Hermetic Culture and the Hermetic Oath

          As a general rule, magi are a solitary lot. The study of magic requires long hours of intense, individual study and is not well accepted in society as a whole. Most wizards in the Dark Ages keep their powers secret, and those who practice openly are usually feared, shunned, and even persecuted. Because of this, Hermetic magi have begun the practice of founding covenants, small communities in which magi congregate for protection and to share resources. Most covenants are dominated by a single house, though the Order encourages multi-house covenants to promote cross-fertilization of knowledge. Covenants are generally located in isolated wilderness areas, both for privacy and to avoid the effects of the Dominion.

          The relationship between the Order and the Church is quite complex. In strict Christian ethics the practice of magic is anathema, and the influence of the Dominion naturally diminishes the force of magic. Nevertheless, Hermetic philosophy is partially grounded in Christian theology, albeit a heretical doctrine that was rejected by the Church centuries ago. Most Hermetic magi are at least nominally Christian and the Order of Hermes is almost completely co-extensive with Christian civilization. There are many magi who resent the power of the Dominion and try to limit it, but also many who actively aid and support the Church. Similarly, for every priest determined to condemn all sorcerers to hell there is an open-minded monk or church father willing to recognize the hand of God in unlikely places. Both priests and magi are still working out their relationship, often on a case-by-case basis.

          All Hermetic magi are expected to train at least one apprentice during their career (which, with the aid of longevity spells, may span centuries). Standard apprenticeships last for thirteen years, during which time the apprentice is little more than a slave to the master. Shorter apprenticeships, as short as a single day, are common when "adopting" outside wizards into the Hermetic Order, but these are only available for wizards of proven power. Most masters prefer to select new apprenticeships before puberty in order to mold their students into proper magi from an early age.

          In addition to the magi themselves, most covenants also support a number of companions and servants. Companions are often the family or friends of the magi. Both companions and servants are often outcasts from mundane society, pariahs who have found shelter within the reclusive Hermetic society. Others, however, are accepted in both the magical and the mundane world. Such individuals are valued for their ability to handle a covenant's external relations, as even the most isolated covenant must usually maintain good relations with a local lord, trade for food and other goods which they cannot produce for themselves, and deal with the occasional unwitting visitor. Servants who guard and protect the magi are typically referred to as grogs.

          Relations among magi are governed by the Hermetic Oath. (Note that the term "mage" throughout the Oath refers solely to other members of the Order. Wizards and sorcerers outside the Order are not considered fellow magi.) In summary, the Oath states the following rules:

  • No mage may attempt to deprive a fellow mage of his magical power nor magically spy upon him. No mage may slay another mage except in formally declared Wizards' War.
  • Magi agree to abide by the decisions of tribunals, not to endanger the Order in any way, and to defend the Order from its enemies. In recent decades this last injunction has been interpreted as a requirement to induct outside wizards into the Order or destroy them.
  • Magi are forbidden to interfere with the affairs of mundanes or to enter into any form of service or obligation to a king. This is a hotly debated rule, and its parameters are constantly being tested. Even in the most empty wilderness it can be difficult to exist entirely apart from mundane concerns, and this becomes almost impossible in high population areas like northern Italy or Constantinople. In addition many magi want to influence the mundane world, whether for personal gain, in support of familial, tribal, or religious ties, or to advance the overall growth and safety of the Order and Hermetic magic as a whole. Tribunals and quaesitores must constantly make difficult judgements about gray areas, often with little precedent.
  • Magi may not have dealings with devils in any form.
  • Magi will share the results of their researches with other magi. This rule, arguably the most important for the Order, is also the least popular. Magi will often use any excuse to keep their knowledge secret, claiming that their researches are still "in progress" or that they simply have no time to write it down for others. Nevertheless, new spells and discoveries do eventually get disseminated, and the Order is beginning to build an impressive collection of shared magical knowledge.
  • Magi will train apprentices who will swear this Oath. This rule forces every mage to teach at least one apprentice during his career (a fact many apprentices come to rue when then end up working under an unwilling master). It also means that masters must ensure that their apprentices are taught proper obedience to the Oath. If an apprentice refuses to abide by Hermetic law, then it is the master's responsibility to destroy his wayward pupil.

More Information on the Magical World of A.D. 875:
History of the Order
Hermetic Houses
Hermetic Tribunals
Hermetic Philosophy
Culture and the Oath
Magic Outside the Order
The Order in Caledonia

Return to the Index of Background Files

Caledonia: A Light in the North