Iconography on the cover of ArM5

I have a few questions about the symbolism used on the cover of ArM5.

First, I’m curious about the three snake symbol which I know showed up in 4th edition if not earlier. I recognize both the fasces and the ankh and they both make sense for a group of mages (particularly one with such strong Roman ancestry). However I don’t know what the apple represents – and I’m also curious if it’s a specific apple like Eve’s or Idun’s maybe.

My second question involves from the background heraldry of the twelve Founders. Tytalus and Pralix immediately stand out and I at least partially understand what their backgrounds represent – Tytalus liked spiral iconography and Pralix defeated Damhan-Allaidh, “The Spider.” The remaining Founders end up divided in to three groups and here I have a difficult time understanding the reasoning behind the divisions.

Bjornaer and Merinita (gray above red)
Bonisagus, Jerbiton, Guernicus, Verditius, and Tremere (gray above gray)
Flambeau, Criamon, and Mercere (red above gray)

I suspect Bjornaer and Merinita are together because they don’t have the Latin ancestry of these other houses or because they have a strong connection to something outside of the realm of magic – animals and faerie respectively. My first thought with the second group is that these are the cornerstones of the Order but then I’d expect Mercere there and I’d wonder about Jerbiton’s and Tremere’s inclusion so that doesn’t seem to be it. The last group I can’t make heads or tails of, Flambeau and Criamon are almost opposites and Mercere doesn’t seem to have a strong connection to either.

Perhaps there is some obvious political or social division I’m unaware of, I’m not well-versed on House lore :slight_smile:

I figured there were well known answers to these questions and I simply wasn’t aware. I suppose I was selling myself short and should have brought this up as a discussion rather simply asking questions. :slight_smile:

So, does anyone else have thoughts on why the founders were divided in to those groups? It does seem to have been done with some thought.

Also, does anyone have any thoughts about that apple? The ankh is often associated with magic and the fasces is a symbol of order. Apples show up frequently in myths and folktales but I’m not sure which apple is being referenced here.

Not much other than this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_(symbolism)

"Apples appear in many religious traditions, often as a mystical or forbidden fruit."


My suspicion is that he backgrounds are only different as a result of the artist desiring to differentiate the icons from one another (although I wouldn't be surprised to discover that I'm wrong.) The credits indicate that Scott Reeves did the cover, how well did he know the game?

Is that a crystal ball being juggled by Criamon?

Why does Guernicus have a hand full of lightning?

Hmmmm, I'm guessing Guernicus didn't specialize in Auram then.

I didn't think to ask about the accouterments. Some of these I could recognize or figure out but I'll admit several mystified me. I don't have the House books however and I figured some things might be more obvious if I did. For example I read online that Merinita taught Bonisagus how to bind familiars - I'd guess hers was a stag. Likewise I imagine Bjornaer's heartbeast was a dog . . . but I don't know what the cone is. Mercere's scrolls case probably represents messangers but I don't know about the broken staff, maybe his lost magical ability. You've already mentioned the oddities for Criamon and Guernicus.

The fact that the backgrounds aren't a simple pattern makes me suspect there is some method to the madness - why use one background for five and another for just two? Why give two of the Founders unique backgrounds? It could very well be aesthetics, the five red topped ones do have bilateral symmetry although the others don't seem to.

Any guesses on the apple? I saw the snake symbol on the fourth edition core rules so tracking that down may be more difficult.

The three snakes symbol already appeared on the cover of The Order of Hermes which dates back to 1990 (2nd edition of Ars Magica)... Maybe could someone from Atlas Games answer ?

As for the attributes, here's my guess (from the top, clockwise):

Bonisagus: behind his head appear two crossed keys, which is the symbol of House Bonisagus.
Ex Miscellanea: as you explained.
Jerbiton: the link with nobility is obvious.
Bjornaer: the cone is the symbol of House Bjornaer, I suppose the dog is there just to point out that Bjornaer Magi are animal oriented.
Criamon: the imprints are obvious, the ball very much less.
Guernicus: he is holding in his left hand the scales of justice; I think Guernicus was a Terram specialist, so I don't quite get his right hand.
Mercere: I quite like your explanation.
Verditius: we can see the famous Verditius rings on both his hands.
Merinita: I suppose the stag is there just to point out that Merinita was Nature oriented.
Tytalus: as you explained.
Tremere: I get the chess board in his right hand, not the staff in his left one.
Flambeau: the hourglass in his left hand is the symbol of House Flambeau, his right hand his obvious.

Hope this helps :wink:


Merinita was the first to bind a Hermetic familiar, and it was a white stag.

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I have a theory that the symbol is a relic from an ancient mystery religion, pointing the way to the Order's future. The snake with the apple on his head is Ladon in the Canaries, and the snake with the fasces is the dragon that bought Trianoma and Bonisagus together, and the serpent with the ankh on his head, well, let's wait on that for a while.

I didn't plan it that way, but it works for me as a retcon.

Poor Bjornaer, I can't stop thinking of one of those cones they put on dogs after surgery so they don't chew on stitches.

And I suppose if anyone has an unexplainable object in their picture it should be Criamon.

I wasn't able to find covers of any 1st or 2nd edition Ars Magica books, it's neat to know that the snake symbol has been with the series for so long - although I suppose that makes it less likely we'll have a William Tell moment with that apple.

I hadn't considered their affiliation with the snakes.

Perhaps the ankh relates to some foe of the Cult of Mercury.

The double snake winged staff thing (Caduceus) is one of the traditional symbols of Hermes.

Hermes Trismegistus, is the combination of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth --- and is the Hermes associated with Renaissance "Hermetic magic". The Trismegistus bit means "three times great", and there are various myths/explanations about why he has that as an epithet.

So, perhaps the combination of the snakes from the Caduceus symbol and the epithet "Trismegistus" gets you a "three entwined snakes" symbol.

You can see the covers of all editions here: http://index.rpg.net/display-covers.phtml?mainid=32

I don't see the snake symbol prior to 4th ed. Nor the apple. 1st to 3rd doesn't see to have the same iconography as 4th and ahead, just illustrations of magi.

These are only the Core Rulebooks.

As I said, the snake symbol appeared in the 2nd edition. Here's the cover of the book "The Order of Hermes" published by Lion Rampant in 1990 (which I luckily bought on Amazon :stuck_out_tongue: )

And if you look closely, you can also see the symbols of the different Houses, like the cone for Bjornaer (bottom, left) or the Ex Miscellanea staff (bottom, right), and so on.


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My take is that the three symbols on the snakes' heads represent the three putative roots of the Order. The ankh is for the Egyptian origins (in the worship of Thoth); the apple is the apple of Eris, and stands for the Greek route; and the fasces, as the symbol of Roman authority, is obvious.

Just my twopenn'orth.

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The cone symbol of House Bjornaer had a bit of flavor text in the third edition houses of Hermes (it says fourth edition but we all know it isn't).

It says something much like "Apprentice: look at this cone, from one side it appears to be a circle, from another a triangle but it is still the same entity no matter what others perceive it to be. You and your heartbeast are much the same."

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I was thinking something similar, though I hadn't thought of the Greek connection for the apple. I was speculating that the apple stood for the nature-magics of the northern peoples that made their way into the Order through the non-Roman houses. But I like your version.

Something similar in the 2nd edition Order Of Hermes book: about how a cone can cast a shadow of a triangle or a circle on a wall, and so should the Bjornaer choose what shadow to cast on the world (or something along those lines).

I assumed that it was the Triat of Dynamism, Stasis, and Entropy.
Ankh = Life = Wildness = Dynamism
Fasces = Order = Law = Stasis
Apple = Hail Eris! All Hail Discordia! = Chaos = Degeneration = Entropy

Hi there !
I am working to these symbols too and i found something curious : why the vampire Tremere coat is so similar to our « Order of Hermes Seal »

You can find nearby the snake the symbol of each Hermetic House.

By the way, in my opinion the 3 symbols represent the main goals of the Order :
Fasces : will to gather every humans with the Gift and avoid conflicts (as Roman Legacy)
Apple : sharing the (forbidden) knowledge and wisdom
Ankh : associated with mystic power and long-life, that every Wizard spend a lot of time to fight against Death.

Moreover, on this second pic, you can see the 3 snakes have red, blue and green eyes.

It could be the body, mind and spirit trinity, or in connection with the different Realms :
Infernal : red eyes (with fasces) : strong, power, hell...
Divine : blue eyes (with ankh) : celestial and holy
Faerie : green eyes (with Apple) : nature and life (note that i’m not sure about this 3rd one but... i tried !