|This article contains PROMOTIONS! Don't say we didn't warn you.|
|Divine Rank||Lesser Goddess|
|Pantheon||Dark Seldarine, Faerûn|
|Portfolio||Beauty, Dance, Song, Freedom, Moonlight, Swordwork, the Hunt|
|Domains||3E: Chaos, Charm, Drow, Elf, Good, Moon, Portal
5E: Life, Light, Nature
|Home Plane||Great Wheel: Svartalfheim (Ysgard)
World Tree: Arvandor; she also detains a small domain in the Demonweb Pits (Abyss)
|Worshippers||Mostly, but not exclusively: surface drow, goodly drow, elves, bards, hunters|
|Favoured Weapon||Moonsword (bastard sword)|
Eilistraee is the daughter of Corellon Larethian and Araushnee. Exclusively belonging to the Forgotten Realms setting, she is the only good drow goddess, and her domains include: beauty, dance, song, moonlight, hunt, swordwork and, as of 5e D&D (post-Sundering timeline of the Realms), freedom. The Dark Maiden, as she is called, pursuits the goal of freeing the drow from Lolth's cruelty and tyranny, helping them retake their future and forge their own path on the surface after centuries of living blind to the world. She also strives to promote peace among all races, and to reunite the drow with their elven brothers and sisters. Therefore, she is the patroness of all dark elves who long for a life free from the strife imposed on them by Lolth, but also of artists (especially dancers, bards, and musicians), crafters, and hunters. She looks kindly on outcasts as well, and encourages her followers to offer them shelter. Even though focused on drow, Eilistraee firmly believes in the possibility of redemption for individuals from all races, and gladly welcomes anyone willing to walk a path that revels in life and its celebration. As a result, she is mostly followed by drow, but has worshippers among various races.
Eilistraee appears as a tall and lithe drow woman of glowing beauty (usually unclad), described as "the answer to that question which every soul feels but no words can frame". Her skin is as dark as the night sky, and her ankle-long hair, of a luminous silvery hue, frames the graceful and delicate features of her face. Her eyes—larger than in most drow, whose color reminds of moonstones—are warm and deeply expressive, as if they were the painting of the goddess' soul. Those who gaze upon her often feel suffering and sadness dissolve, and even the most hopeless night turn into a moment of beauty and solace. However, a feeling of loss—even desolation—can take them upon her leaving.
Due to her choice of sharing the fate of her people, Eilistraee went through many hardships and much pain in her life, but she learned to turn the scars of her battles into flowers, and her suffering into empathy and compassion. Despite all her wounds, she never stopped seeing and healing the beauty in all things and souls, including what was broken or corrupted; she never stopped loving, dreaming, and smiling to life. The Dark Maiden can still find hope, and the strength to create and nurture, even in the darkest place, and she works to bring her warmth to those trapped in the cold of their night--especially her people. She knows far too well that the world isn't all bright and happy, but the possibility for joy exists even at the height of suffering, and she wants all to see and find it.
The weight of loss made Eilistraee a generally melancholic goddess, but also kind-hearted, gentle, and caring. She knows what it is to suffer, so she cherishes and cares about all beings for what they are (including the scars of the battles that every individual faces), and shows compassion and mercy to all who need them--even the darkest souls. No one deserves to be alone in their pain, and even individuals who have fallen to cruelty can still hold good within them. She finds joy in helping people in need in various practical ways, including those who are not her followers or drow, if they act for good or uphold her principles.
That said, the Dark Maiden is also free like the wind, a lover of life and nature, with an impish streak and a wild side to her personality (in fact, she wishes and works for peace, but is known to often act quite fiercely in protection of her followers when they are harmed). Her suffering taught her to find happiness in the small things, and in bringing happiness to other people. An act of kindness towards a stranger, learning a new song, or the splendor of a sunrise will be enough to make her smile. She loves all arts and forms of creativity (especially dance and song), and delights not only in performing herself, but also in filling artists with bursts of inspiration (a sign of her favor). She strives to nurture and keep alive the spark that exists in all people, and art and compassion are the most powerful forces to defeat fear and resignation. For that reason, she teaches to celebrate life in its fullness, as to bring passion and a sense of wonder to everyone, and make the world a better place for all.
Attitude Towards the Drow
Having shared the path and struggles of the drow, and having chosen to be one of them, Eilistraee is convinced that those who are still trapped in Lolth's web aren't monsters as many believe, but the result of lifelong abuse and neglect from those who should have loved them the most (as even maternal or paternal love are considered taboo and weakness under Lolth). She knows their pain, sees the part of them that was silenced by hatred and strife, their hidden beauty, and strives to nurture it. The Dark Maiden works to "redeem" the drow by showing them all that they've been missing on in life due to Lolth's oppression, and by taking the role of a nurturing mother. While they were taught that love and affection are weakness, Eilistraee loves them as they are--including vulnerabilities and wounds--and shows them the strength in caring for each other. While they were taught that an individual has no value except for the power and favor from Lolth that they detain, Eilistraee shows them that they matter as people. Lolth's society is governed by rigid roles and rules, and every drow is forced to constantly wear a mask and enegage in the perennial strife. Eilistraee, on the other hand, teaches them the freedom of expressing themselves, of casting off their chains, and experience that full, vivid joy that too many are denied. With her focus on beauty and freedom, Eilistraee lures the drow out of their prison (and, weirdly, comfort zone, due to Lolth's indoctrination), to embark on a journey to see and marvel at what life actually is, to open their eyes and make them understand that a different existence is not only possible, but that it leads to actual happiness and liberation.
The Dark Maiden is there in all the important parts of this journey; while she can't guarantee safety, she tends to her "children" in various practical ways, nurturing, protecting and teaching them about the surface world that is their forgotten home. For example, she often scares off aggressors, sends visions warning of danger, or leads an edible animal within the reach of a hungry drow. She provides dancing beams of moonlight that move about guiding those who are lost in the dark and leading them to safety, or to lighten childbirths. She is also known to often appear when her children need confort and her visible support in difficult moments (or to welcome a new drow to "join her dance"). It usually happens through her own moonlight, or as a protecting, shadowy, tall female dark elf that dances with the drow.
Even then, Eilistraee tries to leave the drow free to choose; she is subtle and delicate when offering her help, and careful to never impose herself or to forcefully intervene in people's choices. She wishes for her children to find their own path, and to see with their own eyes what life has to offer.
During Eilistraee's youth, Araushnee's schemes to usurp Corellon's position led various deities, enemies of the Seldarine, to assault and enter Arvandor. In the ensuing battle, as Eilistraee fired an arrow meant to save her father, Lolth's magic cursed it mid-flight, causing it to pierce the elven god's chest instead. Eventually, the treachery was unveiled and Corellon saved, but--despite having been judged as innocent--Eilistraee chose to share her mother's exile. She had foreseen that the drow would need her warmth and guidance in the dark times that were to come, and she couldn't provide that from the luxury of Arvandor, but only by being by their side in their struggle. Feeling guilty, she also swore to never use the bow again, and started sword-dancing instead. Corellon was pained to see his child go, but at the same time he was proud of her choice.
After her exile, the Dark Maiden followed the elven people--including the dark elves that she had chosen to watch over--to Toril. There, alone, she fought Vhaeraun's (her brother) and Ghaunadaur's corruption of the drow in southern Faerun (and, later, Lolth's as well, when she started exerting her influence on Toril). However, in the end, she wasn't powerful enough to prevent their rise, and became hunted by them alongside her followers. Eilistraee and her people would found a flourishing center of arts and magic in Miyeritar, rivaling the splendor of the great elven kingdoms, but it wouldn't last. During the Crown Wars, a conflict started by the power plays of the sun elves of Aryvandaar and fueled by the ruthlessness of the dark elves of Ilythiir, her efforts couldn't contain the so called Dark Disaster, a magical cataclysm unleashed by the Aryvandaari, which caused the death of the majority of her people in Miyeritar, leading her to lose everything she had worked for, and bringing her to a near powerless state.
Eilistraee found a precious friend in the demigod Selvetarm (her nephew and son of Vhaeraun and Zandilar the Dancer) who, neither good nor evil, had walked away from both his parents. She took care of him, raised him by teaching her ways, and the two grew close to each other. Selvetarm admired his aunt and wished to gain, in turn, her admiration; the Dark Maiden hoped that Selvetarm could reunite the drow with the elves and the Seldarine. However, Lolth would later trick him into slaying her rival Zanassu, a demon lord of spiders, with the promise that such a feat would neat him Eilistraee's admiration. Predictably, it didn't go like that; Selvetarm was corrupted by the demon, becoming a near mindless berserker and Lolth's pawn, stripping the Dark Maiden of her friend.
As the Crown Wars raged on, Lolth and Ghaunadaur kept corrupting the dark elves by tempting their rulers, warriors and nobles with demonic powers, until the Seldarine cursed and exiled all of them (including the surviving Eilistraee's followers, or those who were otherwise innocent) in the event that became known as "Corellon's Descent". Once again, Eilistraee chose to share the path and curse of her people, but in her powerless state she could not rival Lolth as deity of the dark elves, and the Spider Queen led them in the Underdark. After this event, Lolth's and Ghaunadaur's efforts to exterminate the followers of the other drow gods brought Eilistraee and her people to a virtual collapse, and her relationship with her father and the Seldarine became strained, if still polite, due to the deep schism caused by their choice to curse and punish the entirety of the drow.
Since after Lolth wrapped her web around the drow, Eilistraee has tried her best to recover from that blow, to offer her people a new life and lead them to flourish once again. She is alone in this battle, however, an underdog who faces forces much greater than her (most of the Dark Seldarine), and too often the results of her efforts and of those of her followers have been swept away like ashes in the wind. Despite all this, after each fall, Eilistraee kept starting over and never stopped fighting for her people, and in the 1300s DR, all the sacrifices were rewarded with substantial gainings and progresses in her cause (in no small part due to the actions of Qilué Veladorn, her chosen). Eventually, the Dark Maiden chose to put her own life at risk in a battle to free the drow from Lolth once and for all. She was left alone to face the deities of the Dark Seldarine one by one, as neither Corellon nor the Seldarine did anything to help her. The Dark Maiden took down Kiaransalee and Vhaeraun (Ed Greenwood said that she spared the latter, merely KOing him with the help of Mystra, who trapped his sentience in the Weave, and borrowing his portfolio), and her church merged with that of her brother for a few years. In the end, however, she was defeated and (apparently) killed--even though, as suggested by Ed Greenwood, thanks to the help of Mystra, the hit that took her down only made her lose her divinity for a while, making her unable to function as a goddess for that time (but still able to communicate with mortals through visions and manifestations). Either way, it lasted only for about 100 years, until the Second Sundering (circa 1480s DR/5e D&D), when Eilistraee returned to her people, and her followers immeidately resumed their activities (which supports the idea that the goddess actually survived and kept in contact with them). Currently, she no longer holds Vhaeraun's portfolio, as he too has re-emerged.
At some point during the above-mentioned war, an Eilistraeen drow mage (Q'arlynd Melarn) cast a High Magic spell that turned a few hundreds among the few thousands followers of Eilistraee into brown skinned "dark elves" (like the drow used to be before being cursed by the Seldarine more than 10k years before). The mage wanted to target all drow except Lolth's followers, but only those of "pure Miyeritari" descent were affected, with the result that most Eilistraeens remained unchanged. Corellon then decided to acknowledge the new brown skinned elves as "redeemed" (despite the fact that they were already good before changing race, and that many of them, born outside of a Lolthite society, had nothing to be redeemed for) and allow them into Arvandor--even though they could already go there, since Eilistraee's realm is in that plane. Now, this has a lot of problems; for example, in 10k+ years Eilistraee has never once cared or acted to change the race of her people (she literally became one of them to build a place in the world for them, as drow), and forcing such a massive chnage on a mortal runs contrary to everything she stands for. The meaning of this transformation is also something that probably should have never seen the light of the day in 2008, because it implies that the mark of being a "good" drow is a lighter skin tone, that goodness is somehow tied to physical appearance, and that one has to conform to arbitrary standards set by others in order to be acceptable, no matter the actual value of their actions (since this is literally what Corellon does with Eilistraee's followers). It's no surprise that WotC decided to entirely ignore and then retcon this matter: both Eilistraee and all her followers are currently still drow, and the "brown elves" have never been mentioned again.
Worshippers and Beliefs
Eilistraee's clergy, collectively called "Sword Dancers", is mainly composed of elven or drow women (usually skilled dancers, musicians and diplomats), whose duty is to make sure that the communities entrusted to them thrive in the surface world and establish friendly relationship with other races. They are protectors, healers, and teachers--of survival skills as well as arts--and take care of the physical and emotional well-being of their people. Most Eilistraeen communities form around shrines or temples, and are led by the clergy. Therefore, they are often goodly matriarchies--where men are valued and treated with affection and respect (unlike the Lolthite matriarchy). When in positions of leadership, men often take the role of advisors and decision makers in certain areas of expertise; lay men and lay women have the same roles: gatherers, hunters, workers, scouts, etc... For a time, in order to become clerics, male drow had to spend some time as women through a ritual known as Changedance (according to Ed Greenwood, this was because, due to the goddess' nature and role of nurturing mother for the drow, it was only possible to fully cleave to her as a woman). This is no longer needed in the current era, as of 5e/post-Second Sundering, and male clerics (and therefore possibly leaders) are becoming more numerous.
Aside from tending to their communities, the priest(esse)s encourage the dark elves to return to the surface world, and reach to them whether they are fugitives, raiders, or inhabitants of the Underdark. They show that a different kind of life, far from Lolth, is possible, and assist the drow in making this choice by giving them aid, food, acceptance, and safe places to live. The clerics rely on a portal network and on a series of tunnel to lead missions underground (or infiltrate within Underdark settlements) to look for drow who are in need of their help and that can be brought to abandon the Way of Lolth (mostly slaves, commoners, fallen and hunted nobles, or drow who are generally unsatisfied). The priest(esse)s then work to gain their trust: generally, they avoid to force their view, but rescue them, hide them from their enemies, look after them, and offer sincere kindness. When the drow are ready, they are given the message of Eilistraee and a new opportunity:
A rightful place awaits you in the Realms Above, in the Land of the Great Light. Come in peace, and live beneath the sun again, where trees and flowers grow.
The clerics of Eilistraee work to uphold the ideal of harmony among all races (obviously including the drow) so that their people can be accepted and live in peace, and all races can be united against suffering. As the goddess shows, this includes actively providing aid and protection to the needy, no matter their race or condition. Be it by bringing healing to the wounded, food to the hungry and clothing to the poor; by helping to rebuild, or by offering shelter to travelers, homeless and outcasts (even under their own roof), the faithful strive to lend a helping hand. They constantly prepare for such occasions, by growing and storing food, preparing cures, and regularly patrolling the lands in harsh climates.
The Dark Maiden teaches to help those who fight for good and to show kindness to all, but also to "repay violence with swift violence, that the fewest may be hurt, and danger fast removed from the land"--basically, make people's lives better, but take no shit. However, "swift violence" doesn't necessarily mean killing. On the contrary, evil isn't always monster that can be slain with the simple blade; sometimes the only way to truly defeat it passes through understanding and healing. The sword is needed for defense, but there's strength in compassion and in letting a life bloom and rise from their evil as well--otherwise, there would be no redemption for anyone. That said, clerics of Eilistraee are known to fight threats that endanger not only themselves, but also other races, especially on the surface. The Darksong Knights are an example: these warriors, paladins and clerics devoted to the Dark Dancer choose to actively fight Lolth and her pawns, working to thwart their plans and to hunt down the Spider Queen's demonic minions. Another example is the efforts of the church of Eilistraee to fight slavers. Freedom is an important tenet for them, especially due to the oppression that the drow have to endure under Lolth, so they strive to hunt down those who would see others in chains, and offer shelter and protection to slaves.
Many clerics work as diplomats and emissaries living near (or sometimes within) other races' communities or cities, trying to integrate the drow followers of Eilistraee among the locals. Usually, the priest(esse)s try to find people who would be more open to engaging in trade or coexistance with the drow; they then explain their history, goals, and beliefs, and make an offer in exchange for sponsorship. The offerings range from something as simple as their performance, to healing, travel magic (throuh their Moonsong, especially useful to merchants), knowledge of the Underdark, or exotic goods crafted by the drow. If the deal goes through, the clerics proceed to solidify the new friendship and coexistence (for example, they did this with the old Myth Drannor--under Coronal Tannivh--with Elventree, Raven's Bluff, and--lately--Waterdeep).
Besides their work towards their main goal, the faithful of Eilistraee are taught by their goddess to be beacons of hope--not only by fighting for good, but also by nurturing beauty, and practicing and spreading music, arts, and all that is good in life (such as cooking tasty food) as much as possible. The clerics have to be proficient in playing (and crafting/repairing) at least one instrument, to be good singers and graceful dancers, and to teach their skills and knowledge whenever possible. They use any opportunity to learn and compose new music, as well as experimenting with new recipes and spices. Eilistraeens who go adventuring are encouraged to travel and bring joy wherever they go, be it by kind acts, by sharing their arts, stories, and performances, or by trying out recipes to delight those met along the way. They strive to spark passion into people, so that no moment is lost to the grayness of bore and melancholy, and resignation may always be overcome.
Such focus on arts and beauty is not just hollow optimism. Suffering is well known to both the goddess and her followers, but the act of fully, freely embracing the beauty that the world has to offer can still resonate with the dark elves (despite being absent or corrupted in the Lolthite society). Many unconsciously feel the need to rediscover such joys, which become a way to lure the drow to a life that they have forgotten, and to speak to that part of them that was silenced by Lolth's hatred. Song and music, as well as dance, are also a powerful mean of self-expression, and mark the rhythm of the daily life in the Eilistraeen communities. Even the iconic magic of the Sword Dancers, the Spellsong, is based on music capable of healing, creating and protecting, and their distinctive fighting style relies on a series of evasive, graceful movements that combine dance and swordplay into one.
Finally, the clerics of the Dark Maiden are also known to be proficient smiths who specialize in the making of blades, and skilled users of the Dancing Swords (for the symbolic resonance of these items with their goddess' portfolio).
Mechanically speaking, in 5e D&D a College of Swords bard whose spell selection focuses on healing, support, enchantment and illusion, would be a good fit to represent a Sword Dancer of Eilistraee (while the rest of her clergy is well represented by the Nature, Life, and Light domains that they get. Mearls' Beauty domain is thematically perfect too). In 3e D&D there was a prestige class for it; in 2e, there was a cleric kit.
- Darksong Knights
The Darksong Knights are an order of elite warriors and paladins who serve as a bulwark between the followers of Eilistraee and the zealot crusaders and the fiendish servants of Lolth. Similarly to the Sword Dancers, their fighting style is graceful and acrobatics, but they favor heavier armor than their priestly counterpart, and receive specialized training aimed to face the creatures of the lower planes. The Darksong Knights make a sacred oath, swearing to uphold the teachings of the Dark Maiden, and to tirelessly hunt the Spider Queen's handmaidens—the yochlol—as well as all demons. Fiends caused the downfall of the drow in the ancient times, and no matter what tricks they use to corrupt mortals, the Darksong Knights give them no quarter. They are especially active in southern Faerun, the lands once occupied by ancient Ilythiir. In mechanical terms, in 5e D&D this order would likely include Oath of the Ancient, Vengeance and Devotion paladins, and probably also Horizon Walker rangers. In 3e D&D, there was a substitute levels option for the fighter class to represent the Darksong Knights.
- Silverhair Knights
Emissaries of redemption, the Silverhair Knights are an order of paladins focused on bringing any and all drow the choice to be free from Lolth. Like the Darksong Knights, they swear to uphold the teachings of Eilistraee, but focus on mercy and compassion. They take an oath to never willingly kill those who can be redeemed, especially the drow (they can use lethal means only if that means saving more lives; even then, a quest for atonement is needed), and--among the followers of Eilistraee--they are the most dedicated to the missions to reach for their kin in the Underdark and bring them to the light. The Silverhair Knights approach the potential converts with caution, by taking many careful steps to make them feel as safe and comfortable as possible, and offer them the path to a life free of endless strife and paranoia. The Silverhair Knights personally escort the drow to safety, and constantly offer their protection to all followers of Eilistraee, especially the new converts, in order to show that the life that the goddess wishes for her children is not a fairy tale, but a concrete possibility. In extreme cases, these paladins can perform a risky ritual that allows them to take the cruelty and suffering experienced and inflicted by a creature upon themselves, facilitating the process of redemption (a skill that earned them the nickname of "Sin Eaters"). After the Second Sundering, Eilistraee herself often chooses to personally provide direct guidance to the members of this order. Mechanically speaking, in 5e D&D, the Oath of Redemption paladin would be a good fit for a Silverhair Knight; in 3e D&D they were a prestige class.
Despite trying to uphold the teachings of their goddess, and despite working for good, the followers of Eilistraee are varied: while it's easier for a drow born on the surface to put the tenets of the faith in practice, converts have a much harder time. They come from a place where paranoia is the norm, and where every smile hides a threat; furthermore, on the surface, many people still react aggressively to seeing a drow. For those reasons, former Lolthites can be very jumpy, distrusting, and in some occasions even outright murderous (fearing that someone who found the location of a community could alert their people and then come to kill the drow). New converts (and even a few old timers) can also still display the sexism common among the Lolthites.
The followers of Eilistraee practice many rituals, but the iconic form of worship is a nude dance (usually solitary, but sometimes in group) in a moonlit glade (or, lacking that, using any source of light--often a candle), in which they let out all the emotions of the day in a wordless message for the goddess to listen (called Evensong). Some say that this was created as fanservice (and, in part, it likely was) but it can also have a fitting function. The life in a Lolthite society is based on constructs, falsehood, deceit; conflict is constant and trust and spontaneity are taboos. A nude dance in which the drow let out all their emotions is the act of laying down the mask and feeling free to just be themselves and embrace life. Furthermore, in a society of perpetual conflict, where trust is taboo, vulnerability must be hidden. To be free to dance in the nude with others (or while invoking a goddess) is to be free to show one own's vulnerability—it means that vulnerability is sometimes acceptable, forming a bond of trust, and being accepted as a whole. All of this is surely helpful to "heal" a drow who escapes the abuse of Lolth and her society.
Despite their iconic dances, unlike many seem to believe, the followers of Eilistraee are not nudists. They wear the most practical garb for a given occasion and armor (generally light) in battle.
A peculiar ritual is the Run, celebrated at least once per year (and lasting at least one month and a half). The faithful venture to places where they are strangers, reaching communities of elves and other races to bring them gifts, food, and their art, showing that the drow can be rightful citizens of the surface world and establishing new friendships.
When a follower of the Dark Maiden who hasn't fallen in battle and who has reached old age feels that their moment is nearing, Eilistraee sings her call to them. The follower goes out in the moonlight to dance to the music, until the goddess herself joins them in a ritual known as "The Last Dance". As the two revel together, the worshipper becomes more and more youthful, the silvery radiance of the Dark Maiden surrounds them, and they slowly fade away. In the end, only the radiance can be seen, and the voices of the goddess and her faithful sing together a tender yet melancholic song.
|Divine Rank||Intermediate Goddess|
|Portfolio||War, Justice, Vigilance, Decision, Grief|
|Domains||3E: Law, Protection, War
5E: Grave, War
Meanwhile back in "Core" D&D, in something similar to a "What if?" scenario, we have Vandria, who is also the daughter of Corellon and Lolth (no Araushnee in core D&D), but an elven goddess rather than a drow one (though her hair, often worn in a long braid, is white due to her dark elven heritage). In her story, before Lolth's betrayal, she was a free spirit like most elven gods, and lived enjoying the beauty of Arvandor. When Lolth schemed against Corellon, she contributed to the defense of Arvandor like Eilistraee, but her arrows weren't redirected to her father's heart by her mother's magic. After the battle, Vandria didn't follow Lolth in exile; she instead resolved to become the elven goddess of vigilance and war, patroness of elven guardians and warriors. Due to having gained the portfolio of War, Vandria can feel every wound and death suffered by the elves in battle, alongside the pain for the loss of loved ones due to conflict. For that reason, and for the tragedy brought by her mother's betrayal, her carefree personality has turned into a grim and somber attitude, embodying the ability of the elves to adapt to strife. Her focus is on preventing wars, or making them as quick and bloodless as possible when unavoidable.
Vandria's followers participate strongly with the town militias, and they have strongholds hidden all over the place. They also act as arbitrators as diplomats because they are likely to be the most even handed amongst elves.