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World Building Wednesday: Ceremonies of State


Tweet of the Day: Writing is still about rejection, even if you are self-published


The new monarch get’s anointed with holy oils and holds a sword and scepter as badges of office.

A new president stands in the cold January air giving the first speech of his four years in office.

These are two of the many ceremonies marking the succession from one ruler or leader to the next. As I mentioned in Monday’s post, at the heart of any government lies the question of legitimacy, that is the right to rule or govern.  The ceremonies of the state are designed to grant and maintain that legitimacy in perpetuity. But what makes them the subject of a world building posts?

The when, where, how and why of these ceremonies represents cultural values of the society the ruler seeks to rule. For example, swords represent martial prowess and the right of judgement over the people. The wording of an oath literally spells out what is expected of the ruler such as leadership in time of war and mercy in time of peace. The ruler then becomes the embodiment of these values. This in turn lends a sense of legitimacy to the new government. To go against the government is to go against those values the society holds in highest esteem thus turning the challenger into an outlier. It also lends an air of timelessness, a feeling that it has always been so, from time immemorial thus nothing has change or will ever change.

Many author borrow from established traditions (see: Fantasy Counterpart Culture) but even those that do should understand why there are five swords used during the coronation of a British monarch and why the Sword of Mercy is a broken sword. Those who wish to mix and match or create new symbols will have to figure out the difference between say a stave of office versus a mace or shield. Does the new leader stand side by side with the old one or is the old leader banished from the capitol on inaugural day. Is there is an oath, what is the basis of that oath, the wording, and its meaning?  What is the importance of the place where the investiture occurs, or can it happen anywhere. Is there a magical or technological means of assuring the right to rule?

Remember that while a coronation may be the most elaborate and important of ceremonies related to the state, there are many more, such as graduations from a military academy, the birth or birthday of a monarch or heir, the knighting of a faithful follower, the selection or acceptance of ambassadors. Any situation where political power is given or transferred tends to have its own ceremony reflecting the importance of that office in the larger scheme of things.

Like most of the information created during a world building session, most of this will not see the light of day, but the author must have a good grasp of the ceremony. If nothing else, it will reveal a lot about society the author created.


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