Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Beginner's Introduction to Ricca

Excerpt: Chapter 1 of "The Riccan Way," published 5985.1

Hey, 'Sup? Welcome to Ricca.

Ricca is a spiritual community, and a system of ritual practice, based on the rediscovered beliefs and methods of the ancient A'riccans. To avoid confusion, Riccans generally refer to the ancients by their alternate name the Amre, and use the term "Ricca" to refer to the modern practice and "Riccans" for the modern practitioners.

The Ricca Calendar and the Riccan View of Time

Riccans follow a calendar based on the cycles of numerals (tens, fifties, hundreds, etc.) within a cumulative ever-increasing decimal count of days, rather than the cycles of the moon or of the seasons of the year. This calendar emphasizes two of the central concepts of Riccan spirituality: Transience, and Exsolance—Transience, because no date or event ever recurs; and Exsolance (literally, "being beyond the sun"), or independence from the natural world, because holidays can occur at any phase of the moon and on any day of the season or year. (The Ricca "stardate" calendar, we now know, was a recent invention and is not based on the actual calendar used by the Amre.)

Riccan holidays occur every fifty days, with major observances every hundred days. Riccan communities choose a distinct individual descriptive or thematic name for each upcoming hundreday observance. For instance, the Riccans of my district have named the next coming hundreday celebration Right Leg Only, and we're preparing special dances, games, food, and workings fitting that name. However, by the time you read this, Right Leg Only will be long past, never to be repeated, and the Brackets will be planning something else, something new. Thus, Riccans always have a unique future to look forward to. This is the core of Transience, the Ricca view of time as a linear journey between the distant opposites of birth and death, contrasting with the perpetual cycles of death and rebirth we all experience in our ordinary secular lives.


Practicing Riccans organize themselves into groups called Brackets. Each Bracket has its own gathering place and Alter, at which the members meet (traditionally, every tenday) to invoke the Room. Except for some Archbosses who focus on teaching, most Riccans devote their time and energy to a single Bracket at a time. However, moving from one Bracket to another is common, and is another manifestation of the principle of Transience. Do not be surprised if your own journey in the Riccan world takes many unpredictable turns, never ever bringing you back full circle to where you started!

Riccan Greetings

Riccans often greet each other with a friendly "Hey, 'Sup?" This is an ancient Amre expression whose literal meaning is, "Hello; what are we going to do next?" Thus, even when meeting for activities that have been planned for many tendays, Riccans are ritually speaking as if the coming events are completely unplanned and decided upon at the spur of the moment. This emulates the ancient Amre's confidence in their control of their world that enabled them to do anything they wanted, whenever they wanted.

Another Riccan phrase, used during rituals and when parting, is "Have a nice day." Though Riccans usually say this to one another as a routine pleasantry or good wish, it has a deeper meaning as well: it is actually a command, a reminder of a Riccan duty. The Amre, due to their highly elevated materiality, had a nice day every single day of their lives. The modern Riccan knows that's not possible today, but strives to balance action, preparation, and acceptance to make each day as close to nice as possible.

Sacred Riccan Gathering Places

Part of any Riccan gathering is the ritual invocation of a symbolic space, or Room. The Room represents an alternate plane of complete Exsolance, of existence entirely separate from the hostile elements of the natural world. This is why most Riccans meet, and perform their rituals, indoors.

The ideal workspace for a Bracket is on a floor above ground but covered by a hard roof, with doors closed and windows shuttered. There should be as few distracting sounds (such as wind or rain) as possible. However, such perfect ritual spaces are rarely available, so compromise is necessary. If necessary, cover windows with sheaves or cloth curtains, and cover un-planked floors with stones, straw, or leaves. Some Brackets paint these coverings (or the floor planks if they have them) white. to give them more of an air of sacred artificiality.

If your Bracket's sacred space is less than ideal, remember that the Exsolance of the Room is first and foremost a frame of mind. With sufficient practice, a Riccan can achieve this state in any surroundings. The physical trappings help but are not necessary. It is said that even the Amre themselves had to touch the ground and get rained on occasionally!

The Alter

Each Riccan sacred space includes an Alter, a platform or table near the center of the meeting place. The Alter is the portion of the physical space that extends into the Room once the ritual or workings are underway. Thus, the Alter holds the symbolic objects and tools to be used in the ritual and workings within the Room. Many Riccans also install private Alters in their own living spaces, for solo workings. Personal Alters can be as small and discreet as necessary.

The word "alter," of course, means "change," which is what Riccan rituals are all about, in the spirit of Transience.


Clothing is a very individual and personal matter, and clothing practices at Riccan observances differ considerably from one Riccan and one Bracket to another. There is no single correct style of Riccan garb, either in or out of the Room. While some modern Riccans are content to wear the same kind of hooded robes or cloaks they use for everyday living, others take pains to mimic the clothing worn by the Amre. Many Riccans, during major ceremonies and workings, wear a strip of brightly colored shiny fabric tied around the neck with the ends left to hang over the front of a shirt or dress. They prefer to work "tieclad" (as they call it) because it gives them an additional sense of identity with the elite Amre who are said to have worn similar garb.

Of course, privacy can be a factor in such decisions. Unless one is very advanced in Ricca, or very self-confident, working tieclad in the presence of guests, Interns, or strangers might be more distracting than it's worth.


Artificial lighting celebrates Exsolance at Riccan gatherings. It is also practical, because the ideal gathering places are at least shaded if not completely enclosed. So, an important early step in most Riccan rituals (especially at night) is the lighting of electric lights.

Of course, real electric lights are not available to most Brackets, and even where they are, using them for Riccan ritual purposes might be illegal or might attract unwanted attention in communities where Ricca is still repressed. As a substitute, Riccans use candle holders with "switches" (small levers that are moved from one position to another with a fingertip) built into the base. Usually, a Peon lights the candle while concealing the flame behind a small opaque hand-held screen. The Boss then moves the switch and the Peon lifts away the screen at the same moment, to ritually re-create the operation of electric lights.

If there are sufficient participants and multiple candles, then the Boss might move only a single switch located on the side of the Alter. At this signal, designated Bracket members unshield all the lit candles simultaneously. When performed at nighttime, this can be a very inspiring display that helps give the ritual space an inspiring and exsolant artificial atmosphere.

(Note that this use of switches for lighting is not, despite a superficial similarity, the same thing as the often-misunderstood esoteric art of using large numbers of electrical or mechanical switches, connected to one another in complex ways, to create sequences of numbers or symbols for divination purposes. We will be covering switchcraft in the more advanced chapters.)

The Elements

Most of the basic Riccan ritual practices and symbols are directly tied to the traditional Riccan Elements: Steel, Glass, Electricity, and Oil.

The Elements represent the tools of the intellect that can overrule the indifferent forces of nature and bring about change. At the most basic level, Steel represents strength, Glass represents knowledge, Electricity represents motion and calculation, and Oil represents latent energy and ability. But there is more to it than that. Steel and Oil are opaque and logical, while Glass and Electricity are transparent and intuitive. Steel and Glass are solid, while Electricity and Oil are fluid. Steel and Electricity are durable, while Glass and Oil are fragile. These similarities and oppositions give the Elements great power in Riccan rituals.

On the Riccan Alter, Steel is usually represented by a piece of metal -- actual steel if it's available, but more usually, iron or bronze. Various metal tools are also used in many workings, and these too are aligned with Steel.

Actual glass is sometimes used to represent Glass, but some rituals require the Glass to be fully transparent or reflective, so a shallow vessel of clean water or a polished metal mirror are often used instead. Recently many Brackets have begun using an empty frame to represent Glass. (The Glass is so transparent it's invisible!) This is convenient when a ritual, such as Changing the Channel, calls for a participant to look through the Glass. Some fortunate Brackets do use actual glass of sufficient transparency, but that's too fragile and valuable to use in routine tenday gatherings.

Oil is represented by mineral oil if available, or vegetable oil more generally. Turpentine or alcohol can also be used at need. The Oil is always in a metal container (called a "can" because it represents all that Oil "can" do) with a long pouring spout. The can is also a burner in which the Oil can be set alight, or there is a separate burner to pour the Oil into.

Electricity is represented by either a hand dynamo and battery, or a lump of opaque glass and a piece of silk, or a piece of amber and a swatch of wool—or, more usually, simulated representations of one of those combinations of items. It is not necessary to make actual Electricity during most rituals, but if your Bracket can do it, it's a nice touch.

The Bracket invokes the Elements in sequence to cast the Room at the start of rituals and workings. This will be covered in detail in the next chapter.

Riccan Rituals

So, your Bracket has gathered. The Boss has greeted everyone with "Hey, 'Sup?" and the electric lights are burning brightly. The four Managers of the Elements have invoked the Room, the shared Exsolant other-space where the spirit of Transience prevails, and change can be worked. The tools are ready on the Alter. What happens now?

There are as many varieties of ritual as there are Riccans, and every Bracket has its own style. But many rituals follow common themes and share basic common practices. These commonalities allow any trained Riccan to recognize and understand the basic rituals of just about any Bracket. 

In your own Bracket, as an Intern or Peon, you will learn from your Boss and your Room-mates what to do in each ritual, either in rehearsals beforehand or (in less formal rituals) during the ritual itself. A good Boss will provide new Interns with ample time to memorize the spoken parts, or will have them written out for you on a plank or slate, or will say each line first for you to repeat. Here are some of the workings you are most likely to see, and in some cases learn, early on:

Changing the Channel (Elements: Glass, Electricity)

This ritual helps a Riccan to change something that is preventing him or her from having a nice day. Riccans use it for healing and to help fellow Bracket members overcome personal difficulties in their lives.

The ritual begins with the primary worker, the afflicted person, "whinging," which means voicing a complaint in a somewhat petulant manner implying that the worker deserves much better from the world. While some participants invoke Electricity, the whinger then watches through (or in) the Glass while other participants briefly act out the problem. (This part is usually rehearsed in advance). After a few moments, the whinger then gestures with an "emote" (a small hand-held totem, usually of black Glass, representing the emotional connection with the situation, hence the name), at which point the performers immediately stop and begin a different performance, depicting a possible world in which the problem is different or doesn't exist at all. This portion is unrehearsed and relies on intuition developed through practice, as the performers improvise and observe the whinger's reaction. The process is repeated; the whinger usually uses the emote several more times before finding an alternative vision that illuminates a solution.

Tuning Up (Elements: Steel, Oil)

Brackets use this ritual to recognize and address community problems, promote harmony, and build up power within the Bracket. It is also a preparatory ritual for Going Places.

The members gather around the Alter and use any available small implement to poke and prod at the Steel, taking turns at a slow pace. Each worker in turn speaks either a traditional phrase or an improvised phrase suited to her or his current feelings about the group's current circumstances. The following worker around the circle prods, then answers, then prods again, then speaks the next phrase. It might begin:

     "Check the compression ratio"
     "The compression ratio is low... Check the timing."
     "The timing is good... Check the charcoal supply."
     "The charcoal supply is low, due to wood from Andover held up at the damaged bridges... check the repair plans."

... and in this ritualized style, the Bracket converses about the state of the community, both physical and spiritual, with a particular emphasis on identifying problems that are not yet being adequately addressed by measures or plans currently in effect.

The Boss pours some Oil on the Steel after each round or two. 

Other traditional Tuning Up nonsense phrases include "fuel line" which is either "good" or "clogged;" "battery cable" which is either "good" or "loose;" "fan belt tension" which is either "good," "tight," or "loose;" and "coolant level" which is either "good" or "low." Note that through practice, most Brackets have developed Bracket-specific symbolic meanings for some of the traditional nonsense phrases and their responses. To fully comprehend their full meanings, an Initiate must usually learn them from context in actual Tuning Up rituals.

When the participants sense that the ritual is nearing completion in that all has been said that needs to be, they all (except for the one whose turn it is to speak) begin chanting, "vroom, vroom, vroom, vroom..." starting very slowly and quietly, and becoming faster and louder. When all that can be heard is the chanting, the Boss burns the remaining Oil and the ritual is complete.

Booting Up (Elements: Glass, Electricity)

This is a scrying ritual that can access visions of distant places and times, including seeing into the near future. The Brackets that practice it usually perform the ritual on the fifdays. Booting Up can stand alone, or can be preparation for switchcraft.

The members take turns activating Electricity and applying it to the Glass, and singing or chanting, while the scryer (usually the Manager of Glass) looks into it and opens her or his mind to images from the Glass realm. At intervals, or at the conclusion of the ritual, the scryer describes any words or images seen. 

The songs and incantations used by many Brackets for this ritual are particularly complex.  And learning to scry requires special training and discipline, because the visions can be blocked by the demon Goatse, an unwelcome manifestation of universal revulsion. The scryer must, at all times, not think about Goatse. So, this is one ritual that you will likely still be watching, rather than participating in directly, during your Peon years.

Building Up (Elements: Steel. Glass)

Riccans can perform the Building Up ritual solo, or as a Bracket. Building Up is a form of aspirational imaging, mental discipline, memory training, and (in the group) consensus building. Using the Steel. the worker adds a new top layer onto a visualized tower made of Steel and covered with Glass. The new layer contains some new realization or idea or theme that the worker wishes to incorporate into her or his world view. But first, the worker reviews the contents of the already existing levels, one at a time from the ground up. Finally, the worker uses Glass to contemplate the new insight that can be seen from the newly elevated top of the tower.

When performed by a Bracket as a group, Building Up incrementally creates a communally shared tower, called the Skyscape.

Tearing Down (Elements: Electricity, Oil)

When a Riccan's tower or a Bracket's Skyscape becomes too large or complex to continue Building Up, the principle of Transience requires the working of a very different ritual, Tearing Down. Tearing Down wipes away the whole structure (only certain Gradualist Brackets ever sanction partial Tearing Down) and the individual Riccan or the Bracket must later start Building Up anew. Thousandays are traditional for Tearing Down, and thus are often times of great change in the Riccan community, including movements of members between Brackets.

Air Guitar (Elements: Steel, Electricity)

This ritual is for group cohesion, relieving stress, having fun, and telling the Cosmos that, like the Amre, Riccans rock! Participants with musical skills bring instruments into the Room which they then imbue with the essence of Electricity and Steel, and play. Those without a musical instrument sing along (or participate silently, if they can't sing at all) while making left-handed rhythmic gestures and right-hand finger waggling. Air Guitar often follows celebratory rites such as divorces and survived-a-Fungus-War-battle parties. (Riccan celebrations will be covered in detail in Chapter 3.)

Going Places (Elements: Glass, Electricity, Steel, Oil)

The ritual of Going Places is probably the most widely known (though not always understood) aspect of Ricca and the great modern Riccan rediscovery of the Amre belief system. It incorporates all the Elements in complete harmony, and it is the primary Riccan means to inspire change, react to change, and celebrate Transience and Exsolance. Whenever a member is joining or quitting your Bracket, changing life partners, starting a new trade, clearing new cropland, laying a new hearth, mourning a death, or setting out on actual travels, your Bracket will certainly perform this ritual in her or his honor.

As always, individual Brackets embellish the ritual in different ways, but the basic components are very consistent and surprisingly simple. The ritual represents a long journey across the material plane of existence, at very high speeds and in complete comfort. It can last from a few minutes to several hours. (A very few Brackets have even attempted Going Places for days, but this is rare and taxing, and some attempts have ended in Breakdowns.)

During the Ritual, the Bracket divides up four tasks: the Oil team keeps all the ritual implements Oiled, burns Oil, and channels the power to the Steel team. The Glass team describes the view—these visions, energized by all of the Elements, are often very vivid and empowering. The Steel team uses Steel implements and simple incantations (such as, "r... e... there... yet")  to draw the corners of the Room close around the participants to contain and unify them. The Electricity team summons Electricity and provides entertainment and comfort (such as beverages, music, and warm or cool breezes) to all the participants. The teams rotate among the Elements during the ritual (if the ritual is long enough to permit this) so that everyone experiences each Element. Going Places requires effort and cooperation from the entire Bracket. Most Riccans find the effort is well rewarded, and eagerly look forward to the next occasion.


This chapter has only scratched the surface of the Riccan experience, but I hope to have conveyed just a few of the key ideas and methods of Ricca, and some impression of the rewards and responsibilities of being part of the Riccan community. As a beginning Riccan you have a lot of learning and discovery ahead of you. Remember that a Steel tower worth Tearing Down takes time to Build Up. If you proceed with care and diligence while taking the principles and ideals of Ricca to heart, you will find no end to the benefits.

Have a nice day!