Religion in the Flanaess: The Spring Rite for Geshtai
Date: Thu, August 07, 2008
Topic: Gods & Followers
The "Living Greyhawk Gazetteer" tells us that the local inhabitants of the lands about the Rumikadath River, source of the waters of Lake Udrukankar in the Dry Steppes, only allow vessels upon the river during the Spring rites of Geshtai.
The following is from the journal of the accomplished Halfling adventurer and traveler, Galt Diggwell. The event occurred during the years of 534 to 535 CY when he journeyed throughout the Baklunish lands of the west.
"The caravan we had been traveling with continued on to a small village just above where the Rumikadath River turns into a maze of a marshy delta before finally emptying into the salty waters of Lake Udrakankar. The village was a crude place of mud-brick hovels to my eyes and even to the Baklunish caravaneers with whom I traveled, but to the surrounding nomadic tribes of the Dry Steppes this village was the height of civilization and center of their culture. We were fortunate in that our arrival coincided with the Spring rite to the goddess Geshtai, so that I could see a ceremony that few easterners have. The village chief made a great deal of having us as guests in his home, especially myself, being even more foreign than my fellows and the representative of a race rarely seen in these lands.
"At the feast that evening, though we were given places of honor, I was surprised to see that the highest place belonged to a large blue ram whose horns and neck were strung with garlands of desert flowers. He sat regally before the assembled feasters, surrounded by a handful of the loveliest maidens of the village, who combed and oiled his wiry coat.
"Of the latter’s color I enquired of our host whether it was natural, which when he related my question to the others in their crude local dialect of Baklunish, produced gales of laughter. I was answered that the creature’s pelt had of course been dyed with indigo, blue being the color of the goddess whom they honored.
"I relied that though my question seemed strange, in my travels I had seen bugbears of that color in the Land of Black Ice. Those were not my exact words as my audience was not familiar with that land, though they did have some acquaintance with the largest members of the goblin family, who live in numbers in the Sulhaut Mountains to the south. As for a land filled year round with black ice, I fear they did not believe me. After this exchange my further questioning revealed that our honored guest was to serve as a sacrifice to the goddess on the morn, the performance of which I was invited to view with the others of my group.
"In the morning I awoke to a cacophony of singing accompanied by drumming, rattling and the shrill cry of reed flutes. Exiting the courtyard of our host’s dwelling I joined the rear of the procession, but through skillful application of my elbows, as well as the indulgence that came by the curiosity my race generated, I was soon even with the head of the parade. I could see that it was led by the blue ram with his lovely attendants, and preceded by the priestess of Geshtai, blessing the path with scented water.
"At the bank of the river we found a crude barge had been prepared of wooden framework and stretched hides. It was just large enough to hold the ram, the priestess and her acolytes, and four strong men to pole the boat out into the relatively swift current. When the barge arrived in the middle of the river the polers held it in position while the priestess offered up a prayer in Ancient Baklunish. The caravan master, an educated man from Ekbir translated for me, part of which I set down here:"-
“Oh Geshtai, Maiden of Waters, weep for your children.
Weep so that water may fall and that we may live.
Mighty Geshtai, Sweet Maiden, feast of this sacrifice.
And bless us through the coming year.”
"Perhaps anticipating what was to come the ram bleated loudly, then the knife of the priestess flashed in the sun as it was swiftly drawn across the animal’s throat. A bronze bowl was placed beneath to catch the blood. With a further prayer the priestess raised the bowl with her scarlet-stained hands and emptied it into the river. Then the men began to pole the barge back to shore.
"At this point I had assumed that the ceremony was over and was about to turn away when the sound of splashing drew my attention back to the river. In the spot where blood had been poured sprays of water were being thrown up into the air and the fin and tail of a large fish at least the length of two full grown men broke the water. This drew much exultation from the assemblage. I turned to the caravan master who had previously told me that no fish lived in the excessively salty waters of the lake. I said that though I assumed fish swam in the river I did not imagine that any of that size could grow here. He assured me that was the case, but what I saw was no natural fish, but Gumus, the companion of the goddess, come himself to give her favor. This was a doubly fortuitous event then that I was fortunate to witness, though I did not cool off with a swim in the river as I had hoped to do later. Servant of the goddess or no, Gumus might still be hungry, and by Yondalla I did not intend to end my days as a meal for a fish."
This article was inspired by the ceremony honoring the Voudon god Agwe described by Maya Deren in her book, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti.