Symbols of the Way
The Way of Virtue
The Way of Virtue has several symbols to represent it across the Empire, but there are two that are widely used by the Imperial Synod, and priests of the Way may have items or regalia marked by such symbols.
- The Seven-Spoked Wheel – The wheel is a symbol of the journey that each spirit must make and each of the spokes represents one of the Virtues all of which converge on a single point, that of rebirth.
- The Labyrinth of Ages – The Labyrinth is depicted in a number of ways, but usually within a circle. Most designs favour seven co-centric circles or other elements to represent the seven virtues. Some symbols represent a labyrinth with only one path through from the outside to the centre, while others favour a labyrinth with multiple routes, depending on the attitude of the artist to the virtues.
As the Way is concerned with the journey of the spirit from birth-to-death-to-rebirth, some priests and pilgrims carry or adorn themselves with items and regalia of travel.
The Paths of Virtue
There are a great many symbols associated with the individual Virtues, and no exhaustive or definitive list exists. Many are drawn from well-known stories or parables about the virtue, while others are associated with long-held traditions such as the bird imagery of Wintermark, the virtuous animals of Varushka, or even the magical runes said to have an association with each virtue.
One of the most common symbols of Ambition used in the Empire is flame. This is not only symbolic of the quest Tian undertook to steal the fire of the sun, but fire possesses many of the qualities of purest ambition. It is ever hungry and never satisfied, for the moment it is satisfied, it dies. Some pilgrims of Ambition even go as far as to burn a brand on their arm or hand in recognition of the price Tian paid or as a reminder of how dangerous Ambition can be.
In Wintermark, ambition is often signified by a rook, while in Varushka the virtue is associated with the cunning fox, and (in recent times) the wily hare. The rune Naeve, which represents hunger, is used by some magicians as a symbol of Ambition.
For obvious reasons the throne is a common symbol associated with ambition - indeed the physical throne that stands in the Imperial Senate is sometimes seen as one of the most profound symbols of ambition in the Empire representing as it does the most potent Imperial title. For similar reasons, a crown (along with other regalia of high office) is sometimes used as a symbol of ambition in Dawn. This image no doubt originated as a reference to the old monarchs of that nation, and later the actual Imperial crown worn by every Throne since the foundation of the Empire.
The mountain is also sometimes used as a symbol of ambition, or rather of the obstacles one must overcome to achieve one's goals. Tian climbs a mountain, after all, in her pursuit of fire. In Urizen the astronomantic constellation of the Mountain is sometimes used as an icon of ambition representing as it does the universal law that things are not easy. In a similar vein, in some parts of the League, the ladder is used as a slightly tongue-in-cheek icon of ambition, most likely having its roots in the rambunctious street-dramas of Tassato and Sarvos.
During the Spring festival celebrated in Urizen, Ambition is represented by a purple flower.
Common symbols of Courage across the Empire are those associated with the iconic tools or weapons of favoured paragons and exemplars. One of the most common and prevalent is the axe. This is symbolic of the axe created by Korl as both a weapon and a tool with which to tame the wilderness and overcome obstacles. Axes and hatchets are popular weapons among priests and pilgrims dedicated to the path of Courage for this reason. The hammer, the iconic weapon of Inga Tarn is likewise favoured as a weapon by pilgrims, and is especially popular among those dedicated to Courage in the southern Empire especially the Marches - a common saying is that a pilgrim in the south is much more likely to encounter problems that can be solved with a hammer than with an axe.
In Wintermark, courage is often signified by a jackdaw, while in Varushka the virtue is associated with the strength of the boar and the bear. Jotra, the Rune of Battle which represents challenges to be overcome, is used by some magicians as a symbol of Courage.
Those who take a less martial approach to the virtue use the Blue Rose as a symbol, in honour of Gilda Ashwine. During the Spring flower festival celebrated by the urizen by contrast, crimson and scarlet blossoms are associated with this virtue, perhaps representing shed blood.
The Path of Loyalty has many symbols across the Empire, but one of the more common is a chain. This symbolises not only the humble origins of the earliest paragon as a slave, but is composed of single links given length, strength and purpose by being inextricably linked to others. Along similar lines, a rope of many strands is a common symbol. Some priests and pilgrims dedicated to this path wear chains around their necks, or either a chain or rope around their waist indicating their ties. Although the exact description of the slave tattoos of the Marked is lost to time, several priests and pilgrims will be tattooed, often with some reference – obvious, oblique or symbolic – to that which holds their Loyalty.
The chain and the rope are sometimes a matter of contention for the Preachers of the Imperial Orcs, being too closely representative of the slavery they and their ancestors endured at the hands of the Empire. Some have adopted the horse (especially the horse skull) to represent Loyalty, while others favour the clasped hands (a common expression of respect between individuals).
In the League, the ring is a strong symbol of Loyalty, tied inextricably as it is to both custom and hearth magic. indeed gifts of rings have become a powerful symbol of Loyalty throughout the Empire, and are often used as part of a ceremony where someone undertakes an obligation for another, or as a part of marriage vows. Interlinked rings - usually two but sometimes three (especially in Wintermark and the Brass Coast), or seven - represent bonds between individuals in a similar fashion.
In Navarr, thorns are sometimes used as a symbol of Loyalty, and the blood they shed is seen as a reminder of the price of sacrifice (an idea that many Navarr consider to be closely tied to the virtue as well as to their own nation's history). Thorny briars are a common feature of the tattoos used to mark oaths.
In Wintermark, the hawk and the falcon are symbols of Loyalty, while in Varushka the virtue is associated with the hound. Some magicians use the rune Lann, which represents equitable bargains, to symbolise Loyalty.
Some Urizen point to the astronomantic constellations of the Chain and the Three Sisters as manifestations of this virtue - albeit with different, nuanced interpretations. During their Spring festival, they represent Loyalty with blue flowers.
Priests of Pride teach that the best symbol of the virtue is the open display of whatever it is that the pilgrim is most proud of. The flag and the banner are ways of displaying such symbols, as is the livery of a Marcher household, or the heraldry of a noble or Noble house in Dawn.
As a more unified symbol of the virtue itself, rather than of the individual's personal Pride, the Imperial Synod often favours the sun. The sun shines brightly, without shame, open for all the world to see. By so doing, it allows others to see as well - and while it may occasionally be occluded by clouds, when the clouds pass the sun's light is undiminished.
In Wintermark, the eagle, the heron, and the swan all symbolise Pride. The eagle is also a popular symbol of the virtue in Varushka where it is joined by the deer. Some magicians use the rune of Majesty, Feresh, which represents glorious splendour, to symbolise Pride. These magicians point to the way that Feresh only enhances attributes that are already present as a particularly telling parable about the nature of Pride.
During their Spring festival, the Urizen represent the virtue of Pride with pink blossoms.
There are a great many symbols of Prosperity across the Empire but one of the most common is the wheatsheaf. Strongly symbolic of harvest time, it represents both the hard work that has gone into ploughing, sowing, and tending the field and the reward for that labour. Priests and pilgrims of this path often have a stalk of wheat or other grain upon them. There are a number of other popular symbols along the same lines, associated with different harvests and different forms of work - the apple, the grape, the fishing net, the wagon, and the merchant ship for example.
Likewise, the coin is a popular representation of Prosperity - sometimes an Imperial crown, sometimes a gold or silver coin stamped with another symbol of prosperity of some sort. As a symbol the coin has grown with prominence through the Empire's history, and is very popular with those whose hard work involves trade or the practice of a profession rather than manual labour. By a similar token a set of artisan's tools are sometimes used as a symbol of the virtue - and in the Marches, a spade or a shovel may stand as a slightly tongue-in-cheek symbol of Prosperity. Another popular symbol in the Marches is the handshake, often used to seal an agreement that will bring Prosperity to both parties.
The cup (along with the wineskin and the waterskin) has a long tradition of being associated with Prosperity. Sometimes it is a cup of water used to quench thirst brought on by hard work, sometimes it is a cup of wine or beer drunk as a reward for a job well done. It is quite common for priests and pilgrims of the Path of Prosperity to carry waterskins, or bear fruit or other food, to enjoy or share as virtue guides them.
A less common symbol of Prosperity is the stout club or cudgel. Possibly a reference to Good Walder, it represents the will to defend what one has earned against the greedy. In some old versions of this symbol, the club is wound with ivy or with thorned berry-bearing briars.
In Wintermark Prosperity is symbolised by the magpie, while in Varushka the virtue is demonstrated by the industrious bee. Some magicians use the rune of Wealth, Pallas, which is said to represent an apple tree, as a symbol of Prosperity.
During their Spring festival, the Urizen use yellow or golden flowers to represent Prosperity.
The tower is a common symbol of Vigilance, representing the ancient works of the Sentinel. The watchtower allows one to see great distances and prepare for coming threats, while a fortified tower or a castle allow one to protect that which is precious. Along similar lines, other tools of warding and warning are common symbols of the path, especially the bell, the barred gate, and the beacon. Priests and pilgrims of the Path of Vigilance will often carry a bell or whistle for precisely the purpose of alerting others to danger they have identified. A lantern is another popular symbol of Vigilance, as is the candle - both can be used to provide aid in dark places and to signal warnings to others.
Mystically inclined Urizen favour the unblinking eye (an eye without lids). The eye has a great deal of hearth magic significance, and is often painted onto surfaces such as gates, doors, and the base of heliopticon towers as a reminder of the need to stay alert. During their Spring festival, they represent Vigilance with green flowers or sometimes wreaths of green leaves. The image of the unblinking eye can also be seen in the basilisk, a common symbol for unsleeping Vigilance among the Highborn.
In Varushka, eyes or grim faces are often carved into lintels or trees to keep watch over a vale; there are several stories of warnings being delivered in dreams to those who sleep in a house guarded by these peculiar icons. A similar role is played by the scarecrow (and to a degree the traditional poppet) in the Marches.
The spear also stands as a symbol of Vigilance, especially among the Navarr where it has strong connotations of protecting against outside threats.
Among the people of Wintermark Vigilance is represented by the loud jay and by the goose. The goose is also used as a symbol of the virtue in Varushka, alongside the wise spider. The spider also serves as a symbol of Vigilance among some covert sects in Urizen, specifically as the astronomantic constellation of the same name. The law of the Spider - things are watched by a hidden eye - is both a statement of the need to be constantly alert for danger and a reminder that others are always watching. Some magicians use the rune of Revelation, Ophis, as a symbol of vigilance.
One of the most widely accepted symbols of Wisdom is the scale, used to weigh and measure the world. Other tools of measurement, evaluating, and recording knowledge are also popular including the abacus, the quill, and the rolled scroll.
Things that create light and illumination are also popular icons of Wisdom, and there is some crossover with the symbols of vigilance in this regard but the meaning tends to be subtly different. The lantern, the candle, and the torch allow the virtuous to see clearly, and to understand things as they actually are, as well as to provide the opportunity to take action (such as when Isenbrad used a lantern to illuminate the cave in which he carved his runic secrets). Many priests and pilgrims of the Path of Wisdom often carry sources of light or the means to provide such, along with the means to record such knowledge and wisdom that they encounter.
Before the formation of the Imperial Synod, Wisdom was often represented by animals of one type or another, perhaps in recognition of the mastery of animals practiced by Zoria. The early Synod discouraged this practice; especially among the Highborn it was argued that beasts are inferior to humans - although understandably this attitude did not sit well with the people of Wintermark or Varushka who largely ignored it.
The raven symbolises wisdom in Wintermark, while in Varushka they prefer the squirrel and the vigilant spider. Unsurprisingly perhaps some magicians use the rune Irremais, which represents a certain kind of wisdom.
During their Spring festival, the Urizen represent Wisdom with white or silver flowers.