Famous Magi of History and Myth

Lets say you were playing Ars Magica in an alternate setting, one in which the Order was founded not by a bunch of magi no has ever heard of (Bonisagus, et al) but, instead, by magicians already established in history, folklore, and myth. It would be these magi, not the traditional Founders of a canonical Ars setting, who founded Houses in their own names.

For the purpose of this experiment, the magician in question must have been thought to live in the middle ages, and must be a magician as of 1200. Which is to say Merlin is in (medieval), but Albertus Magnus is out (not yet a magician).

Characters who are thought to be dead are not ruled out. Their death may have been staged or faked, or they may simply have "gotten better".

Cultural, gender, and magical diversification is encouraged.


Basically any churchman or scholar who was more scientist then theologian is a good historical candidate for being a wizard.

Gerbert of Aurilliac, who was later Pope Sylvester II (d.1003), is a big name in the suspected-to-be-a-wizard category.
Adalard of Bath is another good famous one. Michael Scot, who actually was a historical professional court wizard, had a write up in the previous editions Hedge Magic sourcebook.

The two lesser known fellows below have appeared in my saga as magi...

Robert was a Bishop of Hereford in Norman England from 1079 to 1095. He was a scholar and mathematician rather then a churchman.

Gerard, Archbiship of York, was an even more interesting fellow. He was lord chancellor of England under both William the Conquer and William Rufus and was appointed bishop of Hereford by William Rufus. After William's suspcious death, Gerard was an advisor to Henry I and appointed Archbishop of York. He died (1109) reading a book of astrology which he was said to study every morning.

In my saga, all of these men were Hermetic magi.

Michael Scot was already on my list. I remember his write up! And I had forgotten about Sylvester, that is a great catch.

All these names are helpful and historical. I wanted to include Owen Glendower, but alas, he is a couple centuries too late.

Other nominees?

A little digging into wikipedia, for whatever it's worth as a source, brings me this: Category:Medieval_astronomers.

While wikipedia isn't a great scholarly source, we're playing a game not writing a thesis. This should give you a few names of fellows who might well be magi.

Simon Magus is probably too early, but he was my first thought

Yes, I looked up Simon, but he is Biblical and before Merlin and probably not a good candidate for "Founder" in this alternate setting.

I'd really like to get some more mythical or legendary characters. I mean, there must be other mythical magicians known to the Middle Ages other than the Arthurian ones, right?


(Well, that's what you get when copy/pasting odd letters)
From that page:
"Abu Musa Jābir ibn Hayyān (Arabic/Persian:جابر بن حیان) (born c. 721 in Tus, Iran–died c. 815 in Kufa, Iraq)[3] was a prominent polymath: a chemist and alchemist, astronomer and astrologer, engineer, geologist, philosopher, physicist, and pharmacist and physician. Born and educated in Tus, located in Iran's Persian heartland of Khorasan, he later traveled to Kufa. Jābir is held to be the first practical alchemist.[4]

As early as the tenth century, the identity and exact corpus of works of Jābir was in dispute in Islamic circles.[5] His name was Latinized as "Geber" in the Christian West and in 13th century Europe an anonymous writer, usually referred to as Pseudo-Geber, produced alchemical and metallurgical writings under the pen-name Geber."

He's one of my alternative founders. Most of the others are either too anachronistic for you, purely legendary (even more so than Merlin. eg Bash Chelik, also called Kosschei the Deathless. See wikipedia), or made up by me. I kept Bonisagus - you probably still need someone to put all the magic together and invent Hermetic Magic Theory (and parma...) and he's the Daddy!

If you are playing whilst your founders are still alive, I made the mistake of making them too good at their favoured forms - ie their own specialities that Bonisagus used to make Hermetic Magic; I had them converted into the equivalent hermetic form and technique(s) by B's initiation into Hermetic Magic. This allowed them to have written books that were too good. Better to have left them unable to perform Hermetic Magic, able to write a few tractatii, but leaving the available books no better than the ones suggested in the rule books. This applies even more so to Bonisagus himself. If you think about it, he could be an amazing writer of books if you make my mistake and have him be an expert in his own Arts.


Among the peers of Charlemagne areMaugris the enchanter and Archbishop Turpin (who I'm sure was I've heard was a magician in some of the stories but I cannot remember where).

Haroun al-Rashid and his Vizier Jafar are frequent characters in the 1001 Nights and contemporaries of Charlemagne - they sent him an elephant and a water clock so complex it had to be magical.

Also, in canon Ars Magica Wayland the Smith was around to teach Verditus.

Maximus of Ephesus -- supposedly beheaded in 366 AD. Said to have taught magic to Emperor Julian the Apostate who tried to revive the ancient mystery cults.

Iamblichus 245-324AD -- Leading philosopher of neo-platonism. Invents the concept of "theurgy."

Lucius Apuleius of Madauras 125-180AD. Author of The Golden Ass, a roman novel about magical transformations. According to his own writings, Apuleius initiated several mystery cults. Augustine of Hippo declared that Apuleius was also a priest of a Roman medicinal deity.

Ben Stada (dies sometime 2nd century AD) A Jewish heretic and mystic. Mentioned several times in the Talmud. Rumored to have "brought magic out of Egypt" by writing "carved in his flesh." (Could fill the role of Criamon in your alternative OOH.) jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jso ... 02546.html

I would love to hear more about this list of founders of an alternative Order you have come up with! Any others from the Mythic Middle East? Jabir is one of my favorite historic figures in the time period, and so I suspect that our story ideas would mesh together really well.

Math, Gwydion, Arianrhod, Rhiannon, Arawn, Mannannan, Llwyd, (Ok, totally giving away my current mythological bias. In days gone by, I would have called them fae, but given the 5th ed definition of fae I don't it applies anymore), Ceridwen, Taliesin and probably the other great bards. The Mysteries, Revised gives stats for Aneirin as a daimon and mentions that Taliesin exists as a daimon as well.

Lucius, your bias towards British folklore aside, those are great tips. Thank you.

I love the idea of Kosschei the Deathless.

Could you list all your alternate Founders and where they come from/which were made up?

It would be very inspirational.

The Kahina, a Berber warrior reputed to be a seeress. She is a fascinating character, and would fit into this wonderfully as a sort of Amazon-like character.

Much of the recent scholarship on her was done by Majid Hannoum, who was actually on my BA thesis committee and was my wife's thesis adviser, but I have to admit I haven't gotten around to his book on her yet.

The Kahina is a great tip! Thank you!


Johanes, the "Witch-Chaplain" of Bargota.

If we go as far as Hypatia...

Archimedes (much more powerful and resourceful Mechanician than hypatia IMO)


I thought of atleast some those, but they are much earlier - to me they seem more like predecessors than founders.
I do agree that Hypatia might be a bit off - espcially since the only mention of magic I could find, was by man 2 centuries later with rather obvious motives for slander.

Avicenna might do, or he ,might be a first generation magus creating the breakthrough of the longevity ruitual, a pioneer of corpus or another similar great stuff. In case you want to populate the early generations as well, that is :slight_smile:


My 'quote' button has disappeared! Then I noticed that the board has changed too...didn't spot that to start with.

Anyway, more than one of you asked for it, so here goes!

Alternative Founders: I did this for several reasons 1) I wasn't happy with the way that most of the Arts didn't have an originator, other than Bonisagus himself - why did he need the other founders if he worked out most of his theory himself? 2) I had a mix of experienced players and totally new ones. This way, the experienced players didn't know more about the politics than the new ones 3) I thought it would be fun.
Most of the new Houses are mystery cults, with the bits that Bonisagus couldn't or wouldn't incorporate as their 'thing'. Eg The Rom can use dance/music to cause magical effects (Enchanting Music virtue). They also use 'road' and other non-standard bits.

Bonisagus (Techniques + Vim/actual ‘Magic as magic’, ritual spells codified) & Trianoma.

‘Merlin’ (Druid) (Auram, Aquam, Herbam, Animal, rituals, Familiars) A title given to the chief druid - held in rotation, changes every 13 years. My own version of the legends. This house is based in Brittany, not the British Isles. (And have an ongoing feud with the British druids...) Pagan priests, encourage the Celtic version of Christianity (no dominion aura - see Lion of the North) to exist side-by-side with Nature.

Abanazer (Illusionist/Summoner) (Imaginem, Mentem, Summoning) My own invention, based on generic '1001 Nights' genie wranglers.

Abu Musa Jabir Ibn Hayyan (‘Geber’, Alchemist) (Terram, Aquam, Muto) Mentioned in previous posts.

Olvar (Magesmith/Runesmith) (Terram, enchanting items, runes)Based on Elof from the Winter of the World series by Michael Scot Rohan, but toned down a lot in power (eg by not being the God of Smithing!).

John Fian (Tempestarius) (Auram, Aquam, Rego) Historical, but anachronistic. Tempestarii (weather witches) are historical and in time frame for 700-900. Wikipedia has a page on both.

Groa (Necromancer/Daimonist) (Rego, Corpus, astrology, divination, Intellego) My own invention, based in part on Guorna (mater of Tytalus & Tremere), but not as nasty or gross.

Chryses (Greek Curser/binder) (Perdo/Creo, Mentem, Corpus, bindings, hexes) (look him up on Wikipedia): High Priest of Apollo, claimed to be immortal in Homer's epic so might still be around. Seeks to take over the world - or at least to eliminate rival religions like Christianity...

Bash Chelik (wishbringer) (Mentem, Vim, willpower, spontaneous magic) Wish magic is based on CJ Cherryh's interpretation of Russian/Slavic witchcraft, where any desire or thought on the part of a wizard can influence things. They go around killing wizards who use this unless they can be trained to be safe. My version of Bash/Kosschei is a faerie 'god', so this house is also the experts on Faerie Magic.

Hekla (icewitch) (Ignem, Perdo/Creo, combat spells and defences) My own invention; anachronistically coming from Iceland, named after the volcano there. Icewitches bind their spirits to the spirits of volcanoes.

Stefan & Sara (Rom/travellers) (Corpus, emotions, ‘real divination’) Again, very anachronistic - the Rom weren't yet in most of Europe (possibly in Asia Minor) - as individuals, they are my own invention. Replacement for Redcaps.

Potted Histories: (from their own perspectives)

The Merlin, our leader, met up with Bonisagus and proposed a sharing of their knowledge. As everyone knows, our predecessors already knew most of the magic taught by the Order; in their wisdom, they shared it with the other founders and Bonisagus unified their traditions to match ours. We are the biggest House and the most important. Living in harmony with the Natural Order, limiting the depredations of evil magi and keeping the peace are our gifts to the Order. The other houses may not appreciate all we have done and do, but they are safe to study because of us and our philosophy.

House of Chelik
Bash Chelik foresaw the advantages of a codified magical method to limit the propensity of untrained magi to bring chaos upon the world, so he went to Bonisagus and learnt his methods. In return, he taught Bonisagus how to bring about magic without using the rituals, spells, or items the westerners thought were necessary. We still police the uncivilised areas and either teach restraint to the gifted or prevent them from causing chaos. An untrained mage is as dangerous as the best mage, but doesn’t realise the consequences of his or her wishes.

John Fian escaped persecution by the church by joining Bonisagus’ Order. This preserved our ways of controlling the Wind and the Water. We gained safety and learnt other ways of magic, in return we taught the other houses how to influence these Elements in more profound ways than the Druids with their overly respectful attitude towards nature.

Guild of Alchemy
There is magic in the objects and places around us. We know how to release and use it. We work towards perfecting our understanding of both the material world around us and of ourselves. We bring a more scientific approach to magic, allowing magi to progress and use the writings of those who have gone before us.

Olvar taught Bonisagus how to use his magic to enchant items, without imprisoning spirits. In turn, Olvar learnt how to use his own magic without first enchanting an item. Rune magic enhances both, as long as the True Name is known.

House of Spirits
Groa the Necromancer and Abanazer the Illusionist met when studying with Bonisagus. They found that not only was their magic similar, but so were their personalities. They married and unified the traditions of summoning, binding and commanding the airey spirits or Daimons and dead people’s spirits. Groa brought the arts of divining the future together with Abanazer’s illusions. This allows us to foresee the future and hide that which would disturb the others.

Followers of Chryses, or the Cult of Apollo
Chryses, from Chryse near Troy, claims to be immortal. Agamemnon stole his daughter, Chryseis, and refused to ransom her, so Chryses asked Apollo to send a plague to devastate his army. Later, after Troy was destroyed, Chryses moved to Rome and set up the Cult of Apollo. After the Christians outlawed pagan rites, Chryses moved to northern Europe, where he met the other founders. He recognised the rites of Mercury as practiced by Bonisagus as derivatives of the rites to Apollo, and agreed to join the Order as a way of building the Cult anew. We pray to Apollo and Hermes and they grant us certain powers that are beyond mortal magi. In turn, Chryses taught the others how healing and death were just opposites of one another and learnt how other spells could be cast.

House of Bonisagus: Bonisagus learnt the styles of magic that the other founders practiced. He invented Hermetic magic theory which combined these into one system and then taught that to the others. He himself was taught by a survivor of the cult of Mercury (see official books). In return for learning Parma, each of the founders taught him; they joined his Order of Hermes in return for the magic theory. We are the glue that holds the Order together, sharing everything we learn and teaching the others.

IceWitches: Hekla and her sisters joined the Order after leaving Iceland. They brought the knowledge of Ignem to the Order. Offence and defence are both important, and we teach those who need them.

Travellers: Stefan Razvan and Sara Olah brought the Family into the Order. Outsiders can only join us by marriage. We are travellers and gain much of our magic by moving, both around the world and by dancing. We brought the magic of the body to the order. Have you ever felt anything when dancing? Hearing music? Meeting someone new? Emotions, by-passing the mind, can allow others to be manipulated… The Druids claim to be the biggest House, and yes they have more magi, but our family is very large. We claim kinship with all the Rom and they are our allies.

Hope you enjoyed that load of verbiage!