The Old Ways
In the early days of the Great War, the nobility of House Hale quickly distanced themselves from those of the clans who still followed the Old Ways and supposedly rounded up all the Volkun and their followers in their land. The official story is that those who did not renounce their faith were sent into the frozen wastes – nude – to perish and be claimed by the ice. But even as the Winter Lords of Grimfrost followed the whims of their Bannon and Corveaux masters it was often a matter of their survival to turn a blind eye to some of the more… crude traditions of the clans. Though most of the more egregious traditions were purged and forbidden, some practices remain that harken back to those ancient practices, including the twelve sacred spirits of the Vinna, the Vinna ceremonies themselves, the Bera, as well as the various oathbonding ceremonies that tie Everfrost society together.
But these are more folk traditions than actual celebrations of the old ways, and those who claim to conquer the spirits and take their power into themselves are often labeled as insane rather than inspired. Still, far to the north, near the edge of the wildest parts of the Everfrost, it is rumored that the Volkun priests and priestesses still practice the old ways, but they do not dare do so in the presence of any from the outside world.
There are twelve spirits that the Frost Clans remember. Their forms and personalities have been lost to eternity, but the ceremony by which a young person claims their name and station is still remembered. This ceremony is called a Vinna ceremony and is the way by which a child becomes an adult.
In the days of old, all young children in the Everfrost would undertake the Vinna, but in the times since the coming of the Bannons and Corveaux, less and less children will do so and the tradition has increasingly fallen to the wayside as House Hale has become more intertwined with the rest of the realm and the ways of the south have begun to take precedence. But those children who claim their adulthood by the old ways are often looked on with a sense of awe by their peers and family.
Each of the twelve full moons of the year has a spirit dedicated to it, a name, and a Vinna. Traditionally, the clans hold a feast on the night of each full moon, and any child who wishes to claim that spirit as their own and become an adult through a Vinna must supply the necessary components for the feast. Those who successfully complete a Vinna are feted and honored at their full moon feast. Among the Hale it is considered the height of narcissism to celebrate the day of your birth and they look down upon all others who do so.
Gna (1st Moon Cycle)
The Furrier’s Moon, represented by the lynx. At the feast of Gna, a child undergoing a Vinna must present furs and pelts of at least twelve different animals, each of which they’ve captured in the wild and prepared themselves, one for each of the twelve moons of the year, as well as dishes made from each of the animals they have used the pelt of. They typically will make a belt out of the pelts of those animals they have chosen and wear it as an adult to show that they are Gna.
Bjorn (2nd Moon Cycle)
The Bear Moon, represented by the brown bear. To claim the spirit of Bjorn, a child must brave the dens of the great bears and take from a mother bear one of her newborn cubs. They must do so without assistance, and at the feast must get his cub to take food from their bare hands. Those who choose Bjorn often have a bear companion as a sign of their Vinna.
Gullintani (3rd Moon Cycle)
The Merchant’s Moon, represented by the raven. To claim this spirit, a child must gather enough food and supplies to feast their entire village, or as large a part of it as is possible, despite it being near the end of winter. It is rumored that the more successful a Gullintani Vinna, the more success that a merchant will have in their life. As such, it is typical of those who pass this Vinna test to wear one gold ring on their finger for every dozen people they could feed at the Vinna feast.
Gungnire (4th Moon Cycle)
The Warrior’s Moon, represented by the mountain. To undergo a Gungnire Vinna, a child must brave one of the Fells in the middle of the stormy season and climb to the very top of one of these crags, unaided by others, and bring back enough of the cloudberries that grow at their summits to grace a dish at the feast. Those who pass this Vinna will often tattoo a symbol on their shoulder to show they have beaten the Fells:
Vist (5th Moon Cycle)
The Hearth Moon, represented by the moon. Considered by most to be the feast of the womanly arts, the Vist moon feast is often a riot of elegantly prepared dishes, woven cloth, and household crafts prepared by the young women of the clan, each competing with the next to be declared the Queen of the Hearth. The feast of Vid is widely celebrated, even in Wintervale, and young women who have completed this Vinna often wear their hair in elaborate braids woven with iridescent stones (often actual moonstones) atop their head to signify that they are now adult women and able to be married.
Sundfœrr (6th Moon Cycle)
The Fisher’s Moon, represented by the otter. Those who wish to pass this Vinna must gather enough of the bounty of the seas and rivers to be judged an adult, and it is the other Sundfœrr who judge that they have done enough to be worthy of the mark that they all wear or get tattooed upon them:
Hildis (7th Moon Cycle)
The Artisan’s Moon, represented by the sun. The feast of Hildis is one of beauty. This Vinna is meant for all those who create pieces of art, whether that be a gorgeous piece of jewelry or a perfectly shaped sword. Those who wish to wear the sash of Hildis, a red band bordered by a golden sunburst, must present a masterpiece item of their making at the feast.
Veida (8th Moon Cycle)
The Gatherer’s Moon, represented by the mountain sheep. The feast of Veida is one of gathered plants, wild berries and vegetables, as well as anything that those who wish to claim Veida’s spirit can manage to grow in the frozen wasteland of the north. It is common for those who claim the Gatherer’s Moon to wear clothing dyed as green as spring’s new shoots.
Skynda (9th Moon Cycle)
The Explorer’s Moon, represented by the fox. Few of Hale take the spirit of Skynda as part of their Vinna, but those who do leave their clan with only the supplies that they can carry and seek out the treasures of the past that lay buried in the ice of the Everfrost. Those who are able to force the ice to give up her bounties proudly wear a compass rune upon their skin.
Volkun (10th Moon Cycle)
No one in the Everfrost celebrates the Volkun moon any longer. The Volkun are assumed to have died out, burned for their crimes and the use of bone magic centuries ago. There are whispers that far to the north there are those who still know how to claim this spirit, but few believe these rumors.
Thrud (11th Moon Cycle)
The Hunter’s Moon, represented by the wolf. It is customary for those who wish to take this Vinna to kill one of the great predators of the north and serve it as part of the feast, whether it is one of the of the glacier wolves, one of the great white bears, or a fierce mountain cat. Those who pass this Vinna and claim the spirit of Thrud wear a necklace made of the teeth or claws of their trophies to show prowess as a hunter.
Nanna (12th Moon Cycle)
The Diplomat Moon, represented by the owl. This moon happens near the darkest, longest nights of the year. To claim this Vinna, a child must entertain those gathered for the feast with word and story and deed, providing entertainment and hope as the hungry wind screams at the doors. It is important for them to keep the peace as well, as the darkness in the hearts of men starts to seep into the world. Those who pass this Vinna often carry a light fixed atop a staff to show that they are bringers of light and laughter to their community.
The Host of the Dead
There are times of the year, especially as the nights grow longer during the winter months, that blue and green lights dance across the northern sky. It is then that the people of the Everfrost close their doors and draw their shutters so that light does not leak into the outside, for it is said that those lights are the torches of the dead and any who are abroad as the host of the dead ride through the northern sky are fated to join them.
The Forest Feast
The feast that used to take place in Volkun’s moon, or the 10th moon cycle, has changed, as the people of the Old Ways have been driven underground. In its place is the Forest Feast, where the people of Hale dress up as the mythological guardians of the Everwood and pretend to be invading. It is expected that they will challenge everyone they meet, especially others who are dressed in costume, and the day is famous for the fights and challenges that take place. So much so, in fact, that those people who do not wish to have to prove their strength walking down the street often remain indoors.
The yearly celebration comes with heavy drinking, thanks to the generosity of the Lords of Grimfrost who see this as a chance for the clansfolk to burn off some of their “savage energy” and keep another uprising from taking place. Although it is rumored that some of the deaths that have happened during the Forest Feast are not from challenges and fights that have gone wrong, but rather the work of the Lords of Hale who use it as an excuse to murder people they dislike.
Inside almost every home in the Everfrost, there is a small altar upon which elegantly carved statues, made of stone, wood, or bone, are placed. Sometimes the altars also bear a container of spirits, dried bread or meat, or other offerings. If asked, any member of the household can usually tell the story of each statue, as each one represents the honored dead of the household. Warriors slain in battle, heroes, wise people who fell in its defense. It is common for visitors to the house to pay their respects to the Bera, and for members of the house to greet their ancestors upon returning home or upon waking.
On the longest day of the year it is customary to remove the statues and clean and refinish the altar. Many families take this chance to reintroduce to the spirits to each member of the house and tell their stories. Some families will even take their statues outside to show them how things have changed, with some going as far as to cart them around in richly decorated boxes. This also allows those families to brag about just how many Bera have – and how influential they are because of it.
Northmen treat a promise made to another as a matter beyond honor. When a Northman makes his oath, he will stand by it and to cross him in an oath is to earn his undying hatred and eternal revenge, as well as that of all of those bound by oaths to him. That said, not all oaths which are made between people have the same weight or are expected to last forever.
A Beer Oath is one of the weakest of oaths and is often assumed to be offered to another by offering them a drink, although some may choose to make the oathbonding more explicit by saying “may you drink as I drink.” A beer oath typically lasts for the night and is a promise of basic hospitality. Those one shares a beer oath with are understood to be promising to not work harm upon you and to treat you as they wish to be treated. If one enters a northman’s house and is not offered a drink, this is typically a very bad sign.
A Fire Oath is sworn between two people embarking on a journey together, typically by passing their bound hands through a fire. The oath lasts for the length of the journey and is used for metaphorical ones as well as physical ones. Often, a master and apprentice will swear a fire oath, or two friends starting a business venture. Each participant agrees to work to help the other one succeed in their joint venture and to work together for the greater good. In the Everfrost, some couples will swear a fire oath as part of their marriage ceremony oath.
A Flower Oath is for a season and is sworn by exchanging offerings of flowers. It is typically seen as a promise of fidelity and is used primarily by couples who have begun their courting, although it is also used between close friends as well. At the beginning of each season, it is typical for flower oaths to be renewed at the Feast of Flowers, and those who are in long-term relationships will usually offer their beloved one flowers on the first of the season in light of the tradition.
The Silver Oath is the least emotionally fraught of all oaths and is typically used between merchants or business partners who are not particularly close. In a silver oath, each party grants the other something of value, which must be returned on the occasion that they would like to exit the oath. The exact promise of the oath varies depending on the situation, but the silver oath is typically used to come to an agreement on legal matters. If the original collateral (or something of equal value) cannot be returned, then the oath is still in force.
A Blood Oath is sworn by those who have spilled blood together or are planning to do so and lasts for the life of those so forsworn. Blood oaths are serious matters and cannot be broken without significant consequences. If two people would like to swear a blood oath but have not spilled blood together, each would make a cut across their palms and press the two wounds together, mingling their blood and sealing the bond.
The Bera Oath is the most serious of all oaths and is sworn on a Bera altar. It is a promise to the spirits that a thing will be done, and it is understood that such an oath is not taken lightly, as those who deny the spirits their due will join them.
Oathbreakers in Northmen society are considered less than human, cursed by the worst of luck, and many in the north will do a kinsman a favor and murder someone who has broken his oaths rather than let his curse fall upon them.
In the Everfrost, when you die, it is believed that your spirit returns you to Arcas, the Death Bear. Typically, the bodies are cleaned and anointed by their families and then brought out to the tundra in a bright procession of waving flags and fiery torches to be taken by their spirits into death. These bodies are brought to a place where their body can lie in state before their chosen spirit and be consumed by the creatures of the icy north. If their chosen spirit is a meat eater, they are brought to a place where those animals can consume them, although those of Hildis, Veida, Gungnire, and Vist are instead brought to high places where the vultures feed upon their bodies. The bones that remain of a spirit burial are typically collected and placed in the base of the Bera altar or used to carve statues for the altar so the loved one can be honored by their family. Northmen sometimes joke that those in the southlands who bury their dead in the earth are consigning them to be taken to Arcas by worms, and call those doomed to this ignoble fate as worm-men as an insult.