Mage: the Awakening Mysterium Order Primer

Theses

Mages of the Mysterium sometimes claim that their Order has the longest unbroken history of any. That they are the inheritors of a philosophy that stretches back to pre-Fall Atlantis, and has been revised over the generations only when necessary. As might be expected for the Order most dedicated to the acquisition, preservation, and application of mystical lore, the theses underlying its work revolve around knowledge, magic, and the relationship between the two.

To the Mysterium, magic is the art of directly applying the mage’s knowledge of higher truths to change the world. The imago of a spell is not a convenient thought-form, not a mnemonic or study guide. It is the change the spell will cause. To a magician, knowledge is power in a very real way. Knowledge becomes the thing known, theory becomes action. Mages should study both things and the symbols they represent. Understanding the symbol is what grants power, but the thing – despite being a part of the Lie – reveals the truth of itself in ways that direct study does not. (See The Mysterium, pg 42-43 for more details)

The other consequence of this is that lost knowledge causes theory and action to draw apart, a process that threatens the very fabric of the world. To preserve magic – and, thus, all of reality – knowledge must be preserved. The Mysterium theorizes the existence of a fundamental process they callPancryptia, which works to conceal magical knowledge in legend, artifacts, and mundane academic scholarship. In addition to separating a thing and knowledge of that thing, Pancryptia obscures the truth of things by encasing them in a shell of lies. It is not always enacted by impersonal natural forces, either. Sleeping humanity is one of the most powerful agents of pancryptia, scattering magical knowledge to the winds with no regard for the truths it tramples underfoot. (tM, pg 43-45)

Regardless of its connection to higher truths, magic is not any more moral or just in its application than any other art. Unlike other arts, developing a magical practice changes a magician at a deep, fundamental level. By learning the art within a legitimate power structure that uses a structured exchange of secrets for secrets or mystical service, this change can be directed to a positive end. In short, knowledge has a price, and must if mages are to become moral. (tM, pg 46-47)

Underlying all of the other theses of the Mysterium is a simple (and secret) revelation: magic is alive. And since all things are magic, this means the whole of creation is alive, woven together into a great organism together with the art of changing that organism. This truth is revealed in the Corpus Mysteriorum, a grimoire written by a mysterious archmage that contains both rotes and philosophy. It is the rare athenaeum that does not have a single, true copy and at least one mundane translation. A complex system of cosmological and ethical systems derive from this text; they are far too complicated to detail in this document. (tM, pg 47-50)

The Sophiad

The Mysterium’s system of magical education – the Sophiad – goes beyond simple formal study, encompassing exhaustive reconciliation of reason and inspiration. Personal development is the core of the Sophiad, and Mystagogues are called to explore and experience the world. Ecstatic or gnostic experiences are just as valid and important as scientific surveys or fieldwork, and Mystagogues regularly employ drugs, vision quests, and other forms of mysticism to aid their development of understanding.

Three primary paths make up the Sophiad. Soriology is the direct study of magic and the magical. The most intellectual of the three paths, there is a distinct cultural pressure to relate all other studies back to it as directly as possible. Scholars of the Sophiad consider this unfortunate but inevitable. Esotologyconcerns itself with the study of all things in the supernatural world that are not of the Supernal – spirits, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, changelings, and other, stranger beings and powers all fall under this path. Finally, the path of exoterics concerns itself with the study of Sleeper arts and sciences.

While Mystagogues are known to focus on particular projects or paths, they are admonished against doing so to the exclusion of a diverse experience. Questers must remain flexible, willing to accept and engage with the lessons the Corpus lays before them. (tM, pg 50-57)

The Protocols

Derived in the 19th century by Mysterium scholars from the hundreds of cultural traditions that prevailed before, the protocols dictate how Mystagogues relate to other mages. The protocols uphold traditional structures without endorsing rigid hierarchy. To the contrary, they view politics as useful only as a vehicle for the development of magical potential. To this end, authority structures complaint with the protocols must be flexible and adaptable, mindful of their subordination to the enlightenment of those they govern.

The first protocol, Right Scholarship, forbids deceit, especially about magical works. Lies are at odds with the preservation of knowledge and contribute to pancryptia. Even lies of omission are considered borderline, and best avoided. While a Mystagogue does not have to always tell the whole truth, they must not attempt to make incomplete information look complete. If the gaps are not obvious, the absences should be pointed out.

Right Apprenticeship enshrines the bond between master and apprentice, teacher and student, as sacred. The master is obliged to teach and the student, as they have no magical secrets of their own to trade, to serve and support their teacher. This bond does not end with the student’s studies; it lasts until death.

Right Exchange governs the exchange of magical secrets between those who are not master and apprentice. It demands that magical secrets be traded in balanced, even exchanges, secret for secret of equal value. The criteria for determining value is not based on subjective worth at the time; raw, universal utility, rarity, and sheer power are the determining factors. Magical knowledge may never be traded for mundane wealth or other currencies. Secret-for-secret exchange encourages the expansion of Awakened lore, as mages must always seek more coin for their purse.

Finally, Right Authority says that the most powerful and enlightened should lead. Awakened political systems should recognize the inherent suitability and the exceptional qualities created in these mages by their development in a legitimate power structure. “Most powerful” is measured both by rote knowledge and intuitive ability (Gnosis), but is tempered by sanity, adherence to the social norms of the Pentacle (Seers and the left-handed need not apply) and appropriate attitude. Leaders must be teachers, not lords.

The Mysterium is not so naive as to expect the other Orders to agree with their protocols though, of course, believe that the Pentacle would be a better society if they did. The practical solution is an “us first” approach. Mystagogues should subtly steer the interaction into the forms of the Protocols when dealing with mages of other Orders. The ability to do this well is a sign of a particularly good curator. It is important to note that the Protocols are not secrets – the Mysterium is quite open about its belief that all mages should abide by these rules.

For those Consilia that simply refuse to play ball and employ threats, magical coercion, or even outright violence, the Mysterium has a harsh response. These criminals are subjected to interdiction. All Mystagogues are banned from offering any assistance whatsoever until the interdiction is lifted. No rotes are taught, no legacies passed on, no mystic insights or dire prophecies shared. Interdiction is almost always levied by or with the consultation of the Mysterium caucus in the Consilium in question, and is levied against an entire Consilium, even if only a handful of mages were responsible. This is generally bypassed only when the caucus cannot pass the sentence themselves – for example, if they are all dead or thralled.

While not a part of the formal protocols, the practice of guanxi is seen as the natural extension of their principles. The term describes informal bonds of trust and genuine feeling, an investment in fellow Awakened. Those with “good guanxi” – typically established by doing favors with no expectation of payment – can share research without needing to balance every transaction. After all, they have good guanxi; it will work out in the end. Unbalanced or exploitative guanxi relationships do not tend to last long; Mystagogues notice quickly when their accounts drift too far out of balance and no effort is being made to correct the ledger.

Practically speaking, guanxi bonds are strongest between Mystagogues pursuing the same fields of study, as they benefit most from the rapid exchange of secrets. Guanxi with outsiders is more awkward, as their foreign customs can throw a spanner into even the strongest relationship. Still, it’s worth cultivating. It is, ultimately, the basis of the social safety net and the whole of the Awakened community.

The Athenaeum

The Athenaeum (plural Athenaea) is a Mysterium caucus’ sacred storehouse of magical lore and objects. Typically built within the largest and most secure Sanctum of any Mysterium cabals operating in a region, it is the heart of the caucus. Members must donate items to its stores to advance in Status, and its massive archives of carefully-tended occult knowledge (Library) are a vital part of any Mystagogue’s Sophiad. Athenaea can also include work-spaces (Laboratory), stocks of rare grimoires (Scriptorium), random collections of lesser items (the Miscellany), and frequently incorporate a Hallow or demesne. (tM, pp 62-69) All Mystagogues in an area usually contribute dots to an Athenaeum’s Sanctum, so that they can freely share in the benefits and can maximize the Size and Security of the place.

Every Athenaeum also includes a Mithraeum, a secret ritual space never spoken of outside the Order. It is kept completely dark (often underground) and sparsely furnished, and is used for all initiation ceremonies for the caucus that do not require things not found there. (Eg, a Hallow or demesne) Outsiders are never allowed in or, if absolutely necessary, are blindfolded. If the caucus has a true copy of the Corpus, it is kept here. (tM, pg 103)

Status

Status in the Mysterium is determined by advancement through the Order’s highly-formalized system of magical initiations. Though it is never spoken of in front of outsiders, the Mysterium’s rank structure is, in many ways, the most strict of any Order… But the expectations placed on the most deeply-initiated also quite unconventional. (See the Protocol of Right Authority, above)

Before seeking each and every level of initiation, a Mystagogue must donate an item of mystical import to their Athenaeum. The precise item is determined through Divination (Time 3) after their previous initiation, although Prophecy (Time 4) is preferred if it is available. VSTs are encouraged to pick something interesting and challenging to acquire, particularly for those pursuing Status 3+. This doesn’t have to be an Artifact from an ancient ruin; potent Imbued or Enhanced Items that have fallen into the hands of Sleepers, Seers, or left-handed outcasts are also potential options.

Once their donation is secured in the Athenaeum (and possibly censored, depending on how dangerous it is), a Mage who has already achieved the rank being sought – the theonom – initiates the Mystagogue. PC theonoms should be used when possible, but VSTs may use NPCs if necessary and appropriate. Seethe Mysterium, pg 98-116 for details of the initiations. After their new level of Status is approved, the Mystagogue may purchase levels of the Mystery Initiation Merit (tM, pg 102), representing mystical powers unlocked by the experience.

Mystagogues may temporarily drop in rank for violating the Order’s Protocols, or committing acts antithetical to its core beliefs, like destroying valuable magical items. This may happen at the character’s VST’s discretion, or with a Status survey (MET: Awakening, pp 122-123) that accumulates twice the character’s Order Status dots in net support and Low Approval. Regaining rank lost in this manner does not require re-initiation; merely a Low Approval and the Mystagogue donating another item to the Athenaeum. A character cannot, of course, re-assume Status 4 if another character has been promoted in the intervening time. The same is not true of those expelled from the Order for heresy or grievous violations of the Protocols; if re-admitted they must re-experience the initiations step by step.

Neokoros (Status 0) are outside of the Order proper, but given some small manner of formal recognition. No donation is required to attain this Status; it is used (secretly) to indicate and test those working towards their first real mystery initiation.

Neokoros Superior (Status 1) have experienced the first true initiation, and been granted some small measure of trust.

Daduchos (Status 2) and Daduchos Superior (Status 3) are the main body of the Order. These mages have been tested and initiated, and are trusted to assume positions of responsibility within the Athenaeum.

A Hierophant (Status 4) leads a Mysterium caucus. These elder mages guide and initiate their subordinates, teaching them the true depths of magic and preparing them to – hopefully – one day experience the Mysteriorum Calamitas themselves.

A Heirophant Superior (Status 5) is both rare and powerful. They have attained the deepest initiation short of archmastery, and their concerns have elevated above the individual caucus. Since there can only be one Status 4 character per Domain, characters seeking Status 5 may “leapfrog” over Status 4 by qualifying for Status 5, donating two items (determined by prophecy as usual), and undergoing both initiations. The Mysteriorum Focus is also an exception to the usual rule regarding theonoms; it may only be administered by a Heirophant and must be administered by a PC.

The Mysterium, pp 119-128, has more details on each of the levels of Status within the Order.

Positions

An Acquisitor (Status 1, tM, pp 75-76) is, while glamorous, among the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs the Mysterium has to offer. Their job is to retrieve magics – grimoires, imbued or enhanced items, artifacts, fetishes, and, really, anything else – from those that shouldn’t have such things and return them to an Athenaeum or other proper Awakened authority. Sometimes this means delving into ancient ruins or stealing from Sleeper collectors; other times it means squaring off with Seers of the Throne or left-handed outcasts. Acquisitors are also charged with investigating any interesting magical oddities they come across in their line of work.

A Censor (Status 1, tM, pp 77-78) is responsible for assessing, retrieving and “disappearing” dangerousmagical items. A censor will often work with a team of acquisitors, but some prefer to work alone. Items the censor on-site deems unsuitable for general access get placed in the censorium, a special division of the Athenaeum. Access to the censorium is very tightly controlled by the curator, and its security is best described as “excessive”.

A Curator (Status 3, tM, pp 79-80) is charged with management of an Athenaeum. Several Mystagogues can share this duty, but it’s more common for there to be only one. They control access to the censorium (and the Athenaeum at large), organize the Order’s response to crises, and help other Mystagogues manage their Sophiad. Thinking of them as a cross between a headmaster and a chief librarian would not be wholly inaccurate.

A Savant (Status 2, tM, pg 78) is a recognized, dedicated scholar among an entire Order of recognized, dedicated scholars. Each will typically pick two fields of study – one soriological or esotological, one exoterical – and dedicate themselves to those fields in addition to wherever else their Sophiad might take them. The best Savants hone their natural facilities with no magical aids, committing as much as they can of their field to memory.

Playing a Mystagogue

When assembling the concept for your Mystagogue, remember that the Order is not, despite the stereotypes held by the other Orders, a group of secluded scholars and bookworms. Mystagogues are charged to seek enlightenment through experience as well as study, and that doesn’t just mean the good parts of the world. One Mystagogue’s Sophiad might demand she stand on the front lines and learn about the gory horror of warfare, while another’s that he travel through the poorest part of town subtly using his magics to heal. While a Mystagogue’s mentor has some say in the course, ultimately, the mage herself is the one who decides what experiences study best suits her needs.

The Sophiad is also an excellent vehicle for remaining engaged with the game. If you’re feeling a lack of direction, or having difficulty working out what to do with your character, consider that your charactermight be feeling the same thing. To a Mystagogue, this is an urge to seek a new field for one’s Sophiad, to try new and different things until something clicks.

Secrets require especially careful handling when playing a Mystagogue. On the one hand, the Order’s protocols are very strict regarding the distribution and exchange of secrets. On the other, a secret whose existence is only ever known to a tiny handful of people does contributes little to gameplay. Plot-related arcane secrets work best when other characters know there’s something they don’t know, creating drama and play as they pursue it or try to find something suitable to trade. This also makes the Mysterium an attractive point for Storytellers to drop “plot cookies”, as they get a lot of activity and proactive play incentives out of relatively little investment.

To smooth this process, remember that the Protocols are not secret. Mystagogues are quite willing to talk to outsiders about the rules they believe Awakened society should be governed by. A Mystagogue should not be shy about letting others know that he won’t lie, but that they need to balance the exchange of knowledge. Further, they know that outsiders aren’t going to agree about these rules and, as such, may be willing to bend them when needed… For those who have taken pains to establish good guanxi with them.

Dangerous magic is also likely to be contentious in play. Remember that the Mysterium, despite occasional mistakes, has millennia of history demonstrating their ability to safely hold dangerous magics in check. Questioning the Order’s ability to store cursed items is like questioning an Arrow’s ability to punch people in the face – likely cause for an immediate Duel Arcane.

On the other hand, the Mysterium’s system of ranks and initiations is meant to be completely secret, and should not be spoken of to or in front of outsiders unless absolutely necessary. The mysteries are something that can only be experienced from the inside, and talking about them with the unprepared or uninitiated profanes their higher nature. While this, similarly, is an ideal that cannot be achieved in play (after all, players of characters from other Orders may have read the Mysterium), there are a number of tools you can use to conceal them from view while still allowing their influence to be felt “on stage”. Guanxi bonds are especially valuable for this, and can be used to cover up the obligations of rank with the personal bonds and loyalties of a brotherhood of academics.

It helps that the ranks and initiations are not a military command structure. More deeply-initiated Mystagogues should be teachers, shepherding the mystical developments of their students. Those that don’t measure up should be taught correctness, those that do measure up should advance promptly. Similarly, master/apprentice relationships are vital to the Order. When developing character ties, seek out this tie early, and don’t be afraid to find new teachers or take on additional students during the course of play. Mystagogues are not expected to spend their entire careers learning from a single teacher, and Right Apprenticeship applies to all master/apprentice bonds, not just the “first” or “primary”.