Roses of Britain
The Mabinogi are the native pagan gods of ancient Britain. Secretive, eccentric beings, their origins are shrouded in mystery. Their history is fragmentary and of relatively recent vintage. Little evidence of their influence exists prior to 2,000 B.C., although they seem to have assumed a variety of forms and names over the ages in order to make their presence known to mortal humanoids. In the present age, the Mabinogi oppose the primordials and their agents, but it’s unclear if Britain’s deities were even present for the Dawn War. Many sages of the divine assert that the Mabinogi are not true deities at all, but primal spirits that somehow evolved into gods at the advent of humanoid civilization. Certainly, the Mabinogi seem to have a strange affinity with primal spirits and the Feywild, and their mortal worshippers have long allied with those who venerate the primal forces of the world. Fearsome warriors and cunning magicians, the Mabinogi put great stock in might, valor, and respect for station.
Once the worship of the Mabinogi was widespread in the lands of present-day England, but the ascendancy of Christianity has all but supplanted such heathen practice. Today, worshippers of the Mabinogi offer their prayers in secret, dwelling in small, isolated pockets, primarily in Wales and the West Country. Forced to conceal their beliefs from the gaze of the Church, the scattered worshippers of the Mabinogi have no religious organization to speak of. There is no authority that enforces orthodoxy, and each surviving temple and cluster of worshippers is essentially autonomous, with its own closely-guarded traditions. Worshippers of the Mabinogi are polytheistic, freely offering prayers to several deities, as appropriate for their needs. However, most believers also select a single god to serve as their personal patron. Each of the Mabinogi theoretically accepts worshippers of any alignment except for chaotic evil, although evil worshippers of Rhiannon are unheard of.
There are few records of Mabinogi influence in Albion prior to the rise of Rome, aside from the rare artifact and a few contradictory halfling tales. The picture that emerges from such scant evidence is one of religious isolation. The Mabinogi did not have to wrestle with other families of deities for the attention of believers. Centuries before the arrival of Christianity, the worship of gods on the island was virtually synonymous with the worship of the Mabinogi. They commanded the overwhelming share of devotion from Albion’s savage human kingdoms, with only marginal competition from primordials, archfey, demons, and other entities. Other races also offered worship to the Mabinogi, especially the elves and halflings, who often constructed their temples alongside primal places of power. The gods frequently meddled in the affairs of mortals in those days, for ends both noble and selfish. Complicating the history further are pagan legends from Ireland and France, where the Mabinogi seem to have been worshipped under other guises. The few remaining Irish and French heathens claim to know the Mabinogi by other names, and tell strange tales of their exploits that bear little resemblance to English legends.
The fortunes of the Mabinogi began to erode in the third century, A.D. with the appearance of Christian missionaries. These priests found abundant willing converts among Britons who saw themselves as Roman citizens first and foremost. Perhaps due to this pressure, the Mabinogi pursued a dramatic gambit during the fourth century, A.D. The gods assumed mortal forms and dwelt on Earth for a generation, openly dominating the petty kingdoms of Cymru (present-day Wales) after the withdrawal of Rome’s legions. Although diminished in power, these god-men were still formidable beings, and the mortal races were compelled to serve them. In their earthly forms, the Mabinogi directly and aggressively beat back the influence of the Christian Church. The pagan faithful call this period the Azure Enthronement, and regard it as a era of fantastic deeds and dreadful upheaval. Almost all surviving legends of the Mabinogi originate from this period. However, England’s halflings speak of earlier Azure Enthronements, dating as far back as the second millennium B.C., suggesting that the gods have been visiting Britain to directly influence mortal affairs for ages. How the Mabinogi managed this feat is not clear, given that Christian saints and other pagan deities can appear on Earth only in their comparatively weak aspects.
Whatever revitalizing effect the Azure Enthronement had on the fortunes of the Mabinogi, it was not enough to forestall the decline of their worship in Britain. The deities took an active but less direct role in the reign of King Arthur that followed their own rule, supporting his battles against Germanic tribes such as the Saxons. The Germani brought terrifying divine magic and the worship of their own fearsome pagan gods, known as the Ese, adding further competition for worshippers among Britain’s humanoid population. The worship of the Mabinogi continued to decline throughout the first millennium, A.D. By the time of the unification of the island’s Saxon kingdoms into a Christian monarchy in A.D. 927, worship of England’s native deities was restricted to scattered outposts of pagan faithful in the wildest regions of the Kingdom. Unlike worshippers of the Ese, believers in the Mabinogi were able to more successfully conceal their devotions amid England’s mundane folk traditions, and were therefore able to escape the Church’s attention more easily. Today, worship of the Mabinogi continues in secret in small, isolated areas, primarily among those non-human races for whom the glories of the Azure Enthronement are not so distant a memory.
Physically enormous, Bran is rumored to be have a touch of death giant’s blood in his veins, which grants him both astounding strength and strange mystical power. Possessing magical wisdom that equals his might, he has fashioned many strange and miraculous artifacts, including a cauldron that can resurrect the dead. During the Azure Enthronement, Bran ruled Cymru as a mighty warrior-king from his splendid hall at Harlech. He led a massive war of vengeance against Ierne (Ireland), whose king Matholwch had married and then mistreated his sister, Branwen. Ultimately victorious but mortally wounded in the final battle, Bran urged his followers to cut off his head and return it to Cyrmu. Remarkably, the god-king’s head continued to speak and perform powerful ritual magic for decades, until it was buried at the site of the present-day Tower of London.
Bran is the deity of strength, endurance, resolve, honor, retribution, and immortality. Pagan believers often swear oaths of vengeance in his name, and offer prayers to him when about to embark on long, arduous tasks. The god has no love for mindless brutes, preferring that his followers exhibit wisdom and cunning as well as physical strength. Bran can often be frightening and mysterious in his disposition, as he has ancient connections to the Shadowfell. The deity has no affinity with the undead, but he knows the secrets of death and is protective of that knowledge. Barbarians, fighters, wardens, and warlords all favor Bran as a patron deity, as do the rare pagan avengers and paladins. Due to his reputation for both physical and magical might, he is also popular among swordmages.
Bran usually assumes the aspect of fearsome warrior of gigantic stature, who is at times afflicted with a ghastly wound. He is also known to take the form of a flock of ravens, or even a disembodied head that speaks in a thunderous voice. Bran does not appear to his worshippers often, but when he does it is usually to harden their resolve or admonish them for failing to pursue their enemies. Some sages believe that the mysterious Fisher King from whom Galahad obtained the Holy Grail at the dawn of the sixth century A.D. was in fact an aspect of Bran.
Worshippers of Bran observe these principles:
- Once you have resolved to a course of action, never falter or surrender.
- Do not allow an insult to go unanswered, or a slight unpunished.
- Strengthen yourself so that you might overcome any obstacle.
Symbol: White horse
Renowned for her matchless horsemanship, steadfast loyalty, and breathtaking beauty, Rhiannon is regarded by the pagan faithful as a model of nobility and virtue. During the Azure Enthronement, the goddess was the queen consort to two kings of Cymru, Pwyll and then Manwydan. Welsh tales assert that Rhiannon sought out the mighty Pwyll, whom she desired as a husband, and led him on an arduous three-day chase on horseback to prove his strength and resolve. Rhiannon married the king and bore a son, Pryderi, but the newborn child vanished. The god-queen was accused of devouring her own son, and it was only with the appearance of her grown son years later that she was vindicated. Following Pwyll’s death, Rhiannon married Manwydan, brother of Bran, and had many ensuing tribulations. When Pryderi was ensnared by the spiteful wizard Llwyd pe Cil Coed, Rhiannon courageously braved his fearsome stronghold to discover her son’s fate, even when her husband would not.
Rhiannon is the deity of horses, speed, beauty, courage, patience, and righteousness. She is regarded as the patron of female monarchs and nobles, and a guardian of all those who are wrongfully accused or punished. In her role as a divine queen, she provides legitimacy to mortal rulers who she deems worthy, but withdraws her favor from those who exhibit weakness, cowardice, or shameful behavior. Bards, fighters, paladins, shamans, and warlords all revere her, as do many female pagan heroes, regardless of class. Due to her legendary fleetness and kinship with horses, she is a particular favorite among the pagan rangers who still wander England’s hill and moor country.
Among all of England’s native pagan deities, Rhiannon is the most likely to appear in a form that her followers will recognize. She usually assumes the aspect of a ravishing maiden astride a white steed, or, alternatively, as the horse itself. In this form, she will often lead mortals on a wild chase to the location of a magic item or a prisoner in need of rescue. She also appears to reassure followers who suffer unjustly, or to scold heroes for their lack of courage. Rhiannon rarely meddles directly in the affairs of mortals in the current age, although it is said that she will take matters into her own hands if her anger is hot enough.
Followers of Rhiannon are expected to heed the following pronouncements:
- Bow only to those who prove themselves worthy of your respect.
- Have the courage to act when others will not.
- Be truthful and honorable in all things, for justice will triumph in the end.