In Nomine in China


Ba Yin – The Eight Sounds

”Welcome, young angel. Allow me to offer you this cup of... wait. Did you just manifest in my Tether wearing shoes? This is China, and you are in a holy place. Remove them at once. Good. Now go and give them away. I’ll be waiting.”

”Found the migrant workers’ barracks, did you? That’s very good. You took the time to find someone who needed them. Your file tells me you worked among migrant workers in the American Southwest for a while. Do you find conditions comparable? No, I imagined not. Bit of an eye-opener, then. Consider it your first test passed, and your first lesson.”

”And now for the second. Be seated.”

”If you are going to be effective in this part of the world, you are going to need a familiarity with certain subtleties. This is a standard cheap tea of the type casually consumed by the workers you just met. It is here both for introduction and for comparison. This is a 25-year aged Yibang pu-erh. Yibang is both the name of a ritual musical instrument, a percussive wood block – your Choir tends to feel that sound – and one of the Six Tea Mountains...”

The Symphony doesn’t run on a heptatonic scale, you know. Across the oceans from Los Angeles and San Francisco, across the continents from Notre Dame and La Coste, the Middle Kingdom and the nations around it house nearly half the world’s population and a War as hot and cold as the struggles in Hollywood and Wall Street. Knowing which parts of humanity are common to all such regions, and familiarity with the parts unique to the locale, is a skill perhaps even more important for those Servitors with experience elsewhere, than for those celestials who have steeped in the waters of Asia for their entire Earthly careers. Join us, then, as we explore a continent and its peoples as seen through the eyes of Heaven and Hell. To begin with, we consider:

Angels and their Instruments

You’ve probably seen the standard classification, which is based on Western musical forms. China has its own way of classifying musical sounds: the Ba Yin, or Eight Sounds, based on the Eight Trigrams and associated to Confucian ritual music. What sound would a Chinese musician be reminded of as he got to know a typical angel of a given Choir?

Seraphim: The sound of “silk,” plucked or bowed, associated with Li, the trigram of Fire at the top of the ba gua, personifies the Most Holy and their refined bearing as well as their place atop the Heavenly order.

Cherubim: The patient guardians might remind our observer of Kun, the trigram of Earth. Its attribute of devotion well describes the Cherubim, who would surely take good care of the fragile “clay” instruments of that symbol, such as the ocarina.

Ofanim: From the east comes Zhen, Thunder, and the excitations and revolutions of its trigram. The many flutes, oboes, and whistles of this sound, “bamboo,” can keep up as the Wheels dash across the Earth.

Elohim: Stiff and cautious, carefully shaped and tuned, every move of the Elohim is designed to serve Heaven, of the trigram Qian. Its strange sound of “stone,” in thick chimes like the bianqing, suits their care.

Malakim: Metal seems to follow these angels around, and our Chinese observer might very likely agree that “metal” the Malakim shall wear. Bells ring out, cymbals crash, gongs sound the alarm or the call to war. It is, perhaps, no coincidence to him that Dui is the trigram in the West.

Kyriotates: If the Elohim were a little strange, the Kyriotates are downright bizarre. The internal resonances of the free reed instruments like the sheng of the “gourd” sound seem to fit them, with their chambers radiating entire chords at once.

Mercurians: The gentle trigram of Xun is associated with the sound of “wood,” with its clappers that frame the ritual piece at its beginning and ending. Humility and service suits the diplomats of Heaven well.

There is one last sound. The trigram Kan, of water, lies at the bottom of the ba gua, and is said to seek the depths. Its trigram is a yang constrained between two yin, and it bespeaks danger, a swift river flowing down a valley. Its sound comes from corporeal creatures: “skin,” the primitive atonal beat of drums. He might ask whether there was a Choir that fit this personality. But doubtless he would be rebuffed.

Elemental Words in China

Most mythological elemental systems possess four elements in the Aristotelian style, with possibly a fifth central, non-opposing element of “Aether” or “Void.” When such concepts gain currency in human thought, they make attractive Words since they are viewed as aspects of the Universe itself – very long-lasting, stable in meaning, and wide in application of metaphorical concepts. It is no wonder that across much of the world the four elemental Archangels and their opposing Demon Princes are among the most powerful. ”Void” and “Aether,” on the other hand, are regarded as having less substantive meanings, and so do not have similarly major Words bound to them.

The Chinese system of elements is different from those in use in the West (though similar Buddhist and Hindu systems are known there). Those elements are Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood, and all of them have real, physical presence. To celestials who have been working in China for a long time, Novalis is a “core” elemental Archangel, while Janus is not, and David’s Word is a form of Earth. This can affect relations between Words, with Novalines obtaining a different level of respect while Windies are sometimes less welcome than they are with Word-allies elsewhere. The locals’ Essence-generating activities even mean that there are celestial ramifications for supernatural powers: Flowers has several Rites associated with Confucian or even older Chinese thought, which support the Word locally more so than they would elsewhere, and so are rarely given to Servitors outside this region. Such Rites include “formally join an established organization” (Wood penetrates Earth), or “encourage a protest against injustice (+1 Essence; +3 if you take bodily injury as a result and thereby prevent any humans from doing so)” (Wood generates Fire). A GM taking players of elemental Words from a Western setting to China may wish to consider altering the power of various Attunements or Rites, or the base Invocation number of one’s Archangel – after consultation with players as to such rules changes, naturally.

Archangels are generally regarded by Chinese celestials who give any currency to feng shui concepts as interacting in the cycles of balance (generation and overcoming), while Demon Princes interact in the cycles of imbalance (insult and excess). The elements of Fire are represented on both Sides, of course; both of Water are currently unoccupied. Novalis represents Wood, and is not directly opposed at present; Valefor is her closest elemental opponent, air being an aspect of wood. David represents Earth, an elemental connotation which can make Servitors of “Stone” in the region more receptive, adaptive, and flexible than their Word-mates elsewhere. (Relations between Flowers and Stone in the region are probably more cordial here than anywhere else on the planet.) He is likewise not directly opposed, but Kronos via Hatiphas sponsors a fairly large network of feng shui practitioners that use Sorcery for perverse geomantic rituals, sometimes even encoding long-term projects into architectural jobs. The local popularity of feng shui gives this human organization some shielding against Davidian counterefforts.

Metal, regarded as a sub-concept of Earth or Stone elsewhere, has a number of Word-Bound angels and demons that deal with specific metals. Several of those demons have made plays for a Princehood, but none have succeeded against the efforts of the other metal-Word demons who, though rarely united, can get together behind the concept of keeping someone else from winning the Word. This heterostasis has been the situation of the demonic side for quite a while. On the Angelic side, the Seraphim Council has been fairly clear about having no intention to raise an Archangel of Metal. Metaphorical overlap with David is cited, but in fact older natural philosophers consider Laurence the patron Archangel of this Chinese element: his sharp blade and dedication to discipline personify the metaphorical qualities of this element. Occasionally Lightning’s work with conductors or modern technology is given this role, but generally speaking Laurentians are regarded by the locals as elemental angels. Laurence accepts the role with grace, but, strangely, seems a little uncomfortable with the role, and talks about it very little. Perhaps it’s his great respect for David.

Or maybe it’s that he doesn’t like keeping secrets.


The heavens girdle the Earth around

and, standing athwart the poles, extend

as much farther than straight plumbs sound

as circles about their centers bend

A distance named, but never known

corraled above, corraled below,

but forever forever more unshown

an Abyss across which none can go

But falls the Spark, from God to Man

Quickens, inspires, illuminates,

And ascending, prayers, from Man to God

Knowing, for a moment, what Omniscience can

Closing, a little, the length to where it waits,

Measuring a truer, straighter rod.

The celestial realms are a place separated from Earth by a shadow and an infinity. They overlap and wrap around the corporeal world in subtle dimensions, touching here and there at Tethers where understanding reaches across the gap that separates the material world from human conception. What humans are really capable of understanding not only ties the world to Heaven and Hell, it in large part defines them, and thus the boundaries of that knowledge are a crucial front in the War.

One of those boundaries is π. The ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter is symbolic of the extent of the heavens above Earth, and its irrationality is symbolic of the inability of the material world to encompass all of reality.

While these facts were known to angels in theory before the Fall, the true ramifications of their collected import were not made clear until humans began to codify and bound an understanding of π. Often bound up with astronomical and calendrical concerns, echoing with metaphorical connotations of the structure of reality itself, advances in human understanding in this area had the possibility to change the very rules of such things as Tethers, ascents and descents from the celestial realm, and Essence flow. This is not something so mundane as the mere accumulation of digits: the necessary advances involve fundamental changes in human awareness of the nature of π.

Discoveries that tend to “push the heavens away” make π less accessible. They include the realization that π is not a whole number, that it is irrational, that it is transcendental. When such discoveries are made, codified, and published, π collects a greater air of ineffability, and the separation between celestial and corporeal grows. The most famous example of such a thing is the closing of the Higher Heavens, but over time, Roles have begun to need noticeably more maintenance. Statistics suggest disturbance for a given amount of damage to the physical world has also increased, and Superior fuzz has gotten stronger. A GM who has gotten this far and is still intrigued by the notion may wish to make more radical changes, such as historically having ascent to celestial form cost a mere 1 Essence, or having use of a Tether be possible without having to take celestial form.

(One theory floated among Ethereals is that YHVH stole π from the Babylonians, who had codified the idea of its non-wholeness, and used this characteristic to create the first abyss of separation between the celestial and ethereal realm. Later, he employed its transcendental nature to further wall off the Higher Heavens. Uriel’s desire for purity rebelled against drawing power from a fundamentally unknowable irrationality, and he had to be absorbed into concept to put Heaven back under control before he Fell.)

All is not entirely separating, however. Mankind increases its understanding of what π is as well as what it is not: the number is bounded above and below, we learn that it takes on values of certain geometric limits, or that it appears as the extension of this or that series or continued fraction. When such things are learned, the celestial realm comes closer to the corporeal world. For simplest starters, breakthrough discoveries often spark a Tether. Lightning has gotten the lion’s share of these, but Destiny has seen a few. In the 20th century, the Hindu goddess Namagiri obtained such a π-Tether from the belief and work of Srinivasa Ramanujan. (Ramanujan consistently claimed that Namagiri appeared to him in his dreams and wrote his discoveries on his tongue; he was, indeed, known to arise from sleep and write down, instantly, wonderful formulas which were later to be formally proved sound.) More than this, however, are the beneficial effects of closer ties between the celestial and corporeal realms. These include the appearance of Tethers with the Quiet feature, that subdue Disturbance within them, and the discovery of an ability of celestials to switch Vessels without taking celestial form. These “advances” would have defrayed the difficulties imposed by an increase in the Essence cost of taking celestial form, or Tethers suddenly requiring taking celestial form to ascend.

So what does this all have to do with China? Around the year 470 CE, the Chinese astronomer and mathematician Zu Chongzhi wrote the Zhui Shu, in which he demonstrated that a circle of some 10,000,000 chang in diameter would have a circumference of more than 31415926 but less than 31415927 chang. A change being a bit less than 12 feet, this interesting distance meant that Zu was calculating on a circle of diameter roughly the same as the circumference of the Earth; so some strange realm that somehow encircled the Earth about in another circle, in some odd direction, would have its size thus bounded. Upon this datum he propounded the Tam-ing, the Calendar of Great Brightness, which would have been exceedingly accurate for its time.

Alas, court intrigue got in the way, and the calendar was never promulgated. Still the Zhui Shu was widely praised, and Zu Chongzhi’s easier approximations for π, 355/113 and 22/7, came in to widespread use. Generally agreed to be due to this advance was an increase in the appearances of what are now called Friendly Tethers, which interfere less with each other. Lightning also got a minor Tether out of the affair at Zu’s workplace, although it rated only an Attuned Seneschal and faded after a few centuries. Kronos, however, was the Superior who gave a Distinction to the Factions demon who had engineered the delay and dismissal of the Tam-ing. Few beings are quite sure why: it is rare that a demon ever has reason to dig through intel reports from the era to find demons reporting a peculiar, migraine-like sensation of brightness when they were in Divine Tethers, despite being in corporeal form...

Among open questions about π, by the way, there remain several doozies. Is π normal? That is to say, do all its digits appear equally often if one looks at a very long string of them? If it is, such a discovery would, using the concepts above, probably “bring the heavens closer.” On the other hand, is π random, that is to say, do its digits pass various strong randomness tests? If true, this discovery would likely “push the heavens away.” Either could be used as the MacGuffin for a Lightning/Technology, Destiny/Fate game, with the result having a substantial effect on the game world as the celestials experience it, without disrupting the background “real world” too much.

The material presented here is the creation of William Keith, and is intended for use with the In Nomine system from Steve Jackson Games. This material is not official and is not endorsed by Steve Jackson Games.

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