Garou Society: Beliefs and Laws

Werewolves are vicious and live in a dangerous world that requires them to be more cunning and brutal than their enemies in order to survive, but aside from their strength, they also rely on their own laws, their own faiths and their own politics to preserve their culture and lives. Garou society is what separates werewolves from mere animals or petty humans.

The Litany | Justice | Hierarchy

Garou Cosmology | The Truth Revealed | The Weaver's Webs

The Litany
Werewolves are often depicted as solitary monsters, but by gathering in septs and protecting caerns, the Garou have developed a communal culture. Across the ages, they have codified a system of law, handing it down from one generation to the next. As one would expect, it is a largely oral tradition that is subjected to endless interpretation. To preserve the old ways, the Garou have created the Litany, a great song of ages containing the traditions, codes and laws of their people. In its full form, it is as much an epic poem as a legal code. Chanting it in its entirety can take hours. One tribe of werewolves, the Fianna, are the acknowledged masters of this epic. Four times a year, they gather in their tribal homelands to recite it in its entirety.

Most modern werewolves prefer a straightforward culture with little patience fore legal subterfuge. To simplify matters, the Litany can be summarized in 13 basic precepts. If a werewolf violates one of these laws, he'll usually be aware of his transgression. Each tribe, of course, has its own views on right and wrong. In fact, a disparity often exists between what Garou elders preach and what werewolves actually do. Masters of Garou law can cite dozens of examples of precedent, but as fewer cubs learn to chant the details, more argue ways to bend the rules in their favor.

Garou Shall Not Mate With Garou
The Law: Werewolves should mate only with humans or wolves. Because metis offspring are deformed, twisted or even insane, Garou are forbidden to mate with their own kind. Of course, this law is enforced largely because of age-old prejudices against metis. This stricture forms the basis for some of the greatest tragedies of Garou culture. Galliards have been known to move listeners to tears by telling ballads of two werewolves who fall in love and can never express their passion...or who do so at the cost of their lives.
The Reality: The number of metis in Garou culture is increasing steadily, showing that this law is not as inviolate as it once was. A handful of tribes claim to actually be kinder to their metis than others. Unfortunately, these claims are often little more than tactics used to recruit and exploit metis for tasks lupus and homids would just as soon avoid.

Combat the Wyrm Wherever It Dwells and Whenever It Breeds
The Law: The Wyrm is a source of evil in the world. Gaia created the werewolves to protect humanity, and destroying the Wyrm is the most direct way to do so. The fastest way for a Garou to become respected is to prove himself in battle against the servants of the Wyrm. The Apocalypse may be close at hand, but the surest way to delay it is to fight without restraint against the Great Serpent and its minions.
The Reality: Werewolves suspect that these days are the Final Days of the world, especially as age-old prophecies have become reality. Even if it were possible, some whisper softly, killing the Wyrm would only delay the inevitable. Jaded elders are distracted by other tasks, such as securing territory, contesting for political power or crippling their rivals. Accepting that the Apocalypse has already begun is a bit too much for some Garou, who would much rather build their own reputations and legacies.
When confronted with this part of the Litany, cubs typically ask questions their elders are loath to answer. What happens to a Garou that is possessed, but not fully in the thrall of the Wyrm? Should he be destroyed? Is a Wyrm-spirit really destroyed if it is "killed," or will it just re-form somewhere else? Can werewolves expect to change the course of history by destroying all of the Wyrm's servants, or should they choose their battles more carefully? A growing number of young wolves demand that the Weaver is just as dangerous as the Wyrm. Wasn't it the Weaver that forced the Wyrm to such heights of insanity? Such dangerous ideas must be whispered carefully. More zealous werewolves have been known to challenge and kill Garou who speak such treasonous thoughts.

Respect the Territory of Another
The Law: Whenever a Garou approaches another werewolf's territory, he must announce himself first and ask permission to enter. The traditional method involves the Howl of Introduction, reciting one's name, sept, totem, tribe and home sept. Many Silver Fangs and Shadow Lords also insist on a visitor's lineage, establishing whether he is pure bred. In addition to these precautions, a werewolf should mark his territory, whether with scent or clawed sigils, to keep peace with other Garou.
The Reality: As the population of humans in the world keeps growing, howling and urinating on trees becomes impractical. In urban caerns, some technologically proficient werewolves (like the Glass Walkers) prefer a telephone call, email or fax. Many younger werewolves ignore this part of the Litany entirely, considering it a "fascist" tradition in what should be a communal culture. Who cares what your ancestors did centuries ago? A Garou should be judged by what he does today.

Accept an Honorable Surrender
The Law: Duels between werewolves are common. While many homids prefer to talk their way out of disputes, most tribes emphasize martial prowess, stressing trial by ordeal and single combat. As a result, many werewolves die. As the race dies out, peaceful Garou have reemphasized this dictum. They can't stop their septmates from killing each other, but because of this portion of the Litany, a werewolf being attacked by another Garou can end a duel peacefully by exposing his throat. The loser shouldn't suffer a loss of reputation or renown for doing so, but a victorious Garou should be praised for his mercy. Theoretically, any dueling Garou is honor-bound to accept a surrender.
The Reality: In practice, peaceful werewolves invoke this law freely, but cunning Garou are far more selective. After all, in the heat of battle, anything can happen. Even the most feral and violent werewolf struggles to obey this law, but when blood begins to flow, instincts overcome reason. Some warriors are infamous for "accidentally" overlooking a surrender and sinking their teeth into an exposed throat.

Submission to Those of Higher Station
The Law: Like the wolves with whom they breed, werewolves maintain a strict hierarchical society. Someone's always alpha, and some poor fool always ends up skulking behind the rest of the pack. Therefore, the concepts of Renown and Rank are integral to Garou society. A werewolf must always honor reasonable requests from higher-ranking Garou.
The Reality: An increasing number of cubs and cliath have little respect for their elders. If Garou society has done so little to heal the world, how exactly are elders worthy of respect? Each tribe has its own culture, and not all of them believe in kowtowing to tyrants or humoring egotistical alphas with long lineages. A werewolf will honor the elders of his tribe generally, but opinions vary when it comes to the highly ranked of other tribes.
Bone Gnawers have a habit of disregarding this dictum entirely. In their eyes, all werewolves are equal. Otherwise, they'd find themselves bowing and scraping to everyone. Children of Gaia and Silent Striders respect personal choice, and therefore, they prefer to earn obedience rather than demanding it. Get of Fenris respect any long as said elder can kick their asses. Red Talons prefer not to hear "monkey babble" about complicated hierarchies; you should know your place instinctively. Shadow Lords and Silver Fangs, on the other hand, enforce this law with iron fists and sharpened claws.

The First Share of the Kill for the Greatest in Station
The Law: Elders are well known for invoking this custom repeatedly. While this "kill clause" originally applied to hunting, it has since been expanded to include spoils of war. In theory, the most renown Garou has a right to the most powerful fetishes found by their packmates. Silver Fangs and Shadow Lords demand what they see as their due; other tribes accept grudgingly.
The Reality: Pack mentality may be a strong instinct, but not everyone thinks the same way. Most individuals wouldn't abide handing over all the loot they find to one companion. A respected Garou can get away with using this law against her packmates for a while -- and maybe even get the elders to back her up -- but there are consequences, of course. They begin with mistrust and end with blows.

Ye Shall Not Eat the Flesh of Humans
The Law: This portion of the Litany was first sung shortly after the Concord. Stargazer mystics noticed that many werewolves of the Western Concordiat took a bit too much pleasure in devouring human flesh. Such cannibals found themselves vulnerable to the corruption of the Wyrm. Elders grown fat off human stock also became weak at stalking and killing more challenging prey, like the Wyrm-spirits they should have been hunting. In the 21st century, this law is more than a simple spiritual matter. Human beings now consume a frightening amount of preservatives. Their chemical-laden diet makes their flesh unwholesome.
The Reality: Werewolves are feral creatures, and they lose control occasionally. Far too many times, a hero gazing at the full moon has been overwhelmed by his rage, awakening the next morning with a strange taste in his mouth...and a craving for more. Red Talons quietly ignore this portion of the Litany; some hunt and devour humans openly. One atavistic camp of Bone Gnawers, the Man-Eaters, bases entire rites around cannibalism. As for the Shadow Lord tribe, they consider this law a moot point. They have more effective ways to dispose of human victims....

Respect Those Beneath Ye --- All Are of Gaia
The Law: The werewolves of human legend are skulking solitary monsters, but Garou are communal creatures. Their legendary ancestors pledged to become the world's protectors, so they must respect every creature's place in the natural world. Every Garou is likewise worthy of respect. Chivalry is a classic Garou concept, and chivalrous behavior is a respectable way to gain renown.
The Reality: All septs may cite this dictum, but not all tribes regard their cubs, cliath and metis Garou the same way. Shadow Lords twist this law's meaning, applying only what they see as the "proper amount of respect" to lesser creatures. Get of Fenris won't kill their weaker septmates openly, but they'll put them through sheer hell, giving them the "honor of earning respect." Bone Gnawers just laugh at this precept. They sure as hell don't get respect, and who could be lower in station than them?
Fortunately, lupine instincts often keep these practices in check. Wolves often show respect for their prey -- human Kinfolk marvel when a wolf looks deeply into the eyes of the animal it is about to kill. Noble Garou have even been known to mourn the passing of their foes, earning the respect of others in the process. Werewolves kill when it is necessary, but must be careful not to degenerate into unthinking monsters.

The Veil Shall Not Be Lifted
Here, the law and reality are the same. Werewolves must be discreet when acting among humans. This practice is far more than simple respect for the Concord, the decision to respect humanity's right to its own civilization. The world is a dangerous place. Human hunters, religious fanatics, ancient vampires and far more sinister supernatural creatures stalk the night. And, of course, the servants of the Wyrm are lurking everywhere, exploiting the weak. If werewolves choose to act like monsters, other creatures will hunt them like the beasts they are.
Garou also have an obligation to protect humanity. When humans see werewolves lumbering about in Crinos form, insanity grips them, and they concoct all sorts of outrageous rationales for what they've seen. Fear mounts, panic results, and the populace resorts to drastic measures of defense. In short, rampaging werewolves can cause almost as much damage as the Wyrm creatures they hunt.

Do Not Suffer Thy People to Tend Thy Sickness
The Law: Sadly, people at war do not always have the resources to care for their infirm. Long ago, an infirm, aged or mortally wounded Garou, would be torn to pieces by his septmates. Such a pitiable hero should not suffer further. In the modern world, it is considered more dignified to let such an elder choose how to end his own life. In Garou legends, many of the greatest heroes simply set out on one last journey, never to return.
The Reality: The Children of Gaia vociferously argue against this law. They believe in a natural death, caring for their elderly through the most prolonged and horrifying illnesses. A few older Garou, especially those crippled by depression and remorse, simply return to human or lupine society to die, making peace with the life they left behind.

The Leader May Be Challenged at Any Time During Peace
The Law: A werewolf's pack mentality may be strong, but he should not tolerate a weak alpha. If no immediate threat is nearby, a Garou of sufficient rank may challenge the pack leader for his position. A contest results, usually a duel, a test of wits or a simple, snarling display of intimidation. In a pack, this contest is resolved quickly and decisively. In a sept, the assembled werewolves enact the contest with great drama.
The Reality: An extremely powerful alpha may be virtually immune to challenge. Some packs challenge their leader one at a time, wearing him down until he must relent. Tyrannical Shadow Lords insist continually that greater threats are lurking nearby, postponing the most dangerous duels. Cunning werewolves insist on choosing the type of duel that should result, playing off their rivals' known weaknesses. In short, alphas who claw their way to the top through treachery and deceit defend their authority with the same methods.

The Leader May Not Be Challenged During Wartime
The Law: The most dangerous spirits are capable of manifesting in the physical world; in their true aspects, they are monstrous in size and power. For werewolves, pack tactics are the best defense against such invasions. Therefore, obedience in a pack is essential. Once a fight begins, the pack alpha's word is law. A packmate who disobeys may be punished or assaulted by his companions, or possibly even by his sept, after the danger has passed.
The Reality: After bloodlust passes, rage gives way to reason. Half Moons may want to judge why this lapse in obedience took place. If a werewolf was under magical control, corrupted or possessed by the Wyrm -- or if the alpha was just startlingly incompetent -- such disobedience may be excused, especially if the action saved a pack or the sept. Unfortunately, any renown the wolf would have received for her valor may be canceled out by her insubordination.

Ye Shall Take No Action That Causes a Caern to Be Violated
This law is obeyed as strictly as the need to preserve the Veil. Caerns surge with mystical energy, the lifeblood of the Earth. If one is destroyed or corrupted, part of the Earth dies, and so does the power of the Garou. A werewolf who leads a proven or potential enemy to a hidden caern is punished severely, even if the act was unintentional.

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In Garou society, most simple crimes and mistakes are easy to redress. If a problem looms, an elder can usually caution a younger werewolf of a potential error. Garou settle disputes by a reprimand, a mediator or possibly a duel. If these measures are not enough, disapproval from a werewolf's pack sept or tribe is typically enough to correct misbehavior. Most ambitious cliath do not want to lose renown. However, a few crimes are so severe that they must be punished severely. Simply put, someone must pay when the Litany is violated.

Each sept and tribe has its own methods of conducting trials. Get of Fenris and Red Talons prefer trial by combat, measuring a werewolf by his deeds, not his words. By contrast, Shadow Lords petition sept leaders with lengthy and elaborate arguments, intimidating anyone who refuses their right to speak. Bone Gnawers have a democratic approach to such affairs, convening a jury of peers to pass judgement...even if the jurors are easy to bribe. Uktena summon spirits to discern the truth, while Glass Walkers employ modern criminology. While one or two tribes may dominate a sept, many caerns attract a wide array of Garou. In these cases, the sept leader may choose the methods of her tribe, the tribe of the highest-ranking Philodox or that of the offender himself. Political consequences arise for each choice.

Once sentence has been passed, a sept enacts a formal rite to punish the offender. If a criminal escapes, the Garou may offer a bounty for his capture...or his skin. The worst punishment is outright ostracism, an offense feared more than death itself. Most Garou believe that great heroes are reborn; some even have visions of past lives to prove it. An outcast, declared a "rogue" or Ronin, is shut out forever from his brothers and sisters. Unless he can commit some great deed to prove his valor, he remains mistrusted and alone. Sadly, fatalistic werewolves convince themselves that there is no future for the Garou as the Apocalypse draws closer. Entire packs of Ronin wander the Earth rejecting the strictures of the Litany completely.

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Garou society establishes hierarchy through a system of renown, a measure of a hero's deeds and service to her sept. Constant infighting wounds and weakens a sept, but this system channels such energies in a positive direction. ("If you want to show your strength, cub, then show us how well you hunt! I know of a spirit that intrigues me...") This "caste system" may sound disturbing, but a werewolf's instincts and thousands of years of tribal conditioning reinforce it. Pack instincts demand hierarchy. Every werewolf has his place. Elders rarely need to demonstrate power by abusing their lessors, and their vassals are usually content to serve.

Based on their renown, each werewolf also holds a certain rank in Garou society, and he is often addressed by his proper title. For instance:

Cubs are at the bottom of the pecking order, treated as little more than children. They're eager to learn, and they ask many confusing questions.

• Once a cub completes her Rite of Passage, she becomes a cliath, a young Garou enlisted continually to perform all sorts of tasks for her sept. Because packs of cliath know that they are in demand, some travel all over the world to learn about Garou society.

• As cliath continue to gain renown, they eventually become fostern. These Garou are educated enough to act as esteemed emissaries between septs. At this stage in life, an entire pack may undergo a period of fosterage in a distant and seemingly alien caern.

Adren outrank fostern, often taking on some of the lesser political positions in a sept. By this time, a pack of adren usually limits its travel to a handful of caerns. Political rivalries develop over time.

Athro outrank all these commoners. They are typically swept up in some of the most perilous and compelling adventures their tribes can offer. Silent Strider messengers have been known to travel around the world to summon the right pack of athro for critical adventures.

• Only the most esteemed and highest-ranking Garou are addressed as elders. Even if an elder does not currently serve as a tribal elder, as a sept leader or in some other esteemed position, a werewolf with enough renown is still treated with the greatest forms of respect.

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Garou Cosmology
The Twelve Tribes teach their cubs and cliath the ways of the world, giving them purpose and inspiration. Werewolf cubs are told a distinctly unique legend of why the Earth is dying, a mystical and spiritual account. As is the way of the spirit world, events in the Umbra appear as reflections of the physical world. According to myth, Gaia created the world and all living things in it. When time began, she released three primal forces upon the Earth: the Weaver, the Wyld and the Wyrm. These elements of creation are known collectively as the Triat. The spirit world is complex, but werewolves can reduce all of its workings to these three primal forces.

The Weaver created all structure in the world, from the highest mountains to the depths of the oceans. She gave birth to a host of spirits to preserve order, and Weaver-spirits have been known for their predictability, ruthlessness and determination since that primal time. Legions of them weave the fabric of reality with long legs and spinnerets, reinforcing the tapestry of creation. In the modern world, wherever law triumphs over anarchy, whenever technology kicks into overdrive, or when anyone rebuilds what has been torn down, werewolves claim that the spirits of the Weaver are scurrying nearby.

The Wyld was the breath of life in the world, allowing the Weaver's creations to thrive. Wherever nature is alive, the Wyld is there. The spirits that serve it are capricious and effervescent, unpredictable and indefatigable. Just as the Weaver brought order, the Wyld brought chaos, surging with energy wherever it could not be contained. Rebellion, frustration and raw feral instinct all give it strength. Yet nature can also be gentle. Behind every serene glen and tranquil brook, the Wyld returns its energy.

Garou mystics say that Gaia created a third force to maintain balance between order and chaos, between the Weaver and the Wyld. Like a great serpent wriggling through all creation, the primal Wyrm snipped at the threads of creation that could not otherwise be controlled. Once the Wyrm was the force of balance in the world (as the Garou say), but no longer. The mad Weaver grew too ambitious, trying to tip the balance by trapping the Wyrm within its lifeless web. Confined and denied, the Wyrm went slowly insane, and creation listed out of balance.

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The Truth Revealed
For mystics, this story is not mere myth. Each portion of the Triat has spawned a host of lesser spirits, mystic servitors who are still at work in the world. In the shadow of creation, in the spirit world of the Umbra, werewolves can see these forces at work. Over the centuries, the spirits of the Wyrm have become more powerful than ever before. The most fanatic Garou share a common belief: If there is corruption and misery spreading through the world, the Wyrm is at the heart of it. Beyond all other ideals, the greatest goal of the werewolves is to protect all of creation by destroying the servants of the Wyrm.

The Wyrm's servants have become a cancerous corruption, and its servitors have become the Garou's greatest enemies. For millennia, its rage and hatred has grown to the point of insanity. Its pain ceases only when it can pare back creation, destroying the Weaver's order and polluting the Wyld's purity. The Wyrm can suborn even human beings, especially when they practice sinful and malicious acts. Wherever the Earth is despoiled and befouled, the Wyrm grows stronger. Wherever order is perverted and law is denied, the Wyrm shudders in glory. When humans fall prey to darker emotions, succumbing to vice and sin, the Wyrm exploits more victims. It is beyond reason, and its servants are legion.

The Wyrm's strength is such that it now overpowers the efforts of the werewolves to contain it. In prophecies, in visions and in the world around them, the Garou see evidence that this treacherous evil is achieving its goal to destroy all creation and free itself forever. Therefore, the world that remains is cold and bleak. As prophecy has foretold, the werewolves must fight to the last to defeat the Wyrm. Now is the time of the final confrontation, the Apocalypse. Confronted by a dying world, they have contained their rage for far too long. This is the final battle, and so shapechangers are returning from the shadows, bringing heroism, valor and horror back into the light of day.

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The Weaver's Webs
Fanatical werewolves believe that their only duty in life is to defeat -- or even kill -- the Wyrm. It's a very direct philosophy, but one with which some cubs and cliath just cannot agree. A heretical idea is spreading throughout the Western Concordiat: The Garou's real enemy isn't the Wyrm, but the Weaver. After all, it is the Weaver that is responsible for the largest human cities. She was the primal force that first drove the Great Serpent insane, and she brings her own brand of suffering on the world as she continues her mad designs.

Most elders are horrified by this idea. Some refuse to send packs to investigate the mad Weaver's activities, and some even refuse to award renown for succeeding in such enterprises. Nonetheless, a new generation of cubs has dedicated itself to shredding the Weaver's webs, regardless of what their mangy, crusty old elders might believe.

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