If you've read my Markhat Files series, you've seen several references to a midwinter holiday called Yule. The books are also filled with references to angels and devils, heavens and hell. A couple of Rannit's five main churches have also been the settings for scenes, including one very rushed wedding.
One thing I've never done, though, is lay out the theology behind the references.
I despise infodumps. Maybe you never heard the term before -- if that's true, here's an example of an infodump set in our world:
"As you know, Bill, Hitler's Germany and the other Axis powers lost World War II, which was effectively ended with the use of atomic weapons against the Japanese Empire."
"That's true, Steve."
Which is dumb. People rarely explicitly describe events or concepts which are common knowledge to them. That's why Markhat and Darla will never sit around and discuss the religious and historical significance of the Yule log they burn every Yule.
But I'm under no such constraints here in the blog, so here for the first time is a thumbnail sketch of the religious landscape of Rannit, and indeed all the remnants of the Old Kingdom in the Markhat books.
BASIC RELIGIOUS COSMOLOGY PROMOTED BY THE CHURCHES:
Creation was completed by God. Three planes came into existence -- Heaven, God's Realm. Hell, the realm of the Infernal. And the World, balanced between Heaven and Hell, peopled by humanity, Trolls, the Fae, and various other mortal creatures. Shortly after the three realms came into existence, Heaven and Hell went to war. God and the Devil slew each other, leaving both Heaven and Hell in ruin. The remaining angels gathered their forces above the middle world, following God's final order to protect humanity. The devils amassed beneath it, ordered to destroy mankind. Magic is used by both sides to either empower or corrupt humans.
Five mighty Angels took charge of the angelic survivors. These five angels formed the Five Great Churches, which hold doctrines that differ in certain details and traditions. Each of these Five Angels has a devilish counterpart, whose names are never spoken.
YULE, THE MODERN PRACTICE THEREOF:
While the five churches don't agree on much, they do share certain holidays. Yule is the foremost among them. By Markhat's time, Yule is very much a commercial and secular holiday, observed mostly by the exchange of gifts, parties, and of course the ceremonial burning of a Yule log, which has evolved into a ceremony all its own.
Celebrants, who may be friends or family or both, gather around a fireplace after the Yule eve meal is enjoyed. Everyone places a scrap of paper or a small flammable 'gift' around the log. Yule songs are sung, a sweet dark Yule wine is drunk, and as the sun sets the fire is lit.
Gifts are exchanged after the log catches fire. More songs are sung. More wine is drunk. Children are encouraged to search the room for presents hidden by the 'Angel Ernmost,' who is said to watch from the flames and reward good children with the best gifts.
Tradition dictates that all present must remain present until the log burns out. Children, and anyone who gets sleepy while the log burns, this must light a watchlight (a small white candle) before falling asleep to ward off bad luck for the next year.
In essence, Yule is very much like our Christmas, only without the tree. Children love it. Adults love food and wine.
So that's what's behind all the mentions of Yule and angels and devils in the books. It's why you'll never see anyone, at least not a human, pray to a god -- their creation mythology, like so many actual human myths, saw the creator perish as part of the act of creation. Priests believe they intercede on behalf of the faithful to the patron angel of their church -- often for a fee, Markhat is quick to point out with a derisive snort. Seems Angels are always short on cash.
Since Markhat and Darla now reside on a houseboat named Dasher, they'll have to improvise. The boilers belowdecks provide their heat, but you can't burn a proper Yule log in either of them. Instead, the Yule log will be burned in a clay fire-pit on Dasher's deck. It will be a smallish log, but a Yule log nonetheless. A small tent will be erected over the firepit to shield it from rain or snow.
Dasher's wheelhouse is lined with windows, now trimmed with holly and hung with sticks of red and white peppermint candy. All with gather, as the log is lit. Then Markhat, Darla, Evis, Gertriss, Mama Hog, and of course Slim and Cornbread will watch the log burn from the warmth within Dasher's wheelhouse. Wine will be drunk. Mama Hog and Slim will make horrific noises under the guise of singing Yule songs. Mama will chastise Markhat for feeding Cornbread right from the table. Gifts will be exchanged , but it won't matter what the gifts are, or how much any of them cost.
No, they'll treasure the giver, not the gift. The people in the Markhat books have had a rough time of it, book after book. They've seen loss and hardship, faced danger and death. They've all lost people.
So when they gather this Yule, it's not the log or the presents they celebrate.
It's each other.
I hope you too find yourself surrounded by the people who matter.
Markhat and Darla, Evis and Gertriss, Mama Hog and Slim and Stitches and all the rest -- they raise a glass to you, and wish you well.
Happy Yule, to one and all!