With Houses of Hermes : Mystery Cults, I was trying to do a few things.
End the pick and mix craziness
Criamon magi, previous to this supplement, were able to just spout random weirdness and characters around them had to either pretend they understood it, pretend they respected it, or face the fact that the Universe gives obvious advantages to people who write poems about the colour of the dirt under their fingernails, who nail rabbits to walls in bizarre patterns, or who think beer is really spiritually important and look for patterns in leaves while very plastered.
It didn’t have any dignity or spine, in the old edition. It basically worked on the idea that the mad are close to Truth, and any form of madness was just dandy. Actually, mental illness doesn’t work like this, and even ecstatic madnesses have rules, formulae, and support structures when converted to a religion. It was also an incredible excuse for players who liked spotlight stealing to just throw random, attention grabbing stuff into every scene.
I wanted to highlight the links between Buddhism Greek culture. I had no idea that Greek philosophy had filtered along the Silk Road and had such a potent effect on religious thought in India and China. There are fortunate connections between Empedocles, who had previously been linked to Criamon magi, and Greco-Buddhist thought. After the first drafts had been done, one of my co-authors (was it Mark? If I have that wrong I’m really sorry, just say and I’ll apologise and update this.) mentioned to me that Empedocles is a Sufi hierophant. This gave me the idea for the Path of Walking Backwards. Well, I had the kernel of the idea, but this gave it shape and structure. This is what forced out the Path of the Circle – this better idea emerged during the process.
Mysteries Are Not New Age
One of the things I really object to in the new Mysteries rules is that you can come up with your own investitures which have personal meaning for you. I don’t think that’s how mysteries should operate. I think that mysteries are objectively true, and yet self-obscuring, secrets of the Universe, not markers of your personal growth. From this stems the idea that if you want to get the power to fly by doing the Leap of Sappho clad as a priest of Apollo, you shouldn’t actually be able to say “Well, that looks really dangerous. I’m going to swap that out for a hike to a sacred place of my choosing and the destruction of a powerful magical artifact.” Also, I like the idea that power has a moral component: I can’t find an ancient mystery cult which did not have a code of behaviour for its members, enforced either supernaturally or by mob justice. As an effect of this, when you are following the Paths in House Criamon, no, you don’t get to make investitures up on your own. It’s like Christianity: the most popular mystery cult in history. You actually don’t get to tell God that you don’t like the celibacy rule, and poverty is for losers, so you are instead going to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and write some books. Whatever spirit is backing your faerie cult or your magical society should, IMO, similarly have expectations which you need to fulfil.
The whole point of mystery religions is that once you undergo a mystery initiation, you are not the same person afterwards. The Christian thing about being born again is in no way unique to that particular mystery religion. You are not the same person after your initiation is complete, and if after your initiation your character is simply who they were before, with no new moral constraints, then I think that’s modelling mystery groups really badly. Mystery religions are about aligning yourself to a higher truth. They are fundamentally transformative.
Building A Messiah
The Axis Magica is based on the ideas of Mount Meru found in some areas of South East Asia. It’s a sort of world navel. It has since also been used to refer to the Great Tree ythat links the worlds, in Slavic magical initiations. That Criamon makes the use of Twilight possible is an idea I’m really happy with.
From the files
The biggest piece excised from this book was the Path of the Circle, which was eventually published in Sub Rosa. It needed to be pulled to allow space for the other choices, and to remove the element it leant to the work that the Criamons Are Right, when in the setting they are clearly wrong.
That being said, there was one Avenue and Station that didn’t make it to the final book. It didn’t really suit the theme of the Path it was on, so it needed to be replaced.
The Avenue of the Mirror and Swaddling
The Avenue of the Third Station of the Body is a ritual that can only be performed on the anniversary of the magus’s birth, in that place which was their mortal home. It creates a second body for the magus. Before creating a second body, the magus must reflect on which item, of all possible items, would best serve as a womb in which their second body can grow to adult size, then retrieve it. This vessel is prepared as a talisman. The magus must then find a source of mystical nourishment that will suit their second body, until its organs develop sufficiently to allow it to feed from the Inspirato. Finally, since the spell requires the magus to destroy one of his or her generative organs, the magus might choose to have Corpus vis on hand to repair the damage required by the ritual.
Script: Treated as a major virtue (21) Previous Ordeal (-6), Special time and place (+3), Destruction of talisman +3, Quest (vessel) +3, Mystogogue (+6). Nourishment provides an extra quest/sacrifice if this is the fourth station on the magus’s path).
A magus who completes the ritual of duplication has two bodies that share the same mind. These bodies, unfortunately, also share the attention of the one mind, so at any given time, the magus is only distantly aware of what is happening to one body. Lacking the magus’s attention, the body keeps doing whatever it was doing when last considered. It can perform any function that a person might while daydreaming about something else. This means that the magus cannot perform attention-grabbing tasks, like casting magic or studying, through both bodies at the same time.
The bodies are considered perfectly sympathetic by magic. If either body enters Twilight, both do. One body acts as an arcane connection for the other. If one body dies, the magus retains the other, but suffers psychological trauma.