The Culture of River Twine Holt

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Celebrations of River Twine Holt

(article by Joan M. - posted 10/23/06)

Birth of a Cub Unless the circumstances are unique, the tribe usually lets Recognition be a private affair of the two lucky elves. However, the birth of a child, a new holt member, is cause for celebration. The rest of the holt has the eight-of-days following the birth to make plans for the tribute, before the parents 'publicly' introduce the new cub and share with the tribe the child's name. Special foodstuffs of the season are made for the celebration such as honeycakes, nutbreads, meat pies, new juices concoctions, spiced porridge. In more recent births, the tribe has been flourishing and many elves have brought to the couple and new child handmade and individualized gifts, as well. The time is spent celebrating, communing, and learning what can be learned from the newborn cub, the renewal of life, and the enhancement of hope.

All Spirits' Night This is a tradition which is not tied to the seasons, but to the actual measuring of time by moon-turns since the last time it was held (in other words, yearly). In a tradition that goes back countless hundreds of years, All Spirits' Night is a revel in honor of the tribemates who died whether recently or long ago. The elves howl for, perhaps even with, the spirits emphasizing for all, the good that happened to the holt since their passing.

New Moon New Name Name changes usually come with great personality or life changes. Even if the name is Given by the chief at the moment of change (such as Redlance's change of name), it is traditional that the elf goes to the chief to ask, the chief holds a council and it is discussed to see if it will be accepted. Of course it usually is and is announced at the next Howl, or (depending on circumstances and timing) possibly a Howl of it's own is made for the night.

New Green Bliss It is the melting away of snow and the arrival of springtime and the forest comes alive around the elves. The elves gather in what passes for the center of the holt village where dyes, paints, feathers, and anything else that sparks an elf's fancy is placed. There they howl and shed themselves of their old winter clothes. Naked and free to decorate themselves (and others), they proceed to take the dyes and garnishes and 'dress each other up'. They paint each other in whatever way they like and cover up as much as possible.

After having joined in the painting fun, the children are ushered to the dens to leave the adults alone. They go to the rivers where all the elves choose who they would like as a 'mate' for the night and at a quiet stream clean each other off and let the celebration get more passionate.

The day after, it is time to start wearing new outfits for spring and summer (having been planned and made before). The celebration for the shedding of old skin and welcoming the new.

Colorfuls A Colorful is the name the elves have given to the general outfit overhaul of one or more members of the tribe. Not considered a tradition in itself, a Colorful is usually in conjunction with another celebration, most often the welcoming of Spring time.

Storytelling Nights A night of telling tales can happen around any comfortable fire, but "official" storytelling nights happen under specific circumstances. On a clear day, a group of elves sit together to stargaze. If the atmosphere is right, one of them would point out a constellation and tell a story or sing a song about it. This is the signal to start the storytelling circle – the tone of the first tale will set that of the others, as the elves tell stories through free association until they mine the subject out. Such a circle operates on the same system of pick-pass-play often used in bardic circles. On a starless or rainy day, the shape of a cloud or a puddle will be used as an inspiration instead of a constellation.

Ice-Cracking River Twine Holt is blessed with a multitude of rivers, but many of them freeze in deep winter. Following a particularly harsh winter, whether in survival, food, weather, or all, when the ice finally gives way, it may be cause for celebration among the tribe. They may gather at the edge of the river, laugh, sing, drink, eat, enjoy the impending ending of winter.

One Ice-Cracking tradition that no chief has managed to uproot despite its dangers is the trial of courage jokingly called "elf race for a blue face", in which rowdy elves race to the newly thawed water's edge – and leap right in. Often, they compete as for whom can stay submerged in icy water the longest.

Summertime Games This celebration does not happen yearly, but only in summers that are very plentiful, enough to afford the elves to drop their work of hunting and foraging for a few days. The tribe may pack itself up and go spend two or three nights on the lakeshore. These nights they indulge in a variety of activities, mostly water-based games and contests, culminating in the Big Dunking Game – the last elf to keep their head dry wins!

Full Moons It is a rare and exceptional thing to have both the Mother and Child moons full at the same time on River Twine's world. For any concerned with the passage of time, this once every 512 years, and will be either during the spring thaw and in the early winter time. This is thought to have a distinct effect on the world, the water, the animals, and most conspicuously our elves and their bond pack. It is cause for a special Howl to the Full Moons ... which shall be expounded upon later

Rites of Passage

(article by Joan M. - posted 10/23/06, updated 07/04/08, updated soul name search section on 07/03/13)

The Very Long Walk

A solitary custom for cubs entering their adolescence. Usually, when the cub's parents, elder sibling or mentor decide the young one is old enough, they take him to her on a "very long walk" – cub and mentor or parent – passing through the entire Holt territory. This is a sort of summary of the cub's learning years, as the guide names all the important places – trees, rivers, pools, and so on – every animal and useful plant they come across, every place where something significant happened to the tribe. This oten a sort of prelude to a soul name search, as the cub is encouraged to see all these things and start thinking of how they fit into the "greater place" – metaphorically: the tribe. It's a significant bonding experience for the two elves on the Walk.

The Very Long Walk is usually held for a cub around age eleven or twelve. Usually a parent serves as guide, but an older sibling or valued teacher may do.

Soul Name Searches

Some elves know their own soul-names from an early age. For others, knowledge of it comes later, in their mid to late teens; elves will generally have "found" their soul-name by the age of about 20. The tribe has come to believe that it is beneficial for a youth to go on a "soul-name search", which is a period of time away from the tribe when the youth contemplates the world, the Way, and his or her own place in it. This period is similar to meditation, and results in the elf discovering his or her own soul-name and thus a greater understanding of his or her full and deepest self.

Soul-name searches take place after the youth has gone on his or her Very Long Walk, and thus, he or she will have already started to be introduced to the wider world of the tribe's territory. Because the soul-name search is conducted alone, though, youths are generally expected to take their wolf-friends with them, if they go more than a day's walk from the Holt; and they are expected to stay within the tribe's territorial boundaries. (Outside those boundaries there are too many dangers from packs of stranger-wolves.) Since the arrival of local humans, furthermore, the solitary elf must stay within the boundaries of the Thornwall. The search can last hours, a day, days, or even a week; anything longer than this is extremely rare. The longer the youth is away, the more likely it is that his or her family members will check on their status with basic sending "pings", to ensure that he or she is still alive and not in trouble. These check-ins, however, are kept at that most basic level and aren't really "communication", as the family will try to respect the youth's privacy and solitude.

Otherwise, there is nothing more private than the soul-name search. The one universal tribal tradition is that no one ever asks about the search, ever; only the searcher may ever initiate such a conversation.


Cubs bond with their first wolves in a variety of ages and circumstances, keeping to little official order except the serious business of introducing the new cub to the tribe, which cubs do with all the solemnity of parents introducing a new child, tribe name and all. Another thing a newly bonded cub is expected to do is make "rounds" between the adult wolves and make it public knowledge that the pup is now theirs. Lastly, elf cub and wolf cub will sleep curled up for at least the day following the bonding, marking each other deeply with their scent.

An adult elf bonding anew only follows the second custom of introductions around the pack. Many times, such an introduction would lead to a tribal howl, the elves howling the names of both elf and new wolf.

Death of a Wolf-Friend

While wolf-friends are short-lived compared to most elves, their deaths are marked by some similar traditions to those for a dead elf. A wolf-friend's body is not always brought back to the Holt (it is up to the individual elf whether to keep the pelt or not), nor is it given to the river. But the elf-friend will lead a Howl to honor their wolf's memory; this Howl is sometimes postponed for a few days, in order to give hunting parties time to return to the Holt to participate. As with Howls for dead elves, it is an occasion for sharing memories and stories of the deceased. While it is not a party/celebration, the tribe customarily shares a meal in affirmation of their bonds with each other and with the wolf-pack.

Death of an Elf

When an elf dies, if possible, their body is brought back to the Holt. Soon after the death, the body is prepared, and the tribe engages in a ceremony in which all of the tribe's members take the body to the Holt's River, where it is placed on a small, flimsy raft. Close loved-ones help to put the raft into the water and guide it out into the current, where it is let go. The raft is flimsy enough that it will not last long, and will soon give the body to the river, where it is likely to be deposited on a far-away bank for the scavangers to take care of.

After this, the elves at the Holt will hold the first Howl for the deceased. As with dead wolf-friends, the Howl may be postponed to allow hunting parties to return. Memories and stories of the deceased are shared, and their loved-ones may distribute some of the dead elf's possessions to the members of the tribe. Again, this is usually not a party/celebration, and does not tend to turn boisterous or sexual; but a feast is held to reaffirm the tribe's bonds with one another.

Games that Elves Play

(article by Joan M. - posted 04/04/07)

The Name of the Game: Elf Games in RTH

Just because you're in the woods, doesn't mean you can't play ball.

Few things are harder than cataloging all the different games even the smallest tribe can come up with the simplest tools at hand. This document, therefore, presents only some examples of the most common games the elves of River Twine's tribe would often play. Dozens of others exist. Generally, as a rule, when mentioning an elf game in a story, try to think of the following:

1) Location: Many things that appear obvious in a city are not so much in the forest – primarily, a level playing field. One would be hard-pressed to find any clear, open, flat space, and games that need one will likely be impossible. On the other hand, the forest and rivers setting make the entire holt effectively one big playground. Take geography into account in gameplay, it can be quite a lot of fun!

2) Participants: In a human city, you'll find clubs, teams, groups, the kids from around the block… not so much in a holt. Elfin games are unlikely to require more than a dozen participants, for the simple reason that nine times out of ten, simply no more are available. On the other hand, in a tight-knit familial society, solitary games will also fall out of favor fast. Finally, recall the nature of your participants – fun-loving Wolfriders, young for centuries at end, with little taboo on "cub-silly" behavior in public.

3) Rules: While an oral culture can be highly sophisticated, it is still limited in the amount of exact information it can hold. Thus, rules of elfin games would likely be more flexible traditions than hard and written laws of play. They'll also tend to be simpler. Even in times of peace, elders have more important things to do than memorize and teach needlessly complex rules.

4) Materials: Elves may not have access to plastic or rubber, but that by no means limits their access to toys. Balls can be made from rugs or animal bladders, posts and gates from shaped wood, tokens from bone. The limits are of one's imagination, not the materials at hand.

5) Purpose: Even we, advanced humans that we are, have still not explained the entire purpose behind playing games, but some are obvious. Games can be meant to teach cubs how to hunt, hide or track; they can keep the elves in good physical shape; strengthen teamwork; resolve tensions and get tribemates who don't normally rub shoulders to socialize. There need not be a "point" to any specific game, but starting from one – teaching a rowdy cub to wait patiently, for once – can be a font of ideas.

Here are several examples of common elfin games:

Five Stones: Mostly a game of speed and good eyes. The five stones in question are pebbles chipped into rough cubes, which one elf holds in her palm. She would then toss the stones up and attempt to clap while they're still all in the air, then catch all five on the back of her hand. If she succeeds, on her next turn she will attempt to clap twice then catch four stones in her palm, and so on. This is a difficult game that requires concentration, and usually is played inside the den to avoid losing the stones in the undergrowth.

Taal: A hunting game for as many tribemates as are in the mood, played in peaceful high summer. Each participating elf gets five tokens of bone, and then all run off into the woods. The game is a hunt-and-pounce game -- if one elf manages to surprise another, he claims one of their tokens. If both become aware of the other, nothing happens and both go on their way, or join up to hunt a third. If, however, the elf manage to notice that they're being stalked, and then surprise their stalker, they get to claim two tokens from them.

An elf who lose all his tokens is out and goes back to the holt. The elf with the most tokens at the end of the game wins. The "end of the game" can be anything from 'moon-set' to 'whenever five or more elves are out'.

Fingertwine (cat's cradle): The favored game of the tribe's nimble-fingered, played with a loop of colorful string twined over and between one's fingers. The next player would then carefully move the string over to their own fingers while creating a new pattern. The patterns, which have a specific order, are the challenge of the game, which is most often used to get cubs to sit down and think carefully and quietly.

Stepstones (hopscotch): Played over slow-moving water or wet mud, where boulders dot the river, this is a turns-based game for two teams. Two elves begin at opposite banks of the river, and try to get across at the same time, jumping from stone to stone. They use long sticks to help their balance – long sticks they're perfectly permitted to poke into the other contestant's back or side to "help" them as well. The first elf to get to solid ground dry passes his stick on to the next member of his team, who starts out, until one team has all made it across the river (dry). Victory goes to the team who has most dry members first on the opposite bank.

Follow-Me ("Simon Says"): Played as a group, sometimes spontaneously. One elf would start a single repetitive gesture – clap hands, slap knee, stomp foot, jump – then the next would repeat what the first did and add another step. Each elf must repeat everything that went before, then add another piece of their own. Players unable to do it correctly bow out of the game, until only one is standing. Games of Follow-Me can evolve into impromptu dances.

Tail Tag: A game for both elves and (well-behaved) wolves, where the objective is to pull the other team's tails. Elves would play it with a strip of fur attached to the back of their pants, and wolves with the same around the tops of their tails, and all would swirl around in a barking, laughing mayhem and attempt to snatch and remove as many "tails" as they can. The tailless is out of the game, while the elf (or wolf!) with the most tails wins.

Smackball (Dodgeball): A favorite of cubs with too much energy. The smackball is made of preserver silk and is thus very soft. The ball is tossed high into the air – whoever catches it gets first turns. Smakball is played by trying to hit others with the thrown ball and taking them out of the game. However, if an Elf can catch the ball thrown at them, the thrower is out of the game rather than they. Smackball can be very good practice for dodging, catching and throwing.

High-and-Low: More a sport than a game, H&L makes use of the natural obstacle course of the holt's wood and rivers environment. To spice things up, the elves enjoy leaving "surprises" for the participants – a weakened branch, a harmless trap, or a net closing up an easy path. To spice things up even more, sometimes the participants would burden themselves with packs, cups of water, one tied hand, or even another elf on their backs. H&L is usually a race, although some extreme courses have as many winners as can actually get through them.

Stickball: (native lacrosse) Originally developed with dip nets and a dead seabird tied into a ball, this rough & tumble game is similar to early lacrosse, and consists of two teams each armed with one-to-two-foot long sticks with a small net of rawhide strings or woven bark at one end, and a hide ball stuffed with hair. The playfield can range from be open ground (such as a clear, level grassy field), to thick forest -- the players sometimes send playfield boundaries, and sometimes no boundaries are the agreed-upon arena for the day. Each team (number of players can vary) scores by getting the ball into the opposing team's goal -- the goal can be a single tree, stump, or spear that has been stabbed into the ground, or landmarks like a badger hole, a burl of a tree, even a bird's nest. Usually each team has a separate goal (making it easier to defend), but the rules of stickball can be as variable as the players: sometimes players insist on complex rules and rigid defensive vs offensive roles for players on their team, while while sometimes the players agree that their are no rules at all except the push to score.

Word games: Not all elf games are physical. Riddling circles are popular with both elders and know-it-all cubs, and on lazy nights more settled, patient elves would compete for finding the most rhymes for one word, naming a past chief's wolf-friends, or composing brief witticisms. Speaking Pebbles is a primitive, oral version of scrabble, in which pebbles of different colors represent syllables – the elves pick pebbles blind from a pile, then play in conversing only with words that contain their "color".

Summer Games: The elves do their most, wildest playing when going to the lake in particularly hot summers. The events that take place there are a little like elfin "Olympics", with the elves, in singles, pairs and teams, participating in a number of traditional contests. Those include a variety of swimming, running and riding races; heavy-lifting matches; Poke-Hoop, a game of throwing spears and javelins or shooting arrows through a hoop at a distance; line walking over water, and so on. Elders sometimes serve as "judges", and while there aren't proper awards, good fun is had by all.

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