On the Religion of Magi

Yes, although whether that is actually true or not, and if it is how important these older sources actually are, is a different set of questions. The truth of it doesn't need to be, and shouldn't be IMO, answered in the RAW canon --- but could be a question that PC magi seek to answer (if that sort of thing concerns them).

Let's get back to https://forum.atlas-games.com/t/on-the-religion-of-magi/9989/1:

to https://forum.atlas-games.com/t/on-the-religion-of-magi/9989/1:

and to https://forum.atlas-games.com/t/the-break-room/102/1:

That is more than "suggesting".

I am with you here. Mythic Europe holds many religions and faiths, which magi can adhere to. Only very specific magic traditions - like HoH:MC p.33ff The Huntress of the Woods, or TMRE p.124ff The Children of Hermes - require a specific faith from their followers as a matter of course.
People following Hermeticism, more structured philosophies like neoplatonism, or the budding aristotelianism of 13th century medieval academy, take an intellectual approach to faith, and thereby are very unlikely to follow any religion blindly.
For a Church father with such an intellectual approach look at Augustine (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustine_of_Hippo), who also in Mythic Europe inspires many medieval scholars.

Already the Gift and the existence of dozens of powerful individuals practicing magic are artificial features introducing 20th century fantasy concepts into the game world of ArM5.

The ArM5 Order of Hermes attempted to gather all the powerful, Gifted practitioners of magic in 8th century Mythic Europe - within the geographical limits of its reach. The purpose was to make a lasting peace among them, and to regulate all remaining violence. Religions or philosophies explicitly did not play any role in this: even Guorna the Fetid was invited. So the Order started as a very mixed bunch, and at uneasy peace.
Even the idea of a lasting peace among individuals disparate to such a degree, and not sharing a common religion, is completely anachronistic: the typical 13th century man would consider it a miracle, or a deceit of the tempter.
Magic Theory, however, is not just empirical: the roles of experience and reason in magic are contended between The Collegium and The Lyceum (see A&A p.10). As Hermetic magi have learned magic as apprentices of others, many who do not follow such discussions will practice magic as a highly complex art.
In Mythic Europe, those testing the limits of natural philosophy adopt the classical term empirici for themselves (see A&A p.67). You should carefully verify the time, when "mundane craft guilds" who "professed mystical secrets" appeared.

There can be many magi honestly believing that the Order of Hermes needs a common faith. In some campaigns they may even succeeed in proselytizing it.
But I see more magi with an intellectual approach to their own religion, who use classical and medieval philosophy to find and understand their role in the universe. And to such magi also Hermeticism can be useful.


Honestly I could see a new mystery cult popping up every century with a new "unifying" religion they believe the entire order should adopt...

Yeah, though a Mystery Cult wouldn't honestly be the best way to promote an evangelical religion. Mysteries are inherently a bit inaccessible.

On the other hand it indicates that the religion has some extra power involved through initiation...

My preference is to see Hermetic magic as rooted in magic theory that is "secular" in the sense that it is based on truths similar to those of Aristotelian or Platonic philosophy, on magical principles such "as above so below", and so on - rather than on any revelation or distinct religion. Hermetic magic is simply not about the worship of any of beings, or about bargaining with them or drawing power from them or so on. It is instead about drawing power from the Gift, raw vis, magical auras, and so on - by purely "secular" means. Thus there is no Hermetic religion - but there is a rich background of mystic, magical and philosophical beliefs.

This allows the Order to be a "secular" force uniting various traditions and religions, as mentioned above. Magic Theory possibly does include an understanding of the Divine as the creator and first cause, and of the Titans and Faerie godlings as great Powers, but that's about it. Even highly heretical views such as Emedocle's notion of the world cycling between perfect Harmony ("God", in a sense, or at least Heaven) and perfect discord (Hell) can fit within this confine.

This is certainly an ahistorical position, a modern secular one really. Most magi probably aren't religious, which is just weird in an historical setting. But I prefer it this way. It gives the Order leeway - it can be full of religious Christian fanatics a la Flambeau in his 3E days, or a collection of various pagan traditions a la Ex Miscellanea, or anything else that fits the saga. I think that works great for a roleplaying game, and am not too concerned with staying true to history.

There's an awful lot of bargaining with supernatural beings that goes on in my games. Also, there's a lot of drawing of power from them too. Granted, when I say drawing power I mean rendering for vis...

You do realize that religion is not defined by the worship of a being. Buddhism, for example, is a religion that does not have a deity figure. So there can also be some grey area... for example one could argue that the Order promotes a moral code "thou shalt not interfere with the mundanes, thou shalt not molest the fae..."

When I say "religion" I mean it in the anthropological context - that is to say, a means of understanding the world through a supernatural lens. This includes all forms of occultism - ergo, Hermeticism as a coded set of beliefs definitively is a religion for the purposes of understanding them in an anthropological context. It is likely that there would be a wide variety of opinions regarding how far that takes one from one of the Big Three, sure.
I do go further in suggesting that some, if not many magi, may in fact take this all the way and pursue a totally unique religious direction. In a world where religious power is so readily experienced, this does not seem an extreme idea to me.

One Shot's argument can be boiled down to this:
"The titles Order of Hermes and Hermetic magic are effectively loan words that indicate little to nothing about the occult content of the Order or its magic." You suggest that it was a form of marketing in your conversation with Jabir, from my reading.

I agree with Jabir strongly, which is to say that I think that it strains my credulity to suggest that the titles are virtually meaningless add-ons. I go further in calling it a religion because that is how my training calls it - a religious viewpoint.

As a minor bit, characterizing Plato and Aristotle as a-religious or secular is (again from an anthropological definition) a very peculiar statement. One might try to argue that their natural philosophy was a sort of pre-science, but they understood the world to be composed of spiritual forces and Plato certainly conceived of a spiritual beginning to the universe from a single divine creator (which apparently earned him True Faith?) When you read about Greek concepts like Henosis, one can hardly characterize their beliefs as fully "secular."
Consider Pythagoras if you will - he viewed mathematics as a deep form of magic, and rumors about his abilities as a magician persisted for eons. There were entire schools of magic devoted to him.
Magic is considered a part of religion in anthropology because it is understood as a negotiation between mundane and spiritual forces. Even prayer is a form of magic - you're asking God or a Saint to intercede for you. That is not fundamentally different in any way from a Roman priest calling on Mars to bring down the walls of a rival city. There is no visible difference beyond who is being called upon.

If one wishes to split hairs and separate the term religion from occult beliefs, well, that's certainly valid, but you should be up-front with how you define things, like Marko does. I don't use his preferred definition, but I understand where he's coming from.

To go off on what Jonathan says, keep in mind that many religions focus around bargaining with their spirits and deities. In certain African folk religions, one threatens the deities, and virtually all of Roman magic revolved around tit-for-tat exchange.

I concur with SIlveroak also on not being restricted with the definition of religion.

One Shot: Regarding the bit about Gifts, I've been reading to refresh myself. There is a distinction in certain African tribes of Gifted "witches" and learned Shamans, which is where I first heard of such a thing. There's a book I want to read which discusses Europe's magical traditions, but I am having trouble finding it. Still, I found a citation which notes that inborn gifts was a feature - if I can get my hands on it I will let you know what it says.
You know something that absolutely, totally isn't an invention of 20th century practice? People practicing rites involving mixtures of pagan, Christian, and Arabic magic, found all through history, as attested by more books than I can conveniently name at the moment (one at least is Owen Davies' Grimoires, and every so often I run into archaeological finds of magical practice throughout the western and arabic worlds.)


I don't think it's meaningless, but it doesn't necessarily imply a religious belief in "Hermes".

Does the use of the word "Easter" (instead of a variation on "Passover") in the Anglo-Saxon/Germanic world imply that Anglo-Saxon/Germanic Christians are worshippers of a pagan dawn goddess?

Are you proposing that this is essentially co-opting? It's the Order of Hermes in the same way that Christmas co-opted the winter solstice?

More like a claim to a pedigree. It seems to be a claim that the Order in 1220 is somehow derived from ancient pagan practices. Which any individual magi who think about it (which may not be very many) will either believe or not --- and given that Bonisagus is known to have invented Hermetic magic in the recent past, it doesn't really seem a very strong claim. Either way, it's not a claim that the Order is pagan practice.

So, it's the "Order of Hermes", because it says that it is. That obviously means something, but plainly to most magi that doesn't mean the organised religious worship of Hermes in 1220. However, historically (in Mythic Europe), probably the "Cult of Mercury" did represent the organised "worship" of Mercury (at least prior to Constantine it did), and some of the other "sources" may have also been religious cults of one sort or another.

Obviously, individual magi in 1220 might nonetheless think that Hermetic magic has something to do with religious worship of Hermes --- they may even be right. But, RAW is pretty clear that this isn't the mainstream opinion of magi.

Don't you feel awfully late here? Shouldn't you have introduced such very controversial (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropolo ... f_religion) and uncommon definitions in the OP? Shouldn't you hence stick now to the common definitions of religion, faith and magic everybody else tries to use on this thread?

You apparently refer to this: https://forum.atlas-games.com/t/new-herbam-and-other-spells/157/1, which are by Richard Love, an author of ArM5 (see e. g. AM) and far more entitled than me to such explanations.

As I showed before in: https://forum.atlas-games.com/t/the-break-room/102/1 , the term Order of Hermes is coming down through the different versions of ArM. It was carefully explained with 'in-game history' in ArM2 Houses of Hermes - and over the versions might have been more and more taken for granted. Hermetic magic is the magic of Bonisagus, the foundation of the Order of Hermes.
Yes, this is also an example of words moving out of one context into another within a community of speakers. I showed you other examples of that in: https://forum.atlas-games.com/t/intellego-and-warping/142/1, where the pagan god Mercury gave his name to a metal and a planet, in-game troubling poor ArM5 Holy magi.

Nobody here makes such a statement. Also, because nobody but you here uses your belated definition of religion.

We know very little about how Pythagoras himself "viewed" mathematics. His followers soon split, also contending about the meaning of mathematics. See for this e. g.: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippasus . But ArM5 has a Mystery devoted to him, the Mystic Fraternity of Samos (TMRE p.126ff).


Hmm. First result on dictionary.com
Goodness, such a controversial definition of religion.

So what is the definition of religion that you used, use and will use now? "A means of understanding the world through a supernatural lens"? "A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe"? Please let us know, once you decided.


What I think is missing from most of these definitions, and is really key to this conversation, is the idea of guidance. Magic as practiced by the Order is about shaping and manipulating the world, controlling it to some degree. Religion is about submitting to something higher, even if, as with Buddhism, that is not an entity but a spiritual principle or karmic system of judgment.

I don't think the implications of this lead in the direction you seem to favor. The 2e description of the Order's origin quite clearly references Hermeticism and at least hints at connections.

I really don't even understand why you think the connection is so controversial. If a game was all about "Cthulhu Magic" one would assume it was Lovecraftian and would probably decide the game was pretty silly if one was told "Nah, it's just a cool name. No connection at all with HPL's Cthulhu".

I seriously doubt a Holy Magus would have trouble with the names of planets. Being deeply religious doesn't require one to adopt the mentality of a backwoods bible-thumper.

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Yes, the Order of Hermes is anachronistic. They use powerful freakin' magic and summon sprits and fight dragons and, most relevantly to this discussion, are a large group of people who each have the power to prove and disprove a significant number of religious claims. Also relevant is the general repeatability of their magic and the fact that it's useful for learning things, but we'll get to that in a minute.

The simple fact of the matter is that in Mythic Europe, the beings worshipped and concepts believed in by people are real, along with a whole ton of other "supernatural" things, many of which make themselves known to people. They are as real and observable as the grass beneath your feet and the wind upon your face, assuming you have the right tools. (In this case, those tools would be magic.)

So an important question to ask yourself is, "how relevant is the term religion if defined as such"?

With the definition you purport, there are only two possible answers: Either nobody is religious, because the lenses and forces they're viewing their world through are natural in Mythic Europe, regardless of what we might consider them today; or, if you're using that other definition of supernatural, every sane human in Mythic Europe must be technically "religious" regardless of what they actually believe, because you would have to be literally (yes, actual literally, not "figuratively with emphasis" literally) insane to suggest there's nothing supernatural going down in ME. Either way, it's a useless definition, because even in the second case, there aren't any distinguishing beliefs to go along with said definition of "religious;" everyone could be totally and perfectly scientific in whether or not they believed anything and they'd still be religious.

Much more useful is the definition with the "guiding principal" part added. With the very arguable exception of deism (and things like it, which are way too difficult to define as religious or not), all religions have guiding principals for their followers, whether handed down by God or gods, or simply being part of what is. In this case, the answer becomes nuanced enough that it's actually useful to discuss.

And so we come back to magi. Magi have more power and access to knowledge than any other humans ever, exempting perhaps such famous figures as Solomon. They can find knowledge hidden to others; they can understand the workings of power in legendary items, call down gods from above and spirits from below to question, glean information about a man from the path of a fire and discover another man's mind while wandering the Void. They have the power not just to speculate, but to test and prove, and thereby discover the hidden gems of knowledge nobody else could know without Divine insight.

And, at the end of the day, an old magus can and often will be more knowledgeable and powerful than most gods.

So how religious would magi be as a whole? My answer is "not much, and those who are would usually engage in some heavily heretical and eclectic version of the three Abrahamic faiths." There would definitely be exceptions, but that would be the overall picture as I see it. Because hypothesizing about and testing to understand the universe doesn't lend itself much to the faith required for accepting religious guidance.

:slight_smile: Granted, but still - while Hermetic magi can bargain with supernatural beings, that is not what Hermetic magic is based on. And while they can render creatures into power, that's not exactly what I meant there... :slight_smile:

I recently read the historian Yuval Noah Harari. For him, even Capitalism is a religion... So sure, there are lots of meanings to the word and just about any set of beliefs or customs can be considered a "religion" if one so wishes. Nevertheless, I maintain that in general Hermetic magi don't practice what is typically called and immediately-recognized as religion in the historical context, namely practices that do include worship, bargaining with, drawing power from (which isn't rendering for power...), praising, and so on.

Of course some magi do the whole religion thing. But Hermatic magic as such does not, and can thus accomodate just about any religion. Which I think is a correct approach, in terms of building up an RPG.

Indeed, ArM2 addresses already, just how Hermeticism and the Order of Hermes are connected. I think we had that from https://forum.atlas-games.com/t/catnip-garlic/129/1 on already.

ArM2 Houses of Hermes p.28 introduces the Seekers and the Legend of the Old Ones. p.30f has a hectoring Arch-Mage with the 'trust-inspiring' name Infamitus expound it. Both thereby put Hermeticism in perspective wrt the history of the Order of Hermes.

((sic!) mine)
The Seekers are magi from the Order of Hermes. They are not among the founders of that Order. By HoH:TL p.15 their early champion is Lucian, first apprentice of Trianoma, who contemplated to form an own line of Bonisagi after 836, and was told off by Notatus.
Hermeticists are quite likely among the Seekers, and campaigns where a discovery by a Seeker converts the Order of Hermes to Hermeticism are certainly possible.