In Second edition, there was a magus mentioned called Pendule. He refused to join the Order, but met with some members in secret, teaching them his techniques. The key sentence is that his magic was more sensual than Hermetic magic. He expected the magic to change the magus, not be dominated by the magus, as it was in the Hermetic system. He had about twenty decedents in 1187.
In the first edition of “The Mysteries”, the authors expanded this out. They made him a sort of Orphic survival that used bacchanals to invest initiates. They used him as a way to explore the Orphic mysteries, Pythagoreanism and Apollonius of Tyana. Their Pendule cult re-enact stories of their ancestor outwitting Flambeau using small spells of sound and colour. These are clever ideas, and important to introduce to players who have not paddled into the depths of European occult history. The thing is, though, I was struck by a far simpler idea. What if Pendule is actually the mainstream, and Bonisagus the seculariser and innovator? What if Pendule was a follower of Plotinus?
To explain: Plotinus was a Hellenistic philosopher in Egypt whose thoughts defined the mainstream of Platonic thought in Medieval Europe. The term “neoplatonism”, which we apply to these thoughts, was a Victorian invention, I believe, but in Ars Magica we have tended to hand neoplatonism off to Aristotle. In part this is because most of Plotinus’s works are lost, and we have Aristotle’s. As gamers, we need the idea of pure Forms and material Accidents for class protection.
Much as in the most popular roleplaying game, only clerics heal and wizards do not wear heavy armor, so, in Ars Magica, we have to carefully stop any Form or Technique growing too large for its story role. The obvious culprits are from the Third edition: Imagenonem which could effectively simulate most other Forms, and Muto which basically made Creo and Perdo pointless through over-reach. You might argue Rego is over-keyed in the current edition as a sort of visceral response to not making even more things Muto. That aside, my point is that our magi do have story roles, and we’ve chosen a metaphysics that suits these roles. We have slapped that metaphysics down on Aristotle, but I think that’s not entirely fair to Plotinus.
I say he was a Greek from Alexandria, but that hides his role in a theoretical Cult of Mercury. After an adventurous life where he travelled to Persia and India, he moved to Rome and started a school there. He had male and female students, and was a friend of the Emperor. He treid to get imperial funding for what we’d regocnise as a covenant – a “City of Philosophers” to be run on the Platonic model, but that fell through. He moved to Sicily for a while, then back to Campagna to end his days on a holding left him by one of his students. So, he was in Rome, hob-nobbing with Emperors, and starting a school of magic that used Platonic thought.
Plotinus strikes me as a predecessor for Pendule, because his though isn’t as strongly anti-materialist as the strict division we have between forms and accidents. I don’t want to overplay his, but basically he thought that the point of life was to raise the divine within onself so that one could rejoin the One, which in later Christian though was read as God. He thought that the material world was the best guide we had to the intelligible, but supermaterial, world. Now, some of this sounds like Criamon magic, and he was in Sicily for a while, so we can see a link there if we like, but in one of his surviving writings, Against the Gnostics, he was critical of a group (who were not Gnostics in our later sense) for making philosophy jargon-filled and obscure. He’d have hated the Criamon idea that our language can’t handle deeper truths and so they need to be communicated in other ways.
Plotinus thought the experiences of things, sound and light and colour, were a way for those things to communicate their essential nature to us. By understanding that essential nature, and allowing it to draw us into an elevated moral state, we gained enlightenment and power over the underlying mechanisms of the world (which he thought of as daemons). To me, that sounds a lot like Pendule’s “magic is sensual and changes you”. It’s also whispering in the background when you hear the Church says “Great art is a teaching tool” and using stained glass and gold a lot to draw the illiterate closer to the Divine. The medieval Church has a lot of time for Plotinus’s ideas, because he spent an awful lot of time thinking about how a spiritual being could be also a material being. He was thinking about all of us, but the Church liked the cut of his jib when discussing the Incarnation. Also, he held other ideas they liked – for example that stars aren’t causal.
So, I see why the authors of Mysteries used Pendule as a way to introduce readers to the three interesting cults they chose. I accept my idea isn’t nearly so strong as theirs, in terms of immediately useful plot hooks. At the same time I think its one of those interesting fragments leaders might use in their own sagas to make good the problems I’ve already discussed about the weak history we have for the Cult of Mercury. What if Pendule wasn’t an odd little cult leader, but an embodiment of the backsliding tendencies of the Order, as it secularised under Bonjisagus and his philosophy of observation and experiment? What if Pendule was just the face given to the things which he could not wash away, as he lurched the history of magic from the neoplatonic to the Aristotelian track?