Although elves prefer simple revels to structured rituals, there are times in their lives when they feel the need for more formal, serious ceremonies. Typically, the priests of the elven gods preside over such ceremonies. They are there to fulfill the function of the ceremony and to instill the proper respect and solemnity required for that ceremony.
Because elves lead such long lives, the ceremonies each village and city celebrates are equally unique. Although different, all are based on certain traditional milestones in elven life and so retain an air of similarity. These events include birth, adulthood, marriage, the journey to Arvanaith (which is covered in Chapter Seven), and blood oath.
Since elf children are few (or at least far fewer than human children), the birth of an elf is a cause of great celebration. Births are always times of great joy. The village turns out in profusion, setting aside the day's work to celebrate with the infant's parents.
Following a one-year pregnancy, elf women are glad to celebrate the lightening of their burden. They happily join in the festivities honoring their newborn. Such celebrations typically last several days and conclude with the naming of the infant. Children are given a private name by their parents and then given a public name. The secret name is known only to the elf, his or her parents, and the priest presiding over the ceremony. While knowing the name gives no power over an elf, it is a sign of love and respect when an elf reveals his or her true name.
Gifts and wishes are often bestowed upon an elf child at birth by family and close friends of the parents. Such presents usually have a lasting impression on the elf, for favors given to an infant are far from ordinary. One child was given the ability to speak to dragons; she later used this gift to great advantage when she averted a war between her village and a nest of green dragons living nearby. Another child was gifted with always knowing when someone lied to him.
Rites of adulthood are common in many cultures, and that of the elves is no exception. When an elf reaches the age of twenty-five years, he enacts the Ritual of Passage. Upon completion of this ritual, the newly adult elf takes complete responsibility for his own life's journey along the Paths. If he or she wishes, he may seek a mate, though few elves do so early in adult life.
The Ritual of Passage takes place in two stages, with the first stage beginning three days before the elf's twenty-fifth birthday. From dawn until dusk on that day, the elf fasts, drinking water or a little wine if he desires, but partaking of nothing else. At dusk the elf goes out into the woods to sleep, and before slumber overtakes him he turns his thoughts to what he wishes to make of his life. Throughout the night, the elf dreams of his future. He returns his home with the dawn and begins to make some item that represents his dreams. An elf who dreamed of becoming a healer might make a medicine pouch, an adventurer might make a weapon, and so on.Whatever the item, the elf must finish it by sunrise on his birthday.
On the elf's twenty-Fifth birthday, the second stage of the Ritual of Passage takes place. The elf, his or her parents, and any witnesses desired travel to a secluded place deep within the forest. The elf speaks in turn to each of the witnesses and to his father and mother, thanking them for the love and guidance they gave him throughout his childhood. Before them all, he declares himself an adult no longer in need of protection. Each of them then welcomes him formally into the adult community. The elf's family then holds a ceremony to formally announce the young elf's passage into adulthood. New adults are given gifts—most often adventuring gear if they are so inclined. The older elves regale the family with tales of their pursuits, and they wish luck upon those who follow their steps. If the new adult isn't inclined toward the adventuring life, they are given tools of their chosen trade and a house of their own. From this point on, they make their own way in life, working with other elves to make a life full of happiness and joy.
In many elven settlements, the fasting day and the night of dreaming in the forest is combined with a challenge or test of courage. If the elf fails such a test, he must wait a year and a day before beginning his Ritual of Passage again.
An elf wishing to marry must first court the mate of his or her choice. Courtship can take many forms; an elf may compose songs or poems praising the object of his love; or may fashion a special jewel for the loved one to wear. Often, a simple flower can become a token of undying affection (I speak more of this below, in my section entitled The Custom of the Flower of Desire). If the courting elf finds his or her affection returned, he must then seek permission to marry from the loved one's parents or guardians. In almost all cases, permission is freely granted, and the two families to be joined begin the preparations for the wedding feast.
Marriage is an occasion for great joy among elves, for the union symbolizes the continuation of the elf race. Those who disrupt this ceremony to kill the betrothed earn the wrath of the elves forevermore, and they will hunt such marauders and their kin for eternity. Marriage is a rarer occurrence for elves than the short-lived races, and there are few things so dangerous as to profane the sanctity of this ritual. Sometimes weddings occur to seal treaties and for other diplomatic purposes, but more often it is through love that elves achieve a state of marriage.
Marriage between elves lasts until one partner dies. (There has been only one known divorce in the last three thousand years, and that was between two extremely opinionated grey elves.) Elves rarely take a new partner after the death of a mate. Their vows bind more than honor; they bind the spirit and heart of each to the other. By taking this step, many elves give up some measure of their individualism. Often, only the most ardent and devout lovers choose the path of marriage; others prefer a less formal arrangement.
The marriage ceremony itself is typically formal (although it can be as informal as the lovers like) and is presided over by elf priests of Helani Celanil.
In a true elven marriage of love, vows tie the spirits of the loved ones together, allowing them access to the other's inner self. This is a form of the elven ability communion (Leutha`tala). Wedded elves become fully aware of their partner's needs and emotions, allowing them to anticipate and fulfill these needs. They are not aware of the other's exact thoughts.
Because elves relive their past through the reverie, the circumstances attracting one elf to another are always fresh. Thus, elves seldom fall out of love. Only the gravest of tragedies and disloyalties can tear an elf couple apart. Although they might have disagreements and even fights, they continue to love each other.
But elves can grow tired of a partner, even when they are joined spiritually and have become more intimate than any non-elf could suspect. Elves reignite the spark of passion and love through absence. For stretches of time, one partner in an elven marriage will live apart; this allows both elves to gain time to themselves so that they might grow as individuals. When the two rejoin, they shower complete love and affection upon the other.
Elves also tend to spend time away from their loved ones in order to make their time together that much more precious. After all, there are fewer sure ways to grow bored of a person than to spend hundreds of years with him or her. Time alone allows them to think on the relationship and to experience new things to share with their mates, thus keeping the marriage fresh and vital.
An example of an elven Wedding cerimony follows.
When a male or female elf desires another elf of their acquaintance, the suitor customarily shows that desire by wearing a single flower pinned to the clothing or tucked into the hair. He or she wears the flower until it withers, or until the object of desire responds to it in some way. By custom, those who know the wearer of the flower must each determine if they are the desired one. The wearer of the flower need not state his preference; indeed, this custom works particularly well for elves who feel a certain delicacy about approaching the object of their affections. Persistent suitors frequently replace the flower with a new blossom once it has wilted; if the suitor leaves the withered flower in place, that act indicates a love that goes beyond desire.
Where many races regard death as a tragedy to be spoken of only when necessary, elves believe that the spirit of a fallen elf lives on in the memories and deeds of his loved ones. for this reason, elves speak often and with joy of their dead brethren, because only through such speech can the fallen live on in spirit. Though elves do see sadness in death, the sorrow is for the living, who will miss the physical presence of the loved one who has gone before. It is a gentle grief and carries no fear of death with it.
At the death of an elf, his or her loved ones perform the Ritual of Everlife. Many aged elves anticipate their deaths and spread word of their impending demise so that their families and friends may more easily prepare for the ritual. Because the Ritual of Everlife must include all those close to the deceased, this ritual often includes those not elven among its number. The Ritual of Everlife is the only elven ritual to do so.
The ritual takes place at midnight, in a place far from any inhabitation. Each participant holds a single, darkened source of light; a candle, a torch, or a magical-light quartz crystal. Beginning with the mate of the deceased or his closest living relative, each participant shares a favourite memory of the departed. As each speaks, he lights his candle, torch, or crystal. The mate or chosen relative steps into the centre of the softly glowing ring of light and speaks of the tales of the deceased that he will share with others, and which heirlooms the deceased has chosen to pass on to descendants. Once the mate or relative has finished speaking, all extinguish their lights as they speak aloud the deceased's name in unison. In the renewed darkness, all participants leave the ritual site, none speaking a word to another.
An elf will always choose to die out of doors, within the bosom of nature. Should an elf fail to receive the Ritual of Everlife after his death, he still lives in spirit as long as even one person lives who remembers him in thought, word, or deed.
The Gift of the Ancestral Item
When an aging elf senses the approach of his death, he or she customarily makes a gift of the most important item of his being to someone in the youngest generation of his family. This gifting symbolizes the faith that the older generations place in the youngest, that the young will uphold elven traditions and customs. A young elf who receives such a gift regards it as a percious heirloom. To lose it, or worse, to cast it aside, is a fearsome omen of calamity.
Creating New Life from Death
In the years since those of fierce wars, the custom of creating new life from death has sprung up among many elven settlements. When an elf loses a good friend, he plants a seed of a tree in that friend's name. Once he has done so, he must return in a year and a day to see if the seed has sprouted. If it has not, the elf must plant another tree. Once the tree begins to grow, the planter names it after his departed friend. Though it is not required that he return again to the tree, it is customary that the elf continue to watch over his living memorial. To my knowledge, no elf has engaged in this custom for a family member, nor has it ever replaced the Ritual of Everlife.
Elves are not always peaceful folk. If they or their friends have been grievously insulted or injured, they swear the sacred oath of vendetta—a ceremony carried out in the darkest hour before dawn. When they swear this terrible promise, they forsake all other pastimes to seek retribution. Elves understand this oath and will release the avenging elf from his or her tasks.
The avenging elves hunt down the offender to exact some form of vengeance, be it merely a sincere apology for an insult or something more severe. Typically, a time of service given to the injured elf is enough to satisfy this oath. However, there are occasions when nothing less than death will satisfy the demand of the blood oath.
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