Major Festivals of Marchion
THE MARCHION FESTIVAL
The Marchion Festival is a celebration of the new year, held at the beginning of spring. It began under the magocracy, as an opportunity for mages to show off their magic and impress the populace, and has continued as a more egalitarian event. It is still traditional for resident mages to put on some spectacular displays of magic, and wealthy merchants sponsor plays, parades, feasts, and the like. The temples put on religious plays; those sponsored by the temple of Shaskal Torin are the most popular.
The festival traditionally lasts for three days, but the actual length varies a great deal from year to year, depending in part on the weather, and in part on how enthusiastically the festival is supported. Heroic adventurers are often feted as part of the celebrations, but in return are expected to sponsor some event with their vast wealth.
The Gods of Marchion all have a number of religious festivals celebrated throughout the year. It is common for people to observe festivals from several different Gods, but to pay particular attention to those of one or two deities.
The River Running festival is supervised by Dancing Cloud, and now has two forms in Marchion; the traditional form, celebrated by people who worship Dancing Cloud, and a more secular version, celebrated by many people in the city.
The traditional version is celebrated on the first day of spring flooding in the river. Strong swimmers dive into the river and let it carry them downstream, swimming only to avoid obstacles. When the river carries them to shore, they get out and return home. Participating in the festival takes you to an unpredictable place at an unpredictable time, at the mercy of the weather and the river, and thus epitomizes an important aspect of Dancing Cloud’s beliefs.
The secular version is much more organised, as most people do not relish the idea of being swept down a river out of control. It takes place in late spring, when the river is still quite high, but the weather is somewhat warmer. Even so, the festival is disrupted by the weather far more often than most other civic celebrations, something that the worshipers of the goddess attribute to her desire to inject a little chaos into the proceedings.
The main features of the festivities are a number of races down the river, generally from the Upper Bridge to the Lower Bridge. Boats are stationed along the banks to rescue anyone who gets into difficulties, and wizards create a large net across the downstream water gate, so that no one is swept away.
The first and last races are the swimming races; men in the morning, women in the evening. These races are conducted according to many ‘traditional’ requirements. One participant comes from each area of the city, chosen by any means desired. He or she is carried, dressed in a blue robe, to the river, so that the swimmers do not touch the ground. The groups carrying the swimmers line up along the Upper Bridge, and then fall silent on the first blast of a trumpet. On the second blast, the swimmers stand and remove their robes. On the third, they jump into the water and start swimming. The jump from the Upper Bridge is quite impressive in itself, so most areas choose the best swimmer and diver they have. The use of magic by participants in these races is strictly forbidden, but wizards often use spells to help the spectators follow all of the action. As a final tradition is that the races are swum nude, the audience is generally good.
In between the traditional races there are a number of other events, in which the competitors are often sponsored by groups in the city, and wear their colors. Boat races, races run on the surface of the water (magical aid is allowed for these), races run on the bottom of the river (again, magical aid is permitted), and arduous obstacle courses involving the collection of various tokens while racing downstream in a boat; all these are standard events. New events are tried every year, and particularly popular ones included in the program for the following year.
Hearth’s Truth, the main annual festival of Herath, is at mid-winter, when the fire in the hearth is most important to keep the cold and dark at bay, and when most people huddle in their homes to keep out of bad weather.
In keeping with this, the festival is a family affair, celebrated within the home. Traditionally, people do not leave their homes on the day, spending the time with their families. It is not unusual for extended families to gather at one home, but most people plan to arrive the day before mid-winter and leave the day after.
A large part of the festival involves eating a large meal, cooked at the family hearth, and exchanging gifts. For people who do not particularly venerate Herath, this is often the extent of the celebration. More devout families, however, also take part in the Hearth’s Truth ritual.
Every member of the family or household sits around the hearth, holding a log for the fire. In age order, from eldest to youngest, they say what most bothered them in the household over the last year. This might be tension with a sibling, money worries, a feeling that no-one understands them, or feeling cramped in a small space. When they have told the problem, they throw the log onto the fire, and as it burns away it is supposed to symbolically remove the problem. Once the log has caught fire, the person tells about the best thing that happened within the household over the last year. This has to be something positive, or at least neutral, for all members of the household. The next person then tells their tales.
In unhappy families and homes, Hearth’s Truth can be the low point of the year, dreaded in anticipation and loathed in the event, making relations even worse. In most families, however, the ritual and solemnity provide a valuable opportunity to bring serious problems into the open and start the process of solving them. The requirement to finish with something positive generally prevents the ceremony from devolving into bitching and backbiting.
The Fair Trade festival happens just as winter is starting to break and spring is coming, and it is a very personal festival, although one strongly supported by the temple of Mercer. People who want something intangible from someone else make or commission something valuable in advance. On the day, they take their trade item to the person they want the boon from, and offer to trade the item for the boon. The offer is take it or leave it; neither party may haggle. If the offer is refused, the trade item must be left on the altar of Mercer. This is one reason why the temple supports the festival.
Intangible things include political support, education, and answers to questions. However, by far the most common intangibles requested are those connected with love and romance. This means that, to most people in Marchion, the festival has nothing to do with commerce at all. Instead, it has become very common to propose marriage on this day, or to ask someone out. The monetary value of the trade item is less important than the thought with which it was crafted for the other person, but people believe that Mercer will curse anyone who uses a cheap item because it is cheap. This belief is supported by a few well-documented cases in which a cheapskate was definitely cursed, although there is no definitive evidence that the deity did the cursing.
The growing association of the festival with romance worried the priests of Mercer, who believed it was important that more general trade still be possible. Thus, they started a new tradition, that if your trade item was presented in a box, the request was romantic, while if it was in a bag, the request was about something else. This tradition has caught on, and about as many non-romantic trades take place as romantic ones. Of course, the non-romantic trades cover all kinds of topics, so the association of the festival with romance remains strong.
FEAST OF PURE MAGIC
Merianath’s Feast of Pure Magic is held on a date determined by a complex astrological formula, worked out by the priests of the God. In a typical year there is one such feast, but sometimes there is no festival in a calendar year, and in very exceptional circumstances three festivals can fall within a single year.
Merianath’s followers traditionally try to do absolutely everything by magic on the day of the Feast. Clerics pray for, and receive, spells to help with daily activities, while wizards prepare similar spells. Sorcerers often find this harder, as they normally have a smaller range of spells to help them in their daily lives.
Everything does mean everything. Powerful spellcasters use magic to remain in bed all day, sending an image to carry out their duties, and using magic to deal with all bodily needs. Less powerful spellcasters use as much magic as they can, but have to do a few things by mundane means.
Worshippers of Merianath regard the first Feast of Pure Magic on which they manage to complete a normal day using magic for everything as a highly significant event in their lives. It is treated a bit like coming of age, although, of course, almost everyone becomes an adult long before they are capable of this. On the following day, the spellcaster attends a ceremony at a temple of Merianath to mark his new status as a ‘real’ magic user.
In the days of the magocracy Marchion celebrated this festival with a great deal of pomp. The wizards who ruled the city used spectacular magic to carry out even minor tasks, impressing their power and right to rule on the masses. After the Day of Green Smoke, most spellcasters were much more circumspect about their display. Over the years, this reticence has worn away, but the emphasis is different. These days, the spellcasters use their magic to entertain the rest of the population, rather than emphasise the raw power of magic. Most citizens look forward to the Feast as a chance to see spectacular magic.
If three Feasts of Pure Magic fall in the same year, the third is an extremely important festival. Merianath Thousand-Eyes grants all of his followers the power necessary to carry out all of their activities by pure magic, in addition to their normal allotment of spells. On such days the god’s followers use as much magic as they can, celebrating the gifts of their deity. Perhaps fortunately, such events happen only once every sixty years or so, so that most humans see only one in a lifetime.