Cult of Mercury hedge wizards

First posting, so please forgive if I'm jumping into an old favourite flame topic.

Has anyone put any thought towards what the hedge wizards of the Cult of Mercury looked like in the 9th century, before everything was codified and formalised by Bonisagus and the Order was born? Was the Cult bound by the same limits on magic as the Order now is? And what was special about the Cult (if anything) that made it particularly well equipped to become the pre-eminent form of magical practice in Europe?

At this stage, and going from ArM 3 & 4 editions, the only thing that I believe we can say with any certainity is that the Cult didn't use Spontaneous magic, but it did have a fair method of spell creation for formulaic and ritual magic effects.

Welcome aboard. As far as I can tell, the subject is pretty safe for discussion. :wink:

There is some information about Mercurian magic in 5th edition in both True Lineages and Mysteries Revised. In True Lineages, we find Fenicil's Rituals, a set of rituals adapted from the Cult of Mercury. Roughly speaking, each ritual is an individual skill, and to perform the ritual you must gather enough people that the total skill reaches a given total. They are extremely expensive in both time and vis. It would seem that the Mercurians overall knew a limited number spells and didn't go about developing new ones at the drop of a hat. In Mysteries Revised, we learn about the Neo-Mercurians, a (hermetic) mystery cult that initiates various virtues (including the standard Mercurian Magic virtue, which has been reworked in 5th edition), can target roads with their spells and practice animal sacrifices to substitute some of the vis for their rituals.

I would say that the fact that they were an integral part of the (Mythic) Roman Empire, could unite their powers (Wizard's Communion comes from the Cult of Mercury) played a huge role in their dominance.

Regarding The Cult of Mercury ,
how did they manage to remain coherent with everybody reacting to The Gift all the time?
Training anyone automatically imposes a -03 on all study totals as well.
(virtues and flaws not being considered)

The penalty only applies until you get used to the dude. I could imagine the neophytes of the cult being made to work in dumbass-proof activituies around the priests until they were used to the gift. After that, the real training would start.

I have also thought of the cult as requiring supporters to only have a part gift: 2 supernatural talents would suffice to call yourself a patrtly gifted person. The numbers of practitioners mentioned in the fluff do not make any sense if you need all the priests and acolytes having the full gift. YMMV.

The priests are likely to be able to:

  1. cast only ritual spells. And only after having mastered them (debatable). Probably they had a form of formulaic magic in the form of short term (D: sun or moon) rituals that required few vis and time to cast. Those would be the ones used to protect the lefions on the march, if you want to use those.

  2. Cast only minor magics "on the move".

  3. The roman road network would be extremely important both to use weizard's comunion and to link the ritual to an important shrine. No mystical link to a major temple = no ritual magic for you.

  4. Work on protection and manipulation rituals overall. Things like city-wide Aegis/road spells that protect travellers and dwellers, increase travel speed, decrease disease risks, communications/information spells and some healing spells to affect wounded legionaries and the like.

Mercury being a messenger, travel, communications, wards and safety on the march would be the main areas of expertise IMO.

  1. For item-making, we have the priests of the line of Verditius, not Mercury. Probably the mercurians would be able to make magic items, but not half as powerful as tyhose of a proto-verditius.

In the 9th century all that would have gone to hell. No reliable communications or active major shrines would have weakened them a lot. probably they would be relyiong in a sort of mini-ritual kind of magic, more akin theurgy dealing with their areas of expertise than their former glory.

Just my 2 cents. Take them as a grain of salt, since they are not relevant for my saga (nor have they ever been) and so I have not thouight very deeply about this issue :slight_smile:

EDIT: Neither do I have the new version of the mysteries yet :frowning: so there might be conflicting ideas here that do not match TMRE.*



  • Is it me or each time you read TMRE you think "tremere" as well? maybe it is coincidence, maybe it is not.... :wink: I see a story hook brewing....

Hi phildack

and welcome to the board!

I'm also very interested in the Cult of Mercury, which also means that I hope more will be published on the subject. The way 5th is headed I'm sure we'll get it eventually :smiley: .

From your original post I am unsure how much of the 5th edition material you've got. I think that prior to 5th edition the most material on the Cult was found in the Tempest, and even if I used that material myself as inspiration it was actually quite little.

As is for now most of the info on the Cult is spread around the different 5th ed. publications, with a little here and there. In the TMRE (The Mysteries Revised Edition) there is the chapter on Mercurian Magic. While this is not entirely the magic of the original Cult, but only the version expressed in a present days mystery cult, it is still a source of inspiration on the original Cult. From it we get the impression that the Cult was as much a religious group as a magic society and that devotional acts are an important factor (which it isn't to the stereotype hermetic magus). The Houses of Hermes: True Lineages and Mystery Cults aswell as the Ancient Magic also give some hints as to the magic of the Cult.

In terms of magic the Cult was presumably very ritual and ceremonial in nature and somewhat unflexible. I am not certain that this should be seen in the light of Hermetic magic, in the sense that they probably did not have the distinction of the 15 Arts and that their spells wasn't divided along the same lines as Bonisagus' magic theory. Maybe they divided it along other lines - some of the secrets in Ancient Magic might give you some inspiration on that - such as in 'bundles' of certain Techniques/Forms. In that light their lesser flexibility compared to the Hermetics is not alone the lack of Spontaneous magic, but maybe also a lack of the flexible Arts. This would in turn limit what effects they could create (or what combination of their arcane abilities it would require). Reversely, even if missing the benefits spontaneous magic (or maybe because!), the ritualised spells of the Cultist might have been more flexible than the formulaic magic of present day Hermetics. This can be seen with a range of Spell Mastery options available to certain Mercurian remnants (such as the Neo-Mercurians or the Gifted amongst the Mercere).

On the other hand the ceremonial and ritual character of their magic enabled them to achieve things not easily achieved with Hermetic magic - suchs making certain large effects or having special ranges (e.g. Road or a network of road). There also seems to have been fair share of venerating the ancestors aswell as venerating heroes (and in turn using their ceremonies to bolster these heroes for their deeds).

Whereas all the Roman Houses might have some roots trailing back to the Cult this holds especially true for the 4 true lineages (although the upcoming Societas book might change that).

Concerning the Limits I wouldn't impose the same limits on them as on the Hermetics. Some of them might be unchangeable capital Truths - presumably due to the Divine - but others I see as entirely limits inherent in the way Bonisagus formulated his otherwise great magic theory (which despite its faults enabled various magi to exchange ideas and thus laid the fundation for coorporation - or at least peaceful co-existance).

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I agree that getting used to the person will in time learn you to trust or accept the person in spite of his Gift, but that does not remove the troublesome constant annoyance of the Gift. Thus, trust and all, it would still impede on your ability to learn while in the Gifted persons company. My reasons for argueing thusly is the fact that the RAW states that as a consequence of this it is ruled to be against the Code to train your apprentice without covering them with your Parma (and thereby removing penalty from the Gift), as doing in otherwise would not be to train your apprentice properly. If this goes for Hermetics with the Gift, the same must hold true for Mercurians with the Gift.

This leads me to think that the Mercurians either had to accept that obstacle to training new 'priests', or that they had other ways to circumvent it. It is not unlikely that they had certain ceremonies to invest such acolytes that also work to remove the strain of the Gift on their learning.

I agree that these might have been the core staple of the Mercurian magic.

hehe - it took me some time too to see it as anything but Tremere.

I agree with what has been said before. I think that there is enough information for us to derive a picture of what mercurian magic looked like from the published materials (even though such an excersize is a bit silly in that all the material was created by modern authors with great attention to what would be cool rather than being some historical set of mechanics obfuscated by history).

Weve been told

The Mercurians worked in big groups
The Mercurians worked with rituals
The Mercurians had a limited number of spells to work with
The rituals of Fencil are Mercurian magic that has been adapted into the Hermetic system.
Mercurian magic may have used the Roman roads.
We've seen some other systems in ancient magic

Mercurian magic consisted of several different rituals each of which was leaned differently (much like Hyperborian magic, extrapolation from Fencil's rituals).

Each of these rituals had a fairly specific effect but the range duration and target were fully mutible for each specific casting (extrapolation from the cult of Mercury information in the Merecere section of the True Lineages).

All Mercurians had the ceremony ability or something like it (descriptions of the cult and extrapolation from the Merecurian magic virtue) in fact from fencils rituals it appears that any knowlge of the "spell" automatically acts as a bonus to the primary caster

The rituals were compatable with the use of vis (extrapolation from Fencil's rituals and the Mercurian magic ritual).

The Mercurian spells were anble to use the mercurian ranges and targets from Mystery cults (because that would be really cool and it's also what the neo Mercurians from TMRE believe).

So, make each spell a skill. (or if you prefer something that advances as an art like the Ars Gotia abilities in RoP: Infernal. ) and require a roll of Stm (or presence ?) + spell skill + aura + bonuses for other participents or vis against the level of the effect (with modifications for RDT) or the level of effect /3 with any excess going to penetration.

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Still at work, so no books here

Isn't the Mercere Portal a Cult of Mercury invention as well? I thought so.... that this one or the hermes portal are in fact derived from the Cult.


Yes. At least the most general one year ritual known to most is Mercurian and it was of great importance to them. The Portals created by the Mercere, which are not limited to one year, is a more recent thing developed by Hermetic magi.

Maybe they just sucked it up and dealt with it?

So, the training is slower and more difficult. Some of the students get on each others nerves (sometimes with violent resolution).

Well, what choice did the Mercurian magicians have?

They only found a handful of Gifted potential acolytes per year. Lacking the immense benefit of Bonisagus' Parma, perhaps they just had to make the best of the situation.

In game terms, they took the -3 hit on their experience totals and learned what they needed to learn anyway.


Great discussion guys, very interesting.

I like the idea of Mercurians being able to use sacrifices (wealth, people, animals, prayer) in the place of Vis.

I wonder if the Mercurians could use magic items for more immediate effects, if they couldn't do magic quickly.

I believe it's stated in true lineages that there were 38

Are you sure on this not being limited? I though the mercere chapter talked about the need to cast the ritual each year and was supposed to aid in bringing the order together through cooperation.

Yes I am cerain of it. You will find it on HoH:TL p. 80. The notion of the yearly rituals inspiring trust and cooperation was indeed nurtured, but by the Cult of Mercury. When the Order of Hermes was established Mercere managed to create an Invested Device doing the same thing and thus eliminating the yearly needs for cooporation and the vis-expenditure needed for those rituals.

You might however argue, or use as an interesting plot hook, that if there had been a continued need for making such ritual then the Order might have looked different today. For better or for worse. In continuation of this the Portals can be misused, and have been so at least during the Schism War.

I was interpreting this as Mercere created the invested device that allowed the casting of the yearly ritual. (which is a ReTe effect not ReCo as you would originally guess)
I know I've recently read another reference to him creating this, but not sure where, Ancient Magic maybe?

No. Why would you want an Invested Item casting a yearly ritual? That would not be much preferable from doing it as a spell.

The ritual spell is available to all, whereas the Invested Item is only available to the Gifted Mercere and they are particular protective of it. The Invested Hermes Portals of the Mercere function endlessly and have unlimitid daily uses - only moving the portal or destroying it would undone the magic.

I havn't spotted any reference to it in Ancient Magic, but the couple of references to in HoH:TL are quite clear as is.

I was reading it as: you need the items to beable to successfully cast the spell. the invested items tied the 2 simultaneous casting together otherwise you just had 2 groups of magi "blindly tossing a rope in the dark to a person who may or may not be at the other side of a chasm of unknown width"

I could easily be combining two totally different sections in my mind, but I beleive it mentioned hermes portals as an example of an effect that no one else has been able to do...I'll look back over the mercer chapter when I get back to a book

No, you only need the invested item if 'inaugurating' the invested item - which also requires a ritual in both ends, but not a Ritual in the sense of being a Formulaic Ritual Spell.

You do not need the Invested Item if you are making a regular one-year Ritual portal.

The mentioning you are thinking of is probably the reference I cited earlier; p. 80 in HoH:TL. You would find p. 100 equally enlightening.

Mercere brought two magical 'discoveries' to the Order. The commonly known spell-version of the Portal, and the special invested Item know only to his House.

Before True Lineages, I'd always thought that Guernicus brought the ritual to the Order, since it's one of the biggest Terram spells there is and Guernicus was supposed to have been the big Terram guy. However, I didn't think that idea fit with the way Guernicus was shaping up when we were working on it, so I decided instead that it was something Mercere had found but couldn't use. My thought was that Bonisagus showed Mercere how to adapt the Hermes Portal ritual he had to Hermetic magic, and that then together they invented a device that did the same thing. I imagine Bonisagus did most if not all of the work on that, but that Mercere claimed it so that the secret could be kept for the good of the Order -- as Bonisagus's discovery, he would have been obligated to share it with everyone else.

The reason the Portal is Terram instead of Corpus is that the two effects do different things. A Rego Corpus effect transports the person (and I usually rule that anything attached to a person goes with the person when the person is moved, like clothes or other possessions, just as if you had picked up the person and physically carried him elsewhere). This is kind of like the equivalent of a magic mount; it's ideal for personal transport because you can basically go anywhere. Rego Terram actually brings two distant places next to each other, making it so that stepping through the portal is like stepping from my lab to the hallway, but magically making it so that Harco is there instead. It's like a river or a shipping lane, in that it always goes to the same place, but it can carry anything. Anything you push over the threshold makes the journey, because it's just like pushing it from point A to point B. Also, as someone else noted, the ReCo effect has to penetrate Magic Resistance and can potentially cause Warping because it targets the person, but the ReTe effect doesn't do either.

I imagine the Redcaps would totally abuse the portals, though. I mean, if you could take a vacation in a far-off place with no travel costs and instantly return whenever you wished, wouldn't you? For the Redcaps who live at Harco or Durenmar or any other place with an active Portal, it's like they live right next door. I'd say Redcaps are always popping by to borrow books or stimulate the local economy or whatnot, and tend to hang around the northern covenants a great deal over the summer. When the seasons change to winter, they start spending all of their free time further south where it's warmer, like Rome or the Holy Land. Maybe it's kind of like the annual Redcap pilgrimage. :slight_smile:

This is the exact reason why we kept the portals costing Vis to activate. Insta-travel ala Star trek is completely silly in ME from our POV. LoFaI made a pretty good argument in favour of it under special circumstances, but it shouldn't be that common.

Besides, we have always thought curious that a T:group leap of homecoming is not more widely used since it is way easier to perform than the portals. Warping et al, ok, but it is still very easy for experienced magi to use over the portals.



Well, LoFoI was 4th edition and even if the books can inspire a lot, in terms of rules and setting 5th edition really exists on a tabula rasa; some stones are left unturned but many things have been changed. I think the limitations on the Portal is already so high that it'll discourage most magi from ever even considering them as a solution. The spell version require 30 pawns of vis and a certain level of cooporation and when done it depends on trust and can easily be used by unwanted visitors.

The Invested Item-version is only known by the Mercere and they do their best to keep their monopoly. It only exists between their Mercer Houses and Covenants and for anyone else to use them it requires their confidence and trust and a price paid in vis.

All in all the Portals aren't very prolific, they are expensive, they only connect certain fixed areas and might not be that easy to access. In other words they are not so common, even if the rules aren't what you prefered them to be, nor can you insta-travel anywhere but only somewhere specific.

Which echoes the thought of most Magi as they heard of Mercere's contribution to the Order! :smiley:

In fact I think they are very difficult to compare. The Group ReCo spell is rather high, it does warp everytime you use it, it cannot bring larger bulk and equipment, it requires an Arcane Connection to your destination, if they one magus who can pull it off goes down his sodalis are in a tight fix, and finally it requires a load of Casting Requisites for all the persons clothes, personal equipment and weaponry etc.

The Portal is not restricted by all of the above; it doesn't warp, you can push things through it, you dont have to cast it (untill after a year) and no Requisites needed. On the other hand it requires 3 Queens of vis, cooporation and it only connect two places, from which it cannot be moved.

In any case having argued my case I leave it to YMMV.