The Wood Elf Race
The spell that created the Wood Elves gave each a link to the spirits of the forest lands that cannot be broken. A Ravenwood Elf is like an open vessel of clay, which the spirits can enter and change from within. Unlike the other races of the world, men, orcs, high elves and the rest, a Wood Elf is not a singular entity, alike in form and soul. Instead as they grow they bond with the ancestral spirits and are altered by them, growing to be less elf and more beast as they age.
Birth and Youth
A newborn Wood Elf is little different from its High Elf relatives (though there are many more Wood Elf children than High Elves), perhaps a little darker in complexion and thicker of limbs, but the differences soon become clear. Wood Elves mature much faster than their ancestors, at much the same rate as Humans, and are stockier, swarthier and cruder of features than other Elves. Even at a few years of age there is something animal to their features, Wood Elf parents are often wary of their children's bites!
As a Wood Elf matures they find themselves naturally attracted to the spirits that are found in all living things within their forest home. They might feel close to a particular species of animal, such as the Wolves, Stags, Hawks or Bears that share their homes, or they may be attracted to the spirits of certain places, or their own ancestors.
The Oath of Bonding
At the age of eleven years each child must undergo the Oath of Bonding. The child comes before the Elders of their tribe and declares which race of Spirits they feel the greatest affinity for, which one haunts their dreams and inspires their lives. A child of this age is expected to have made this choice already, those few who do not have a difficult time, for they must go to the Shamans and take the trance journey, questing to find the Spirit that eludes them. A child who has not made the choice by the day of their fourteenth birthday is declared an outcast.
When they have made their choice the child is taken to a sacred grove, and fed the fruit of the Ghostcap mushroom, which is gathered by the Shamans when the moon is full. The mushroom sends the child into a trance and opens them to the vision quest of the spirits. While the Elders chant the songs of bonding the Spirits enter the child, becoming one with them. The young Elf who emerges from the glade is no longer a child, instead they are a Youngling, bonded with the spirits and the beasts they represent.
Over the following years as the Youngling matures he becomes closer to his totem Beast and spirit. Wolfkin become faster, running with the packs, Bearkin put on muscle mass, developing the strength of the Bear, while Stagkin are filled with patience and mental strength. By the age of twenty years the process is complete and they are deemed an adult, though the bonding process continues at a slower pace for as long as the Elf lives, making the Wolfkin more bestial and the Bearkin more ferocious, for example. Those who reach the later years of a natural lifespan without succumbing to accident or injury often look more like beasts than they do Elves.
The Grey Years
Although the Elves of Ravenwood do not have the immortality of their High Elf cousins, they still have lifespans that far exceed that of humans, and it is usual for a tribe's Elders to have more than two centuries behind them. A few whisper that there are even a handful of survivors of the death of Seridar somewhere in the heart of the forest, though no non-elf has ever seen them.
As an Elf passes into the end of their second century, however, they undergo another round of physical changes, as significant in their own way as the ones brought about by the Oath of Bonding. The Elves refer to this as the Grey Change. A Grey Elf becomes slower, thinner, and more pale, their hair and eventually their flesh becoming white like the snow that covers the Ravenwood in winter. At the same time they become slower of speech and movement, and their skin begins to thicken and knot like the bark of the trees they live amongst. It is then that they learn the speech of the Treants and the slow spirits of River and Stone.
An Elf in the Grey Years leaves the battlefield and the hunt behind and becomes and Elder, often also taking the role of Shaman, whose job it is to drink the smoke of the Ghostcap and commune with the Ancestor spirits. These Elders guide the decisions of their tribe, and make the choice that sends them to war.
Sometime in the third or fourth century of their lives even the strongest willed Elder finds that it becomes increasingly difficult to turn their attention to the mortal world. Their ears are filled with the whispers of the beasts and their eyes see the spirit world more clearly than the real one. A great stillness comes over them, and they begin to put down roots into the soil ... and soon they join the ancestors in the spirit world, leaving behind bodies that turn into trees. The sacred groves of the tribes are made from the bodies of their departed Elders.