"Vigorously told deceptions and battle scenes." ~Publishers Weekly review of Eolyn

"The characters are at their best when the events engulfing them are at their worst." ~Publishers Weekly review of High Maga

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Death and Mourning in Eolyn's World

Lear and Cordelia by Ford Maddox Brown
I suppose this seems like an odd topic to write about on a sunny June day, but 2013 has been a year in which death has touched my family in many ways, taking both relatives and friends, in some cases expected, in others not so much. 

As I've mourned these losses, and supported others in their mourning, I've realized that this is one of the many themes relevant to Eolyn's world that I haven't yet touched upon in my blog. Rites and beliefs concerning death are a fundamental part of any culture, so the fantasy author must give some attention to death when building her world, whether or not the rites in question will be a part of the story.

According to the tradition of Moisehén, death entails the passage of the spirit from the living world into another reality called the Afterlife.

The nature of the Afterlife is almost impossible to decipher or understand through the lens of the living.  It is thought to be a place of relative peace, yet of greater challenges.  Spirits that enter the Afterlife gain a larger perspective on the conflicts of the world of the living. If those same spirits are particularly rich in magic, they can, under special circumstances, intervene in the living world.  How and why they do this is not well understood.

In order to reach the Afterlife, a spirit must first pass through the Underworld.  Unlike the Afterlife, the nature of the Underworld is fairly well understood by the people of Moisehén.  This is because on very rare occasions, particularly powerful mages and magas have sent their spirit into the Underworld and returned to the world of the living to tell what they experienced.

The Underworld is a place of constant decay.  Many souls get trapped here, fettered by their own illusions and fears.  Spirits confined to the Underworld are known in Moisehén as the Lost Souls. Eventually, the Lost Souls fade into nothing.  Their slow decay ignites a hunger, of sorts, for the light and magic of souls that have recently been released from their living bodies.  As a result, the Lost Souls prey on spirits attempting to make the journey to the Afterlife, and they can quickly drag others into the same state of decay. 

The rites of death in Moisehén are mainly focused on helping the recently deceased navigate the dangers of the Underworld.   The basic idea is that a bridge can be created between friends/family in the living world and friends/family in the Afterlife. 

At the time of the person's death, certain herbs are burned, such as winter sage. These are believed to help strengthen this bridge.  Loved ones who accompany the dying person will also sing songs of passage, the lyrics and melody of which are crafted to alert helpful spirits in the Afterlife of the pending descent to the Underworld.

Of course, not everyone dies in the company of friends and family, so the rites of passage are adjusted to fit different circumstances.  Warriors, for example, will burn winter sage and sing the songs of passage on the eve of battle, so that the foundations of their bridge are already laid in case they meet their doom in combat.  High Mages accompany every army and cast sacred circles on the edge of the battlefield to help guide the souls of the fallen safely into the Afterlife. 

Death of Elaine by Thomas Hovenden 1882
Despite these precautions, it is understood that an individual who suffers a violent death runs a higher risk of becoming one of the Lost Souls.  For this reason, battlefields and any other site where a soul was torn violently from its body are considered dangerous places where the curtain between the world of the living and the world of the dead is ominously thin.  Mages and magas will often return to battlefields weeks, months, or even years after the conflict to attempt to 'seal' these holes by casting spells and planting new life in the form of trees or wildflowers. 

One of the dangers of the Underworld that I haven't yet talked about are the Naether Demons.  But they are complex enough to deserve their own post, so I'll come back to them later.

The people of Moisehén do not believe there is a god or any other entity that sits at the gates of the Afterlife and decides who is worthy of entering.  Rather, they believe that one builds a bridge to the Afterlife by living well in this world, by establishing positive relationships with others who will sustain one's spirit in the moment of death, and guide one safely into the hereafter.

It is the quality of those relationships -- not the quantity -- and the strength of the magic held within them that matters. Even one person well-loved has the potential to redeem a lifetime of wrong-doings and ensure a safe journey to the other side.