Seeking the Raven Queen

July 27th, 2008

The Raven Queen is one of the most mysterious deities of fourth edition, and, judging by various forum posts, one of the most popular.  This is what’s known of her:  She’s the unaligned goddess of death; she’s also the goddess of fate and winter.  She opposes Orcus and undeath in general.  Unlike most gods, she does not make her home within a dominion in the Astral Sea; instead, she rules from the palace Letherna in the Shadowfell.

And that’s about it.

There are some obvious parallels to Greek myth here.  “Letherna” suggests Lethe, the river of Hades, whose waters caused total forgetfulness in any who drank of them.  The word lethe literally means forgetfulness, but also concealment or deception — and it’s related to the Greek word often translated as truth, aletheia.  (The actual meaning is something more akin to disclosure or non-concealment, from what I understand, and connotes recognition.)

Even more obviously, the Raven Queen is a “spinner of fate,” and she “marks the end of each mortal life,” which makes her analogous to both Clotho and Atropos, two of the Fates.  (And arguably also of Lachesis, the third.)  In mythology, Clotho spun the thread of life, Lachesis measured its span, and Atropos cut it when it had reached its end.

The Fates were, at least in some traditions, the daughters of Nyx, the primordial goddess of the night.  Nyx was among the earliest of gods to emerge, perhaps coming into being alongside of creation.  She’s the daughter of Chaos, the primordial state of existence, and sister to Gaia (the earth), Tartarus and Erebus (the underworld), and Eros (sex).  Her offspring, in addition to the Fates, include Moros (fate), Thanatos (death), Nemesis (retribution), Apate (deceit), and Eris (strife).

I find this interesting enough to run with it in my game.  But wait, there’s more…

The title Raven Queen is also reminiscent of the Morrigan of Irish mythology.  Morrigan is a figure associated with prophecy, war, and death (especially death in battle).  She sometimes takes the form of a carrion crow, a bird in the same family as the raven.  (The Badb, who also embodies these traits, is sometimes considered to be a sister deity to the Morrigan.)

Hugin and Munin, Odin’s ravens, probably bear mentioning as well.  Their names mean Thought and Memory, and their duty is to fly around the world and to bring back news of what they see to Odin.  Odin himself is a god associated with prophecy, war, and death.

While we’re considering Norse mythology, there’s also Freyja.  In the Eddas, she’s portrayed mostly as a goddess of love, sex, beauty, and fertility, but she’s also a goddess of… you guessed it, prophecy, war, and death.  One story says that half of the warriors who die in battle go to her hall in the afterlife, with the other half going to Odin’s hall Valhalla.  So here we have a goddess who’s associated both with life and with death.  This particular dualism doesn’t seem to suit the Raven Queen, at first glance, but we’ll bear it in mind.  It’s intriguing enough that we might find something to do with it.

Aside from the gods, there are of course the Valkyries, those who soar over the battlefield — sometimes in the shapes of ravens — and choose the bravest warriors to escort to Valhalla (or to Freyja’s hall, as the case may be).

Finally, there are the three main Norns, who are somewhat analogous to the Greek Fates:  Urd (fate), Verthandi (becoming; the present moment), and Skuld (debt).  Skuld, youngest of the Norns, is also a Valkyrie, of whom Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda says: “…and the youngest Norn, she who is called Skuld, (rides) ever to take the slain and decide fights.”  So here, again, is a goddess of fate, battle, and death.  (Skuld’s name, incidentally, also translates as shall, a nifty point of trivia.)

So here we have some parallels between the mysterious Raven Queen and various European mythologies.  The correlations are interesting enough, at least to me, that I’ll use them as inspiration for the Raven Queen in my own game.  (And probably for Skybreaker, too, unless our GM has something else planned already; our campaigns tend to share a lot of this sort of background material.)

My next post will cover exactly what I’m doing with my Raven Queen:  fleshing out what role she plays in my game world, based loosely on some of the ideas from the mythological figures I mention above, and with some of my own thrown in for good measure.

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Related posts:

  1. Defining the Raven Queen
  2. Encountering the Raven Queen
  3. Myth Direction: the Faerie Courts
  4. Ritual of Rejuvenation
  5. Rampant Sects

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7 Comments

  1. jonathan, Aug. 7, 2008, 10:04 am:

    This is simply a fantastic piece of work. Right now – I’m having a hard time thinking of another blog entry from another blog that is this good. THANK YOU. For some reason, this post really struck a (good) chord. /applause

    jonathan’s last blog post: More D&D Magazine Goodness: Kobold Quarterly. Any Others?

  2. Scott, Aug. 7, 2008, 11:21 pm:

    Thank you; I’m glad you enjoyed it. Mythology is something of a hobby of mine, so I pull a lot of campaign material from it.

  3. jonathan, Oct. 14, 2008, 2:11 am:

    I’m submitting this to
    OPEN GAME TABLE
    for consideration because, its just another shining example of talented work! As I go through my google reader “starred” list – this post is one of them – and I’ve submitted the whole series in fact because I just enjoyed it so much.

  4. jonathan, Oct. 14, 2008, 8:07 am:

    There’s been some concern over at the RPG Bloggers google group that the author’s work is being submitted without their consent – so I just want to clarify: Nothing will be published in Open Game Table unless the author releases the material for inclusion in the Anthology. This post was simply submitted for consideration; which is the first step towards identifying the best in RPG blogging. Let me know if you have any questions over at the The Core Mechanic or in the OPEN GAME TABLE google group. I hope that this clears up any confusion you may have.

  5. newbiedm, Oct. 14, 2008, 8:41 am:

    I plan to base my campaign around the Raven Queen. My world came out of a magically induced ice age 500 years ago, and the Raven Queen is not happy about the fact that the world didn’t perish “as it was supposed to”, so she send her agents, the Shadar-Kai return to the world to finish what was begun.

    But in reality, the Raven Queen is scared about something else, and is using this to get her way… she is scared about the rise in power of Lord Orcus, who wants to take her place… So eventually she’ll bargain with the PC’s… destroy Orcus, and your world gets spared certain destruction.

    I’m doing it so that when a God gets a certain whim or desire, other gods don’t interfere, and let fate play itself out…

  6. Scott, Oct. 14, 2008, 10:45 pm:

    @newbiedm: Sounds like a fun take on the Raven Queen. I think one of the reasons I like her so much is that she can be interpreted in so many different ways, and still work well for the campaign in question.

  7. Matt, Sep. 18, 2010, 1:45 pm:

    Hi Scott,

    I liked this article very much. I’m currently writing an article myself on the Raven Queen, which includes some information that was published a while after this post of yours. I wanted to include a link in my article to this post, as I love all the comparrisons you draw to other figures in mythology. Would that be ok with you?

    Thanks, Matt

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