Bet Rhialle

“I still think callin’ up Papa Deep-Marsh himself is a bad, bad idea,” said Celestin, helping Troan shake out a circle of salt. “You could get the same answers just by talkin’ to Loa Hethwithe or Loa Gisette or Loa Vinze or anybody other’n his mean old ass.” He placed a painted rock at the northernmost point of the circle, put a smaller stone on either side of the painted one, then began laying down colorful pebbles at regular intervals just outside the salt.

“You worry too much,” said Troan. She adjusted her headscarf so her hair wisped out around her face. A wildflower was jammed behind one of her serrated ears; Papa Deep-Marsh approved highly of pretty young women, and while Troan was neither terribly pretty nor terribly young, she knew the value of surrounding herself with the trappings of youth. The shell necklaces clicked against each other as she knelt to dig a few symbols into the ground. “I done this before, I’ll do it a dozen more times. Papa Deep-Marsh may be a hellacious sumbitch, but he’s rational in his own way. Start unwrappin’ the food for him while I finish this up.”

Celestin obliged, placing hunks of fresh frybread on a flat stone altar just outside Troan’s circle. He never liked watching her allow herself to be possessed; the sight of her eyes rolled up into her head and drool leaking from the corner of her tusked mouth always stuck in his head for days. He busied himself with arranging the offerings of flowers and steamed fish. Celestin only turned back to face her when he felt the crackle up his spine that signaled another presence in Troan’s body.

Who calls me up from the deepest darks?” bellowed the deep voice of a man from Troan’s mouth. Her breath stank of corpses sunk in the mire, and the heady perfume of swamp flowers, and half a dozen things Celestin couldn’t identify. “Who awakens me, brings me here, and puts me in a flesh-bottle? Answer or I drown you where you stand!

“It’s me, Papa Deep-Marsh. Troan the River-Witch, the one who always remembers to leave a deer in the muck, the one whose feet never stick in mud, the one who gives you booze on all the right days and even some of the wrong ones.” It was almost as though she was talking to herself, though her assistant knew better. She took a deep breath, her head throbbing with the strain of letting such a powerful spirit ride her, and gathered her nerve. “I’ve been readin’ the bones, and what they’re sayin’ is unsettlin’ indeed.”

So why invoke me to tell me this? Why do I care what hags see in their cauldrons?

“You know why, Papa. What affects me and mine today affects your moldy bastard self at the end of the week. We got some talkin’ to do.”

The religion known as Bet Rhialle is rooted in animism; it states that every object, living or no, has a spirit, which can be communicated with or manipulated. Parts of a larger body, such as a piece of hair or a chunk of tree bark, are considered to contain a piece of the original object's spirit until they are worked into a new object, and certain powerful items can still retain some or all of their original identity. A wooden sword ceases being part of a tree when whittled, but a necklace made from the teeth of a powerful beast could potentially trap some of its essence. Despite feeling that everything from nails to food animals can be potentially spoken with, most Rhialline believers feel no real urge to show respect to people or things they don't feel deserve it.

A spirit, to Bet Rhialle, can be weak or strong, usually depending on the size and power of its associated object. They can also be called upon through magical means to accomplish certain supernatural tasks, such as digging a well or improving the chances of a good harvest. Spirits are usually viewed as potential tools and potential adversaries, as most dislike being called up for favors too often and can turn on a summoner if they get greedy.

The spirits of living things can persist as ghosts after death. While a spirit is generally tied to a distinct object or concept unless specifically called forth, ghosts are not necessarily tethered so; still, many prefer to haunt the area in and around where they passed away. Ghosts are both protagonists and antagonists in Rhialline stories, ranging from helpful tricksters to woeful figures in need of peace to powerful, unpredictable adversaries.

In addition to ghosts and spirits, certain greater figures exist, known as the loa. A loa is a specific personality that can only properly manifest through the ritual possession of a magician, traditionally (but not always) the wise man or wise woman of a village. Bet Rhialle has dozens of loa. Multiple loa can ride the same host, although there are more than a few stories of cocky young invokers who tried to "horse" for too many: known as "carrying the old family," this act tends to burn out or kill those who attempt it, and the phrase is also a common Darcantel idiom for someone taking on exponentially more work than they can reasonably handle. Many settlements in Darcant, including the capitol city itself, take their names from one of the loa.

Shrines can be built for spirits, especially those of places or powerful concepts, and family members often keep personal shrines for deceased loved ones. There are no shrines to the loa, save arguably for those towns dedicated to them or their invokers' bodies. While it can be as little as a board stuck in the dirt with words carved on it, a proper Rhialline shrine is adorned with colorful objects, jewelry, and regularly replaced bowls of rice or gumbo.

Bet Rhialle is most commonly practiced in Darcant, but has spread to other regions with the movements of traders, slaves, and mercenaries. It tends to survive well in foreign lands because it can co-exist with most other faiths after a bit of creative reinterpretation. The very matter-of-fact approach it takes towards the supernatural is its most common source of conflict, as a Rhialline and a follower of one of the Paths of the Faithful or the mainstream Hroendir have vastly different opinions of the place of witchcraft. Rhiallines in general tend to be practical people; they aren't afraid of whispers in the dark because they know some of the voices personally.


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