The alcoholic drink Tarus has been a popular luxury good in the Selentine Empire for years. It is however expensive so generally it is drunk diluted with water or juices, and provides a warming feeling. Since the early days of the Empire, drinking Tarus neat has been used to celebrate occasions, and seal deals. On completion of a deal, people would salute each other with a small drink of Tarus. Drinking it neat rather than diluted is intended to show that you are celebrating the raw, pure event - as well as a display of wealth. This then evolved to drinking at funerals to celebrate the deceased's life. In order to share a drink with the deceased, it became tradition during the election of a new Imperator to also pour a drink for the old dead Imperator and set it on fire. The tradition spread to the Houses for when their nobles died and from there to the wider public. For the lower classes, spirits other than Tarus are used however for economic reasons - Tarus is particularly expensive.
The full ceremony is only generally practiced during Imperator elections and on the death of a noble. Versions, often using less Tarus or replacement spirits, are used on other deaths. The celebrants gather around a large flat bowl which is filled with neat Tarus. The chief remembrancer at the funeral provides a eulogy of the deceased, reciting their good characteristics and key achievements. The Tarus in the bowl is then ignited, which burns with a rich purple flame and gives off pale smoke. Setting fire to the Tarus sends the drink into the next world for the deceased to drink. The chief remembrancer, followed by the other celebrants, then dip their glasses into the bowl with their off-hand to take a glass of flaming Tarus, signifying that they have all shared in the life of the deceased. As one they cover their glasses with their main-hand, the pain of the flame as it extinguishes reminds them of the pain of separation on death. As they do so, they bring to mind all of their images of the deceased, say the name of the deceased and a few words of remembrance. They then all drink down the Tarus. Afterwards, and until the Tarus in the bowl goes out, it is traditional to stare into the flames to look for messages in the shape of the flames and smoke.
Components and tools
The main item required is Tarus. This is an alcoholic spirit made from grains which have been eaten by marsh vipers. The vipers digest the shell of the grains and pass out the core. This core is then gathered and fermented in creating the Tarus. The residual chemicals used by the viper to digest the shell remain absorbed into the grain, and give the Tarus its distinctive warming flavour. In addition, the viper has some mild magical talent - communicating emotions and empathy with each other mentally. Some of this ability comes through in the raw Tarus, however once diluted and drunk the impact is limited to a happy drunk feeling. Drinking it raw emphasises this impact. In addition, burning the Tarus and inhaling the fumes, as happens when you talk around a bowl or a glass with flaming Tarus furthe emphasises things. As a result, with the mind focused on the deceased and primed by the ceremony, participants can often feel a connection to the deceased through the emotional states of the other participants. This magical source of this effect is not well understood, as the viper has not been subject to rigorous magical analysis - partially because nobody has thought to, and partially because non-clerical magery is not well tolerated in the Empire.
The ceremony is carried out following the death of a noble or other political elite - especially the Imperator. On the death of the Imperator, the ceremony is carried out at the end of the election of the new Imperator. The new Imperator would generally take the part of the chief remembrancer although this can be delegated to someone close to the old Imperator - sometimes in order to give a better send off if the new Imperator was not close to the old, and sometimes if the new one was a bitter rival and so does not want to laud their virtues. During the election process, similar ceremonies take part around the Empire as the common people remember the old Imperator and hope for a good choice on the next. A similar version is also carried out when the head of a House, or similar level rich or political elite dies. For the more common people, the Spirit Watch is often carried out using cheaper spirits without Tarus' empathic connections.