Pharasma

Pharasma is the stern observer of life and death, scrutinizing the tangled webs of fate and prophecy, mercilessly cold in the administration of her grim duties. Having seen infants die, the righteous fall too soon, and tyrants live to an advanced age, she makes no judgement about the justness of a particular death and welcomes each birth with equal severity.

At the moment of birth, she knows where a particular soul will end up, but reserves her official verdict until the last possible moment, as she knows prophecies and predictions often fail completely. She believes in fate and predestination, but understands the need for vagueness or misinterpretation to allow for the illusion of free will.

Legends claim that Pharasma knew the death of Aroden was fast approaching and even judged him as she did all those born as mortals, but did nothing to warn her followers, many of whom were driven mad by the event. Though prophecy is no longer reliable, prophets continue to be born, and most of these are driven mad by their confusing and contradictory visions—and the church has taken it upon itself to care for these poor souls, devoting portions of major temples to be sanitariums.

In art, Pharasma is depicted as the midwife, the mad prophet, or the reaper of the dead, depending upon her role. Her visage usually has gray skin and white eyes. As the midwife, she is efficient and severe, hair pulled back and arms bare from hands to the elbows. As the prophet, she is wild-eyed and tangle-haired, her words echoing like thunder. As the reaper, she is tall and gaunt, with a f lowing, black-hooded gown and an hourglass with fast-f lowing red sand—moving with deliberate care rather than aggressiveness. Pregnant women often carry small tokens of her midwife likeness on long necklaces to protect the unborn and grant them good lives.

Sitting atop an impossibly tall spire, Pharasma’s realm in the afterworld—the Boneyard—awaits all mortals. Once there, they stand in a great line, waiting to be judged and sent to their final reward. Those who die before experiencing their full fate may be lucky enough to return in this life or the next, though in some cases their fate is merely to die an ignoble or early death. The Lady of Graves opposes undeath as a desecration of the memory of the flesh and a corruption of a soul’s path on its journey to her judgment.

The church works much like a strong, predominantly matriarchal family, though some have compared it to a severe, conservative nunnery. Though neutral as a whole, the church has many traditions passed down by the goddess and her prophets, and members of the church follow these teachings stringently. However, different branches of the church give some rituals and practices more weight than others; though this is never enough that church factions war on each other, it is easy for one of the faith to recognize a member of his own sect, or realize a visitor is unfamiliar with local practices.

Pharasma manifests her favor through the appearance of scarab beetles and whippoorwills, both of which function as psychopomps and serve to guide recently departed spirits to the Boneyard. Black roses are thought to bring good luck, especially if the stems sport no thorns. Pharasma will also sometimes allow the spirits of those who have died under mysterious conditions to transmit short messages to their living kin to comfort them, to expose a murderer, or even to haunt an enemy. Her displeasure is often signified by cold chills down the spine, bleeding from under the fingernails, an unexplained taste of rich soil, the discovery of a dead whippoorwill, or the feeling that something important has been forgotten.

Pharasma is neutral and her portfolio is fate, death, prophecy, and birth. Her weapon is the skane, a special dagger with ritual significance. Her holy symbol is a spiral of light, representing a soul, its journey from birth to death to the afterlife, and the confusing path of deciphering prophecy. Her domains are Death, Healing, Knowledge, Repose, and Water. Most members of her priesthood are clerics, with a significant number of diviners, oracles, and adepts. Roughly two-thirds of her clergy are women, though the gender mix may vary regionally.

Pharasma’s followers are midwives, morticians, so-called “white necromancers,” expectant mothers, and (though much less so since Aroden’s death) Harrowers, palmists, oneiromancers, cloud-readers, and others who use non-magical forms of divination. In smaller communities, a Pharasmin priest may assume several of these roles, or a wife-and-husband team might split the duties between them. Of course, as the goddess of birth and death, Pharasma has many lay followers as well, and even in lands where her faith is not large or organized, commoners pray to her for guidance or protection, much as farmers everywhere pray to Erastil for good crops.

Worshipers of Pharasma—as well as most commoners—trace the goddess’s spiral-symbol on their chests, typically as a form of prayer when hearing ill news or a spoken evil, in response to blasphemy, and before or during an event that is dangerous or has an uncertain outcome. Different lands perform this gesture differently—in Ustalav, it is with a closed fist, while in Osirion it is with the first two fingers extended. Especially devout folk see or repeat this gesture in everyday activities, such as stirring soup or scrubbing a floor.

Prayer services to Pharasma are a mixture of somber chants and joyous song, with local celebratory or somber music mixed in. Services usually end on a positive or uplifting note, for while death comes to all, there are new generations of life to praise (at least, until the end comes, which they will deal with at that time). Each temple keeps a record of births and deaths of its members, and priests speak their names on anniversaries of these events (while those close to the departed light candles to honor them).

Pharasma is in favor of marriage, as it leads to births, but is not against having children out of wedlock, or childless couples adopting, or children being raised in orphanages. Church weddings may be simple or ornate, depending on the social status and wealth of the participants. Though she is the goddess of birth, she does not oppose contraception, and her temples have been known to provide this assistance to women with a history of stillbirths and deformities. However, she believes killing a child in the womb is an abomination, for it sends the infant soul to the afterlife before it has a chance to fulfill its destiny; thus, the goddess’s midwives refuse to aid in such matters, even if bearing the child would be a great risk to the mother. Some church midwives, called casarmetzes, are so skilled in a combination of medicine, magic, and surgery that in dire circumstances they can cut a living child from its mother’s womb and save both. Curiously, the church does not frown upon suicide, though individual priests may debate whether taking one’s own life is the natural fate of some souls or a means to return to the goddess for a chance at a different life.

A traditional bread associated with the church is kolash, made from braided dough and bent in a tight spiral until it forms a round loaf. Often, the dough is filled or topped with diced fruit, and eaten with sweet cheese. For the winter feast, the center portion of the spiral is left open to allow for a wax candle, lit at the start of the meal and extinguished when the bread is to be eaten.

The church has a tradition where a family calls a gathering on the third day after a child’s birth, to welcome it as a new soul in the world. Superstition holds that the child must be given a name before this gathering, else the child will be unlucky. Visitors bring small cakes, seeds, salted peas, and watered beer to share with the family and other guests. A priest or family elder lists the names of the child’s maternal or paternal ancestors (matching the child’s gender), calling for the child to be named and grow up with good health, and for the parents to live to see the child married and grandchildren born.

When a member of the faith dies, the body is cleaned, immersed in water, and dressed in a special multi-part shroud (consisting of 5 pieces for a male, 9 for a female). A prayer written on parchment, bark, cloth, or stone is tucked into the shroud, and the corpse is sealed in a casket (if one is to be used). A guardian sits with the body the night before the burial—sometimes to honor the dead, sometimes to guard against body thieves, sometimes to watch that the body does not rise as an undead.

Those who can afford it usually pay to have their remains interred on holy ground by priests. The cost varies by the local economy and the nature of the burial; a tiny burial cell in a catacomb or ossuary is inexpensive (especially if shared with other bodies), whereas a room-sized private tomb may be something only a wealthy merchant or noble can afford. Disinterring a buried corpse is considered a violation of the dead, and the church normally refuses to do this—even when a city government has sought to break ground for a sewer, aqueduct, or other vital construction, the church has refused to permit it. However, if a priest discovers a worshiper’s corpse that has been buried improperly and exposed, he or she usually arranges for a proper burial in accordance with church teachings.

Those mourning for the recent dead (typically the father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, and spouse) traditionally mark their eyelids with black ash or an herbal paste for five days after the burial. The faithful honor the deceased by burning a votive candle on the anniversary of the death. This squat candle lasts 24 hours; many tombstones have niches to protect soul candles from the wind. The church allows the dead to be cremated, though burial in earth is preferred; disposing of a corpse at sea, sky burial, and funerary cannibalism are generally considered disrespectful. The church does not mourn apostates, and priests refuse to give rites to those who turn their back on the faith.

In Ustalav, a belief called the Pharasmin Penitence has taken hold in the minds of those who worship the Lady of Graves. It is their understanding that the pains and trials of life add a certain weight to the soul, and when Pharasma judges that soul, she counterbalances that weight with rewards in the afterlife. Though most who share this belief merely take on ascetic-like restrictions in their diet and what meager pleasure they can find in life, some sacrifice more by blinding, deafening, or flagellating themselves, or by wearing hairshirts to limit or counter what would lighten their souls, hopefully guaranteeing greater rewards in the afterlife. In some counties, extremists view enduring pain as a condemnation of pleasure and change, and hunt those who alter the world to satisfy mere mortal whims—specifically, users of arcane magic.

Temples and Shrines
Pharasma’s temples are often gothic cathedrals, usually located near a town’s graveyard, although a single bleak stone in an empty field or graveyard can serve as a shrine. Large temples usually have catacombs underneath, filled with corpses of the wealthy and former members of the priesthood, as burial under the goddess’s temple is believed to raise her opinion of the deceased when it is time for judgment. Even a remote Pharasmin monastery has a large area set aside for burial, and may be the final resting place of generations of wealthy and influential folk—as well as, an uncountable accumulation of tomb treasures.

Each temple has a high priest or priestess for each aspect of the faith—birth, death, and fate. In theory they are equal, though the high priest of prophecy has assumed a secondary role in recent decades (and the position is often held by a strange or unstable person), and in smaller locales a single priest serves all three functions. Temples that include a crypt also have a cryptsmaster or cryptsmistress in charge of that facility. Ranking within a temple is usually based on seniority of service—those who have been in the priesthood longer outrank those who have served for a shorter length of time.

Hierarchy between churches depends on the size of the populations they serve; a large city temple has greater influence than a smaller town’s temple. Pharasma’s faithful dress in funereal clothes for religious ceremonies, always black (regardless of the local custom, though other colors and styles may be underneath a black outer garment) and accented with silver and tiny vials of holy water. Clergy living in monasteries dress in black or gray, depending on local custom; many of these take vows of silence to show their devotion to the Lady of Graves."

A Priest’s Role
Members of the priesthood are usually clerics, diviners, or “white necromancers” (wizards who study forms of necromancy other than the creation of undead and the destruction of life), though especially skilled midwives and hedge wizards have been known to gain authority in some areas. Priests oversee births, and having a Pharasmin priest at childbirth almost always ensures that the mother and child will live. They are the stewards of the dead, and most are familiar with funereal customs from their own and nearby lands. They are the protectors of graveyards and the memory of those who have died, guarding sites from robbers and corpse-animators and memorizing or recording what they know about anyone who dies in their presence. The church despises the undead as abominations to the natural order, and all priests follow the church’s teachings about undead without question; creating undead is forbidden, and controlling existing undead is frowned upon, even by evil Pharasmin priests.

A typical priest earns a meager living tending to women in labor, speaking words at funerals, or even digging graves or building tombs for wealthy patrons. Adventuring priests avoid entering tombs for the purpose of looting, though if a tomb is known to hold undead, they accept this transgression with the intent of dispatching abominations (though they still oppose desecrating non-undead corpses in such places). Followers of Pharasma tend to be brusque, as they spend much of their time dealing with the dead (who do not talk back and don’t get their feelings hurt) or folk under extreme duress (such as women giving birth). When their services are needed, they give orders and expect to be obeyed, as a mortal soul (either recently departed or about to arrive) is at stake.

All priests carry a skane, a double-edge ceremonial dagger with a dull gray blade, often with a stylized depiction of the goddess’s face and hair on the pommel. The dagger is used to hold open prayer scrolls, to touch parts of a corpse when performing death rites, to cut shrouds for the dead and the umbilical cord of newborns, and to slice kolash on feast days. It is not forbidden for a priest to use a skane to draw blood or take a life, but some refuse to do so, and carry a different weapon if they must fight. A casarmetzes carries a special skane, bearing Pharasma’s likeness on one side of the pommel and a crying child on the other.)

Holidays
p. The first month of spring, Pharast, is named for the Lady of Graves—a month of new life and renewal for the world. The church has two common holidays shared by all temples.
Day of Bones: On the fifth day of Pharast, priests carry the enshrouded corpses of the recent dead through the streets of the city in an honored procession. These corpses are interred at no cost in a church graveyard, tomb, or sepulcher, which is considered a great honor to the departed.
Procession of Unforgotten Souls: Practiced in lands where the Lady of Graves is a prominent deity, this ceremony is a nightly ritual for weeks leading up to the harvest feast in which the faithful ask the goddess to delay when she takes them to the afterlife. Priests wear thin, black robes over their festival clothes, and carry lit candles in a procession into a large fountain, pool, lake, or quiet river. As they enter the deeper water, the candles go out, but as the priests reach the other side, the candles re-light, and the water makes the black robes transparent, revealing the festival colors beneath.

Aphorisms
Given its abundance of rituals, ritual objects, and ritual clothing, it is not surprising that the church has developed many habitual phrases. In most cases, a member of the faith makes the sign of the Lady over the heart when speaking one of these locutions. The three most common are as follows.
Not this year, not yet: This is a brief prayer, spoken in response to hearing a tragedy or bad rumor, asking that Pharasma delay when believers are sent to her realm, for they have much to do before that time. The devout speak it at each morning’s prayers and when they pray before bed.
All who live must face her judgment: This is a promise that another person—typically an enemy, but often just a flippant or disrespectful person—will suffer whatever fate is in store for them, even if it takes longer than the speaker would like.
The Lady shall keep it: This is an oath to bear a secret to the grave, telling no one, swearing that only Pharasma shall hear it in person (and only once the oath-maker has died), or that she will claim the oath-maker early should he break his promise of secrecy.)

Holy Text
Pharasma’s holy book is The Bones Land in a Spiral; much of it was written long ago by a prophet, and many of its predictions are so vague that there is much debate about what events they foretell or whether they have already passed. Other sections were added later and deal with safe childbirth, disposal of the dead to prevent undeath, and so on.

In many temples, especially older ones, the holy book exists as a collection of illuminated scrolls organized by topic. Created with rare inks and metal filigree, some of these collections are historical artifacts worth thousands of gold pieces. As each scroll has particular prayers needed for various temple ceremonies, in many cases a priest only needs to bring the appropriate scrolls to the service, leaving the remainder in a safe place. Each scroll is held in a gray silk sleeve called a mantle to protect it from wear and mishaps. As mantles wear out after years of use, they must be disposed of, but church doctrine says they cannot merely be discarded, and a used mantle is either walled up in a tiny compartment within a temple, or (preferably) sewn into a burial shroud of a priest or other notable member of the faith who is about to be buried. Corpses fortunate enough to bear a Pharasmin mantle as part of their shroud are said to be especially resistant to the predations of the undead, including being animated or turned into spawn.

Relations With Other Religions
All deities deal peaceably with Pharasma, for their agents must have access to her realm to escort souls to their respective god-homes. She has no true enemies or allies, though Iomedae views her with some resentment for keeping Aroden’s approaching death a secret. Even Zyphus treats her with respect, though many believe he and she are at odds over whether certain souls are taken from the mortal world too quickly. Her relationship with the enigmatic Groetus is a mystery. The Lady, however, is disinclined to bargain with fiends, for she knows too well of their predations on unsorted souls as they pass through the Astral Plane to her realm and the harassment of her psychopomp servants.

Planar Allies
Pharasma’s divine servants are usually strange creatures, though those whose destiny was especially bright or whose fate was unusually dark may come to the mortal world to carry a message on her behalf, even if they went to another deity or realm as part of their final judgment. The appearance of such a spirit usually relates to their activities in life or what god they served. For example, to warn her followers of a bloody battle, she many call forth the spirit of a mighty warrior of Gorum or a fallen champion of Iomedae. Her herald is the Steward of the Skein, a ghaelelike creature that appears sometimes as a suit of shining white and blue armor, others as an incorporeal figure of flickering orange f lame. Among the servitors that obey Pharasma and no other are the following.
Echo of Lost Divinity: This spectral soldier wears fine clothes in green and gold. When his face is visible, he resembles an Azlanti man, and looks much like depictions of Aroden as a god. As he has only appeared in her service since the death of the Last Azlanti, some believe he is a remnant of that god. Echo of Lost Divinity denies this, however. He prefers to heal and support those who call him rather than attacking their foes directly.
Endless Gravestone: This being resembles a circular, rotating tombstone, bearing writing in many languages that is hard to read because of his constant movement. He is an excellent messenger and is not adverse to charging through enemies or breaking defensive lines, though he is more suited to protecting mortals than destroying them.

Pharasma

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