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Describing Spellcasting - What does 'Manipulation of Supernal Symbols mean?'

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  • Describing Spellcasting - What does 'Manipulation of Supernal Symbols mean?'

    I am confused about a few concepts within Mage (2E) primarily based around describing story elements of spellcasting and how to represent it to players, and I was hoping for some clarification.

    My questions are as follows:

    What does it mean when a mage attempts to manipulate supernal symbols?

    What does this look like on a Supernal level (within mage sight) when the mage performs the action of spellcasting both for the caster and to other mages around them? How do mages perceive their own act of spellcasting within the supernal?

    My current understanding of Mage's concepts is based off the quotes from below.

    From the 2E Corebook - Page 66

    A mage casts spells by virtue of her Path — a massive, theoretically near-infinite set of magical symbols she can sense and understand. To cast a spell, she imagines the effect she desires, focuses her mind on the symbols of her Path that will create that effect (the Imago), and through the medium of her Gnosis makes the world obey.
    This to me seems to indicate that the symbols a mage can sense and understand are part of their sensory input (Mage Sight) and that manipulation of these symbols is at its base only a mental act, and while you can use tools to assist in the process the only thing theoretically needed is using the Imago to shape the effect. So the mage can perform magic purely as a mental action if need be. When I think of spellcasting in the next part I am presuming the mage will be taking no physical action when casting, and only will be casting mentally (even if this is immensely silly in practice)

    Reading over Signs and Sorcery there is a great section starting on page 20 that details that all mages view the supernal in different ways.

    It is also an experience unique to every individual mage. Path influences it, but the subtle perceptions of the hidden Truth are as individual as a mage’s Nimbus. Two Acanthus seldom see Fate’s working in the same way, let alone an Acanthus and an Obrimos, and the libraries of the Mysterium are full to bursting with treatises on Supernal lexicography. This individuality means it’s impossible for mages to learn how to use the Sight from a book or a lecture; a master telling you to listen for strains of discordant music when analyzing a Compelling spell does no good if the Supernal reveals itself to you in the acrid, chemical smells of a laboratory. Like any Mystery, one can only fully comprehend Mage Sight by experiencing it.
    Signs and Sorcery details how each of the Arcana appear in Mage Sight depending on Path and details the associated symbols one might see to represent the Arcana. When a mage wants to manipulate these symbols is it purely a mental desire along with the Imago that causes the spell to occur or does the mage create their own interpretation of what manipulating the symbols looks like? Is it visually represented for the Mage each time a spell is cast within the supernal, and as such does Mage Sight always play a part in spellcasting? Do other mages see a connection between the caster and the effect occurring within the supernal? Like an extension of the nimbus? Or is it just a flare of the nimbus and something else changes in the environment around them?

    Let me know what you think!

    -Brassfist

  • #2
    Supernal symbols are Platonic forms. Spellcasting is the art of finding the right one and imposing it upon the target. This is done by the caster's Gnosis. The Nimbus is like the excess energy from these acts. Concentrated doses creates the effects of the immediate tilt. The passive energy leakage through physical and sympathetic space is the long term tilt, unconsciously altering reality to be more in tune with the caster.

    Normally, direct contact with the Supernal is lethal. You would lose your sense of self, your symbols, as you try to sort them from all others and that would make you dissolve. This is why an escape route from the Fallen via a Verge, Emanation or similar ends badly.

    A Watchtower creates a safe zone to connect with and interact with the Supernal, parsing the information in a way the caster's mind can process. Furthermore, it makes certain symbols easier to perceive than others. Because these infinite possibilities are distilled to a way that makes sense to the mage's mind, they take different forms for every mage but follow overarching themes.

    A nice parallel is how Ein Sof is an all encompassing, ineffable totality that we can only begin to grasp via the Sephiroth. Increasing one's Gnosis is climbing higher up the Tree.

    So mages see the effect, they can perceive the general idea via Active Sight, hallucinate more important information via Focused Sight and dissect those details with normal spellcasting. An Imago is normally only visible using Mage Sight when its released rather than during buildup.

    As for mental only, depends. Its possible to cast entirely in their minds, but many yantras, such as Sacraments, Cleansing, Mantras and Mudras have a tangible effect in how easily they allow the Imago to be perceived, this is because they are a physical representation of those symbols.
    Last edited by KaiserAfini; 10-29-2020, 04:52 PM.


    New experiences are the font of creativity, when seeking inspiration, break your routine.

    The Agathos Kai Sophos, an Acanthus Legacy of strategists (Mind/Time)
    The Szary Strażnik, an Obrimos Legacy of Scholars of the Glyphs of Fate (Fate/Prime)

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    • #3
      The symbols that magi witness with mage sight are presumed to be their imperfect understanding of an ultimate, higher form of symbols that are all mixed up in different ways to define all the phenomena of reality.

      The way I interpret it, the Imago is the desire / mental image of how the mage wants those symbols to reorganize and, thus, cause a change. Because the mage has Gnosis, this reordering actually happens, albeit temporarily. .(Which, I might add, is a Mystery unto itself: How does time override it, being a fallen phenomenon?)

      The Gnosis thing was overtly part of the mage's soul in 1e, but what they are formalizing as "the soul" narrowed down in 2e to no longer include it, but the overall model didn't really change much. Gnosis's still a part of the mind-soul complex of a mage, it's just a bit that deflates when the soul is missing, much like the mage's will and morality. (Mostly, that change was an excuse for mages to be able to cast without a soul for a little bit. 1e had them lose the ability to cast instantly. I can't recall if the grace period on that was ever official in 1e, but it certainly was not in the base book.)


      So, basically, magic is a mage squinting really hard to figure out which symbols (sets of properties and behaviors) are present and which should be to achieve the desired effect. Then,, when that's clear in mind, it's released to have its effect. Et viola. That said, when really concentrating on something or focusing, the body tends to get involved. Also, since so much is going on inside the gnosis sections of the mage, it can help to have some support from the mind, as well. Little mental shortcuts can assist in hanging on to a complex pattern and certain physical patterns, be they material or energetic, can contain symbolism that helps reference the pieces desired.

      Because of how it all works, the symbols are consistent, even as the perception is not. A mage casting a spell can perceive magic utterly differently than another and they both would witness the realigned symbolism in a manner consistent with their own mage sight. (or not at all)

      That's my take on it.


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