About the Order of Hermes
You know it. You love it. You've read all about it. These few clarifications, elaborations and alterations do not change the essentials.
The Order of Hermes represents the premier wizards of Mythic Europe and seeks to encompass all wizards, everywhere. No one knows how many wizards have sworn the Oath. Some Redcaps believe
that there are far, far more magi Ex Miscellanea than all other magi, who mostly keep to themselves in remote places, or otherwise keep a low profile. One maga Trianoma calls this “the unseen Order,” and sees the silent spread of Code and Parma a positive development. Oaths have a way of creating values, even in the breach, and a wizard whose Parma Magica can challenge a magus must invest time developing the Hermetic Arts at the expense of lesser magics. A few Criamon have suggested that more than one Grand Tribunal occur at the same time, in different versions of the same place but with different magi attending, but this perspective of time and the universe is odd even by Criamon standards.
Most magi consider the magic of Bonisagus to be natural magic. Only Gifted people can learn or use it, yet who is to say that the Gift is not simply a rarefied intelligence and awareness? It is natural because it works within the physical world, reflecting and adhering to the truths of natural philosophy. Indeed, many magi consider Bonisagus the authority for natural philosophy; many of his ideas are demonstrable and practical, which is hardly true of Aristotle's.
By contrast, non-Hermetic magic is almost always sorcery, foul magics of dubious provenance that disrupt the natural order of things through trafficking with and even worshiping diverse spirits. The Scriptures and most people of wisdom throughout history have rightfully condemned these practices. Sorcery can offer useful powers and bizarre spell parameters that seem to transcend the bland but clear categories of Hermetic Magic, but is ultimately limited by comparison and usually calamitous. Most sorcerers claim that their magic is different, are allowed entrance into the Order as Magi Ex Miscellanea and fare poorly if they call too much attention to themselves. Some magi partake of mysteries that brings their magic closer to sorcery, and their reputations suffer accordingly. Other magi partake of mysteries that grant some of the benefits of sorcery without trafficking with spirits, and this is a wiser path. Uniquely, the Order has recognized that Cabala is not sorcery, even though it involves trafficking with angels and demons (whom the Cabalists weirdly claim are not demons at all), and for some unknown reason have apparently not even forced them to join the Order.
A few magi believe that all magic involves diverting spirits to serve one's will, because the entire 'natural' world exists only through spirits that mediate between the mundane and the First Cause. But even these magi distinguish between Hermetic Magic, which involves these spirits indirectly, and sorcery.
Some Magi, mostly Merinita, believe that Hermetic Magic is a kind of glamour, inferior to 'real' glamour in that it can be resisted.
The Order of Hermes encompasses many different styles of magic, because Bonisagus' theory is flexible, adaptable, and though not perfect, is probably a major development toward a single understanding of magic and the universe. Even within a House, different lineages have been influenced by non-Hermetic traditions and perspectives.
Many magi blend mysticism and reason, because they are in a unique position to understand the relevance of both.
One important aspect of this is correspondence. A mundane might explain why the blacksmiths of a city generally live in the same area, and talk about property values, a desire to collobarate or compete with their peers, the convenience to townspeople of being able to more easily judge whose wares are best, the importance of access to water and resources. A magus would not disagree with any of this, yet his understanding would incorporate the fundamental laws of the universe, how like attracts like, how a blacksmith gains certain elemental affinities through his work, and so on. A mundane might not understand how it is that a university of competent masters is fertile ground for the emergence of bold new ideas and thinkers, yet it is obvious to a magus, and it may be that magi were behind the development of these institutions, since magi live in covenants for similar reasons.
Another aspect of this is initiation. Where a mundane might talk about practice and learning, a magus understands the deeper truths of why practice works. An apprentice blacksmith might not understand why he has to sweep the floor, and even the blacksmith only grasp the superficial utility of having an apprentice do scutwork where he can absorb the rudiments of smithing from those around him while he builds strength. But the magus understands that sweeping the floor of the smithy might represent clearing away the detritus of his past life to make room for what is to come, that simply being around experienced smiths and working in a smithy brings laws of similarity and contagion into play, that the time he spends is a sacrifice, and even that the apprentice needs to devlop physical strength that corresponds to the strength of the metal he will one day master.
In the same way, Hermetic apprenticeship is more than simply learning from a magus; it too is a kind of initiation. It occurs at a fixed time, for a fixed duration, with prescribed rules and sacrifices, and can offer extra-ordinary benefits.
Magi ascribe significance even to normal learning and their other habits. Different lineages relate to the mystical world in different ways, yet all magi know that the mythic and mystical are very, very real, perhaps more real than the mundane. When a two degree miscalculation of the position of Jupiter combined with a fleeting thought about a girl can mean the difference between an abundant harvest for Sicily and fifteen years in the Twilight Void, magi are likely to yoke mystic and rational thinking together, and call it reason.
House Bonisagus has a unique place in the Order. Its members are responsible for holding and disseminating greater magical lore to those worthy of it. In terms of game mechanics, Bonisagi seek and collect initiation scripts and have sworn a Hermetic Oath to initiate magi who are ready for greater knowledge, thereby sharing their knowledge with the Order. Many lineages have their own mysteries, with the four major Mystery Cults being the most prominent, but House Bonisagus has a unique obligation and can initiate many virtues, Hermetic, supernatural and mundane. Each Bonisagus has his own criteria to decide who is ready, based on his personal idiosyncrasies and the mysteries he knows. One Bonisagus might decide a magus is unworthy simply because he has already studied from a rival Bonisagus, or because the magus has a virtue or flaw the Bonisagus considers unsuitable. It is not only the Bonisagus who chooses the magus; a magus who wants to learn from a Bonisagus needs to find one who knows what he wishes to learn, including ancillary knowledge and perspectives that are consistent with the magus' intentions. A magus traditionally offers a partially-trained apprentice to a Bonisagus who agrees to teach him. This is beneficial for the Bonisagus, and is generally part of the first initiation script, representing a sacrifice of time and potential, and corresponding to the relationship of teacher and student.
Although House Bonisagus considers itself a True Lineage, every now and then a magus from outside the House discovers or creates sufficiently interesting initiation scripts, is otherwise considered worthy and is invited to join the House. This itself is an initiation in which the aspirant somehow becomes part of the blood and lineage of Bonisagus himself.
In game terms, players should not start off as Bonisagi. These magi spend too much time doing boring things, for which they earn great prestige and resources. They are usually less powerful than other magi.
Quaesitors remain the legal experts and detectives of the Order. Theirs is a frustrating position. It is virtually impossible to adhere to the Code, and few magi bother. A magus who is unpopular, acts egregiously or has a rival might find himself charged, but magi vote their interests. Gross violations of the Code are punished, because most magi recognize an interest in having some law. Unpopular magi get what they deserve. Magi with rivals enrich their sodali with bribes, enliven Tribunals and provide cover for other activities and factional allegiances. Bribery is, of course, illegal, but it happens all the time. Some Quasitors bemoan this state of affairs, yet one Traditionalist memorably waxed eloquent about how the Order continues to uphold the great legal traditions of Rome herself, where Law was tempered by human wisdom, experience and perspective.
Fewer Quaesitors are enthusiastic about trial by combat, a right demanded by Flambeau, Tytalus and eventually Tremere after he developed and promoted Certamen as the standard means of resolving Hermetic conflicts, short of Wizard's War or March. Trials are rarely resolved by combat, however, because most Tribunals have a Tremere elder at hand who is usually glad to champion a case that is obviously just (and if that magus is not willing to champion a cause, it is usually obvious how the Tremere magi will vote should it come to that.)
Quaesitors have immense prestige as renowned arbiters, investigators and legalists. A contract witnessed and approved of by a Quaesitor is almost always upheld at Tribunal. More importantly, such disputes rarely reach Tribunal, because the side ruled against is usually fined for wasting the Tribunal's time, since the Quaesitori represent what the contract means and are extremely consistent about such legalisms. They are considered to be especially honest, and the word of a Quaesitor is almost always considered good. Player characters just past Gauntlet lack sufficient prestige and experience for other magi to trust them to this extent, so do not begin play as Quaesitori, and must earn the privilege, unless they have more important things to do. Most Guernicus magi do become Quaesitors, but not immediately.
House Mercere deliver the mail, when magi are not willing to do this for themselves.
A magus is usually expected to speak or fight for himself. This is not required, but failing to do so usually results in a loss of reputation. A magus never loses reputation for allowing his parens to champion him in any endeavor; this permission is transitive, allowing the parens of one's parens to champion him. A magus never loses reputation for allowing a Tremere magus to champion him in Certamen. A magus never loses reputation for allowing a Quaesitor to champion him in legal matters. A magus never loses reputation for allowing a magus from his covenant to champion him in any endeavor, unless that magus is Ex Miscellanea, has the Hedge Wizard flaw or otherwise lacks respect.
The official histories of the Order and its various Houses tend to root Hermetic traditions in the classical world, and many magi believe this because Rome rightly has greater prestige than motley barbarian practices. This may be one of the many myths of Mythic Europe. Rome was not known for its magics, and while classical works hint about diverse mysteries throughout civilization, from the alchemy of Alexandrian Jews, to the Pythagorean Mysteries, to the Mithraic initations, there is no evidence that the Cult of Mercury ever existed. Of course, this lack of documentation might stand as mute testimony to the power of the Cult of Mercury and their ability to keep their traditions secret....
Magi generally expect other magi not merely to learn magic but to use it. This prejudice might be a remnant of a distant classical past. It might instead be tied to the importance of initiation, the idea that great power, great deeds and great sacrifice go hand in hand. This is an Order of Hermes where breakthroughs occur as much in the field as in the lab. Though magi of diverse traditions have equally diverse and even opposing ideas about how to use their magic and how to live, magi generally recognize when other magi live fully and by their own truths.
Just as Hermetic Magic is usually tied to cycles of time, so are other Hermetic activities.
These changes to canon make it easier for me to keep track of everything and to explain why so many magi have the same Hermetic age. I also like the feel of things having to occur in their proper time. The greater frequency of (Grand) Tribunals reflects the ability of magi to travel.
The Hermetic Year begins during the summer, even though the Aegis is cast during the winter.
Local Tribunals are held every year during the summer at the covenant of the Praeco. These Tribunals are more like fairs or festivals than very serious proceedings, although Hermetic Court is held. Magi often do not attend Tribunal, but it is a great opportunity for intrigue, trade and easy stories. It has become customary to bring suitable gifts to the Praeco, whose covenant often profits greatly from the proceedings in the same way as do the sponsors of mundane fairs.
Grand Tribunal is held every seventh year, at a location announced by the Primus of House Bonisagus at the previous Grand Tribunal, and starts on the second day of summer. Attending Grand Tribunal is often a difficult undertaking, because the Primus does not always choose an accessible location. Not all magi who want to attend manage it. A Grand Tribunal begins with acknowledging new magi (every third Grand Tribunal,) followed by local gatherings which eventually promote the most serious issues to the larger group. Aside from gathering magi from all across Europe, a Grand Tribunal can offer unexpected opportunities and dangers.
There are larger cycles too, that govern a magus' career. It is well known in the Order that only one year in 21 is auspicious for finding apprentices and opening their Arts. Other years are hopeless, at best. This 21-year cycle is known throughout the Order but not understood.
The hunt for apprentices occurs in the year before Grand Tribunal. Some magi introduce their new apprentices at Grand Tribunal, especially if they hope to trade the apprentice or offer him to a Bonisagus. Many of the more social magi bring their apprentices to Grand Tribunal in their 8th year, and most magi of the major houses bring their one-time apprentices to begin their first season as a magus at Grand Tribunal.
All apprentices who become magi do so during the season of Grand Tribunal. A parens who is not pleased with his apprentice has the right to kill or dismiss him. Magi, like most real people, usually prefer not to kill other people. A dismissed apprentice can be sponsored by another magus. This happens especially often in House Tytalus; an apprentice does well on his Gauntlet yet is gleefully dismissed by his parens as unworthy, is sponsored by another Tytalus magus, and is beginning his career as a magus as he should, enmeshed in a delicious web of rivalry and intrigue of the kind the House loves so much. Virtually all apprentices who are found in the proper year become magi, which is one of the reasons magi only seek apprentices at that time.
A new magus can theoretically seek an apprentice during his seventh year as a magus and open his Arts, but magi who do so are considered overly proud, unless they relinquish or trade the apprentice to someone else rather than train the apprentices themselves. Some magi are happy to make a name for themselves by showing off, and some are Ex Miscellanea magi who are beneath notice and cannot be expected to behave properly. Tremere magi are likely to find apprentices for their parens, and giving a magus to a Bonisagus who accepts him begins a relationship that may take a long time to bear fruit, but that demonstrates faith and an early commitment, components that can further enhance an initiation script.
Magi in their 28th year are especially likely often seek apprentices. It is a way of announcing their maturity to the Order. Seeking and training an apprentice at this time adds to a magus' Reputation as being in good standing within the Order.
A magus in his 49th year may find an apprentice and give him to a Bonisagus. This is considered an auspicious year to commence delving into the greater mysteries. Even Ex Miscellanea magi recognize the wisdom of postponing initiations until a magus has spent sufficient time with the vast power he already has. No magus is elevated to the rank of Quaesitor before his 49th year. No magus is permitted entrance into House Bonisagus before his 49th year.
A magus often begins his 50th year by challenging an archmagus for the title at Great Tribunal, even though he is expected to lose. Offering challenge increases a reputation as a magus in good standing. Winning is rare, but a magus who does so earns great prestige. A magus who eventually defeats the archmagus he challenged in his 50th year, rather than some other archmagus, is especially lauded.
A magus who does not become an archmagus by his 100th year is not allowed to become one. Though theoretically legal, these attempts always fail, sometimes mysteriously, and sometimes through the obvious actions of magi appalled by this breach of Hermetic etiquette.