The Middling circle, an aemet tradition

The Middling circle is mentioned fairly often in my stories of Aligare. This place and its customs are very present in the daily lives of aemets and their allies.

Actually, though, the Middling circle is many places: the name refers to a ceremonial space every Aligare town or village has. Each community’s Middling circle is a short walk away from the busy heart of the community, ideally in the forest or at least near some trees or thickets. At its most basic, the Middling circle is just an open space with a few stones marking a circle.

Kind of like this. (Photo © Jim Henderson)

Kind of like this. (Photo © Jim Henderson)

Established communities usually use nicer stones — like quartz crystals or metal-studded ore — interspersed with statues of the thirteen Legend Creatures.

On a daily basis, aemets save up their household plant trimmings in a big basket. Anything that won’t burn cleanly in the hearth fire needs to be returned to the plant goddess: starchy root peelings, moldy trimmings, tough green stalks, and leftover medicinal herbs. Plant pieces are never carelessly thrown away — not by aemets or in front of aemets, anyway. Then, on the 15th morning of each month, everyone takes their full baskets and walks to the Middling circle. This is a community event, a time of togetherness and light hearts. Folk sing in praise of the plant goddess Verdana and all that she provides. It’s an aemet tradition, but the town’s korvi and ferrin are welcome to participate if they want to (and they often do). All of the town’s plant scraps are added to piles within the stone circle, then everyone goes back to their homes and has a nice meal. Not a special fancy feast. Just a nice meal. Meanwhile, the piled plant scraps begin their return to the earth.

compost-heap-3-DHD

Yes, the whole Middling custom is just glorified composting. It’s a ritual of putting organic material in a specific place to rot. But it certainly seems like a miracle, the way people’s unwanted cuttings transform into a dark, rich soil that nourishes new plants. It surely must happen by the plant goddess’s will. Aged compost soil from the Middling circle is shared back to the community whenever gardens or farmland need fertilizer, and it’s treated with mild reverence. Middling soil isn’t a sacred artifact or anything, but it does have a lot of heart involved in its making.

Someone esteemed always tends the Middling circle, someone well-regarded in the community. It’s usually someone deeply spiritual who wants to be closer to Verdana, since the Middling circle is about as close to a church as aemets have. This groundskeeper turns the trimming piles to aerate them, adds the right amount of soil and water, and keeps living plants from overgrowing the space. Plants are dissuaded with non-violent methods, of course: either digging them up and relocating them, or using elemental casting to ward them away.

This Middling circle custom is a vital part of every Aligare community. Even korvi-majority towns have some local crop production, and the few aemets living there are usually more comfortable when they have a familiar Middling circle to visit. After a time of crisis, it can be soothing to do a familiar task like carrying potato peelings to a quiet forest clearing.

Of all celebrations, Rose never thought she would be so glad for a simple Middling. New morning gemlight spilled down on Fenwater’s main street; dozens of friends milled around the gathered baskets of plant trimmings; it was normal and beautiful. Even with four fellow aemets singing salvation hymns into the clear air. There was no telling how long folk would sing, but salvation songs, at least, spoke of relief and serenity as much as mourning.

Remedy, a story of Aligare, Chapter 24

But why the name “Middling”? For the same reason it’s honoured on the 15th of every 30-day month. Plants are as vital to life as air and water, so they’re ordinary, in a sense. Each month’s Middling reminds folk that ordinary things are important. Beginnings and endings might be showier and more memorable, but the middles must never be taken for granted.

Another fun fact? Between their insect traits, their forest homes, their agriculture, their female deity, and that Middling circle custom, the aemet race made me think of leafcutter ants. That’s where I got the name aemet (from the Old English ǣmete and later emmet, meaning “ant”.)

It’s just another piece of life in Aligare.



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