Random Musings on Cults and Wizard-Priests

I am just ruminating on some thoughts here, so feel free to ignore or castigate as you please.
Basically we know that in the 2nd Century BC a wizard priest of Mercury came up with a magic spell (the precursor to what Hermetics call "Wizards Communion") that allowed assorted Wizard-Priests of other Roman cults co-operate in casting their Great Ritual magics.
38 different Great Ritual spells, so presumably 38 different priests. From presumably 38 different temples. But were they all different cults, or did cults have more than 1 temple?

How many cults were there anyway? 2nd century BCE means the Punic Wars had happened if I recall my history. So Rome was expanding out of mainland Italy.
So as well as native Cults such as Jupiter and Quirinus, I presume the Greek influence had been established, and Greco-Roman cults were about, Maybe some more exotic ones like Greco-Egyptian - Ammon perhaps?
But Mithraism? Possibly too soon.

So, lets us say that Plentarch took a bunch of Mystery Cults, and managed to weld them into a Tradition. A Tradition that could later accept foreign cults adopted by the Roman Empire. Such as Mithra.
But what else?
After the Republic fell and Empire arose, there were cults dedicated to former emperors. According to HoH:TL, Guernicus was the last survivor of Terrae wizards, yet in the Wikipedia article, Terra is referred to as an abstract deity.

Alan Moore claims to be a follower of Glycon, a "religion" introduced in the 2nd Century AD, by one of the many "prophets" out there. According to the Wikipedia it lasted for at least a century, and a line from Horace suggests it predated the prophet. Became popular enough to feature on some imperial coinage.
Could this have been instigated by a Mercurian priest-wizard who outgrew his own temple, or was integrated into the Mercurian Tradition?
After the fall of the original Cult of Mercury, was there a lineage of wizards from the priests of Glycon? Or the priests of Imperial cults?
We know there was lineages from cults of the underworld (Guorna -> Tytalus and Tremere), Mithra (Flambeau), Meriniata might have been descended form the Cult of Diana, and there is mentions of the Cult of Orpheus, and the Cult of Vesta, et al.

Where did the priests get their Great Rituals from - the gods they served?
Why would the wizard-priests have to cast the spells, rather than the "god"? I am thinking of one of the novels by Diana Wynne Jones, in the Chrestomanci series, where a child enchantress is enthroned as "the living Asheth", and all the miracles performed in the name of 'Asheth' are actually magic unknowingly performed by the enthroned avatar, as the diety is normally too lazy to do it herself.

If they are a priest of Mercury in the 2nd century C this is well after being exposed to Greek culture and theology. As for cults, off the top of my head- Jupiter, Juno, Minerva, Ceres, Gaia, Pluto, Plutus (yes, this is a different Roman deity), Neptune, Rhea (technically a titan, but she was worshiped), Hercules (demigod, but again, he did have a cult worshiping him), Trivia (Roman Hecate), Venus, Cupid, Persephone, Mars, Apollo, Saturn (again, titan with followers, and a great annual ceremony!), Diana, Vulcan, Vesta, Janus, Sol, Orcus, Liber, Tellus, Luna, Fortuna, Feronia, Lares... The Romans had plenty of gods without bringing other cultures into t.

Last time we discussed such a topic in detail was AFAIK here.

Glycon is fun enough to build some ArM5 Mystery Cult around - provided that some Tytalus ist out to debunk it, as Lukian did.


If the "gods" are like the Daimons listed in the mysteries, then some can teach spells to their followers. Seeing as some daimons grant virtues, they may be able to grant supernatural virtues or virtues that grant spell-like powers.

The Mercurian Communion must be powerful to allow different cults' rituals to work together, or else require that all participants have at least a little knowledge of that type of magic (like Hermetic MuVi and ReVi spells). Then again, there's nothing stopping Hermetic magi from creating MuVi spells to help other types of magic, save that getting "sufficient knowledge" is a highly troupe-dependent area. Some sagas may allow anyone who's observed such magic enough, some may insist on a period of study with a master, others might insist you have the virtues needed to cast the magic - but a MuVi "Wizard's boost" with a form of Gruagachan Curses or Learned Magician Salutem is theoretically possible.

Glycon appears during a time of great plagues (The Aurelian plague was probably the Roman Empire's first encounter with smallpox) and his priest named in Lucian sells charms against the plague...found on many houses of the dead. Either:
1)Glycon isn't nearly as powerful as his followers make out, and can only manifest by controlling a puppet
2) is a scam, and his followers are hedge magi in priest's clothing
3) his priests are evil and running an infernal protection racket - they sell charms against plague which actually tell demons of disease "hit this house last" and use their funds to summon as many disease-causing spirits as they can.

It may be that the Mercurian Rituals involved some or many other cults, but that's not how I understand it. To my understanding, the Mercurian Rituals were of that cult specifically.

I can see the appeal of having the Founder descended from various cults, but they may also have all been from the magical lineage of Mercury-Hermes-Thoth. Hermes was:

The clever god of invention and magic, having invented fire, the lyre, boxing, and thieving: Bonisagus
A diplomat: Trianoma
A lawyer: Guernicus
The inventor of fire, and a guardian: Flambeau
The psychopomp/conveyor of the dead: Tremere
The god of commerce, messengers, heralds: Mercere
The father of Pan, and a god of shepherds: Merinita
A conductor of dreams: Criamon
A trickster and shapeshifter and bringer of strife, a treacherous schemer: Tytalus
A crafter: Verditius
A friend and guide of mankind overall: Jerbiton
A shapeshifter: Bjornaer (although Bjornaer is German)

Diedne is the real mismatch here: we don't know much about Diedne, nor actual druids, and this House doesn't fit. Neither does Ex Miscellanea, but this House is explicitly to bring in outsiders and is arguably a better inclusion as it promotes peace among magicians.

The only major quality of Hermes not reflected is thievery, probably to the best.

The Cult of Mercury helped bind civilization together, most obviously through the physical and magical road networks, but possibly in other ways.

Now, there's an interesting thought; the Order does not bind civilization together; that function is now in the hands of the Church.

Anyway, I don't see a need for the Order to be rooted in a wide variety of cults, but you do you.

In a sense, the Order is stealing the traditions that make up Ex Miscellanea from outside of the order, so maybe it works after all.

I think it is written somewhere that Plentarch was from the Temple of Mercury in Pompei. You could be correct, I don't recall if the other priest-wizards with their Great Rituals were said to be from other cults. They could all be from different Temples of Mercury.
Which would help explain where all the other Great Rituals came from - the same source.

So the question now becomes, how did the other cults come to provide lineages of wizards, that practiced magic recognisable as Mercurian.
Flambeau is written up as being taught by a Mithraic wizard.
Though we could say the Mercurian Tradition was so successful it could swallow up any Gifted priests (or should I call them flamen) from other cults.

The Wikipedia page for https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glycon list at the bottom of the page
Ancient Roman religion and mythology

Apollo, Bellona, Bona Dea, Castor and Pollux, Ceres, Cupid, Diana, Dīs Pater, Egeria, Fauna, Faunus, Flora, Genius, Hercules, Janus, Juno, Jupiter, Lares, Liber, Libertas, Lucina, Mars, Mercury, Minerva, Orcus, Neptune, Penates, Pluto, Pomona, Priapus, Proserpina, Quirinus, Saturn, Silvanus, Sol, Venus, Vesta, Vulcan 

Abstract deities

Abundantia, Aequitas, Concordia, Fides, Fortuna, Pietas, Roma, Salus, Securitas, Spes, Victoria, Terra 

And that is not even the full list - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Roman_deities

So, it would be a small step from a mundane flamen being granted this, then if the next flamen happened to have the Gift, how much more would they gain? There is probably something in TMRE, but I don't have access to that.

In fact, couldn't the story of Bjornaer be interpretted that way? The original Pomeranian shapeshifting witches were originally an Infernal Tradition, but they recruit the Gifted Bjornaer who converts their teachings to a Magical version after contacting magical "ancestor" spirits.

Glycon is such a fun sounding cult. There could be other reasons -
Glycon could even be some sort of Great Beast (prior to Bjornaer) who, when human, was a Meddler, so as a Great Beast it occassionally has the urge to meddle in the affairs of humans, so constructs an organisation to make it easier when the urge strikes.
Or maybe originally it was a conman who borrowed an older name (see Horace), and the sheer amount of prayer attracted this older power that takes over the cult?

I am still curious about the Imperial Cults. If the Mercurian wizard-priests were so devoted to the Roman State, surely they would have taken the Imperial Cults under their wing?
Perhaps the Theban legion that Jerbiton came from were not the reformed Cult of Mercury in the Eastern part of the continuing Roman Empire, but leftover Imperial cultists?
So many possibilities.

I can't see how my troupe could use it, but perhaps the cult of Glycon continues to exist, with perhaps the supernatural virtue Fertility as part of their repetoire?
Perhaps this or another cult have "living" god or goddess that undergoes the initiations to make the "miracles", until they are too old and replaced? Perhaps only Gifted children are selected, but they may be predisposed to ones with Personality to counter the Gift penalties, not Intelligence. What happens to the now too old "living" god/goddess?
What happens, if due to persecutions and diaspora, there are now two cult groups claiming to have the unique "living" god/goddess, and have only recently discovered each other and have declared (magical) war?

And what can I do with the Enchanter Hermogenes from the "Golden Legend"?

Am I still random musing?

As I understood the original question is was about a pre-hermetic Mercurian ritual which presumably allowed Mercurian wizard-priests to combine their efforts with priests of other cults. Nothing about the houses or the Order involved...

Mercury is way over done.

Start with Eleusinian Mysteries, stay in Thebes and Byzantium if in Europe.

Go East for Zoroastrian Magi (priests) prior to the Arabic incursion of Persia. The Islamic Golden age is ending at the normal game start.

If you start @500-600 you can probably revitalise things easier in Byzantium before the centuries of Christian vandalism.

Not quite.
It was more musings about how many different lineages of Mercurian derived wizards there were, and what other lineages there might possibly be.
Though my musings weren't very focused, and some of the tangential replies were interesting enough to follow up.

Probably not as many as there are traditions better than the Mercurial.

Out of curiousisty, why is it only fun if it is to debunk it? Specifically by a Tytalus?

Off the top of my head I can think of a couple of reasons that a Tytalus might want to support a Glycon cult.

  1. A Tytalus Titanoi owes a snake-like spirit a favour - gives it a Glycon cult to worship it.
  2. As a long-term scheme to determine the boundaries of the "interfering with mundanes" clause in the Hermetic Code and/or annoying a Quaesitor, a Tytalus mage revives a Glycon cult by arranging for a lot of people with supernatural virtues to join, maybe even a hedge wizard or two, and providing some carefully chosen mystery scripts.

Actually, number 2 might be interesting if it happened a century or two ago, but the Tytalus dropped dead before he could tell anyone in Hermetic circles...

I didn't say that: "provided that" is not "only if".

My real interest in Glycon is Lukian's satire about Alexander of Abonoteichus, portraying that worthy as the archetype of a fraudulent seer. Lukian's satire may rather make an example of the Glycon cult than truely debunk it, but it is what today makes that cult special.

Debunking and satirizing small magical or faerie cults are thankless tasks in the middle ages: just made for Tytali. :wink: Who else would care?

If other ideas about that cult appeal to you: don't listen to me, just follow them.


In Sub Rosa #3, I did a cult of Cybele, who was called Magna Mater in Rome, and is a pre-Hermetic cult pulled forward, but without any Gifted members listed. The article talks about Gifted individuals becoming members, and SR#4 has a potential covenant site at an old temple location of Seuthopolis.

I'm doing a podcast episode on Heraclitus ATM. He was the "everything is fire" guy and the "You can't step in the same river twice" guy.