Bring unto me your mystery cults!

I want the game I am planning to be full of intrigue, secrets and mystery, where the players never really know the true loyalties of their allies, foes and any neutral bystanders. Mystery cults seem a great way to achieve this, especially as the setting is the otherwise collegiate and genteel Theban Tribunal. I'm planning on cramming it full of mystery cults. There are several example cults from the books I'll be using, and I'm going to be putting together one or two based on ideas I have that suit the saga, but I'm basically quite a lazy person. So help me out forum!

Tell me of your mystery cults, what their purpose is, the kind of people they look for in initiates, the degrees of initiation, the quests and ordeals they use. Let me see what you have!

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I had one was mid way through establishing as a player in a game- the cult of Blood. It was centered around the discovery of fertility rituals (ancient magic) and recruited a combination of mundane and mages in an attempt to create a new bloodline of mages and their servants who would become stronger with each successive generation as they would improve both talent and training of their magi (who were predominantly female) in order to give more advantages to still future generations until they were strong enough to dominate the order, or at least stand on equal footing with Tremere and present a significant challenge to the power structure of the order. It was inherently a young mystery cult but gained advantages early on since mundanes would be willing to join and help develop (and teach) cult lore for far fewer rewards than what magi would expect, and a combination of secret libraries, advancing magi through both research and initiation and constantly improving the bloodline was the short term goals.

I wrote a weird Faerie Mystery cult for the post-a-day writing thing in November 2019: The Cult of Isis.

Fair warning: uses new rules and virtues and has never been playtested. Use with caution.

The neo-mercurians have featured heavily in some games I've been involved in. While they are a single cult as described in TMRE we generally had a few sub-cults with their own extra mysteries that was a nice way to incorporate small virtues that you couldn't write a whole cult around. I think one was focused on potent magic, one focused more on divination and had some astrological magic, and one had access to magic realm magic and was trying to find "Mercury" in the magic realm (with no success).

We also had a cult called the "Daughters of Airitech" based around the Wolf's Court from Mythic Locations. Essentially the she-wolf of vengeance was a tutelary spirit for this cult which was based at Rathcroghan in Hibernia. The cult only permitted women as members and got access to skinchanging (into a wolf), then some minor magical powers that allowed them to tell truth from lies and sense guilt. They were hedge wizards but you could extend it a bit to make it into a hermetic mystery cult.

There's a weird Mystery Cult in sub rosa #19: The Friends of the Apacei of Vinilandia. It lets the SG mystify a Tribunal, the players and their characters about its background, purpose and insights.


In my games there are three Mystery Cults that make recurring appearances (mostly as antagonists / morally dubious characters):

  • Stupor Mundi : a group of Merinita mages with presence across Hibernia, Normandy, Provence, the Rihn and Rome. They have existed for about two centuries and are gravely concerning that the magic is disappearing from Europe. Their solution for it is to use the power of story magic to radically alter the world and drew the Arcadia into real world. They are planning to do so by sowing histories across Europe (Arthurian Legends, Parsifal, the Rhine Cycle, etc…) to generate vitality and then make all the prophecies and legends true in the person of Frederick II Hohenstaufen. Obviously, they are not only committing Hermetic crimes, willing to go to any length to make their play but are also usually extremely seductive in presenting their argument. Mechanically they can teach a wide arrange of Virtues related to faerie (from HoH: Mystery Cults) and Virtues that increase Characteristics or grant heroic traits.
  • The Wild Hunt a group of mages that don reindeer and boar masks and participate in the hunt of magical creatures and other adversaries under the leadership of the mysterious Master of the Hunt who might or might not be the god Cerunnos. The objectives of the hunt are determined via a 343 (three times seven) year cycle and have included giants, faerie queens, dragons and even mages of the Order. They are not necessarily “evil” but rather a dangerous presence that is also tempting for characters as they have plenty of vis, offer a very challenging but fun activity and can teach some interesting spontaneous magic Virtues.
  • The House of Barcelona: a lineage of Jerbiton magi all descended from the same XIth century archmagus (Berengal of Barcelona) they usually appear as gentle, politically minded “quest givers” present across the Iberian tribunal and on zones along the maritime sphere of influence of the Catalan crown (Sicily and continental Greece). They are the main opposition to Duresca and the traditionalist stances and usually appear to make fair offers to the players’ covenant that usually are only fair and free choices in appearance. They can teach, but don't normally offer, Virtues related to casting high penetration silent and discreet Mentem spells.

Huh. I suppose this is my first post here (though I've been playing ArM for years). Hi!

A maga in my saga is a member of the cult of 'o Apóllōn Stoikheiōtḗs, Apollo the Author of Elements, a Neoplatonic cult loosely based on the Proclus scholium to the Elements and on the Timaeus, which sees Apollo as the Platonic demiurge and the Elements as an inspired work revealing cosmic truths. There are pretty significant similarities to the Fraternity of Samos presented in TMRE, though I see the two cults coexisting and competing for mathematically-inclined students (predominantly from House Jerbiton), in a kind of Hermetic analogue of the competition in Greek mathematics between Number and Magnitude as the proper subject of mathematical inquiry.

The degrees of the cult are 'constructor of tetrahedrons' up through 'constructor of dodecahedrons', following the order of Elements XIII. Virtues initiated certainly include Hermetic Geometry and a form of divination using the Elements in much the same way that Sortes Virgilianae uses the Aeneid, and a modified version of Hyperborean Descent. There are surely others, too, but we haven't decided on what they are, yet!

The cult favors Apollonian personality traits, the Dutybound and Compassionate flaws, and mathematical aptitude. The only established ordeal flaws so far are highly inconvenient ecstatic Visions of the underlying mathematical reality (the universe is made of triangles!), and, for cultists hailing from House Jerbiton, Brutal Artist (as your penchant for the exactitude of Euclidean line diagrams invariably corrupts your artistic taste).

[by way of excuse, my academic work is on 1) demons in medieval philosophical thought experiment and 2) the Latin Euclid tradition. My ars magica games tend to reflect these interests...]

The covenant in my current home campaign was a new convenant built by young magi on Bear Island (See Mythic Locations book), which is set in the Theban Tribunal. The Mystery Cult's objectives are informally to wake up Dyndimene aka Cyble aka Magna Mater. I have connected her lore to ancient fertility magic. The Daktyls serve as mystagogues for the cult until such time as the Titaness is awoken. While they technically have the power to wake up, they have not done so, and have instead promoted her worship to the local magus in order to have their blessings to found a covenant locally.

Here is what I made up so far for the cult.

Idaian Daktyl initiation bonus +4
Dindyméné Initiation bonus +8

Rank 1 (Novice)

The rite must be performed at a holy site, and requires the candidate to either have his Animal art at 5, or a skill of Animal Handling of 2. The Daktyls will not even consider initiating someone not meeting this. The Animal Handling requirement was added since this initiation rank was intended to be open to companion-level characters as well. In order to join the cult, an initiate must spend 1 season listening to animals in their natural environment (+1). This usually yield Exposure or Practice experience. When the season is completed, one of the daktyls will spend a season teaching the character the Mystery Cult Lore (+3). The initiate will then takes a vow, receiving the prohibition flaw. The vow is sworn as follows: "I shall not allow non-cultists to access the Holy Site. I shall not allow harm to come to the Holy Site. I will pay my yearly respect to The Mother at a holy site". The rite has a sympathy bonus of +4, for a final initiation bonus of +11. This is sufficient for the Daktyls to initiate. After the initiation is completed, the Animal Ken virtue is received.

Rank 2 (Initiate)

Prior to the initiation, the prospecting candidate must locate and bring back an ancient fertility fetish or a locate and secure/bring back a cave painting depicting a hunting ritual (Quest +3). The same fetish, if brought back by several party members, cannot serve for two initiations, and this has required the cult members to go forth and bring back additional festishes or cave paintings. Further, the candidate must develop a deep bond with an animal, without resorting to Rego magic (Quest +3). This could include finding a familiar, or it could be forming a normal friendship with a normal animal. At a minimum, this will require a full-time season to establish a deep enough bond. Finally, a sacrifice of 5 animal vis must be made during a mystic ceremony (+3). The candidate benefits from a previous ordeal (+3) and a sympathy bonus (+2) for a script bonus of +14. If Dindyméné was awoken and she could be persuaded to make that initiation, or if a charismatic candidate was found for the cult, this script could be shortened. The candidate gains, as a result, Inoffensive to Animal virtue.

Rank 3

The candidate to the third rank in the cult (yet unnamed) must spend at least 1 season dedicated to the cult (teaching, initiating, writing, etc.) (+1). Further, he must defeat a giant in personal combat (+3). Finally, a season must be spent in Athletics training (+1). The candidate benefits from previous ordeals (+2) and a sympathy bonus of +4 for a script bonus of +11. As a result of this level, the initiate receives Puissant Corpus.

Rank 4 and beyond.
These levels are hazy. and no cult member has achieved them yet. The covenant / cult members are aware of the following details, having received a prophecy from the Delphi Oracle: "A number of cult initiates equal to the number of constellations pulling Magna Mater into the sky will participate in the reunion trip. Among those must be at least one man and one woman, baptised in her name. Her children will follow in the steps she will show them, for the mother may only be found if she desires it. Their faith will be put to the test. From pine trees planted towards that end in a holy site where she gave birth to a god, will an unsinkable ship be built for the reunion trip. Those who seek her will follow her tracks to that holy site."

They have figured so far that she is Virgo pulled by Lion, and therefore four cult members must take part, they have figured out as well that the road will lead them to Rome by sea. The 'baptism', for lack of a better term, basically involves forsaking existing religion and inflicting the Pagan flaw ordeal. This is all part of the Daktyl's plan for the mother's cult. The covenant has yet to figure out what to do about the pine and the unsinkable ship, and they often go on a tangent whenever I run a ship story in the game. Down the road, the cult will for sure initiate the fertility magic virtue - if the covenant succeeds in integrating that magic with the fetishes that were brought back - as well as the Spiritual Pact virtue at a minimum.

The cult currently hasn't initiated anyone outside the covenant.


A few dark & evil cults:

Tremere Necromancers
This is a secret mystery cult that controls House Tremere's higher echelons. Its outer mystery is the Leadworker virtue, and it adds in suitable necromantic virtues like Second Sight, Spirit Familiar, Canaaite Necromancy (integrated from Ancient Magic) and the Living Ghost. The cult is secretly led by liches - living ghosts possessing a human, whose spirit returns to their talisman if their body is slain. The liches control House Tremere as well as (often indirectly) other magi and resources.

The biggest secret of this cult, however, is that it is actually waging a shadow war in Tartarus. Much of the raw vis and magical resources of the House are spent on this war; and as the liches are losing, they reach out to the PCs. What they are fighting is Tremere's Army - the army of ghosts, bound titans, and other fell beasts that Tremere the Founder - or rather, his ghost - marshaled in Tartarus after his death. He apparently didn't despair of the idea of ruling the world; he just decided to rule the underworld first, and now he's just about ready to start on the upside again...

Renowned throughout Mythic Europe for their open schools on Artes Liberales (each master teaches once a year, free of charge, barring none from his lectures), these magi are seen as scholars employing Divination through Astrology to provide uncanny insights into the future. Many a king and wizard consults an Astrologer regularly.

The cult starts by teaching Affinity in Artes Liberales, then moves to Celestial Magic and a suitable Magical Focus (Sign); with Death Prophecy as an Ordeal. Only through long service can one then reach the second circle, which indeed teaches a variant of Divination, but also grants Visions.

The big secret of the cult, however, is that it is actually Infernal. The Visions are demonic, and allow demons to subtly corrupt the practitioner. Cultists are taught a cyclical-time heresy similar to that of House Criamon, but with en emphasis on the suffering in life and the impossibility of breaking the cycle. Cultists believe going to Hell in their afterlife is their Fate, and deny Free Will. The inner-most circle is taught Cthonic Magic and various Infernal tricks I never got around to describing. These should definitely include the ability to use Intellego to Hex, and do Premonitions.

They are basically bad-ass because they know everything that is about to happen in advance, and use various Infernal tricks and subterfuge to turn that to their advantage. They posed as allies, and were supposed to have been manipulating events to serve their Infernal aims in the big reveal - including the fall of the covenant and tribunal to the Mongol hordes.

A cult that teachers dream-magic. They have a bene-gesserit thing where a master (physically) steps into the dreams of his disciple, continuing to live in his dreams. They thus harbor immortal, ancient, magi inside them, which they can let possess them at their will. They are also heavily into the Shared Unconscious, seemingly engaged in a strange war that occurs in dream-time between the Jungian Archetypes across the dreamworld of all of humanity.

For the most part, they are simply crazily weird magi that can jump out of people's heads, turn into any archmagus type in an instant, speak in dream-logic ways (and achieve things this way!), and generally serve as as the wildcards and hail-marys to save the PCs bacon and be the "Yoda" of the saga.

The Masters Beyond Death

This dark Merinita cult worships the Babylonian god of the underworld, Nergal. It’s members practice a form of corporeal necromancy, raising undead minions to do their bidding. It is unclear how recent the cult is, but in its modern form it primarily relies on the Mystery of Creaturecrafting.

Only practitioners with Faerie Magic are accepted into the cult. It is possible, however, to join House Merinita and hence be initiated into this Outer Mystery and then join the cult.

First Initiation: Cult Lore 0
Mystery: The supplicant gains Minor Potent Magic creating Undead.
Ordeal: The supplicant gains the Oath Flaw, representing his oath of allegiane to Nergal.

Second Initiation: Cult Lore 1
Mystery: The supplicant gain the Creaturecrafting Mystery.
Ordeal: The supplicant gains the Sensitivity to the Divine Flaw.

Third Initiation: Cult Lore 3
Mystery: The supplicant gains Major Potent Magic in Undead.
Ordeal: Loses Minor Potent Magic.

Names of Power 4
Consumate Talisman; Deleterious Circumstances 5

Fourth Initiation: Cult Lore 6
Living Corpse

Crafter of Undead: Minor Mystery
Through this Mystery, the disciples of Nergal create powerful Undead. Undead may be created as Magical creatures, with total Might equal to five times the raw vis invested in the casting. (This is usually twice the spell’s level, but can be less if means are taken to reduce the Ritual’s cost, such as Mercurian Magic.)
Creating a magical beast is Creo Animal Base 50, with Vim and possibly other requisites. This Mystery opens two new base guidelines, Rego Animal and Rego Corpus Base 50, for creating corporeal undead. As with CrAn, a Vim requisite is always needed, and further requisites may be required. The spell must be a Ritual, and it can only be cast on an appropriate target. The Masters Beyond Death almost always use the Until duration, with an appropriate condition that will break the spell (see below for examples).
The created undead are created as Magical characters, with appropriate Might and powers. If using Realms of Power: Magic, they should be Spring characters. If not follow these guidelines: their most powerful Power should not exceed in Level + Penetration the Ritual spell’s level, they should have no more than a few Powers.

Who can be raised? The targets of the cult’s spells are often corpses. The spells fail to work if these have been given proper Christian burial, or the spirits are otherwise in the Divine realm. Spirits in other Realms are usually less vulnerable, but it’s possible that particular ones will be, depending on their fate in the afterlife.

Raising the Undead Horde
ReCo(Vi) Level 95 (B50, +1 Touch, +4 Boundary, +4 Until) Ritual
This feared ritual raises an army of lesser undead - skeletons following the orders of the caster. It can be cast on any collection of mostly-whole skeletons or corpses, such as those from a graveyard or field of battle. All the dead in the area rise up, climbing out of graves if necessary, and present themselves in service to the caster. The spell only animates their bones, and doesn’t protect their flesh from rotting further, so that in time they will turn to skeletons even if at first they may appear as zombies.
The skeletons are loyal and tireless, but not clever or particularly skilled and completely lack any ability to innovate or deviate from their orders. While disciplined, they lack the ability to function as a Group in combat. While terrifying, their combat effectiveness is thus limited. Their one advantage is that they can be created in huge quantities, from the bodies of slain enemy soldiers: because of their minimal Might, these skeletons can be created in huge quantities.
The magic animating the skeletons is undone if they are ever commanded by someone with rightful authority over them, such as their mundane Lord or their military commander. It will also falter if the skeleton is physically destroyed.

Skeleton of the Undead Horde
Magic Might 1
Intelligence -3 (literal thinking), Communication -3 (silent), Presence +1, Perception -3 (dim senses), Strength +2, Stamina +3, Dexterity 0, Quickness -3
Abilities: Speak Native Language 3 (his native tongue)
Virtues and Flaws: Small Frame (skeletal)
Powers: None.
Equipment: Leather hauberk, axe.

Conjuring the Shadow of the Icy Grave
Re(Pe)Co(Ig,Vi) 75 (Base 50, +1 Touch, +4 Until) Ritual
This dark ritual creates a powerful, incorporeal assassin in the caster’s service. It can only be cast on a body buried in deep, cold catacombs.

Undead Shadow
Magic Might 75
Incorporeal PeCo 60 (B40, +2 Sun): The undead corpse becomes immaterial. It appears as a black shadow, and can slither over the ground but has no solidity or substance to it.
Icy Grip PeIg 10 (B5, +1 Touch), Penetration 65: The shadow’s touch does +5 cold damage. It is cold enough to freeze water.

The Fury of the Lost of Pompeii
Re(Cr)Co(Ig) 75 (Base 50, +1 Touch, +4 Until) Ritual

Burned Men
Magic Might 75
Touch of Abysmal Flame CrIg 30 (B25, +1 Touch), Penetration 35: Touch does +30 damage.
Arc of Abysmal Flame 45 (B25, +2 Voice, +2 Group), Penetration 30

The Corpse Golem
Re(Mu)Co 85 (B50, +1 Touch, +2 Group, +4 Until) Ritual
Targets 10 related corpses, all must have died in the same battle, for example.
Magic Might 85
Swallow the Dead MuCo

and a related spell:

Forging of the Hauweta
Rego Mentem (Corpus, Ignem), Ritual
R: Voice, D: Permanent (non-Hermetic), T: Special
This spell is cast on two persons that are burned together on the stake as part of the casting. The two must be connected mystically in some way - Dracul, the inventor of this spell, used it on women pregnant by a man's seed, casting this spell as a punishment and trial-by-ordeal for infidelity.

The spell binds the spirits as they leave the body, forcing them to remain in the burning bodies and obey the caster's commands. It also binds the bodies together, creating an ever-burning mesh of bodies and souls.

The resulting undead, called Hauweta, always refers to himself as "we", and speaks earily in two voices. It is in eternal agony, forever burning in unnatural fires, but is forced to obey the caster's commands even through its suffering. Hauweta are immensly strong, but fragile (Dracul wraps them in metal armor). In addition to their martial capability, magic resistance, and utter loyalty, a Hauweta can make others share its endless pain (R: Eye, D: Diameter, T: Individual; Me; cause immense, debilitating pain).


My troupe's saga in the Theban tribunal had a cult of intellectuals focused around the mutability of the elements as dictated by Aristotle. They focused often on empowering one's utilizations of all four elements. This brotherhood called itself the Children of Aristotle.

The society itself is a ridiculously intellectual, and approaches the concept of a Mystery Cult with the dedication of a fraternity following what it believes to be silly rules that only exist to bind them together as outsiders. Yes, it is a society of weirdos. Most of the members are not very social, which makes having good mystery initiations rather difficult. Because of this, oftentimes mystagogues demand tractatae of Cult Lore or Philosophae as part of their payment.

Because secrecy gives power, they usually have mundane representatives in major cities who handle their messages between cultists and do bookbinding, and tend to hide their identities from each other. In official correspondence and meetings, they tend to refer to each other as if they were elementals.

I keep my notes on my game here

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