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The Anthroplogy of Magic

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  • The Anthroplogy of Magic

    Hello! I'm your friendly neighbourhood Anthropology student, and in the past year I took a course called Myth, Magic, and Shamanism. This class was meant to teach the basics of religious anthropology, with a focus on the weird and wonderful world of the supernatural, the sacred supernatural, and the people who have to handle it in their respective cultures. So, with that said, let's define a few things moving forwards.

    Religious Specialists

    MAGIC: The methods with which a person can compel the supernatural to behave in certain ways.

    MAGICIAN: Religious specialist whose field is controlling the supernatural through magic.


    You might see sorcery and sorcerer used interchangeably with magic and magician in laymen's texts, but this is... inaccurate. Magic, as wielded by magicians, is generally either benign or actively advantageous for a wider community while sorcery, as wielded by sorcerers, is antagonistic, damaging, and anti-social. One community's magician is another community's sorcerer, and plenty of societies are cool with magicians but give sorcerers (also sometimes called witches) a wide berth. However, the stereotypical sorcerer is a fierce individualist who is completely Othered by their community. They don't just live on the periphery like a magician, they are Outside, they are Other. A sorcerer is Them not Us. Within the proper cultural context, magic is a form of specialized technological skill that is, on a communal level, used to assist in the gathering of resources or the resolution of conflict. In most societies, everyone, to some degree, can perform various rituals and religious activities, but as societies become more complex and theologies elaborate, you get religious specialists arising. These specialists are intermediaries.

    INTERMEDIARY: Religious people who intervene on behalf of an individual or community. Part-time or full-time.

    Intermediaries don't eliminate personal relationships or interactions with the supernatural and the sacred supernatural, but they do reflect, interact with, and shape cultural institutions. These intermediaries might not be the only ones interacting with the supernatural, but they are the ones doing it the most frequently, and very often it is their job. There are five main categories of religious specialists that could be called intermediaries, but like all things in Anthropology, neat little boxes don't work all that well in practice, but in theory they work just fine and they also make nifty labels to slap on things so that you know what the hell everyone is talking about. It's a kind of shorthand. The five main categories are Shaman, Priest, Prophet, Diviner, and Healer. Religious specialists don't necessarily fit into only one of these categories and, in fact, lots of them overlap. The majority (Shaman, Diviner, Healer) are part-time specialists, which means that their particular talents only come into play when needed. The others (Priest, Prophet) are full-time specialists for reasons we'll get to later. Firstly, let's start with the category most relevant to Mage; Shamans.

    SHAMAN: The Awakened are, by and large, what anthropological terminology would classify as a Shaman. Technically speaking, a Shaman is a part-time religious specialist whose position and authority in a society is predicated on personal contact and relationship with the sacred supernatural, demonstrated through effective rituals. Some seek out the calling of Shaman, but most are chosen by different spiritual beings, or called in a dream. Usually these new Shamans are thoroughly unhappy about this, as they know from cultural immersion in this topic that being a Shaman is dangerous work that could potentially involve death and/or having their soul eaten if things go badly. Nonetheless, they eventually find themselves a teacher who trains them in the ways of their art, these relationships are often volatile, as the student typically doesn't want to be there, and the master usually does't like the student, but they persist and eventually the Shaman is trained and initiated in a ritual that involves symbolic death and resurrection, making the Shaman a new person. Shamans are 'on call' in the sense that they're basically a normal member of their social group, doing normal person things, and then the supernatural intrudes on everyday life and somebody needs a divination, or a healing, or a soul needs to be stolen back from a spirit or angry ghost, and then the Shaman hat comes on. Generally, to help separate their 'work' life from their 'civilian' life, these Shamans have ritual personas, letting the spirits and the people know when they're on the clock. Shamans participate in large communal rituals, but more frequently they do private consultations and one-on-one supernatural troubleshooting.

    PRIEST: There is a very small minority of Awakened that would classify as priests, and that would be because being a priest is a full-time gig. There is no break, there is no separation of identity, when you are a priest you are a priest at all times. Priests are responsible for the rituals performed by the community at large, they are supposed to be a linchpin in a community's relationship with the sacred supernatural. They rally the community to ritual when disaster rears its head, and in general they are supposed to be the officiant and the hierophant at every single community ritual. If the Shaman is Othered because they are on the periphery, the Priest is Othered because they are placed at the centre. A priest is a representative of the community, and personifies the image of an ideal person. They research, they teach. Priests tend to be a low-danger high-stress position, whereas Shamans are more high-danger low-stress (generalizations are... iffy, but they make discussion a little bit easier). Priests focus on big picture community problems, and generally don't have time for individual consultations. Priests are also identified as being called in visions to their position, but said calling tends to be a little less persistent and a little less traumatic than the calling of a Shaman. More often than not, though, priests have formalized training and often come from families. Their powers and talents can be inherited. Of course, the lines blur a little here as being a Shaman occasionally also runs in families.

    DIVINER: This one is relatively self-explanatory. Want the future forecast? Ask a diviner. Diviners are almost exclusively for individual consultation, and are often relatively discrete. Divination is a particularly niche skill, but it is also one that is more socially acceptable than the raw power and danger a Shaman represents (it's easier for a diviner to demonstrate than for a Shaman to do so, and in cultural context it's usually safer too). This carries over even into modern North American culture. What is more socially acceptable? Saying that you regularly deal with supernatural beings, or coyly admitting you've used a pendulum or can do a mean tarot spread? Much easier for a diviner to just do their thing and set up shop, much easier to dismiss a diviner... and it's a whole lot easier for confirmation bias to grab you by the horns and convince you the diviner is the real deal even if they have next-to-no talent in their given cultural method.

    HEALER: While healers are only part-time specialists, the sheer breadth of knowledge involved in their personal area of specialization alongside the life and death consequences of the circumstances in which their specialization becomes relevant means that they are afforded a status similar to that of Western doctors. Healers are, more often than not, also Shamans or priests, but occasionally they have no other religious specializations. They set bones, tend to sprains, and administer drugs made from medicinal plants or other materials. Herbalists are a subset of Healer who specializes specifically in medicinal substances and materials, and regularly have an intimate encyclopedic knowledge of local plants materials. Their identification, gathering, and processing, amongst other things. However, these medicines are no less detached from theories of magic within the culture a Healer was born into. Quite often, Healers are the ones actually concocting various potions used by Shamans or diviners.

    PROPHET: These specialists share a lot in common with priests, but there are a few crucial, very fascinating differences. Priests and prophets are both full-time specialists, but while priests get all the pressure of needing to uphold an existing community ideal, prophets don't get that. They create ideologies and head movements. They are the mouthpiece of a divinity, and as such their status within a society isn't their own, but is rather the status of a god, meaning that a prophet can elevate themselves above the other leaders of their society. In African Traditional Religions (ATRs) mediumship is a relatively common thing, and the various divine spirits regularly interact with their worshippers. In the course, we did a case study of Bori, a religion of the Hausa people. Back in the 19th century, the region Bori is indigenous to was conquered in a jihad, but no matter how hard the mainstream religious authorities pushed, they couldn't get rid of Bori. Firstly, it is syncretic and plastic, shifting in response to cultural pressure. Secondly, it is highly accepting of marginalized peoples. Thirdly, because of the performative and exhibitionary aspects of mediumship, local politics between Bori adepts and mainstream authorities aren't, strictly, between religious specialists. It's one thing to try and denounce a marginalized human being. It's another thing to try and denounce a divinity.

    The Laws of Magic

    So, magic actually has rules in Real World cultural contexts. James Frazer, an anthropologist who saw magic as a pseudoscience that would be replaced by true reason and science, also happened to write one of the best records of dying cultural magical rituals and helped categorize perceptions of magic based on the laws that it follows. There are three main Laws of Magic with a corollary Doctrine. These are the Law of Similarity, Law of Sympathy, and Law of Contaigon. Related to the Law of Similarity is the Doctrine of Signatures.

    LAW OF SYMPATHY: Note that this is absolutely not sympathy as defined by Mage, but is instead the defining principle by which all magic functions. The Law of Sympathy states that all magic depends on apparent association or agreement between two categories. This is basically the concept behind the Arcana, the Practices, and what they can do.

    LAW OF SIMILARITY: Things that are alike are the same. Hellooo Yantras. Let's take a quick detour to discuss the different between Sacred Space and Sacred Place. A Sacred Space is sacred because of what you do while a Sacred Place is sacred because of what it is.
    • DOCTRINE OF SIGNATURES: Related to the Law of Similarity is the Doctrine of Signatures, which more or less states that physical structures found in nature echo the purpose of that particular structure in magic. This is part of the process that Shamans and healers use to decide what plants to use. The doctrine of signatures treatise is not something known by indigenous shamans, but the principles behind it are not regarded as fanciful at all. Rather, they are so important that they can save lives. Shamans recognize the spiritual powers and qualities of plants in many ways: the colours of the flowers, their perfumes, the shape and form of their leaves, where they are growing and in what ways, the moods they evoke, and the wider geographical, cultural, or mythological landscape that they occupy.
    LAW OF CONTAGION: Now this is what Mage would call Sympathy. Things that were in contact continue to remain in contact even after the physical connection was severed. One of the reasons that the Law of Contagion got its name is because this isn't just related to the belief that stolen blood, hair, or fingernail clippings could result in use of sorcery over an appropriate distance, but it is also related to specific cultural beliefs about spiritual potency and how that is transmitted. Ritual uncleanliness, such as Greco-Roman miasma, is one example. Another is the damaging potential of the unworthy exposed to holiness, or the potential befoulment of holiness by impure things. This is why kings could supposedly heal with a touch, or other sacred kings were not supposed to interact with their people or touch the earth. This concept of concealing the sacred to prevent its corruption is one possible way of looking at Paradox.

    Right, so, those are all of the basics. Laws of Magic and religious specialists are basically Anthropology of Magic 101. I have further thoughts on how to look at actual cultures and beliefs for authenticity, grounding, and a way of looking at the inspiration behind Mage: The Awakening. Next up? Orders as Movements, Mystery Cults, and Cultural Institutions.
    Last edited by Arcanist; 05-23-2017, 03:25 PM.


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  • #2
    I know this somewhat defeats the purpose of this but do you have any particular reading recommendations?


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    • #3
      Depends, really. I haven't assembled a particularly massive collection of readings myself, and most works that I have had the access to generally focus more on modern neopaganism and other more esoteric New Religious Movements than they do with ancient practices, but there are a couple books I can think of off the top of my head that would be useful.

      James Frazer's The Golden Bough is basically one of the seminal works in the field, but Frazer was a comparativist, which means that even if the work is technically sound and records a ton of data it tends to be... reductive, because it erases differences between cultures in order to highlight the similarities. That said, the book is ridiculously old, meaning that the PDFs are freely, and publicly, available on the internet, so it makes for easy, happy reading.

      Rebecca & Philip Stein's The Anthropology of Religion, Mythology, and Witchcraft was my textbook for the course. However, it is a textbook, so it is stupidly expensive.

      Susan Greenwood is an anthropologist who is herself a practicing polytheist in Britain, was recommended by my prof, and wrote several books on the subject. The Anthropology of Magic, The Nature of Magic: An Anthropology of Consciousness, Magic, Witchcraft, and the Otherworld: An Anthropology are the most well-known. They're also mostly academic texts, and therefore very expensive. Much less expensive is her Witchcraft: A History which is not academic and is illustrated, which makes it user friendly and comparatively inexpensive. The Anthropology of Magic is also sold on Amazon in similar price ranges to other thick non-fiction hardcovers, so $30 or so.

      EDIT: I have more stuff on exactly how ritual (whether an elongated ritual or a simple spell) is formed and performed, and on that there is a little more specific stuff to read I can offer. Fortunately, that fits into the piece on Movements, Mystery Cults, and Cultural Institutions. Anything more specific comes with cultural context, which is why I dislike comparative religion/mythology, because if you try to strip it down you lose a lot of context and a lot of content. I may try and go into specific cultural practices if I can, but that comes later.
      Last edited by Arcanist; 05-23-2017, 04:12 PM.


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      • #4
        Very informative, thank you very much! I will folow this with interest.


        I'm So Meta Even This Acronym

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        • #5
          Absolutely fascinating. Thank you for your efforts and contribution.


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          • #6
            The endorsements are very kind guys, thank-you. This is now my second most-liked post, which is a nice pat on the back suggesting I actually picked something up in Anthropology. I'm just hoping that people will find all this stuff useful. Anyways, here's a link to a thread in which I did some rather extensive analysis of two of the more rigidly ritualistic Orders in terms of Initiation Rituals, and outlined the basics of ritual process. It's a relatively fun read, if I do say so myself.

            Right, so, the Orders. First thing you need to know about Mages is, because they primarily adhere to the Shaman template, and generally have Sleeper lives when they aren't hunting down Mysteries or getting their Peripheral Mage Sight pinged, they are fierce individualists. Every Mage possesses a nugget of Gnosis that forms the bedrock of their own enlightenment, which means Mages are inherently going to be absurdly stubborn about at least one line of discussion, absolutely certain they know the Supernal Truth. This means that, in theory and in practice, getting an Order to function practically is going to be like herding cats. See the history of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, for example. Organized, widespread, basically the source of most of the occult documents one can get their hands on, pilferers of crappy translations of Jewish mystical texts, and they had imploded within thirteen years of their founding. Occultists don't work well together. It is known. In fact, it appears that (shocker) when you put a bunch of opinionated, often hubristic, people in a room, give them a hierarchy, and encourage them to play nice, that they will quickly devolve into politics and one-up-manship the second they think they've wrung their "colleagues" dry. So why do the Orders persist? Why do they manage to hold together?

            Well, for the most part, barring the Seers of the Throne, it is because the Orders are actually ideologies and movements, and those can be very hard to kill.

            REVITALIZATION MOVEMENTS: A movement forms in an attempt to deliberately bring about change in a society. May be political or religious.

            Revitalization Movements are intentional things, constructed ideologies, that emerge from various cultural pressures. The pressures come from changes to a society and its beliefs, whether through internal changes (discovery, invention) or external mechanisms (diffusion, stimulus diffusion). Eventually, the situation becomes "do or die", the minority group pressured by the change leads to an increase in maladaptive behaviours, which in modern societies generally manifests as drugs, alcohol, and crime, but for Mages may result in increased hubris, cascading Paradox, and what were previously established to be Left-Handed practices.

            DISCOVERY: New awareness of something that exists in the environment.

            INVENTION: Coming up with a solution to the problem using the technology at hand.

            DIFFUSION: The apparent movement of cultural traits from one culture to another.

            STIMULUS DIFFUSION: What occurs when a trait hops cultures and encourages invention.


            The pressures result in one of three things happening, Acculturation, Assimilation, or Syncretism.

            ACCULTURATION: The process by which a culture accepts traits from a dominant society. Society A and B ultimately become more similar, or the subordinate society is acculturated.

            ASSIMILATION: A condition whereby a dominated culture has changed so much because of outside influences that it ceases to have its own distinct identity. Control is based on technology, economy, and politics and religion is often used to justify why change is occurring or to justify the new hierarchy.

            SYNCRETISM: A fusing of traits from two cultures to form something new and yet permitting the retention of the old by subsuming the old into a new form. The assumption is that syncretism is only one way. This is not, necessarily, true.


            Syncretism is probably the most interesting of the three results because it doesn't result in an erosion of culture, but rather a creation of culture. It is seen most commonly in colonial societies, such as the Yoruban Diaspora religions, stemming from the highly versatile ATRs, or Folk Catholicism, which is what happens when organized religion throws up its hands and says that the culture paying lip service and performing most of the proper rituals is just good enough. It is really fascinating, and we had a rather interesting lecture about how Vodou changed to Voodoo as it was transmitted from Haiti to Louisiana. Vodou is more similar to Yoruban practices than Voodoo is, because in Louisiana the religion became a bargaining chip, it became profitable. The syncretism was no longer out of a need to preserve traditional beliefs by hiding them behind a veneer of Catholicism, it was a way to absorb the bombastic burgeoning Creole culture and firmly root in the community. Voodoo is more performative than Vodun, it is more theatrical, it is louder, more dramatic, and slightly more open. Mediumship is a big part of ATRs, which are closed religions with strong initiatory traditions, and that mediumship can override the closed nature of the religion sometimes. If Ogun is riding his chosen horse in a Santeria ceremony and points to an outsider and says "I want them for a godchild" who the hell is going to argue with an Orisha? That said, in the class we also got to watch a couple of clips of mediums getting ridden in Bori rituals, and attendants played a big part of that. Every so often they'd walk over to a ridden medium and grab them by the shoulder or clap a hand over their mouth, possibly because the iskoki (spirit similar to a Loa or Orisha) was overstepping their boundaries a little. ATRs get a lot more personal interaction with the beings they worship than other religions, which means interpersonal relationships and a strong sense of boundaries become important, but I digress.

            Movements. There are four main kinds of Revitalization Movements. Revitalistic, Nativistic, Millenarian, and Messianic.

            REVITALISTIC: A type of revitalization movement that attempts to revive what is often perceived as a past golden age. (Silver Ladder, anyone?)

            NATIVISTIC: A type of revitalization movement that develops in traditional societies that are threatened by the activities of more technologically advanced societies. Falling back on established traditions and attempts to purge outside influence. (Mysterium, perhaps?)

            MILLENARIAN: A type of revitalization movement that envisions a change through an apocalyptic transformation. (Potentially Adamantine Arrow. Apocalyptic is rarely gentle.)

            MESSIANIC: A type of revitalization movement that is based on the appearance of a divine savior in human form who will bring about a solution to the problems that exist within the society. (Guardians of the Veil, not that they'd ever admit it)

            And there are the four Diamond Orders, wrapped up in a neat, probably unbelievably reductive little bow, but it is a quick way of visualizing, and that's what we're here to do. It's maybe not so horribly awful given that To The Strongest establishes the Orders as co-evolved ideologies that collected societies around them. I'll go into a less disgustingly reductive analysis when I have the time to poke at the Orders with a stick. "But where is the Free Council? What about Nameless Orders? Where are the Seers of the Throne?" The Seers... the Seers I'm going to need to dedicate a separate post to, because Anthropologically they are so weird and have more in common with organized religions than freaking Shamans/Mages have any right to. (Remember when I said a narrow subset of Mages fit the Priest archetype? I was talking about the Seers and Pentacle Mages who abandon their Sleeper lives. But mostly the Seers.)

            Anyways, Free Council and Nameless Orders.

            You see that whole paragraph under Syncretism about what Syncretism looks like? That's them. That's the Free Council and the Nameless Orders, but from completely different directions by way of Folk Religion and Ethnic Religion. Do not mix the two up, it is very easy to do so, and there is still academic debate about it.

            Folk Religion is more Free Council, since it is basically the body of folklore and pseudoreligious ritual practices that people pick up from a culture purely by osmosis. Things like throwing salt over your shoulder, or crossroads being a place to find unclean spirits, or demon bowls, curse tablets, and who knows what else. There's plenty of perfectly good examples I'm presumably forgetting because, as Terry Pratchett memorably put it in Hogfather "it's such old magic it isn't even magic anymore." The tension comes from the fact that religion is mostly defined by being organized, so the term "folk belief" gets thrown around. It hasn't caught on, mostly because "folk belief" is next door to "folklore" and that would be like comparing a mythologist with a theologian. Technically have a whole lot in common, but the comparison might be considered insulting. This is the kind of thing that gets the Free Council jazzed up, magical and ritual practices that just kind of, sort of, happen. Things that they can pick up and turn into Techne. It is the evidence backing up their thesis statement that Humanity is Magical, because look at all the folkloric crap we invent and leave lying around. Yantras, yantras everywhere, which don't stem from an absolute Truth but from humans encountering something Other, going "What the hell was that?!" and figuring out how to deal with it.

            Ethnic Religion is more Nameless Order (or to use a To The Strongest term, Great Cult) kind of thing. These are beliefs with strong cultural context to the point that they are almost entirely identified by belonging to the culture they came from. Ethnic religions are typically closed, meaning no outsiders allowed, at all, and generally have fairly strong internal systems intricately tied with the culture. It is pretty much impossible to separate the two, and understand one leads to understanding the other. Examples include Judaism, Hinduism, Shenism, Shinto, and some of the "dead" (technically on life support. Go neopagan revivalists!) Western and Near Eastern polytheistic religions. There have been alternatives suggested to the term Ethnic Religion, but for the most part they are just plain worse. Primal Religion was thrown around in the 70s, and it was shot down quickly for being offensive as all hell and suggesting an underdeveloped region just awaiting the arrival of Christianity and with it, proper civilization. Go ahead, tell China or India that the West brought them the gift of civilization, I dare you. It would probably be pretty freaking hard to detach a Nameless Order from cultural context unless, of course, it's essentially just a Super Cabal or something like the Golden Dawn. I don't imagine that a lot of Nameless Orders survive for very long without being tied to a specific culture and/or religion.

            Wow, that was a lot longer than I thought it was going to be. This is an absolutely massive post and a lot of material to process, so I think I'm going to save Mystery Cults for another day. That actually works out better for all of you, because it means that I'm going to be able to add a whole ton of stuff about Neoplatonism and Greco-Roman religion which, as To The Strongest makes rather clear, are kind of important to the formation of the Pentacle.
            Last edited by Arcanist; 05-26-2017, 03:46 PM.


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            • #7
              Originally posted by Arcanist View Post
              Occultists don't work well together. It is known. In fact, it appears that (shocker) when you put a bunch of opinionated, often hubristic, people in a room, give them a hierarchy, and encourage them to play nice, that they will quickly devolve into politics and one-up-manship the second they think they've wrung their "colleagues" dry. So why do the Orders persist? Why do they manage to hold together?
              I think your analysis risks overlooking the reality of magic in the setting. I mean, the Golden dawn fell apart because ultimately they didn't have any real power. When one of them defected and created their own order, all the leadership could do was write nasty things about them. Further, there was no real benefit to letting someone else be your superior.

              The Awakenend however have very real overt power and real things to offer people in a hierarchical relationship. To understand the continuity of the Orders, I'd look less at the Golden Dawn and more at patrimonial political systems.

              That's something I'd bear in mind for mystery cults too. There's a gap between the theory of what a mystery cult is set up to do, and the reality of it as a social practice. I think a lot of Awakening is taking ideas like mystery cults and actually implementing them as they were intended.


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              • #8
                Michael you do make a good point, since for the most part I am avoiding bringing in actual Supernal Magic, which changes dynamics quite a bit, because as much as the Awakened are their own extensive subculture, and they make their own shadow societies, they are still humans who grew up in cultures with complex ideas about magic, and therefore methods and theories of Anthropological research can still be applied to them. I am coming at this mostly from an Anthropological perspective and doing the groundwork of the inspiration. I'll get to the nitty gritty specifics of Mage: The Awakening in a later post. Personally, I disagree with patrimonial political systems being a way of looking at the Orders as continuous systems as a whole, but I do think it helps explain a lot of the strangeness of the Seers of the Throne. I'm rather curious with what you perceive as the intention behind Mystery Cults. Because that is what I'm starting to tackle next.

                (As an aside, this is now my most "liked" post on the forums. Thank-you for the votes of confidence!)

                MYSTERY CULTS: AN INTRODUCTION

                Right, so, in order to find out where Orders and a wider, organized, Awakened culture came from, we need to go back. Way, way back. Actually, all the way back to the Dark Era of To The Strongest. The subsection "The Way of Oracles and Furies" (Dark Eras pg. 77) gives a pretty good summary of perspectives on magic, religion, and philosophy in the Greek world, but word count means that by necessity it glosses over subtleties that aren't really necessary to get a feel for the time period, and don't really help in fleshing out the setting in a meaningful way. First of all, the Greek world (I'm focusing on the Greeks because Mage leans a little more towards the trappings of Western Occultism, but also because I have nowhere near the same level of exposure to non-Western religion and esotericism) separated theology into three categories: State Theology, Natural Theology, and Mythic Theology. They weren't given these exact terms until Marcus Terentius Varro defined them in a book he wrote that has been lost to the ages, but Plato goes over similar concepts in his Timaeus and Laws. Varro's works is one of those things that is cited in other ancient texts, so we only have the snippets of citation.

                STATE THEOLOGY: Religious practices mandated by the state and by law. Its theologians are administrators and government officials doubling as priests, trying to determine how the gods relate to daily life.

                NATURAL THEOLOGY: Provides arguments for the existence of the divine based on reason and ordinary experience in nature. Its theologians are philosophers who try to define the attributes or non-attributes of divinity.

                MYTHIC THEOLOGY: Based on narratives (myths) of divine matters, implied or outright stated revelatory knowledge. Its theologians are the poets.


                So here we have the three basic forms of theology. State Theology was the standard, everyone was expected to participate in it. In most cases, it was actually mandated by law. In the Roman world, this was part of the mos maiorum, the unspoken societal norms. So far as I know, there's no way to tell if the Greeks had a similar concept, but that might just be because we have less Greek written material than we do Roman, and a lot of the Greek stuff we do have is because it was translated into Latin. Because of this lack of the direct Greek sources, I'm going to move on to the Roman concepts. Religio translates roughly to "bond" referring to the ties between gods and mortals, and was related to pietas, dutiful respect towards the gods. Religio was an obligation, it is what the gods were due for being the gods, hence why it was mandated by the state. To improperly perform the rites, to act disrespectfully, could incur vitium (hinderance, imperfection) which would break the peace between mankind and the gods, incurring their wrath. This is, quite obviously, a Bad Thing. Ritual impurity in the Greek world was referred to as miasma, or blood pollution, something that could befoul and spread until it was cleansed, necessitating ritual purification.

                Sacrifice was a big thing that helped maintain the pax deorum, and it was transactional in nature, summarized in the phrase do ut des, "I give so you will give". Sacrifice had to be consensual though, which is part of the reason water was sprinkled on the brow of the sacrificial animal; it encouraged them to toss their head in such a way that it looked like agreement to the words of the officiating priest. This had a pretty big social component to it, because sacrificial animals, once slaughtered, would become part of a communal feast while the fat and gristle would burn for the gods. There's a societal stability that comes from worshipping together, with the local magistrate as officiant and priest. (Remember the bit about priests above? That religious specialization forces the government officials to try and adhere to a societal ideal.) This is, in essence, State Theology; a business-like relationship between a nation and the gods. Fun fact, a popular Roman psychological warfare tactic was to (very loudly) perform an evocation of a besieged city's gods to offer them a better relationship with Rome than with the mortals that worshipped them right now. Augurs would then determine if the deity was receptive to the idea or not, and if they were, new cult images would be presented and the gods would "leave" the city.

                Mythic Theology is interesting because, for as much as surviving historical writings seem to dismiss it (but those surviving writings were written by philosophers, their direct theological competitors), it happens to be pretty much all we have remaining of the Greco-Roman religion. Those myths and poems are how we come to understand the gods. The poet as theologian is interesting, because the Greeks also seemed to connect the idea of Magician with the Liminal Outsider, figures like smiths and poets. One of the Greek words for sorcerer, goes, means "jugglery, charm" and is derived from a verb meaning "groan, bewail, beguile" suggesting that for Hearth Witches and Petty Magicians (to use the terminology of To The Strongest) there was a strong linguistic component. The Ephesia Grammata and Greek Magical Papyri would appear to support this. You might also notice that goes, referring to a sorcerer, is related to the word Goetia, the word for sorcery. It's... unclear how that later became related to the much, much later Christian grimoire tradition, but the Magical Papyri and their instructions on summoning daemons and other spirits seem to be as good a place to start as any.

                Natural Theology, however, is where the crux of this lies, because this is how we start to understand Mystery Cults. Hellenistic philosophy was incredibly interested in metaphysics and divinity, and Plato (for obvious reasons) would have quickly become a favourite of the Awakened. In fact, the different schools of hellenistic philosophy share more in common with religious sects, as ways of examining the State Theology, than they do popular modern conceptions of philosophy. Some of these philosophies, like Pythagoreanism, evolved into Mystery Cults themselves, and an argument could be made that these schools of philosophy (more like lineages, really) share some rather distinct parallels with guru-shishya practices in India. This is, personally, the way I like to look at the absolute base units of Awakened society, cabals and mentor-apprentice relationships. Cabals might function like a political bloc in a Consilium, but at the base function they are a bunch of students who work together, and might possibly share a mentor. Larger cabals are a web of teachers and students.

                WHY MYSTERY CULTS?

                From what I've been taught, and what I've read, the Greco-Roman worldview was actually pretty freaking bleak, and that extended to the religion. Life was full of pain and misfortune, it was unwise to be considered fortunate until you were dead, and once you died the afterlife sucked. The gods were fickle forces of nature you appeased and avoided (Except for when you thought you really needed their help. Lately I've been learning the Olympians have a lot more in common with the Fair Folk than I thought), who didn't care about you personally, and who received devotion as their due and sacrifice as a bribe. Not a lot of fulfillment in State Theology, but a whole lot of social control. Those looking for spiritual fulfillment would have to turn to religious expression of their choice, and that's what cult practices were, chosen, optional, religious activity separate and occasionally acting in opposition to state religion. Some people believe that Mystery Cults grew out of community, tribal, or familial religious practices that were separate from State Theology, or just outright predated it. In the past, it was normal and expected for a member in a community to become initiated into the local cult, but as State Theology arose, cults became a matter of personal choice and personal preference.

                Here's what was weird about Mystery Cults. They generally possessed open membership. Men, women, free folk, and slaves, gender and social class didn't (usually) matter to a Mystery Cult so much as your initiation and bond with your fellow cultists did. Mystery Cults tended to focus more closely on a unit of gods (academically termed a henad) with a central deity as a demiurgic figure. Joining the cult was a method of establishing closer communion with that god, and potentially building a relationship that was more personal and important than the purely transactional relationship of state-mandated worship. Mystery Cults (from what we can tell) also often suggested that membership would result in an afterlife superior to the Underworld, or perhaps even a totally different kind of afterlife altogether. Plato wrote about a concept of reincarnation in his Republic. Mystery Cults are supplemental to state religion, they offered something more that built off particular perspectives and understandings of State Theology, which is really no different than the mystic and esoteric traditions of other cultures.

                You could join multiple Mystery Cults, so long as you could keep up with the activities, which was really rather possible considering several Mystery Cults were meant to be experienced only once, like some people believe the Eleusinian Mysteries were, as opposed to celebrating regularly, like the Dionysian Mysteries. Mystery Cults seem to be primarily a Greco-Roman phenomenon. The Isis Mysteries and the Osiris Mysteries use Egyptian aesthetics, and Egyptian gods, but they seem to have only arisen during the Ptolemaic period, and probably started getting into the proper swing of things around the time of Cleopatra VII. Orphism was another example of one that was more of an established religion. Either way, there were laws against revealing the Mysteries, and people kept the secrets well. Next-to-no information about the actual Mysteries have survived. There are also records of purely secular Mystery Cults that were, essentially, secret clubs where communal meals and communal drinking occurred, but they still had an initiatory and Mystery component to them.

                So what was so alluring about Mystery Cults? The companionship is definitely one thing, the theology may have been appealing, but there was also the idea that the teachings of different initiation levels of the Cult meant different things at different stages of initiation. Higher levels of initiation mean better understanding of the Mysteries, and so there is a somewhat constant process of revelation and understanding. Because someone of sufficient initiation could start their own chapter of the Mysteries, it was possible, in the Roman world, to travel great distances and run in to people who knew the hand signs and passwords signalling initiation. Mithraism was probably the most pervasive example of this. Also, if you've read the post I linked in the last big info-dump about Initiations, you'll know the terms communitas and societas.

                SOCIETAS: The overall feeling and sensation of societal norms, your awareness (or unconscious awareness) of status, and the way you respond to those things in others.

                COMMUNITAS: A state of awareness/being where all the feelings of societas
                are suspended, and you're aware of being able to create a new way of life and consciously (or unconsciously) suspend, ignore, or even flout your typical, everyday norms.

                Being part of the Mysteries is communitas, it enables you to function outside of traditional cultural norms. In a Mystery Cult a slave might have authority over an oligarch, women could be put in positions of great power and authority and, in the context of the Mysteries, it would seem that this was accepted quite readily. This is due to the bonding nature of initiations in order to impose that feeling of communitas upon the members of the group, and in many Mystery Cults, there are multiple levels of initiation. Each initiation ritual bonds you even more closely with your fellow cultists, and especially with the people at your new level of initiation. This is a pretty effective method of creating feelings of companionship and camaraderie through shared experience and understanding, which most definitely carries over to the Orders. Awakened or not, Mages are still people, and think in a mostly human manner. This, more than Orders growing out of co-evolved ideologies in the Darshanas, is probably why the Orders are continuous and long-lasting organizations. Mystery Cults have staying power in the Western world. Eleusis is probably the longest-lasting, surviving for a millennium or two, but the others weren't exactly insignificant, enduring for centuries and needing to be actively stamped out in the Late Roman era. In Mage: The Awakening the most obvious Mystery Cults are the Mysterium (for obvious reasons) and the Guardians of the Veil (also for obvious reasons), but to a greater or lesser extent, the Orders are all Mystery Cults of some stripe, which is kind of fitting considering that the Awakened are Addicted to Mysteries.


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                • #9
                  Personally, I disagree with patrimonial political systems being a way of looking at the Orders as continuous systems as a whole, but I do think it helps explain a lot of the strangeness of the Seers of the Throne.
                  I agree on that latter point, but patrimonial is maybe not quite the right word. What I'm referring to is basically this:

                  This is, personally, the way I like to look at the absolute base units of Awakened society, cabals and mentor-apprentice relationships. Cabals might function like a political bloc in a Consilium, but at the base function they are a bunch of students who work together, and might possibly share a mentor. Larger cabals are a web of teachers and students.
                  Your teachers aren't people you can simply learn from and then ignore (like the Golden Dawn), there's a real hierarchy of power.

                  On a sidenote, one of the things I notice in Awakening is that there's the standard language of Mentor-Apprentice, and every so often the mask slips becoming Master-apprentice. Now I think about it a guild structure would be interesting to compare to the orders.

                  I'm rather curious with what you perceive as the intention behind Mystery Cults. Because that is what I'm starting to tackle next.
                  That's a fair point to bring up. What I'm referring to is the idea of mystery cults as initiation processes into sacred knowledge, the idea that they don't just give you a book which tells you all the mystery of Orpheus or whatever. You have to go through an experience that communicates the knowledge.

                  I don't want to be damning ancient people's believes but that idea sounds very nebulous. Meanwhile Mage being fiction allows us to make it materially true in a very blunt manner. You join an Order and you change, your viewpoint changes, your ideas of magic change. It's doubly true of a legacy. That's the difference I'm trying to point out.

                  You could join multiple Mystery Cults, so long as you could keep up with the activities, which was really rather possible considering several Mystery Cults were meant to be experienced only once, like some people believe the Eleusinian Mysteries were, as opposed to celebrating regularly, like the Dionysian Mysteries.
                  I suspect the reason for the latter is that it was pretty much a state sanctioned mystery cult. It might have been closer to the former originally, but after it was suppressed, the romans didn't get rid of it as much as make it as staid and conservative as possible (or at least that seems to be what was going on). It really moves into the state theology catagory.


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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Michael View Post
                    What I'm referring to is the idea of mystery cults as initiation processes into sacred knowledge, the idea that they don't just give you a book which tells you all the mystery of Orpheus or whatever. You have to go through an experience that communicates the knowledge.

                    I don't want to be damning ancient people's believes but that idea sounds very nebulous. Meanwhile Mage being fiction allows us to make it materially true in a very blunt manner. You join an Order and you change, your viewpoint changes, your ideas of magic change. It's doubly true of a legacy. That's the difference I'm trying to point out.
                    Unfortunately, one of the infuriating things of trying to study Mystery Cults is that, for whatever reason, the laws put in place by the Greek and Roman governments regarding the secrecy of the Mysteries, and the internal belief systems of Mystery Cults that made the experiential component very important, seem to have worked spectacularly well. There is next to nothing written about the actual Mysteries themselves. What little we have is initiates like Plato winking at the rituals and discussing them in vague symbology, and Late Roman Christian writers trying to condemn the Mysteries because some of them, like the Isis Mysteries and Mithraism, were actually serious competition to Christianity even after it became the new State Theology. The former is tantalizing but ultimately empty, and the latter is worse than useless because those writers did what basically any smear campaign on a religion in the Western world has done for centuries.

                    1) Suggest that the minority religion is politically subversive.

                    2) Outright state that the minority religion engages in sexual practices that are not condoned by society.

                    3) OH THE HUMANITY! THEY EAT BABIES! (Guess what? They don't eat babies.)

                    I can just imagine how absolutely delighted people using that particular formula of condemnation were when they came into contact with some of the more maladaptive aspects of Aztec culture. Regardless, that's the problem with the Mysteries, it is very much a "you had to be there" kind of thing. Even in the case of Gnosticism, where we actually have a pretty decent library of their internal scriptures, there is some difficulty in actually understanding the religion because the performative aspect of it is missing. We don't actually know what a historical Gnostic mass looks like, and so people keep trying to make sense of the Nag Hammadi library by comparing it to what early Christianity was like. Oh yeah, and then there's the fact that there are almost as many schools of Gnosticism as there are schools of Hellenistic Philosophy, they influenced and reflected one another, and we have very little information about how the sects differed from one another except in the broad strokes. And occasionally we get an out of context holy text.

                    Speaking of guilds, that tickled something in the back of my brain and I did some snooping. Turns out a lot of how guilds function and operate grew out of Roman collegia, and Roman collegia are some of the finest examples of the (semi-)secular Mystery Cults I mention above. It also turns out that Roman perspectives on magic considered it an unhealthy or excessive interest in religion that women and foreigners were interested in, and especially an inappropriate desire for knowledge. Roman religion was based in knowledge of the proper rites, proper formulas, and how to perform them. Knowledge was power, and excessive knowledge, improper use of knowledge, or grovelling before the gods, was considered, respectively, hubristic, impure, and insulting. I'm definitely going to do a separate post on Roman collegia, because they're starting to look pretty important to understand how the heck Consilia actually function as cross-Order/Cult organizations. I'm going to try and avoid poking around too much in Roman religion right now, because that could easily derail the thread. There's a lot there.
                    Last edited by Arcanist; 05-26-2017, 03:43 PM. Reason: Writing long posts on little sleep leaves things sloppy. Had to complete a couple sentences.


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                    • #11
                      Oh, please, by all means, do.


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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Arcanist View Post
                        So what was so alluring about Mystery Cults? The companionship is definitely one thing, the theology may have been appealing, but there was also the idea that the teachings of different initiation levels of the Cult meant different things at different stages of initiation. Higher levels of initiation mean better understanding of the Mysteries, and so there is a somewhat constant process of revelation and understanding. Because someone of sufficient initiation could start their own chapter of the Mysteries, it was possible, in the Roman world, to travel great distances and run in to people who knew the hand signs and passwords signalling initiation. Mithraism was probably the most pervasive example of this. Also, if you've read the post I linked in the last big info-dump about Initiations, you'll know the terms communitas and societas.
                        I'm surprised you went with Mithraism as your example and not Christianity - the best known mystery cult.
                        On the bolded part - this is what we would call a "heresy" in the modern religion. This is the big weak spot of the mystery cults and the reason why they grew obsolete. Let's say that our hypothetical mystery cult has Initiates and Masters. If Master A says that Master B interprets the mystery incorrectly - who can challenge him? Master A can try to overthrow Master B or leave and start their own cult, and none of the Initiates can make a decision on which Master to follow based on anything other than the Master's charisma.

                        Originally posted by Arcanist View Post
                        Here's what was weird about Mystery Cults. They generally possessed open membership.
                        This isn't really weird, but rather a result of natural evolution of religious structures and advancement of their interaction with society. The period around 1AD was ripe with mystery cults - there was a cult of Osiris, there was a cult of Mithras, there was a cult of Attis. Lots of cults. At around the same time Apostle Paul was bringing reforms to judaism christianity by making the acceptance of gentiles normal and observance of Torah's laws unnecessary. (and getting into trouble with the nazorean sect of christians who thought that Torah was the way to go) This was the zeitgeist - change from temple cults to communal cults.

                        you do make a good point, since for the most part I am avoiding bringing in actual Supernal Magic, which changes dynamics quite a bit, because as much as the Awakened are their own extensive subculture, and they make their own shadow societies, they are still humans who grew up in cultures with complex ideas about magic, and therefore methods and theories of Anthropological research can still be applied to them.
                        They actually can't, and here's why. Mage the Awakening posits that at some point in the past Exarchs took over the world and rewrote history. We don't know when was the Fall. We don't know what the life was like before the Fall. We don't know what changed. Now, instinctively you want to say that the Fall was a long time ago and that the history as we know it is real, but there's actually nothing in Mage to support this. The Fall could have been five minutes ago and you wouldn't know it. Or it could have been yesterday. Or in 1939. Or in 1453. Arbitrary amount of world history in Mage is a lie and can not be checked. If anything, the homogenous structure of the orders, complete lack of heresies, the claims of orders being all the same around the world all point towards everything we know about Orders being a lie and the Orders themselves being a modern invention. It may not be The Lie, but a lie nonetheless.
                        Last edited by Kammerer; 05-26-2017, 09:03 PM.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Kammerer View Post
                          I'm surprised you went with Mithraism as your example and not Christianity - the best known mystery cult.
                          On the bolded part - this is what we would call a "heresy" in the modern religion. This is the big weak spot of the mystery cults and the reason why they grew obsolete. Let's say that our hypothetical mystery cult has Initiates and Masters. If Master A says that Master B interprets the mystery incorrectly - who can challenge him? Master A can try to overthrow Master B or leave and start their own cult, and none of the Initiates can make a decision on which Master to follow based on anything other than the Master's charisma.

                          This isn't really weird, but rather a result of natural evolution of religious structures and advancement of their interaction with society. The period around 1AD was ripe with mystery cults - there was a cult of Osiris, there was a cult of Mithras, there was a cult of Attis. Lots of cults. At around the same time Apostle Paul was bringing reforms to judaism christianity by making the acceptance of gentiles normal and observance of Torah's laws unnecessary. (and getting into trouble with the nazorean sect of christians who thought that Torah was the way to go) This was the zeitgeist - change from temple cults to communal cults.

                          They actually can't, and here's why. Mage the Awakening posits that at some point in the past Exarchs took over the world and rewrote history. We don't know when was the Fall. We don't know what the life was like before the Fall. We don't know what changed. Now, instinctively you want to say that the Fall was a long time ago and that the history as we know it is real, but there's actually nothing in Mage to support this. The Fall could have been five minutes ago and you wouldn't know it. Or it could have been yesterday. Or in 1939. Or in 1453. Arbitrary amount of world history in Mage is a lie and can not be checked. If anything, the homogenous structure of the orders, complete lack of heresies, the claims of orders being all the same around the world all point towards everything we know about Orders being a lie and the Orders themselves being a modern invention. It may not be The Lie, but a lie nonetheless.
                          I went with Mithraism as my example because it was a wide-spread Mystery Cult that became very popular without becoming State Theology, and yet it still possessed legal protections under Roman law that were actually rather unique. The only other example I can think of without doing some serious research is Judaism, which is not exactly a Mystery Cult, and whose legal protections were hard-fought and hard-won. The Roman empire tended to view Mystery Cults, especially practices with apparently Egyptian heritage, with no small amount of suspicion. The problem with saying that starting independent chapters of the Mysteries is "heresy" would suggest that there was such a thing as Orthodoxy to begin with. There is no authoritative text in Greco-Roman theology, there are no uniform sacred laws, there is only State Theology. In the Greek world it was the State Theology of the city-state, and in the Roman world it was the State Theology of the Republic, and later the Empire. To call it a "weak spot" and say that a particular form of belief became "obsolete" would suggest that there is a "correct" form of belief, or that culture is "evolving" along particular lines. By your argument, the same "weak spot" that lead to Mystery Cults becoming "obsolete" is one of the factors that led to the success of Christianity.

                          The sects and the heresies meant there was a different Jesus for everyone who wanted one, and then rather conveniently the recently converted Emperor Constantine gathered up all the pertinent religious authorities of Pre-Nicene Christianity and forced them to hammer out an Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy, because he wanted Christianity to be the new State Theology. To act like Christianity was homogenous before, or even after, the first Council of Nicaea is a mischaracterization of a very complex religion that can't properly be called a Mystery Cult because their Mysteries were public knowledge even in the beginning. Also, for the first two centuries or so Christianity was close enough to Judaism that it was protected by Roman legislation until they realized it was something very different, but by that point in time there had been almost two hundred years of evangelization, splitting into sects, and what would later be called heresies.

                          Also, if you had been paying attention to the part of the post where I start talking about the "weirdness" of Mystery Cults, I had been establishing what was considered "normal" at the time, which was the three-part division between State, Natural, and Mythic Theology. Compare Mystery Cults to Natural Theology, where almost all Natural Theologians were relatively wealthy aristocratic men because Natural Theologians were philosophers. Compare Mystery Cults to State Theology, where all the priests who mattered were appointed to their position from the body of Senators and magistrates, and where the only women of theological importance were goddesses or the wives of high priests given ritual duties. Compared to official Greco-Roman religion at the time, Mystery Cults were weird, and it is very easy to look back with the long view of history and say something was just the product of the zeitgeist, but as my history professors keep reinforcing, history is a lot of little decisions that build up into big ones.

                          And most importantly, if you're going to come in here and say the whole exercise is pointless because history and human culture as we know it is an invention of the Exarchs and ascended Archmasters who are constantly, retroactively changing the history of the world around us, then why even bother commenting unless it's to tell me I'm having fun incorrectly? Hell, take it further. Imperial Mysteries states that Christianity is an accident, a byproduct of an Archmaster named Hyperion fusing with the Supernal God Mithras and basically erasing a more widespread form of Mithraism from history. For me, this is a way of interjecting authenticity into Mage, thinking about the things that helped inspire it and applying them to the game.

                          So, if you wouldn't mind, I would like to go back to being an Anthropology geek sharing what I know about perceptions of magic and religion throughout history, which people seem to be enjoying so far, and you can go back to whatever you were doing before you decided that someone was wrong on the internet and you just had to tell them that there was no point to the thread they had obviously spent a lot of time working on.
                          Last edited by Arcanist; 05-26-2017, 11:57 PM.


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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Arcanist View Post
                            I went with Mithraism as my example because it was a wide-spread Mystery Cult that became very popular without becoming State Theology
                            You are waaaay overshooting it. By the time Christianity became a state religion (4AD) Mithraism was already dead.

                            Originally posted by Arcanist View Post
                            The problem with saying that starting independent chapters of the Mysteries is "heresy" would suggest that there was such a thing as Orthodoxy to begin with. There is no authoritative text in Greco-Roman theology, there are no uniform sacred laws, there is only State Theology. In the Greek world it was the State Theology of the city-state, and in the Roman world it was the State Theology of the Republic, and later the Empire. To call it a "weak spot" and say that a particular form of belief became "obsolete" would suggest that there is a "correct" form of belief, or that culture is "evolving" along particular lines. By your argument, the same "weak spot" that lead to Mystery Cults becoming "obsolete" is one of the factors that led to the success of Christianity.
                            Sure, if you define Orthodoxy as an existence of some kind of universal world wide sectarian law, then it didn't exist. But I don't see why you'd do that instead of talking about orthodoxy within a single sect. Surely you understood the example I made?
                            And then you go to gross misrepresentation. Not "correct" form of belief, but a better structure of church. Religion is a pissing contest and the church that gathered the most converts wins. And Christianity won for the reason I'll explain right below.

                            Originally posted by Arcanist View Post
                            To act like Christianity was homogenous before, or even after, the first Council of Nicaea is a mischaracterization of a very complex religion that can't properly be called a Mystery Cult because their Mysteries were public knowledge even in the beginning. Also, for the first two centuries or so Christianity was close enough to Judaism that it was protected by Roman legislation until they realized it was something very different, but by that point in time there had been almost two hundred years of evangelization, splitting into sects, and what would later be called heresies.
                            Calling Christianity homogenous - something I never did.
                            Now, the reason Christianity won among the other mystery religions, and specifically the version of Christianity that we know, was twofold. First, Paul has organised a very successful set of reforms which allowed non-Jews to join the church and which made the observance of Torah's laws unnecessary. And second, gospel of Matthew being a successful attempt at unifying the sufficient number of different sects of Christianity under one banner.
                            And no, Christian mysteries (plural!) were not subject of public knowledge. The public mystery was. And one of the successful improvements on the Mystery Cult concept that Christianity made was the idea of obtaining reward simply by joining the cult. As soon as you learned the outter mystery of Christianity - you were already saved, though you still could try and reach the greater initiations to become more holy. But in Paul's letters and other early church material there are lines like this "I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for solid food. In fact, you are still not ready, for you are still worldly.", which are refereces to mysteries and different layers of understanding. If you care, I'll find more citations latter - don't have them on hand. But the point is, Christian mysteries were the performances of the christian rites and the proper way to understand biblical texts as allegories instead of reading their literal meaning. Which are entirely valid as mysteries.

                            Originally posted by Arcanist View Post
                            And most importantly, if you're going to come in here and say the whole exercise is pointless because history and human culture as we know it is an invention of the Exarchs and ascended Archmasters who are constantly, retroactively changing the history of the world around us, then why even bother commenting unless it's to tell me I'm having fun incorrectly? Hell, take it further. Imperial Mysteries states that Christianity is an accident, a byproduct of an Archmaster named Hyperion fusing with the Supernal God Mithras and basically erasing a more widespread form of Mithraism from history. For me, this is a way of interjecting authenticity into Mage, thinking about the things that helped inspire it and applying them to the game.

                            So, if you wouldn't mind, I would like to go back to being an Anthropology geek sharing what I know about perceptions of magic and religion throughout history, which people seem to be enjoying so far, and you can go back to whatever you were doing before you decided that someone was wrong on the internet and you just had to tell them that there was no point to the thread they had obviously spent a lot of time working on.
                            Touchy much?

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Kammerer View Post
                              They actually can't, and here's why. Mage the Awakening posits that at some point in the past Exarchs took over the world and rewrote history. We don't know when was the Fall. We don't know what the life was like before the Fall. We don't know what changed. Now, instinctively you want to say that the Fall was a long time ago and that the history as we know it is real, but there's actually nothing in Mage to support this. The Fall could have been five minutes ago and you wouldn't know it. Or it could have been yesterday. Or in 1939. Or in 1453. Arbitrary amount of world history in Mage is a lie and can not be checked. If anything, the homogenous structure of the orders, complete lack of heresies, the claims of orders being all the same around the world all point towards everything we know about Orders being a lie and the Orders themselves being a modern invention. It may not be The Lie, but a lie nonetheless.
                              It most likely happened during the early to middle Neolithic, though, if the Sundered World from Dark Eras should be believed.


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                              Some other stuff I've done: Ordo Dracul Mysteries: Mystery of Smoke, Revised Mystery of Živa Mage The Awakening: Spell Quick Reference (single page and landscape for computer screens)

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