Emeralds by Night
Order of Hermes
The Order of Hermes is one of the Nine Traditions. Their focus sphere is Forces.
Grandfather to the Traditions, mystics without peer, holders of Heaven's keys — the Order of Hermes claims many titles. Whether these claims are truth or hubris, the Order has donated more to the Traditions, tutored more Archmages, and created more codified magical theories than any other group within the Council. These formalized willworkers stand proudly upon their achievements as high wizards, masters of ritual and spell, sages of great renown, and learned builders of artifacts and Chantries. Yet their unity hides powerful political intrigue. Their heyday is gone, washed away in the myths of yesteryear. Their most powerful Chantries are shattered. Their newest Initiates abandon the ancient codes in favor of new ways. The Order has survived for centuries through its intensity and dedication, but the new millennium may be its death-knell — or its rebirth.
Hermetic historians write entire tomes and dissertations regarding the formation of the Order. Most agree that Hermetic roots sprang from ancient Egypt, where native magic and Hebrew Kabbalah melded in the powerfully mystical and mathematical precision. The exclusive wizard-priests of the era in Sumer, Babylon, and Egypt built the seeds of mysticism with writing and language. The magic of symbols and their meanings carried into the human consciousness a new way to look at the universe, a way to join the transform separate ideas. Order historians point to a pair of Archmages as the inspiration behind Thoth, Egyptian god of wisdom, later called "Hermes Trismegistus" or Thrice-Great Hermes by the Greeks, for whom the Order took its name.
From Egyptian roots, the idea of mystery cults spread across Greece and the Mediterranean. Writings of thinkers like Solomon and Pythagoras infused a combination of mysticism and precision into the magical workings of various groups. Hermes, as a symbol of communication, knowledge and travel, and good fortune, served as a popular patron for such circles. The Thothian and Hermetic ideals remained scattered as underground societies for several centuries, occasionally popping up in the consciousness of great philosophers such as Plato. The great turn came in 332 BC with Alexander's unification of much of Persia, Greece, and Egypt. From this empire, travel and communication allowed the juxtaposition of various sorts of Kabbalah, Gnosticism, and Persian religion, creating the first mesh recognized as a true part of the Hermetic Tradition.
Even through the decline of Hellenistic civilization, the fall of Rome and similar catastrophes of civilization, the Hermetic Order thrived. Powerful texts codified alchemy, numerology, theology, and sympathetic magic. The Cult of Mercury (Rome's version of Hermes) worked powerful magic in concert and spread hermetic ideals through the cream of intellectual society.
Eventually, the Order of Hermes came together under the direction of Trianoma and Bonisagus. These founders, a legendary politician and researcher, joined to travel Europe and bring practitioners o the Mercuric and Hermetic ideals together. Trianoma's diplomatic skill wooed many to the group, while Bonisagus' revolutionary parma magica (shield against magic) allowed the suspiciously independent workers of the age to meet in relative safety. These leaders later became the Primi, founders of the Order's great Houses, passing on their magical styles and traditions through their apprentices. From these lineages, the Order crystallized as a single political unit, with each house contributing and contesting in a magical society under Bonisagus' revolutionary codification of their Great Art.
Over the succeeding centuries, the Order experienced great triumphs and setbacks. The Dark Ages saw their height as advisors and mystics sheltered from society and subtly influencing it. Their Great Experiment fell, though, to internal squabbling, elitism and consistent dabbling in Infernalism. Still, the Order reconstructed, expanding and adding new magical groups constantly. Old Houses fell or were cast aside. The Druidic Diedne were wiped out on charges that the entire House has been corrupted by demons. Their accusers, the Tremere, later embraced vampirism. The Order of Reason, in couterpart to the mysticism of Hermes, struck down many Hermetic cabals and Chantries, but the Order responded by bringing its incredible resources and support to bear in the formation of the Tradition Council. The Order led the recognition of the Spheres as the inter-Tradition magical system of study, but it also found itself pushed away from its desired prominence within the fledgling Council. The Renaissance brought new ideas to the Order but ultimately signaled its collapse as an open force among humanity. The destruction of too many Order bastions forced the Hermetics to withdraw from everyday sight, eventually to be expunged from the pages of history by the Technocracy.
Through subtle influence, the Order works today to introduce minor mysticism and secrets of the Art into mass society. Although far from a complete success, this project still produces a surprising amount of leeway, especially as mass printings of Hermetic works become available. It may be too late for this project to do any good, though. With the fall of Doissetep, the destruction of Concordia, and the death or involuntary exile of most of the great Masters, the Order finds its traditional teachers and structures threatened. Novitiates who would barely be counted as Disciples must now train Apprentices with their rudimentary, partial knowledge. Old, carefully hoarded secrets are gone forever in many cases, while mystical items and powerful patrons are destroyed or locked away beyond the hostile Gauntlet. The survivors on Earth can only hope to remember their teachings and learn all that they can. The Order will survive, but it may not be the same Order that it once was.
The Order of Hermes is, without a doubt, the most rigidly hierarchical of the Traditions. Initiates and Apprentices must serve under a mentor, who teaches the basics of magical theory and practice. After a grueling apprenticeship (traditionally, up to seven years, but often cut short in the heyday of this modern world), the supplicant challenges for recognition as a full magus— a challenge that can end wit a return to apprenticeship, or even with death. Once accepted, each mage has his own sigil, a symbol of the individual's achievements. Although all mages theoretically have the authority to vote in Hermetic meetings, politics run at the pace set by the Masters and the ambitious. More than once, political leverage has shoved aside the potential for moral or material growth. Each step up the ladder of the Order reveals greater mysteries but also makes the student more beholden to the Tradition as a whole. Those who achieve Mastery are lauded for their high place and given the respect due their powers, but they can also expect to garner political opponents. Each Master is, in turn, expected to recruit and train a new apprentice or set of students. The cycle continues, with members indoctrinated into the Order's secrets but becoming steadily more embroiled in its internal struggles.
The Order of Hermes has a detailed code of conduct that lays out the basis of internal magical dealings. Among other things, Hermetic mages consider sanctums to be inviolate, they're forbidden from magical scrying upon other Hermetics, they're expected to train at least one apprentice, and they're forbidden from dealing with Infernal entities. Of course, these rules all bow to one simple axiom: Don't get caught. Corruption of many sorts is rife within the Order. Breaking the rules isn't as punishable as breaking the rules in a politically unacceptable way.
Matters may change soon in the Order, though. With the death of experienced teachers and Masters on Earth, new mages must learn from the often-fragmentary knowledge of the remaining Disciples. Cut off from traditional support, political factions in the Order find no choice but to put aside their differences or go out in a blaze of glory. The Order finds that it has no choice but to pull together, and its many members are creating for themselves a new vision of the Tradition.
The Order categorizes its many different magical styles by Houses, groups that follow in the footsteps of a particular founder. There have been many Houses in the past, and although quite a few have fallen, there will be more to replace them.
The mages of House Bonisagus keep alive the base erudition and scholarship of the Order's founder. These mages delve deep into magical theory. Many of the great discoveries of the Order come from the tomes of Bonisagus mages. With their exhaustive research into magical sources and causes, such mages often study the Prime Sphere heavily.
House Ex Miscellanea — literally, "House out of hash" — grew from the increasing need to welcome mages whose students didn't mesh with any other hermetic House, but who desired to learn and share the Hermetic style. The House formed in the Dark Ages, and it continues to be strong. Today, it takes in necromancers, spiritualists, students of the fae, naturalists, physical mystics, artisans, craftsmen, and others who find that their talents might lie in the direction of a different Tradition but who desire the Hermetic structure and insight. Old Houses, lost to the ages, are also included in this formation.
The Order's tactical weapons are found in House Flambeau. Students of Forces nonpareil, the Flambeau come from a blend of Moorish and Spanish influence. They wield cleansing fire in their crusade for vengeance against the enemies of the Order.
The magic of chance and probability tie easily into the metamathematics of the Order through House Fortunae. This rather modern House concerns itself with high numerology, randomness, and the spoils of chance's games — money. Unlike Technocrats, though, they recognize money as a magical concept and draw out an intuitive understanding of chance events that leads to manipulation of happenstance. Naturally, these mages tend to eschew the Order's focus on Forces in favor of their own line of Entropy.
Powerful internal policing falls at the feat of House Janissary. Although the Janissaries don't make the rules of the Order, they do enforce them. These mages watch constantly for signs of internal corruption, for mages who've made the wrong sorts of deals or broken with the ideals of the Order. Then, the Janissaries take care of the problem. But who watches the watchers?
House Quaesitor, one of the original Houses, oversees Hermetic law. While the Janissaries function much as roving enforcers, the Quaesitori hold Tribunals to decide cases of law and punishment, to make new precedents or cast aside old ones and to determine the fates of mages charged with criminal actions. The Quaesitori rarely enforce these dictates directly, but they serve to interpret divine, Hermetic, personal and human laws. Rather terrifyingly, the Quaesitori have the dubious distinction of being the wizards who first discovered the Gilgul rite.
On the outskirts of the Order's practices is House Shaea, a group that embraces the early Egyptian trappings of the Order and promotes base linguistics as a key to understanding thought, perception, and thus the universe. From these elements the Sheshati indulge in education, learning, and eventually wisdom. Although other Hermetics sometimes scoff at them as simple scribes, the predominantly feminine group maintains the records with diligence and doubtless holds many secrets that the other Houses would dearly love to know — or see destroyed.
House Solificati marks the newest group on the Hermetic scene. several members of the Solificati joined the Order after their Tradition's dissolution in the Middle Ages. Now, the remaining Children of Knowledge, combined with the students from Ex Miscellanea, have reunited their former Tradition's strength and achieved recognition as a full House. The Solificati are alchemists who practice material transformation as a metaphor for the evolution of human to divine. They also experiment with chemical enlightenment, searching for a metaphysical substance to open the doors to higher perceptions. Unsurprisingly, the Solificati have a great wealth of knowledge in Matter, and they study that Sphere more than others.
Perhaps the oddest of the Hermetics is House Thig, also known as the Ruby Children of Crucible of Thig. These modern techno-magicians blend technological devices with the symbolism of the Order. Instead of simply building a better computer, a Thig adept will make a magical one. Where a technocrat might rely on technological innocation, the Thig mage binds spirits and mystical powers into scientific forms. Although somewhat outcast among the other Houses, the young up-ad-comers of Thig show great promise in combining old Hermetic ways with new world thought. Perhaps because they didn't rely so heavily on Masters and old mentors, the Thig have prospered while other Houses have been hit hard in the wake of the Reckoning.
Lastly, House Tytalus emphasizes growth through conflict. All motion in the universe comes from the interaction of opposite, polarized forces. House Tytalus takes this imperative to every level of existence, and its members constantly seek questions, challenges, and trials worthy of their skills. No Tytalus mage is ever content to sit upon his laurels, or to have "enough" — there's always a higher mystery, one that demands a greater level of perfection and erudition. The Tytali certainly strive to improve the Order, but their methods are often dangerous. Some wonder if their presence doesn't bring more strife than its worth.
Hermetic philosophy is complex and many-layered. At the heart, the Hermetics profess the drive to perfection. This drive manifests through trials, tests, self-discovery, and the rejoining of fragmented patterns like disparate languages or mathematical conundrums. Ideally, each individual has a Word, a divine imperative that drives the figure's revelations. By exploring the boundaries of that Word and all of its meanings, the individual rises to his inner nature, then beyond. Each step in the process is a challenge that requires a leap of perception but also opens the way to the next path. Eventually, the human passes far enough to become something cosmically divine.
Although the Order has a great unity and body of knowledge, its political fractiousness and its pride both serve as wedges against enlightenment. Hermetic history is full of decisions made for reasons o ego, for political gain or for the Hermetic belief that their studies elevate them beyond the concerns of other Traditions. Each Hermetic mage passes through the fires of inquiry to achieve knowledge, and this hard-fought wisdom is guarded jealously and treated as a gem of truth. When these ideologies conflict, there's no room to give.
In the past, the Order fought bitterly for greater recognition in the Tradition Council, citing its many contributions and its own mystical prowess. Internally, Houses fought one another for resources, students, even over points of magical theory. Despite the invention of certámen to settle grudges nonfatally, wizards contested and killed one another when their energies could be spent in pursuit of Ascension or in battle against Tradition enemies. The Order has also covered up atrocities and problems solely to hold them as secret leverage in political machinations, and tried to force other Traditions to conform to its own viewpoints. None of these actions endear the Order to other mages.
Internally, the Order often limits its own members due to their political acumen. If a Master wants a particular course of action taken or denied, a Talisman to change hands, or a chantry raised or lowered, the fortunes of other mages can depend on whether they side with him or not. A well-meaning Disciple can find himself censured with little more than a few helpful ideas, and training can be very difficult to garner without promises of later payment in sa (essentially, favors). Many Hermetics become so consumed with their own political agendas and personal quests that they lose sight of the progress to Ascension and self-perfection, instead fighting a political war that grinds them down and spits them out. With the destruction of much of the upper echelon of Hermetic structure, this trend may change — or the new blood may simply turn into another guard.
Theories And Practices:
The Order trains its members stylistically according to House, but modern training tends to be somewhat eclectic and based on survival issues. Hermetic theory states that every individual has the spark of divinity and the potential for self-perfection, but few realize it or are ready for it. Thus, it's important to weed out the shining stars from the chaff. Let the un-Awakened go on about their banal lives, and focus the true attention and learning on those who can use it.
Highly concerned with symbology, Hermetic magic calls upon angelic names to open the gates of Creation, often through the secret language of Enochian. With this language of the angels, the Hermetic can unleash sounds and vibrations that resonate with the key elements of the Tellurian, and enforce his will on it. Other Hermetic tools include swords, wands, and staves, the traditional instruments to represent violence and power, as well as circles, triangles, and other geometric symbols, which can represent direction, measurement, or confinement with their simple purity and mathematical precision. Some spirit magic also relies on ancient pacts made in early days. Just as Hermetic mages are fond of trading favors among one another, they often make deals with spirits for tutelage or aid, calling on those spirits later with special symbols or objects. A few symbols like the Seal of Solomon are even considered invested with perpetual power or divine discoveries of universal keys, so they can be used to perform incantations time and again.
Hermetic mages gather and study in Chantries, like other mages, but they're noteworthy in that they're the ones who pioneered the idea among the Traditions. most Hermetics have a double life: a Hermetic Word and craft name, and a mundane identity. After all, despite the need to master multiple languages, esoteric mathematics, and tomes of symbology, Hermetic mages must also be adept at surviving mortal society, especially with the spirit world dangerous to enter. For this reason, Hermetic mages keep their affiliation a secretive sort of allegiance much like the more mainstream societies of Masons and Rosicrucians.