The zodiac of the Lands of Hope, then, consists of twelve signs, each represented by a constellation or planetary body which rotates through the land’s ecliptic in synchronous movement with the solar months. The moon (Unal), during each month, both waxes and wanes in keeping with this march of the zodiacal constellations, and the various planets also at times touch upon or move through them, producing a nearly endless variety of influences and meanings which can take a lifetime to master. As one simple example, the moons become full at some point during each zodiac sign: this time, called by some the Ides, is usually considered the strongest moment for each sign’s particular strength and influence (though other sages insist the Ides should refer only to the middle of each month). In certain months, the moon is full at mid-month, and all agree this multiplies that sign’s influence: the seas appear to recede at this time, but in fact the land is being drawn somewhat closer to the heavens as a symbol and effect of this influence. By the same token, a new moon will, all things being equal, signify a weakened effect for a particular zodiac; a new moon at Ides can practically cancel a sign’s effect, and the land sinks deeper into the waters as a result.
Calendar of Years and Cycles:
In every year the months are named for the zodiacal creature listed; but in addition each year is named for one of the astronomical signs deemed to be especially important at that time, and this creates a Cycle of twelve years: Sword in Crown is the first year of any cycle, followed by Spirit Circle, and so forth. Each Cycle, in turn, is thought to be influenced by each of the elements, and the cycles bear those names in succession. First the Relational elements go in order, then the Physical and finally the Causal, for a total of 12 cycles of 12 years each. The final year of an Ascendance cycle is called a Ma-Eldar year, and is followed by the Sword in Crown year of the Alliance cycle: the last year of the Convergence cycle is followed by the first year of the Water cycle, and so forth. These twelve 12-year cycles in succession are grouped into a Generation of 144 years in duration. Each Generation is named for one of the Avatars of the zodiac, which is to say, the four animals that govern the heart of each season: therefore, a Generation of the Dolphin is followed by one of the Hawk, Salamander and Lion. These four Generations define an Epoch, and each Epoch is 576 years in length. In the Lands of Hope, the departure of the Heroes for the Utter East occurred in the year 19 ADR by the modern calendar: this was the first year of a new Epoch, the Sixth by calculation of the sages (though the vast majority of those Epochs have little to no history). Thus, the present day (2002 ADR) marks the middle of the Ninth Epoch of time, which began in the year 1747 ADR with a Dolphin Generation: 1891 ADR was the start of the Hawk Generation, within which the Chaos Cycle began in 1999 ADR. Yula I took the throne of the Argensian Empire in the year 2000 ADR, the second (Spirit Circle) year of the Chaos Cycle, in which the establishment of new order was presaged by the year before (Sword in Crown) when the revolution began. The effect of overthrowing the evil dynasty and a spiritual journey for the nation were revealed by the Spirit Circle which ruled that year. The great tumult (as shown in the Chaos of the revolution he began against the evil reign of Viridian XXVII) was also indicated, and the Generation (Hawk, coming close to the heavens and Hope, and a hunter revealing war) was clearly seen. The current year 2002 is a year of the Arbalest, in the Chaos Cycle, Hawk Generation and of the Ninth Epoch.
Zodiac Signs: The Constellations of The Lands of Hope:
The twelve constellations that pass through the world’s ecliptic can be seen to hold the shape of animals (though other races and beings see different figures there). Each month brings the ascent of a different zodiacal constellation, and thus each month draws its name. The arrangement of the months bears a strong relation to that of the physical elements, with three animals for each one. Further, one animal of each allied physical element accompanies an avatar of the ruling element in each season.
Winter, ruled by Water, is bounded by the signs of the Turtle (an Earth creature at home in Water), the Dolphin (an avatar of Water), and the Swan (a creature of Air that rests often on Water’s surface). Turtle begins the season, as the time of Earth has just passed, and Swan presides over its ending, presaging Spring’s influence of Air: only Fire, Water’s enemy, is not represented in Winter.
Spring, ruled by Air, is begun by the sign of the Dragon (a creature of Fire which plays in the sky), centers on the Hawk (Air’s avatar), and concludes under the Serpent (a magical snake native to Water’s surface, and which molts into a winged form in its old age). Note the influence of Chaos in Spring, which has the effect of reversing the adjacencies seen in other seasons: Serpent and Dragon seem inverted in their proper order. Also notice that Earth has no place in Spring, when its enemy Air is ascendant.
Summer, ruled by Fire, is initiated by the sign of the Ferret (an Earth creature unafraid of Fire), ruled by the Salamander (the avatar of Fire), and completed by the Gryphon (a creature of Air that flies closest to the Sun). The inversion instigated by the Serpent (and the Moon) continues: and Water is not represented.
Autumn, ruled by Earth, begins with the sign of the Fire Ant( native of Fire with close ties to Earth), is ruled by the Lion (the avatar of Earth) and finishes with the Raccoon (a Water creature despite its dry home). The advent of Order in this season restores the proper adjacency among the months: the season is heralded by a Fire creature near to Summer, and is ended by a Water creature announcing the Winter ahead. Air is not represented.
To repeat the signs and their elemental influences (bold = the Avatar):
Water = Dolphin, Serpent, Raccoon
Air = Swan, Hawk, Gryphon
Fire = Dragon, Salamander, Fire Ant
Earth = Turtle, Ferret, Lion
Turtle opens the time of Winter, and is appropriately a creature hardy and deliberate enough to withstand both cold and the dominance of Water. The Turtle is nothing if not considerate; his mistakes will be those of missed opportunities, not of haste. A Turtle is dependable and predictable, and can be counted on when the unexpected occurs not to alters its course. A Turtle has a defence among the best in the animal kingdom, and is most aptly suited to dealing with survival: it is hugely uninterested in flights of fancy or new things.
Dolphin is the year’s second month and the prime month of Winter, the avatar of Water creatures. The Dolphin’s ease and playful demeanor are the most evident of all animals, and almost hide its grace and power. Dolphins are strong and resourceful, but never aggressive or needlessly violent. Some believe that human spirits which do not survive death are instead cycled through the Spirit Circle which ascends in this month, to begin a new life as these humor-filled and intelligent lords of the ocean. Dolphins are loving and family-oriented, loyal to their mates for life and capable of grief-suicide if one is lost.
Swan is the third of the Winter months, a creature of Air which is at home on the surface of lakes and rivers. Swans raise their children over a long period, indicating strong family ties. They are angry in defence of what is right, but timid in matters of uncertainty. Swans are comfortable alone, and show poise and grace when on familiar ground. Many believe that the flight of swans presages Death; it is likely that this sign indicates a long journey of some kind, if not the final one.
Dragon is the fourth month of the year and the first month of the Spring season. It is a creature of Fire that plays in the skies: Dragons are among the most powerful of creatures, but prefer subtlety to brute force. Rather than lead, a Dragon manipulates those less educated into doing its bidding. Masters of magical energy, Dragons are among the wisest of creatures, but they tend toward laziness. Dragons love to be praised, and their help is often gained by a sycophancy that is not too obvious; this is appropriate to the time of Alliance among the elements. As long as their plans prosper, Dragons care little for the rest of the world.
Hawk is the fifth month of the year and the prime month of Spring, an avatar among creatures of the Air. Its flight is sure and without effort, and its vision is unequaled among the animals. The Hawk is a loner and a hunter, used to hardship and able to travel far for what it wants. Hawks value their privacy and defend their domain against intrusion.
Serpent is the final month of Spring (the sixth of the year), a Water creature with an aspect of Air. Serpent is an enigma, a magical being that most nearly contradicts itself. Slithering low upon the ground, it can also make its way over the surface of the water: later in life, it molts its final skin to reveal a feathered shape that can traverse the known world in a day. The Serpent is long-lived and very wise, but none can discern its ultimate council. The Serpent is poisonous and a constrictor, itself a contradiction, and it is reviled by all manner of creatures and beings, causing unrest and Chaos, as does this season where tumultuous Spring quickens into Summer. Like the Moon, Serpent is changeable and inconstant to those around it, offering fascination and promise but often delivering something else.
Ferret arrives with the seventh month, and is the first month of Summer, represented by an Earth creature not unknown to Fire. The Ferret, alongside only Man, is unafraid of flames, and this curiosity drives most of its energy. Some think the quick and nimble Ferret is able to understand human tongues, just as Astor influences the season of rapid communication. Fiercely independent and hard to tame, Ferrets are yet capable of learning more than any other creature on four feet. Their difficulty comes in their lack of patience, not of intelligence: the world is so interesting they are likely to move on rather than hold still and study. Their loyalty is hard to win, but once won, impossible to break. Ferrets tend to hoard things that catch their eye (causing a degree of disruption appropriate to the month next to Chaos), and can eat most foods in a pinch.
Salamander is the eighth month of the year and the prime month of Summer, the avatar of Fire, literally bathing in it for its energy. It burns unaffected, and often is unknowing of the effect its flames can have on those nearby. The Salamander is an active, not an intellectual, creature; it is satisfied to be, and has no need to understand. It is short-tempered and decisive, which can be a bad combination of qualities. Its magical nature makes it very independent, yet also impractical—it does not need to eat to survive, for example. Like the love brought by Elosira, the Salamander can be self-absorbed without actually willing harm to others.
Gryphon is the ninth month, the final month of Summer, an Air creature inured to Fire, as it flies nearest of all to the Sun unharmed. From their lofty vantage point, Gryphons are among those best able to see the total picture and to sense the meaning of larger consequences: this makes them very weak on details and impatient of exceptions to the rule. The Gryphon embodies the struggle and energy that is Life in this month. Gryphons fly very high, but not very far; they love their lairs and always return; their habits are deeply ingrained and nearly impossible to change. Gryphons are fierce with those they perceive as intruders, and will fight to the death anyone threatening either home, mate or young.
Fire Ant is the tenth month of the year, and the first month of Autumn. A creature of flame, the Fire Ant makes its home and living under the Earth; it is a symbol of industry and dedication to the common good that is quite appropriate to the harvest season. The Fire Ant is selfless and tireless, and willingly assigns its labor to a group effort, embodying Convergence. By the same token, Fire Ant is unreflective and can be quite inconsiderate, especially to anyone outside the group. Fire Ants are born soldiers, and a swarm of them can overwhelm a much larger creature when they are aroused.
Lion governs the eleventh month, and is the prime month of Autumn, the time of Earth. The Lion is the acknowledged king of beasts, and shows that pride of place. Lions have a strong mix of wisdom, strength and mercy in the pursuit of justice, which qualify them for lordship of the animals. They are natural leaders, and the Lioness is more often in charge than her husband. It is difficult with such proud and powerful creatures to teach anything new: Lions can be stubborn to the point of blindness.
Raccoon is the last month of the year, concluding Autumn. Raccoons, though living on the Earth, are quite familiar with Water, swimming with ease and always washing their food. Raccoons are both curious and intelligent, and can solve problems that stump larger and faster animals. They keep their burrows in perfect tidiness, and even arrange their loot by type. The circles around their eyes and nocturnal habits are well suited to this time of the shortest of days: Raccoons are thought to be immune to fatigue while never overexerting themselves. They are affable to those who show no threat, and capable of deep thought, especially with a puzzle or problem.
Sometimes referred to as the seasons, these symbols demonstrate how the known Elements of the cosmos align with the passage of the years. The easiest to understand are the physical elements which define all matter—Water, Air, Fire and Earth. These rotate in that order through the seasons and stand in opposition to each other in obvious ways (water puts out fire, for example). In some simple Astrological systems and Tarots, these are the only elements discussed. But the learned realize that there are also elements of cause and relationship. The four causal elements, Death, Chaos, Life and Order, are also fixed in rotation and stand in opposition to each other. The four relational elements—Ascendance, Alliance, Balance and Convergence—define the ways in which the first eight elements are most likely to interact in a given season.
The first season, known among the untutored as Winter, partakes most strongly of the physical element of Water; southern nations experience the most rain, and northern climes are often covered in snow. The three months include the Turtle (a creature of Earth quite accustomed to Water), the Dolphin (perhaps the most intelligent creature native to the seas) and the Swan (a creature of Air most at home on the surface of a lake). The emergence of a new generation in winter is signaled by the relational element of Ascendance– during winter and at the start of the new year, it is clearly known which of the Elements, Astronomic Influences and Zodiac signs have precedence. It is a time of Death, not only because of the cold and rain, but because the knowledge of this new arrangement, just produced from Order, means the death of other possible configurations.
The second season, Spring to the commoners, is imbued with the energy of Air as things begin to move again: gentle breezes for some, and strong water-laden storms for others as nature releases the grip of winter unpredictably. The Dragon is a fire-creature well used to flying; the Hawk can fly all day and weather the strongest storms; and the Serpent (much rarer than the common snake) is thought to be at home on the water’s surface and to molt from its usual skin to a feathered form late in life. Spring is symbolized by the relation of Alliance, as new energies begin to gather among the physical and causal elements; forces consciously array themselves and make agreements at this time, as Men often meet to plan upcoming campaigns. Others plant seeds and hope; in spring much is attempted and little is known of the eventual outcome. It is a ripe time for Chaos, but not all that is random is unwelcome: this is the season when winter’s hold on the land is finally broken, though often attended with violence and the unexpected.
In the Summer season, the length of days and the heat of the Sun come closest to the banishment of cold and damp. As the crops ripen, the plans of Men and other creatures are seen in mid-stride, still unknown but moving to fruition. Fire rules, and the months are tinged with it. The rust-furred Ferret does not fear flame as he scurries about the earth; the Salamander shows the essence of life from fire; and the Gryphon, at home in the sky, flies the closest to the Sun of all creatures known without harm. The relation of the elements in summer approaches Balance, as their alliances play out in war and in more subtle fashion; picture the eight elements standing around the edge of a circular platform, balanced in turn upon a sphere. Some beings march to war in summer as their crops ripen, while others pledge their love in summer heat—in either case, fate hangs in the Balance. It is in this supreme risk, as well as in the fields, that Life itself is shown most clearly.
The Autumn season is a time of Earth, shown simply in the harvest of crops and herds. The Fire Ant demonstrates such industry applied to the soil at this time; the Lion is clearly the king of beasts upon the Earth; and the Raccoon lives by the water and washes its food in preparation for the long months of winter ahead. Wars conclude, plans mature, and the fuller meaning of what was begun earlier is now seen. Among the elements, the strangest relationship emerges, that of Convergence, in which connections and similarities unconsciously present are now seen clearly. Opposites attract, apparent paradoxes resolve, and foes who had loved to hate each other are chagrined to see how they were dependent. Picture the elements in pairs and groups, lined up though facing in different directions. From this revealed Convergence grows Order: Men realize the profits from their crops as they move them into storage, herds of animals recognize new leadership for the approaching trial of winter, and fuller understanding comes to the world’s population late in the year, just as it does to individuals later in life.
Astronomic Influences: Each month of the year is “ruled” by a non-zodiac constellation or planetary body, and actions undertaken or noted in those months must take account of this influence. A person taking significant action under a certain astronomic influence will be variously affected by their characters, in somewhat the same way that a zodiac sign can influence an individual born under its auspices.
Sword in Crown is the earliest constellation seen near the northern pole in the year’s first month (Turtle), and remains visible throughout the winter. It speaks to rulership and governance, in keeping with the element of Ascendance and the results of Order just determined. Sword in Crown also indicates a new beginning, of a reign or dynasty or perhaps a new phase in the life of an individual.
Spirit Circle is a remarkably even ring of seven stars most visible in the month of the Dolphin. It is considered a good omen for the use of magic, and while it does have a strong association with Death, it can also presage any kind of drastic conversion, change or elevation in rank. Some believe that Dolphins are the result of the true, final resurrection of human spirits.
Scales are highest in the southern sky during the month of the Swan, and can be seen well into the spring. Associated with justice and final decisions, the Scales are often accompanied by some kind of Death, the element also seen at this time. The Swan is sometimes viewed as a harbinger of drastic change ahead.
The Arbalest, also known as the Archer, Bowman or Hunter, stalks in from the northern regions obliquely during the spring and can be seen at some point above the horizon well into the autumn months. Master of a powerful technique, the Arbalest is a mercenary, and his presence signals the advent of both Alliances and Chaos; his weapon is deadly through the Air.
The Shadow-Twin is a sign as difficult to interpret as it is to recognize. For a brief period near the end of spring, a humanoid-shaped constellation dims near the horizon just enough to make visible another pattern of stars behind it in startlingly similar form. The Shadow-Twin is seen during the peak of Air, signifying great movement, long distances, or even unexpected danger; it presages the month of the greatest Chaos. It can be seen as indicative of a doubling, or second generation of something in the lives of those it influences. The Shadow-Twin is hard to see, and may not be felt until much later (or perhaps too late).
The Moon is regarded as the most changeable of the planetary influences, and fittingly it is out of order with the other orbs in the latter half of the year, as a symbol of the Chaos ruling the last month of spring. The Moon can bestow great wisdom, but can also signal a reversal of the proper or expected order of things.
With the exception of the Moon, the planets which rule the latter half of the astronomical calendar are ranked according to their increasing distance from the Lands, as observed by astronomers (among the ignorant, their distance is assumed to vary directly with brightness, which produces a different order and a heterodox astrology).
Astor governs the start of summer, a time of quickening when the balance of seasons turns finally away from cold winter into the light of life. The speed of this planet’s course indicates its influence over the arrival of news and delivery of messages. Astor signals quick wit, like the Ferret’s near-human understanding of language.
Elosira is ascendant during the time of midsummer, thought by poets to be the season of love. The warmth of this orb also presages abundance and growth; just as hearts grow warm regardless of human convenience, the natural world moves ever toward increasing life whether the effects be good or ill. Love and growth are like Fire itself; in measure they are constructive, but in their unchecked state they are overwhelming. Summer campaigns in war may symbolize the tendency of individuals to fight over lovers.
The Sun is the truest symbol of Life itself, the causal element which governs the end of summer. This giant orb signals centeredness and control over lesser things; it is that around which all moves, yet itself is still. The largest and most intense heat produces Life, from the proper distance.
Areghel has a reddish hue whose visibility at the start of autumn often presages blood; wars reach their final month here, and other plans come to fruition or frustration as well. Areghel brings on merciless Convergence to activity of all kinds, without fail but also without compassion. Of all the zodiac creatures, none more resembles a true soldier in these qualities than the Fire Ant.
Conar is by far the largest of the planets, and holds sway as any earthly ruler under the Sun alone. This month signals the completion of useful activity, the pronouncement of law, and the satisfaction that may come with knowing the entire story—whether of a year, a cycle, or a lifetime. Many things, from leaves, to hibernating creatures, seek the Earth at the time when Conar is most easily visible. The lord of planets is a fit omen for a harvest, whether of a year’s crops or of a plan’s meaning.
Ma-Eldar is the planet governing finality, the end of things (though not necessarily of lives) and the sense made out of a cycle of activity. Order in this month derives from making a record, as many scribes do, of events committed in warmer, more active times. The fullest sense of a story can be seen best from its ending. This is a time for age to have sway, for wisdom to be heard, and for all who are young or inexperienced to hear the tales of their elders, the better to mull them over during the cold months of physical inactivity ahead.