow and red spear and a magic sword called the Retaliator, which is said to never miss. His armor of chain with a breastplate is invulnerable, and his helmet is bejeweled. He wears a mantle which provides him with invisibility. Finally, he is said to have once ruled an underwater kingdom which serves as a sanctuary for water-fairies and the monstrous Fomorians, formerly of Ireland.
Rhiannon (great queen)
Realm: Goddess of horses, Otherworld goddess of dreams
Associated Tree/Knowledge: Willow
Description: She is symbolized by a white horse, and in legend she is depicted as riding one. She is also the goddess of the moon and bringer of dreams. Rhiannon is a goddess of death, though, and sometimes takes the lives of fishermen and sailors who are lured by her beautiful singing.
Realm: Wisdom, goddess of Bath, hot springs, and the Sun
Associated Tree/Knowledge: Silver Fir/clear vision & knowledge
Description: This goddess is often pictured wearing a bears head, representing her strength and power. She is respected for her clear sightedness and knowledge. It is said that bathing in her spring at Caer Baddan in the land of Bath can cure disease.
Many gods and goddesses exist in the Celtic lore and these are but a few of the most famous. In fact, many different local deities exist in immense variety. Game Masters (GMs) should feel free to pull in there own favorites, or make up new ones, as they wish or as the campaign develops.