Hermetic understanding of the fork

The fork as a tool for eating was (probably) introduced to Western Europe from the Byzantine Empire around the turn of the millennium. So it's credible that maga Rustica ex Miscellanea from Hibernia has never seen or even heard of one when she travels south-east. Her first encounter with a fork is in a treasure recovered from some pirates.

I've always assumed it's obvious that Rustica can cast on the silver fork an Intellego Terram spell based on the In Te 2 guideline: "Learn one visible property of an object (a property that someone with appropriate skills could determine just by looking)" to learn the apparent function of such an object ("to handle food"). Basically, the spell can tell Rustica what any of us could tell her just by looking at the fork.

But there are several folks in another thread apparently claiming that "obviously" such a spell can't tell Rustica that a fork is a tool to handle food. Because, apparently, the function of the fork is not "Terram-related" and "obviously" the guideline only refers to "Terram-related" skills.

I am curious to see what the larger community on this forum thinks about this simple conundrum: Can the spell tell Rustica that the silver fork appears to be an eating tool?

  • Yes.
  • No.

0 voters

Considering that at a larger scale a "fork" can be used to pitch hay or as a weapon I do not consider its use in eating "obvious" outside of cultural context. If I grew up using chopsticks and encountered a fork for the first time I would not automatically think "eating utensil"

The question is not at all simply. In fact, it touches on the challenging philosophical question of the difference and relationship between science and design.

Function and purpose is not the same thing. Purpose is not a property of the thing itself. Purpose comes, instead, from the intents of human users and designers. A fork is not an eating tool a priori. It becomes an eating tool when you and I decide that we want to use it as an eating tool.

For this reason, the stated guideline cannot discern purpose.

However, I do imagine though, that a variation of Stone tell of mind that sits could be used to ask the fork about how it had been used, but that's a rather different effect.

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I agree. Indeed, that's the reason why Rustica, who's grown up eating with her hands or at best with a knife, has no clue about the fork's apparent function. But note that the guideline does not say "a property that anyone could determine just by looking". It says "a property that someone with appropriate skills could determine just by looking".

I think that almost everyone who sees a fork and recognizes it will just say "eating tool". Just as almost everyone who sees a sword and recognizes it will just say "weapon" - the fact that the occasional giant uses it as a toothpick, and it was originally a gift, does not change the fact that it's a weapon, that it accrues magical bonuses appropriate for a weapon etc.

So yes, there might be edge cases (in which case the Intellego spell might face some difficulties) but by and large the basic function of a man-made item is not something that difficult to pin down.

Sure, but they are then not describing a trait of the fork. They describe human custom. An InMe spell would be more appropriate.

The point is that the "customary, standard use" of a class of objects is intrinsic to those objects from a mystical point of view. That's why a shield provides a bonus to defense when enchanting it -- even though technically you could use it to carry stuff or to create shade.


That's a good point. I disagree though. First of all, I do not thing «customary, standard use» is sufficient. The bonus represents symbolic sympathy. The customary, standard use has to be so significant as to elevate the object to a symbol representing the effect. Symbols, just like words, make the power behind magic. Customs and uses do not.

Once we identify symbolism as the significant point, there is reason to doubt the idea that it is an intrinsic property of the object. The magus forms the magical effect using words and symbols. Just like the words, the symbols only have the meaning that they have to the wizard.

For the purposes of getting a S&M bonus, sure. But I was just pointing out that the "human context" in which a physical object operates can make a difference, so one cannot argue that it's not intrinsic to the object (in terms of Hermetic Magic).

I think one could come up with other examples. For example, Creo can "improve" an object or living creature, making it closer to perfection. But if you think of it, the fact that a shaper blade or a faster horse are "better" wholly depends on the human context. At least in our framework of analysis. Of course, in ArM5 terms, I guess it depends on the fact that there's a perfect sword and and a perfect horse in the realm of ideas, and your Creo spell is making the physical object closer to those ideals. But then, of course, it makes sense that there's an ideal fork, and you can use an InTe spell on a silver fork to learn the nature of its closest ideal (the impaling complement to the perfect spoon and the perfect eating knife).


On the symbolic difference we agree. I do not see the argument for an ontological difference.

I admit though, that I made the mistake of only considering post-WWII philosophy, and you are perfectly right that we need to look at the realm of true forms. Is there a true form of a fork? I have no idea. I am not well versed in Aristotelean physics and ontology. At the end of the day, I think it is up to the SG to design the game world of true forms.

It does however bring up an interesting point in all of this- could use InTe to determine what magical bonuses an item gives? Obviously this would not be determined by visual inspection alone, but at a higher guideline- it seems to me that the fact this requires multiple seasons of lab work to determine indicates this is also a limitation on In(Fo). As such these forms of mystical significance may or may not be intrinsic to the material but it is most definitely hidden to an intelligo spell.


silveroak makes some very good points here.

It depends on what you mean.
If you are looking for a new S&M bonus (vulgar alchemy from TMRE, which I personally dislike) then sure, you need multiple seasons ... but that's not just about determining the bonus, it's also about determining how to magically exploit it. So the fact that you need a lot of time to do both, does not mean you'd need a lot of time to do the first part in isolation. In fact, note that determining a mystical bonus of an object is different from telling that an object is part of a certain class (crowns, keys, shields etc.) that you already know benefits from the bonus.

If, on the other hand, the magus sees an item and wonders "Uhm, I wonder if I could enchant it as a key and get that +X bonus to opening doors that I have already determined enchanted keys get?", I think some InTe "determine property" guideline would probably work, on the basis that being a key is a (mundane) property of an object. Of course, you'd probably say it would not work because it's not an intrinsic property so we are back at a circular argument. But I do think that there exist spells based on the nature of an object (so Creo to improve, Perdo to worsen) that can differentiate the nature of an object because "improvement" means different things depending on what is the item you are improving (I hope that was not too unclear).

@loke this might be enough of an ontological difference for you (note that not via spell, but via one of the Criamon abilities of the path of walking backwards, this is canonical)?

Um, no.
By the rules in hermetic research finding an item's previously unknown bonuses is a minor breakthrough and takes even longer than with vulgar alchemy. So no there is no "I cast a spell" shortcut any more than you can spontaneously create vis with a spell.
If you are going to just rewrite the rules whole cloth the way you think they should be that's fine but don't waste our time trying to argue that that is RAW.

silveroak, you can spare a significant amount of your time just by omitting such ... aggressive remarks in your posts :slight_smile:

That said, could you point me to where exactly (book and page!) finding a new S&M bonus is defined a Minor Breakthrough? Not saying it's not, just curious because I've missed it.

Finally, I think you may have missed the point I was making. It's one thing to determine an item's S&M bonus, it's another thing entirely to determine if an item falls into a class of objects whose S&M bonuses you already know.

To find an item's mystical resonance (AKA S&M bonus), if it's an existing one, should be InVi, and not InTe.

I am not sure what ontological difference you are referring to.
Not that it necessarily matters. If you want an ontological difference, you need to write it into the cosmology. It is not obvious that there necessarily is one, not in RAW, and certainly not in Aristotle, who did not consider Hermetic magic in sufficient depth.

Purpose as an ontological difference is such an antiquated idea that it has to be made explicit before players can be assumed to agree. It is not made explicit in RAW, but you may be right that it is reasonable interpretation which should be made explicit.

I have always read the list of shape and material bonuses as examples, all the way since third edition. That magi memorise how to exploit umpteen bonuses before they can use them, does not make the slightest bit of sense to me. A library on magic theory is not required to do lab work, so we cannot assume that they look them up. Hence they have to derive the symbols they need when they need them.

Like you, I have missed the canon clause about discovering new S&M bonuses that @silveroak refers to, but the fact that vulgar alchemy exists in addition to original research indicates that the authors do not fully agree on this ...

The perfect form argument is interesting. Creo and Perdo know what is better and worse, however, that is clearly based on perspective. A fly would consider a corpse a more perfect from because it could lay eggs in it. A farmer might consider a stranger's perfect form a corpse also. Nutrience for his crops.....

If a mage changes in to a fly, and has the ability to cast while a fly, can the magi spont a creo spell that kills, because it's now closer to the perfect form?

Clearly not and this is just an extreme thought exercise, however, it establishes magic has some degree of knowledge. Muto knows also. If I try to Muto a sapling in to a fully grown tree, it wont work as I have to use Rego. The Muto knows an adult tree is not "unnatural".

It's interesting Intelligo, "I know" seems to know the least about the underlying fabric of the universe of any magic technique.

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Not quite.
Plato's Allegory of the Cave says that the world we percive is shadows of perfect forms - the perfect form being objective, not subjective.


That solves the problem. If the perfect form is objective, not subjective, then any writing is a shadow of the perfect Ur language. Creo and Perdo know what the perfect form is, as one aims towards the perfect form and one aims away.

As magic knows what the perfect form is, Intelligo finds the perfect form, and communicates it to the magi.