Table of Contents
Titles: The Water Lord, King of the Water Elementals, God-King of Undines
Portfolio: Elemental water, purification
Domain: Destruction, Ocean, Storm, Travel, Water
Worshipers: Bards, elemental archons (water), sailors, travelers
Istishia (pronounced: /ɪsˈtɪʃiɑː/ is-TISH-ee-ah) was the neutral primordial deity of elemental water and purification. While other powers governed oceans, pools, streams, storms, or simply those that had business with the water, Istishia was far more abstract. The Water Lord was mutable and dynamic, representing constant change with an essential constant at its core, the god not of any specific body or state of water, but the water itself.
Istishia is the elemental embodiment of water, but not any specific formation or body of water (unlike Umberlee who governs the oceans and ocean storms, Eldath who has dominion over pools, springs, and waterfalls and Valkur who strives to protect those who travel the waves). He represents the essence of water itself, the nature of slow change over time, and the ability of water to enact change.
He is one of the four elemental deities worshiped in Faerûn but, like all but Kossuth, has a very small following. He cares only slightly for his followers and is almost predictable in his incomprehensible and alien unpredictability. Most mortals consider his actions incomprehensible and like the other elemental lords he is almost indifferent to his own worshipers.
Istishia was depicted in a wide variety of forms ranging from a drop of rain or ocean wave to a water weird or gigantic water elemental. When he manifested, it was as a 40 to 60 feet (12 to 18 meters) tall, 20 to 30 feet (6.1 to 9.1 meters) thick, column of water. This form maneuvered effortlessly over or through any obstacles in its path, its movements sounding life the surf pounding on the shore and was known to divide into several parts in an effort by the Water Lord to confuse his enemies. When he spoke, his voice was at once the sound of rushing water, a babbling brook, and a gentle rain.
Istishia was a slippery, dispassionate power whose reasons and logic were incomprehensible to most. He provided an atmosphere for life and provided a vital resource yet would not grant the life itself and cared not how his gifts were used. He was relatively aloof towards his own followers, ignoring and favoring them seemingly on a whim, so alien, uncaring, and utterly random that his unpredictability was itself predictable.
Though Istishia did not have a court in the conventional sense, and despite his follower’s belief that he encompassed the whole Elemental Plane of Water, he did maintain a distinct divine realm on that plane within the Great Wheel cosmology called Sea of Timelessness.
Istishia had ties to deities with a relation to water, but no strong relationships. These included the likes of like Deep Sashelas, Eadro, Eldath, Persana, Shekinester, Surminare, Trishina, Umberlee, Valkur, and the Water Lion. Of these, he worked loosely with Sashelas, Trishina, and Eldath to maintain the life cycles of the sea. Conversely, he had no interest in Umberlee’s storms of Valkur’s sailors.
Istishia opposed Kossuth in every way. He sat back and watched the struggle of the archomentals of water, Ben-Hadar and Olhydra; presumably he would intervene if one would achieve a real chance to get control of elemental water.
Istishia was worshiped by sailors, pirates, water Elementals, water genasi, some aquatic elves, and others who felt a bond with the ocean’s destructive power.
Centers of Worship
Calimshan had several important shrines and temples to Istishia. The city of Keltar had a shrine known as the Steps of Istishia that was built thousands of years before the 14th century DR. The city of Calimport had the massive, seven-story Palace of the Cresting Wave.
Worshipers, Clergy & Temples
Istishia is worshiped by Sailors, Pirates, Water Elementals, Water Genasi, some Aquatic Elves, and others who feel a bond with the Ocean’s destructive power. Like all the elemental lords, Istishia is relatively unfeeling toward his followers on Abeir-Toril. His reactions are utterly unpredictable and thus, in an odd way, predictable in their unpredictability. The reasoning behind Istishia’s actions is incomprehensible to most of Faerûn’s inhabitants, including his worshipers. The alien and uncaring stance of Istishia and the other elemental lords has led to the mistaken impression in the Realms that they are only lesser powers and their followers merely oddball cultists.
The Water Lord’s faith has four major sects: the Church of the Magnificent Storm, the Church of the Sacred Sea, the Church of Watery Paths, and the Church of the Eternal Transformation. These sects work together with each other, though disagreements have been known to occur. In general, the Istishian faith is constantly evolving, and new sects are diverted from or absorbed by old ones as the decades pass. The church uses a unified ranking system so even members of different sects know their relative positions.
The Church of the Magnificent Storm believes in the cleansing power of Istishia. In its eyes, Istishia washes away the impurities of both the land and sea and purifies the air. “Stormers,” as they are known, always try to be present during thunderstorms and other severe weather.
The Church of the Sacred Sea believes that large expanses of water represent the body of Istishia. Its members pray for calm seas and to protect both ships and port from the Water Lord’s power, but they also call upon the oceans to deliver Istishia’s wrath against those who oppose the church.
The Church of Watery Paths believes that the rivers and streams of Toril represent the far reach of Istishia’s power. Its members view rivers and streams as the veins and capillaries of Istishia and point out that no place on Toril is not shaped in some way by water, even if it is shaped by the absence of water.
Finally, the Church of the Eternal Transformation believes that just as water moves from one state to another yet remains eternally present, so life moves from one state to another yet continues. Life exists on terrestrial bodies like Abeir-Toril on the Prime Material Plane and across the many planes of existence, and when life ends on one plane it is merely transformed to a form more suitable for its existence on another. All the universe is therefore symbolized in the water cycle.
Most Istishian priests minister to the needs of the faithful in one region or are attached to a particular shrine, temple, or holy site. However, the church believes that those who remain in one location and are immersed in the same company for too long become stagnant, so all Istishian priests move on to new postings on a rotating basis (so that all priests are not traveling to or learning new positions at the same time). In general, a priest serves in one locale for five years and rotates to a new posting at the anniversary of the closest major holiday (Midwinter, Greengrass, Midsummer, Higharvestide, or the Feast of the Moon) to the date at which she or he became a full priest. Postings may be extended by petition from a priest or his or her congregation for year-long periods until 10 years of service at one locale is reached. At that point, a priest must move on to a new post. Postings are overseen by the prestigious Elder Oversight Committee, and most of the church politics in the Istishian faith surround the actions of the Oversight Committee or attempts to influence its future actions. The life-long appointments to the committee are fiercely fought over—when such positions open due to death or retirements.
Keeping waterways pure and clean is one major goal of the church, and this responsible long-term goal has made the Istishians one of the more easily accepted elemental “cults” to visit a town. Wantonly polluting rivers, streams, seas, and oceans is considered an insult to Istishia, as well as likely offending several other nature and water deities.
Other ongoing goals of the church are better communication among the aquatic races and between the aquatic races and surface dwellers. Many Istishian priests dream of a day when all water dwellers can be united in their goals and efforts underneath the benevolent guidance of the church. That this goal is utterly unachievable and presupposes the extinction of numerous major faiths seems not to sway them from clinging to it nonetheless—nor does it mean that they hold any malice toward other primarily aquatic faiths.
Istishian temples are well-known for crafting excellent pottery. Using water, Istishians priests mold clay to a desired form, dry the new pots in the air, finish them with fire, and (often) use them to carry water or other liquids. The interactions of the elements are demonstrated in making pottery, as is the mutability of water and its final triumph.
Worship in Zakhara
On the continent of Zakhara, Istishia was called one of the cold gods of the elements. As those were seen as uncaring for human affairs, they were considered opposed to the Land of Fate’s pervasive culture of Enlightenment. Few Zakharans were willing to worship a cold god to gain power.
Priests of Istishia dress in blue-and-green robes with coral decorations for ceremonial occasions. Exact decorations and garment construction are not mandated by the faith, but shaded or rippled dying, graceful embroidery or bead work, or layered construction are often employed to convey a water theme. The wave of Istishia is usually carved into a gemstone incorporated into a medallion, a brooch, or a ring. Often the gemstone is jade, emerald, malachite, aquamarine, or water opal.
Adventuring priests are free to wear whatever clothes they deem appropriate, though they are fond of wearing items in white, blue, green, and blue-purple hues. The use of armor heavier than chain mail is frowned upon by the church and forbidden to water walkers.
Novice Istishian priests are called Searchers. After completing a series of at least three one-on-one courses of learning (a sort of apprenticeship in the faith) with Istishian senior priests, novice Istishians become full priests. In ascending order of rank, the titles in general use by the priesthood are Essential Servant (full priest), Spring of the God, Tidal Messenger, Cephalin, Full Flood (senior priest), Monsoon, Oracle (head of a temple or large shrine), Grand Oracle (senior or elder head of a temple), Stratus Primae (leader of a region’s temples and shrines) and Delphine Regent (hereditary leader of the faith). A priest who has slain or soundly defeated an enemy of the church (usually a high-ranking priest of Kossuth or a fire-based creature of power) may add the honorific “True” to the beginning of his or her title. Specialty priests of Istishia are known as Water walkers.
Priests of Istishia tend to establish shrines on the shores of bodies of water. Large temples exist primarily in port towns and cities. Other Istishian houses of worship are entirely under water and so inaccessible to most surface dwellers and uncommented on in their history or lore, though such Istishian holy sites have figured prominently in the oral and written histories of the aquatic races. The typical Istishian temple is of quarried sandstone or marble in clean, elegant lines and usually sits out on a pier or next to the water or incorporates a great many streams, ornamental pools, and fountains to make water a vital part of its landscaping.
Each morning priests begin their day with a quiet prayer said in Istishia’s name over a drink of water, and each night ends the same way. Spring tide and neap tide are celebrated with festivals by the church. During these festivals new members of the faith are dedicated to Istishia by being boisterously tossed into the sea or a lake or by diving into fountains or pools. Surface-dwelling communities of the faithful are often visited by water-dwelling emissaries from Istishia’s aquatic churches during these fetes, and underwater churches in turn host surface-dwellers through magical accommodations.
Waveriding is the ritual that Istishian specialty priests celebrate upon reaching a level of skill great enough to summon a water elemental from the Elemental Plane of Water. This ceremony is preceded by an hour-long responsive reading and chant, after which the elemental is summoned. The elemental then carries the celebrant on a long ride on the waves of a large body of water. When it returns with the priest celebrating the ritual, the elemental is tossed garlands of flowers, gifted with drafts of fine wine, and given beautifully crafted pieces of jewelry, pottery, or sculpture to carry back to Istishia’s realm as it leaves. While giving thanks for a drink of water. Spring tide and neap tide are celebrated with festivals that involve the boisterous tossing of new converts into water and a great deal of diving. Visitations between surface-dwelling churches and aquatic branches of the faith are common at such festivals.
The order of Istishian crusaders is known as the Cavaliers of the Seven Seas, whose members are natural water-breathers, and the Cavaliers of the Ever-Changing Truth, whose members are natural air-breathers. Istishian crusaders guard holy sites, escort emissaries of the faith, and pursue the ongoing feud against the church of Kossuth on a personal level.
Mystics of the faith belong to the Order of Cryptic Transformational Purity. The symbol of this order is a human shape changing into a fish. Because this symbol looks somewhat like a merman and the name of the order itself is so lofty, mystics of this order are often referred to colloquially as “fishtishians” or “the Water Lord’s fishmen”—much to their chagrin.
Everything is interconnected and cyclical. Water always triumphs, for earth dissolves through water, fire is extinguished even by steam, and air becomes clouds and then rain, completing the eternal cycle. The Water Lord is the great equalizer and leveler of the elements, acknowledging change but holding to his essential nature. Do not try to be what you are not; rather, excel at what you are and carry this message of personal excellence to the world. Be flexible but not unreasonable. As the rains flow down to the ocean in the folds of earth and not up mountains, so do the truths of Istishia spread throughout the land through their natural routes, not through rank force. The mysteries of life are to be enjoyed and puzzled over but realize that some answers do not come in this world, but rather in the next. Realize that the cycles of life are mirrored by the cycles of fate; be prepared to pay the price or reap the reward for the actions of your past or your future.
Istishia has manifested many more times than he has sent an avatar to the Realms. Any significant source of water is viewed as a manifestation of the Water Lord by his faithful. Rivers, lakes, and streams are all viewed as sacred, as are the oceans and seas, fountains, rain, and even puddles. Istishia sometimes sends servant creatures from the Elemental Plane of Water such as water elementals, nereids, marids, and tritons to do his bidding or aid followers. He also sends water creatures such as fish, dolphins, whales, octopuses, or even the leviathan. The discovery of water when drilling for a well or when in a barren land is viewed as a sign of Istishia’s favor.
Relationships & History
Istishia is one of the four elemental lords who seem to stand apart from history, unchanged by the passage of time. He has ties to other gods concerned with the element of water, including Deep Sashelas, Eldath, Valkur, and Umberlee, but no strong relationships. He opposes destructive Kossuth at every opportunity.