The magical traditions of the north are diverse. Most northern magic is theistic: a wide range of gods, elves, and giants populate northern religions. Folk Magic in the north is tied directly to cults, sects, organizations, and sometimes social class. It is a reflection of the religious and social obligations of the the people.
Membership in Cults and Magical Traditions
In general, characters can be common members of many different cults and magical traditions. Common membership has a number of benefits. It provides access to additional choices for standard and professional skills. It also provides the common member with access to the folk magic charms and prayers of the cult. Any character can begin play as a common member of one or more cults. Membership generally entails taking part in community rituals that venerate (or propitiate) the cult’s gods and spirits or otherwise show respect for the cult’s traditions.
Dedicated devotion to a particular god or giant is something more. Characters can typically only begin as Initiates of a cult if they have selected a dedicated magical Career, meaning one that provides the relevant professional skills to its members (Devotion and Exhort for Theists, Binding and Trance for Animists, Invocation and Shaping for Sorcerers). For most Cultures this will mean selecting the Priest, Shaman, or Sorcerer career, depending on what type of magic is available to the culture and appropriate for the character.
For Iotar, who have no true priestly class, cult initiation is much more widespread. Unlike other peoples, Iotar can begin play as an Initiate of a cult even if their career is not one of the specifically magical ones.
Cultures of Magic
Iotar culture is a pagan theistic culture, and one without a priesthood. For the Iotar, it is the head of household who leads household rites and the head of the community who leads community rites. A chieftain leads the rites for the chiefdom or riding, a Jarl for the jarldom, a King for the whole of the kingdom. In a warband, the leader of the band will lead the rites. On a merchant vessel, the head of merchant or ship’s captain will do so. Cult membership is common. Simply being a part of Iotar community means that you are at least a common member of the Cult of the Nine Winds, which includes the most popular gods and giants of the Iotar pantheon. Still others are particularly dedicated to gods such as Eagle Head, Old Hoary Beard, Spear Breaker, the Bock, Mother Bear, and others.
The Hothar were once pagans like the Iotar, sharing many of their gods and cults. Now, like most other peoples of the north, they have largely been converted to Sol worship. Churches and monasteries dedicated to the Unconquered Sun can be found throughout the north, wherever the Hothar make their homes. Many still hold services to Sol, even in Iotar-controlled regions, for Iotar religious traditions are not at heart evangelistic. For their part, many Hothar in these regions still propitiate the old gods and may even still be common members in one or more of the old cults. Sol may be the most powerful of gods, but he is not the only god. No one claims otherwise. Hothar magic, whether it be Sol worship or worship of the old pagan gods, is theistic. Hothar Sol worship is strongly influenced by the Ivarian Church, which is the most common organized theological doctrine throughout the north.
South of the Bulwark, Avenians adopted Sol worship many hundreds of years ago during the time when Vanor ruled their lands. Many venerate Sol in his aspect as the Lightbringer, the Dawn, the Reborn Sun. When Vanor first came to these lands, the native pagan sun god was a Bringer of Light and of the Dawn. The Vanoran church taught that Sol was another name for this god, and that Sol, who is worshipped everywhere in the world, is the greatest of the gods. Since those days, even with the decline of Vanor, the worship of Sol has spread to other Avenian communities beyond the Bulwark. Indeed, a strong church of the Lightbringer can be found in the Avenian bog kingdom, though it is a church with many sects that also propitiate the chthonic gods of the bog and moor and venerate the saints and protectors who hold the monsters back. Avenian magic is theistic. Avenians focus their devotion on the Dawning Sun, but they consider their church to be in line with Ivarian church doctrines.
Ivarians have the most vibrant church of Sol in the north, albeit a heretical church from the classical Vanoran perspective, with its own richly held doctrines and orthodoxies. Ivarian monks and priests worship Sol the Dead and Reborn. Sol dies each dusk and is reborn each dawn, much as we too die and are reborn. This focus of the Ivarian church on Sol as a god both of darkness and light, death and life, is reflected in the ability of its theologians to incorporate in their doctrines both the Sol Invictus of old Vanor and the newly risen Black Sun cult of Asturia. The Reborn Sun rules by day. The Black Sun by night.
Ivarian magic is theistic. While the Ivarian church is strong, deep in the hill chiefdoms of Ivaria, some older traditions too still hold sway, and small cults to old Ivarian gods and heroes can still be found. The old Ivarian gods resemble the old gods of the Avenians.
Although the Heathen Knights live on the border of the western heartlands of lost Vanor and even speak a West Vanoran tongue, still they hold true to aspects of the old religion that came with them when their tribes first left the forest for the heath. Above all they esteem the Heathen Riders, nine gods and heroes who ride free on the heath beneath sun and sky. The Heathen Riders are the Sun Eagle, Big Sky, the Slaughter Guard, Spearhead, the Far Rider, the Shining Star, the Harrier, the Firekeeper, and Sentinel. Since the increase in border skirmishes with the Asturian Empire, cults to the Shining Star have grown in influence. Heathen magic is theistic.
The Thiudar hold to eldest gods of the forest, and their cults worship these old gods in the old ways. Thiudar magic is mostly animist, though their rituals and cults are structured in ways that resemble some of the theistic cults of the Iotar and Hothar.
The Kemi have a rich and diverse magical tradition. They propitiate the north wind, venerate wizard heroes, deal with the spirits of the cold tundra, and call up old northern magics. Kemi magic is blends the animistic, theistic, and the sorcerous in eclectic ways. A custom career is available for Kemi magicians, whose traditions are organized into lodges.
Most Varangians are Iotar, and their cults and gods are the cults and gods of the Iotar. Some have also adopted Sol worship in some form, often picked up in Old Vanor. Varangian magic is theistic.
Asturians worship the Black Sun. Asturian magic is theistic.
Atlanteans worship the god within. This devotion is expressed either as mastery of the self over the world (this being the famed Atlantean sorcery) or mastery of the self over the self (a form of mysticism).
The cult of Old Hoary Beard remains strong among the Vandals—for they have not turned their backs on their ancient northern heritage. Many Vandals worship him under the aspect of the Lost Man, the Far Walker, the Far Wanderer. Vandal merchants worship him in the aspect of the Sail Filler. Vandal warriors venerate him in his aspect as Tree Breaker. In all cases, his worship remains theistic.
Dwarfs are gifted as natural sorcerers, albeit of a specialized kind. Every dwarf has access to the professional skills of Invocation and Shaping, and every dwarf knows the spell Enchant (Object). Dwarfs may know other spells as well. Dwarfish spellcraft is truly a craft, however – a dwarf can only cast spells into objects in combination with Enchant (Object). As to their religion, dwarfs respectfully venerate their ancestor Maggot-born, first of the dwarfs (a theistic cult without priests but only folk practice). Similarly, they worship Maggot-born’s brothers: the orms, the serpents, the world maggots… the dragons. Cults to living dragons teach theistic folk magic. Their deepest secrets are those that allow the devotee to commune with the spirits of the orms directly.
The Thule people maintain a shamanic (animist) tradition centered on ancestor spirits.