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Shadowhunters, also known as Nephilim, are a secretive race of beings who are humans born with angel blood. They have fought demons and lived alongside Downworlders in the Shadow World for well over a thousand years, creating their own culture and civilization within human society. Their mandate is to keep the peace and secrecy the Shadow World and keep it hidden from the mundane world while protecting the inhabitants of both worlds from demons.
Despite their ancestry, Shadowhunters are mortal and therefore vulnerable to old age and death; however, their angelic blood endows them with special abilities that allow them to achieve feats beyond what's humanly possible through the application of angelic runes.
According to legend, Shadowhunters were created by the Angel Raziel shortly after 1000 AD, when three humans—possibly with help from a warlock called upon him to save Earth from an invasion of demons. Raziel mixed his blood with that of Jonathan Shadowhunter in the Mortal Cup, a mixture he let Jonathan drink. Raziel then gave Jonathan the other two Mortal Instruments and the Gray Book. Many believe that Raziel named them Nephilim, after the Nephilim of the Bible, though this is unknown as no official records exists of what exactly happened that day.
Soon, more men and women drank from the cup and became Nephilim warriors themselves. They soon became known as Shadowhunters, after Jonathan, the first of their kind. Their children, and their children's children, inherited their parents' angelic blood and became Nephilim themselves.
Idris, a hidden country nestled in Central Europe between Germany, France, and Switzerland, is the homeland of the Shadowhunters and is protected by the demon towers, forcing demons out and protecting the city.
It is protected by various spells and wardings all around its borders to prevent mundanes from entering, transporting any non-Shadow World denizen who crosses the border into the next border without noticing.
There is a system of small towns throughout Idris, all oriented around the one city and capital, Alicante.
The Nephilim follow a strict set of rules set out in Shadowhunters' Codex, the Covenant, and the Accords. The Clave is the collective name for the political body of all active Nephilim. Shadowhunters become members of the Clave upon reaching adulthood at the age of eighteen, when they decide to declare their allegiance to the Clave. Members of the Clave all have rights to contribute to any Clave issue under discussion. They keep and interpret the Law and have the right to help decide on important matters that affect the Nephilim.
The Clave's governing body is the Council, and the Consul is their highest appointed official. The Consul holds little executive power but presides over the Council. The Council may represent the larger Clave when making decisions that don't require a vote—matters of immediate import that are not large enough for the entire Clave to become involved in.
The Clave is divided into smaller groups in different countries and cities of the world: Enclaves in most of the world, and Conclaves in the Americas and Australia. These regional groups are then locally led by individual(s) put in charge of each Institute; the head is also the Enclave's representative on the Council, and every active Shadowhunter residing in the area under their jurisdiction answer to them. These local Enclaves coordinate their own local decision making and organizational structures as they see fit, though the Clave may still interfere in some cases.
The Covenant is the Law upheld by the Clave. It provides the rules of conduct for Shadowhunters and Downworlders. The Covenant protects the rights of Shadowhunters to enforce civilized relations among the Clave, Downworld, and the mundane world, and also protects the rights of Downworlders so that they may not be maltreated by Shadowhunters. It is also the Covenant that guarantees that the Shadow World remains shadowed from the mundane world. The Covenant also elaborates on the legal system of the Shadowhunters.
The Accords acts as amendments to the Covenant agreed to be taken as the law of the land by all of the Shadow World, a treaty that ordains how Shadowhunters and Downworlders interact with mundanes and one another, as well as each group's rights, responsibilities, and restrictions. With the Accords, groups of Downworlders also in peace with the Accords agree to the same oath to never reveal the truth of the Shadow World to mundanes. The Accords are revised and signed every fifteen years by representatives of these groups.
When proven guilty of a violation of their important laws, Shadowhunters may be stripped of their Marks.
Shadowhunters may be trained at a very young age, by their parents or other mentors and guardians. Some Shadowhunters may train at an academy in Idris, or at Institutes in other parts of the world.
Typically, children of Shadowhunters, whether biological or adopted, can choose to train to be Shadowhunters when they're about ten. Upon completion of their training, it is customary and traditionally expected that Shadowhunters travel to other Institutes to learn about other Nephilim cultures, typically at around eighteen.
Ascension is the process through which mundanes become Shadowhunters by drinking from the Mortal Cup. The option is open to lovers and adopted children of Shadowhunters, and, in some rare cases, other Sighted mundanes interested or selected to become a Shadowhunter. Though rare, the Cup has been used to create more Shadowhunters through the years, when their ranks and populations were depleted. Mundanes who Ascend to become a Shadowhunter may then choose and submit their own Shadowhunter last name for approval, or just pick from one of the old defunct Nephilim names (names which have no longer had living or active holders for some years).
However, drinking from the Mortal Cup is dangerous and does not always work. It takes special strength and resilience and they must be extensively tested, so most never survive the transition. Adults, particularly the "untrained and unworthy," could either be unaffected by the process entirely or killed outright.
The traditional color of mourning among the Nephilim is white, contrary to the mundanes' typical black, which is their color of fighting, for their clothes, and red for runes. To honor a Shadowhunter's death, most of them are burned, and their remains are later interred.
During funerals, or when a Shadowhunter dies with another present, their name and the words Ave Atque Vale, taken from a poem by Catullus, which means "hail and farewell" in Latin, are spoken.
The Nephilim's motto is "Facilis descensus Averno," or "Descensus Averno facilis est," which means "The descent into Hell is easy" in Latin. It was taken from Virgil's poem, The Aeneid.
Colors mean different things to Shadowhunters than they do to mundanes. Black is the color of their gear; white is for mourning; gold for weddings and red is ceremonial. According to Raphael Santiago, the demon towers also light up different colors depending on certain messages: gold for celebrations, red signifies magic, which can also be interpreted as danger, and blue as the color of the Accords.