Zul Kiran Religion
|Zul Kiran Pantheon|
|Deity:||Sek, the Orcfather|
|Regional Origins:||Zul Kiras|
|Regions Where Prevalent:||Zul Kiras|
The orcish religion is extremely polyglot as a natural consequence of the far-flung origins of the component clans of Zul Kiras. Clans that lived in closer geographic proximity to one another before their entrance to the United Clans tend to have greater similarities in mythology and religious practices. Many clans have almost entirely different pantheons and hierarchies of gods, however, and have different ways of venerating their gods. Some clans also practice ancestor veneration, and still others give honor to numinous spirits that protect and govern various places and activities. The Black Bull Clan was formed from various priests and other religious leaders from the United Clans to ensure that all of the gods receive the proper worship due them. Over the years, the Clan's priests have made impressive strides toward creating a unified mythology, though a complete harmonization of all the disparate elements seems a nearly impossible task. The clan has weathered its share of religious disputes throughout the years, and is not free of internal tensions even now.
One of the few unifying threads among all clans is the worship of Sek, the Orcfather. Among non-orcish clans, he is also referred to as the Goblinfather, Trollfather, or Ogrefather, etc. Sek is the undisputed chief deity in the Zul Kiran religion, though the pantheons that serve him can vary widely from clan to clan. The Zul Kirans believe that Sek rules from his hall of Tanuruzdan, where the souls of the dead are brought before him for judgement. Those found worthy live in his hall and do battle against his enemies, while those found unworthy are cast into a dark and shadowy place called Nnetharr, where they are forgotten. The especially odious might be fed to one of Sek's monstrous pets, or otherwise condemned to an eternity of suffering. Oaths sworn in Sek's name are considered legally binding, and violating such an oath can have grave consequences.
Prayers are offered to Sek before conducting any public business, as the priests of the Black Bull ask the Orcfather to grant his wisdom to their leaders. This comes as a surprise to individuals who consider orcs bloodthirsty and stupid creatures, since they would not expect their chief god to be renowned for wisdom. Those more familiar with Zul Kiran culture find it well grounded in the Zul Kiran respect for the counsel of the elder members of the clan, and the expectation that their leaders be more than simply handy with a weapon. There is a definite arc in Sek's body of mythology: the tales of his earlier days primarily focus on his battles with other gods, titans, and monsters, while stories taking place after he has fathered offspring and and established Tanuruzdan tend to focus on his role as a wise ruler. It is unclear whether this progression has always existed, or whether it is a reflection of the changing role of Sek in orcish worship. Sek's wisdom even turns up in the stories of the Razortooth Clan, though it is often downplayed in Razortooth mythology in favor of Sek's prowess as a divine warrior. In fact, in many Razortooth myths, the creatures that Sek outsmarts usually become angry with the Orcfather and try to attack him, and he ends up dispatching them anyway.
Animal sacrifices figure prominently in Sek's worship, and are conducted at the beginning of every religious festival to the Orcfather, as well as to mark the election of a new clan Chieftain or War-King, and before an orcish army goes into battle. When orcs conquer new land, they sacrifice humanoids in thanksgiving to Sek, usually enemy soldiers or other individuals captured from the new territory. The Zul Kirans call this practice the Zirak-Othil, or blood price, and believe that great misfortune will befall them if the proper thanks are not given to Sek for their victory. Other races have naturally decried the barbarity of this practice, though the orcs believe that it is a great honor for the victims, for there is no more precious gift that could be offered to Sek. Curiously, there is a lack of similar outrage over the Aslarian practice of sacrificing their king to the gods every year.
When animals or humanoids are sacrificed to Sek, flocks of ravens will descend upon the corpse and reduce it to a skeleton before the sun sets. Ravens are sacred to Sek, believed to bring messages from Sek to the mortal world, and carry the souls of the dead to Sek for judgement. Killing a raven is a religious offense to Sek that requires an orc to make atonement for the crime.
Another aspect of devotion to Sek is hospitality toward fellow goblinoids, offering travellers a meal and a place to sleep in return for stories about the traveller's clan or tribe. Fenris Bonebreaker exploited this practice when he returned to his home in the Xaad mountains to claim the Chieftainship of the Steel Raven Clan. In the myth that explains the origin of the practice, Sek came to visit a clan of orcs in disguise to announce great news to them, but became angry when they refused to welcome him and turned him away. In punishment, he struck his spear Nelraug against the ground and annihilated the offending clan with a rock slide.
Priesthood of the Black Bull
The Black Bull Clan draws its members from all the other clans, forming a spiritual family of the priests and shamans of the United Clans. The name of the clan denotes their religious duties, as it is a reference to the practice of conducting animal sacrifices at certain religious ceremonies. It is the Black Bull's mission to ensure that all of the gods get the proper worship due them. While many of the Black Bull's members serve a specific deity or set of deities, there are a group of special priests, called Hramak, whose job it is to keep track of the torturously complex list of goblinoid deities and make sure that none are forgotten.
Unlike the other clans, a new Chieftain is elected each year by the priests of the clan and serves as High Priest. The outgoing Chieftain cannot be re-elected to the office for a period of ten years. This unique arrangement arose as a compromise to ensure that a priest of a particular deity or pantheon would not dominate the clan's leadership for an inordinate amount of time. The Chieftain's duties are mostly political and ritual, and there are a number of religious ceremonies which can only be performed by the Chieftain. These ceremonies are generally old religious observances which the Black Bull has inherited from former religious functions of other clan Chieftains.
Many among the Brothers and Sisters of the Bull can wield magic, but it is magic of a very different nature than that of the refined hermetic magic of the Firestorm, or even that of human and elven clerics. Theirs is a very old magic, and still in many ways untamed. This magic does not depend on thick spellbooks or arcane formulae, but rather upon what the caster feels is necessary to invoke the desired effect. This may or may not involve such things as dancing, singing, shouting, complex gestures, self-inflicted injury, or the use of totems and focii. Thus, the same basic spell may manifest in different ways for different casters, and the same spell may even produce slightly different effects each time it is used by the same caster.
The magical abilities of the priests and shamans of this clan are so individualized that it is impossible to present a general picture of the magic at a 'typical' shaman's disposal. Those challenging a shaman in battle can expect almost anything. The shamanic magic of the Black Bull's holy men and women is often tied to the sphere of influence of their patron deity or deities. The priests of nature gods are most powerful in the wilderness and weakest in cities (except within the confines of a temple), while the priests of war gods find that their magic is at its most potent on the battlefield. Hramak don't suffer such limitations to their powers, but the price of such versatility is that their spells cannot match the power of a specialized priest in his proper sphere of competence. The rather chaotic nature of this form of magic makes it easily possible for shamans to unleash more power than they can safely control, which can obviously prove detrimental to the one that invoked the spell as well as those around him or her.
In the orcish cosmology as currently set out by the Black Bull, Sek is numbered among the third generation of deities. The creator gods were Urus (the sky) and his opposite Zaram (the earth), who first brought order to the primordial chaos. Though as different as day and night, the two deities found themselves drawn together and from their marriage sprang forth the first creation. This primeval world was supposedly a markedly different place than the world today, and several clans have stories filled with bizarre imagery that illustrate the alien nature of the dawn of time. Eventually, Urus and Zaram fell into a deep sleep, and their children ran amok, nearly destroying the world with their wars. In time, the god Bru'ur defeated his rivals, and forced them to repair the devastation of their conflicts. This created the world as it is now known, for Bru'ur remade the world to his liking, rather than returning it to the way it had formerly been. The days and seasons were regulated, and new plants and animals created to replace those destroyed by the divine wars.
Sek was the second child of Bru'ur and his consort Hadash, the first of which had been Azdur. Hadash prophesied that Sek would be greater than his father, which drove Azdur into a rage for his mother had not predicted great things for him. He slew his mother and father, and was prepared to do the same to his infant brother when Sek grew to maturity before his eyes. Bathed in his parents' blood, he absorbed his father's strength and courage, and his mother's wisdom and foresight. Sek set upon his brother to avenge the murders, and was wounded several times before he wrested Azdur's great axe Glaneiru from his hands and hacked Azdur to pieces with his own weapon.
With the death of Bru'ur, the gods begin to bicker among themselves again, though they dared not to make war on each other again. Instead, their mortal creations battled for control of the world. In the wake of his father's demise, Sek had gathered a number of his kinsmen to his side as he tried to reclaim what had been his father's. He watched the mortal races scramble to dominate the world, and decided that he must create his own races so that Bru'ur's legacy would not be forgotten. After careful observation of the other gods' work, he created the goblinoid races and sent them into the world. Though they were forced to inhabit the places that the firstborn races had not already claimed, Sek made them strong and prolific so they would eventually overtake the entire world in Sek's name.