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Shamanism Origins

From 'On Shamanism, the Origins and Structure of the faith of the Northlands' by Scholar Tobias the Dubious.

To understand the organization of shamanism, or more precisely the lack thereof, one needs to understand that the term is something of a misnomer. In truth when says 'shamanism', they are describing a great number of different religions that have been worshipped in the Northlands since well before the Age of Songs and into the Age of Dreams. Before the Reckoning, the Northlands was not organized into houses and a unified kingdom as the other four kingdoms were, and were more what most of the Compact would now consider among the most barbarous of shavs before the forced unification by Queen Valeria. During that ancient time period, literacy was largely unknown in the North and many of those tribes were nomadic, depending entirely upon oral traditions of story and song for their history, and shamans were as much men and women of faith as historians for their tribes.

Shamans, thus, were also closely tied by blood to their clan or tribe, and tended to always be from the ruling caste for whatever religion they followed. In many cases, a position as high shaman would be effectively hereditary (which is argued why the Faith of the Pantheon insists upon the Godsworn swearing off progeny), and among some houses to this day it still often is, however unofficial or informal the title might be. Once Valeria united the North under House Redrain, however, many of the starkest differences between the great many faiths of the Northlands were smoothed out, and some small degree of shared beliefs began to develop as House Redrain established primacy over the North and it became natural for vassals to defer to the house paramount and incorporate aspects of Redrain's shamanism into their own. But in a very real sense, there are as many forms of shamanism and different religions as there are northern houses, clans of prodigals, or Abandoned tribes in the Northlands. Unlike the Faith of the Pantheon, which has developed into an entirely separate institution as part of the Compact and distinct from the great houses, each northern house in many ways controls its own faith and the head of household has sway over who might appropriately speak on behalf of shamans.

As for the individual traditions, House Redrain's brand of Shamanism has been most dominant, with many of their vassals also following much the same strand with little variation. This is known as the Path of the Elders. (see 'help shamanism') The Path of the Elders is perhaps the most compatible with the Faith of the Pantheon, and most northerns that adopt shamanistic beliefs and still worship the Faith of the Pantheon as well follow this path, as very little is contradictory. The Path of the Elders can even be said to be more of a philosophy than a religion at all, with many adherents never truly praying to the spirits of the deep places or ancestors to ask for boons or guidance, but instead seeing the ancient rites of nature worship as a way of being at peace with the Pure Soul, or part of the soul in tune with the other realm and nature around it. Traditionally, most of the shamans of the Path of the Elders defer to the high shaman of House Redrain, in a clear acknowledgement of how closely tied shamanism is to the noble houses.

While the Path of the Elders is far and away the most common, many of the less compatible shamanistic traditions stubbornly cling on, however uncomfortable it might make the southern houses. The Path of the Hunt often draws unfavorable comparisons to some of the darker religions practiced by Abandoned tribes, and almost certainly comes from the same source, as it strongly believes in the power of the blood. Practicing augury through rites performed on the bodies of animals slain in hunts (and not explicitly done sacrifices, to avoid comparisons to shav blood sacrifices), shamans of the Path of the Hunt believe they can see the answers reflected in the blood, and often hear the spirits speak to them. Unlike the Path of the Elders, many of the Huntsmen effectively deify totemic spirits of the deep places, though individual worship is rare, and it is more akin to respect and reverence than asking for boons or guidance from those same spirits, instead seeing the messages from the Hunt as being the whispers of lesser spirits after the moment of their passing. While most of the Compact is relatively understanding of the augury practices, chalking them up to Northern foibles, some of the most fervent of the Faith of the Pantheon point to the Path of the Hunt as a step closer to the blood sacrifices of shavs and should be banned outright. It remains tolerated in Arx, even if any auguries or blood rites are nearly universally performed in private to avoid offending southern sensibilities.

Many rarer shamanic Paths exist, though few have adherents outside of the small noble house or clan that spawned the traditions. One notable one called the Path of Storms existed from the Age of Songs till the start of the Elven War, with the last druids praying to what most of the Faith of the Pantheon describe as bastardizations of Mangata and Petrichor, the great spirits of the air and the wilds, some called the Thunderborn. That Path supposedly died with Pena, the last Hierophant, but many wild Paths still show themselves from time to time among prodigal clans bending the knee in the Northlands and rejoining the Compact. Once every great while, a Path will veer too closely to the blood rites of the Abandoned and be roundly renounced, with the worship turning into a cult and needing to be ended with force of arms. In those occasions, another house with fringe shamanic beliefs will be forced to set it aside and follow he Path of the Elders, or renounce it entirely for the Faith of the Pantheon.