We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence,
but we rather have those because we have acted rightly.
The Net of the Heavens
The Urizen embrace an image of the world they poetically call the Net of the Heavens. It is a metaphor that defines human interaction and history as being made up of “nodes” or “knots” – pivotal people and events that shape everything around them. For actions to be effective they must operate on these nodes, otherwise effort is wasted. By influencing a powerful node, an individual can exert influence over events and individuals they have no personal connection to and produce results out of all proportion to the energy expended. Learning to possess arete and poise are seen as prerequisites for being able to reliably manipulate the Net of the Heavens.
The First Empress is often used as an example by Urizen who wish to explain the Net of the Heavens. She was a pivotal individual whose actions changed the destiny of thousands of other individuals when she was alive and continue to influence people four hundred years after her death. In turn, those influenced by her vision have influenced others, and that influence stretches far beyond the borders of the Empire to impact the entire known world, more or less.
The principle of arete, the idea of excellence in all things, is central to the Urizen way of life. The word means something close to "being the best you can be", or "reaching your highest human potential". It encompasses courage and strength in the face of adversity. Arete is frequently associated with bravery, but more often, with effectiveness. The person of arete is a person of the highest effectiveness; they use all their faculties: strength, bravery, wisdom, and guile, to achieve real results. Arete involves all of the abilities and potentialities available to humans.
Linked to arete is the idea of poise. The Urizen are wary of instinct and emotion, believing that people who allow their passions to move them rather than their higher minds are prone to acting irrationally and ineffectually. To allow the self to be overwhelmed by emotions undermines the basic goals of arete. “When one speaks angrily,” an old saying goes, “only the anger is heard.”
Many Urizen actively disdain uncontrolled public expressions of emotion, and this gives them a reputation for being haughty, cold individuals. In truth they feel their emotions as deeply as any, but they strive to master their emotions and subordinate them to their rational spirit. The Urizen believe that you draw your strength and impetus from your emotions, but the emotions must be controlled for this to be usefully directed.
Rather than subdue or suppress their emotions, poise is the practice of allowing yourself to feel your emotions as deeply as possible yet retain perfect self-control. Practitioners seek to hold themselves in a state of equilibrium so that they channel the strength of their emotions at the perfect moment. A common drill used to develop poise is the “deep breath” – a simple meditative technique where before undertaking any challenging activity the individual takes a breath and holds it while taking a moment to harness their emotions and decide how they will act. When the student breathes out, often explosively, they spring into action.
Anybody can become angry - that is easy,
but to be angry with the right person
and to the right degree and at the right time
and for the right purpose, and in the right way
- that is not within everybody's power.
Privacy and politeness
Urizen place great stock on politeness and good manners. Their nation is a place of competing and sometimes incompatible philosophies. It is also a nation where it is easy to become isolated from your neighbours. As a consequence, a level of assumed respect reduces the likelihood of a misunderstanding souring relations.
Urizen tend to value their privacy, and be very aware of their personal space. Theirs is a mountainous nation, but the spires are built on a larger scale than most Imperial citizens would be familiar with. The citadels, towers, balconies and houses of Urizen often extend a short distance into the stone of the mountain itself, and these galleries are intended to be as airy and open as Urizen engineering can make them. As a consequence, some Urizen suffer from symptoms akin to mild claustrophobia.
This extends to their social lives as well – Urizen generally have a larger “personal space” than other people, and some become uncomfortable if they are pressed together with other people for long periods of time. Even spouses tend to maintain separate apartments, albeit with a shared communal area. Urizen bow to others as a mark of respect rather than shaking hands. A handshake is a greeting between close friends, while a hug or embrace is rare except among lovers, trusted confidants and close family members. Physical intimacies are always offered, rather than forced on someone.
Urizen food tends to be simple, but supplemented by a dazzling array of spices and sauces designed to make a limited palette of foodstuffs raised on the mountainsides more interesting. Most Urizen communities make an effort to attend a communal evening meal, characterised by lively discussion and debate. This expectation that the day will end in a communal meal helps to create a feeling of community and continuity for the Urizen people. Many spires add additional traditions, such as music and poetry, to cement the importance of this “community time.” A religious spire may add prayers before and after the meal, while a martial spire might use regular sparring to “work up an appetite for supper.”
Much of Urizen is hard to cross and physical messengers travel slowly. The nation is united through the use of the Heliopticon – a series of polished bronze mirrors used to send messages across great distances to nearby spires using a simple code of short and long flashes (this is represented by international Morse code). To an outsider the Heliopticon is a technical marvel, but the Urizen appreciate that the true brilliance of the Heliopticon is the cipher of flashes used to send the messages rather than the method used to create them.
With the destruction of the central Heliopticon tower by the Druj during their invasion of Morrow following the Summer Solstice 382YE, the capabilities of the heliopticon were much reduced. The Heliopticon still functioned, albeit barely, but its ability to quickly convey messages across the whole of Urizen was greatly impeded. Messages were slow, and could no longer be routed quickly though a central point rather relying on individual spires to them along. This lead to more miscommunications and garbled messages, greatly reducing its effectiveness.
In Winter 382YE, however, the Imperial Senate voted to commission extensive repairs to the towers, replacing the ruined central towers in Spiral and Morrow, and replacing many of the damaged mirrors. Following the reconstruction work, the Heliopticon was restored to peak function - at least in the three territories still in Imperial hands. More impressively, following a proposal by Portia the Elder, a former Provost of the Halls of Knowledge turned civil servant, the Heliopticon was committed to a new use - the codification of magical rituals. Today, in addition to transporting vital messages between spires, the Heliopticon serves as the backbone of the largest college of magic the Empire - indeed the world - has ever seen. A college composed of all the magicians of Urizen, guided by the unique Doyen of the Spires title.
Most Urizen embrace the idea that this flesh is just a vessel through which the soul happens to be passing on its road to enlightenment. After an individual is dead, the body should be treated with respect but it is fundamentally an empty husk. Bodies are interred with minimal ceremony in quiet mausoleums built on the lower slopes beneath a spire. They are rarely entombed with grave goods or marked with great ornamentation. Influential and inspiring figures are recalled in bas-reliefs and statuary that decorates a spire, but it is a rare Urizen whose biography, journals and collected letters cannot be found in the library at the heart of a spire.
Icons and Artistry
The Urizen have a great appreciation for symbols, rooted in their understanding of the nature of essence. The most common are the constellations (rather than runes or other magical symbols), they are used as decoration throughout the nation, often appearing in visual art, or embroidered onto clothes or banners. The most common symbol for the nation is the Phoenix, generally presented as a brightly coloured fantastical bird. The Mountain, representing ideas of enlightenment, poise, and arete, is another popular image, in part because it is a triangle, and the Urizen love geometric shapes of all sorts.
Stars appear in many Urizen symbols, and a circle of stars is occasionally used to represent the nation. The net and web are both symbols associated with Urizen, often shown with stars at each node, as a symbol of the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. A net is often worn on the head, and it is common for hair to be braided and ornamented with tiny beads or gemstones, again referencing the image of the net.
Every spire in Urizen has a “sigil” that represents the settlement. These tend to be simple images, usually an object on a coloured background. It is very rare for a spire to choose a mundane animal as a symbol; common symbols include musical instruments, tools, implements of magic, mountains, stars and (for citadels) weapons. Spires with a close connection, especially parent and child spires, often have similar sigils.
Many Urizen enjoy poetry, but their work tends to follow strict structural rules such as those found in the sestina, sonnet, or ode. Writers are expected to be technically skilled and are applauded for their clever use of structure and meter. There is a similar aesthetic for sculpture and painting, with pieces that demonstrate mastery of the form considered to be pleasing.