The Night’s Menagerie
Long before Hazlia was molded into the Pantokrator or the Gods of Yggdrasil sheltered the mortals of Mannheim from the predations of the Jotnar, perhaps even before the Spires, Dweghom and lesser primordial Shards conceived humanity as anything but entertaining primates, humanity had pondered about its place in the cosmos. Lightning was feared, fire was worshipped, rain was venerated, and the Sun was adored for its light and warmth. But when the night was clear and the skies dark, the stars were looked upon with awe and wonder, igniting the fledgling race’s imagination and inspiring tales that would endure for thousands of years. Animals, faces and personified powers slowly claimed a place in the night skies and before long the silent skies became as vibrant and full as the world around the first humans. Dominant among them, and consistently appearing in lore across the continent at all times of humanity’s presence, are twelve constellations that follow that circle the world of Eä.
Many modern scholars debate that the true recognition and cataloguing of the celestial menagerie did not really take place until the First Tribe’s evolution. The primary argument is that the Celestial Circle faithfully reflects the early Pantheon of the Old Dominion, with twelve signs mirroring the twelve primary deities of Hazlia’s entourage. This argument however ignores the fact that Hazlia was ever ready to use well-established patterns and beliefs, repurposing them to his own designs. Much like the proverbial chicken and egg, it is impossible to tell if the Circle was conceived after the Pantheon or if the Pantheon was founded to reflect an observed pattern. In fact, plenty of evidence would suggest that the skies had been observed and the movement of celestial bodies understood long before the ascension of the Old Dominion. Many of the proto-tribes that Hazlia’s faithful would come to conquer or assimilate had already placed their own gods in the designs of the night sky, while the consistency and repetition of similar observations can only attest to some distant but common heritage that was reshaped and reimagined as the torch of this knowledge was passed down the generations.
Regardless of the origin, the reality remains that the Celestial Circle (also known as the Night’s Menagerie, the Twelve-of-Skies, the Zodiac Ring and other, similarly poetic names) appears in almost all human civilizations of the continent of Surtoris and Mannheim – and only them. The Dweghom show little interest in the observation of skies, save for navigation during Campaigns, while the Spires dismiss such patterns as superficialities of primates. Even the W’adrhŭn seem to place little interest in them, save for the practical ones that will be explored later, and although the Cult of Famine has many stories to tell about the stars, they do not place as much of an existential significance to them as humans do. For the humans, on the other hand, the Night’s Menagerie is a source of scientific inspiration, occult studies and superstitious beliefs alike.
It is, perhaps, not hard to understand why. There are three Primordial Aspects – Creation, Destruction and Balance – and four elements – Fire, Earth, Water and Air – and Twelve is the number to represent all possible combinations. In fact, simplified versions of the Zodiac’s symbols are often employed by practitioners to symbolize an element and its aspect. Regardless, many modern scholars reject this correlation as fabricated, and indeed Astromancy is widely considered superstitious nonsense by most educated people, however not all agree with this assessment. With the guiding paradigm of “In the Heavens, as it is on Eä,” Astromancy is by many considered a legitimate field of study, one that does not require the Gift and a myriad self-proclaimed Astromancers claim to be able to predict the future and unravel one’s fate through their art, whispering into the ears of farmers and sovereigns alike, more often than the latter would ever care to publicly admit.
Such practices, of course, are readily dismissed by the Chapters themselves; true Astromancy, Chapter Mages claim, exists, it is true. It is the understanding of likely Primordial and Elemental influences, but it cannot in any way actually predict the future, as such distant, celestial influences can easily be overwhelmed by ones much more elusive and much closer to the person or historical time. If a newborn’s soul is to be influenced in the first place, for instance, being born close to a centuries-old cemetery, amidst a raging lighting storm or simply while a violent murder or an embrace of true love is taking place nearby, such events are more likely to achieve said influence than the Menagerie Sign that happens to be dominant at the time. Thus, much like in the Art of Decks and card reading, while academically the Gift is not required to understand its theory, its practice both demands and only truly benefits those with a primeval understanding of such influences, one available only to those sensitive to them through the Gift. Most Chapters in fact do teach Astromancy as a supplementary course, with the Pool of Stillness being considered the best on the field, their teachings however focus on ensuring stable spellcasting despite Primordial influences, rather than on individuals or historical events.
The most common names of the signs, along with their Old Dominion, Nord and City States names, are as follows:
1. The (Fallen) Hammer
Malleus – Mjolnir or Thor-Dropped-It – Sfira. A Hammer falling or crushing on a cluster of stars. Sign of the Crafter, Creational Fire, Faith.
2. The (Rigged) Coins
Nummi – Mimir or Head-Floats-in-Well – Dhikefalos. Two heads mirroring, backs turned to each other. Sign of the Magi, Creational Earth, Science.
3. The (Idle) Scales
Squamae – Farmadr or Lost-Boatman – Aliefs. A set of balanced scales or a boat with open sail (inverted). Sign of the Seer/the Sage, Creational Water, Opinion.
4. The (Sky) Hunter
Venator – Veidimadr or Hunter-in-the-Sky – Kinighos A bowman in the air, string drawn, arrow notched. Sign of the Wanderer, Creational Air, Experience.
5. The (Sun’s) Lion
Leon – Kǫttr or Cat-of-the-Heavens – Pteroforos. A regal winged feline, depicted with a crown or mane. Sign of The Ruler/The Bureaucrat, Balanced Fire, Intellect.
6. The (Embraced) Calf
Pastor – Kálfr or Calf-to-the-Μarket – Zõodhohos. A calf being lifted by two hands embracing it. Sign of the Mother, Creational Earth, Sense
7. The Guard(ing One)
Bellator – Valkyrie or Shieldmaiden – Aspidoforos. A figure clad in armor, shield before it. Sign of the Knight, Balanced Water, Reason.
8. The Eagle (Unchained)
Exemptus – Hræsvelgr or Breaker-of-Chains – Aetos. An Eagle flying away, breaking a chain on its legs. Sign of the Untamed, Balanced Air, Imagination.
9. The (Loving) Doves
Columbae – Hrafni or Kissing Crows – Peristeres. Two doves/birds, necks touching as if embracing. Sign of the Lover, Destructional Fire, Passion.
10. The Wheat (Field)
Pilla – Hveitiakr or Field-of-Wheat – Dhorifori. A field of Wheat or rows of Spears in the sky. Sign of the Soldier/the Everyman, Destructional Earth, Obligation.
11. The (Offered) Lamb
Hostia – Ogledi or Crying-Without-Name – Athoótis. A lamb, head placed on an altar. Sign of the Victim/the Innocent, Destructional Water, Sacrifice.
12. The (Dancing) Peacock
Pavo – Fjadrhamr or Cloak-of-Feathers – Taos. A Peacock’s tail or a man dancing in a feathered cloak. Sign of the Fool/the Trickster, Destructional Air, Ego.
There are endless other constellations, outside of the Circle, that dominate the night skies of Eä, and which have ignited the imagination of nearly all its civilizations. Few remain as consistent or as widely recognized, however, and their study would be more relevant within individual cultural premises. One, however, cannot talk of the skies over Eä without mentioning the Veil, the Wisps and the Gap.
It is a fact known to few save for actual astronomers, that Eä’s sky has, in fact, two layers. One is formed by the distant stars; it is there where the constellations are formed. The other, called the Curtain or Veil, is much closer, formed by debris of the War of the Hosts; it is an extremely thin, spherical layer of fine primordial dust which covers the entirety of the planet. In daytime, the layer is practically invisible, although the proximity to Eä’s sun would have been felt much more were it not for this layer. In nighttime, glimpses of this layer can be seen at random, as spots of the Veil momentarily glitter in the night sky, giving life to what is known as the Wisps, Will-o-Stars, Starflies or a host of other names. If tradition is to be believed, one can surmise that it is by condensing parts of that layer or gathering its biggest pieces, that Hazlia was able to build his Elysium over the world; which, in turn, would later cause the brunt of the destruction of the Fall and, where it not for the interference and sacrifice of Ninuah, would have annihilated all life on Eä. Still, Hazlia’s interference and his subsequent Fall have left a Gap in that layer. It is this which causes the day of Iudica, when the sun’s light seems to burn brighter. The Iudica cannot be predicted save but on the very morning it is happening (and sometimes not even then but closer to noon). When observed, however, all activity stops. Windows are barred, roads are emptied and people move not unless they have to. No matter what one’s beliefs are, the Iudica, even if differently named and explained, is respected and feared. Even the City States hold this day as a bad omen and citizens are urged to stay indoors.