Saiciae Initiation

Ephemera — Saiciae Initiation


Rites of Passage in Ancient Esrolia: A Case Study

Term Paper
K. Mungo

In ancient Esrolia, youth of all genders would have been initiated into their clans and their temples shortly after the onset of puberty. No detailed account of Esrolian initiation rites has been preserved, but an analysis of literary sources, material culture, and ethnographic evidence establishes some sense of what these rites of passage may have entailed. This paper will focus on the evidence from Clan Saiciae, as excavations of their primary household and ritual centre have been well-documented. Moreover, there is an unusual number of literary sources associated with members of this clan (e.g. Sonnets to Varanis; The Sonnets to Mellia, Sweetest of Healers, White Lady of Esrolia; and the Sonnets in Praise of Xenofos), which appear to contain references to the rites of passage. Combined, it is possible to identify activities that take place at each of van Gennep’s three stages of passage rites.1See van Gennep 1977:21

Archaeological evidence
Archaeological evidence for initiation rites is ephemeral in nature. In the instance of LBA Esrolia, the evidence is especially sparse. Two key areas of evidence are considered below: the Saiciae tattoo/motif and a pair of burials from the Nochet Necropolis.

It is widely known that each major Esrolian clan had distinctive tattoos worn by each adult member. In the case of House Saiciae, there is an excellent range of resources depicting the clan emblem. In addition to frescoes with representation of human figures, there are extensive mosaics that were discovered during the excavation of what is believed to be the primary household (Vranova and Piscarev 1976). The human figures in the frescoes have a wide range of tattoos represented, but they consistently have a large, stylised red flower motif on the upper right side of the torso (Fig. 1). The same flower is seen repeated through the mosaic of the bathhouse and main courtyard. The combined evidence is consistent with the identification of this motif as the clan’s primary symbol (Vranova and Piscarev 1976). Piscarev argues that this flower represents a poppy, which was closely tied to some of the clan’s business ventures (Piscarev 1975). Poppies were widely valued in ancient Esrolia for medicinal purposes, and House Saiciae maintained the exclusive rights to supply the Great Hospital in Nochet (Jasilsson: 19).

[[image poppy.jpg size=”square”]]
Figure 1: Saiciae poppy, reproduced from a fresco image (after Vranova & Piscarev 1976)

Vranova has argued that several of the individuals excavated from Grave Cluster F in the Nochet Necropolis were associated with House Saiciae (Vranova et al 1975). Most of the individuals from this section were buried with one or more items of adornment bearing the same symbol from the house excavations. Two of the skeletons from Cluster F have been identified as adolescents (graves 112 and 1182These are shamelessly stolen from Grave Circle B, graves I and Y (Heitz)). Although originally gendered based on their grave goods, both graves have recently undergone new osteological analyses pioneered by L. Mewis (2018), confirming that the assigned gender and assumed sex of the individuals are consistent. Mewis’ work has also confirmed the approximate age at death and that both individuals display evidence of entering the early stages of puberty (2018).

Grave 118 held the remains of a young male, of approximately 15-16 years of age. He was buried in a flexed position on his right side (Fig 2.). Two gold diadems were found in the region of the skull, but because of heavy disturbance in this grave, their exact placement cannot be determined. There were also two gold buttons, found by a metal detectorist, but assumed to be associated with this burial. To the right of the body was a bronze sword (Dimitriou type V) and a spearhead (Dimitriou type III). The three bronze daggers associated with this burial were found in a small cluster just above skull (Fig. 3). Between the body and the sword there was an assemblage of potsherds, carefully laid out in parallel rows. The sherds represent a minimum of 4 vessels, all consistent with typical Esrolian goblets. They appear to have been broken prior to burial and selected pieces of the goblets were included in the grave. Below the foot of the grave was a mostly intact jug and amphora.

Figure 2: Top sections of grave 118, Grave Cluster F, Nochet Necropolis

Figure 3: Dagger 1 and spearhead, from grave 118

The female individual in grave 112 died somewhere between the ages of 14 and 16. She was evidently important within the community, as her grave goods were significant. Gold diadems adorned her skull and shoulders. She had three gold finger rings, two on the right hand and one on her left. The largest ring bears an image of five female figures, including two juveniles (Fig. 4). They appear to be worshipping at an Ernaldan shrine. Her earrings were composite gold and silver, and she had three rock crystal capped bronze pins, one on each shoulder, and one that may have been worn in the hair (Fig. 5). The most significant find from this grave is the large gold bracelet. The central motif is the Saiciae poppy. Flanking it, on either side are pairs of dancing figures, in traditional Esrolian style. On the right are two female figures, while male figures appear to be represented on the left. Like burial 118, this individual was buried with the remains of goblets, but in this case, all six were largely intact (Fig. 6). Additionally, she had two other vessels, a large jar and a painted amphoriskos, bearing repeated earth and harmony runes.

Figure 4: Large gold ring from grave 112, Grave Cluster F, Nochet Necropolis.3Read about this amazing ring for real [* here].

Figure 5: Crystal-headed bronze pins from grave 112

Figure 6: One of six goblets from grave 112.4This image and the ones for figs 2, 3, and 5 come from [* here] under the Burial Customs heading.

Textual evidence
The range of textual sources for initiation rites in Ancient Esrolia is unusual, consisting of myth, poetry, and accounts. As the myth forms the basis for the rituals, it will be considered first. The most recent translation of the Myth of Imarja and the Eighteen Return comes from Stafford and Richard (2008). Following is a short summary:

Urvarna and Demarath, looking for something they felt was missing in the world, entered the Great Stone. They overcame the first dangers together, but became separated. Individually, they found Gelstarn, the Beloved and Serumtha, the Lover. All are reunited and re-enter the world together. They bring magic, knowledge, seed, and stock. They also led to the return of Imarja and the Eighteen, who turned the Great Stone into the Golden Egg, which became ultimately ended the darkness.

Stafford and Richard argue that this myth is the basis of all Esrolian rites of passage into adulthood (2008:25). According to Stafford (2015), initiation rituals usually involved Hero Quests, therefore the Imarja and the Eighteen Return Hero Quest was likely the one most widely used in Esrolia for Clan and House initiation ceremonies. This is confirmed by verse 11 from the Varanis Sonnets, which makes specific reference to the myth:
Embraced by the snake, she began to dance,
Surrounded by kinfolk, all deep in trance.
Quested for Imarja and the Eighteen.
Triumphant return, the magic now seen.

The theme is repeated in the Sonnets in Praise of Xenofos, verse 25 where there is reference to a Clan quest, presumably the Hero Quest:
Hero Xenofos, in noblest youth
Didst complete Clan’s quest, whilst seeking Truth.
From depths of Imarja to Lhankor Mhy,
Rose the sagest lord of House Saiciae.

Further references to these rites are found in verse 10 of the Varanis Sonnets and 15 from The Sonnets to Mellia, Sweetest of Healers, White Lady of Esrolia. For instance, the former suggests ritual bathing and body painting,5From Vinga’s halls, she was removed one night./Returned to family, by Grandmother’s right./Bathed and painted, Varanis ready stood,/To face the challenges of womanhood. while the latter is indicative of the three-day time frame for the Clan rituals.6Green palanquin bore Sweetest Mellia forth/To Imarja’s Temple in deepest earth/Three long days and dark nights didst she pass there/Before she embraced Bright Chalana’s care. In both Mellia and Xenofos, it seems clear that the Clan rituals are the precursor to the first stage of the Cult initiations.

Of all the sources, the Accounts of the travels of Irillo Goldentongue are the most uncertain here. Mead proposed that the 1624 entry for a large order of Vinavale wine was directly related to the acquisition of resources for the rites of reincorporation (1968: 353). Part of her argument is that there are similar orders roughly two years apart found in the Irillo accounts, with breaks only during periods of extreme upheaval in the region.7
Accounts of the travels of Irillo Goldentongue: Entry 1624-Ea-Mo-Wa
10 amphorae Vinavale wine for transfer to Grandmother Saiciae
Transit fee (at family discount rate, 8%): 7L 7c
Pleasing Grandmother. Essential.
10 large amphorae Vinavale wine: Cost in Vinavale 38L/each (385L)

In ethnographic studies of traditional tribal communities, youth are typically symbolically removed from society and undergo a period of training as part of their rites of passage. This removal is less common in urban settings, and instead, youth learn the roles and responsibilities of adulthood as they mature. The rites of separation in urban communities, therefore tend to be more symbolic. The literary evidence for the Saiciae seems to suggest that youth of a certain age group were collected together and ritually prepared, through bathing, the application of facial and body paints, and dressed in ceremonial clothing. The Sonnets to Mellia describe the procession of palanquins carrying the initiands from their House to the Temple of Imarja, likely publicly asserting the power of the Saiciae while also announcing the initiation of a new generation.

The transitional or liminal stages of passage rites often include traumatic and/or physically demanding events (Turner 1969: 95). Individuals may experience altered states of consciousness induced through physical trauma or hallucinogenic drugs, for example. Experienced and overcome together, these rites may bind youth together in a state of communitas. This can be short-term, but they are frequently designed to make a lasting impact on the lives of the participants. The rites of passage for youth in Esrolia invoked the Heroquest associated with the myth of Imarja and the Eighteen. In order for the youth to symbolically enter the spirit realm, they had to enter a trance state. The combined evidence for the Saiciae rites includes references to dancing (e.g. the Varanis Sonnets, and the bracelet from Grave 112 discussed above), intoxication (e.g. Varanis Sonnets, drinking vessels). It is proposed here that they specifically involved a bite from an Esrolian python, which carries a mild toxin followed by an extended period of drinking, drumming, and dancing, which might have lasted for up to three days. Youth who successfully completed the endurance test embodied in the dance and heroquesting, would then be marked by the clan tattoo.

Following the clan adulthood initiation rites, it seems likely that the youth were transported from the Temple of Imarja to the various temples of Nochet, as deemed appropriate for the youth. The practice of joint initiation into clan and temple is seen elsewhere in this period, for instance with the Heortling rites of passage (Stafford 2015). In the Heortling rites, Stafford argues that the Heroquest determined which temples youth would initiate into. While this may also hold true in Esrolia, it has been argued that there would be strong family and political motivations for initiating youth into certain cults (Mead 1968: 351). Regardless of the motivations behind the religious initiations, youth would undergo a second phase of rites of passage that would vary depending on their cults.

Finally, once all youth have completed the dual initiation process, they would return to their House, and be welcomed as adult members of the family. The rites of reincorporation included introducing the new adults to the clan by way of a significant feast. The Accounts of Irillo mention the purchase of significant quantities of wine in the year 1624 (Jasilsson: 42), which might be associated with such a feast. It is also likely that the initiands received gifts from their families at this point, as is common in many adulthood initiations.

As with many ancient and some modern rites of passage, there are risks to participants. It seems likely that not everyone survived. It is possible, for instance, that the individuals buried in graves 112 and 118 in Cluster F were two youth who died during their initiation rites. The significant wealth of their burials for ones so young might be explained by the loss of their potential to their Clan.

While the evidence is fragmentary, combining the archaeological resources with the textual sources shows the power of interdisciplinary research to elucidate ancient rituals. This essay has used the case study of the ancient and noble House Saiciae from Esrolian Nochet to demonstrate the value of researching rites of passage. Future work could include a comparative study of Sartarite rituals, using the same textual sources, because of the mention of initiation into Clan Blue Tree, however, it should be remembered that those rituals reference clan membership and not adulthood.


Heitz, C. (2008) Burying the Palaces? Ideologies in the Shaft Grave Period. DOI: 10.11588/propylaeumdok.00000089

Jasilsson, I.; __ Garin (Translator) (n.d.) The Accounts of the travels of Irillo Goldentongue. Penguin Books, London.

Mead, B. (1968) Rites and Rituals in Bronze Age Glorantha. Obscure University Press. Obscure town, US.

Mewis, L. (2018) Adolescence in Bioarchaeology: A Case Study from Glorantha Journal of Gloranthan Studies 112:23-36. [[footnote]]This is fictional! For the real stuff, check out [* Dr Mary Lewis].[[footnote]]

Piscarev, A. (1975) Botanical Representations in Ancient Esrolian Art. Journal of Gloranthan Studies 69:1-13.

Stafford, G. (2015) Orlanthi Initiation Rites. URL:

Stafford, G. and J. Richard (2008) Esrolia: The Land of Ten Thousand Goddesses. Moon Design Publications.

Turner, V. (1967) Betwixt and between: the liminal period in rites de passage. Forest of symbols: aspects of the Ndembu ritual. Ithaca: Cornell UP. pp. 23–59.

Turner, V. W. (1969) The Ritual Process. Penguin Books, London.

Van Gennep, A.; Vizedom, M. B. (Translator); Caffee, G. L. (Translator) (1977) [1960]. The Rites of Passage. Routledge Library Editions Anthropology and Ethnography (Paperback Reprint ed.). Hove, East Sussex, UK: Psychology Press.

Vranova, T. and A. Piscarev (1976) An interdisciplinary study of LBA Esrolian clan insignia. Journal of Gloranthan Studies 70:45-59.

Vranova, T. and a bunch of other imaginary authors (1975) Excavations in the Nochet Necropolis 1974, Interim Report.