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©2004 Jenny Dolfen
By Corellon Larethian's decree, the destiny of the dark elves was placed long ago in the hands of his consort, Araushnee the Weaver. At that time she was a minor, but secretly ambitious, elven power and member of the Seldarine. After a series of betrayals of her fellow gods, Araushnee was banished to the Abyss by Corellon for plotting against her lover and for secretly assembling a host of evil deities -- the anti-Seldarine -- to assault Arvandor, home of the Seldarine, in a bid to replace Corellon as Coronal of Arvandor. After her banishment, Araushnee assumed the name Lolth, Demon Queen of Spiders. She set about establishing her new realm in the Abyss and driving off or subjugating rivals like Ghaunadaur, Kiaransalee, and Zanassu. Araushnee was not the only elven power to be cast out of Arvandorand the Seldarine, however, for her webs ensnared her two children as well. When his mother's perfidy was exposed, Vhaeraun, son of Araushnee and Corellon, was banished to Abeir-Toril for his complicity in the Weaver's plots to replace Corellon as head of the Seldarine. Vhaeraun's sister, Eilistraee the Dark Maiden, agreed to exile as well, although she was only an unwitting participant in her mother's plots.
Lolth dominates all the other powers and brooks (or at least admits) no challenge to her ultimate authority. Only Kiaransalee and Selvetarm acknowledge the Spider Queen as head of the pantheon--an unavoidable acknowledgment of Lolth's great power. Eilistraee, Vhaeraun, and Ghaunadaur remain independent of the Spider Queen's control, but none of them is strong enough to challenge her directly, and their mutual enmity precludes any possibility of alliance against her. Kiaransalee only recently fought free of Lolth's shadow, but she has little influence (and few worshipers) in the Realms. Selvetarm is still firmly enmeshed in his grandmother's webs, despite the efforts of his followers to break away from the Spider Queen's cult. Eilistraee and Vhaeraun are brother and sister, children of Araushnee (Lolth) and Corellon Larethian. Selvetarm is the offspring of an ill-fated tryst between Vhaeraun and Zandilar the Dancer (Sharess), a goddess of the Yuir elves. Ghaunadaur is a primordial evil who joined the other members of the anti-Seldarine in the assault on Arvandor. Kiaransalee is a once-mortal dark elf of another world who achieved divinity and was named drow before the fall of Araushnee.
With the exception of Eilistraee, the dark powers of the drow pantheon are intimately involved in the lives of their followers, demanding absolute obedience and exclusive veneration in exchange for great power. Aside from the Dark Maiden, the gods of the drow pantheon care nothing for the fate of their followers except as it advances their own personal power. All but one dwell in the Abyss or other dark realms, embodying the banishment of the drow from the Lands of Light. Eilistraee seeks to redeem the fallen dark elves and lead them back to the great forests of the surface world that their ancestors forsook many millennia ago. However, the Dark Maiden is quite constrained in her actions by the power of Lolth and the other gods of the pantheon, and she acknowledges the need for individual drow to find their own path to redemption that heavy-handed interference on her part would preclude.
Drow culture is distinguished by a curious mixture of monotheism and polytheism uncharacteristic of most human and demihuman cultures of the Realms. Most drow cities--such as Guallidurth, Menzoberranzan, and Ched Nasad--are ruled in the name of Lolth by priests of the Spider Queen and even the mention, let alone the worship, of other gods is forbidden. A few drow cities--such as Llurth Dreier (Ghaunadaur) and V'elddrinnsshar (Kiaransalee)--are ruled by the clergy of other drow powers in similar fashion, but they too forbid the worship or mention of all other gods. The few drow cities that exhibit the open worship of two or more deities--such as beleaguered Eryndlyn, located beneath the High Moor, or Lolothaer, from whence the founders of Menzoberranzan and Ched Nasad fled--are riven by strife and are usually destroyed by civil war within a generation of such a split appearing. Nevertheless, most of the drow gods have a few secretive worshipers in every drow enclave, as such devotions afford dissidents the opportunity for additional weapons in their endless quest for increasing personal station. Aside from the faithful of Eilistraee, who venerate the Dark Maiden in a fashion resembling the veneration of the Seldarine by elves of other races, most drow venerate on (or in some cases two) deities out of fear, respect, and a desire for additional power of their own, not out of any sense of true piety.
The web of chaos and cruelty that enmeshes the drow is embodied in the constant strife between the gods they venerate. Likewise, the hatred they hold for all other races, particularly the Fair Folk of the surface world, is played out as well in the never-ending conflict between the Seldarine and those they banished long ago.
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