Desna

Blessed is the long road, the destination, the homeward path, and all who make the journey. Let each dream be a bright star in the night sky of your mind, and let it light your path in the day. Do not be troubled if your dream falters, for there are countless stars in the sky and countless dreams to experience—pick a new one and change your course.

—Prayer to Desna, carved on the wood of Riverrook Shrine near Magnimar

Titles: The Song of the Spheres, The Great Dreamer, Starsong, The Tender of Dreams
Aspects: Dreams, Stars, Travelers, Luck
Symbol: A butterfly with images of stars, suns, and moons upon its wings.
Priesthood: While an ancient faith—known even in the age of storied Thassilon—Desna’s church is extremely disorganized with few actual temples or settled priests and no formal chain of command. Desna’s priesthood has no regalia or vestments beyond bright colors—sometimes in patterns like butterfly wings—and their goddess’s holy symbol.
Herald: Desna’s herald is the night monarch, a butterfly-like creature with a body the size of a dragon. Ancient and wise, it does not speak, communicating through dreams or by touching its antennae to a listener’s head.
Holy Day: Ritual of Stardust is a celebration takes place on the summer and winter solstices. During the Swallowtail Release the church releases swallowtail butterflies from a netted wagon on the first day of Autumn in front of a crowd of the faithful.
Duties: Indulge in your desires, experience all you can, express your inner strenghts and trust your instinct as a guide.
Sins: (Minor) Waking up a sleeper, asking permission; (Major) Bypassing an unique opportunity to experience something, not helping a traveler; (Mortal) Harming a monarch, aiding the worshipers of Lamashtu or Ghlaunder;

Services

Services dedicated to Desna include singing, dancing, storytelling (especially of unusual dreams), footraces, and music. Some use exotic substances, herbal drinks, alcohol, or animal venom to spark unusual dreams or (for the very lucky) to create lucid dreams. Many rituals involve sand because of its relation to sleep and the comparison of grains of sand to the number of stars in the sky. Dust made from crushed rose quartz (which can have a starry pattern when illuminated from behind) is used in the faith’s rare ceremonies and blessings instead of water or sacred oil; Desnan priests carry holy quartz dust in glass flasks instead of holy water. Some luck-seeking faithful carry dice or other luck talismans carved of rose quartz.

Temples and shrines

Desna keeps few temples, preferring unattended shrines at crossroads and places of secluded beauty, like hilltops or peninsula points. Although unmanned, these shrines often hold simple provisions and a place to scrawl notes or feelings if visitors are so inspired.

Temples in large cities often take the form of tall towers with observatories at their tops, and with small libraries of astronomical and astrological charts. More common rural temples usually incorporate an inn or stable as a service to travelers. As Desna maintains good—or, at least, non-conflicting—relationships with most civilized religions, it’s not uncommon for her faith to be found among those worshiped in communal temples.

It is said butterflies and moths (as well as their caterpillar young) congregate at her holy sites; legends say the priests can call upon these creatures to defend the temple. Some temples maintain colonies of silk-producing moths, creating hardy and beautiful silk for use and sale by the temple. Every temple protects a small chest of silver coins, which it uses to help fund journeys by the faithful. Needy travelers can petition the temple for financing. This funding is normally only available for frontier exploration or travel to exotic locations (a trip to the next town might merit only a silver for water, bread, and a spare blanket) and those who exploit this generosity tend to suffer bad luck in the long run.

A priest’s role

Priests of Desna go where they please, earning money by telling fortunes, providing entertainment, and interpreting dreams as messages from the goddess. They help people where they can, but they prefer to make their acts seem like luck, coincidence, or the blessings of their goddess.

A typical day for a Desnan priest involves travel, often just from one shrine or temple to another, collecting stories and spreading the word of the goddess. Many caravan masters like to hire a priest of Desna to accompany their wagons as they believe it brings good luck, especially in regard to warding off attacks from beasts.

Many of Desna’s faithful are talented artists, writers, and entertainers, and the church expects all priests to at least be familiar with contemporary music, theater, and literature (even
though a particular priest might have no talent for playing instruments, acting, or writing). Those with skill should share it on a regular basis, usually with performances at festivals, open local venues, gatherings such as weddings, or public parties thrown specifically for that purpose.

Some Desnans are skilled fortune-tellers, using their gift of reading people to entertain and inspire hope. Like their goddess, they oppose the use of divination to create fear or despair, and brush off unhappy requests such as when the listener or one of his enemies might die. The goddess expects her diviners to challenge any speaker who prophesies ill, misfortune, or doom, and when they hear of magical auguries predicting bad times, they actively intervene to make sure those events do not come to pass.

In addition to soothsaying, some Desnans learn to interpret dreams in order to ease troubled minds and mend other wounds of the psyche. Those plagued by insomnia or nightmares call on Desnan priests for aid, for their soothing touch is often enough to bring a tranquil night’s sleep.

Elder priests whose bodies can no longer handle physical travel are said to use dreams to visit the minds of others, remote parts of the world, or even distant dimensions. Some use herbal or alchemical substances to enter a dreamlike state to explore higher levels of consciousness or to commune with dream entities. A few such Wakeless Ones are so strong-willed that they have remained asleep and dreaming for years, not even waking to eat or drink, sustained by faith, will, and dream-food. Unlike battle-oriented faiths, it is considered a noble end for a Desnan to die in her sleep, as it makes the first step of the spiritual journey to the goddess that much easier.

A typical day for a priest involves an early prayer (often spoken in bed moments after waking), recording remembered dreams in a journal, breakfast, study (the arts if so inclined, geography or the culture of a foreign land if not), and any duties assigned by an elder priest if one is present. After a light lunch the priest should go for a walk or ride, either to someplace new or by taking a new path to a known place; because there are usually only a limited number of routes between any two cities and local dangers might prevent serious exploration on these journeys. Once at their destination they attend to their duties there, help passersby who require their skills, possibly entertain at a local gathering spot, seek a place to stay for the night, dine, pray, and sleep.

Because they consider an uninterrupted sleep a kind of prayer to their goddess, traveling Desnans never volunteer for a middle watch during the night; first or last watch is preferable to them.

Desna’s priests have a tradition of exploring distant places and leaving a mark indicating someone of the faith has been there. This “found-mark” might be as simple as the goddess’s symbol scratched on a flat rock or tree trunk, as elaborate as a small shrine, or anything in between. Often, the explorer leaves a personal glyph or a note indicating who they are; in this way they gain fame in the church, and someone who has marked many sites in this way is called a Founder—a title with no formal powers but high esteem among the faithful, especially as other explorers discover their found-marks.

Three myths

As Desna’s faithful delight in storytelling, her worshipers find the greatest enjoyment in telling tales of their goddess. Here are but a few of their favorite and best-known myths.

Ghlaunder’s Hatching: Legends tell how Desna wandered and discovered a strange cocoon that pulsed with magic. Curious about its contents, she broke it open and released a mosquito-like being called Ghlaunder, which immediately attacked her. She easily fended off its attacks, but the resilient creature managed to escape before she could destroy it. Now Ghlaunder plagues the mortal world as a demigod of parasites and infection. Desna still hunts the godling and his cults in the hope of wiping them from the world or perhaps turning his power to a more positive end, just as leeches can aid certain ailments and maggots can cleanse infected wounds. The moral of this myth is that every life contains mistakes and bad choices, but it is better to live, make those mistakes, and accept the challenges they present than to hide away from the world and do nothing.

Lamashtu’s Trap: In her earliest days, Desna’s mentor was Curchanus, a mostly forgotten god of beasts, travel, and endurance, and Desna spent many nights listening to stories of his travels. Curchanus’s enemy was Lamashtu, an equally ancient goddess of monsters, madness, and nightmares who longed for his control over beasts. Lamashtu set a trap for Curchanus, leading him on a strange wandering path into her realm, where she swarmed him with horrible monsters, finally attacking in the guise of a great deformed jackal, tearing his beast-dominion from him. This wound was too great for the elder deity, and as his last act he willed his power over travel to Desna. Since this theft, wild animals have treated mankind as an outsider and an enemy rather than a part of nature, and Desna has searched far and wide to find a way to force Lamashtu
to surrender Curchanus’s stolen power. The faithful use this story to remind them of Lamashtu’s treachery, to honor Curchanus’s gift to Desna, and to remind them that failure is just a setback, not an end.

The Stair of Stars: This long and convoluted myth tells of the journeys of a priest who explored the world for many years, placing found-marks at the tops of mountains and in the deepest forests. As he sensed the edges of the world closing in on him, he lamented the end of discoveries and wonders. That night he dreamed he walked to the shore of a great ocean, and upon that shore he saw a stairway made of glittering stars. In the dream, he trod upon the stair and saw that it led to infinite worlds in the sky and beyond. He awoke, praised the goddess for this inspiration, and spent the rest of his days seeking this stairway and the other worlds it promised. This myth teaches that there are always new things to discover, even after a lifetime of journeys. Some faithful believe that the stars in his dream represent the countless people of the world and how getting to know each of their stories is a great journey in itself—that the need to explore and discover refers to people as well as places.

Holy texts

The faithful of Desna care little for heavy tomes of holy doctrine or arguments over the most righteous path. They prefer their religion concise, entertaining to read, and easy to carry.

The Seven Scrolls: These seven short scrolls contain all the official doctrine of the church, summerizing Desna’s early days as a goddess, interaction with other deities, discovery of her powers, and the fixing of the stars in the night sky. The fifth scroll contains most of the church’s words regarding the behavior of mortals, which sparks many friendly debates among the faithful. Desna is a goddess of inherent contradictions and not all of her dogma is absolutely clear. Fortunately, her faithful are not the sort to start fights over doctrinal differences, and her loosely organized church accepts all plausible interpretations of the scrolls that do not radically deviate from standard church teachings. The scrolls themselves are short enough that they all fit within two scroll cases (one if the writer’s handwriting is particularly fine).

Shrine Writings: Wayside shrines to Desna are typically covered in graffiti, most perpetrated by travelling followers of the goddess. It is said that inspiration indulged at such a place is granted by the goddess herself and that adding to the artistry, scribbled verses, or life observations scrawled upon the shrine grants safe travels and good luck.

Desna

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