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Animal Symbolism and the Arcana

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  • Animal Symbolism and the Arcana

    I'd like to populate some Atlantean ruins with recurring iconography, wherein images and motifs of specific animals are used to represent the ten Arcana, and apart from doing some brainstorming out in the open, I wanted to solicit ideas from others that may not have occurred to me. The goal is to imply the existence of some past civilization or group who conceptualized the categories of magic less as abstract groupings and more as instantiated forces within the world itself, and so incorporated certain symbols into their artwork and structures to invoke their workings (obviously a reference to the Sundered World, but I don't want to necessarily tie these symbols to the Pangaeans). Here are my ideas so far:

    Death: Scavenger animals are an obvious choice here: crows, vultures, etc. Considering the mythic connections to both Anpu and Kali, I'm also quite drawn toward the jackal. In addition, the Arcanum's more esoteric side makes moths an intriguing option, or even cicadas. Some sort of marine life would also be appropriate as a reference to how the Underworld used to be much wetter than its current state.

    Fate: The spider comes to mind pretty quickly, with the weaving of webs serving as a metaphor for the interconnectedness of destinies. A bird of some sort could also be a good fit, as the Acanthus Path was once associated fully with the sky, not to mention the practice of augury. Horses could represent both freedom and the way that the domestication of animals drastically altered mankind's collective fate.

    Forces: A lion or boar could represent the unbridled strength that the Arcanum symbolizes. On the other hand, a dragon marries that concept to weather and storms fairly nicely. For reasons that currently elude me, the Obrimos Path is associated with dogs, so that might be something as well.

    Life: This one is tricky for obvious reasons: Life encompasses all animals already, so perhaps the best choice would be some symbolic king of all beasts? Something particularly large like an elephant or whale, perhaps. The stag has attractive symbolic qualities for Life as well. Or maybe I want to go with an animal that lives a sort of cyclical existence, like the butterfly.

    Matter: An animal with a hard shell like the tortoise or nautilus would be the easy choice here. Matter's pretty straightforward like that. But on the other hand, liquids and gasses also fall under the Arcanum's domain, so maybe something more mutable would be appropriate. A hermit crab could symbolize both the way life makes use of the material as well as the wisdom to know when to discard a possession that no longer serves its intended purpose. Other animals that use tools, such as chimpanzees or octopuses, could also be both interesting and unexpected.

    Mind: Elements of dreams and decision making are probably going to be more appropriate to chosen symbolism here than abstract thought. The octopus is certainly appealing, though I'm uncertain if the cultural anachronism would come off as an intriguing mystery, or just off-key. Dolphins could also work as an association. Snakes are already incorporated into Mastigos symbolism, and so are another solid option (though maybe a little too Abrahamic for what I'm going for here). Bears and their hibernation cycles could also be an interesting fit.

    Prime: What animal could symbolize magic itself? Something majestic, to be certain. A peacock or eagle, perhaps. The bull could also work on multiple levels. This one will definitely require more puzzling out.

    Space: As with Fate, the spider and its webs are a solid and obvious association, this time as a good lesson in sympathetic ties. Bats could also work, with their unusual (to humans anyway) means of perception. Actually, yeah, I like bats.

    Spirit: I think an animal with a particularly ephemeral nature would work best here. The jellyfish comes to mind, as a nearly invisible creature that can still cause harm, though that also feels a little too one-note. Wolves would be, well, maybe too pat, though certainly not inappropriate if crossover is in the cards. Fireflies also come to mind, maybe. Frogs? This one's trickier than I originally thought.

    Time: As with Life, a creature with a cyclical nature is attractive here, as are, of course, animals with particularly long lifespans. Maybe something associated with memory, as well. Elephants might work. Sea urchins. . . okay, maybe not. Sharks or crocodiles would be interesting, if only to imply that an ancient, long-lost civilization had some sort of understanding of evolution. Hummingbirds, moving so quickly that they appear to be completely still, might also work.

    Anyway, these are my initial thoughts. To repeat myself, my goal is to create a set of repeating symbols used by some group or civilization in the past to adorn specific ruins for some aspiring occult archaeologists to explore and piece together the mystery, or at the very least to give players a sense of interconnectedness and continuity in the world. This doesn't have to be universal or even Supernal, and could represent anything from a forgotten Order, ancient Legacy, Proximus Dynasty, Emanation Realm civilization, Ministry that served the Raptor, or so on. I think also, once the Mystery is unraveled, a mage should be able to use these symbols as Yantras, perhaps with unexpected consequences for the unprepared.
    Last edited by espritdecalmar; 06-08-2020, 08:11 PM.

  • #2
    The chimera might be a good symbol for Life, since it is composed of different animals synergized into a cohesive whole.

    The peng could be a good one for Fate. The roc that towers over the mountains becomes the dragon that rules the seas. It represents structured change.

    The different yāo from Journey to the West could represent Spirit, aggressive and predatory forces of nature that seek evolution.

    The griffin for Prime. It represents courage, boldness, strength, military might, protection and stewardship of the royal treasure.

    The snake for Death, due to its connection to the myth of Asclepeius and the night journey of Ra.

    The kirin for Forces, since it represents raw elemental power and potential in a service of higher ideals.

    The coyote and sphinx for Mind, due to their reputation as tricksters. The Nurarihyon for its ability to command and manipulate.

    The nurikabe for space, due to its infinite length. The cheshire cat for its ability to be everywhere.

    The swan for time, due to its symbolic connection to Tengri. Schrodinger's cat could be good for Time and Fate.

    The magpie's obsession with trinkets could represent Matter. The salamander's breath is the forge's flame. The bull as well, due to its connection to Ptah and crafts.
    Last edited by KaiserAfini; 06-08-2020, 05:28 PM.

    New experiences are the font of creativity, when seeking inspiration, break your routine.

    The Agathos Kai Sophos, an Acanthus Legacy of strategists
    The Szary Strażnik, an Obrimos Legacy of Scholars of the Glyphs of Fate


    • #3
      Butterfly for Life and frog for Spirit both sound very good, though in the latter case I can't quite explain why.
      With that said, here are some scattershot ideas:

      Death: The bull, drawing on its history as a sacrificial animal.

      Forces: The peacock or the rooster, invoking the phoenix and masculine yang energy.

      Matter: The lion, symbol of kingship and therefore material wealth.

      Mind: The sparrow (or any other bird, really), symbolizing the human soul/psyche as it ascends through the layers of the Astral. Alternatively some kind of fish, depicting the same journey as plumbing the depths of the sea.

      Prime: I'd use something small and understated here, like a bee or a beetle, framing the Prime Arcanum as something subtle and foundational. For a stranger take, Prime alone could be something other than an animal, such as a tree or a star.

      Space: Another good place to use a bird, possibly some kind of raptor, with flight as a symbol for the crossing of vast distances.


      • #4
        (Kinda feeling the ki rin as more Fate or Life than anything else, given its wild and portentous nature.)

        It occurs to me that each path might use its own scheme and/or there could be high vs.low or subtle vs. gross distinctions.
        That might go along these lines::

        Moros: Death: Scarab; Forces: Tiger; Life: Caterpillar; Matter: Grub
        Mastigos: Death: Butterfly; Forces: Dragon; Mind: Lion/Eagle; Life: Peacock
        Obrimos: Death: Tiger; Forces: Bull; Mind: Owl; Life: Viper
        Thyrsus: Death: Wolf, Forces: Thunderbird; Mind: Snake, Life: Phoenix

        The reasoning by path varies. Butterfly for Mastigos Death would be the memory and tie to soul. Mastigos link to thoughts, impressions, and memories. Moros are focused on related transformations. Obrimos care more about the connections to relevant gods. Thyrsus are relating the behaviors of the animals and the spirits.

        Grump, grouse, and/or gripe.


        • #5
          Bit of a Necro but i have some ideas

          Death: The Owls were known to carry the souls of the deceased to rest before the Fall, they appeared at night and came riding on darkness itself

          Fate: , Swallow heralds of the passing of seasons and tied to the changing sky

          Forces: The Ram for its hot temper and his charge

          Life: The Snake shade his skin, symbolizing his rebirth into new life, his venom has medicinal uses and even sleeper culture adopted it as a symbol for medicine

          Matter: The Bull was the first symbol of wealth among the people, its strong back was used to plow the earth and the Bull was the sacrifice of choice in the transaction between gods and men

          Mind: The ancient Mastigos looked at Bees as the perfect analogy for the mysteries of Mind, the Swarm is one yet made of many smaller individuals

          Prime: The White Stag, majestic, elusive, rare and connected to the gods and the supernatural

          Space: The Horse as it allows travel between location and define "here" from "there"

          Spirit: The Mantis embody the hunger of the shadow, they look alien, come in a variety of shape and do prey on their own kind

          Time : By emerging from its Chrysalis, the Butterfly finally enter his last cycle, having been mold and transformed by its past self experience



          • #6
            Dogs and Cats both have ties to the Death Arcanum in the sense that certain cultures see them as psychopomps.

            Prime is the foundation of magic, so I think it should be represented by a plant. Because you cannot have an ecosystem without plants of some sort, as far as I am aware. Also, the ocean is the source of all the lifeforms. So we could combine ocean and plants to get Algae as the representation of Prime. But this type of knowledge is relatively modern, and espritdecalmar requested something more ancient. Maybe instead the plant which symbolizes Prime is Wheat, because it is used for making bread, which in turn is a symbol of civilization as a whole.

            Let Him Speak.


            • #7
              Death: Black dog, black cat, bat, butterfly (death as a form of transmutation), raven, crow, vulture, owl, jackal, snake.

              Fate: Spider, cat.

              Forces: Lion, dragon, chimera, ram, horse, salamander.

              Life: Snake, butterfly, scarab, stag.

              Matter: Magpie, salamander.

              Mind: Elephant, owl, dolphin.

              Prime: Bull, griffin, phoenix, lion, eagle, man, tetramorph (mix of man, eagle, lion and bull in various measures).

              Space: Spider.

              Spirit: Wolf, fox, coyote, cat.

              Time: Snake, elephant, tortoise, scarab.