Arcana: The Void

Shown also reversed for symbolism.

The Void, 7th card and Doom of The Cosmos (House of Suns,) sometimes also titled The Abyss, or The Eclipse. The Void is above all cards one of loss, often despair. The Eclipse symbolism sometimes brings in being overshadowed. The ever present Morningstar rivals the sun in this moment of weakness. Though other interpretations say that Vhale shines in the light of Rhan, as the Age of the Sun passes.  Standing, as darkness falls.

Reversed the void is the coming dawn. The passing of the darkness.  The dawn. Overcoming great turmoil. Yet all the more The Void, a simple absence, reversed can be a pit, a hunger, the Maw of the Abyss. Notably the Seven Rivers Styx flow beneath The Void, still flowing out of the sun in shadow.

The geography is not perfect, and the allusion to the seven rivers distracting, but the scene pictured is likely the river flowing out of Barrier Lake in south-western Avrale.  This is worth noting mostly in that it would most clearly indicate a setting sun, beyond the pictured eclipse.

Curiously seven stars are seen above The Void.  These may be the brightest of the Embers of Rhaea, but more traditionally these should be pictured as two sets of six.  Meaning more likely these are stars.  Here Vhale takes the place of the 7th star, placing perfection above, and imperfection bellow.  The Lightbearer perhaps indeed standing in the face of coming night, taking the place of a star, and the sun.

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Arcana: The Sword

Shown also reversed for symbolism.

The Sword, Pinnacle of the Works of Mortals. As so many of the Works it can be a very literal card. Representing war, conflict, strife, and a line in the sand. Yet the symbolism here bares some deeper examination.

Let us first consider the strange position of the Sword as a Pinnacle. One could easily interpret this as a favorable judgement of war, and games of power as the height of human endeavor. Truly many would be more comfortable to see this as the doom of the House of Works, and not its apex. Perhaps this stands as a judgement not of war, but of mortals, and their striving, sometimes injurious ways.

Look deeper however, and more mysteries unfurl. Here we see the words Vhale Etten. A most peculiar combination to a post imperial observer, ignorant the traditional gods. The dragon Mar’etten might be more familiar. Etten having a meaning in ancient Osyrean associated with loyalty. This however brings even more confusion for those only passingly familiar with the tale of the Lightbearer, the Morningstar. A tale often told (particularly in modern times) as betrayal.

It is easy to forget there are many versions of the stories from the age of myths. Indeed here we see Vhale (the shining world of the morning star) and the sun Rhan depicted behind the sword. The Lightbearer was given his title for holding his father’s great power as the sun grew weary.  Such he is also known as the the sun personified. Where tales differ most between lands is the characterization of the motivations of the Morningstar figure, and not the events themselves.

Did Vhale betray his father, and try to keep the great power, or are the tellings of Rhan’s fall the better version?  Is Vhale the sun personified, and it is his own weariness?  Is Vhale the tragic failed patriarch?  These questions aside most lands agree on what follows. Vhale cannot hold the great power for long, and tries to give a portion to his daughter Rhaea. With ease the girl took this power, but Vhale’s fall left her to bare the entire burden. None could hold the whole might of the sun. So it was Rhaea was destroyed, and a great fire burned the skies.

This ends the Rhan creation myth, and begins the Sunless Age of the Moon Civilization.

Here we see that the sword is a card of ambition, and necessity. The call of power, and those who accept its burden. The sword here is buried in the cracked and dry land, an act of cessation, but not surrender. The sword may still be taken up.

Reversed the sword implies most readily then active conflict, powers raised, and wielded with intent, or recklessly. It is disloyalty, and rebellion risen against the powers that be. Here we see the face of the betrayal side of the traditional story.

Lastly let us consider the scorched land. The destruction of war, and the fear of the burning sun. Great power has a call, but too much of anything is ruin. Truly the tale of the sun’s fall shows this clearly. A madness to cast away existence, and embrace eternal slumber. It is such in some tales that Vhale’s loyalty and betrayal are the same. Loyalty to his oath, his role, and the world. Betrayal in not accepting his fathers will. Defiance, and rebellion.

Arcana: The Sun

Shown also reversed for symbolism.

The Sun, pinnacle of The Cosmos (The House of Suns) is one of the more perplexing cards, both historically, and symbolically. The Sun, (in some decks The Aether) depicts both Rhan as the sun itself, and Vhale, The Light-bearer, with a light burning through his heart as the Morningstar.  Here we see the oft forgotten idea that Vhale in not merely the Sunchild, but in some versions also the sun personified.

He stands upon cracked dry soil, with two dark granite monoliths flanking him.  Further evidencing that he is not merely in shadow, but clearly a man of Osyraen description.  His slight figure however makes it clear he is not intended to be King Osir.  A large, monstrously broad shouldered man who did much to distance himself from the myth of the Sunchild through his reign.

The Embers of Rhaea string the sky around the sun, and Vhale’s horned crown. His eye  is etched with a pseudo-magical rune that matches the mark on The Hand. Hence The Eye of Vhale. For it was said he was blinded in one eye (stories vary how,) and forged one anew.  This eye permitted him to see all things touched by sunlight.  These two aspects give him the additional titles of The All Seeing, and The Half Blind God.

From his right hand can be seen flowing waters of life.  From his left the sands of the dessert.  This traditional depiction is often argued as an early understanding the water cycle, and sun’s place in it.  This conflicts with the first recorded description of the process during the late pre-imperial age, as the earliest depiction of predates it by a century or more.

The abstract lines cutting across his body remind us of a title most often recorded in the east, The Lined One.  Any vague resemblance to magic is often ascribed to a later corruption.  Still the name itself is recorded in two surviving etchings from pre-ascension lands.  These predated Maji arrival by at least four centuries, and Osyraen expansion by two.  Official Osyraen records from early occupation report they were greeted in the far east almost as gods, ‘the Umber Ones.’  This is widely questioned as self aggrandizement by Osyraen conquerers.

The counter claim brings us to the inevitable.  It is all but impossible to discuss this card without delving the strange and muddled myths of the Sun Civilization, and for brevity we will minimize mention of the more well known Moon Civilization.

The Sun Civilization hypothesis proposes the origin of the Marker Stones scattered through the world.  Notably the monolithic standing stones of central Osyrae depicted here.  It holds that a great globe spanning society existed before the shamanistic age. Granting credence to The Age of Myths, as a literal time, from which only legends persist.  That all recorded history has been lost from this time, and that all evidence was washed away.

This hypothesis is viewed with great skepticism by most scholars, and the Council holds an official position of neutrality on the claim. Save the stance that far better evidence is needed to hold up to academic rigor. Particularly any dire interpretations of “the scorched wastes,” as the consequence of Vhale’s fall.  Such ideas nonetheless persist, and Vhale has been portrayed as a King, an Emperor, a God, and a Betrayer.  His name given to children even into modern times in lands that hold more favorable views.  Prince Vale, later The Black Emperor of Osyrae, was named for him.  Vhale’s starting of the dragon war has more modernly swayed the popular perception towards the idea of the Betrayer.

Yet even what remains of the Sun Civilization myths drowns before recorded history, and other myths.  For perspective most of the age of myths are dominated by “The Sunless Age,” and contain more widely known oral traditions around Yaune, Laeune, Lycos, and Lynx. These comprise the Moon Civilization mythos.  For which there is more material evidence.  Particularly in Napir.  Though the Storm Queens have long guarded their great library jealously, and it is difficult to date the actual age of the Throne of Storms.  The vast majority agree that it did stand at least several centuries before the Maji arrival, whatever Napiraen claims may be.

The Sun is a card of terrible power, and responsibility. A card of kings and firstborn. Yet heavy hangs the head that wears the crown.  Great power may create or destroy.  As symbolized from the water from his right hand, and sand from the left.  Some hold that the shading towards the bottom of the card is not merely the breaking dawn (or setting sun) across the land, but the return of life, or the ocean’s edge.  Some versions as such instead depict the ocean shore at his feet.  Some also show the seven rivers branching from his right hand.

Reversed it is a card of critical failure.  Collapse. Of strife, betrayal, or a loss of self. This is commonly obscured in the ‘betrayal’ interpretation of the myths.  For it can be said that if one is the sun personified, and betrays the sun, one has betrayed themselves.  “The betrayal of the soul’s light,” it is written in Clarion proverb.  Reversal also places the ruin of power, and the idea of the scorched wastes, above the glory of the sun. The cost ascendant, or greatness a worrisome specter seen from bellow.  It can speak to another taking your place, or holding sway over you.  For the betrayal of the Morningstar was to try to take the Sun’s place in the cosmos.  His loyalty was to bear the great burden his father Rhan no-longer could.

The Sun is a card of creation and destruction. Of rebirth and final oblivion. A card of strife, and rivalry.  Of ascension, and the fall of the ambitious.  A card in conflict with itself.  If the dooms are oft misunderstood as mere bad omens, The Sun is a mark of fortune, that should bring caution. For from the Pinnacle of Pinnacles, there may only be down.

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Arcana: The Hand

Shown also reversed for symbolism.

The Hand, Pinnacle of The Lower Court (House of Peasants.) The card of Seers and prophecy by most tradition.  This card can be seen as an oddly literal interpretation of the esoteric: To see is to change.  To change is to see. A popular expression in mystical circles, but also surviving sin Clarion Proverb.

The hand is a card of action, and decisive choices. It is a card of schemes, and plans. Works, and follies. Ambitions, and doubt. Reversed this is a card of due caution, and observation. To see, before one acts.  To plan, and to consider.

It is most curious in some circles that the Eye is the mark of the Lower Court. The symbolism of a reversed Pinnacle taking precedence is a unique feature of the House.

The symbol itself has a curious history. Though the Eye of Vashiel nearly vanished from Ascension lands in the later pre-imperial period, Osyrean records attest to the symbol as a Pre-Ascension witch symbol, popular among seers in and around The City of the Sun. Though some claim that the symbol originates in north eastern Osyrae among desert nomads.

This is taken as further evidence of the elemental entity known as the Lady of the Sands, or Vashiel.  By claiming that both origins are true, and share the common root.

Another aspect often attributed to the Hand is that of gifted sight. Which is felt in the body, and seen in the mind, not with the eyes. This again echoes the idea of touching things, to see them. Changing them to know them.

It also accepts the innate flaw of all precognitive practice.  That by knowing the future we invariably change it.  Be it in confidence or doubt, misinterpretation or clearsighted understanding.  The covered face obscures the eyes.  What we saw may change by the time we see it again.

Traditionally it for the hand of the artist to be depicted in the image.


Arcana: Overview

The Arcana are a topic of much debate in learned circles.  Rational minds tell us that a deck of 49 painted, named, and numbered cards, shuffled and drawn, cannot reasonably predict our future or present.  Indeed there is a great degree of verifiable randomness in the process.  Yet extensive studies with known criteria have historically shown a probability defying frequency of literal interpretation alignment between knowable future events, and cards, both in their conventional, and inverted positions.

From this several interesting things derive:

Arcanists.  These are practitioners devoted first to a mystical practice, and secondly to rational exploration of this ideology.  The Arcana are chief amongst these, and lends its name more broadly to a class of functional but poorly understood practices.  Particularly those of an expressly religious nature.  Commonly used to describe a devoted Clarion or Lycian healer who also practices magic.

Arcana Cult.  A broader term for a collection of actions taken, without understanding why or what parts of the process work.  Areas of fraught analytical endeavor.  Druidic and Shamanistic practices are categorized as such by scholars.

Arcane† Magic.  Is sometimes applied to the whole of Mage practices.  As so much convention and tradition weight the practice under almost mystical dogmatic patterns, when there is little evidence that these are entirely beneficial.  Save to avoid mistakes already made.

Card List:

House of Suns TheSun_Single.png NoCard.png NoCard.png NoCard.png FallenStar_Single NoCard.png Void_Single.png
House of Nobles NoCard.png NoCard.png NoCard.png NoCard.png NoCard.png Lovers NoCard.png
House of Peasants HandSingle.png NoCard.png NoCard.png NoCard.png NoCard.png NoCard.png NoCard.png
House of Works TheSword_Single.png NoCard.png Tower_Single NoCard.png NoCard.png NoCard.png NoCard.png
House of Beasts NoCard.png NoCard.png NoCard.png NoCard.png NoCard.png NoCard.png NoCard.png
House of Paths NoCard.png NoCard.png NoCard.png NoCard.png NoCard.png TheCrown_Single.png SevenRivers_Single.png
House of Seasons NoCard.png NoCard.png NoCard.png NoCard.png NoCard.png NoCard.png NoCard.png
Try clicking on a card for more information.  Work in progress.

† In the original Palentian sense ‘Arcune’ would literally be a deep inward, or concave shape.  The etymology appears to be convergent with arc, cave, and cove, as well others.  It appears to have distantly referred to a pouch or box, but by the time of the Maji arrival had come also imply a hidden place.  Aen on the other hand in some Pre-Ascension dialects appears to have meant to close, or shut.  As such the modern Arcane has a likely transitional sense of, “a very closed box.”

Functional Investigation:

One of the more studied aspects of the Arcana is that each card in enchanted, not simply for durability, but through a ritual process producing identifiable differences in each card.  Examination of the process, enchantment, and ritual shows sequential patterns, than align well with traditional groupings of cards into sets of seven.  This also means that a seer practiced enough with their cards can easily identify what a card is, before it is revealed.  Many advanced seers hold that one places the cards not as they are drawn, but as they belong.  That in sorting the random, one finds the pattern.  That when the noise is filtered out, the words spoken are clear.

Even as this stands, the literal order shows statistical significance.  Here it is presumed that something poorly understood in the enchantment variations is interacting with an unknown force.  That some form of probable connection can be drawn between this force, and how the cards shuffle.  Some have even tried to imply that the patterns are closely related to the structure of Storm Monk practices.  That perhaps the cards do not shuffle as they are drawn at all, but that until they are seen, exist in an indeterminate state.  The right stack finding the seer’s hand from their interpretation of what they have already subconsciously seen.  Pulling meaning from their own gift.  This is often promoted along side the mnemonic device theory of prophetic verse.  That it is a tool to interpret what the seer has already seen, to draw forth precognitive memory.

One of the stranger theories put forth (with scarce evidence) is that highly skilled seers can some how manipulate what card is atop the stack.  Slight of hand, even has been suggested to explain some seer’s knack for delivering the card they want.  Though statistical aberrations remain prevalent even in controlled circumstances.

Playing Fates:

Older than the Arcana was The Game of Fates, originally a three suit betting game.  Legend would place the game as having come from the City of the Sun, modernly the High City, and capitol of the Clarion Ascension.  In its earliest forms it was played with etched stones, but they were both inconvenient, and too identifiable.

The game had been a popular vice in many impoverished areas of the city, and even spread to some wealthy circles, skipping over most of the middle classes.  It was after the game was brought before the Principality of the city that the game was highly popularized with a commission to produce painted cards for play, and to add four to the original three sets for larger games.

What is most interesting is the singular record of the introduction of the game at court.  Found only in the Osyraen Royal Library, in the original hand of the court herald of the City of the Sun, 563 B.E.  This account implies that the predictive practice extended back to the Three Fates version of twenty one cards, and a beggar who was a seer in disguise had placed himself before the Principality through clever manipulation of the guard.

In gaming this history gives us The Three Fates, and The Seven Rivers groupings of the game.  Depending on the houses used.

Each share a common core of desirable hands, and scoring rules.

The Ace or Pinnacle is the highest value card in each house, unless Dooms are High is set as a condition of play.  Precise hands vary by given numbers of cards in the game.

Pairs, Sets, Runs, and Houses

Most of these are obvious, but there are some quirks  A set in the number it shows, trumps a same sized set of higher value.  This means that a pair of twos trumps a pair of aces, and a trio of threes can beat four fives in a Seven Rivers game.  A House to be specific is a hand comprised only of one House of cards, and any house is then sorted by its content, and runs.  The top run however is not in a four card hand 4 5 6 7, but 5 6 7 1.  A High House, or Royal House.  This is the Ace, Monarch, Consort, and Knight.

The ordering of the houses otherwise determine between otherwise equal houses, and is bellow.  Giving the final quirk that a set in both the number and the house trumps any run.

  1. (1) House of Suns
  2. House of Nobles
  3. House of Peasants
  4. (2) House of Works
  5. House of Beasts
  6. House of Paths
  7. (3) House of Seasons (Elements)

Here we see a traditional ordering associated with the mysticism of The Three Fates.  The houses are arranged by volatility and permanence.  The stability, and long arc of the cosmos, through the energetic forces of the elements.  Though when looks closely enough, the stars do change, and the elements obey laws.

It is notable that iconography varies between many Three Fates and Seven Rivers card sets.  Drawing variable amounts of inspiration from seer decks.  Notably the iconography of  the Paths and Seasons gets blended into the House of Elements.

The playing cards are never enchanted for anything but durability, but the enchantments may decay over time in recognizable ways.  For competitive play un-enchanted cards are used to insure fair play.

It would technically be possible to play the game with a seer deck that had not been enchanted, though some of the terms might be confusing.  Seers do in fact play a version of this game, but given they can identify the cards from the back, the actual gambles are stranger.  Any hand can win, if they can spin the right tale.  This does mean that the game requires three extra judges (who do not have to be gifted.)  This particular game is considered the most crass by many seers.

Common Rule Variants:

Three Fates:

Standard Betting: Ante, then Call or Raise until two players remain, then either may Call.

Peasant: – Start with two cards, discard as you please, with each draw up to two or three.
Royal: – Four Card Hands, standard bets
Imperial: Five Card Hands, standard bets
Three Card River: Three card hands, with each round a card is turned from the deck, until three are revealed.  Then all remaining players must Call or Fold.
Storms Wild: The Monarch of Elements represents any card of the holders choosing.

Seven Rivers:

Royal: Four Card Hands, standard bets
Imperial: Five Card Hands, standard bets
Veil: Four Card Hands, after round of bets each player reveals a card
Four Card River: Four card hands, with each round a card is turned from the deck, until seven are revealed, or all fold.  On the seventh card all must be revealed.
Four Card  Thief: On the final Call the Jack of Peasants may be exchanged for any card revealed.  This means that the Noble House of Peasants is the top hand.
Called Coin: The holder of the Pinnacle of Paths my toss a coin rather than Call, and defer any bet for the round.  If it is tails the coin goes to the pot as a bet, if it’s heads they give the coin to an opponent, and take one of their cards blind.

Ascension Counts:

Little is known of the practice of Ascension counts as so many old documents were burned or destroyed during the Ascension purges.  It is for this exact reason they are known as Ascension Counts, as several other terms can be found in surviving documents, but none are considered clearly authoritative.  They are also sometimes called Clarion Counts.

The Numbers:

  1. I
  2. II
  3. III
  4. IV
  5. V
  6. VI
  7. VII
  8. S
  9. SI
  10. SII
  11. SII
  12. SIII
  13. SIV
  14. SV
  15. SVI

The introduction of the S at 8 is interesting, and there is some surviving evidence in Clarion writings that were not purged that the 8th, that in excess of the 7th, is the boundless, and the origin of the Rune ∞, used by convention for aether uptake, while the Rune S is used signify entropic focus.

The S is almost ignored in all relation to Arcana or Playing Fates, except a modern tradition out of Mordove manufacture that marks the Ace as $ signifying a union of 1 and 8.  Some argue this makes the card 9, which is supported by some clarion writings that indicate:

The SI should be written $.  It is III of III.  Boundless be the numbers beyond VII.

Otherwise uninformative in a modern context this rare line indicates a marking tradition that would conflict with the modern use.  Further Ascension counts do not contain a Zero, as found in the more prevalent Osyraen number system.  The crossed ϴ is magical notation typically represents equilibrium, balance, and cancelation (sometimes instead written ø for distinction.)  In ancient Osyraen notation this was used also for equality, with the parallel line notation being derived some time after the Maji passed through Napir.

Commentary I:15

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The Great Shuffle†

In the in the commentary on one awkwardly short chapter, I mentioned having re-arranged some of Book I. Here we have one of the donor chapters, or conversely a very large donation from Fools & Errands.  There were a bunch of events that were not overly dependent on order to make sense.  I arranged them originally in a more organic fashion, but received feedback from a beta reader that i was jumping around too much in a chapter.

So I took it all, and shuffled it for better comprehension, even if the real world would likely not be so orderly about the sequence.  The end of the chapter, the description of the Arcana was a ‘musing’ that I had written some time before as I continued to noodle around bringing this aspect into the world.

Seers, and prophecy are a huge part of this world, and though I don’t like every traditional tack-on, I admit a weakness for the symbolism, structure, and methodology of reading cards.  Associating random occurrence with random occurrence, and implying neither is random at all.  It’s fun, and its found a fairly sensible place in my world.  Patterns emerging at times, but also using them just as a tool.  Not an answer, but a lens to examine your answers through.

This also had the interesting effect of letting me hit a nail on the head.  A lingering hinted at aspect that should be worrisome.  Yet I think I’ll permit the reader to infer what.  We will hear some of this language again though.

The whole topic of what were once called chimera (I dropped the term for many reasons) or shaped creatures nearly missed the first draft.  Then on a whim, very early on (before I even finished the original combined I & II) I decided to throw this nod into the story.  A throw back to a long tradition of being, ‘the little black kitten at the end of the universe,’ as an online persona.  Mar – let me assure you – is mostly just a kitten.  Largely, functionally indistinguishable.  Everything else is just glorified glorification.

I’ve argued with myself a number of times about the decision, but I think I may have come to reasonable peace with it, mostly by making it a little more ridiculous.  No, really, trust me, he’s mostly just a kitten.  Why are you looking at me like you doubt my definition of mostly.  I am one hundred percent serious.  Mostly.

†I literally totally did not intend this pun, but by the fates I’m keeping it.

Arcana: The Fallen Star

Shown also Reversed for symbolism.

Fifth card in The House of Suns (aka The Cosmos,) The Fallen Star is a card of ephemeral grandeur, temporary prominence, and the passing of what we thought enduring.  This card is curious amongst the invariable Cosmos, The Fate of Stars, for it shows their grand illusion for the facade it is.

It is often a card of sorrow, and loss, and yet a bright flare of hope in an ageless world.  All we have is a glimmer, all we know passes.  It is as implied among its siblings one of the greatest cards of Illusion, and foolish presumptions.  It shows that little is as we perceive it.  The Fallen Star is not a star at all, but for a moment outshines many.  The stars we think permanent change.  Our understanding, and perspective changes.  That which is enduring most often is also cyclical.

Reversed this card is the Comet, and the ephemeral becomes no more than what waxes and wanes.  Repetitions, and returns.  A card of ascendance, with an implied warning, as a new light in the sky, chases the sun.  Yet the price of such a rise, is well known.  None have ever taken the sky’s throne.

Here we see an odd arrangement of constellations not found together in the night sky.  The Vessel (aka Traveler) The Ladle, and The Scythe.  One looks not to the prominence of stars however, but to what thoughts drove mortals to see such images in the sky.

Before 200 B.E. The Scythe constellation would first rise above the equator on the first evening of Anumn, during the festival of harvests in Anderhale.  This event drifted twenty days later over the next four hundred years, but has come nearly full circle back in the intervening centuries.

Below this we find The Ladle, half a sky out of position.  The constellation Supper Minora appears after sunset for a few hours in latitudes north of the Sea of Helm.  It is more visible in the summer.  The Southern Ladle conversely is only visible north of Napir during late winter.  It is larger, and has two more stars in the handle.  Similarly though it is an evening constellation, and so it is popular in many lands to say:

“When stars a ruddy cooling sky stir, and twinkle doth the handle shine, tis then a right and proper time, for all good children to dine.”

Children’s Rhyme, possibly pre-imperial Napirees, or Thebian.

Lastly, and even more dramatically out of position The Vessel, or Traveler is a constellation never seen bellow the latitude of the North Sea.  Here again harkening to the Comet interpretation of the card.  “What travels returns.  All that rises falls.”

In addition to The Scythe, The Tower clearly makes an appearance here as well.  The mortal folly of standing against the inevitable, and yet, it stands.  We have only our determination to endure.

Most interpret these details as all maters of cycles, and returns.  Both that which is earned, and that which meets the worthy, innocent, and cruel in certain measure.  As many cards of The Cosmos.  The Fallen star is the certain of variability, and the variability in the certain.  From the meal we must all eat to live, to the wages of life being death, and what goes around comes around.  To the wanderlust that drives us out to seek a grander place.  To prognosticate, and write our little fates in the stars.

This brings a final interpretation, with the card reversed.  The Traveler Returns.  What is wayward and wandering, comes back to where it began.  Just as the procession of the stars have nearly brought the Scythe full circle.