The Ancestors are a fundamental element of dwarven culture and life. Not quite a religion, the dwarven system of belief instead reveres the duality of the Stone and the Ancestors. Ancestors are worthy dwarves who have been properly interred in the Stone – "returned to the Stone" in dwarven parlance – and who therefore function as guides to their descendants, their noble deeds instructing the dwarves who follow them, and their voices heard in the justice meted out in Provings. They are regarded as honored and deeply respected spirits and all dwarves strive to live lives that honor both their Ancestors and the Stone.
Ancestors and the Stone
In dwarven belief, the Ancestors and the Stone are both inextricably linked but quite separate. Dwarves of worth who are returned to the Stone upon death become Ancestors after the words of a ritual are said. The unhonorable and possibly the casteless or surface dwarves are said to be outright rejected by the Stone so that their failings may not weaken her. They are abandoned in desolate caverns for enternity as restless gangue shades or as rock wraith. Neither the Stone nor Ancestors are gods to the dwarves, as dwarves have no gods, but Ancestors could not exist without dwarves being interred in the Stone, and the Stone itself is believed to be the ultimate progenitor of the "Children of the Stone". The Stone is not considered able to intercede in the lives of dwarves in the same way as the Ancestors whose voices and blessings, or lack thereof, are primarily believed to impact dwarves in their day-to-day life.
Ancestors and Paragons
Paragons are dwarves who have achieved a level of success, or completed a task deemed so impossible or glorious, as to be viewed with an unprecedented level of respect, beyond even that of the Ancestors. Unlike Ancestors who become so simply by living worthy lives before their deaths and internment, Paragons must be elected by the Assembly, and a noble house is then formed in their name. Paragons who are nominated while alive are viewed as something akin to a living Ancestor, whose words and actions hold immense weight with the dwarven people. Such "living Ancestors" are very unusual as Paragons are rarely named and are often nominated posthumously, so living Paragons – and consequently living Ancestors – are of immense value.
Voice of the Ancestors
The Ancestors are believed to speak to dwarves predominantly through the outcomes of Proving matches, giving or withholding blessings to combatants in matters of honor, judicial or political matters, even for the succession of rulers. Those who win Provings are considered to possess Valos Atredum, the favor of the Ancestors. Dwarves believe without question that a match cannot be won without the blessing of the Ancestors. In spite of this, matches in the Proving Grounds are sometimes rigged in order to assure favorable outcomes despite this being considered an affront to the Ancestors. This affront is considered so great that for example when the patriarch of the prestigious House Tethras was caught rigging Proving matches the entire noble house was exiled to the surface as punishment.