Welcome, faithful readers!
Bit of a departure from the usual format for Second Edition blogs this week, as we’re firmly into “second drafts are arriving back” phase, and there isn’t really anything to show you that you haven’t already seen in first-draft form, not yet.
What we do have, though, is a third draft, for the Awakening section of World of Darkness: Dark Eras. If you haven’t read To The Strongest yet, the last version of it is available (along with the rest of the initial run of settings in that book) here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7FqViticwNuQ0ZZLTNDNTN5cG8/view
In Dark Eras‘ kickstarter, Mage was significantly boosted by Stretch Goals;
- The existing setting, in the empire of Alexander the Great, was extended by 10,000 words.
- A new setting set in Neolithic Europe was added, and then extended to have a 5000 word Werewolf crossover added.
- A crossover era with Mummy: The Curse was added, set in the African Muapta Empire in the 16th Century.
The Muapta Era has been held over for the Dark Eras Companion. Werewolf freelancer Chris Allen is finishing up his draft of the Neolithic era, which I’ll talk about at a later time. Malcolm Sheppard, my long-time partner in crime, has delivered the redrafted Alexandrian Mage, and it’s this that I’m going to share some excerpts from.
First off, the 10k extension is not all in one discreet lump; we took the opportunity to update the rules included to second edition, and we’ve done our best to make the new material seamless with the old. The Dark Era now contains an expanded section on Path and magical style, putting the magical practices of the time into second edition’s Yantras system and introducing several custom Paradox Conditions. It has more story hooks, including one that features (and gives the mechanics for) the Myrmidion Proximus Dynasty. It sees more wordcount spent on magi who aren’t part of the Darshanas, the proto-Orders of the period. It sees the Nagaraja Legacy fully statted, in the format an earlier blog showed you for the Eleventh Question.
The two sections I want to share here, though, are both ones that I dearly wanted to get in all along but had to sacrifice for word count; the Egyptian Mages, and the Hellenistic Otherworlds. As usual, these excerpts are from pre-editorial drafts.
Priests of the Fivefold Soul
The eldest in a family must shoulder the greatest responsibility. They possess the longest memories. They remember ancient dangers. If the Awakened are a great family, the Weret-Hekau are its elder brothers and sisters — perhaps even its parents and first tutors. They arose in Kemet, the Black Land Greeks call Egypt, and as foreign philosophers struggled with codifying sorcery in ancient days, the Hemka (“priests of the essence”) has already mapped the soul’s landscape, and learned the duties of sorcerer-priests.
The first Weret-Hekau texts date back to the dawn of the Old Kingdom, and describe an even earlier age. The Predynastic peoples prospered under the direct rule of the gods, who taught them agriculture, crafts and the power of Sekhem, the subtle energy of all existence. The gods possessed in inherent Akh, a unified spirit able to command Sekhem. Before the Pharaohs of history, god-rulers build the foundations of Kemet’s culture by reshaping Sekhem, but the project slipped out of their control, and disaster struck. The ancestors of the Weret-Hekau founded the tradition of erasing dangerous knowledge, so few signs of the earlier “Scorpion Dynasty” remain, but these early magi studied before they destroyed. They learned to unite the Ba and Ka aspects of the soul to produce the divine Akh, and became the new mediators between gods and humans.
Hemka have long belonged to an elite group within Kemet’s society, populating the ranks of high scribes, priests and aristocrats. They’ve fallen from grace many times, due to invasions of religious strife, but have always returned to power, lessons from each period of humility in hand. Thus, they understand Greek and Persian beliefs, and know the occult significance of the Atenist blasphemy, when Akhenaten attempted to bypass the gods and access the source of their might himself. They never doubted that the Persian yoke around Kemet would break for their kingdom is eternal, but they distrust Alexander, their supposed liberator. If he is a god manifest, they should support him. If not, they should either promote rebellion or somehow make Alexander a god of Kemet. This is not unprecedented. There have been many pharaohs before.
Mythos: Weret-Hekau magic places all phenomena under the dominion of the gods and the five parts of the human soul. (See the Paths for their correspondences on pp. XX). The gods are the eternal rulers of starry A’aru, beyond the sky. They never change except to wear new faces, or retire in favor of others. In the old days, Azar (Osiris) reigned supreme, but he made way for Re, the sun, who in turn united with Amun (Greek Ammon, identified with Zeus), the hidden overlord of the gods. Gods tap into the Akh of magical power. Mortals attain this privilege by uniting Ba (intention and desire) with hekau (the pneuma by the Greeks). Therefore, a sorcerer shares in the nature of a god, and acts as his representative in the world. To cast particular spells, a Hemka learns the arts of hu (utterances of divine speech) and seshau (formal rituals)
In the beginning, the divine Akh shaped chaos into Sekhem, the raw power of the manifest world. Sekhem is more than “life energy.” The course of destiny obeys its flow. The Scorpion lords carelessly shaped Sekhem, leaving cursed artifacts and places throughout Kemet. Weret-Hekau don’t command Sekhem with pure will, but look to A’aru, cultivate the Akh and manipulate Sekhem indirectly, like a farmer digging trenches to shape the flood for her benefit. Sekhem always carries a touch of its original chaos, so careless handling provokes Apep, the serpent. Apep, the demon Ammut and a host of other dark powers threaten unready souls, so Hemka must always be mindful of Ma’at, and abstain from selfish and impulsive acts.
Factions: Weret-Hekau honor all the gods, but organize themselves based on the god they honor most ardently. They usually choose favored gods based on Path, and meet wherever that deity has a cult. Like mortal politicians, gods rise and fall out from attention. So too do their corresponding Paths. In Alexander’s time the Obrimos or Ka Path enjoys prestige as priests of Amun. Path and cult-based division is so logical and in keeping with the facts of magic that Weret-Hekau have little patience for any other way, and believe that foreign magi probably serve Kemet’s gods according to their soul’s strengths, even if they give them strange names and rites.
Organization: Virtually all Weret-Hekau are aristocratic priests, but Persian dominion deprived many of the privileges of station. In Kemet, the most respected sorcerer in a region is called its Haty (what Greeks would call a “nomarch”). The Haty directs rituals and represents local Hemka. She organizes them into a functional court with scribes, warriors and lawgivers. In the old days many Weret-Hekau were in fact the acknowledged rulers of local Sleepers but the Persians forced them to abandon that role, and they can’t agree on whether to take it back.
Oblations: Praying before images of the gods, chanting hymns, writing sacred texts, meditating in any ancient structure from Kemet, or upon the Black Land’s old artifacts.
Legacies: The Stone Scribes, who study the Ren (name-souls) of beings and the new Thrice-Great, who combine Greek philosophy with Kemetic astrology. In addition, by studying ancient tombs, some Hemka have developed the powers that will one day be rediscovered by the Bokor. This is a matter of considerable controversy. The Weret-Hekau have always considered certain tombs fair game for plunder, but raising the prepared corpses of the dead may be a step too far.
Future Fate: Kemet proves to be less enduring than the Weret-Hekau believe. Traditional culture erodes under Greek rule. Yet Hellenization spreads Kemetic lore throughout the civilized world, and Weret-Hekau practices become the foundation for later magical traditions.
Those Who Cross Over
As stewards of one of the world’s oldest civilizations and skilled record keepers, the Weret-Hekau have accumulated a significant amount of information about supernatural beings who have interfered in their nation’s history. Unfortunately Hemka are not immune to internal rivalries, so to dig anything up, a sorcerer needs to trade favors for access to a library or talkative expert.
A disciplined seeker of the truth would discover that after the fall of the Scorpion quasi-dynasty their creations, Arisen as detailed in Mummy: The Curse, dragged themselves out of the sand during the reign of Unas, sparking a conflict that drove most of them from the region and hurled Kemet into chaos. Few Arisen have been seen since, but lesser (though dangerous) entities called Shuankhsen can still be found hidden among the populace. Weret-Hekau believe these beings are the result of incautious experiments with Sekhem. In contemporary terms, Sekhem is not “Supernal,” but the stuff of existence as it actually manifests. Awakened magic interacts with it like a smith holding tongs, while the Predynastic ancients preferred to grab this molten stuff with the spiritual equivalent of their bare hands. Weret-Hekau do not necessarily believe the works of Irem (a name few of them know) to be evil, but dangerous. Hemka have attempted to learn the old arts before, but progressing beyond elementary knowledge . . . damages them.
The mystics and philosophers in many nations believe numerous worlds. In an age where the abstractions we take for granted are novelties, the difference between place and state of being is difficult to pin down. Dreams are invisible journeys. Death is a place. In civilized realms, they tend to say the universe works like a state. Wise gods reign on high, the dead and unclean inhabit dark precincts, and everybody else struggles in the middle, ignorant of forces above and below. And outside? Chaos. Lawlessness.
Above: Realms of Gods and Forms
Priests put their gods on celestial Olympus (for which the material mountain is a symbol) and in the Indian Swar (“sky”) or Arupa (“formless”) worlds. Weret-Hekau see gods in the stars or the fields of A’aru. Plato and Indian scholars promote new perspectives on the world-system. Plato establishes a hierarchy based on truth. The highest world belongs to universally true Forms (Greek: eidoi). There are many imperfect cubes of stone, wood, and bone, but the geometric Form of a cube is essential to them all. The universe radiates from an ensemble of such things. The Buddha and other Indian thinkers believe that the worlds are states of consciousness — even gods are rarefied ways of thinking. To Persians the high realm is simply Arta: “truth.” The personified divine sparks called Amesha Spentas dwell there. Through them, the energies of creation emanate down to the world. Magic calls the high powers to Earth. After centuries of study and cultural exchange, mages unite these disparate ideas into the theory of Supernal Realms.
Sometimes gods visit, or extend their kingdoms to the ordinary world through what will be called Verges and Emanations. For now, sorcerers think of their histories first. The titans’ empty palace stands on Mount Othrys, and the secrets of the Vedas might be found in reflections on the Sarasvati River.
In Dreams and Visions
As said: Dreams are journeys. The people of Alexander’s time believe thoughts must be made of something, even if it’s imperceptibly fine. Thoughts have bodies, and need to dwell somewhere beyond ordinary maps. That something? Greek Aether. Indian Akasa. Egyptian sorcerers send forth the Ba. The Karpani believe thought belongs to the immaterial menog realm. In each case, thought soars, and many believe dreams take place above the winds, among the stars. Yet many believe sleep is related to death. Greek priests say the river Lethe sings mortals to sleep with its currents, and washes memories from the dead before the gods send them onward. To believers, dreams dwell in the liminal realm between life and death. Yet sky metaphors occur often enough for sorcerers to speak of “Astral” realms as a cross-cultural compromise. In any case, these are places, not mere mental states—or rather, mental states are places made of Aether.
Sorcerers in Alexander’s time map the thought lands cautiously. The most accessible realms belong to personal dreams. Greeks describe it as a many-chambered cave ruled by Hypnos, god of sleep. Dream-gods called oneiroi create everything a dreamer sees, and usher her through the Gate of Horn, where dreams are only illusions and personal fancies; or the Gate of Ivory, to higher realms. Sorcerers possess the ability to pass through the Ivory Gate at will. Other traditions make similar distinctions between dreams about petty passions and those that speak to gods or higher truths. Mantrikis believe the whole world is Maya, a dreamlike illusion, so personal fancies are dreams within dreams. Egyptian Hemka believe dreams exist alongside material reality, but cannot be seen while the Ba concentrates on its waking body. Karpani believe ordinary dreams are chained to the world by druj, or deception, but it is possible to pass through nobler thoughts be drifting up, toward asha.
Magi and lucky Sleepers pass through the Ivory Gate to temenoi, the Greek word for both sacred places on the material plane and subtle realms where gods speak to those who seek them out. Sorcerers don’t always distinguish between physical and psychic places. Arcadian adepts believe that it’s easier to contact certain beings when one meditates in their holy sites. Egyptians agree with them, and praying before the correct images or visit particular temples. Mantrikis believe that some holy places and images make it easier to visit corresponding divinities, but not to the extent of the aforementioned groups. Karpani believe that the battle between truth and deception is universal, so meditating at any place of power will do as long as the disciplined soul rises above distractions. In any event, sorcerers in this time don’t see one Temenos of universal thought, but multiple divine courts. Gods and dream creatures usually wear the forms visitors expect. As magi from different cults travel together more often, they suspect that there’s only one realm with many manifestations. In any event, none of them believe that temenoi tell the whole truth about divine nature. They’re where gods manifest in ways humans can understand.
At the upper limit of the temenoi stands the place Greek sorcerers call the Omphalos. This great stone contains passages and challenges that must be confronted to progress further. Inscribed upon it are words of “High Speech,” unadorned with cultural embellishments. Magi often go no further than the Omphalos because they wish to study the script or quest for the head of Orpheus, which is rumored to be entombed within.
Sorcerers who pass through the Omphalos may climb higher, to realms of penultimate truth. Egyptians name them after the undisguised, divine substrates of existence: the gods Keb and Nut, Earth and Sky. Other sorcerers speak of personal experiences climbing the lower slopes of Olympus or Meru. It is said, however, that these are places where beasts, trees, the world and the stars dream. They do not cater to visitors’ preconceptions. Dream-beasts and elementals appear as giant versions of their physical counterparts, or assume abstract forms beyond human imagination.
Beyond it all, a sorcerer might stand on the shores of what Egyptians call Mehen and the Greeks Oroboros: the snake that coils around the universe, shielding it from Chaos. Magi usually see what they describe as an “ocean” for lack of a better term. Five strange, huge palaces lie across the shores: one for each Path. They’re ruled by what Arcadian sorcerers call Suzugoi, “yoked ones” who guard Forms and gods from worldly interference. They represent great power and knowledge that has been twisted by Chaos to test a sorcerer’s resolve. The Suzugoi and their palaces are said to “belong” to a Path, but not in the sense of being members’ refuges, but places to challenge themselves, and struggle against the guardians of supreme truth.
The Suzugoi and their homes possess countless manifestations. Sometimes they attune themselves to a visitor’s culture, but that is entirely their choice. In Alexander’s age sorcerers have reported the following:
- Dahhak, a sorcerer king whose sins opened him possession by the demonic son of Angra Mainyu. As a two-headed dragon (azi in Persian) represents Mind and Space, it lairs in a Babylonian ziggurat: palace of the Mastigos.
- Mastema of Forces, the Hebrew angel of destruction, and Lilith of Prime, mother of the unclean. They dwell in the petrified branches of the Tree of Knowledge, whose fruit is now poisonous stones. This is the palace of the Obrimos.
- In an Egyptian palace of red stone, Sopdet (Sothis), manifestation of Aset (Isis) and queen of Time, stands by an empty throne. The crown of Upper Egypt sits upon it, darkened by the shadow of some snouted predatory beast. Sopdet explains that her co-regent, Set of Fate, is not bound to the end of worlds like the others. She represents both of them in the palace of the Acanthos.
- Typhon of Death and Echidna of Matter, who were bound here by Zeus for trying to overthrow him. Their palace of the Moros is the fragment of Mount Etna that pins their bodies. They’re so enormous they can move about as they will.
- A jungle by the sea acts as the Thyrsos “palace.” It’s filled with the monsters and god-animals that command Life and Spirit.
Near the palaces of the Suzugoi a sorcerer might also find a ramshackle hut of blackened wood and unidentifiable hides. This is where the Old One lives. Aged and ash-covered to the point of destroying all signs of gender or origin, he or she answers to Pandora, Atum, Marduk, and other ancient names: the first person, or at least the first sorcerer. Something’s wrong with the Old One now. He or she seems to stand for Chaos. Madness seizes anyone who dwells in that hut’s shadow for too long.
Variations on the Middle
Sorcerers in Alexander’s time don’t readily invent magical realms to build a consistent cosmology. In the age before heliocentric thinking, the universe is a smaller place. Death, enlightenment and the gods merit additions to the cosmology, but the Shadow is an ambiguous case. It reflects the phenomenal world and while it’s certainly possible to go there and vanish from view, this may just be a matter of perception. Most sorcerers already accept that people can perceive and live in many states within the same reality. The Shadow is one such state. The fact that it’s possible to vanish into the Shadow classifies it as a place in the world, but not an entirely separate realm. Sorcerers usually don’t call the Shadow by any formal name, but speak of places they went and beings they talked to: “the grove of the spirit of the cataract,” for instance.
Below: Lands of Death and Deception
The dead should pass beyond, whole and powerful, into kingdoms beyond rot and mortal knowledge. This is what sorcerers believe, even if their home cultures don’t always agree with them. It’s one of the mysteries all cults share, though the Moros know it best. But it doesn’t always turn out that way. Souls get frayed by life. Parts slough off and get bound to lower worlds. Among the ancient traditions, the Weret-Hekau may understand the parts of the soul the best. They say that when people die without the proper rites, their unresolved passions create a malformed Akh which does not Awaken to the truth beyond life, but sends its Sheut, or shadow nature, to haunt the living. Greeks believe passions from the psyche might carry the personality away as a shade, doomed to inhabit Hades. Mantrikis contend with bhutas, fragmentary sub-incarnations that can help or plague the living. Persian Karpani hold to no consensus on the matter. Apparitions of the dead might be nasa, or unclean demons expelled by the body, or gidim from Babylonian lore. Some sorcerers think ghosts copy the original’s personality, but others believe they steal them. In that case, the dead can’t make the final journey until the ghost descend to the Underworld or vanishes, allowing the personality to rejoin the true soul.
Shades might wander the world for a time, but unless banished, eventually feel the Underworld’s call. They wander caves and vast tombs invisible to mortal eyes until they reach the rivers the Greeks know: Styx, Lethe and the rest. Other cults give them different names, and to the Egyptians they’re all branches of the Nile. Then the shade passes down and down . . . to the place she expects to go, more or less. Hades. Duat. Whatever. Shades usually go to a realm governed by her gods or those that ruled the places where they died. Sometimes they visit strange dominions unknown to mythology. The Underworld changes in subsequent centuries and the old maps and legends lose their accuracy, but for now many religions tell the dead what to expect. It’s the small differences you need to look out for, especially if you’re an intruding sorcerer
Sorcerers believe that far below, where everything rots beyond rot and the Forms cast not a single spark of truth, entities lack some part of what is required to truly exist. They don’t cast shadows. They cannot conceive of righteousness. They live in many fragmentary realms, each defined by the things they lacks. Even in this age, magi call them the Lower Depths. Karpani inherited some of their names from the Akkadians and Sumerians before them. Not all of them are evil, but none of them are good.
One day mages will call it the Abyss, a derivation of Abzu, the primordial waters. Egyptians know it as Nu, and Indian sorcerers identify it with Purusha, the primal man who was sacrificed to make the universe. Chaos existed before the Archai, before gods and titans and ordered Forms. Greeks name it Chaos, but Arcadians say that after the gods overthrew the titans, they cast the mightiest of them into its heart, the anti-world of Tartarus. When sorcery goes awry, Chaos takes hold and Tartarus sends its monsters. Fools and sorcerers of surpassing confidence summon malformed lesser titans to serve them for a time, or deal with immaterial kakodaimons. Sorcerers won’t call them gulmoth and acamoth for centuries to come.