Skulls & Shackles
Alignment: Chaotic neutral
Portfolio: Lust, Revenge, Trickery
Domains: Chaos, Charm, Knowledge, Luck, Trickery
Favored Weapon: Whip
Calistria (ca-LIS-tree-ah) is an old deity and the most widely worshiped elven goddess in Golarion—mysterious, alluring, temperamental, passionate, and with a long memory for old slights. Although most of her worshipers are elves, she is popular with other races as well, for at some point almost everyone has an interest in lust, trickery, or revenge. She is not so much a spiritual guide for the elven people as a cornerstone for their culture, never pushing them to act but always ready to assist when the time comes for action.
Calistria is sultry, attracting men and women with raw sexual magnetism, manifesting everything in elves that attracts other races to them. Although she is beautiful, beauty is never the first word that comes to mind when describing her, being typically characterized as sensual, desirable, arousing, and countless more vulgar words. Seeing her clothed makes viewers wonder what she looks like naked, and seeing her naked makes them wonder more explicit things. Although she considers herself female, she has been known to take the shape of a male from time to time, and in this guise she is every bit as attractive as her female form, enough to make any mortal weak in the knees and flushed all over.
She is mischievous, perplexing, devious, and silver-tongued, able to complement her most powerful rivals with pretty words that only after careful reflection reveal themselves as base and humiliating insults. She “surrenders” to enemies by convincing them to hand over their weapons, leads suitors on for decades with hinted promises of outrageous rewards, and outwits the most brilliant mortals as an afterthought. She is not a goddess of silly jokes or crude pranks, as she considers them beneath her station. She can convey an hour’s speech in one small gesture and a lifetime of emotion with a careful look. Lies are her meat and drink, half-truths are her favorite wine, and double entendres are a luscious dessert.
She is merciless, patient, and unforgiving, willing to punish someone who offends her to the seventh generation. She enjoys a quick resolution to petty affronts but takes a longer approach to more serious offenses. To her, revenge is a dish best served cold, scraped from the plate onto a midden, rained on for a decade, planted within a vineyard, made into wine, aged a century, and served as a minor part of an elaborate steaming feast of vengeance for your foe and his friends, loved ones, and offspring. Calistria does not forgive, she does not forget, and any evidence otherwise is part of her plan to sting you in the most painful way possible when you least expect it.
Calistria is welcoming and personable to those who wish her no ill will and haven’t made the mistake of drawing her ire. That said, she is fickle, changing loyalties as her needs and whims suit her. She doesn’t do this to be hurtful, she just never lets her interest become too strong or too emotional, as she believes anyone who does otherwise is a fool. Those who paired with her in the past are usually smart enough to accept this and move on, but the duller ones sometimes persist in the chase after she has tired of being the prey, and then the claws come out. She feels no guilt for taking an eye for an eye, or even more; she is a goddess of vengeance, not justice, and if vengeance pushes beyond an appropriate response, that should be a lesson to those who get in her way. She has no interest in love and sees it only as a weakness and a needless byproduct of physical pleasures.
Calistria welcomes the worship of any mortal who lusts, relies on trickery, or seeks revenge on another. She doesn’t care if the person is good, evil, unjustly accused, selfish, moral, criminal, or love-struck. She may not agree with an individual’s methods or motivation, but if it has to do with her demesne she is interested in the outcome and willing to help achieve it. This means at any one time her worshipers are a very diverse lot, though most of them are transitional, only seeking her aid when they need her. This satisfies her and she asks for no more.
Because of this attitude, many accuse her of being evil, but in truth she is just amoral – she eschews right and wrong and fairness because she knows the world is not a fair place. Is it right that the whole world suffered the Age of Darkness because of the Azlanti? Is it right that Shelyn’s brother became the plaything of unknowable horrors? Is it right that a leader-by-birth can tax his peasants-by-birth into starvation? Calistria is beyond these questions, and uses her abilities to survive. If others choose to follow her path, so be it. And if others get hurt as a consequence, so be it, as every creature has the right – and the responsibility – to avenge their injuries. Typical long-term worshipers of Calistria are prostitutes, spies, gossips, hedonists, addicts, enchanters, and illusionists. Those who carry a grudge pray for her favor, as do rare non-evil assassins pursuing a justified blood debt. Most of her worshipers are elves, not because of an excessive prurient interest in flesh but because she represents independence from commitment and the freedom to pursue what you desire. These tenants offer a welcome relief to a race that lives hundreds of years and might consider remaining with the same partner for life worse than a prison sentence. Some crusaders, particularly elven ones, pray to Calistria to help achieve holy vengeance on their targets. Very few dwarves worship her, even those avenging a slight against clan or kin, for Calistria’s habit of disproportionate responses is generally too excessive for the lawful-minded dwarves. A fair number of halflings (especially those associated with shady merchant guilds) venerate her trickery aspect, and former slaves sometimes pray to her for vengeance against their cruel masters. Calistria is not a popular deity among the gnomes, largely because their trickery proves more whimsical and most prefer to live their lives rather than dwell on old slights and vengeances.
Calistria shows her favor among the faithful with sudden runs of luck in attempts to find companionship, heightening of physical pleasures, and finding easy marks for schemes or acts of vengeance. Those who displease her often find themselves plagued by impotence, failure to achieve sexual satisfaction, schemes failing disastrously, or angry wasps with an unerring ability to sting in sensitive places. Sometimes her ire is evidenced by several positive events culminating in a horrible failure, such as having the first outing with a long-pursued paramour go terribly wrong.
Calistria’s avatar is a beautiful elven woman wearing a slinky black dress or gown accented with gold, often with a black or golden silk drape falling from her arms or drawn seductively across her face. Her eyes are dark and mysterious, sometimes flashing gold with passion or anger. She is commonly shown with giant wasps, her favorite creature—unlike bees, wasps can sting again and again without dying. In male form she looks like a slightly masculine version of her normal shape, wearing black leggings and a loose golden jerkin and cape, eyes smoldering with barely contained passion.
Formal clothing for her clergy is very scant, typically dark leather or yellow silk that covers little and conceals even less, often augmented with henna dyes on the palms of the hands and in narrow bands on the arms. Some priests like to add other accent clothing like a wasp’s colors but eventually grow out of this habit, as the insect represents the goddess but is not inherently divine or worthy of emulation. Adventurer-priests favor gold jewelry, gold decorations on their armor, or (in the case of metal armor) gold plating or magically-hardened gold throughout. Church paraphernalia is usually slender wood or fine gold,
often including erotic carvings or sculpture.
Calistria’s holy symbol is three daggers pointing outward from a circle (representing her three aspects), and because of this many of her priests carry a dagger. Most of her priests are clerics or bards, though in some places more exotic spellcasters are the norm for her clergy, and there are a few non-spellcasters who have reached moderate status in the priesthood. Her titles include the Savored Sting, the Lady in the Room, and the Unquenchable Fire, as well as many vulgar epithets bestowed by disparagers outside the faith. [[File:461670 | class=media-item-align-right | Calistria_holy_symbol.bmp]]
As a group the clergy is a reactive force more than a proactive one, content to let the world progress at its own pace until something provokes them. Most people see the priests of Calistria as providers of comfort to those in need of solace, whether physical or emotional. They open their doors to those brimming over with lust, needing advice on embarrassing a rival, or seeking aid in striking back at those who have hurt them. Some dabble in divine magic but focus on other talents that express the illegal or semi-legal aspects of Calistria’s interests, whether burglary, spying, extortion, or even murder.
Ceremonies honoring Calistria may involve ritual sex but not always the orgiastic excess described in salacious stories by those outside the church. A typical ritual might consist of quiet chanting, blessed wine, and perhaps a few passionate kisses among interested parties. In others, priests tell how they deceived others or enacted elaborate revenge plots. There are no formalities regarding where ceremonies should take place, and most elven rituals occur outdoors in the natural settings that elves prefer, though meetings involving the telling of secrets or plans might be held behind securely closed doors. The ritual of a new priest to the faith usually involves sex with another member of the church, performed in a private antechamber unless the initiate wishes otherwise; priests often court an intriguing new initiate for this privilege, with the expectation that the priest will look after the initiate in the early part of his or her career.
The church puts little stock in the formalities of marriage. While it serves a valuable function in society, most of the worshipers don’t have a strong urge to settle down with one person (especially given elven longevity) and they usually don’t confuse physical attraction with emotional affection (which is seen as a weakness by members of most non-good churches). The faithful consider any relationship that lasts more than a few months to be a “marriage,” though this confers no legal rights. Ending a relationship has no stigma, though these ends are often the start of long feuds if one person feels slighted. Some do see the appeal of long, committed relationships, though even these tend to be tolerant of other partners or even polyandrous or polygynous. Lacking the weight of law in their relationships, most expect inheritance and similar matters to go to blood relatives rather than the mutable, tenuous passionate relationships.
A priest’s role
Many priests work as or with prostitutes, always in a manner that assures the safety of those in that profession; the church does not make its priests into victims, as they are people with power who greatly enjoy what they do for a living. All clergy undergo extensive training in the arts of conversation, body language, and seduction. Even the most ugly or disagreeable priest knows how to turn on the charm at the right time, surprising those who witness the change. Others may work- alone or in groups – as spies, investigators (for individuals or the government), or smugglers of exotic materials suitable for strange interests. Because of their varied concerns and areas of expertise, there is no “typical day” for priests of Calistria unless they work for a temple, their faith being a driving force but not a defining force in their daily activities.
If a temple has guardian wasps, the priests might be responsible for caring for or magically influencing them, or this duty might fall to a layperson (similar to a beekeeper). This frequent association with wasps means many become used to stings and resistant to venom (either through Great Fortitude or a similar feat-enhancing poison resistance). Some keep unusually large common specimens (up to 4 inches long) as pets for good luck, and a few are known within the church for their cat-sized pet wasps with abilities similar to a mage’s familiar.
The church hierarchy is very casual, with priests valued more for their ability to persuade others (or feared for their history of revenge) rather than their magical power. Of course, a powerful priest might be able to persuade or frighten more than a weak one, but an inexperienced priest who pulls off an elaborate revenge plan, creates a new profitable financial scheme, or develops a new seductive technique receives much respect from her peers despite her other shortcomings. There are few titles in the church used by all temples. A priest who is known for calmness despite all circumstances might be given the title “the Serene.” The high priestess of a temple is cheyim or cheyos, feminine and masculine forms of an Elven word meaning “revered one” respectively. Individuals might earn various honorifics based on deeds, assigned by the head of the temple and customized for the recipient, such as “of the Gentle Hands,” “the Heartless Avenger,” “of the Hundred Faces,” or “the Shameless.”
Because of the different areas of interest of her good, neutral, and evil factions, most temples focus on local issues and ignore what their counterparts are working on (barring old vendettas). The church is organized democratically, with every full priest having a vote in her temple’s affairs. For rare decisions requiring input from several temples, each sends a priest to represent that temple’s opinions and interests.
Priests of good temples may work as sacred prostitutes or look after the health of these workers. Others priests in good temples work as confessors and gossip-brokers, buying and selling information that might be useful. They address the goddess’s vengeance aspect by listening to complaints and assisting them in finding legal compensation for their issues, though the priests have been known to resort to public shaming of guilty parties when the offense is inconsiderate rather than illegal, such as broken engagements, shoddy business practices, adultery, or slander. To a small extent they work as matchmakers, though usually for sexual interest rather than marriage.
Priests in evil temples engage in seedier work. They may seduce someone in order to blackmail them later as compensation for some wrongdoing (against them or a client), exchange valuable secrets as if they were exotic spices, and make plots to unseat an influential leader or leverage a reluctant merchant. A few work as thieves or assassins for the church or even the highest bidder, acting anonymously or under a pseudonym. They walk in the path of shadow, using their seductive talents to get what they want and destroy those who stand in their way. The most alluring members make the best sacred prostitutes, though they usually demand payment in secrets, and it is these who often lead double or triple lives as spies in extensive secret plots. Evil priests tend to be very competitive with each other, trying to outdo their rivals in feats of intimacy, trickery, and vengeance, and as a result many are forced to wander for their own safety.
Priests of neutral temples might perform the same duties as a counterpart in a good temple or an evil one, or mix aspects of both as is their preference. In most cases, when asked for help with revenge, they push the person to first find non-injurious recompense for the petitioner, though if the offense is great enough they are not adverse to giving advice or explicit aid in fulfilling a debt of blood. In some communities there might only be one priest greatly respected and feared for what he knows and the careful web of peace he brokers with flesh and promises. Alchemy, herbalism, and potion-making are common pastimes among priests, and some make a living selling poisons, aphrodisiacs, love potions, contraceptives, abortifacients, and their counter agents. Even good priests are known to sell poisons, though usually nonlethal kinds designed to embarrass or humiliate the target (such as laxatives, those that simulate drunkenness, and so on). Some become so skilled at their duties that just by looking at a target they can tell how much of a drug is required to affect them for a certain period of time and the best way to administer it in food or drink. Of course, the followers of Norgorber carefully watch Calistria’s priesthood to make sure they aren’t overstepping their bounds or undercutting prices.
Calistria’s church is not known for its altruistic healing, though its priests have been known to sell cures for money or favors. Sometimes they heal without demanding payment, saying only that they will collect a service at some point in the future.
Priests concerned with the goddess’s lustful side are usually skilled at Balance, Bluff, Diplomacy, Disguise, Escape Artist, Intimidate, Sense Motive, or Tumble. Priests more attracted to her vengeful aspect study methods that make them more effective in finding their targets, such as Diplomacy, Disguise, Gather Information, Intimidate, Knowledge, and Sense Motive. Priests attracted to her role as a trickster usually focus on skills appropriate to thieves, deceivers, or diplomats, depending on the type of deception they enjoy.
A typical day for a temple-based priest involves waking, having sex or shooing out last night’s partner, ritual washing, breakfast, and prayer. They spend most of the day doing the work of the church. Evenings are a time to eat with friends, share stories, and enact plans that are best hidden from the light of day. Those who prefer to be up at night (or work at night, such as sacred prostitutes) have a shifted schedule, waking in the evening for a meal and socializing, then working, secret activities in the early hours before dawn, prayer in the morning, then sleep.
Temples and Shrines
A typical temple has many rooms with lockable doors for privacy, and many are converted mansions or large homes. Because of their association with sex, temple priests are known for assisting with births, giving advice on contraceptive herbs, and taking in unwanted infants. Each temple tends toward good, evil, or neutrality, and this influences the activities that take place there. These philosophical differences are the source of many inter-temple temple feuds, some going back hundreds of years with bloodshed on both sides.
Good temples try to serve the community and usually function as a brothel with sacred prostitutes, as they believe that the relief of sexual needs eases other tensions that might lead to violence. Regular visits by customers usually mean the temple is a hotbed of gossip and clandestine talks about double-dealing and revenge. Evil temples are much like thieves’ guilds, a place to hear news, seek evidence of unfaithful lovers, and make shady plans, only sometimes while enjoying a lover. Neutral temples (and elven temples in particular) try to mix both, casually entertaining the lonely and lusty while avoiding the more violent plans for vengeance. Many temples encourage wasps to nest on the exterior of the building. Guided by magic, the insects leave the residents alone but react angrily to trespassers. Wealthier temples may employ giant wasps as guardian creatures and spider eaters as flying steeds (evil ones may bind abyssal wasp swarms to guard the temple as well). Some use a church-created method of harvesting venom from the wasps, which is typically used by the temple guards or sold.
The church has few shrines, as Calistria’s interest is in the nature and actions of people rather than places. Ancient standing stones at the site of old temples might bear phallic or yonic carvings, or a flat stone might be carved with the name of some great vengeance that took place at the site, but beyond these the church prefers to remember things in stories and warnings.
Passed in whispers, the holy tales of Calistria often straddle the border between dire warnings and subtle encouragement.
- The Blooded: The inspiration for a series of myths – mostly pertaining to the inspirational facets of lust, performance seduction, and grandiose revenges – the likely mythic civilization known as the Blooded supposedly rose after Azlant and lived and breathed the ideas of lust, trickery, and vengeance. Several great passion plays are attributed to this people. The noble houses of the Blooded supposedly fought each other with petty intrigues and used their influence for various gains and losses. After Starfall they allegedly perished, but plays attributed to them are popular among priests of all ages, and several famed pieces of Taldan opera are said to draw influence from this storied people.
- The Coldest Dish: Calistria is an old goddess and was dealing with opponents in the days before the first mortal civilization. In the unfathomable past, three of her enemy deities died before she could gain satisfaction from them. Even now, once a year, these three dead gods claw themselves out of whatever oblivion holds them and travel to her realm. These three shades of fallen, forgotten powers kneel before her and beg her forgiveness and ask that she abandon her yet-unfulfilled vengeance planned for them. Every year she just smiles and waits.
To punctuate their vengeful desires, Calistria’s worshipers circulate several bitter sayings and deadly sentiments.
- I Stab Thee With My Heart: When a careful plan of vengeance comes to fruition, the satisfaction of it is as exhilarating as any intimate act. Whether whispered during an actual stabbing, or left as a note explaining the target’s downfall, the faithful use this saying when they succeed at a particularly juicy vengeful act. Oddly, in the rare cases where members of the church pursue a genuine love, couples often use this as a form of vow between them to indicate the strength and sincerity of their feeling.
- Love the Food, Not the Chef: This is used as an admonition against falling in love with the target of your lust. It is also a reminder to not become consumed by vengeance to the exclusion of all other things. There is more to life than just revenge, and there are many joys one can experience even while seeking retribution.
Each temple has its own set of holidays based on avenging old slights, great conquests, and so on. The entire church has only one common holiday.
- The Ritual of the Whip Sting: The church recognizes that sometimes a long-standing feud can be harmful to a community, and while the goddess doesn’t believe in forgiveness, she does believe in adequate satisfaction for an offense. When priests intervene in a dispute to protect the community, they negotiate with both sides until they reach an agreement on an appropriate act of vengeance, usually performed publicly. Once this vengeance is carried out, the matter is considered settled by both parties and any further retaliation is forbidden. Normally this vengeance is humiliating (such as revealing an embarrassing truth, tarring and feathering, and so on) and may even be painful (such as a whipping or being locked naked in a pillory for a day) but rarely deadly, as anything serious enough that a reasonable person calls for murder is usually best handled with a trial. The name of the ritual originates from when it was always a public whipping, but now the whip is mostly symbolic and both parties swear their oath on it.
Relations With Other Religions
Calistria’s interactions with other gods are complex and strewn with contradictions and fabrications. Some paint her as a good god’s lover, others as an enemy. One tale has her figuratively and literally in bed with an archdevil, while others describe her taking centuries to enact vengeance for a minor slight by such a being. Some stories suggest the creation or destruction of certain deities. Each temple has its own idea about which stories are true and which are false, and these differences only escalate the conflicts between factions. What is known is the other gods treat her very carefully and respectfully, as they fear her reprisal for an unintended slight.
In general, she and Shelyn get along tolerably well, as erotic love leads to sex and common lust can turn into love, though Calistria believes Shelyn’s insistence on love is a weakness and Shelyn hates how people pretend to be in love so they can get sex. Calistria covets her romantic counterpart, but Shelyn refuses these advances as she knows the Savored Sting’s affections are purely carnal. Calistria doesn’t like Urgathoa much but respects her lust for life, and as long as they respect the border between their interests there is no trouble between them. Norgorber intrigues her with his mystery and they have worked together for a common interest, though he is never quite sure if he is somehow being manipulated. She respects Desna but thinks she’s a little too hung up on her failures and setbacks. She and Cayden Cailean are on very friendly terms.
Although Calistria’s followers recommend several works of theater and literature as shining examples of the perfect seduction or revenge, they only hold one text as sacred.
- The Book of Joy: This tome is a guide to many passions; some include illustrations of sexual positions, guides on reading and manipulating others’ emotions, or collected anecdotes on satisfying revenge schemes for various offenses. Some conservative cities actually make it illegal to possess or display a copy, fearing that the information within will corrupt the morals of its citizens. Mischievous members of the church like to print portions of the book as one-page “penny bibles” showing the most erotic portions of the manuscript, hoping to elicit curiosity in the reader.
Sean, K Reynolds. (2008). Pathfinder #17: Second Darkness – A Memory of Darkness, p. 56-62. Paizo Publishing LLC. ISBN 978-1-60125-130-5