I’ve been listening to The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, and he made an interesting point about mystagogic initiations, that struck me as at the crux of many of our problems in terms of mystery cult play. The man who is self made is idolized by the American and Australia modern societies, but in Mythic Europe, he’s almost certainly a monster.
Let’s work this through: we think of the term “mystery” as a magical one, but what it means is “secret”. It is common in the indentures of medieval apprentices for it to state they will be taught the mysteries of their masters; professions. We, in Ars, have sometimes used this as an excuse to slip in some domestic spellcrafting, but it means, in the real world, the tricks that make the trade possible. For a blacksmith, the colours of heated metal, and the way of striking the metal, are mysteries. Every profession has mysteries.
Every child becoming an adult learns these mysteries, and is tested in them by mystagogic superiors, before being allowed to display the products of the mysteries, or teach the mysteries themselves. The tests can be as difficult as producing a masterpiece, or as simple as sticking the trousers of the beer inspector to a stool, but they exist. Practical knowledge comes through a framework of teaching.
The self-made man, who springs from nothing to mastery, is outside the framework. He is an impossible thing, and a dangerous thing. Later, under Protestantism, his wealth can be seen as a hint he is one of the Elect. Alternatively, in Australia, the assumption is that the wealthy are members of the aristocracy, and the self made man is throwing up two fingers to them. In the Renaissance, many self-taught virtuosos gathered about them legends which suggested they had gained the mysteries through dark, seldom-trodden paths: through sacrifices to devils, or by tricking faeries. Such people could not be trusted with the mysteries, because mysteries hide themselves. Mysteries are dangerous: and that sounds mystical, but it isn’t.
Here, I don’t just mean spiritually dangerous, although that was certainly one idea widely held. Those who had become masters without grinding effort had a tendency to Pride. The danger is real, and physical, because the mysteries are industrial processes. An unskilled miller may not spot the ergot in the rye flour. A foolish blacksmith can burn down a village. An incautious tanner can spread the flux. Who knows if these prideful prodigies have learned the necessary cautions of their trades?
Just because you are in the visual or performing arts doesn’t make you immune to industrial accidents. In Mythic Europe the arts have a role in the raising of the spirit toward salvation, most strongly noted after the Gothic period starts suggesting that the beauty of the world can be used to teach the illiterate. If music can lift the soul to within easy reach of Grace, if a beautiful painting can turn a man from carnality and sordid pleasures, can these techniques, the very keys to the minds of men, be given to people who have bargained for them with the creatures of shadow?
In hearing this, I immediately wondered if this, in part, is what is fuelling the Tremere tendency to recognise far more Redcaps than the House itself does. They presumably know that there is a cult of a new Hermes, which claims sacred blood and recent revelations from a Messianic figure. Its people practice odd, flexible mystagoguery, where initiates tailor their rituals to suit themselves. All of this sounds dangerous to the medieval mindset, where the self made man is not the hero, but the monster a hero must rise to fight. When the new Hermes is amoral, who will oppose him? The old Hermes, on which the new models himself, and who he claims to be, was a trickster god of merchants and thieves. Even if you do not oppose him, he’s no better than Loki or Anansi. He may plunge your world into Chaos simply for amusement. In Mythic Europe, how does a false prophet fall?