This article originally appeared in the May/June 2021 issue.
The following is an excerpt from a series of pamphlets on the Vargr, by Marquis Aadkhien, Master librarian at Reference (Core 0140)
Vargr Iconography is a challenging area of study. Despite the diverse nature of Vargr societies there are several re-occurring themes. We present here some of the most common ones and discusses their meanings and impacts. It does not cover all the possible variations. The exceptions to the generalities presented also form a fascinating area of study.
In Vargr society the leadership determines the difference between a club, a gang, an organization, a corporation, and a government. Translations of Vargr languages for these gatherings use the term “pack”. All Vargr languages have modifiers to the general term which makes that translation too narrow. This paper discusses images and iconography used by these organizations and groups, using these terms to reflect the diverse and dynamic nature of the packs.
When a Vargr group forms, the leader selects an image to uniquely identify the group. As a point of pride members like an identity showing where they belong and what they are doing. Leaders adopt imagery with which they are familiar and frequently borrow from successful groups. The lower ranked members each offer suggestions for design, elements, or colors. Determining the content and meaning of specific images requires detailed knowledge of area history and potential influences, including media.
Vargr display the images as banners or flags, sometimes as both. The group also uses the graphic in the manner of a corporate logo included on advertising and other communications. When a Vargr organization produces specific items, the logo will usually be included prominently on those items.
Religious iconography does not have the same importance among Vargr as it does in non-Vargr religions. Vargr religions are personal and organized religions are as fragmented and changeable as other Vargr organizations. Religious affiliation crosses group boundaries so members of the religion will also be members of another pack. If the leader both serves their group and is a member of the religion the group may display or combine both images.
Icons, where allowed by the technology, incorporate movement or change. Elements of the image move, change shape, or shift colors. Some changes can be subtle while others are obvious and attention-getting. Others shift through several images, presenting a sequence of elements. Rarely are there blinking or flashing elements.
A small but noticeable set of organization icons are anti-images. These are a demonstration of what the group is against. A prominent example would be use of a human skull by Aekhu groups in the Corridor and Windhorn sectors. An even more striking example in the Gelath sector would be the triple chevron consisting of three broken !!ring’k, the traditional K’kree weapon.
There are four general image elements appearing in Vargr iconography: the Vargr themselves, their technology, the worlds they inhabit or exploit, and images borrowed from other cultures.
The most frequently encounter image is the wolf’s head: the outline of the ears, eyes, and snout of the Vargr. There are hundreds of variations; face on or in different profiles, with or without the fangs showing, and so on. All represent the obvious statement of “we are Vargr”. Almost ubiquitous on the borders of the Vargr Extents, the wolf’s head becomes more abstract or disappears entirely away from the borders with non-Vargr empires.
Vargr use other parts of their own bodies to convey what is important about their group. Hands with claws are another representation of the Vargr and express ownership. Arms, usually muscular, represent physical labor or strengths. Tails are used by groups engaged in diplomacy and advertising. Legs representing speed are used by delivery groups. There is some overlap with traditional human imagery in this respect. Unlike Humaniti, the Vargr do not use other creatures, beasts or sophonts, in their icons.
Technology as a design element shows the Vargr practical side. Images of the tools the group uses identify the group. Resource extraction and scientific research groups use recognizable machine parts in motion. Mercenary groups and military organizations display weapons of various kinds. Construction and manufacturing organization use images of the thing they are building.
Of technology-based images, use of a starship dominates. The most common one known in the Imperium would be the classic corsair design, with the jagged forward swept wing outline. Within the Extents thousands of different designs appear. Groups using ships display their latest acquisition or flagship design.
Planets, representing access to raw materials and resources, fall into three categories. Gas giants shown as banded spheres sometimes with the great storms are fuel sources, a key strategic resource for any interstellar empire. Asteroids, cratered moons, and other airless rocky lumps are mineralogical and metal sources. Blue or green worlds, usually with white cloud cover are agricultural and biological sources.
When shown from space, any home port or other important location is centered in the image. Other images are from the planetary surface with visible physical features in the background. These images are not always astronomically accurate, for example a blue world with two or three large moons in the sky, representing ownership of several close by worlds of different types.
Finally, while the Vargr have a racial pride and like their imagery to reflect their strengths, they are also aware of the success and power of non-Vargr groups. Symbols used by these outside groups may be adopted to show the Vargr dominance over the others (for example, the Zhodani trefoil design.
The way Vargr perceive color lends preference to bright and contrasting color schemes. Visibility in an environment where images compete for attention makes for challenging color choices. Except for one or two primary selections the colors in an image are chosen to highlight the image itself and not for their broader meaning. Discerning which is the meaningful primary colors and which are the highlight colors can be a challenge.
The colors of the Vargr fur are a common intentionally used color. Especially in areas where ethnic groups overlap the color demonstrates membership in the one or the other. More broadly it is another reflection of being a Vargr group. These colors are tawny (a light brown or brownish-orange), brown, black, grey, silver, and rusty red. Vargr leaders with an interesting color or identifiable pattern to their fur incorporate both into their imagery.
Images never use white as a fur color, even in the rare instance of an albino Vargr leader. White spots signify domestication and adding white spots to a picture of a Vargr is an enormous insult and taken as a challenge.
Red is a complex color for Vargr. On one hand, it shares the human interpretation of blood and the associated notions of danger or threat. It is associated with the heart and strength and endurance. In anti-imagery, red denotes small or insignificant.
Blue associates with living things. It is the color of oceans and of the sky on habitable worlds. Many agricultural, biotech research, and life sciences use blue in the icons. Emergency service signs are also blue. In anti-imagery blue implies lazy or lacking experience. “Bluepelt” is an insult meaning the target has spent too much time on a habitable world and doesn’t have the skills for living on a ship or sealed habitat.
Violet, or deep purple, shows a mystery or unknown. Maps use this color to show unexplored areas. Research groups, companies importing new items into a world, or groups creating new products all use violet. Used in anti-images, violet implies outside of the bound of normal society or strange things to be avoided. Not dangerous necessarily, but also unacceptable.
The Aekhu, primarily in the Tugliki and Deneb Sectors with intermixed groups to both spinward and trailing. The Aekhu pelt color is black and the same color forms the base color for much of their iconography. Aekhu value family more than other Vargr ethnicities making use of the paired elements in the iconography. Third Imperium imagery is featured in many images. Anti-images also feature Imperial elements, such as the sunburst in various states of decay, or colored brown or grey, and various human death images like skulls or bones.
The Gvegh are in the Ghoekhnael, Gvurrdon, and Knoellighz sectors overlapping with the Aekhu in the rimward sectors. The Gvegh pelt color is a tawny brown informing the decision to use yellow or gold colors as the primary fur colors. The Gvegh images in motion have more changes during their loops. Rather than just one image with slight changes, Gvegh icons feature three to a dozen or more images in succession. Images borrowed from the Zhodani Consulate reflect softer images with more curved and fewer hard edges. The more streamlined starship designs are also featured.
Irilitok are found in Arzul, Amdukan, and Mendan sectors. Of all the Vargr, the Irilitok are the most integrated into a Human society especially the Julian Protectorate. Their imagery reflects this integration. Of all the Vargr groups, the Irilitok have the softest, least harsh imagery. They use positive versions of the local Human imagery, rather than using them as anti-images.
Logaksu are in the Ngathksirz, Provence, and Dhuerorrg sectors overlapping with the Aekhu and Ovaghoun to rimward. The Logaksu pelt color tends toward grey or silver. The Logaksu are the group with the least direct contact with non-Vargr. The wolf’s head and claws imagery demonstrating Vargr is abstracted or absent replaced with more direct statements of purpose.
Ovaghoun are found in Lishun and Meshan sectors, mixing with the Logaksu to spinward and the Irilitok to trailing. The primary influences for the Ovaghoun are the Vilani. Their symbol is the nested disks of the First Imperium flanked by Vargr claws. The repeated geometric patterns favored by the Vilani are also used. Ovaghoun fur color varies from a light tan to a deep brown. Despite Vilani influences, the Ovaghoun can be more aggressive and their imagery reflects this by being sharper and assertive.
Suedzuk are found in Arzul, Ktiin’gzat, Gn’hk’r, and Mugheen’t sectors, overlapping with the Irilitok to spinward. Suedzuk pelts are reddish color. In imagery they are isolated from most external influences, thus use either more practical icons or more abstractions. They are the group with contact with the K’kree, which interaction proceeds poorly; the Suedzuk have interesting anti-K’kree images.
Urzaeng, centered in Gzaekfueg, are the other Vargr group that do not have an external border. Like the Logaksu the pelt color is grey or silver. Like the Ovaghoun the imagery can be sharp and aggressive. Because of the distance to the borders there are fewer examples of anti-images.
The Vargr’s use of iconography forms a complex field of study, one tied closely to their history and psychology. These images reflect the varied and storied history of the Vargr.