A player in the new saga that I am currently planning wants to have a Bjornaer magus. I have just read the Bjornaer chapter in 'House of Hermes: Mystery Cults' and I am still puzzling as to how a Heartbeast can be an expression of some kind of ancestral spirit. Sorry if this post betrays my ignorance - this is the first time that I have run a saga and I am only now reading the fifth edition supplements properly.
I can understand how a Heartbeast is an expression of a spirit self which itself represents our animal passions, instincts and fears. I might think of this spirit self as something like the Freudian Id - a primal, inchoate animal nature that lies just under the surface of all of us. What I am having trouble understanding is how a Heartbeast is also the manifestation of an ancestor spirit.
In the real world, surely ancestor spirits are thought to be shared and revered by a community who literally have the same ancestors (and can probably recite genealogies which demonstrate this). This would make the animal spirit behind a Heartbeast something like a tribal totem, of deep spiritual significance to the tribe, and which the tribe identifies with closely. But what tribes do magi of House Bjornaer belong to that share the same ancestor spirits? We are told (HoH: MC, p.18) that 'These ancestral spirits are inherited through the line of the father' but not much is made of this. Should we assume that all Bjornaer magi who have descended from the same paternal line have the same Heartbeast? All the magi of Birna's bloodline have the bear Heartbeast (p.36), although she was a woman, while magi looking to initiate into the mystery of the Inner Heartbeast need to avoid ancestors who have 'inappropriate heartbeasts'. The matter seems rather unclear.
If an ancestor spirit lies at the heart of a Bjornaer mage's magic and philosophy, surely their relations with kin who share a common ancestor spirit should be rather important? And indeed it is clear that clans are important to the house, but these clans are the house clans. We are told that, after the Ritual of Twelve Years, the new initiate's 'parens is now equivalent to a true parent, and sept-brothers and -sisters are as close as true relatives following the rite.' So is the Heartbeast spirit the ancestor of the sept or clan following their magical lineages? No, because septs generally don't share the same Heartbeast, and the sept can not even be sure what Heartbeast will emerge before the ritual.
I am tempted to reach the conclusion that the Heartbeast represents the totem for a tribe that has long been forgotten, but is reawakened in a Bjornaer magus. Given that Bjornaer magi are clearly very interested in the stories of their ancestors (e.g. during the Gathering of Twelve Years some perform 'songs, sagas, or mystery plays that revolve around famous ancestors') I imagine most magi in the house are interested in recovering the largely forgotten myths and legends around their Heartbeast / ancestor spirit, and also visiting significant places in these tales. This could be the basis of interesting stories.
I wonder also whether some magi at least would want to reawaken awareness of their ancestor spirit amongst other of that spirit's descendants, whether that be the mage's actual siblings and cousins, or people far removed but still sharing that same ancestor. One can imagine a Bjornaer mage as a cult leader, as some kind of shaman. They would not reveal Bjornaer mysteries to this re-created tribe, but they would use their connection to the ancestor spirit through their Heartbeast to provide guidance to members of their community. This could also make for interesting stories.
But it could be argued that we are looking so far back that we can say that everyone shares the same ancestors. We could imagine that magi of House Bjornaer have a origin myth like the Adam and Eve story, where perhaps there was something like Eden shared by all the ancestor spirits (in animal form) and then some dramatic event occurred which shattered this primal state and set history in motion. This could also be an interesting direction to take things.
Comments on any of this would be very welcome.