Saturday, March 10, 2012

Enigmundia: Cults of Orcus

The Cults of Orcus are many and varied in name and goals. They tend to be more secretive in cities, grow in organization and influence in the rural areas, and consolidate into masses of  followers in the wilderness.

A common trait to these cults is a fondness for vows and oaths -- every rise in rank and stature in the cult is accompanied by a new, very eruditely composed oath that is added to all the prior ones. Politicking and jockeying for position is commonly characterized by attempts to get opponents to directly or indirectly break oaths to their lord and master.

Cult Depictions

The depiction of Orcus as a goat-headed lord of the undead seems to stem from his Panthenian roots, where he was considered to be one of the first cthonic gods and therefore one of the princes of the vast Underworld of myth.

Even back then, his demesne was Oaths, and he was a feared punisher of oath-breakers -- a much-replicated image in the museum of Imperian relics depicts him as a wild-haired, non-descript old man effortlessly heaving two muscled oathbreakers off a cliff as punishment. Sages have pointed to the strange stygian colorations of the cliff, starkly contrasted with the sylvan splendor found above, as an indication that the punished are being cast down into one of the many Pits to the Underworld.

There is another series of depictions of Orcus that is found in the foul tomes of the Oathbound (sorcerers who have entered into pacts with demons and devils). He is shown as a young, whiskerless man wielding a wand when the Oathbound first make their pacts, then as an immaculately robed patrician a rod when warning them against potential violations of their oaths, and -- his most fearsome aspect -- a grey-haired, bearded old man with long nails and piercing eyes when claiming them for breaking their pacts.

Lord of the Undead

His association with the undead seems to be tied to his purported role as overseer of contracts and agreements between demons and the sentients of the mortal realm. There are a variety of cults that are not dedicated to Orcus per se, but call upon him to officiate the sealing of pacts with demons and devils. It is rumored that the undead that serve him tend to be those that he's punished for failing to live up to their vows in life, and now must uphold foul oaths in death.

Other more discerning scholars of his cults have suggested a different reason: they theorize that Oathbreakers and those they make pacts with are often unaware of certain clauses inserted into their agreements -- clauses that bind both demons and sentients to the service of Orcus if either of the two violate the terms of their contracts.

If this is true, then the power of Orcus is fearsome indeed. Centuries of broken pacts between demons and sentients of the sunlit realms make for a terrible Underworld army at his command.

Orcs, Ogres and Orcus

Few orc and ogre tribes worship Orcus, yet he is known to them all as the father of their races. Their animal cunning, their distrust of words and equivocation, and their seemingly inherent treachery seem to be totally at odds with the fiercely cerebral, meticulously literal, and oath-sensitive nature of their progenitor god -- which is perhaps why a number of cults sponsor expeditions, crusades, and wars against orcs all across Enigmundia.

A few have theorized that the races were attempts to create his own minion race -- one to replace the hordes of humanity on Enigmundia -- that were cursed by other gods. Others have suggested that they are the personification of his own brutal nature, driven out (mostly) from his person.

It is likely that the truth will never be known, as no scripture or writing seems to speak of the incident, leaving the matter to apocryphal oral traditions in the humanoid tribes.

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