Eilistraee

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Eilistraee
Eilistraee symbol.jpg
Alignment Chaotic Good
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, 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 favorably on outcasts as well, encouraging 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.

Appearance[edit]

Eilistraee playing music

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.

Personality[edit]

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[edit]

Eilistraee manifests to a lost 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.

History[edit]

Eilistraee with her father, Corellon

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 had walked away from his parents, neither good nor evil. 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. In the end, the Dark Maiden 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. 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.

Worshippers and Beliefs[edit]

The first ever depiction of a holy rite of Eilistraee, from AD&D FR's "Drow of the Underdark".

Eilistraee's clergy 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. This is no longer needed in the current time, 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 promote 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. 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 goddess 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 (though "swift violence" doesn't necessarily mean killing. There wouldn't be any redemption for anyone, otherwise). The clerics of Eilistraee are in fact 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).

A moonlit dance

Besides their work towards their main goal, the faithful of Eilistraee are taught 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 their magic, the Spellsong, is based on music, and the fighting style of many priestesse)s, called Sword Dancers, relies on a series of evasive, graceful movements that resemble a dance.

Internal Differences[edit]

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.

Rituals[edit]

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. 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.

Vandria Gilmadrith[edit]

Vandria Gilmadrith
Holy symbol of Vandria Gilmadrith.jpg
Alignment Lawful Neutral
Divine Rank Intermediate Goddess
Pantheon Seldarine
Portfolio War, Justice, Vigilance, Decision, Grief
Domains 3E: Law, Protection, War
5E: Grave, War
Home Plane Arvandor
Worshippers Lawful Elves
Favoured Weapon Longbow

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.

Fanart[edit]

The non-human deities of Dungeons and Dragons
Leader Others
Dragons: Io Aasterinian - Astilabor - Bahamut - Chronepsis - Falazure - Garyx - Hlal - Lendys - Null - Sardior - Tamara - Tiamat
Drow: Lolth Eilistraee - Ghaunadaur - Keptolo - Kiaransalee - Malyk - Selvetarm - Vhaeraun - Zinzerena
Dwarves: Moradin Abbathor - Berronar Truesilver - Clangeddin Silverbeard - Deep Duerra - Dugmaren Brightmantle - Dumathoin - Fortubo
Gendwar Argrim - Gorm Gulthyn - Haela Brightaxe - Hanseath - Laduguer - Marthammor Duin - Muamman Duathal
Mya - Roknar - Sharindlar - Thard Harr - Tharmekhûl - Thautam - Ulaa - Valkauna - Vergadain
Elves: Corellon Larethian Aerdrie Faenya - Alathrien Druanna - Alobal Lorfiril - Angharradh - Araleth Letheranil - Darahl Firecloak - Deep Sashelas
Elebrin Liothiel - Erevan Ilesere - Fenmarel Mestarine - Gadhelyn - Hanali Celanil - Kirith Sotheril - Labelas Enoreth
Melira Taralen - Mythrien Sarath - Naralis Analor - Rellavar Danuvien - Rillifane Rallathil - Sarula Iliene - Sehanine Moonbow
Shevarash - Solonor Thelandira - Tethrin Veraldé - Tarsellis Meunniduin - Trishina - Vandria Gilmadrith - Ye'Cind
Giants: Annam Diancastra - Grolantor - Hiatea - Iallanis - Karontor - Memnor - Othea - Skoraeus Stonebones - Stronmaus - Surtr - Thrym
Goliaths: Kavaki Kuliak - Manethak - Naki-Uthai - Theleya - Vanua
Gnomes: Garl Glittergold Baervan Wildwanderer - Baravar Cloakshadow - Bleredd - Callarduran Smoothhands - Flandal Steelskin - Gaerdal Ironhand
Gelf Darkhearth - Nebelun - Rill Cleverthrush - Roykyn - Segojan Earthcaller - Sheyanna Flaxenstrand - The Glutton - Urdlen
Goblinoids: Maglubiyet Bargrivyek - Grankhul - Hruggek - Khurgorbaeyag - Kikanuti - Nomog-Geaya - Skiggaret
Halflings: Yondalla Arvoreen - Brandobaris - Charmalaine - Cyrrollalee - Dallah Thaun - Sheela Peryroyl - Urogalan
Illumian: Tarmuid Aulasha - Glautru - Soorinek - Syeret - Wathaku
Orcs: Gruumsh Bahgtru - Ilneval - Luthic - Shargaas - Yurtrus
Raptorans: Tuilviel Glithien Duthila - Kithin - Lliendil - Nilthina - Ventila
Others: Aventernus - Blibdoolpoolp - Cegilune - Diinkarazan - Diirinka - Eadro - Gaknulak - Great Mother - Gorellik - Gzemnid
Hleid - Iborighu - Ilsensine - Jazirian - Kecuala - Kuraulyek - Kurtulmak - Laogzed - Maanzecorian - Mak Thuum Ngatha
Merrshaulk - Parrafaire - Psilofyr - The Patient One - Quorlinn - Ramenos - Raxivort - Refnara - Sekolah - Semuanya
Sess'innek - Shekinester - Skerrit - Solanil - Ssharstrune - Syranita - Vaprak - Wastri - The Whale Mother - Zehir