the raven queen
Goddess of death, reaper of souls, the caller in the night, the voice in the void, the mercy bringer, speaker in dreams, the dark goddess
Overview: Few gods engender as much confusion, uncertainty, and fear as the Raven Queen, even though she is not counted among the evil gods, and is certainly not considered destructive or belligerent. This deity is shrouded in secrecy, legend, and myth to such an extent that separating truth from fiction proves a daunting task.
Most people hold a firm understanding of where the gods fit into their lives. Most folk, for example, fear Bane and his disciples, while they respect Bahamut’s clerics, appreciate those of Pelor, and distrust anything involving Ankadi. The Raven Queen, however, engenders conflicting emotions and uncertainty in almost every living creature. Is she evil? Is she a greedy thief of souls and stealer of joy? What happens to those she claims? Where do souls go after death? These questions remain hidden from mortals, obscured by the veil that separates life from death. At times, the Death Goddess seems vindictive or unpredictable, while at other times she seems merciful or even gentle.
Few mortal creatures view death as something cheerful or welcome. Despite this, virtually every person understands the inevitability of death, and its crucial part of the life cycle. As a result, the typical response to the Goddess of Death is a curious blend of fear, suspicion, reluctance, and acceptance. There is no escape from her clutches in the end.
Many mortals view death, and the Death Goddess, with superstitious dread. In their eyes, every sign is an omen of impending death, every strange occurrence a foreboding of the dark reaper. There are countless legends, folktales, and myths surrounding death and dying, the afterlife, and the Raven Queen’s role in the process. Underlying these fears is one basic question: where do souls go after death? It is said that the gods do not even know where most souls travel after death, and the truth remains known only to the Queen.
Servants of the Raven Queen wage a constant struggle to educate people about the goddess. They proclaim the Queen is a friend to mortals. She brings cessation of pain and suffering, grants peace to those ravaged by age, and makes room for the birth of new souls. The Raven Queen is an extension of nature, a part of the cycle of life and death. In this way, she is no more evil than a bolt of lightning or rainstorm. She claims the souls of the dead because that is her role, not because it brings her any pleasure or glee.
Not surprisingly, even the clerics of the Death Goddess are shrouded in folktales and rumor. Many people look upon these priests as bad luck. At the same time, when a friend or family member passes away, people call upon these priests without hesitation. When it comes to the realm of the dead, there is no one else to call upon.
There exist several ancient legends surrounding the Raven Queen. These suggest that, at one time another god ruled the domain of death. This cruel deity, Nerull, reaped souls with unrestrained delight, and brought death to inflict suffering, not to alleviate it or to maintain the natural order. According to legend, a mortal woman of tremendous power challenged Nerull to a duel. In the end, the woman defeated Nerull and took his place. As part of the bargain, however, she surrendered her soul and abandoned her mortal existence. Other legends speak of the Raven Queen’s eternal battles against Orcus, Demon Lord of the Undead.
The Raven Queen frequently receives the prayers of warriors, soldiers, and those who risk their lives often. Although these individuals may not consider the Queen their patron deity, all warriors appreciate the constant proximity of death; after all, they function in a dangerous, violent, and unpredictable profession. To men and women of the sword, death remains a constant companion. Wise warriors do not seek out death, but they do not fear it or run from the Raven Queen. In the end, there is no such thing as outrunning death, so it is best to say your prayers to her and have your affairs in order before every conflict. Many people believe the goddess becomes most vindictive and persistent with those who try to cheat her or avoid her cold embrace.
Spheres of Influence: Death, dying, the departed, funerals, fate, winter, dreams
Avatar: Every aspect of the Raven Queen is cloaked in mystery and wrapped in folklore. The existence (or lack thereof) of her avatar is one of countless legends surrounding the goddess. Numerous sages argue that the Queen of Death is removed from the mortal realm; she is only a dispassionate and disinterested viewer, never a direct participant.
A number of theologians, and many of the Raven Queen’s clergy, on the other hand, argue the opposite. They firmly believe the Raven Queen’s aspect visits the mortal world frequently, far more than the avatar of any other deity.
According to stories, the Queen has two guises. The first guise is that of the Reaper, a tall and emaciated figure clad in black robes and wielding a scythe. If you see the Reaper, you are her next quarry – your death is imminent. The figure never speaks, only motions with the scythe or with a nod of its hooded head. The Reaper primarily appears to those who have cheated death in some way. Despite the somewhat frightening imagery of this aspect, followers of the goddess argue this avatar does not inflict pain or suffering, and it seeks only to maintain the natural order of death as the end of life.
The other aspect of the Raven Queen appears as a woman with dark, shoulder-length hair dressed in somber gray robes. She appears pale, her eyes are a deep blue the color of the ocean. Her voice is mellifluous and serene, and her every motion implies graceful certainty and peace. She can be seen by any creature with eyes, not just those about to die. Indeed, this aspect of the Queen is said to appear on a battlefield just before the conflict, or at the site of an impending tragedy.
Signs & Portents: Because death is such an omnipresent part of the mortal condition, every culture and race believes in different omens and portents of death and dying. Many humans, for example, believe the appearance of a raven on the windowsill at twilight is a sign the occupant of the room will die before morning. Elves consider the sudden arrival of a flock of ravens signals an impending battle or disaster. Dwarves believe that a black cat is an omen of death. Even the most learned of the Raven Queen’s clergy are unable to determine which omens are true and which are coincidental. In the end, the Queen keeps her own counsel as to when death strikes, and she is rarely inclined to offer hints and forewarnings.
Dreams, although not necessarily considered omens of the Raven Queen’s will, are nonetheless important. Worshippers of the Queen of Death believe that the dream world is connected to the realm of death. When a mortal dreams, he travels one step closer to the Raven Queen’s demesne (one foot in the grave, so to speak). The dream world offers mortals their only glimpse (shadowy and shrouded though it may usually be) into life after death.
Tenets of the Faith: Hold no pity for those who suffer and die, for death is the natural end of life. On the surface, this may seem a harsh of uncaring philosophy. It represents a stark and unavoidable truth; death is unavoidable, and death always wins in the end. Underneath, however, are numerous deeper ideas and beliefs. The tenet has nothing to do with ignoring suffering or foregoing compassion. Instead, it offers comfort to the living. When a loved one dies, his friends and family should feel happy for him, for he is freed of suffering and fear, and has escaped to his final rest. Those souls traveling to the Raven Queen are safe and secure, and have put the concerns of mortal life behind them. All mortals should feel a sense of comfort knowing that death awaits them, not as a hunter or murderer, but as a final source of succor and tranquility.
Bring down the proud who try to cast off the chains of fate. Punish hubris where you find it. This tenet has sparked considerable debate and confusion amongst the Raven Queen’s clergy. As often happens, different interpretations have spawned separate sects and splinter groups of the Queen’s church, each with its own understanding of the intent.
The Orthodox sects believe this tenet refers to individuals fleeing death, such as those using magic or infernal pacts to prolong life unnaturally. The Queen’s clerics are thus called to counsel such people into accepting their ultimate fate. The more extreme branches of the Orthodox way believe they must go even farther, including killing people who have escaped death.
The Reformed sect, on the other hand, believes promotes understanding of what mortality means. The Queen’s clergy seeks to educate people about their transience, with the intent to inculcate humility. In the end, death treats all mortals equally, from the lowest peasant to the mightiest emperor. Thus, no mortal is above any other. Mortals should not take too much pride in their temporal accomplishments, as they will all too soon fall and turn to dust, and so too shall their achievements. The Raven Queen’s clerics sometimes act to humiliate, embarrass, or otherwise punish someone who has allowed pride to overwhelm their piety.
Watch for the cults of Orcus and stamp them out whenever they arise. There exists a deep and endless enmity between the Raven Queen and Orcus, Prince of Undeath (a similar, albeit lesser, hatred exists between Vecna and the Queen). The unliving represent a debasement of life, and such creatures are an affront to the Goddess of Death. She demands her priests combat all plots and schemes involving the undead or Orcus. The two churches often oppose one another, and their conflicts inevitably involve violence, destructive, and bloodshed.
Holy Symbol: The raven’s head
Place of Worship: Just about any place or location serves for worshipping the Goddess of Death. Most towns and cities have a shrine or small temple dedicated to her, as death is a major part of mortal existence. These temples rarely hold traditional daily or weekly services, but instead hold services as part of funerals, or in the wake of great tragedy and death.
Most Raven Queen temples feature a lamp at the front doors. When the temple clerics conduct a funeral or wake, the lamp glows with a pale yellow light as a signal. When the temple is quiet, the lamp remains dark. It is considered a bad omen for the lamp to remain lit all night, as this usually indicates the temple expects a great many deaths in the near future (such as during a plague or natural disaster). According to folklore, this “light of the Raven” provides a beacon to souls of the newly departed. When an individual dies, his soul abandons its mortal shell and is drawn to the light. Souls refusing to travel towards this beacon become ghosts, revenants, or worse. A number of common sayings connect to the Raven Queen’s light, such as “Leave a light burning for me,” meaning the speaker does not expect to return.
The Raven Queen’s priests also conduct ceremonies wherever appropriate, such as at the bedside, in the aftermath of a battle, or within a hospital.
Canon: Liber Mortuorum (From the Book of the Dead). This codex is written in an ancient language and further obscured with codes and ciphers. Only priests of a certain level within the Raven Queen’s church are taught how to read or interpret the Liber Mortuorum. Possession of this book by any outside the Queen’s clergy is viewed as worthy of swift death. It is likewise forbidden for those who are not priests to know how to read the text. There are a number of stories that describe the strange and tragic curse that seems to befall unauthorized readers or owners of the Liber Mortuorum.
For the most part, the Raven Queen’s clerics remain silent on what the holy book contains. In the absence of facts, people have formulated an astonishing number of stories and fables about the work. Priests of other religions have long postulated about what dark and horrible secrets lie within its pages.
For their part, clerics of the Raven Queen indicate their holy book consists primarily of prayers, rituals, and ceremonies designed to consecrate the deceased and speed the journey of the soul on to the Death Goddess.
Cleric’s Alignment: Any; unaligned is preferred, but death treats all creatures equally in the end.
Duties of the Priesthood: The majority of the Raven Queen’s clerics remain part of a specific congregation and temple, usually as part of a community. From the moment the cleric recites his vows to the moment of his death, he cares for the spiritual well-being and death needs of his congregation. He oversees funerals, assists with proper burial traditions (which vary depending on the race and culture in question, such as burial or cremation), and comforting the living. The Queen’s clerics also work to educate people about the meaning of death and its role in the mortal existence. They teach that death is a natural event, not something to be feared. They also teach about death’s inevitability, and the importance of preparing for your demise properly.
Within the Raven Queen’s church there exists a secretive sect dedicated to hunting down and destroying undead. These clerics are not attached to any specific temple, but instead wander from place to place in pursuit of undead or clues as to their existence. These clandestine slayers belong to a group known as the Order of the Veiled Sun. There are indications that the Order maintains relations with the Church of Pelor, as both religions are adamantly opposed to all undead creatures. Whatever their origins or patrons, the Veiled Sun includes not only clerics, but warriors, paladins dedicated to the Raven Queen, wizards, and even assassins specialized in destroying the undead. These individuals are skilled, specialized, and lethal in carrying out their work against the minions of Orcus.
Few other groups are as skilled or knowledgeable in the “arts” of death as the Raven Queen’s priests. They are well-versed in the secrets of embalming, cremation, and everything in between. Her priests have long been zealous in guarding these secrets with outsiders. As a result, the Queen’s clergy provide most funeral services in a community, even if the dearly departed never prayed once to the Goddess of Death. In most settlements, the local undertaker is a cleric of the Raven Queen, and his apprentices are acolytes of the goddess.
Limitations & Sacrifices: A cleric of the Raven Queen is expected to maintain best possible relations with the local community. Death is frightening enough without the Queen’s clerics demonstrating unethical, sinful, or prideful behavior. Her priests must maintain a good working relationship with people in order to serve the goddess and the needs of the congregation. As a result, priests of the Death Goddess are required to avoid strong drink at all times, not to mention any narcotics or similar substances harmful to mind, body, or soul. Likewise, her priests are required to maintain good health and observe both prudence and restraint in their lifestyles; excesses are merely a way of fleeing one’s mortality.
For the most part, the Queen’s priests live simply, with little concern for wealth or material possessions. They, more than almost anyone else, appreciate the transitory nature of material objects and how pointless such things become in the afterlife. As they say, you can’t take it with you after you die.
When a priest earns a fee for conducting a funeral, preparing a body for burial, or similar service, he is permitted to keep one-tenth for his personal needs, but the remainder goes into the temple’s coffers. If a Raven Queen priest earns an income through other means (including relieving undead creatures of treasure), the percentages are reversed; the temple receives its tithe, while the priest may keep the rest. Of course, the priest is expected to maintain a healthy attitude towards wealth; it is often preferable to donate excess gold and silver to a local charity or to help a village recover from tragedy. As the saying goes, goodwill is worth its weight in coin.