Mystery cult expansions


Non-canon world questions ahead but applicable to canon settings. Be warned.

I have a situation in my game where the PCs have encountered a number of mystery cults. Some of these cults are still active and they are being initiated by powerful spirits. Others are dead, but they have books on the cult lore and a considerable number of initiation scripts.

Now, some of these cults have a quite a strong magical theme. One for instance is very heavily focused on alchemy and very little else. Another is focused on animal magic and the Bjornaer mysteries. One cult is focused on the idea of a central principle behind all magic. The members of the cult believed in a central theory of magic but that they had not fully developed it, much like physicists now often talk about a unifying theory, but aren't there yet.

This cult has gathered a few pieces of magic that they have integrated into their system (or rather have built their system around), mercurian magic, hermetic architecture, planetary magic and so on.

My question, for a cult that is interested in developing a central theory of magic, how would they take existing mystery initiations/virtues from OTHER groups, and integrate it into their system?

For instance, if the cult discovered the notes, cult lore and initiations of the alchemists, could they integrate those things into their own lore and if so, how would this be done.

I can see three ways.

  1. The cult learns the other cults lore as well as its own, self initiates into its mysteries and then goes through some process that I am currently unaware of to make all the initiations work off one lore skill
  2. The cult doesn't learn the other cults lore and goes through some process that I am currently unaware of to make all the initiations work off one lore skill then initiates itself into the other cults mysteries
  3. It cannae be done.

Now, I like the sound of 1. It would mean learning more than one cult lore, but that seems to be a suitable price to pay to merge the initiations of two cults into one. But what is the as-yet-unknown process? Does it exist in some book somewhere? Have I just missed it?

IIRC, there's a explanation of how to do this in one of the books.
I believe it was in Legends of Hermes, the one who built her own mystery cult... How is she called... Fortunata.

I always understood the Mystery Cult lore to be a mystical version of psychology - knowing how to put together a series of rituals that will impress knowledge/abilities/virtues on someone while bypassing the traditional learning system, via metaphor, controlled exposure to stimuli, symbolism, and so on. But like many things in Ars Magica, you have to re-create it yourself.

Thus, MC Lore is in many ways like a magi's own arts: while they (in theory) do the same thing as the next guy over, each person has done the lab work to re-create an effect, and the end result is different than someone else who may be doing something different.

Thus, if it's EXPLICITLY understood as this by the magi, in the same way that Hermetic Magi understand Bonisagus' Magic Theory to be an extensible system for integrating other systems, then there shouldn't be an issue in what you're doing.

But if they approach MC Lore as a sacred bond between individuals that shouldn't be touched...then they're probably not going to do that. But I can easily see a group of hermetic Magi getting together for the explicit purpose of using MC Lore to create a sort of Hermetic Cult - one that incorporated as many Virtues as possible, with as many stripped-down, consistent rituals as possible.

Just bought Legends of Hermes (goes to big pile of new books that I haven't read through yet) - and here we go. Yep, Fortunata set up to do exactally this: research and revive ancient knowledge and teach it to others. Basically she created a "cult without a cult", in the sense that she explicitly understood that these were just paths to learning new techniques. As such, there is a discussion in here on how to integrate Initiation Scripts between cults.

So - Buy Legend of Hermes! Page 48! :stuck_out_tongue:

Although this brings up an interesting question: Hermetic Lore is an Organization lore. Therefore, in theory, one could use Hermetic Lore as the basis for a Mystery Cult.

Which seems like an interesting idea to integrate - although it really would be an interesting exercise to try to do, in-game, as the integrator would have to somehow expand Hermetic Lore, and organize it in such a way, so as to lead individuals down specific paths of mystic empowerment.

Sounds almost like the "Integrating Breakthrough" ideas for non-magical skills. (ie, introducing algebra, or the early stages of the scientific method, etc.)

And again we're back to my alternative to steal-able parma, make the entire order a mystery cult for the initiation of parma magica :wink:

I've experimented a little with this over on my blog. If you accept that Longevity Rituals are better modeled as Virtues, then the numbers make a lot more sense if you have Parma as an earlier initiation and Oath (Code of Hermes) as an Ordeal.

As we've discussed before, it's still stealable. It just (maybe) takes a bit more effort :wink:

True, but the harder it is, the less inclined many people are to do it. Just look at the real world :wink:

I remember a Covenant using Covenant Lore as basis for a mystery cult. It ended up a bit Gormenghast-y, but was very interesting I think.

It just struck me that leaves us with essentially the same security problem as books on Parma Magica do.
Except now the issue is with books on our cult lore: Organization Lore (Order of Hermes).

I'm not entirely certain I accept the premise, but if we do (for argument's sake) it certainly makes a lot of sense - and is internally consistent, which is always good.

I think the idea is that Initiation Scripts are different than the Organizational Lore itself. As such, it would be easier to hide the latter than the former - just as the final hand gesture to activate Parma is hidden until after the student passes their Gauntlet.

So in that sense, you would have four levels of security:

  1. Organizational Lore (weak) - it's not THAT hard to learn about the general structure of the Order, although you'd need to steal enough books to get it up to the point where you could self-initiate. In constrast, Magi learn this simply by being part of the Order.

  2. Initiation Script - (medium) - easier to hide than the Org. Lore - or maybe, like the final gestures of Parma, it's not actually written down anywhere.

  3. Parma Magica (medium) - As canon: the books aren't fully complete, although they do teach MOST of the skill.

  4. Final Hand Gesture of Parma (hard) - that one would be difficult to learn, although I suppose you could torture/rip it out of their mind, if you had to.

My general impression from TMRe was that one cult stealing secret knowledge from another was a pretty common problem. It's certainly thematic. My own suggestion for making Parma less steal-able would be requiring would be thieves to integrate Parma via the rules from Hedge/Rival Magic.

Trivially true, yes.

If we accept Parma as as initiated virtue, I believe we must do away with pts 3 and 4 - that would have to be included in the aquisition of the virtue.
Otherwise the virtue makes no sense.
But that is ofcourse just my understanding. looking through TMRE, I'm not seeing anything that says the ability you're initiated into has to work. Of course, 99.99% of the time, (by RAW, at least), this indicates that either the script was flawed, or else you didn't have enough PRE+Lore to get the Initiation level high enough.

However, I can easily see a scenario by which the Initiation grants you the POSSIBILITY of learning Parma - just not the last 1%.

As a (somewhat related) example, you can be initiated into a minor Virtue, and then later be initiated into a Major virtue. This indicates that you can split abilities up and teach them separately. What we call Minor vs. Major is a game mechanic, kind of like Pawns of Vis. And like Pawns, I can see someone breaking a Minor virtue down into 99% of a virtue, and then later on teaching the last 1% of it.

Or, if you like - consider that the Initiation ritual isn't actually complete until the apprentice passes their Gauntlet and the Mystagouge teaches the final hand gesture (thus adding another level of security, and acting as a final Trial to the Initiation). Up until that point, you can put points into it, but you can't actually use it.

EDIT: Or that the ability to spend XP on Parma is a minor virtue, but the ability to actually use it is a Major one - I would agree that in terms of game mechanics, the former is a LOUSY minor virtue to have....except that it's simply a precursor to the Major version. But really - that's just me using game mechanic semantics to describe a possible scenario.

This is starting to remind me of some of my more bizarre discussions in philosophy class. One of those wound up with someone accepting (momentarily) the argument that gravity was conscious. Similarly here, no, the OOH is not a mystery cult, or there would be no need for further mystery cults. Now a Cult of Bonisagus dedicated to uncovering mysteries and initiating and integrating the most useful ones could be interesting...

Sounds to me like you're mixing game mechanics with in-game societies.

In AM, a Mystery Cult is merely an organization that uses Organization Lore and the Initiation rules to teach powers to people. It's basically a variation of the Teaching skill - only it teaches Virtues, rather than Abilities. Any additional requirements are in-game, and based on where the knowledge came from. This idea is explicitly discussed in Legends of Hermes, with Fortunata of Jerbiton. She created a mystery cult for the explicit purpose of analyzing and integrating ancient knowledge - a "cult without a cult", basically: there is literally no requirements on an Initaite of her cult, other than to be able to find and perform the Initiation scripts. (In fact, were she alive, she would likely say that this was the exact reason she created the cult: to openly teach anyone who wanted to learn.)

Any organization that has Organization Lore can (technically) Initiate people. Therefore, there is no (game mechanic) reason not to consider the Order a Mystery Cult (were it to actually teach its virtues in that manner), and for other Mystery Cults to exist inside it - just as it's possible to have multiple instructors or learn abilities from multiple teachers or books.

EDIT - if you don't care for it, don't use the phrase "mystery cult" - as those are simply the groups who are most likely to use the Initiation rules. Use "Mystic Virtue Trainers", or something like that.

Assuming we declare Parma Magica to be a virtue, I would expect it to be handled as Supernatural Ability.
These generally grant a score of 1 when the ability is purchased.

Yes, we could jump through that number of hoops, but that's just silly, and wouldn't really follow the general flow of how the mysteries work.
But that's just my opinion, obviously.

Apropos of nothing, I've always thought of Parma being taught similar to how Mr.Miyagi taught Daniel in the Karate Kid. The master assigns a daily ritual to be performed in the lab that aligns the magic for use. It is different enough fr te Parma ritual that the magus performs.

If the entire order is a mystery cult why would there need to be special rules for mystery cults, as opposed to simply saying 'any magus in the order can do this'. Just because it specifies organization lore as the mechanism doesn't mean any organization can be used as the basis for initiation. Church lore is also an organization lore, but you don't see peasants running around initiating due to it. The fact is that the organization has to be a mystery cult, and there are ways to establish your own mystery cult. p.8 of The Mysteries "The first and central concept to any mystery cult is that secrecy is power." There are several paragraphs following this discussing what a mystery cult is, and the OOH is not a mystery cult. There is discussion about forming your own lore, and there is not a list of mystery cults, but there are certain attributes those organizations share. Their existence may not be hidden, but their membership is.

Because TMRE came out after the main book did. That happens a lot.

Going to the book...

So, there y'go: as long as the organization has a mystic style and roughly compatible roots (the book goes on to describe that Fortunata's rituals were based on Greek and Roman cults - which is what most of Mythic Europe's mystery cults seem to be based on, so they're all probably pretty compatible.) Then yes, you can use the organizational lore to Self-Initiate. LoH goes on to describe exactally how to integrate Fortunata's scripts into any organizational Lore that has compatable mystic roots.

As the Order of Hermes is pretty much the decedents of the Cult of Mercury, and is still trying to puzzle out all of THAT cult's rituals, I would say that yes: Hermetic Organizational Lore is quite compatible with mystery cult lore. It's just that there are so many specialized skills that have been integrated into it (Parma, The Arts, Magic Theory, etc.) that the original rituals have been stripped pretty bare. Integrating with Fortunata's would be an example of "adding more rituals back in" - and likely having some enterprising Bonsiagus come along and fully integrate them into magic theory. But that would take a while.

No, they go on Pilgramages, as described in The Chuch, pg. 16. The mechanics are very similar to an Initiation script, though.

Initiating into holy magic is described on RoP:D, pg. 47. For that - yes, it's described using the Mystery Cult rules. And using the above ruling from LoH, yes: if your troupe decides that Church Lore is mystic enough, then it can be used to initiate Holy Powers. Personally, I'd say..."almost, but not quite" - but that may be because I'm familiar with the modern forms, and a such they aren't mysterious enough.

I would think that a lot of the rituals, from someone who was unfamiliar with them (the scacrament, last rites, baptism) would in fact appear quite mystical. But that's a judgment call.