Arangothian Customs and Rituals
In Arangoth, the three major ritual events in a person's life are generally the brakerrat or rite-of-passage ceremony at age thirteen; the marriage ceremony; and the funerary rites. Each of these has a customary form in Arangoth: for example, the Arangothian wedding generally takes place at home, and the participants wear green.
Courtship and Betrothal
Arangothian youths of every social stratum have some say in choosing whom they will marry. Among the peasantry and urban underclass there are no additional restraints; however, among the nobility and mercantile strata, parents exercise some control through their ability to disinherit a child who disobeys their wishes. There are also social constraints associated with personal honor, respectability, and so forth. It is generally frowned upon for an individual to marry outside of his/her social stratum, although merchants and nobles do in fact intermarry fairly regularly. Social norms as to acceptable behavior between the sexes during courtship vary widely both by region and by social stratum. Among the noble and mercantile strata, contact is officially limited to social events at which a considerable degree of supervision is exercised. One practice is for a girl's parents to hire a "tentripin," an older woman charged with chaperoning her, and who is to receive a sum of money on the daughter's successful marriage. While dancing is considered appropriate under such conditions, kissing is most certainly not, much less anything more imaginative.
The "tentripin" is a much-detested figure, and eluding her is a common sport among upper-class youth. Peasants and youths of the urban underclass experience far less supervision and can get away with a great deal more.
Engagements, however initiated, are formalized by an exchange of gifts. The nature of these gifts varies widely; the type considered most appropriate is a locket containing a miniature portrait, but there is a great deal of leeway here. The "engagement ring" as such is not a tradition, and in fact rings are avoided because wearing one implies that one is already married. However, ideally the gift should be something one can carry on one's person. An engagement may not be contracted prior to a youth's Brakerrat or rite of passage, and the wedding itself should not take place within a year of the Brakerrat. Once formalized, an engagement cannot be broken without serious social and legal consequences.
Weddings are generally held on the property of, and at the expense of, the parents of the groom. The most auspicious days for a wedding are deemed to be March 16-17, i.e., the day before and the day of the Bedek Kakebdat, or festival of the First Planting. However, other days will do quite well. The night before the "wedding" there is a small, informal meal, traditionally either of chowder or boiled fish, at which the young couple, their parents, close family friends and the officiating Menxvanic holy man are present. At the close of this meal, the officiator leads the couple into the middle of the room and has them announce before those present their desire to wed each other. They are then separated until the following morning, the idea being that the night should be reserved for contemplation of Menxvan and prayer. In some parts of Northern and Eastern Arangoth, the couple is blindfolded at this point. In the Sresar Vale, there is a somewhat different custom altogether which substitutes for the above: there is a mock "kidnapping" of the bride from her home (or from wherever she is staying) by blood relatives of the groom.
In the morning at sunrise, the bride and groom separately undergo a ceremonial Lathrathrat or purification and eat a traditional breakfast of rice with currant sauce. The morning is spent donning the traditional wedding attire and otherwise preparing for the formal events of the afternoon. Although this attire varies somewhat from region to region, it is always green (not white), this color being associated with prosperity and child-bearing. Some of the more traditional features of Arangothian ceremonial or "dressy" garb are:
For women -- Golden torques and ear-chains; the latter are draped over the top of the ear, and appear to have been a fashion adopted from Rondissian culture at some point in the past.
For men -- Hats with very, very large feather plumes (esp. egret or ostrich) and robes and vests of golden brocade. Also ornamental swords.
Various guests are meanwhile admitted into the tent, hall, or room dedicated to the wedding banquet. Musicians are also invited and begin playing, typically on zither, drum and recorder [or rather, these are our closest equivalents to the actual instruments used]. When all is ready, some noise is sounded (a gong, bell, trumpet, etc.) and the bride and groom appear from different entrances. The officiator has them reconfirm their declarations of the night before (not oaths: merely statements of intent), and then invites them both forward to the center of the place, where he joins their hands. They then respectively say:
"Min an sinterbinet." = May I be your husband.
"Min an sintespenet." = May I be your wife.
The officiator then takes a wide strip of green cloth and wraps it twice around the necks of the couple, each time reciting:
"Minxa an." = May it be so.
While so enwrapped, the couple exchanges rings. These are found of various matals, but the most common design depicts a serpent swallowing its own tail, a recognized symbol of eternity. An elder female relative often places a sugar-cake in the mouths of the bride and groom, in order that their first kiss might be "sweet." Social norms dictate that this should, indeed, be their first kiss.
The event continues with the unwrapping of the strip of green cloth and the congratulations of the guests present. Food is served, and dancing music commences. After the bride and groom have retired, this music is traditionally replaced by playing on kettle-drums, rattles, and shrill horns, the idea being that the sound should be as loud and annoying as possible. The bride is encouraged to step across a sheathed sword before leaving the feast, as it is believed this will result in her bearing warrior children.
When a person dies in Arangoth, or is about to die, he or she undergoes a Lathrathrat or purification and retires or is moved to a sacred location until a burial can be arranged. The body is placed in a coffin painted green (it should be apparent by now that green is a very important symbolic color in Arangoth). The coffin is also frequently adorned with the image of a coiled snake. This is an allusion to the fact that the snake sheds its skin, and is thus "reborn" out of death. The coffin must have a small opening in it somewhere, which is explained as being a hole through which the spirit can escape. Greenery, flowers, and eggs are often included in the coffin as additional symbols of birth and life.
Generally about four days after the death, the coffin is moved to a burial-ground and placed into an opening in the ground. Before the coffin is lowered, a Menxvanic holy man blows once into the spirit-hole in order to symbolize the breath of life. The friends and relatives of the deceased eat a meal at the cemetery in his/her memory and honor. Music is also played while the coffin is being moved, and this is considered very important for relaxing the spirit, which is felt to be unstable during this period. It is considered disrespectful NOT to become intoxicated at the funeral of a close friend or relative.
The universal color of mourning in Arangoth is white, which symbolizes the purity of Menxvan's mercy and the hope that the deceased will find peace in the afterlife.
Birthdays and the Brakerrat
Birthdays are not celebrated as in the "mun" world, and in fact little attention is paid to them, except to note how many times one has been alive on November 4th, the date of the Brakerrat or Rite of Passage. On the Brakerrat of one's 13th year, one officially "comes of age" and becomes an adult. However, it is traditional that one gives a gift to one's mother on one's own birthday, or otherwise shows respect for her (vaguely akin to our own "Mother's Day"). This is more particularly the case the more well-off one is.
On the Brakerrat (from the calendar page): This is an important holiday in the lives of all young Arangothians. The November 4th following an Arangothian boy or girl's thirteenth birthday, he or she is (separately by gender) taken to a secret location and taught the "facts of life." After this rite of passage, the initiate is considered an adult and can address other adults on a first-name basis. The specific ceremonies involved are closely-guarded secrets. The evening following the Brakerrat is the Brakerrat Feast, celebrated conjointly after a day spent segregated by gender. Arangothians have a certain affinity for others who celebrated their Brakerrat in the same year (vaguely like that felt by members of, say, the high school "Class of 1998").
Serputerbi and Serputespin
In Arangoth, same-sex relationships as such were first officially recognized as a way to make a good marriage for a child who had no other good matches availible, or who made the religious declaration of "serputerbi" or "serputespin" (love-man or love-woman) that made them legally unmarragiable to the opposite sex by their own choice and to avoid some unwanted union in desperate cases.
The relationships themselves are largely stigma-free among native Arangothians. The same traditions apply in these cases of the marriage kiss supposedly being the "first kiss" and wealthy families still have to hire the terlispin to watch over their daughters, though more out of a principal of virtue I suppose. That being the case, young gay men have little trouble sneaking off to behave as young men will. The religious declarations of "serputerbi" and "serputespin" go unused in the current day, as parents exercise less control over their children's marriages in this day and age, and the tribal religions upon which they were based have died out except in remote areas. As for marriage, the Menxvanic ritual allows for fleibility in the genders of the participants, with the ritual itself still being the same (torques, sugar cakes and funny hats).
Inheritances and children are the most complicated issue, since any homosexual couple has to seek some sort of adoption, or outside assistance in bearing any children. There is a magical solution that involves fusing collected essences of both parents into a holy vial and speaking sacred prayers or spells upon it for sixty days and nights that results in a child springing forth.. That option is primarily availible to those with money to spare for hefty donations and free time to sit around chanting. Adopted children aren't in much trouble as far as inheritance, except in cases where there is a blood heir (from the magical ritual or extra-marital affairs, acknowledged or not) which can lead to a nasty battle in the courts between the wishes of the parent and the rights of the blood-relative. If a child is born to one member of a same-sex union through surrogate parenting, that child is eligible to directly inherit only that parent's property unless it is adopted by the other parent (and not contested by any blood-children of that other parent). This makes or some interesting legal implications indeed. The first historical records of the precedents for the current traditions lie in the story called "The Sithire Silad's Challenge."
- Although there is not complete agreement on the reason behind the double encirclement, it is sometimes explained as acknowledging the dual nature of the universal dominion of Menxvan and Menxruk.