Totems and Tokens
A totem is an animal, plant, or natural object serving among certain tribal or traditional peoples as the emblem of a clan or family and sometimes revered as its founder, ancestor, or guardian. The most well known totems are likely the totem poles of the American indians, and the spirits of the animals and nature also associated with the indians. In a fantasy setting with living gods, spirits, and sorcery, there is no reason that a totem cannot be more than a token or symbol, a chunk of ornamented wood or stone.
The barbarian kiths, with their shamanistic traditions would have the same basic totems as the Native Americans. They would venerate the spirits of animals, their elders, and potent little gods such as elementals. The civilized and settled folk are a little left out. Most fantasy has a large over-arching psuedo-catholic faith. This faith can be monotheistic, pantheistic, or some other power structure but the basics are the basics. You shall have no god/gods before us, and the clerics are the conduits of divine blessings and retribution.
Resistance is Futile
The conquest of a pristine area by the theocratic church displaces local faiths and structures of worship with their own. This is generally a bad thing for the local little gods and spirits who have enjoyed the devotion of the local folk. The spirits that rebel are put down by the likely more potent clergy and their arms militant. The remaining options are generally reduced to surviving on ambient essence and keeping a low profile, or accepting a position within the theocratic cosmology. The first option makes a little god into a beggar, the second sees their individuality stripped away and their core essence reshaped to something more fitting to the will of the greater divinity.
The Path of the Totemos is a tricky one, requireing a little god to maneuver into society without offending the theocrats. The little god must then find a way to receive devotion, offerings and worship from the common folk again without tipping off the clerics or the agents of the divine.
The Modern and Fantasy Totemos
Totemos exist all around us today. We don't easily recognize them, but we offer our time, devotion, energy, and sometimes money to them. The mascots of professional sports teams are Totemos, as are the anthropomorphic icons and mascots of companies and corporations. In the fantasy setting, these mascots are not guys dressed in large felt costumes, they are real. They can represent guilds, cities, ethinic and cultural groups, neighborhoods and the like. The larger the base that recognizes the totemos, the stronger it is.
A Totemos is not a god in the divine sense, it is a terrestrial spirit. As such, it's powers are quite limited. A Totemos cannot effect miracles, empower clerics, or make significant changes in the local enviroment, magical or mundane. A Totemos can inspire, offer blessings of good luck, and a small number of other things directly related to it's core nature. Examples will be provided in the Sample totemos section.
Totemos and Clerics
As a rule, clerics dislike totemos like preachers dislike sunday sports. A totemos distracts the populace from 'proper' worship, and divests them of some resources that might be better gifted to the theocracy. This animosity remains calm, as a cleric who campaigns against a totemos is very likely to alienate the populace and come across as an intolerant zealot.
Sir Xorice of the Bloody Blade
A militant Totemos attached to the Shroud Knights, Sir Xorice is a war like totemos. Originally a strong ghost of a warrior king, Xorice adopted the Knights of the Shroud after his own funeral worship was crushed by the church. Now filled with ire against the Faith, Xorice lends his blessings to the rebel knights. His main place of devotion is a warrior chapel hidden in the Grandmaster of the Knight's castle. He appears there in stone effigy as a king with a broken sword, and a broken crown. His devoted wear a broken crown in their heraldic devices and offer their first kill of each battle to Xorice.
The Ghillie-Goat Man
Appearing as man with the head of a horned ram and covered with long shaggy green hair, the Ghillia-Goat man has long been a patron of the small forest village. He was originally worshiped as a god of wood and stone, but has since adopted a more humanoid appearahce. After his druids were slain, he is now a mascot for the local Baron's knights. Their devices typically have a green goat's head, or a fist clutching a sheaf of elderberry vine.
The Black Kaawk
The mascot of the Moxingor Slaver's guild, the Black Kaawk is a large rooster with jet black plumage and a gold beak. Kaawk is hard to take unawares and is has a canny eye for what is a good morsel to eat and what is offal. The guild marks it's slaves with a tattoo of a black feather on their right hand, and on their right shoulder. Guildsmen will generally display their association with the guild and the Kaawk by wearing a piece of jewelry with a black feather, either real, or a lacquered piece of pewter.
The Shoeless Mouse
The orphanage at Peirs-del-Reyien has a large number of children, many of whom fall to decided rogue activities. The children, and the lay-monks who help in their illegal activities remind each other to be as quiet as a shoeless mouse, and make less of a trail to follow. While the saying is now cliche, the Shoeless mouse is now a Totemos of the orphans and their juvenile organization. Most of the orhpans, no matter how hungry, will leave a crumb of food for the old shoeless mouse to find.
Application of Totemos
Using the above examples, Totemos are easy to integrate into a game. A casual common might not have a clue to who Sir Xorice is, but he knows the knights with the broken crown symbol are bad news. He also is pretty sure that the tavern with the bent crown is pretty friendly to them, even if no one can figure out what is going on. In the case of the Ghillie-Goat man, when the locals decide to play at games (I imagine rugby for some reason) one side will always want to play as the green tunics, or the Goats. The baron might even sponsor a team to play for his entertainment, scheduling matches with the teams of other barons in the region. Slavers are by rule, not pleasant or highly moral people. In a setting with the Moxingor Slaver's guild, a black feather could carry the same connotations as the Nazi swastika or the Klan's burning cross. Buying a black chicken could cost several times the price of a brown or white chicken, or the like. The Shoeless Mouse would be an enigmatic figure, his image appearing in odd places, possibly even comic in appearance.
For Totemos more strongly associated with an area rather than a society or organization, the use is a bit more ubiquitous. Like the City-Gods of Mesopotamia, the city and the Totemos are almost interchangable. The Totemos of a city or town will reflect the nature of the area, and of the people. A mining town with a cautious nature might have a Canary Totemos, while a military outpost on a contested border would have a fightin' totemos, a warrior. The area based Totemos is a central figure for local color, and iconography. Taverns will have it's image or name, or some association, local knights could have something of it in their devices.
Collegate and professional sports have very iconic mascots. There are strong associations between a team, their mascot, and their home town. For Tennessee, it is the Volunteers and their mascot Smokey, and at certain times of the year, a large percentage of the local population will 'Bleed Orange', one of Tennessee's color. (the other being white). This sort of local pride should have some counterpart in fantasy. While professional league sports are unlikely, there is nothing saying that a symbol of the guild couldnt become a mascot, and then a Totemos. The reverse might be true, and a guild might adopt the local totemos and use it's image as it's symbol. Colorful organizations could certainly have totemos, such as mercenary bands, local based guilds (as opposed to multi-city super-guilds) and fraternities, sororities, brotherhoods, and compacts.
NPCs • Minor • Mystical
''You want to know why we have that big old granite statute of a catfish? Why son, that's old Kugamu. Everytime folks around here be wanting to get a good catch from the lake, we grab some maggots, pig shit and old beef gone bad. Then we mash it up all together and toss it into the lake for him to eat. He's partial to that, is old Kugamu. Bless his heart, he's never let us down even once''.
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? Responses (8)-8
A good way for the little gods and goddesses to survive.
Great description and an easy way to put some flavour in the world. It also inspired an idea that I may put in writing in a bit.
I like this a lot. It allows animism to survive in otherwise advanced agricultural socities. I too feel the beginings of an idea coming on. Good job.
Excellent piece on using totems in game. Good examples. As others said, gives one ideas immediately! I may have to write one up now :)
Very Cool, though I would like your thoughts on what these Totemos provide for their adherants?
In game context something akin to a blessing, a small dice bonus on things relevant to the Totemos in question. Anything beyond a 1st level spell is too much. As for Adherents, a Totemos asks very little of it's people. Having it's image is enough, or dropping a coin or two in it's favor. Nothing more than you would put into apparel or swag from your favorite sports team or branded product line.
I like little gods and the live on the fringes they lead. Well put down, makes me want to use them more.
Does it ever happen, that a little god becomes a true one?
On occassion, a little god can become a 'God'. The only difference between the two is the magnitude of their power.