Phouth (pronounced to rhyme with “oath”) is one of the most dreaded members of the Lower Nine. For all that people fear war and murder and slavery and wildfire, these ills are sometimes far away. But the danger of sickness and hunger is ever-present. At any time, the god of disease, famine, blight and corruption might stretch out his withered hand and touch the land. Phouth is the enemy of good health and vitality, a decrepit yet powerful god who awaits the wasting of the cosmos. Beyond sickness, famine and rot, he is also a god of stagnation and sloth, of metaphysical mire that drags down the soul.
Phouth’s most ancient symbol is a vertical long bone, such as a femur, with two shorter bones lashed to it as horizontal crossbars. This grim device has been used as a plague-pit marker since the early days of history. Even in areas that have adopted other emblems to warn others of disease, the plague-bones of Phouth are still understood. Animals associated with him include worms, flies, rats and centipedes; his plants are thorn-apples, toadstools, and blackened and unhealthy specimens of fruit trees or grains. Phouthites fashion their paraphernalia from bone and metals that tarnish or corrode (most often silver, bronze, copper or iron). Flawed gems are his favorite: milky emeralds, clouded amber, impure turquoise. His colors are drab greens and unhealthy browns and tans.
When Phouth is depicted, it’s often in the form of a scabrous, grinning old man in filthy, tattered robes. Sometimes he is bloated and corpulent, sometimes famine-thin save for a swollen belly. Some artists give him the wings or sometimes eyes of a fly. In parables he’s portrayed as possessing a demented sense of humor, often making bets with saints, heroes or his fellow gods, or mockingly pretending to commiserate when someone is brought low by the power of illness or famine. In these stories he may be outwitted or lose a bet, but frequently he’s the one who gets the last laugh. His most common omen is a strange cloud of flies, but he also sends sudden bouts of illness: hacking coughs, fever dreams, skin discolorations or ailments and the like. Unusually swift onsets of creeping rot, mold, withering or tarnish are also potential signs of his attention.
In most cultures, Phouth is a dread figure to be invoked only in terms of placation, hoping that the Father of Sickness will show mercy and avert his eye. He has few open shrines in most nations; the average person will leave offerings on a stark altar from time to time, particularly in times of drought or illness. Most religious men and women know that Phouth has a priesthood of plaguebringers, a secret cult by necessity. In Rasenna, it’s said that someone who knows the right passwords and rituals can contact the priests of rot, commissioning them to send a terrible illness on a rival or enemy. Only the truly malicious would consider such a thing, though; in a cramped city, such illnesses run the risk of spreading quickly. The priests may be able to control such an outbreak, but given their ethos, it would take a truly obscene amount of gold to encourage them to do so.
— back to The Seven and Twenty