covenants and house mysteries

Question on the way mysteries work , story wise.

If a bunch of magi are getting together to form a community to further their learning,
why would they not want to share their mysteries with each other?

What should be tighter?

Parens apprentice bond,
House loyalty
Covenant loyalty
or in the rare case, mystery sect loyalty?

Magic is in many ways based on secrecy and power. The reason scrying is very nearly the highest crime is because of that. I don't think that magi share their secrets easily and House and Cult mysteries are not shared in particular, at least not with outsiders. So, no, they won't share their mysteries with each other unless they can recruit each other.

Regarding overall loyalty, its going to vary from individual to individual. And from House to House. House Tremere is going to be the first loyalty of most tremere, while the last of most Ex Misc.

Generally, though, I'd expect:

  1. Mystery Cult
  2. Covenant
  3. Parens
  4. House

Knowledge is power -- knowledge shared is power lost.
-- (traditional)

Unless you're of House Bonisagus...then it's your duty to disseminate.

Maybe it is, but what if you have a higher calling, or a more direct loyalty than even the Order provides?

The thread's question can't be answered, at least not definitively. You can list a given character's loyalties but they would be, and should be different from the next character.

So, of the three secret cult members:

Magus One
The Cult
The Order

Magus Two
The Cult
His House
His Covenant

Magus Three
To hell with the Cult, I'm only here for what I can get
And to hell with the others too

So the question should be, what does THIS character value? And how could that support his relationship with Cult, House, Covenant, and Order? Does he need to hide his true feelings? Does he eventually feel the way he starts out pretending to feel? It's all part of his story. And that's what counts.

IMC, members of House Bonisagus essentially don't join any of the mystery cults. The requirements of House Bonisagus and the function of the cults are really quite incompatible. Tremere magi almost never do either. Verditius, Merinita, Bjornaer, Criamon, and Ex Misc do, but not very often since they already have their unique traditions to explore.

So that means that most Mystery Cultists are Jerbiton, Flambeau, and Tytalus, with some Guernicus magi as well.

For me could there be many Ex Myscellanea in Mysteries cults, because many have't really a tradition, Orbi Magi or his apprentice that can have major virtues no hermetic and a limitations for other reasons and of that many can thik than they need a cult for take off a poor education or rebuild an ancient magic o became him in a respectfull figure betwen the magic figures and his pares.

OK now this is where my question is leading then...

  1. from a Magus perspective, why would any Magus then form a multi house covenant in the first place?

would the mystery cults want everyone living together where they watch what the new initiates are doing?

wouldn't the hermetic houses want any new covenant to be all of there own house for political gain?

if Knowledge = power,

then why form a community to work together if your not wanting to share anything.

now some examples come to mind -

verditius -
with the vis discount that they can do with items, if every magi in a covenant could do it then there is more vis to go around.

merinita - it even says it right in the house descriptions in mystery cults they freely initiate others, or is this more of a house mystery because most of the rest of the order think of it as unworthy magic?

  1. Tribunal perspective - why would a tribunal want another covenant?

is it to hope to get some minuscule knowledge that might be gleaned from a magical site into the order?

is it to get more vis into circulation?

is it to get more books into circulation?

This all kind of goes back to a previous thread on why there is not more original research circulated with in the order.

  1. mystery cult perspective - now i can understand the immortality route cults in general wanting to keep quiet but some of the other things look like they should be more freely shared.

Arithmetic seems more like a Mensa club then a true mystery, the lab totals needed to do the architecture stuff are almost screaming for help anyway

Great talisman seems more like something original research would have given back to the order of Hermes.

That's not what its about.

Here we see the flaw in presenting Mysteries in primarily mechanical terms, rather than in story element terms. There were good reasons to present them in mechanical terms which, taken in balance, mean that it was the right way to go, but it leads to questions like this. The answer is basically that mysteries don't work like this.

The key things you need to keep in mind are these:

  • Mysteries keep themselves. Things are mysterious not because they are unknown, or because they are known only to a select group, but they are msyteries because only a select group can comprehend them. You can't explain or share msyteries. All you can do is offer people invesiture so that they can come to comprehend the Mystery.

  • Accepting a mystery fundamentally changes who you are. That is, a Mystery is a way of seeing the world, and a way of acting in the world. If you accept a mystery, then you are -accepting a way of being you-that differs from the old way. Sometimes there are lucky co-incide3nces, where you are a hopped up serial killer and the "Slay People With Fire" mystery tracks you down and say "You're our kind of guy!", but mostly, Mysteries knock you on your backside and tell you that your life won't ever be the same.

Think of the one mystery cult you probably know a lot about: the Christians. You -can't- share the Mystery, you can only share the Gospel and line people up for membership. Think of the converts to the Mystery, like Saul, who changes his name and his whole outlook on life and quits his job and becomes a martyr.

I, for example, recently participated in the Excellent Mystery, as Augustine called the sacrament of marriage. How do I share that with people? I don't: at best I can tell them that it rocks and that they should give it a go themselves.

The reason people don't just form great colleges of dilletante Mysteries is that this isn't how Mysteries work, and I can see how you might get the impression from the materials that it's just "Quest, Level, New Powerz!" like in WoW or D&D, but that's not how it works in real mystery groups, and that's why they don;t just share it all around.

House Criamon will hand you immortality on a plate. All you need to do is believe what they believe and do what they do. Merinita are the same. It's not them forcing you to do this. It's you forcing you to do this. If you want the Mystery, you change to dedicate yourself to what the Mystery means. I'd also note that a lot of people think they are immortal already because they are religious.

I think that's right. Take my example of the magus who is only after what he can get. If you have a character like that, and you'd have to expect him to get somewhere with the mystery cult in order for that character to have a story, then he will either start to embody that mystery or be found out.

That's just the way stories work. He either repents or he gets his comeuppance. If he changes, the mystery has done its job. Despite where he started from he reaches the same ideal that other cult members also attain. Maybe that's part of the mystery itself and the other members each went through the same process.

But to be found out there must be a rejection of the mystery. He might well have done enough to get through the initiation, to have fooled his mystagogue and to have learned the secrets of others but the loss is his. He will be found out. And at that point no amount of duplicity was worth it.

This is why I reject the notion that certain House just wouldn't join Mystery Cults. People are people. They make promises and vows and hold certain ideals. But they are always negotiable. Always. The cheating husband has made a vow to keep himself only for his wife but he's able to get away with a bit on the side so he does. The sly mechanic will always do a bit of cash-in-hand work using company tools and materials despite having signed an employment contract. An author for a successful medieval-based RPG line will always break NDA where he thinks he can get away with it... No, probably not that last one. There are contracts too sacred even to be diced with.

So it's all about character, not House. Would your Verditius join a covenant knowing that his Verditius secrets may be at risk? Probably not. But would he join a Cult that could offer him the secrets of Hermetic Architecture? Maybe the risk is worth it. Maybe... And maybe he could fool the Cult for a while. Steal their secrets...

Yeah, that could work...


Just my 2 cents. My understanding of the mystery cults is that they are defined, as societies, by the exclusiveness of their knowledge. Bear in mind that most of the knowledge gained by participation in the MC is gained through trial and sacrifice - magi give something up in order to obtain it. Remember also that the mystery cults also tend to view their knowledge as special, seek to immerse initiates in that idea, and take a dim view of those who betray the trust of the cult. IIRC, the magi who betrayed the secret of automata was hunted down and killed.

While some of the MCs do share knowledge and foster cooperation, it is generally within the context of the cult itself - secret passed down within a community commonly dedicated to their preservation. While it is possible to see the formation of a covenant dedicated to a particular cult, it woul dbe unlikely - the organizational patterns characteristic of the MCs do not overlap neatly with those of the Order.


Another thing to consider is that it might well be that most covenants actually are single house. Example covenants aren't, because its a rare campaign where the PCs all want to be of the same house. But IMS, more than half the covenants are either single house or at least have a majority of members from one house.

As for why you might join a multi house covenant, there are lots of reasons. Verditius and Bonisagus magi are resource intensive sorts and would generally gain by joining a rich covenant where they don't have others of their house competing for the same resources. Mercere magi simply don't have enough members to form single house covenants unless you count Mercer Houses.

For the rest, there is friendship... the opportunity to get out from the "smothering" influence of the House....interdisciplinary interests (there are plenty of things Hermetic wizards can share to mutual benefit)...simple opportunism (its a better deal than other options open to that magus)....a "dedicated" covenant with special needs..... and many more.

Mysteries are different than normal hermetic magic. Hermetic magic grows through "simple" scholarship and can be readily shared between fellows. Mysteries, as pointed out, are not. IMS, few Bonisagi join mystery cults because if they do so successfully they don't end up fitting into House Bonisagus' mindset any more. That's why it states that when you learn the Mysteries of one of the Mystery Houses, you join that House. You aren't a Flambeau magus who can do faerie magic. You've become a Faerie Mage.

Also, Mystery Cultists (especially those with Secret Cabals) aren't usually going to recruit from people like Tremere and Bonisagus magi who can reasonably be expected to have serious conflicts with the secrecy stuff.

The way i have always seen mystery cults renders this question pretty much moot.

I don't see christianity (at least in the forms we would recognise from current day) as mystery cult. You can ask any priest or pastor any question about christianity, and as long as you avoid annoying them by bringing up the sillier bits of the bible or theology they'll happily tell you anything you want to know, even if you aren't christian.

A good example of a mystery cult is scientology. Now i don't mean to offend anyone on the boards who is a scientologist, lets get that out of thw way first and foremost. Scientology, especially in its higher levels is extremely exclusive, extremely secretive and extremely defensive, this is how i see many mystery cults. Once you get anywhere in the cult you are thoroughly in line with the cults aims, and its very very hard to fake it.

Most mystery cults would have layers of oaths, promises, rituals and rights that would weed out those who aren't serious about it.

And as several posters have said, it changes your life. Once you join, say the Fraternity of samos, numbers dominate your life and you begin to see the patterns everywhere. You don't learn to exploit the new ranges of hermetic geometry, you have your eyes opened and realise they have always been there.

I see many of the cults being very selective about who they ask to join. They don't want the risk of inviting the wrong guy and having to kill him later to protect the cult. Its serious business.

okay seems the topic has moved from where i was,

I can see the point about the cults changing your view, but once thats happened, why stay at the covenant then if similar points about being with your peers and what not?

The point about resources i can see and i can see politically why but not for the idea of communal research. Wouldn't they want to be with the rest of their cult then?

I think for story purposes Timothy had explained it best. with all the conflicting loyalties in starting the game i just wanted to see what the overall justification would be or being in a covenant if the ( at least publicly ) purpose of the covenant was for common research, and timmothy's post gave me that.

But alas, Christianity is still a great mystery. Perhaps you don't see it that way, having grown up in the western world which is pretty well founded on Christian thought & philosophy and is such an ingrained part of our culture. But there still is a fundamental disconnect etween those who believe and those that don't. Christianity, as an Abrahmic tradition, shares many similarities with Judaism and Islam, but the further away you move from that basis, the more conflicting and disparate the concepts become. Even in Western culture, Atheists simply cannot understand why Christians consider their faith to be the only logical conclusion, and visa versa, Christians cannot understand why atheists do not believe in any faith. Not to start a religeous argument by any means. I am just using our own culture as an example.

Yes, I agree.

This is also true. Allow me to use another modern example. I am a member of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons. I hold the title of Master Mason. Now, we are not much of a secret society at all, despite what conspiracy theorists claim. The whole thing has been examined in thousands of books and television shows on History channel. Information about us is scattered all over the internet. It is difficult to discern fact from fiction, but it is all out there.

However, there is no secret you can gain from these and understand. I have no secret I could tell you, even if I didn't make an oath. It is simply not something that can be adequately explain. You actually have to go through the initiation and see it for yourself. After that, it profoundly changes your way of thinking. You may not notice at first, and it may be subtle, but the way you percieve and interpret infomation takes on another dimension.

To prove the point as far as having Mystery Cults & Cabals interact with the Order as a whole, Masons nowadays are encouraged to identify themselves and are free to discuss all aspects of the Lodge. In fact, they have taken to allowing the History Channel to film some of the rituals and give out our supposedly secret information. The modern trend is to try and "demystify" ourselves. But still, no matter how much information you gain, you will never fully understand it properly wihout proper initiation and education.

The same applies to the Mystery Cults. Take the Criamon for example. The Mystery of the Enigma is far more than an advantage with comprehending Twilight. It is a whole system of philosophy that fundamentally alters the way that the magus percieves and interacts with the world. It is not that they understand more. More so, they understand differently. You can't really steal their secrets, for if you understand them, then your thinking also becomes altered.

Few wizards engage in "communal" research. The rules make it pretty clear that all joint research (ie working side by side) is a 'leader/follower' situation and most wizards do not wish to be seen as followers. So research teams are usually wizards working on different projects towards a single end. There's little reason that such would be adversely affected by one person being mystae and the other not.

As for why you might not want to be in a covenant with other members of your cabal..... you might not know who they are other than the one who initated you (if that), the covenant they are part of might not be as conducive to your interests (wrong types of vis, too crowded, whatever), you might not actually like your fellow cabalists...heck you might even consider them greater rivals than your non cult covenmates.

Don't forget...research can be shared without people needing to be in the same covenant. Your fellows' research can be written up in books, you could be engaged in correspondence with your fellow cabalists, or you could visit for a while when there is something worth teaching.

Then I'm sorry, but your definition of mystery cult is bad. Christianity is a mystery cult. Its adherents say so, and everyone who studies these things says so.

Yes, but that knowledge does not give you any of the mystical powers of the members of the cult, now does it? To get those you need to go through the initations (which are the sacred acts, or sacraments, in this case). You don't get Eternal Life or the Power to Reconcile Sin unless you do the rituals. Similarly, you can ask all the questions you like about marriage, and have them answered, but that doesn't place you in mystical communion with your beloved. The Excellent Mystery has to be -done-, not -discussed-.

This is what I mean when I say that "Secrets keep themselves" in the original posts. Discovering information about Christianitry doesn't make you an acolyte of the mysteries. You need a mystogogue and the rituals (with the exception of baptism, where you can self-initiate in extremis.)

It's certainly an example, and Christianity used to be a bit like this, which is why they used to chuck pagans out of the church before the Mass and why, even today in Orthodox churches a shutter is drawn so that you can't see the transubstantiation being performed.

That being said, not all Mysteries need to be clouded in secrecy, because knowing isn't the point.

Oh, I like this topic!

I think the question of what group a magus is most loyal to is subjective, and an important part of what defines a character.
For starters, House certainly plays into it... the stereotypical Bonisagus, as noted earlier, places the Order above all other things, and would want to share his work with the world, not just his covenant! A stereotypical Tremere, on the other hand, would place House above all... and, as a result, Tremere don't tend to be in mixed covenants as often as the other houses. A stereotypical Tytalus puts self above all others. (And, I would add, having a character from one of these houses that goes against one of these stereotypes is an instant interesting hook to start from.)

I was hoping I'd have more to add, but the great Timothy Ferguson, as he so often does, has beaten me to the punch and summed up many of the things I had to say.

When it comes down to it, truly communal research is really a pretty rare thing. Even in the modern era, a given scientist has a group of underlings and is working on a specific experiment. There may be some higher level under which a bunch of people are working, but each scientist has a discrete piece. (In programmer parlance, I'd use a metaphor about modules in an application.)

Several of the House books (Bonisagus and Tremere jump to mind fastest) mention that they do have large research projects that they can call magi in to work on subcomponents of. (And, of course, having a magi try to wheedle out of such a call, or balance it with other obligations, is a wonderful story seed.)

But, if you put 100 eccentric arrogant academics in a room together, I suspect you'll find that it's rare for even the ones who agree in principle on a number of issues, or who are generally friendly, to end up willing to enter into long-term joint ventures. (Heck, what percentage of rock bands even manage a decade together?)

Thanks for your insightful posts, Timothy. I wonder though - from what little I know of early christianity, it was viewed as a mystery cult but differed from them in not being a secret and private society. Christianity is about spreading the gospel, which anyone can learn and embrace, as opposed to selectively and gradually revealing the gnosis to the elect. Would it not be more accurate, then, to say that while christianity (and especially early christianity) shared some elements with mystery cults, it also was different in many ways?

I think this is an important distinction. True mystery cults don't reveal their secrets to anyone, not even to their members. Secrets are revealed gradually, to those who are ready to receive them. This is a matter of practicality - revealing the secret to someone who is not ready to receive it will only delay his progress, and even revealing the outer mystery to outsiders will only harm the community and future aspirants. You need to be drawn in gradually, at your own pace, progressing into deeper and deeper secrets.

But sometimes, knowledge is the secret. True names, rituals, secret history, cosmological gnosis... Especially for an Hermetic magus, there is a lot the cult can provide that is readily usable by other magi, outside the cult. Not all secrets keep themselves.

Yes, I could see this working well for the more mystic, intitation-based cults. Cults whose secrets include knowledge, including especially things that can be of use to other magi or harm the cult if known to other magi, should be rather secretive. I think this would include lots of cults, many having secret rituals (many perhaps Hermetic, or only a Minor Breakthrough away), practices of meeting and communication, knowledge of true names, allies that can be hurt, and so on.

On the topic, I think things should really be treated on a cult-by-cult basis. Some cults would welcome the dissemination of their mysteries, e.g. Merinitia story mysteries, and the new initiates will, de facto, be members of the cult. Others will want to share, but the would-be initiates will find that they cannot learn the mysteries without being changed by them into genuine members of the cult (Criamon mysteries). In other cases, the cult may treat the dissemination of its mysteries with amused derision, keeping true to its traditions more than to power - I can certainly see the Pythagorians behaving this way, for example, maintaing that only their path leads to a proper understanding of the mathematical harmony behind existence. In other cases, the cult will chase down and kill any revelation of its secrets - the Bjornaer make a good example, perhaps. It really all depends on the specific cult, and I don't think there is a universal answer.

On the matter of cooperation between magi - well, I see it as an arbitrary troupe decision. If you want to, there isn't any real solid political reason why groups of magi won't work together. It isn't hurting them mechanically (if done right, it assists them), and I can see such cooperation in any Hermetic society - from House Tremere to the most secretive and non-hierarchial cult. On the other hand, tradition and pride can keep magi apart.

An interesting mechanical option might be to force lab-activity to be without Parma. In this case, the Gift will drive magi apart. Familiarity will make the apprentices immune to this effect. Even in this case, however, members of the same covenant might grow in their Familiarity too.