Selected Elven Funereal Customs

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This is a creative work set in the world of Elanthia, attributed to its original author(s). It does not necessarily represent the official lore of GemStone IV.

Title: Elven Mourning Customs: A Survey

Author: Elaejia Silithyr Loenthra

Elven Funeral customs

Introduction and Literature Review

In Eoantos of 5122, the Ilyan Syndicate hosted a pair of seminars on the funereal and mourning customs of the Elven houses as part of their Autumn on the Mountain convention, celebrating the opening of the Illithien Aerie. Brief overviews highlighting some of the notable traditions and customs of the five united House were researched and presented by Elaejia and Aendir Silithyr Loenthra, whose family's familiarity with mourning customs led them to lead this educational exchange.

With gracious thanks to the ladies Lylia Rashere Faendryl and Rohese Bayvel-Timbertree Illistim, and Lord Regent Harlen Argeirres of Ta'Vaalor, most notes on those three Houses are not included in this text, but copies of their works may be found referenced here for the interested student:


The traditions of the Loenthran elves naturally make art a focal point and a means by which loss is processed. Among their House patrons is Jastev, a shepherd of both visual art and veracity, and both domains incorporated into our mourning traditions by our veritifex, or truth-carvers. This profession combines that of the biographer, the investigator, and the artist.

Similar to our Illistimi cousins, there is a period of lying in state following the passing of a Loenthran, though it is generally brief, and followed shortly thereafter by a quiet and private interment in family mausoleums. It is during this period that the work of the veritifex begins - interviewing those close to the deceased, retracing their path through life and identifying the unifying melody to which the harmony of their life was set. Those belonging to the family of the deceased will wear a black band over their family crest throughout this period, a custom we share with our cousins in Ta'Vaalor.

This period of research may last months or even years, but finally it culminates in the crafting of a death mask. Once the mask is completed, it is then that the period of mourning ends and turns to a celebration of life. The mask is displayed for the duration of this celebration, whose length is usually determined by the renown of the deceased, until finally it takes its place within the crypt.

Much about the masks is variable, from the materials used, to the artistic style in which they are carved, which may both be influenced by the subject and the artist himself. Indeed, it is not unusual for a Loenthran to specify which veritifex he wishes to undertake his own memorial based on esteem for their style. However, it is considered the height of vulgarity for an individual to attempt to ply these artisans with regard to the resulting mask, as it is of course supposed to be a representation of the truth itself.

The work of the veritifex is generally commissioned by the family of the deceased, but may also be arranged in advance for oneself. The custom of having a funerary mask is so widespread that even those of meager means may save for years to ensure they will have one.

There are certain typical forms which are common to many masks, such as the presence of a tiered crest not unlike a headdress, carved in relief with frieze-like designs. Eyes may be represented closed, which is very common, or open, which is typically reserved for elves held in truly high esteem. Inlay and other adornments may also be present, and naturally all are selected carefully to convey some meaning.


A sense of duality pervades the outlook of those of the House founded by Sharyth Ardenai, who are well-known for their close connection to both spiritual and elemental forces. Light and dark, wild and tame, life and death - all of these opposing concepts are often cited in Ardenai thought and study.

Therefore it should be no surprise that this influence persists into their funeral and mourning customs. Their domain stretches over vast distances from rugged coastline to unforgiving steppes, and we will see the theme of duality repeat itself in several ways when it comes to their end of life rituals.

Along the coast, the binary of fire and water plays out with burials at sea, which are the most common tradition in those areas, wherein the deceased is into the waves in a scull or faering accompanied by numerous candles and torches, to be taken by either the sea, or the flame, or both. Slightly less commonly, instead of being sent to sea, a funeral pyre is constructed on the shore with channels drawing the sea toward its base. The pyres of highly esteemed individuals are set upon small but elaborate funeral barques, built especially for the service. The ignition of the fire is in most cases instigated by calling upon flame spirits, rather than with mundane tinder.

Away from the influence of the sea, the Ardenai of the inland areas see duality represented in the contrast of air and earth, or wind and stone. Cairns and crypts are used much more heavily, in particular due to the longer winters leaving the ground frozen and unwelcoming. The stone crypts or cairns are decorated with windchimes or windflutes, or strategically carved holes in the stone of the barrows to divert wind to fill them with the sounds of life beyond.

In both territories, the resting places of the deceased are often carved with invocations to the local spirits, particularly any who were seen as guardians or patrons to the family of the deceased. Traditions vary greatly from village to village, and even family to family, however the focus on duality is often prominent throughout.

Religious presence at the interment, if any is requested, usually takes the form of a priest or priestess in cosmopolitan areas, or a shaman in tune with the local spirits for the more rural and removed areas of Ardenai territory. Following the ceremony, it is typical for a feast of honor to be held, and here the work of the clan or family Weftmasters, the weavers of lore, is often put on display as a remembrance not only of the deceased, but of all those who have come before. These works, long elaborate tapestries, commemorate the accomplishments of the entire family, and are woven with the aid of magic, binding collective memories and lore directly into the fabric.


With some echoes of the practicality of the Vaalorians, but certainly not lacking in drama, the traditions of the House Nalfein are a study in contrasts. Their regard for the inevitability and sorrow of death is laced with a certain ruthlessness, and the traditions surrounding the dead closely depend on the status of the departed.

Those elves who forestall death longer than others are often venerated to a greater extent than those unwise enough to pass through the gates at a young age. A common euphemism for an honored elf who has passed in Ta'Nalfein is draekterai - one who embraced the dark. The latter have no polite appellation, and are indeed seldom referred to at all, if it can be helped.

For the draekterai , the funereal rites are often a grand affair, elaborate and elegant, and a celebration of all they have achieved. Those closest to them will also adopt the black band across their family crests, though this is for at least a year, unlike the thirty days of the Vaalorians.

For the less influential departed, the overall approach to their passing may be summed up as "the less said, the better," and their rites such as they are, are stark and even callous. While the loss of a young elf is always a shocking tragedy, most Nalfein are loathe to admit the implication of any weakness. For these elves, it is not uncommon for their remains to be committed to the sea by those closest to them, and memorial markers are reserved only for the rare Nalfein sentimental, or in cases where political involvement is suspected.

Unique to Ta'Nalfein are Remembrance Days, occasions on which families of draekterai gather for another celebration of their life and accomplishments, and to draw attention to the politics surrounding their demise. These are one part wake and one part performative mourning spectacle - indeed, it is not uncommon for families to secure the services of the Agate Kith, a society of professional mourners who stage elaborate shows.


The Pallid Breath of Ta'Illistim

Also worthy of mention here is the tradition sometimes followed by those belonging to the Pallid Breath society, one of the collectives of mages that calls the territories of the House Illistim home. The Pallid Breath society is made up of mages fascinated with the great air elemental known as Celiel the watcher. In pursuit of closeness with her, and owing to the alpine surroundings of the Shining City, they have developed a rather singular ritual surrounding the deaths of their own, known as a sky burial - that is, preparing and leaving their remains in the highest peaks of the DragonSpine, to be consumed by the vultures and birds of the air.

Suggested further research: Customs that may have arisen in other social groups and societies.