Saturday, 19 September 2020

On the Green God and the Elder Evil, Part 1


 “Turn him to any cause of policy,
The Gordian Knot of it he will unloose,
Familiar as his garter”

— Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 1 Scene 1. 45–47 

The Elder Faith
I thought I might write about what was the eldest of the eldest in Greyhawk, and in my imaginings, that was the Old Faith and the Elder Evil. It’s all in the name, I thought. This will be easy, I thought.
Iwas wrong.
There has been much said and written about the Elder Eye, the Elemental Evil God, Beory and Obad-Hai, and the Old Faith. But what does it all mean? And where does it all fit within Greyhawk canon?
Canon has become a muddy mess of contradiction as each edition sought to either reimagine or rewrite what came before, shoehorning what was into its narrative. Some of that lore was written by Gary Gygax. Some of it was adapted from Frank Mentzer’s BECMI. From BECMI? Yes, some of Frank Mentzer’s Immortals Boxed Set made it into Greyhawk lore. No matter, lore is lore. We can pick and choose what we wish, as it were. And we ought to, because over the years, it has become a gordian knot, begging for Alexander’s sword.
What is to be made of it all?
And where to begin?
Let’s begin with the Old Faith. That might be easier than Elder Evils.


The Old Faith

“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more”

― Lord Byron


The Old Faith, by its very name, must predate all others; yet its origins are forever muddied by what followed.


Oerth's natural fertility has inspired the devotion of its people. The cult of the Oerth Mother (Beory) once dominated the entire Flanaess, and the traditions of her worship persist in many lands. The present hierarchy of the Old Faith is built upon the ancient religion of the druids, though deities in addition to Beory are worshiped. Of course, other "nature" religions exist outside the Old Faith, even different branches of the druidic heritage, but few of these are in the Flanaess. The druids of the inner circles of the Old Faith gain far more prestige and respect than these other groups. Mistletoe, oak leaves, and holly leaves are their common emblems. Druids of the Old Faith are completely neutral in philosophy and personal alignment. They yield only to the world-spanning authority of the legendary Grand Druid.

Dark Legacy

The practices of the Old Faith are generally in accord with those of other nature priesthoods. The druids do not engage in the sacrifice of sentient creatures, yet there is a dark legacy within the Old Faith. The druids of antiquity allied themselves with the sorcerous Ur-Flan, who once held whole tribes in bondage to their evil. The unspeakable rituals performed by the Ur-Flan went unchallenged by the druidic hierarchy of that era, so long as the former were not so prevalent in any region as to threaten the balance of nature. Eventually, the Ur-Flan sorcerers waned in power and vanished. Some of their magical secrets are still preserved by the Old Faith.

The Old Faith is still widely practiced in the Flanaess, and not only in those regions dominated by descendants of the Flan peoples. The age-old sacred groves and monolithic circles of the Old Faith may include shrines dedicated to any nature deity the resident druids permit, but most often they are unadorned. While Beory the Oerth Mother is the best known deity associated with the Old Faith, any druid of purely neutral alignment may matriculate through the Nine Circles of Initiation, regardless of which nature god that druid venerates.

The most junior druids must first serve as Ovates, simple administrators and readers of auguries who govern only the aspirants who seek admission to the hierarchy. Above the Ovates and the Initiates are those who may claim the title of Druid. They, together with the three Archdruids and the Great Druid, provide tutelage to their underlings (there are nine Great Druids in the Flanaess, one representing each of the geographic divisions outlined in Chapter One). Legends also speak of a Grand Druid and a cabal of ascended mystics called the Hierophants, but complete knowledge of these masters is hidden from those outside the hierarchy. [LGG]

It's odd that it is Beory and not Obad-Hai mentioned. She comes and goes throughout the editions and gets the barest mention on the God box: Beory FC Oerth Mother, Nature, Rain N f.

That’s not much to go on.

Obad-Hai gets more love.

Obad-Hai FC Nature, Wildlands, Freedom, Hunting N m

Obad-hai, "The Shalm," is an archaic deity of nature and wildlands, one of the most ancient known, having been worshipped by the Flan prior to the arrival of invading Aerdi. [WG boxed set]

Obad-Hai rules nature and the wilderness, and he is a friend to all who live in harmony with the natural world. [Deities and Demigods, 3e]

It’s implied that druids would worship them. And that the all who would serve them would be druids. The thing is, not all clerics of these faiths are druids:

Clerics who follow Obad-hai usually are druids. A few others are of the normal sort, although they wander as pilgrims in most cases. Such clerics wear russet garments and carry staves. [WG boxed set] 

Closely associated with the Old Faith is the Old Lore:

The Colleges of the Old Lore are an order of bards appended to the druidic society of the Old Faith. Very few of these archetypal bards are left, as their traditions are primarily those of the ancient Flan. Bards of the Old Lore are distinguished from today's common bards and minstrels by their noble origins, their tradition of scholarship, and their use of druidic magic. The prospective Old Lore bard must be of human descent and noble birth, although half-elves are permitted, as well. Tradition demands that each candidate have proven skill in warmaking and stealth, in addition to surpassing grace, in order to receive druidic training. The Old Lore legacy also includes a small number of magical, stringed instruments crafted specifically for each of the seven colleges of the Old Lore. Recovery of any such instrument is of prime concern to the remaining members of these colleges, and the true enchantments worked by the ancient craftsmen come alive only at the touch of a bard of the Old Lore. [LGG] 

One would think that summed it up: The worship of Beory and Obad-Hai is the Old Faith, or is very closely linked to the Old Faith—or is within Flan culture, anyway. 

If that were so, then where did the Green Man from UK1 Beyond the Crystal Cave come from? He too is a nature god. But he’s not Obad-Hai, is he….

Is he a little nature god, where Beory and Obad-Hai are major ones? Is he Beory’s and Obad-Hai’s son? There’s nary a mention of him anywhere else, so I doubt that. Is the Green Man something entirely different?

The Green Man is an inhabitant of the prime material plane who concerns himself with the plants and creatures of the natural, mundane world. He is also interested in the produce of nature, especially that used in the making of beers, ales and wines. This is reflected by his symbol which is the hop — foundation of the finest ales. He adopts many guises (gardener, brewer, forester, etc.) for his dealings with mortals amongst which he favours the simple folk of the countryside. Known by many regional names (of which the Green Man, John Barleycorn and Mother Nature's Son are but three) he is often called upon by peasants and smallholders dependent on the whims of nature to increase their crops and to help them celebrate harvest home in the manner that only he can. They enjoy his appearances as a welcome break from the harshness of daily toil. [UK1 Beyond the Crystal Cave]

The Green Man has few permanent worshippers. Some, however, choose him as their patron deity, although he takes little interest in his followers and will only influence the spheres of natural abundance and then only rarely. [UK1]

Regardless who the Green Man is, he wields power, much as Beory and Obad-Hai do. But where Beory and Obad-Hai are Flan gods and widely known, the Green Man is not.

I’ll repeat: The Old Faith is most firmly rooted wherever the Flan reside.

The Old Faith (druidism), as practiced by the common folk throughout the central Flanaess, was the center of culture [in the County of Ulek]. The sovereign was always a member of the druidic hierarchy, whose position was respected by both the human and nonhuman inhabitants of the county, regardless of the ruler's race or patron deity. [LGG]

It is strong in the Viscounty of Verbonbonc, as well.
Many of the humans of Verbonbonc […] are god-fearing souls, worshiping the Old Faith (druidic or reserving their prayers for St. Cuthbert of the Cudgel. [WG8 Fate of Istus] 

So, the Old Faith was worshipped alongside the new faiths, even if in Hommlet [most] of the local folk are of the Old Faith—the druidical—and consider the Druid of the Grove […] to be their spiritual caretaker. [T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil]

 What can be said of the people of the Old Faith. They are close to the land. They are an industrious folk. They are brewers, cabinet makers, millers, and stonemasons, but for the most part, they are farmers and herdsmen, the common folk, the peasant folk.

This wood and plaster house is well kept, and the barn beyond is bulging with hay, grain, and so forth. Several fat animals are about. Two large farm dogs bark at your approach, and a rosy-cheeked goodwife appears at the doorway.
The large goodwife is friendly, greeting all who call, while her four children look on. Inside, a young girl and her old granny do various chores. The lintel over the front door is carved with acorns and oak leaves. If politely asked, any adult in the family will state that the family is of the Old Faith (i.e. druidical).
The head of the house and his two full grown sons are at work in the nearby fields. These three are members of the town militia. [T1-4] 

This rustic abode houses the local woodcutter, who is a member of the local militia. He lives with his wife and three young children. He has nothing of interest to characters, and is not interested in adventuring. He keeps his leather armor, battle axe, and heavy crossbow (with 30 quarrels) in a chest in the bedroom. He is of the Old Faith, and will report anything unusual to the druid [….] [T1-4] 

The house and barn show that this farmer is doing well, and the stock in the fenced-in yard are very fine-looking. You see a fetching feminine face in a window.
A widow and her two grown sons (members of the Militia) dwell here, the latter with their wives and eight children. They are interested in neither trade nor adventuring. These folk are all of the Old Faith. [T1-4] 

This place is the home of a strapping farmer and his equally large son, the farmer's wife, and six daughters—one of whom has a small child. They are friendly but have nothing of interest to [say.] These folk are of the Old Faith and have lived here all of their lives. The farmer and his son are both militiamen. [T1-4]

All in all, the people of the Old Faith are hardworking and fruitful, if those excerpts are any indication. Family and community are very much in the forefront of their daily lives. 

The druid is their spiritual leader.

Jaroo Ashstaff
This is obviously a place of worship. The trees are neatly pruned, and the grass is well tended. A carefully placed line of bluish stones sets off the path leading to a rock cairn where flowers, nuts, berries, and garlands of leaves are placed. A small path leads beyond the shrine to a low-roofed wooden building placed under the great boughs of the central oaks of the copse.
A call will bring forth the druid, Jaroo Ashstaff. All comers to the Grove are expected to make an offering here and there (and the druid will remind them, if necessary). If the visitors are not of the Old Faith, they are expected to give several gold pieces to Jaroo as donations towards the needy of Hommlet. The druid will listen to requests for assistance from those who contribute.
Jaroo is an agent of the druids of Gnarley Wood, sent to Hommlet to see if the Temple of Elemental Evil is totally destroyed, and to help repress any rise of evil of that sort. He will give aid by spells, but will not accompany a party. If the visitors are suspicious sorts, Jaroo will follow at a distance to see what goes on. He has a huge black bear, which is always nearby but out of sight 95 % of the time. [T1-4]

 The village elder is of the Old Faith as well.
This place has an eight foot high stone wall and a heavy gate. It is obviously the residence of some well-to-do folk, and easily defensible in times of trouble.
This is the home of the village elder, his wife, and their four grown sons. Two of the sons are married, and their wives and three children live here also. The elder is a retired farmer, and his sons now care for the fields and livestock. All of his sons have horses, and are very proud of their status. Two servant girls and a hired farmhand are quartered in the stable loft.
All the inhabitants are of the Old Faith. The four sons and the hired hand are members of the militia. In the event of attack villagers nearby seek safety in this compound.
The elder is quite wise and greatly respected. He heads a council whose other members (in order of seniority) are—Jaroo, the druid of the Grove [,] Terjon, chief cleric of the church [,], Elmo's father, Captain of the militia [,], Ostler, the Innkeeper [,] Mytch, the Miller [,] Burne, the magic-user [, and] Rufus, Burne's associate [.]
The latter two are new arrivals to the council.
The elder is also the Justice of the Peace. Once each new moon, he holds a village meeting to hear ideas and complaints. [T1-4]

What else can we glean from that passage? Theirs’s is a oligarchical, gerontocratic society, with hints of theocracy and noocracy.

I note that it was the druids of the Old Faith who kept vigilance after the Temple of Elemental Evil had been sundered, for it is the Old Faith that remembers.

Kella is a druid, and possesses a valuable item made by her professional ancestors, a phylactery of change. This item enables here to use her innate shapechange ability to assume monster form as well as animal. The possible forms are still limited to monstrous reptile, bird, or mammal, the latter corresponding to the hill giant form. The phylactery does not radiate magic, and Kella carries no other magic items, to avoid exposure by detect magic or other means. Kella cannot cast spells in giant form, and will do nothing to give away her disguise; she speaks only when necessary, and is so immersed in her role that she has become almost giantish in her attitudes.

Kella has taken the form and jobs of old Scorpp, spying on the Greater Temple for the leaders of the Old Faith. She fears the current rise in evil power, and knows that time is limited. She also knows that she risks certain horrible death at the hands of Iuz himself should she be discovered, but things have gone well thus far — nearly two months in all. [T1-4]


Grove of the Green Man

I also note that there was no mention of Beory or Obad-Hai in all that text. Not a one. That might be because T1, The Village of Hommlet was published before the World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, but I would like to think that it’s because the Old Faith is older than either Beory or Obad-Hai. Far older.

The Old Faith has no truck with ethnicity. It transcends mere culture; it transcends race. It endures, because it has always been.


If the Old Faith was concerned about such things, would it ally itself with the Silent Ones?

The Silent Ones have few if any allies of note: Only a few groups, such as the rangers of the Dreadwood (known as the Dreadwalkers) and certain elements of the Old Faith, share any sympathies with them. [LGJ#4]

…or the Circle of Eight?

Drawmij also consorts with the Hierophant Sverdras Meno, a powerful being who oversees the vast Azure Sea. Meno is thought to be a member of the mysterious Cabal, a congregation of the Old Faith even more enigmatic than the Circle of Eight. Few know that it is the one-time fastness of the hierophant that Drawmij has made into his private residence. [LGJ#0]

One would suggest yes. They would. The Silent Ones strive to keep destructive magics out of the hands of the uninitiated (or so they say), and the Eight have always said that they strive to maintain the Balance. It’s just that the Old Faith might look upon these through very different tinted glasses. 

What we do know is that druids are priests of nature. The 1e PHB tells us as much:

The Watchers of the Wood
Druids can be visualized as medieval cousins of what the ancient Celtic sect of Druids would have become had it survived the Roman conquest. They hold trees (particularly oak and ash), the sun, and the moon as deities. Mistletoe is the holy symbol of druids, and it gives power to their spells. They have an obligation to protect trees and wild plants, crops, and to a lesser extent, their human followers and animals. Thus, druids will never destroy woodlands or crops no matter what the circumstances. Even though a woods, for example, were evilly hostile, druids would not destroy it, although nothing would prevent them from changing the nature of the place if the desire and wherewithal existed. In similar fashion, they avoid slaying wild animals or even domestic ones except as necessary for selfpreservation [sp] and sustenance. [PHB]

There was no mention of Beory until first detailed for the Dungeons & Dragons game in the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Game Setting (1983), by Gary Gygax. Beory is considered to be a manifestation of the Oerth itself. She does not care for anything else, and mortals or other deities only concern her if they threaten the Oerth. She is distant even from her own clerics, who wander the earth to experience the different parts of the world. They spend their time communing with nature and often associate with druids. [Wikipedia]

Or of Obad-Hai, for that matter.

The Oldest Faith

So, what is the Old Faith, if not Beory or Obad-Hai? Might it not be the worship of the Green God and the Earth Mother then, of the sacred male and female, of nature, whatever its manifestation?

Might I suggest that it is OLD. The Oldest faith. Older than even the Gods themselves, and that it finds its origins in the spark of creation, that it is the force behind creation, itself.

Might I suggest that those gods that followed this creative force are only pale imitations of this ancient creative force, creations of our imaginations given form and power by our very need to understand the unknown, and have congress with it.

Pelor, Pholtus, Phyton, Breeka, or Obad-Hai, or Beory.

What’s in a name, anyway?

So, how ancient is the Green God, anyway? And what might it look like, if anything?

What might it look like, if anything?

If I may be so coy:

Jaroo leans forward and says, “Well, the Green God is what gives a druid his power. It is the divine force created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the Oerth, and the Multiverse, together.”


One must always give credit where credit is due. This History is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them, and the new old guards, Carl Sargant, James Ward, Roger E. Moore. And Erik Mona, Gary Holian, Sean Reynolds, Frederick Weining. The list is interminable. 
Thanks to Steven Wilson for his GREYCHRONDEX and to Keith Horsfield for his “Chronological History of Eastern Oerik.”
Special thanks to Jason Zavoda for his compiled index, “Greyhawkania,” an invaluable research tool.
Primary sources for this history were the DMG 1e, The World of Greyhawk Folio, and The World of Greyhawk Gold Box, Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, Ivid the Undying, the Greyhawk Adventures hardcover, The Living Greyhawk Journals, Dragon Magazine.


The Art:
Obad-Hai, by Kyle Anderson, from Deities and Demigods, 3e, 2002
The Green Man, by Timothy Truman, from UK1 Beyond the Crystal Cave, 1983
Hommlet, by Dave Trampier, from T1 Village of Hommlet, 1979

The selected art is the sole property of the artists.
All source material presented within this chronology is owned and copyrihted by WotC.
The use of this material is not intended to challenge the rights of WotC.
This document is fan content and presented solely for the personal use of those individuals who game within the Greyhawk Setting.

1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
1068 Greyhawk Wars Boxed Set, 1991
2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
9066 UK1 Beyond the Crystal Cave, 1983
9147 Temple of Elemental Evil, 1985
9253 WG8 Fate of Istus, 1989
Dragon Magazine
11743 Living Greyhawk Gazeteer, 2000
Deities and Demigods, 3e, 2002



  1. I love the fact that you didn't try to stream line it or try to get the old faith to fit into a neat box. The old faith is meant to be convoluted and unclear in my opinion.

  2. I really enjoyed the reading. Planning to start my first real campaign set in Greyhawk after some toying around without ever really ending up there. 35 years of D&D brought me to many worlds - it's time to come to the homelands of it all.

  3. I love the Old Faith and feel it should be elemental, wild and should be those who follow it. I have been running a campaign in Greyhawk for many years and your article is reminding me I need to add more of the Old Faith. Great stuff!