Rituals of the Far Place

Mikael Raaterova presents some Orlanthi rituals to spice up campaign play

This article was first published in Questlines.

A Ceremony For the Dead: the Celebration of Tungol Moonfoe

The Orlanthi are a blessed people who can reap the fruits of both Air and Earth, and their last rites are symbolical of that Divine Marriage between Orlanth and Ernalda. The following is based upon a ceremony of the Red Maiden clan of the Vantaros tribe prior to the Righteous Wind Rebellion of 1611, but in many ways can be seen as a typical Orlanthi funeral. Both men’s and women’s ceremonies take a very similar form. Such ceremonies are for mainstream tribal Orlanthi worshipping Orlanth, Ernalda, or Barntar: that is, pantheon worshippers without a strong tie to a single cult. Followers of other gods such as Humakt or Odayla will usually be sent on their spirit journey in other ways.

Turgol’s body is first purified with water and funeral oils at the clan’s Cleansing Place, and then clad in his ceremonial dress. Carved prayer sticks bearing reminders of life and containing knowledge needed in the land of the dead are placed about the corpse. It is then carried to the stead to be displayed so that everyone (even children) can attest to the death and be familiar with its presence.

Tungol is carried on a bier with processional slowness to the burial site, and lifted onto a raised bed which has been constructed for the ceremony. For ordinary Orlanthi it is more or less a sturdy platform of a man’s height, covered with cloth, on which the bier is placed.

The mourners dress themselves in their finest clothes and jewellery. They don’t want to farewell the dead looking like stickpickers. This also ensures that the Soulguide spirit will recognise Turgol’s bloodline and his importance to the clan, and so treat him with proper respect.

The clan lawspeaker (or another elder or godi, or in rare cases an ancestral shaman or kolating) decries aloud “Who will speak for Tungol, son of Hengol Redshield and Edda Rainsong?”

The First Speaker steps forward and says “I will speak for Tungol,” and then proceeds to tell of a tale of Tungol’s life. When the tale is complete, he or she takes their place by the High Bed. The Lawspeaker asks again, and the Second Speaker steps forward, recites their tale, and takes a place by the High Bed. This goes on until the Seventh Speaker has borne witness to the life and deeds of Tungol Moonfoe. Each speaker is aware that their words will be weighed by Orlanth and Daka Fal as the gods sit in judgement on Tungol’s spirit.

The Lawspeaker then asks, “Is Tungol then to go to the Halls of Orlanth like a stickpicker, naked, without his arms and accoutrements, without the gifts of his friends and family?” The First Speaker answers “No. I will give him (whatever the gift may be)” and places it on the Gift Table.

When all seven have replied, the clan Trickster rushes forward, claiming he will keep the gifts safe until the body is given to the earth. The speakers seize him and throw him out of the gathering, reviling him as a grave robber and nefarious defiler. Then the holy barrel containing the funeral mead of Minlister is opened, and everybody salutes Tungol with a toast and sip from the tankard.

The Lawspeaker then concludes the ceremony, charging Tungol’s wife, brother, sister, eldest son or eldest daughter with the safekeeping of the gifts until the body is buried in its mound. Everybody then proceeds to the funeral feast, where the life and deeds of Tungol are celebrated and immortalised in song.

Finally, the Soulsender (a priest of either Orlanth, Issaries, Mastakos, Ty Kora Tek or a Kolating in their psychopomp aspect) instructs the Soulguide (usually an ancestral spirit) to lead Tungol to the Halls of Silence, charging them to go with the speed of the wind. He then seals the burial site and leaves to join the feast.

Tungol’s body is left to the judgement of winds and birds until his worldly flesh is gone, and only the bones, given by the Earth, remain. These remains are then carried to the urn field. Only those related to Tungol by blood (which with Orlanthi extended families, can still be quite a few people) perform this part of the ceremony, led by an earth priestess. It’s quite a solemn affair.

The gifts are laid down with the bones along with weapons and items essential for life in the other world. Tungol’s wife takes her wedding cloak (which a groom weaves for his bride during their courtship) and spreads it over the grave, which is then filled. A Ty Kora Tek priestess then seals the grave, and guardian spirits bound to protect it. Finally, a carved memorial stone may be erected near the stead or the the clan’s gathering place.

Notes: The whole of a clan’s burial area is permanently warded by a Psychopomp spell similar to Create Great Market. Amongst other differences, the staffs are Warden Poles, which are described below.

Speakers demonstrate how good and noteworthy the dead were by their gifts. A great person receives equally great gifts. And of course, the speakers show their own status and honour by their gifts. In Orlanthi society, your wealth isn’t measured in what you own but by what you can afford to give to others. Wealth is measured by your ability to give things away.

When Orlanth performed the first Ceremony for the Dead, he asked who would be the safe-keeper of the gifts. Eurmal volunteered, claiming he wanted to perform a last service for the beloved son of his equally beloved thane. Orlanth gave him the gifts for safe-keeping. Eurmal tried to keep them safe for a while, but ended up trading them for services and secrets.

When Orlanth came to collect the gifts, Eurmal explained how Yelmalio had stolen them to wound the pride of Old Stormy. So Orlanth went to Yelmalio and grappled with him to win the gifts back by the trial of combat. There he learnt he had been rudely tricked by Eurmal. Of course Orlanth didn’t apologise to Yelmalio, so there is still great hostility between them (at least in Far Point). Eurmal is still laughing.

Boundary Stones: the Landnama of the Orlanthi

The Orlanthi make a distinction between the wilds and the clan lands (the cland) cultivated by the stead, the boundaries of which they mark with special stones. While they may be included as part of the tula, the wilds are lands claimed by the animal and element tribes, and mere humans enter at their own risk. Dangerous spirits and creatures roam freely there, given to Laws more ancient and deadly than those of Orlanth. Such distinctions are especially important for followers of the Elemental Covenant, for certain lands of the animal and element tribes must not be hunted or even entered without permission. The guardian of these lands is the Lady of the Wilds.

The clands on the other hand are domesticated and thus warded through the power of Ernalda. The warding is accomplished by planting the Boundary Stones.

The boundary ceremony is elaborate, involving a recital of claims to the land by the Power of the Storm, a recognition of the power of the Lady of the Wilds in her own realm, and an affirmation of the Three Element Dance as set down by Odayla and regained by the Animal Twins. This is usually done by reciting relevant parts of the Taroskarla. Lawspeakers and Master Hunters are prominent in the ritual.

Under every boundary stone are buried the bones of totem animals and other ritual objects. The stones are ceremonially painted with a mixture of red ochre, milk and blood, and blessed by an Ernalda Priestess and a Storm Voice, (preferably married to each other), and by an animal shaman or Great Hunter.

Orlanthi never claim more land than they can use. If a clan grows, the boundary stones are moved to claim land from the Wild Mother after proper ceremony and sacrifice. If the clands border only other clands, a new stead must be formed somewhere else. In the north and west of Far Point this is not a problem – the nearest stead is usually a good half day’s journey away. However the Sharl Plains, inhabited by the man-strong Princeros and Vantaros, are much more heavily populated. Land-claim conflicts sometimes erupt into clan feuds; for example the Red Maiden clan has quarreled with the Mordings for decades since Owlstead moved their boundary stones far into the lands claimed by Stormsong Stead.

The  Planting of the Stones is usually conducted during Fire Season. When new stones are planted to mark the border between different clands, as when a clan splits in two, or a new clan is founded, the ceremony is a little different, involving endless oaths of eternal kinship and brotherly peace between the clans.

The Walking of the Boundary is done every Sea Season. It involves a quick blessing and repainting of the stones. The Claim to the Land and the Welcoming of Ernalda are recited by bloodline representatives, as is the Wilderness Oath to the Lady, or, if the boundary is between clands, the Oath of Kinship. It is a communal ceremony but only a single member of every family need be there, usually the family elder. Each stead performs their own Walking, unless the clan is very small.

The Walking of the Boundaries is closely connected with the Plough Day of Barntar, which it precedes. The Walking is a yearly renewal of the clands, which must be ritually awakened and presented to Ernalda before the fields may be ploughed. If they are not ‘readied’ in this manner the clands will be barren during the year without the renewed blessing of the Returning Goddess.

The Lady of the Wilds must be propitiated with sacrifices before Plough Day or she’ll be offended by the agrarian magics of her rival nephew Barntar. Plough Day confers the domesticated fertility needed to grow barley instead of weeds, infusing clands with the return-to-life-energies that have awakened within the earth.

Note: To the Orlanthi ‘eternal kinship’ means one generation if you’re lucky. Similarly, Greg Stafford has explained that an Orlanthi ‘all’ means 85% (All men are warriors, All women take the childbirth heropath). By contrast a Lunar ‘all’ means 51% (All of our pacts are binding), and a Solar ‘all’ 98%. (All of our Rune Lords are men).

Warden Poles: Keeping Evil In The Wilds

The Warden is a spiritual guardian that keeps a stead (or other special area, such as a clan’s urnfield and sacrificial tree) free from unwelcome visitors and disease. The physical representation of the warden is a two or three metre pole. Atop the pole is affixed a hideous carved representation or skull of a predatory animal or a bull. The totem is fixed with an iron nail to let it threaten the unwelcome with the metal’s cold, commanding presence. Usually the pole is further ‘decorated’ with a symbolic weapon, blood, bones, claws and tusks, with chimepipes, and occasionally with the human head of a clan enemy.

Warden Poles always facing outwards, so you know you should take another path when you see a scare-ugly mask or skull glaring down at you. If you proceed, you do so at your own risk.

The Warden is most effective when blessed by a Dark Earth priestess (though the blessing of any priest can empower the warden). The spirit of the skull’s former owner is usually bound to the Warden, so the more powerful or ‘evil’ the animal the better.

The Marsh Warden is similar to ordinary Warden Poles but is used to prevent bogwraiths from leaving the Ghosts Marshes. It is there that criminals are drowned, impaled on at least three spears and sunk with weights on hands and feet. Because they keep things in rather than out, they face towards the Bog.

(A sadistic GM might allow the Trackless Path to lure players into the Ghost Marshes for a bit of soul-wrenching spirit combat, eerie scenery and fighting the somehow-animated corpses of criminals. And if they escape… the Wild Hunt is always waiting. Who said you can’t play horror in Glorantha?)

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