I’m prompted by Aubrey’s post about flags among the Volk in her ‘fading’ world, and a few threads on Holy Worlds, to think about flags, banners, heraldry, and the like in the world of the Shine Cycle.
In the early days, flags and banners were rare simply because cloth, especially cloth embellished with designs (as flags tend to be), was expensive, and difficult to make sturdy enough for a long-lasting flag; emblems, painted on wood or metal, were much more common. But even as cloth became cheaper and sturdier, flags have never supplanted painted emblems in popularity.
Nowadays, flags (as opposed to emblems and banners) are normally only used to indicate the allegiance or the residents of a fortress, castle, palace, or the like, where symbols may need to be visible and recognizable for long distances. There are some districts (such as the Weavers’ Guild‘s home district) where flags are commonly used, and some individuals are fond of them and use them for other purposes, but for the most part the society doesn’t use them except where neither an emblem nor a banner would do.
On the other hand, emblems—painted coats of arms—are quite common, used to represent organizations, districts, and individuals. Any soldier or warrior who provides his or her own arms, rather than using weapons issued by his or her commanders, may paint his or her shield with a personal coat of arms. At home, walls and doors may be painted with them by the building’s owner, and in some circles it’s very common to hang large wooden shields painted with the arms of the residents and any visitors on the walls. But in one distinct difference from our own world’s history and culture, families only rarely (at most) have coats of arms, and individuals’ tend not to be “inherited.” Children’s (or other relatives’ or friends’) arms may be designed to be “related to” their parents’ arms, but designs aren’t simply reused generation after generation.
I mentioned banners, above, without explaining them. In Imperial culture, a banner is an area of cloth, occasionally bearing a flag-like design or a “coat of arms” but more often a solid color or made in a simple design, that is used like a much larger version of an emblem. Banners are used to rally troops in battle, and also sometimes as decorations. They are occasionally “flown” like a pennant or guidon, but are more often carried in a vertical frame held aloft.
Development of coats of arms (i.e. heraldry and blazonry) is a somewhat common hobby, and some expert artists even make a living at it.
One unusual fact about heraldry in “the free world” that you might not think of is that, since their chief enemy has made a dragon its symbol and namesake, dragons are vanishingly rare as heraldic symbols even though dragons are mostly good.
Several years ago, I developed coats of arms for several characters. I had planned to end this post with pictures of them, but I can’t get any heraldry design program working right now to translate my text descriptions to images, so I’ll have to just end by asking:
Any questions or comments?