Between a Devil and a Blue Abyss
The Lady of Graves
Goddess of birth, death, fate, and prophecy
Pharasma (fah-RAZ-mah) is the stern observer of life and death, scrutinizing the tangled webs of fate and prophecy, mercilessly cold in the administration of her grim duties. Having seen infants die, the righteous fall too soon, and tyrants live to advanced age, she makes no judgment about the justness of a particular death and welcomes each birth with equal severity. At the moment of birth, she knows where a particular soul will end up, but she reserves her official verdict until the last possible moment, as she knows prophecies can be wrong or fail completely. She believes in fate and predestination but understands the need for vagueness and misinterpretation to allow for the illusion of free will.
Sitting atop an impossibly tall spire, Pharasma’s Boneyard awaits all mortals. Once there, they stand in a great line, waiting to be judged and sent to their final reward. Only the unworthy end up in her graveyard, their souls left to rot for all eternity. Legends claim that Pharasma knew the death of Aroden was fast approaching and even judged him, but did nothing to warn her own followers, many of whom were driven mad by the event. Pharasma is depicted as a midwife, a mad prophet, or the reaper of the dead, depending upon her role. Pregnant women often carry small tokens of her likeness on long necklaces to protect the unborn and to grant it a good life.
Pharasma remains neutral in almost all aspects towards other deities. Iomedae still bears a something of a grudge against her for not revealing Aroden’s impending death. Urgathoa, Orcus and their followers are the closest she has to an enemy.
Pharasma employs a number of unusual immortal beings as servants. Pharasma’s herald is known as the Steward of Skein, a linked pair of ghaele-like beings. One of the pair gleams white and blue, while the other gleams a bright orange and ebony.
This servant of Pharasma is a ravid, a planar outsider creature. It has cleric powers.
Echo of Lost Divinity
This minion is a spectral warrior bedecked in expensive dress. It bears an uncanny similarity to known renderings of Aroden.
This servant appears to be an animated, wheel-like being composed of rock.
Her followers are midwives, expectant mothers, morticians, and (though less so since Aroden’s death) diviners. Pharasma’s temples are gothic cathedrals, usually located near a town’s graveyard, although a single bleak stone in an empty field or graveyard can serve as a shrine. Her faithful dress in funereal clothes for religious ceremonies, always black (regardless of the local custom) and accented with silver and tiny vials of holy water. They despise the undead as abominations to the natural order.
Pharasma manifests her favor through the appearance of scarab beetles and whippoorwills, both of which function as psychopomps that serve to guide recently departed spirits to the Boneyard. Black roses are thought to bring good luck, especially if the rose’s stem sports no thorns. Pharasma sometimes allows the spirit of someone who died to send short messages to living kin to comfort them, to expose a murderer, or to haunt an enemy. Her displeasure is signified by cold chills down the spine, bleeding from under the fingernails, an unexplained taste of rich soil, the discovery of a dead whippoorwill, or the feeling that something important has been forgotten.
Whether depicted as the midwife, the prophet, or the reaper, Pharasma is a cold goddess with responsibility for the ultimate fate of all mortal souls. Yet though she represents death, she is not cruel; she shepherds souls into and out of the mortal world with care, taking no pleasure in suffering. She has seen tyrants prosper and the innocent weep, and is necessarily amoral, yet she has also seen people change dramatically over their lives, and thus withholds judgment until a mortal’s death. Though she can read the patterns and is said to know the fate of every life as it enters the world, she also understands the inconsistency of prophecy, and holds such knowledge close to her chest, maintaining the idea (or illusion) of free will.
For those who worship Pharasma above all others, the most important things in life are birth, death, and prophecy. When you adventure in her name, it is often to destroy undead (which are antithetical to the natural cycle) or to seek out and attempt to understand strange prophecies. You may seek to protect the dead from disgrace, and are exceedingly uncomfortable with the standard adventurers’ practice of tomb robbing (though you have no problem rooting out whatever abominations may have taken up residence in such places, provided the innocent dead are treated with respect).
Pharasma’s priests are usually clerics, spellcasters specialized in divination, or “white necromancers” who study the magic of life and death but do not create or control undead. In addition to these and a host of more common sorts who worship the Lady of Graves—most notably midwives and undertakers—adventurers of all types may find serenity in the goddess’s worship. After all, few face their own mortality more often than adventurers, or are as eager to see their own fortunes rise on the tides of fate. Martial classes pray to her to safeguard their own tenuous existences on the field of battle, and to feel better about the lives that they cut short, knowing that the Lady is ultimately in charge. At the same time, spellcasters understand that Pharasma represents a wealth of knowledge beyond the comprehension of any mortal, and oracles in particular frequently turn to the goddess in her guise as the mad prophet. In the end, however, all adventurers must bow before the Lady of Graves—either in life, or at its end.
A Priest’s Role
Members of the priesthood are usually clerics, diviners, or “white necromancers” (wizards who study forms of necromancy other than the creation of undead and the destruction of life), though especially skilled midwives and hedge wizards have been known to gain authority in some areas. Priests oversee births, and having a Pharasmin priest at childbirth almost always ensures that the mother and child will live. They are the stewards of the dead, and most are familiar with funereal customs from their own and nearby lands. They are the protectors of graveyards and the memory of those who have died, guarding sites from robbers and corpse-animators and memorizing or recording what they know about anyone who dies in their presence. The church despises the undead as abominations to the natural order, and all priests follow the church’s teachings about undead without question; creating undead is forbidden, and controlling existing undead is frowned upon, even by evil Pharasmin priests.
A typical priest earns a meager living tending to women in labor, speaking words at funerals, or even digging graves or building tombs for wealthy patrons. Adventuring priests avoid entering tombs for the purpose of looting, though if a tomb is known to hold undead, they accept this transgression with the intent of dispatching abominations (though they still oppose desecrating non-undead corpses in such places). Followers of Pharasma tend to be brusque, as they spend much of their time dealing with the dead (who do not talk back and don’t get their feelings hurt) or folk under extreme duress (such as women giving birth). When their services are needed, they give orders and expect to be obeyed, as a mortal soul (either recently departed or about to arrive) is at stake.
All priests carry a skane, a double-edge ceremonial dagger with a dull gray blade, often with a stylized depiction of the goddess’s face and hair on the pommel. The dagger is used to hold open prayer scrolls, to touch parts of a corpse when performing death rites, to cut shrouds for the dead and the umbilical cord of newborns, and to slice kolash on feast days. It is not forbidden for a priest to use a skane to draw blood or take a life, but some refuse to do so, and carry a different weapon if they must fight. A casarmetzes carries a special skane, bearing Pharasma’s likeness on one side of the pommel and a crying child on the other.
You carry within you the knowledge that life and death intertwine, and that every birth means another inevitable death. This view leads to a deeply pragmatic—yet still idealized—view of the world. You seek to simultaneously maintain the natural cycles of the world, putting right those things like undeath that are inherently against Pharasma’s order, and to give serenity to those who still rail against the Lady’s will.
As with any religion that focuses on death and dreams, the worship of Pharasma is rich in imagery and symbolism. The bird most identified with Pharasma is the whippoorwill, a psychopomp for the transition between life and death. In other climes, the scarab beetle serves the same purpose, and any large gathering of the creatures is likely to be seen as a sign of a great harvest of souls to be borne away to the Boneyard. Pharasma’s faithful hold the black rose to be a sign of good luck, while a dead bird (especially a whippoorwill) is thought to be a sign of her displeasure, as is an unexplained taste of soil or bleeding from beneath fingernails.
The spiral is the holy symbol of Pharasma, representing both the soul’s journey and the confusion of prophecy. Many followers of Pharasma, especially in Ustalav, draw the spiral over their hearts for a variety of reasons – to ward off misfortune, swear an oath, or identify themselves to others of their faith. They may also draw it as a gesture of luck when undertaking difficult or dangerous tasks. The method of making the spiral differs from region to region as well, some drawing with a closed fist, others with one or two fingers extended.
Many who worship Pharasma do so casually, offering a half-thought prayer or drawing the spiral when speaking of death or an ailing family member, or seeing omens in the motions of whippoorwills or scarabs. Piety is strong during occasions such as funerals or childbirth, but frequently fades during everyday life as other concerns push the specter of death to the background. More orthodox members attempt to fight this willful ignoring of natural cycles, and are often considered unduly dour for their serious worldview. While the church maintains various holy days and ritual masses in addition to its other duties, most Pharasmin worshipers believe that simply understanding the faith is enough for the layperson.
As a religion recognized across all races and nations, Pharasma’s faith takes many forms depending on the cultural context. One extremist sect popular in Ustalav is the Pharasmin Penitence, which believes that suffering in this life tips Pharasma’s scales to reward the sufferer in the afterlife. These worshipers actively court suffering — though not to the extent that Zon-Kuthon teaches — and some of the more radical may pursue wizards, sorcerers, and others who change the world through magical means, seeing the use of magic to prevent suffering as defying the will of Pharasma.
As a follower of Pharasma, you detest Urgathoa, Orcus, and all those who exult in undeath, for they represent both a corruption of natural existence and a vile bending of the will of Pharasma. Otherwise, you are free to make alliances and enmities with whomever you will, just as the Lady of Graves works with all the gods to guide mortal souls into their realms. Pharasmin priests are renowned for their impartial natures, and regularly minister to both sides in a given conflict, caring first and foremost for the proper treatment of the dead and the newborn.
The taboos of the faith are largely local in nature, but there are a few that remain constant across the faith. As her follower, you are forbidden to kill her psychopomps, such as whippoorwills and scarabs, for they are the goddess’s eyes and ears. While the goddess has no opinions regarding contraception, you may not partake in the abortion of unborn babies, for to do so is to cut short the destiny of a child before it has had a chance to make its own. While necromancy has many beneficial spells that allow you to care for both the dead and the living, you may not create undead, nor control them unless you do so specifically for the purpose of destroying them.
Given its abundance of rituals, ritual objects, and ritual clothing, it is not surprising that the church has developed many habitual phrases. In most cases, a member of the faith makes the sign of the Lady over the heart when speaking one of these locutions. The three most common are as follows.
Not this year, not yet: This is a brief prayer, spoken in response to hearing a tragedy or bad rumor, asking that Pharasma delay when believers are sent to her realm, for they have much to do before that time. The devout speak it at each morning’s prayers and when they pray before bed.
All who live must face her judgment: This is a promise that another person—typically an enemy, but often just a flippant or disrespectful person – will suffer whatever fate is in store for them, even if it takes longer than the speaker would like.
The Lady shall keep it: This is an oath to bear a secret to the grave, telling no one, swearing that only Pharasma shall hear it in person (and only once the oath-maker has died), or that she will claim the oath-maker early should he break his promise of secrecy.
Pharasma’s worship is known across Golarion, and on other worlds beyond. Though she may be especially prominent in lands such as Ustalav that have suffered from the depredations of undead monstrosities, the Lady demands no special pilgrimages from her worshipers—the steps they take are the steps they were meant to take. Pharasmin churches are often large, Gothic cathedrals, and even the smaller outposts of the faith attempt to retain some aspects of this impressive architectural style. Churches and temples often band together to create their own internal hierarchies within a region or nation, within which the larger urban cathedrals almost always have more influence than their smaller, more rural cousins. Each church is run by three head priests representing the goddess’s three aspects, though in practice one priest sometimes has more power than the others, and a church too small to support the conventional structure may have a single priest fulfilling all three roles.
Though their rituals may be somber and their demeanors uncomfortably frank, Pharasmins are a cooperative and communicative people, and the servants of their goddess work well together. Priests from one temple are always welcome in another—and sometimes expected ahead of time, thanks to the church’s focus on prophecy.
Temples and Shrines
Pharasma’s temples are often gothic cathedrals, usually located near a town’s graveyard, although a single bleak stone in an empty field or graveyard can serve as a shrine. Large temples usually have catacombs underneath, filled with corpses of the wealthy and former members of the priesthood, as burial under the goddess’s temple is believed to raise her opinion of the deceased when it is time for judgment. Even a remote Pharasmin monastery has a large area set aside for burial, and may be the final resting place of generations of wealthy and inf luential folk—as well as an uncountable accumulation of tomb treasures.
Each temple has a high priest or priestess for each aspect of the faith—birth, death, and fate. In theory they are equal, though the high priest of prophecy has assumed a secondary role in recent decades (and the position is often held by a strange or unstable person), and in smaller locales a single priest serves all three functions. Temples that include a crypt also have a cryptsmaster or cryptsmistress in charge of that facility. Ranking within a temple is usually based on seniority of service—those who have been in the priesthood longer outrank those who have served for a shorter length of time.
Hierarchy between churches depends on the size of the populations they serve; a large city temple has greater influence than a smaller town’s temple. Pharasma’s faithful dress in funereal clothes for religious ceremonies, always black (regardless of the local custom, though other colors and styles may be underneath a black outer garment) and accented with silver and tiny vials of holy water. Clergy living in monasteries dress in black or gray, depending on local custom; many of these take vows of silence to show their devotion to the Lady of Graves.
The Bones Land in a Spiral, Pharasma’s holy text, is a compilation of predictions from a long-dead prophet. Its prophecies are vague and inconclusive, and a cunning reader can apply their words to fit any number of situations, either past or future. If fact there is much debate about what events they foretell and whether they have already passed. Later additions to the book include more practical information on midwifery, proper burial of the dead (with a special section on the treatment of those who might rise as undead), methods of performing auguries and other matters useful to everyday life.
In many temples, especially older ones, the holy book exists as a collection of illuminated scrolls organized by topic. Created with rare inks and metal filigree, some of these collections are historical artifacts worth thousands of gold pieces. As each scroll has particular prayers needed for various temple ceremonies, in many cases a priest only needs to bring the appropriate scrolls to the service, leaving the remainder in a safe place. Each scroll is held in a gray silk sleeve called a mantle to protect it from wear and mishaps. As mantles wear out after years of use, they must be disposed of, but church doctrine says they cannot merely be discarded, and a used mantle is either walled up in a tiny compartment within a temple, or (preferably) sewn into a burial shroud of a priest or other notable member
of the faith who is about to be buried. Corpses fortunate enough to bear a Pharasmin mantle as part of their shroud are said to be especially resistant to the predations of the undead, including being animated or turned into spawn.
The first month of spring, Pharast, is named for the Lady of Graves – a month of new life and renewal for the world. The church has two common holidays shared by all temples.
Day of Bones: On the fifth day of Pharast, priests carry the enshrouded corpses of the recent dead through the streets of the city in an honored procession. These corpses are interred at no cost in a church graveyard, tomb, or sepulcher, which is considered a great honor to the departed.
Procession of Unforgotten Souls: Practiced in lands where the Lady of Graves is a prominent deity, this ceremony is a nightly ritual for weeks leading up to the harvest feast in which the faithful ask the goddess to delay when she takes them to the afterlife. Priests wear thin, black robes over their festival clothes, and carry lit candles in a procession into a large fountain, pool, lake, or quiet river. As they enter the deeper water, the candles go out, but as the priests reach the other side, the candles re-light, and the water makes the black robes transparent, revealing the festival colors beneath.