Words and symbols

The world of The Bone Season is full of symbols and words with more history than I sometimes let on in the books. Today, I thought I'd share a little background on some of them. You might even pick up on a few clues . . .


Æther [noun]: In Greek mythology, æther (αἰθήρ, ‘clear sky’) was what gods breathed, as mortals breathed air. Aristotle considered it to be the fifth element, a substance that existed beyond the terrestrial sphere (also called quintessence). It moved in circles, rather than in a linear fashion, like the four terrestrial elements of earth, air, fire and water. In the world of The Bone Season, æther is a common name for the spirit world, which exists alongside the physical world. Warden describes how the Rephaim once lived purely on æther, but lost the ability after the Waning of the Veils.

Buzzer [noun]: Comes from the Hebrew word zamzummim (זמזם), translating to ‘Buzzers’ or ‘people whose speech sounds like buzzing’. Linked to the Emim and Rephaim.

Ectoplasm [noun]: In popular culture, ectoplasm refers to a gauze-like substance or energy given off by mediums. Spirits would drape themselves in this substance in order to interact with the living. In The Bone Season, it's a cold, viscous liquid that acts as Rephaite ‘blood’.

Emite [plural Emim, properly Emites or Emims; proper singular Emma or Ema]: The Emites were a tribe of the Rephaim, mentioned in Deuteronomy. Their name, according to some sources, translates to ‘the dreaded ones’; the Hebrew word (אימה) means ‘terror’ or ‘horror’. I found various plural and singular forms, but decided to stick to the same format I'd used for ‘Rephaite’ and ‘Rephaim’ in order to avoid confusion.

Meatspace: [noun]: This term, unlike other words in the book, comes from cyberpunk and gaming. It refers to the real world, as opposed to the virtual world or cyberspace. In The Bone Season it's used a clairvoyant slang word for the physical world, rather than the Netherworld or spirit world (æther).

Mime-lord and mime-queen [noun]: The prefix ‘mime’ is shorthand for ‘mimic’, and refers to the fact that most mime-lords and mime-queens don't always do their own work; instead, they trade in spirits to get the work done. The term was conceived by the first Underlord, Thomas Ebon Merritt, and was intended as a respectful term to humble voyants, who were forced to remember that they could only ever mimic the greatness of their spirit guides. Eliza, for example, literally mimics the work of dead artists like Pieter Claesz to earn her keep. Jaxon quotes Tom Merritt in On the Merits of Unnaturalness:

I have raised you to Roles of great Importance, so you shall be called the Lords and Queens of these wretched Folk; yet see that I have humbled you anew with a prefix, mime. For though you are a Monarch, remember that you are only a Mimic. The Spirits of the Dead have granted us their Knowledge so that we may whore it on the Streets for Coin, sacrificing their Secrets for the sake of our continued Existence. You, the Unnatural, can only ever imitate their Greatness.’

Numen [noun] [plural numina, slang numa]: Referring to objects that allow certain kinds of clairvoyant to connect to the æther. From the root of the word numinous. I was originally going to call them ‘touchstones‘ or ‘numinous objects’, but the former didn't really seem right and the latter was too clumsy, so I looked int0 the etymology of numinous. Numen means something like ‘divine will’, but it's also used in a sociological and spiritual context to refer to magical potential or power in an object. The proper Latin plural is numina, but after saying it out loud a few times I thought the voyants would have eventually shortened it. I also loved the visual link with the Arabic word for the poppy anemone, meaning ‘pieces of Nu'man’ (see poppy anemone).

Rephaite [plural Rephaim]: A transliteration of a Hebrew word with nuanced meanings. Rephaim (רפאים) are beings that inhabit the netherworld, or She'ol. The word can refer to dead ancestors, shades, ghosts, or giants. In Deuteronomy, it specifically refers to a race of giants who once inhabited Canaan, who were descended from a union between the Nephilim and human women. Both Emim and Zamzummim appear to be alternative names for, or tribes of, the Rephaim.

Sheol: Properly rendered as She'ol. Comes from the Hebrew word sheol (שְׁאוֹל), which translates variously as ‘pit’, ‘hell’, ‘grave’, or ‘abode of the dead’. It suggests a state of separation from God. I decided to leave the apostrophe out of the English translation to distinguish the prison city of Sheol I from the true Netherworld, which is correctly rendered as She'ol in The Mime Order.


1. Amaranth

The amaranth is a symbol I borrowed from John Milton's epic Paradise Lost (1667), although I first heard of it in the Nightwish song of the same name. The word comes from Greek, amarantos (ἀμάραντος), meaning ‘unwithering’ or ‘unfading’. In The Bone Season, it refers to an undying Netherworld flower, the essence of which can be used to treat spiritual injuries and scars.

2. Poppy anemone

Warden pretty much covers this in the book, but the poppy anemone (properly anemone coronaria, Arabic Shaqa'iq An-Nu'man (شقائق النعمان, ‘pieces of Nu'man’)) is a flower that bloomed after the death of Adonis at the tusks of a boar in Greek mythology. Because Aphrodite was so grieved by her lover's death, Adonis was eventually spared by Zeus, and he was able to live half his years in life, and half in death. The Arabic Nu'man is thought to refer to Tammuz, an ancient Sumerian pastoral god of fertility, sheep and vegetation, who was also known as Nea'man. The story of Tammuz and the goddess Inanna is thought to have inspired the Greek story of Adonis and Aphrodite that Warden tells to Paige. The Hebrew word for the flower, כלנית מצויה (Calanit metzouya), comes from the word for ‘bride’.

3. Sundials

The sundials are a key fixture of the real-life Seven Dials, and become a symbol of Paige's life in the syndicate, which is why they have such a prominent place on the cover of The Bone Season. The sundial pillar has six, rather than seven faces, as the junction was originally meant to have six streets. The original pillar was torn down in 1773 and resurrected again in 1989.

4. Anchor

The anchor is Scion's symbol, representing a metaphorical ‘anchor’ to order in a dangerous world of unnaturals. For the cover of the book, I wanted to keep the design very simple, black on white, without any embellishments, to avoid the usual connotation of an anchor with the sea and ships. While I was looking for inspiration from various kinds of image and script, I came across a Nigerian language called Nsibidi, an ancient system of symbols that pre-dates Egyptian hieroglyphics. Two of the glyphs had a distinctly anchor-like shape. (One also meant strength while the other meant fear, both appropriate for Scion.) One had a line across the bottom as well as the top, which made the shape look considerably less nautical. David Mann ended up using a similar line in the final Scion symbol, which is narrower than both glyphs and has different sized lines on the top and bottom of the anchor. In the books, however, the symbol has nothing to do with Nsibidi. (You can learn more about the system here.)

5. Aster

Aster, which Rephaim call the star-flower, has various uses in the world of The Bone Season, and comes in four colours: purple, white, pink and blue. In myth, the flowers grew from the tears of Astraea, the star-maiden, who was moved to tears of sadness when she saw that Earth had no stars of its own. It was considered by the Greeks to be a sacred flower.


  1. Thanks Samantha :) this was really helpful and interesting x

  2. Hi Samantha,

    As a Hebrew speaker, I really enjoy reading the Hebrew names in your books :)
    I was wondering - does the word "Mesarthim' also come from Hebrew?

  3. In Hebrew "Meshartim" means servants or ministers - does this meaning have anything to do with Warden's part?

    and just wanted to say how much I enjoy your books and can't wait for the 3rd one :)

  4. Hello, dear Samantha. I know you're extremely busy, but I would like to ask you for a favor. I am actually doing some research on your book(s), namely your use of language (neologisms and slang), for my bachelor thesis. I would like to ask you some questions if you wouldn't mind. Probably I will try to contact you even on other kinds of social networks if this doesn't work. I sincerely hope you answer soon. :) Looking forward, (your big fan) Jitka (from the CZ).

    1. Hi Jitka!

      Sure, I'll try my best to answer. It's probably best to contact me on Tumblr about this, as the ask system there makes it easiest for me to answer long questions. http://sshannonauthor.tumblr.com/ask

  5. As someone who read this book in Hebrew (and absolutely loved it!) It was quite amusing coming across all those Hebrew words and it's allways fun coming across words in hebrew (witch is surprisingly common in yw and fantasy, for a language I think about 0.01% speak ��) anyway, I loved the books and I can wait to read the rest!


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