Folk Christianity

I am wondering how to treat popular or ‘folk’ Christianity in Ars Magica. I am thinking of the numerous legends that have accrued around particular saints, such as the stories of Saint George and the Dragon, and also customs and beliefs associated with Christian festivals which seem to have pre-Christian origin – such as the association of Halloween with ghosts and the dead (which seems to come from the Celtic Samhain) or how Christmas is as much a midwinter festival (with a precursor in Yule) as it is a celebration of the birth of Christ.

So, a concrete example.In the saga I am currently preparing, the covenant is located near the village and abbey of St-Guilhem-le-Desert in Languedoc. Saint Guilhem, or William of Gellone, was a companion of Charlemagne, and the subject of many poems and legends recounting incredible feats of arms against the Saracens. I am sure that many of the pilgrims who visited his abbey on the Way of St. James and who paid their respects at his shrine would have believed in these legends. Charlemagne is supposed to lead the Wild Hunt in some places in France, and I can imagine William of Gellone at his side. So, is William a Divine character when he appears as a saint to a devout pilgrim at his shrine, but a Faerie character when he appears in the night sky to terrified local peasants? Actually, I imagine he might be a bit of both – a Christian saint but also, in his representation of chivalric ideals, he is a fantastic figure within the popular imagination as much as giants and fairy queens.

I am also thinking of how historically Christ, the saints and the angels were invoked in magical practice, as seems to be common amongst wise women and cunning men, and how the host of the Eucharist was used covertly as a magical tool by those who could sneak it out of church. These practices are of course strongly disapproved of by the Church, but so is Judaism, Islam and various heretical sects – and all of these belong to the Divine according to Ars Magica. Can we imagine a Divine tradition of folk witches? I can certainly imagine that some folk witches might draw on both the Divine and Magic realms, and maybe Faerie as well.

While the four realms tend to be pretty starkly opposed in the game, there are examples of crossover. Through the ‘Dark Magic’ Virtue, the Sorginak witches in ‘Faith and Flame’ are associated with the infernal, magical and faerie realms, and gain the benefit of all their auras. And I think it is mentioned somewhere how in the distant past some powerful magical beings began to accept worshippers, and as a cult develops around them they move from being magical to faerie beings. Can we imagine a pagan god becoming a saint and undergoing a similar transformation, moving from Faerie to Divine? It is certainly argued that some pagan deities did become Christianised as saints, e.g. Saint Brigid, but this is a contentious area.

You are going to need a flack jacket and combat helmet for this conversation.

I would say yes. Depending on the context in which he is experienced, different realms will be involved. The Faerie might harken back to the behaviour of the Divine version, but only if there is a way to figure that out. I would not give the Faerie direct access to everything the divine version had done, nor vice versa.


Note that farie, by RAW, tells biblical stories all the time; the story of Noah and the flood, for example. Similarly, vampires exist both as Farie and Infernal creatures (albeit different creatures). As such, there isn't any reason that you can't have both Farie and Divine versions of the same individual; one is the actual Divine St. George, and the other that's a farie playing a role about killing giant lizards.

EDIT - as such, it's entirely possible (IMO) to have folk Christianity in a purely Farie context: using the Eucharist as a token to ward off evil (farie) spirits fulfills those spirits' need to be recognized (in addition to whatever power the bread may have), in the same way that "killing" a farie vampire by chopping its head off, driving a wooden stake thorugh its chest, etc. feeds that farie's need to be recognized and appeased.

In fact - isn't that a specific flaw for a farie to take? "Affected by traditional religious icons", or something like that? Assuming there's an entire group of faries out there that have that flaw in your saga, then yep: you can use folk Christianity just fine.

It varies by what I'm trying to do, and where my campaign is set.

Saint George isn't "folk" in period, he's the real deal, according to the Church. There's an example of him in Egypt, though, which...actually I can't talk about yet. Ask me again later. We cover Folk Islam in the North African book in a way there that also works for Folk Coptic Christians.

The relationship of pagan and Christian festivals is complicated, but the view of most Europeans at the time was just that things were as they were: they didn't really know about or care about the appropriation argument. If I want to use it in some way, I just roll up the fae I need, for example, and use them.

Basically, yes: he's a saint when he's a saint and he's a faerie pretending to be a saint when he's doing things which no certified saint would do. 8) He might even be a faerie serving the Divine: there are some of those.

I can imagine Divine folk witches, but as a purely gaming measure: mixing three realms for the sake of mixing three realms seems like a lot of work for no real effect. Just have one set of rules and give bonuses based on realm interaction.

No, they are replaced by faeries, they don't become faeries. Faeries may or may not have continuous personal identity.

I've done it in some of my earlier-edition games, but generally, no, a pagan god can't become a saint, because to become a saint you aren't just "leveling up" you are choosing to become an intercessor within the Divine Plan. Why would your faerie want to do this?

Particularly in this edition: faeries may not have personal volition at all (faerie are arguably not people, just things following scripts) and as such, they can't "want" anything. The rarely do anything original without a human intercession (so you would not have one faerie wanting to repent, you'd have that story of repentance told over and over and over, because there's always a new spirit to take up the next iteration of the story.)

When I say "Generally no" I would note that it's theoretically possible because God Can Do What He Wants. There are a series of saints which are just animals, for example.

"What Timothy said," because he said it quite well, and it's worth adding a +1.


Many thanks for everyone's comments - which has given me a lot of food for thought. Thanks in particular to Timothy Ferguson's comments which I largely find very persuasive but not entirely so, and which I would like to respond to in parts.

I do take Timothy’s point – why make it more complicated that it needs to be? - which made me reflect on why I brought these issues up in the first place. I think broadly my concern is to find a way to encompass all religious practice and belief in the game rather than just the beliefs and practices approved by the current Catholic hierarchs and their favoured theologians. And so I love the fact that we can include heretics, Jews and Muslims within the Divine, but at the same time there is in my view a tendency in the books to privilege the Divine as it is understood by the Vatican over other perspectives, and so there are oddities like being told in RoP:D that if someone is excommunicated they lose all Faith Points, when that person may be the head of a heretical sect with very strong faith. Personally, on reflection, I find having multiple versions of the same figure but from different realms an awkward solution – I don’t want a Divine St George and St William and also a Fae St George and St William – I just want one of both because actually I don’t see an easy split between officially sanctioned Christian belief and popular accretions. And so right now after reading Timothy’s comments I am thinking that Divine is the right way to go with both saints.

I am interested in this comment from Timothy:

I am not sure what you mean by ‘Faeries may or may not have continuous personal identity’, but on RoP:M p.108 we have:
‘Some theurgists claim that Magical spirits control the cosmos, ordering and running it according to Divine plan. It’s said that long ago some of these spirits — the first faeries — found that the worship of mankind could give them power beyond their allotted span, and they became the first gods. In a conflict called the Titanomachia (“War of the Titans”), the Faerie gods staged a coup and ousted the uncaring and aloof spirits of Magic from the thrones of the world.’

This does suggest magical spirits becoming Faeries. Now perhaps these theurgists were just wrong, but this (in my view, very powerful) idea of Titanomachia does come up a few times in RoP:F and RoP:M, with Faerie gods rising up and overturning an earlier regime of primal, magical giants. In Norse, Irish and I think Greek mythology this war between giants and gods is meant to happen before the rise of humanity and so if the gods are meant to be Faerie then it does beg the question that if Titanomachia could have actually happened in the game world, how could the Faerie gods have been brought into being, and sustained themselves, before humans were around?

Timothy also wrote,

I can’t imagine a ‘common’ fae creature, such as a brownie or puck, doing this, but take the example of Brigid during the Christianisation of Ireland – a powerful Faerie goddess in a land that is about to be swamped by the Dominion. You are going to lose all, or almost all, your worshippers, and diminish to a lesser kind of being, perhaps a beautiful fae lady accosting travelers or maybe not even that – or perhaps disappearing altogether into Arcadia. But if Brigid became a saint, she would be venerated by thousands if no longer directly worshipped. There would be compromises to be made, but I think this existence could be more attractive than the alternative. And is it possible to imagine God (or perhaps an angel or saint working on His behalf) making such a deal, allowing the Faerie god to become a saint, in return for a consequent expansion of His worship?

I take Timothy's point that many Faerie creatures could be seen as working to scripts, not having free will at all, but I think one can exclude the most powerful Faerie from this. As well as the theurgist account of the first faerie gods starting as magical spirits, are there not also stories (mentioned in the books) of the first Fae creatures being angels, who neither stayed with God nor went with Lucifer but took a third way. One does not necessarily need to plump for one origin story over another, but I think there is room in the game to regard some Fae as acting and thinking autonomously, and indeed having intellects greater than humans in at least some respects.

Anyway, what I am saying is I quite like the idea of, very occasionally, powerful Magical beings become Faerie beings, and powerful Faerie beings becoming Divine beings, and right now I think it fits into the game fine (I have no interest in working it out at a mechanical level because I can't imagine it actually happening through the course of a saga). But I would appreciate being told if anyone thinks this does in fact break the game in any way!


How about this...
The Fairy Gods did not kick the others out. They just stepped into the space of the human attention. Say there was a God of Thunder who did all the storm stuff. A fairy, who gets energy from human attention sees ( or is generated) by the worship of said God and then begins to make appearances and generate stories as that God. The Fairy storm god does not concern itself with the running of storms. He is there just for the attention. The real God of Storms/Thunder is still doing his job and really does not care about what the humans think.

Given that almost everything that happens in Mythical Europe COULD be a fairy generating some interests so that all stories in the game could be fairly stories that people do not realize. In the end, the Fairies would love to set up a "Matrix" and gather power from humans by running stories for them to interact with. Of course the Divine could step in and stop all of this unless it is just a really big powerful fairy...Then we are screwed :open_mouth:

David, it looks like you misread RoP:D p.73 box Excommunication of cp.IV Mythic Christianity. It says:

So the rules results of excommunication can affect only Church members, not Jews, Muslims or Cathars, who always had rejected the sacraments of the Church.

As for Church members in the early 13th century: these generally accept the "extra ecclesiam nulla salus" (see ... ulla_salus ), so tend indeed to be shaken, if thrown out of the Church.

What the p.73 box does not address, is medieval Church authorities excommunicating each other, and the resultant break of communion between Churches. Look for these e. g. in subrosa #16 Voventes Centennales and Strange Alliances, . But you would not expect an ArM5 rulebook to delve into these in detail, or would you?


Not to the point of your argument, but just for historical colour: the popes don't live in the Vatican in 1220. They won't take up residence there for centuries. They are n the Lateran Palace, which gets seriously damaged while they are off in France, so they can't use it when they come back.

The problem for the writers is that there are multiple popular accretions, and that you are treating the official cultus as something other than popular, and as factually wrong in your setting. This is offensive to many modern readers. You mention Brigid, for example. There are period writings about how Brigid called off celibacy in her nunneries as a miraculous dispensation. There are period writings that say this is impossible, because saints don't tell people to have premarital sex. We can have both by having a split between characters: to say that you are having the offical cultus plus the accretion is to say the cultus of Brigid does not udnerstand the will of Brigid (despite it being the largest of the popular groups).

Which is to say, for the writers, it's tricky... Do what you like at your table, though.

Yes...some theurgists believe that. They are probably wrong. We deliberately don't know what is happening in Deep Faerie. We don't know what the first faeries looked like, because when we ask them, they give us the answers which provoke the strongest reaction (for example, pride). (RoP:F)

Faeries can also feed from the natural fertility of the world, including the fertility of some of the magical "gods". Generally, though: we don't know how the faeries started, because they have no reason to tell us, and indeed may be unable to tell us, because they may lack personal identity and memory.

Well, you are suggesting Brigid can -choose-, and most faeries lack the ability to choose anything. It's possible as a mental exercise, of course, in restricted sorts of cases, if your faerie is not acting like a faerie.
I'd also note that God doesn't need to cut you that deal. He can do what he does in the standard Catholic version of this story, and subvert your high priestess, make her a saint, and then take all your worshipers that way.

No, we can't. Zeus clearly follows scripts, for example. Humans trick him once about if he gets them eat or the skin and bone in offerings, and because it has happened once, he is stuck forever with them, even when he kills the entire human race and starts them again from a pair of perfectly biddable humans. Power isn't freedom for faeries.

Fae as demoted angels, again, works only if you ignore the views of the largest popular groups. It does appaer in period, slightly, but it's very Celtic revival / Victorian in terms of its popularity and we wanted to get away from that and toward something more solidly medieval.

Also, if you have fae as autonomous, I think you lose much of the interest in having them as a separate group from magical spirits, and you seem to free them from most of their traditional limitations. Why does the vampire stop to count the beans? Why does the merrow play a game with his victim, and lose every time, instead of just eating him? If everyone knows you just nod to the kappa, why are none of the kapps rude?

That being said, if you have a different cosmology, sure. Son the Monkey king is an elemental who becomes a fae and then becomes Divine or magical, sure, if it works for you.

It breaks the game only if it becomes the center of what your character is trying to do, while everyone else is trying to play a game about magi, being magi, doing magi stuff.

Thanks again for the comments. My thoughts do seem to be coming together on this – finally! I think there is a central tension in the game – one which I certainly keep bumping into:

  1. Ars Magica is a game set in medieval Europe where contemporary beliefs in the supernatural are manifestly real.
  2. People in medieval Europe sometimes thought different, and often contradictory, things about the supernatural.
    My approach in other (non AM) campaigns has been to keep the reality of supernatural forces rather fuzzy, and magic and miracles rare and low key if they happen at all, so that two characters with opposing belief systems can both have their beliefs sustained in game. Ars Magica needs to take a rather different approach as the central characters, the magi, deal very directly with the supernatural – and the fifth edition books overall are a magnificent attempt to render the complexity and contradictions of medieval supernatural beliefs as actual forces and beings in the world in a coherent way. The tension is not completely eradicated and nor can it be – but Ars Magica for the most part has room for a wide range of approaches and so individual groups can decide which interpretations or versions of reality can come to prevail and which fall away, depending on their own interests and perspectives and that of their characters.

In my own saga in Languedoc, I want colourful saint cults, heretical sects, Jews and Muslims, all with an equal claim to the Divine, and clearly that works fine with the rules. One Shot is right that I misremembered the section from RoP:D on excommunication, and I do take the point on the importance of belonging to a Church. Having been brought up in a very traditional Eastern Orthodox Church, I am also very aware of rival churches excommunicating each other. The way I would play this is that the Divine can only flourish, and believers can only begin to acquire Faith Points, within a community of believers. And so when Peter Waldo was excommunicated from the Catholic Church in 1184, he can retain Faith Points because they are sustained within his own heretical community of the Poor of Lyons - while a lone individual who is excommunicated would lose all Faith Points and would probably be unable to gain more until they repented and rejoined the Church (or perhaps joined another group). One might make an exception with lone mystics who achieve a direct relationship with a Divine being, such as an angel, who might be excommunicated for their prophesying but still retain Faith Points because of their direct relationship with the Divine.

This is a bit of a fudge, because the individual members of the various Divine communities of believers certainly thought members of other groups to be deluded, and probably corrupted by demons, while the preservation of true belief marked their own group as the only one blessed by God. To leave things open, and to avoid setting out one set of doctrines as ‘the truth’ against which others are false, I think I will avoid depicting demons pulling people towards false beliefs in my saga, or whole orders corrupted by the infernal, as suggested in ‘The Church’.

I do take Timothy Ferguson’s point that that there are difficult decisions to be made as to what stories and legends around a saint to use – and that one should be sensitive to the perspectives and beliefs of all the players so as not to cause offence. And also his point that the Church can absorb pagan cults through giving their priests and priestesses honour within the Church, rather than absorbing elements of the religion itself, is a very good one – I hadn’t thought of that. And on Faerie, I completely agree with this:

But I find it hard to see the pagan gods this way. In the Norse or Greek myths, the gods are colourful, multi-dimensional characters – experiencing a wide range of emotions, and who are sometimes conflicted (e.g. Thor trying to hold back from giant-killing while dressed as a Freyja in Thrymir’s hall). They might still be thought to be slavishly following their impulses, but one could say the same of us humans whom they largely resemble at a psychological level.

I don’t see pagan pantheons like the Norse or Greek easily fitting any of the four realms of Ars Magica as written. Given that these pagan religions have largely faded away, most Story Guides don’t need to worry too much about them. But if I did handle them, my instinct would be treat the auras that develop around communities of believers to most closely resemble a Dominion aura, and priests and priestesses practising a kind of Holy Magic. These pagan auras would not have the transcendence of the Divine, and would be marked by particularity, so that followers of one cult when entering the aura of a rival cult would experience that aura in a similar way to a mage entering a Divine aura. But with this idea, strands of paganism, such as still survive, which have reached some kind of accommodation within Christianity, will not experience the Divine as a hostile aura. This means, for instance, that I can have my folk witches who now invoke the Virgin Mary and the angels existing happily within Dominion auras, but who still come from a tradition which was once pagan.


This is indeed how RoP:D recommends to do it. See:

These mystics would in-game have True Faith, hence regain their Faith Points every dawn (ArM5 p.189). They may be shaken, but not subdued by excommunication, as their direct connection to the Divine prevails.


See, the thing is, you are not Thrymir. The religion involved with Thor requires he be bound by rules. If you put a witch in a barrel on Thor's Hill and roll it down, you expect to be rewarded, not cursed, for this behaviour. He can't be capricious, because otherwise instead of worshipping him, you may as well roll a dice.

If you're a god, then you have expected responses to human prompts. If you don't come through, you get replaced, either through conversion as in the West, or through barricading your temple and not giving you any worship until you come good on the miracles, as in parts of China.

If it works for you, it works for you. The Divine Aura hangs around monotheists in game, which means that Zoroastrians have it, as did, for example, the Hittites.

There's a bit of this already, actually. In some areas, faeries work for the Church, so that other faeries, and arguably by extension, faerie magi, don't suffer realm interaction penalties. Faeries can have the same deal with Hell, too.


That line also gets blurred, though, like when humiliating the relics of saints who don't perform.

Well, anything can fit Faerie.AM5. Free will? That NPC doesn't really have it anyway because he does what the GM says. :slight_smile: It is hard to distinguish Thor following a script and Thor doing the exact same thing because that's what he really wants. It is hard to distinguish a faerie who really changes from a faerie programmed to exhibit different behavior and powers (and memories...) once certain conditions have been triggered (and debugging a faerie that runs self-modifying code is especially tricky.)

That said, I like the Faerie rules not only because they are clever, but because I find them useful.

Not canonically, I like to see the realms as a matter of perspective. Most people in ME (and maybe here :smiley:) perceive most of the supernatural as faerie: demons, saints, angels, spirits, even God all have significance only because of how they affect me. God says "do this and get that, don't do that other thing or else you get something bad," and that's little different from any other faerie script for interacting with people. Learn the rules, learn the rituals, or else. That other faerie has infernal rules. Real interactions with the divine, infernal and magic realms are harder to notice for what they are.

Magi, then, are not necessarily anachronistic secular people who foolishly ignore the divine, but who are at least as spiritual as other medieval people, who try to get past the machinery of faerie to deeper reality.

It's not a better perspective, but I find it useful.

I do notice that AM5 emphasizes pagan and classical aspects of magic, especially in the OoH. That was probably a good idea, because so many games set in "magical medieval Europe" emphasize Christianity. (By 'emphasis' I do not mean 'make more powerful.') A different edition of the game, though, might emphasize non-mainstream but non-pagan traditions that still fit within monotheism: folk and gnostic and theurgic and kabalistic and... Christian and Jewish and Muslim enough to be considered such, at least by the other two :slight_smile:, but different enough to be different, which I think suits magi well. Other rpgs have tried to cover that space, but I have yet to see one do it even half-decently.

No deal needed; the faeries might not even be able to make a deal. They are what they are, and their grammar drags around the appropriate realm interaction modifiers.



I'm not saying that you shouldn't do this, but this has serious implications. It means that there is no absolute sin and that all branches of a divinely-inspired faith are Divine regardless of their final tenets. While that's necessary to some extent, it means that you need to figure out what the Infernal is doing in such an environment - is it encouraging people to commit universal sins (and what are those? I mean, I doubt there's a single "thou shalt not" on the subject of sex that some Divine religion doesn't contradict), or is it encouraging people to sin against their own values? And, of course, there needs to be some way to distinguish between the status of a genuine new sect and a revelation pulled out of someone's fundament (and how can anyone tell the difference?).

I'm pretty sure bestiality with an unclean animal of the same gender is considered wrong by every sect of monotheistic faith. At least 98% certain.

That said if you believe that God has said "Thou shalt not" and you do, whether it is objectively true that he said "Thall shalt not" or not it does mean you willingly opposed him... or if you are being more flexible Them.