As I was watching older seasons of the Great British Bake Off, I learned of a custom I hope magi emulate: the sending of funereal biscuits. We know little of the funerals of magi. Tremere practice cremation, then pour your ashes into a hole that leads to Twilight. Criamon magi sometimes kill themselves, or fade from reality without leaving a corpse. Jerbiton magi often have Christian burial. Flambeau magi have vast pyres, lit communally by their Housemates. The Mercer look after their family, but exactly how we are not sure. The archmagi have, in older editions, a surprising custom of putting all of their corpses together, in what I imagine is possibly the highest concentration of potential trouble outside of Pandemonium. What happens when a conventional magus dies? We don’t know. We assume their covenants have individual customs. If you’re a busy SG and you don’t want to invent such customs, steal this one.
The lower middle class of Britain, in the Victorian period, spent a heap on funerals, and one of the big expenses was hand delivering the invitations. The person who did this was called a “bidder”. I like to imagine there’s a redcap who just does that job, but it’s likely too big for one person. I imagine they have a mourning uniform. I imagine they do not just yell their name to the door guards at each covenant, but have some ceremonial way of declaring their arrival. I’d like to suggest a call from a roman tuba (or cornu, despite how troublesome its size would make it to carry). Perhaps instead the tolling of a low bell?
As a story idea, what happens when faeries or demons impersonate a bidder to wangle an invitation into the Aegis?
I’d suggest that the bidders carry an oscilla, a sort of death mask or portrait sculpture. The Order repeats names a great deal and there mus have been some sort of embarrassing incident when people could not quite place which Justina of Guernicus had died.
Funeral masks have all kinds of odd histories in Europe, and there’s one I’ve been trying to work up for some time. In some Roman funerals of high status, an actor wearing a mask would impersonate the deceased, riding as them in procession with the body, and even attending the feast after the funeral. This person was called the archimimus (which just means “head actor”). I’ve been interested in masks as magical items for a while now, and I think that via the archimimi and the death masks, we can link Classical theatre mask magi to Tytalusian personae magic, remembering the teacher of Tytalus was the archnecromantrix Gurona, the Fetid. I haven’t used a lot of Cthonic magic in my games, but there’s something there, about allowing the body to be possessed by outside forces while the mask is worn.
In the Victorian period, the bidder would not just pass an invitation, but a package of two shortbread biscuits, into which had been stamped a suitable design. Given the ease with which magi can manufacture things, and their relative wealth, this might be the sigil of the magus. The biscuits were wrapped in paper printed with suitable moral lessons, and sealed with black wax. In the Order’s case paper is known, but cloth might be easier in some circumstances. The paper may merely give the eulogy of the magus (so, it records an epitaph). There are, however, other possibilities.
A magus who is really well off could prepare for the funeral and arrange for something valuable to wrap around each set of biscuits. A Tytalus might put clues to a challenge, or a map to a treasure. A Bonisagus might include a piece of Original Research she had yet to integrate. A famous magician might hand out individual pages of a new Branch of the Arts, so that people need to gather them together. A Jerbiton might have beautiful poems, or works of art. A Verditus might make each a single-use magic item, which provides some interesting effect. The Verditus might similarly invest the biscuits themselves.
Even something as simple as a will might create stories. Characters may seek political support to have it overturned, or need to negotiate with heirs for resources promised them by the dead magus. A will that gives unexpectedly large amounts of any resource may flood the market, or provide opportunities.
Beyond the invitation biscuits, there’s the travel to the funeral and the magi met there. This could be where a covenant is formed: a gathering of heirs, considering what to do with their benefactor’s resources, may choose to give them to the next generation, to seed a spring covenant.
In the strangest of the blog’s links we’ll return to biscuits next month, complete with a recipe. Before then, we have a plague of vis eating mites, Lyonesse, and the Dread Pirate Shard to get through.