Religion In Norlundar
Religious practise in Norlundar was extremely diverse by the standards of most of the Realm. Each of the Clans had its own ways and practises, and while different shamans, priests and wise men argued about whose ways were stronger, there were never any serious attempts to enforce a single orthodoxy. For all the diversity among the clans, some common factors still arose: Spirits, Ancestors, and the worship of Zartosht.
One thing on which just about every Norl can agree is the existence of spirits. By the most commonplace interpretation, everything that exists has a spirit, including, animals, people, plants, houses, different parts of the land, even the World itself. These spirits are an expression of the thing that they represent in its purest form, growing stronger or weaker, but never truly changing. The worlds of flesh and spirit exist side by side and interact with one another, with spirits being able to lend assistance to men and vice versa. How exactly this comes about varies depending on the tale, but the basic premise remains commonplace.
Norls will often pay homage to spirits, offering worship and sacrifice, in the hope that the spirits will accept their gifts and return the favour. Land spirits are most commonly worshipped, with great pains being taken to ensure that the fields are fertile during the brief time when winter has released its grasp. It is also customary to sacrifice to the spirit of one's house, to ensure good luck and favour on one's continued residence. Other spirits are followed by different tribes. The women of the Daelwrod, for example, regularly offer sacrifices to wolf spirits, in honour of the companions which follow them from their birth.
Those who practise the magical art of Hexing are seen as being able to make the strongest intercessions with the spirits, and are treated with special respect as such.
Human beings have spirits just the same as plants and animals. These spirits, so the teachings say, endure after a person's death, and still maintain that person's interest in the well-being of their friends and family. Reverence for the ancestors is even more commonly practised than reverence for the spirits, as caring for one's family is a high virtue, whether that family be living or dead. Most people honour their ancestors without any real expectation of assistance, as it is known that a spirit without a body has a hard time influencing the world of flesh. Still, there are those whose deeds were great enough in life that their spirit retains a great deal of power after death. These ancestors are treated with special reverence, although it is still uncommon to make offerings to ancestors you are not related to.
Ancestors have been known to manifest as ghosts, or to communicate through dreams. This only happens if they have a message of great importance to communicate, or if they are offering blessings to a favoured descendant. Those who practise the magical art of the Seer are traditionally said to petition the ancestors for wisdom.
While Zartosht was not known to the Norls by name for most of their history, it is commonly accepted that The Man Above is the same entity as the Norlish Huntsman. The tales of the Huntsman refer to him as being the first human being to raise himself above the animals, making him the greatest of the ancestor spirits, as he is ancestor to every living person. One thing that the Norlish have in common with other followers of Zartosht is their lack of an organised priesthood. The bards and elders tell stories of the great deeds of The Man Above, but it is agreed that he would scorn any who tried to kneel before him rather than standing beside him. The blessings of Zartosht are given, so the stories say, to those who Zartosht considers to be most like him. He demands no prayers or sacrifices as thanks, and is willing to take away his blessings as quickly as he gives them if his chosen prove unworthy.
Interestingly, the chieftains of the Clan Villi claim that they can trace their lineage back through an unbroken line of first-born sons to the first child of Zartosht himself. In the halls of the Villi is is taboo to mention their ancestor by name, in case he should think that his children need his assistance, something that would arouse his instant displeasure.
The doctrine of the United Church says that Gods are Gods, apart from men, creators of this world rather than parts of it. The Clans of Norlundar find this peculiar. Why should creatures not of this world care what happens in it? Still, the strength of the gods is impossible to deny, so some Norls worship them anyway, albeit in their own idiosyncratic way.
Aethon is at once the most and least popular of the gods of the United Church. His strength at arms is respected, as is his honour and uncompromising stand against evil, but his status as ancestor of the Damryan High Kings makes him a respected rival to the Norls instead of a friend. Many ancient Norlish tales speak of a rivalry between the Huntsman and Aethon, with each man seeking constantly to prove his superiority to the other but neither ever being able to conclusively achieve victory.
Other stories claim that Vaitera is the first woman just as Zartosht is the first man, and that her mercy stems from the fact that all men are her children. These tales are comparatively recent, and have little traction compared to the legends of the Huntsman.
Tyaus and Gebrick are usually ignored by Norls. Norlish nobility prefer to invoke the pride and independence of Zartosht, while Gebrick is seen as a 'soft' god, unsuited to the harshness of northern life.
Devotees of Olcan claim that a number of Norlish ancestors were likely manifestations of Olcan under assumed names. Most Norls are happy enough to go along with this, as their society holds bards and story-tellers in high regard.
Travel in the harsh conditions of Norlundar was difficult, and therefore never undertaken lightly. As so few travelled far from the place of their birth, few Norls had reason to revere Ferodir. Nonetheless, a traveller bringing news was always welcomed, and a few tribes began to pray to him in earnest on the Long Retreat.