Teachings of the Kirin

Posted in Feature on January 20, 2022

By Emily Teng

Emily Teng is a worldbuilding game designer for Magic: The Gathering.

Nowadays, orochi can be found living all over Kamigawa. Once upon a time, though, they were the original inhabitants and guardians of Jukai Forest. And according to ancient legend, long ago, the orochi used to have legs like other Kamigawan mortals.

Teachings of the Kirin
Teachings of the Kirin | Art by: Sam Burley

For centuries, the orochi led their lives largely within the Jukai Forest, where they existed in harmony with the forest's kami. However, the construction of the city of Towashi and the destruction of the forest that came with it enraged the kami. They drove out all who had been living within its borders and closed the forest off to everyone—including the orochi.

Cut off from their ancestral homeland, the orochi struggled to fit in. New akki inventions and moonfolk experiments with the merging realms had fueled a boom of innovation and new access to power that the orochi found themselves unable to keep up with. Even worse, they could no longer draw on the kamis' powers as they were used to.

Desperate, the orochi appealed to the kami for help. In the end, it was the kirin who answered that call. But the kirin refused to become the orochi's new patron, as they first requested. Instead, through a series of tasks and quests, the kirin helped the orochi understand the truth behind their loss of power: the kami of Jukai Forest, in their anger at the mortals, hadn't stopped at physically ejecting them from the forest but had cut off all who drew strength from them as well. The orochi could regain their power, but they had to prove their willingness and sacrifice to the forest kami first: they had to give up a set of arms and legs and revert to simpler forms. The catch was that doing so would make integration into modern-day Kamigawa even more difficult.

The kami had deliberately set a request they expected the orochi wouldn't agree to. However, the orochi surprised them by accepting these terms without hesitation and even offered to give up their remaining set of arms as well. Touched by their devotion, the kami granted the orochi power magnitudes greater than what they had ever had before, and instead of simply taking all their limbs, granted the orochi a new form to help them better channel that power.

It's unclear how much of this tale is true and how much of it is orochi fable meant to impress their young with the importance of reverence and dedication to the kami. Either way, it's one of the orochi's most well-known tales and a popular topic for artistic depictions, such as this vase and flower arrangement. The vase shows orochi in their legless form as a celebration of their new shape and is used to hold an arrangement of flowers magically grown to evoke the kirin. Arrangements like this are commonly found in many orochi homes.

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