Naming things in a fictional world is a terrible and most unenjoyable task. It’s bad enough when you do personal names and place names, but when it comes to more abstract things like organizations or types of creatures, finding a name that is reasonably acceptible (it’s never good) can take a very long time. I think I wanted to have a kind of creature similar to the abominations from Dragon Age from a very early point in working on the Ancient Lands, over 4 years ago. In the meanwhile, I added more ideas from other creatures, like folding the roles of both lichs and vampires into this new creation, and taking some elements from the Inspired from Eberron and the Eternal from Spears of the Dawn. But when it came to naming these things, nothing ever came close to fitting. But now I sat down and clicked my way through a thesaurus (they are actually good for something) and came on this wonderful word:
A word that probably most people interested in fantasy have come across once or twice. Probably always refering to something blasphemous and unholy, and just the sound of it sounds ominous, even if you don’t know what it means. I had to look it up myself and it turns out to be ancient Greek meaning “offering”. (In this case, the a- at the beginning is not a prefix meaning anti.) However, in early Christianity it was used in the sense of “offered to the devil” or “devoted to evil” and referred to an early form of excommunication. Even though I made some efforts to weed out technical and religious terms that don’t really make sense in the world of the Ancient Lands, which is very different from a standard western-christian universe, anathema seems to be a word that still works.
So what is an anathema exactly? You might recognize some of these guys. That’s what you have to expect.
Anathema are mortals who have become possessed by a demon from the Underworld, their own spirit consumed in the process and all their memories, knowledge, and much of their personalty absorbed into the demons mind. While the mortals mind still exist in some way, all the ideals, values, and desires it once had become irrelevant as the demons original personalty dominates the mind of the anathema. It usually has very little interest in the good of the mortals clan or family, but may often retain some affection to people who were close to it in its previous life. Most anathema are greed, desire, or sloth demons and almost immediately set out to some ambitious plan to sate their craving. Usually with very little reagrd to those around it, but often enough cunning to keep their new nature a secret. At least for the time being. Demons can possess any mortal whose body and spirit have been corrupted by demonic magic and all anathema are very dangerous creatures. But the most terrible ones are those created from sorcerers who willingly summoned a demon to join with it and gain immortality and great magical powers. Many anathema note that their new nature is very different from what the sorcerer expected it to be, but at that point whatever the mortal once wanted is longer of any real relevance. The demons desire to visit and explore the physical world overrides any plans the sorcerer might have had and they never feel any remorse or despair about their new nature.
So even though there are no Gods and no church in the Ancient Lands and not even true afterlives, anathema are still creatures that have turned away from mortal life and society and now exist entirely to pursue their demonic craving. They are “devoted to evil” and in the case of sorcerers “offered themselves to demons”. And they also “excommunicated” themselves from all mortal communites and their spirit will not join the clan shrine to give strength and courage to future generations. So the name fits in both its literal and proverbial meaning and it also sounds cool and ominous. What more can you want for a big bad monster?