I must confess, I am very fond of the Groves of the Lorathan elves, a little bit of worldbuilding that serves as a fulcrum for a lot of other interactions throughout the setting. And they’re this week’s entry, hooray!
Groves are elven places of worship for their not-quite-a-religion which gets them into a bunch of not-quite-holy-wars. They feel very elfy—they like forests, and they know better than you—while at the same time allowing for a lot of fun embedded friction. They are carefully cultivated but they’re also wild. They’re the foundations of elven power but they monuments to powers that the elves don’t control.
They also seem like they’d be a blast to visit: chat up the grove spirit, quietly help them out with their little problems, confound the grove caretakers who’re ostensibly in charge. Fun stuff!
Anyway. I like to think that groves are a functional and believable kernel of culture characterization that ties up a lot into a neat little package. Let me know if you feel the same way!
A sylvan grove is a portion of land set aside to preserve the state of the forest in accordance with the principles of Lorathan stewardship. A grove may be as small as a single glen or as large as an entire mountain, its border indicated by boundary markers lit with will-o-wisps. The grounds of groves are not untouched wilderness, but are threaded with walking paths and studded with overlooks, seating areas, and shrines. The central “heart” of the grove is left wild, and can be very dangerous.
Each grove honors one or more spirits of the forest; most focus on a single figure. The puma, the falcon, the treewalker, the bear, and the nymph are the most common, but there are many others. The grove’s shrines are dedicated to these figures, and mortal manifestations of the spirits often populate the grounds. These creatures are wild, not tamed, and in many cases may be dangerous. The Songfalls grove, dedicated to the local river nymphs, sees a number of deaths each year, some of them suicides. These deaths are seen as holy sacrifices, as grove visitors bend to the natural cycle of the forest.
While the purpose of groves is ostensibly to preserve pockets of the natural world, the groves themselves are not, strictly speaking, natural. Groves are cordoned off from the rest of the world and carefully cultivated over the course of generations. That cultivation seeks to preserve a very specific vision of “the forest,” and is shaped by the biases of their creators. The specialists who build and maintain groves are recognized as craftmasters in their communities; the largest and oldest groves are often tended by teams of these sylvan architects.
Groves often host seasonal rites and can lend their spiritual focus to ritual magic. Many also encompass the intersections of ley lines, which bolster such work. Contacting the spirit venerated by a grove is a common goal, and occasionally works. These spirits may bestow blessings (or curses) and in rare cases speak wisdom to petitioners. Such spiritual contacts are often used to justify the doctrines of Lorathan stewardship, but critics counter that the groves may just as easily create and conjure amenable spirits as they might contact something fundamental to all forests everywhere.
Groves are ubiquitous throughout elven lands but can be found elsewhere, too. Wherever elves have gone, whether in conquest or diaspora, they have built groves. The construction of new groves was a fundamental part of the Imperial Wars, and the Lorathan elves did not consider territory properly pacified until a grove was established. Other groves have been established more peaceably, with elves securing community or crown permission to create their groves. Some few groves have been established or maintained by caretakers who are not elves, themselves, but who have adopted or simply respect the elven principles of sylvan stewardship.
We’ve reached an interesting threshold in our exploration of the Gazetteer. I didn’t have to pick out four referenced entries that we might check out next week. There were only four in this entry that we haven’t already seen—the others have all been featured in prior weeks!
Let me know which way you want to go!