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By James Palmer.
Note: this is the raw and unedited piece.
Wow, I still have my preliminary drafts for a never-finished Occult Underground book around - well, since the line's dead, here we go, complete with comments by Ken, John, Greg, and Chad.
The History of the Underground
In one sense, the Occult Underground has been around ever since humans first began to hide secrets from each other; secrets of power, secrets of sex, secrets of death, sometimes even secrets of wisdom. From the dark rituals of the bear caves to the backroom executions of the New Inquisition, the essential quality of the Underground has always been its hidden nature, its dependence upon the shadows.
At the same time, however, the Underground can be defined more sharply. The simple existence of the supernatural did not create the Underground; rather, it is a very specific subculture of the West; born in Rome and now chiefly found in the United States. Magicians, Avatars, secret groups seeking power; these exist everywhere, but outside of the West they have, historically, interacted with each other and the rest of society in very different ways to those of the Underground. The history of the Underground, therefore, is inevitably tied up with Western culture.
Just as certain places and times seem peculiarly conducive to art, philosophy, and music, so have some times been better for the Underground than others. The Underground depends on a supply of new adepts - avatars have always been a lesser element – and the cultural conditions under which more people become adepts are quite specific. Magick depends on a deep-seated belief in the power of the individual, a conviction that the will of one person can change the world around him, and so adepts flourish when the society around them allows for individualism, opportunity, and adventure. Times when the world itself seems to be changing, and politics, science, or exploration opens up new worlds, have also been critical periods for the Underground; when anything is possible, so is magick.
Total disintegration of society destroys the Underground, however; there’s not the infrastructure to support adepts, and people who feel powerless aren’t open to the possibility of magick. (A short period of desperation, however, especially when a more prosperous society is close by, drives people to extremes; the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the Irish potato famine both produced a large number of new adepts.) The Underground thrives with enough chaos to keep things interesting, and enough order to prevent it all from falling apart. Its great times have always been in cities; Rome, London, New York, Chicago - the Underground is fundamentally an urban creation. While adepts often come from the countryside, where isolation and insularity often makes the break from conventional reality easier to make, many gravitate to the cities like rats or chain stores once they realise where the action is.
One thing the Underground has never been, however, is innovative. Magick is not a creative force; it follows behind and imitates, and the Underground is such a small and hidden sub-culture that it has had a relatively small influence on the rest of society. Even movements like spiritualism, theosophy, and Wicca, which have had some influence on mainstream society, originated outside of, and were only peripherally involved with, the Underground. The power of magick often depends on the values, however twisted, of a particular school being in some degree important to society; a school which is ‘ahead of the times’ makes very little sense. Occultists also tend to be a conservative group.
Whereas normal people are often forced out of entrenched habits by the rest of society moving on, occultists exist within, to some extent, their own little world, and their worldviews are often so tied up with one viewpoint that when the world moves on, they’re left behind. There also seems to be a natural feeling among the kind of people who are interested in the occult - though not necessarily among adepts themselves - that old equals better. Familiarity, comfort, nostalgia, and mental commitment to an outdated way of doing things means that a goodly percentage of the Underground is always out of touch, and ripe for being overthrown by a new generation of hot young adepts - who will themselves be the calcified conservatives within twenty years time. As the pace of social and technological change speeds up, this process of outdating and overthrow has got ever faster; with the solitary exception of the Sleepers, all the major current organisations within the Underground, from the New Inquisition to Max Attax, were founded within the last ten years. I thought I’d written major here already … good catch.
The Mystery Cults
Serious scholars of magick are pretty rare; credible ones are rarer. Establishing anything about the history of magick is tough, because of its secret and paradoxical nature, and crackpot theories abound. The one thing that most theoreticians seem to agree on is that the first glimmerings of magick come with the mystery cults, organisations dedicated to the worship and emulation of a particular Archetype of the Invisible Clergy. How exactly they started is as contentious as the origins of religion as a whole, and everything from primitive humans chanting in bloody primal homage to War through to Babylonian hive-minds and the rarefied rites of Egyptian pharaohs has been imagined.
However they began, the mystery cults were always secretive, though known, organisations. Their attitude towards the Archetypes they followed was deeply religious, unlike the rather more pragmatic approach of many modern Avatars. The first clear indication of the existence of the cults is in ancient Greece, where initiation into various mysteries was a strong element of Hellenic culture. The mysteries of Demeter, goddess of fertility, were especially prominent, and occult historians express little surprise at this, stroking their moustaches and mentioning the Mother, most likely the first Archetype of the Clergy.
These mysteries weren’t simply about being an Avatar; the earliest schools of magick were formed under the aegis of the cults, much as Pornomancy today is based around the worship of the Naked Goddess. The Cult of the Naked Goddess is very similar to the mystery cults, the chief difference being, perhaps, that the Cult wishes to spread the faith, rather than keeping Her wisdom restricted to a chosen few – although they have found themselves smacked down fairly hard by the Sleepers and the New Inquisition. (For other mystery cults operating today, see page XX)
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Testimony: Deirdre Lauren Cook Witch and Pornomancer
In the beginning, all magic flowed from the Goddess. She was worshipped throughout the world, in all Her glorious aspects; fire, wood, water, stone, love, fertility, strength. Her rule was administrated by a benevolent hierarchy of priestesses, who dealt out justice, worked magic, and administrated (sic)? [Yeah, I was aiming for the rather earnest and clumsy style of bad Wiccan writing] her Order. Great stone circles and burial mounds were raised to her, and the land was at harmony.
But there were certain men who were not happy under her rule, and they conspired against the Goddess. They found new ways of working magic, perverted, power-hungry ways, and they rose up against her priesthood and destroyed the Natural Order. Women became dominated by men, and the land was twisted. Consequently, She retreated from our world, unhappy at the desecrations wrought by Her Children upon Her Body, the Earth.
But now She has sent us a new Avatar, the Naked Goddess, shown in all Her true glory. Only through the worship of the Goddess can we restore the land. Only through Her can true peace and harmony come again!
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The Glory That Was Rome
The powers of the mystery cults were partially responsible for the continuing prominence of ancient Greece, and Alexander the Great’s knowledge of the secrets of the Clergy aided him in becoming Godwalker of the Conqueror, his attempt at ascension stopped only at the last moment through a ‘chance’ illness. Eventually, though, Greece was conquered by the newly powerful civilisation of Rome. Some occult historians put this down to the Romans having a better perception of the Archetypes than the Greeks, but it seems more likely that individual mystic wisdom, and sometimes even power, was no match for Roman discipline and military skill. A couple of decades beforehand, the Carthaginian cults, dependent on a constant bloody stream of human sacrifice [this is probably true, even if the infant sacrifice stuff isn’t], had proved equally unable to withstand the better organisation and sheer persistence of the Romans during the horrendously bloody Punic wars.
The Romans, however, went on to eagerly absorb Greek culture, slavishly imitating Greek philosophy, art, and religion, and with these, inevitably, came the mystery cults As Rome expanded, new cults arrived from foreign cultures, particularly from Egypt and Persia. Perhaps the most important of these was the worship of Mithras, a god of war, which was hugely prominent in the army, the foundation stone of Roman civilisation. His mysteries combined several archetypes - War, the Masterless Man, and the Martyr - and many a Roman commander had cause to be grateful for their aid.
The cult of Isis was also prominent, but noted mainly for its popularity among somewhat gullible middle-aged Roman matrons. The cults of Horus and Thoth were sometimes followed by those more interested in sorcery (and those interested in impressing young women by their ‘ancient Egyptian wisdom’, a line that dukes use to get laid even today), but the most powerful magicians, however, were part of the cult of Cybele, a Syrian goddess whose worshippers castrated themselves in sexual ecstasy, as part of their initiation into the mysteries of the Mystic Hermaphrodite.
The Birth of the Underground
By the 1st century BC, Rome had become the first modern city, a teeming metropolis of half a million people or more. As the Roman Republic crumbled, the chaos and conspiracies around its drawn-out death inevitably drew in the Mystery Cults. Among the violence, sex, and intrigue, with institutions collapsing and individual leaders becoming ever more prominent, some unknown magician made the breakthrough from magick based around the imitation of a god to magick powered entirely by the force of his own will.
Exactly what this first non-Avatar based school of magick was, nobody knows, but the big three soon popped up (as well as numerous smaller schools); magick based on sex, magick based on money, magick based on the body. Roman magicians practised them in very different ways from modern-day adepts. Their equivalent of plutomancy, for instance, was based not on acquisition, but on the prominent and public spending of one’s money - one reason for the huge festivals thrown by so many Roman millionaires. Their sex magick wasn’t based around a Goddess, but on sleeping with specific individuals; the more politically important, the more power you got from fucking them, and while Roman epideromancy involved abusing your body, it was more along the lines of gluttony than self-injury.
Innumerable cabals soon sprang up. Some were still affiliated with the Cults, some pursued magick for magick’s sake, some were allied with a particular politician, some were simply out for money, some didn’t know anything about magick and were simply looking to rip off gullible widows. They didn’t have much of an impact on the last days of the Republic, being mainly concerned with fighting among themselves, grabbing things and sites of power, and discovering the secrets of the universe.
By the first century AD, magick had been well worked into the fabric of Roman society0. The ‘Establishment’ of higher class families which provided almost all of the politicians, administrators, commanders, and governors of the Empire, thrived on conspiracy, and so did magick. By now the various cabals had started to work out some kind of modus vivendi with each other; especially since they were, in effect, confined to Rome, for the simple reason that most magicians were urban types who didn’t feel truly at home anywhere else.
Tynes: I feel like something’s missing here: early Christians. What was their involvement with the OU in those pre-Roman-conversion days? And what about the Jews, for that matter? I realize they were operating more openly and you touch on them a bit later, but perhaps you can better integrate the OU into history by dealing directly with real-world religions in Rome. I think it would be interesting to give Christianity a role in establishing the Roman OU, though that doesn’t mean you have to trot out Jesus-was-an-adept revisionism.
Hite: One could stir in the whole rivalry between the early Christians and magicians like Simon Magus -- but the Roman OU that James paints here is an establishment phenomenon, while Christianity was emphatically not one for 250 years or so. Making the cabals kind of creepy, dubious figures that the great families have to keep around the villa for the icky stuff would allow you to begin the "Occult Underground draws from the other underground" motif, though -- Christianity was a religion of slaves and foreigners, in the early times.
[Nuh, I really don’t see the ancient Jews as having anything to do with actual magick; there’s a little note below about that. As for the Christians, here we go … more further below, too.]
Early Roman Christianity was a religion conducted in forced secrecy, a concealed cult based around the worship of a sacrificed founder, spoken of in whispers and code by slaves, foreigners, and the occasional rich patron. Unsurprisingly, some of the Roman magicians became convinced that this must be a new Mystery Cult of some kind, and made effort to join it. They were disappointed when they discovered that the rituals and beliefs of the new religion were more concentrated on freedom, love, brotherhood, and a fierce belief in the imminence of the end of the world than on the attainment secret wisdom. A few converted; the majority dismissed it as a religion fit only for slaves and women.
During the reign of the stark raving mad Emperor Caligula, some of the more prominent magickal cabals began a major purge of the mystery cults. There were vague rumours that Caligula practised some form of magick himself, accounting for his more extreme practices, the crazed loyalty of his personal bodyguards, and the strange sway he seemed to exert over the Roman public. Certainly his belief that he was a god, or, at the very least, a hero, one shared with the later Emperor Commodus, points towards either some knowledge of Avatars or a severe case of lead poisoning. At any rate, several magicians took advantage of the opportunities for quiet murder and public decadence that his reign offered, wiping out most of the last members of the mystery cults proper, who they saw as being foreign, threatening, and dangerous.
The Mystery Cults themselves were parodied, and some of their power symbolically contained, in the bloody constraints of the Coliseum, where slaves dressed as figures from the Mysteries would be killed, as pre-fight entertainment, in an appropriate manner; a shaking captive dressed as Orpheus would rise through a trapdoor in the floor, for example, in imitation of Orpheus’ return from the underworld, and would then be torn apart by wild animals. The cults continued as religious rituals, and some members found initiation and Avatar status by accident, but they had ceased to be players in the evolving Underground.
What had happened, however, was that some of the Roman occultists, while investigating and persecuting the cults, realised that the power of the gods was not necessarily dependent entirely upon sincere faith; mere imitation and proper symbolism would often suffice to walk the path of the Avatar. This was the start of a new branch of the underground; those who looked for power through the force of the Clergy, not magick per se. Now looking to fresh sources of power and competing for different reasons, they diverged somewhat from the ‘magick’ Underground, a division which has continued to this day.
Rome was constantly receiving new ideas, religions, and cults from abroad, particularly from the East, as well as absorbing new provinces into the Empire, which often came with their own peculiar native magicians. One of the few times the Roman Underground managed to work efficiently as a whole was when it came to crushing these groups, stripping whatever knowledge could be fathomed from their texts, and gloating over the proven supremacy of Roman magick. The British druids, who were fairly talented at rituals, put up the stiffest fight. (Afterwards, pseudo-druidic cabals such as Eenie Meenie Miney [I’m trying to decide whether to make up more Roman cabal names; I don’t think there’s really much point. Lost in the mists of history. The joke here, by the way, is that the cabal just named themselves 1-2-3 without having any idea of its meaning, because it sounded cool. Should I make that explicit?] were not unknown in the Roman Underground, using the reputation and trappings of the druids - largely gleaned from Caesar’s Gallic Wars - to intimidate others.) Some occult conspiracy historians see the hand of the Roman cabals behind the Jewish uprisings, believing that the magicians, unable to understand that this strange group with its hidden sanctuaries, high priests, and esoteric wisdom wasn’t a magickal one, especially given Solomon’s reputation as a magician, deliberately manipulated the Jewish leaders into revolting in order to have an excuse to go in and ransack the Temple
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[Hite: Pick a spelling. I pick "kabbalah" but I'm not sure what the Official UA Style is.] Tomato.
Kabbalah is a form of mystical Judaism, largely practiced by the Sephardim (originally from Spain), and focused around divine visions, word-play, paradox, and numerology. Kabbalists have often claimed magical powers, and some of these claims are true, though there are hardly any actual magick-using kabbalists left today. Mystical kabbalah is claimed to date back to 2nd century BC, but magickal Kabbalah originated in 11th or 12th century Spain, where there were many Jews under Moorish rule. Some rabbis came into contact with certain texts of the Roman Underground, preserved in Moorish libraries, and adapted the ideas they found there into a Jewish context, producing a new school of magick. The paradoxical tension which produced the power of kabbalah was Judaism’s ambiguity towards magic, and the fact that many of the feats attempted by the kabbalists, such as the creation of life through golems, seemed to imitate the works of G-d.
Kabbalah was a powerful influence on Hermetic thought, encapsulating as it did the tensions between man and G-d, and the kabbalists produced many powerful artefacts – perhaps the most famous being the golems. However, the Spanish Inquisition, which devoted most of its efforts to the persecution of Jews, took a special interest in the kabbalists, and the real magickal tradition within Kabbalah was almost completely wiped out by the end of the 17th century.
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Decline and Fall
Eventually, of course, the Roman Empire collapsed, over many decades, and it took its Underground with it. Two stories drift round about the gradual death of Roman occultism. The first attributes it to the growing power of Christianity, envisioning groups of fanatic witch-hunters burning precious occult tomes. The stories of St. Peter bringing down the arrogant Simon Magus from the sky, and of the burning of the library at Alexandria and the killing of the philosopher Hypatia added fuel to this myth in the minds of 19th century occult historians, somewhat unduly influenced by Gibbon, but, in truth, it seems as though early Christianity was distinctly unconcerned with magicians, except insofar as they were associated with ‘pagan’ religion in general.
Tynes: I understand your thinking here. My wondering about incorporating Christians into the early OU is along the lines of intelligence-sharing, like overlapping conspiracy cells or affinity groups. The Christians and the Mithrans may not have had warm relations, but they could have been part of the same gossip networks that spread rumors about threatening government activity, the latest discoveries from foreign lands, and so forth. No, the other cults weren’t actually persecuted by the government. Look at it this way; being a member of an Isis cult was the equivalent of being a Bahai today in America; unusual, very middle-class and occasionally upper, and not really worthy of anything other than maybe a snide comment. Being a Christian was like being a member of Falun Gong in China.
Darker rumours speak of the bloody Syrian mystery cults brought to Rome by the boy-emperor Elagabalus, harbouring thoughts of thorough revenge against the Roman sorcerers for the secret persecutions of earlier eras. Tales of the mad castrati of Cybele, appearing as if from nowhere in the middle of cabal meetings and using their sacred knives to deadly effect, have persisted for hundreds of years, and old-school occultists still flinch at the mention of Elagabalus’ name.
The truth seems to be, however, that the Roman Underground simply disintegrated along with the rest of the Empire, as over-expansion, barbarian tribes, political and religious discord, and ecological collapse began to take their toll. Without the urban structure provided by Rome, the conditions for magickal development and scheming simply weren’t present, and the cabals collapsed with the cities.
The Darkish Ages
From the final collapse of Rome to the first glimmerings of the Renaissance, the Occult Underground simply didn’t exist. Oh, sure, there were depraved priests binding Unspeakable Servants into bulls’ corpses, king’s advisors using old rituals to blast their political rival’s reputation, isolated hermits slipping into insanity that warped the world around their cell, raped women using poppets and will to curse the men who’d abused them, and other such incidents of the unnatural. The Unpeakable Servant generally known by one of a hunded variants of Geoffrey, an occasional, detached, sometimes benevolent, and generally ultra-violent participant in some of the crucial events within the Underground, dates his entry into this world from 1197, when a Norman noble in Sicily sought a supernatual bodyguard.
However, it was rare that a magician ever found another magician, let alone passed on anything of what they’d learnt. The population was so scattered, cities were so small, and literacy so rare that an Underground simply couldn’t develop. For much of the period, too, life was so static, and the structures of society changed so slowly that the type of chaotic, dynamic conditions in which magick develops and thrives simply didn’t exist.
[Hite: I have no real problem with this, but it undersells Paris and Venice, two cities well suited for occult undergroundery in the high middle ages -- the University of Paris looks to me like the very model of an OU seed bed, and if you allow cabals in Venice, you have a natural tie-in with the later Renaissance explosions.]
Some cities, particularly in the later part of the twelfth century and beyond, did develop nascent undergrounds, of a lesser extent than later periods, but enough to provide a seedbed for the magickal explosion of the Renaissance. The extensive guild system of cities such as London and Paris sometimes provided the kind of cover that occultists needed, and the ritual and pageantry of the guild-sponsored mystery plays occasionally concealed powerful magic. heaving crowds, the terrible, random violence of the medieval streets, and the sprawling, semi-ordered chaos of the city, spawned one of the earliest versions of urbanomancy.
The early universities, especially Paris, often served as focuses for magickal research and experimentation, though on a very limited scale. A loose association of alchemists, theurgists, magicians, and diabolists formed across Europe, often connected only by long and rambling letters. Due to their desire to remain concealed, they often referred to themselves as being sub rosa, ‘under the rose’, a Latin expression for secrecy. The letters written by the sub rosa magicians are highly valued by modern occultists for their relative high concentration of true rituals, sometimes crammed into a margin or concealed in multilingual ciphers. Some historians see the sinister hand of the cryptomancers, a supposedly ancient school of magick, in this.
The intense concentration on the body, particularly the suffering body, within medieval Christianity, also led to the development of yet another form of flesh-magick, whereby the adept would voluntarily suffer in order to cure the ills of others. It wasn’t as destructive or geared towards personal advancement and mutation as modern epideromancy, and it was largely developed and practiced by solitary monks, fanatics, and saints. It took on a much nastier tinge during the Black Death, when flagellants, a few of them magicians, moved across Europe whipping themselves and persecuting others who were sinful elements of the body of society - most notably, the Jews.
Another exception was in some of the Muslim cities, which were well in advance of the Europeans in many fields. Small groups of magicians formed in cities such as Baghdad and Samarkand, and many of them fused with the Islamic mystic tradition of Sufism. Although they didn’t really survive the collapse of the various Muslim empires, elements of medieval magick survive within certain rare Sufi traditions to this day, and have been ferreted out by devious occultists. They’re not much use nowadays, but still, one likes to know. There was also something of a remnant of the Roman Underground in the great city of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire - the art of eikonourgy, the fashioning of art so lifelike as to make itself real, was especially prized. John Comenus, a modern-day Australian-Greek duke of dubious reputation and a liking for the trappings of royalty, is reported to own a dove fashioned from filigreed gold that lives and sings to this day. Eventually, though, it proved too obsessed with mutual backstabbing and metaphysical point-scoring to defend itself and was almost completely wiped out in the sacking of the city in the Fourth Crusade of 1204. Some of the eikonourgic tradition was preserved elsewhere, however, by an organisation calling itself The Brotherhood of Hero, after the famous Byzantine engineer.
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Testimony: Gwion the Eyes. An Ancient Welshman
Do not think that the bad things have all gone yet. When I was a boy, lying in our cottage in a bed with my sisters, all seven of them and only one left now, and she half-mad, there would be a keening in the air, like nails scratching on a board, and I would turn to my sister, Bronwen, and ask What is that? and she would say It’s the witch, boy, flying on the air on her sprig of fennel, and you must be careful, now, or she shall come into this room and eat you up from your toes to your head. And when I was a man, I did not believe it, until I saw the witches flying over the trenches, gossamer-light and raw-boned, and I ran mad a fortnight, which was the blessing for it sent me back from those pits. And now I have the sight on me, and they are still here, let you believe that, for those that have the eyes to see. I see them more often in Cardiff than in the hills, now, but the times always did move with them.
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The renewed emphasis on art, science, and human potential that began in 15th century Italy and spread throughout Europe naturally brought with it a massive revival of magick. It seemed as though anything was possible and that human will was paramount; two conditions which bred magick like wildfire. The discovery of the New World of America was echoed by the discovery of a new world of sorcery.
One of the most important elements of the new magick was the manipulation of composite symbols, powerful images which could be imposed upon the memory or used to influence others. Those who wrote on this issue, most notably the Italian magician and heretic Giordano Bruno, were an inspiration to what might be called the ‘career Avatar’ branch of the newly reborn Underground. That one could, through proper application, make oneself a living symbol and manifest the powers of a god was, for many, worth the cost of taboo. It was widely believed that the Invisible Clergy had only 36 members, or Decans, each of which manifested a particular aspect of the world, and career Avatars were consequently drawn from a relatively small range of Archetypes, of which the Two-Faced Man (commonly known as the ‘Machiavel’), the Pilgrim (a path followed, unconsciously or otherwise, by some of the most famous explorers of the New World), the Masterless Man (the ‘Mercenary’), the Scholar, the Magus, and the Savage were the most common.
The 1520s saw the emergence, too, of a new force within the magickal world; the House of Renunciation. The House had existed for centuries beforehand, but this was the first time that the Rooms of the House manifested as the mutative, active force a few occultists fear today, taking their new form from the chaos and change of the period. Hubert de Roscommes, a mysterious aristocrat and agent of the Room of Upheaval (see page 84-85 of ‘Statosphere’) began to move across Europe, fundamentally altering the course of history. He was assasinated by the Order of Saint Cecil, a society whose own, probably medieval origins remain shrouded in mystery, in 1541; the success of that operation, and the tangible evidence they presented to the Pope of the malign diabolical influence of Roscommes, led what had previously been a tiny fraternal brotherhood, never taken very seriously within the Church, to be given increasing influence and resources in fighting these minions of the devil. They were concealed behind the Holy Office, the new form of the Inquisition, founded the next year.
London, in particular, became a focus of magickal activity. The influence of Elizabeth I, a powerful manipulator of symbolism in her own right and quite possibly an Avatar, and the relative openness and opportunity of the English court, made it a focus of occultism; a goodly part of the nobility dabbled in one form or another, and a very few were even adepts. The London theatre was also far more active and brilliant than in any other city, and play, artifice, and deceit were as much as part of the Underground as the theatre. Cabals and conspiracies were always part of the court, and several of them had a magickal tinge; their names are largely forgotten, but The School of Night, The House of Solomon, and The Bloodied Hounds are still remembered; the first for its distant association with Shakespeare and Marlowe, the second for the intricacy of its magickal architecture, still with some power nowadays, and the last for the horror and violence of its ghostly killings.
Tynes: I’m forwarding along the first draft of Rick Neal’s UA Coriolis scenario. (Coriolis is a new Atlas imprint for D20-based scenarios set in existing Atlas game worlds—Feng Shui, UA, etc.) Rick’s scenario is set in 17th century Prague and includes some stuff worth touching on here (name-dropping, really) to pull the canon together.
[I’ve already name-dropped the Brotherhood of Hero earlier.]
In many ways, the Underground was thoroughly incorporated into mundane society, particularly in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Astrology, alchemy, geomancy, hexing, and prophecy were all taken to be fairly important and real elements of life, and were employed by everybody from monarchs to priests to peasants. Sorcery and science were thoroughly mixed up together, and the two could not be fairly distinguished, resulting in natural philosophers as adept at alchemy as mathematics.
Naturally, the numerous practitioners of magick became thoroughly caught up in the schisms, wars, spying, and general bloodshed which was such a feature of these turbulent centuries. The employ of magicians by government was relatively common, but even more frequent was the use of war and political rivalry as a chance for magicians to seize power of their own. As always, the main concerns of magicians were sex, money, and power, and the Renaissance offered plentiful opportunities for the gaining of all three.
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Testimony: William Pater Rogerson Strange Little Man
Of course, Shakespeare didn’t write his plays. There were three of them, you see, yes, three. Marlowe and Bacon and the one we don’t talk about. Yes, we don’t talk about him, yes. There are strange things in there, yes, things that men shouldn’t know about. Bad words. Don’t name the bad words, or bad things happen, yes, bad times come. Only the comedies, though, only the comedies. Do you find them funny? I don’t, they have the names of gods in them, terrible names, terrible. Why else would so many of them be set in pagan times, yes? Bad gods.
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The Myth of the Magus
Around the middle of the 16th century, it is commonly believed among occultists that there was a major ascension into the Invisible Clergy, creating the Archetype of the Magus (see page XX), the all-knowing, all-powerful, semi-demonic worker of magick. Whether it was the mysterious, and rather petty, magician and failed German divinity student Johannes Faust who went up to the Statosphere in around 1540, nobody really knows, but it is genuinely assumed to be the case, given the myths that accumulated rapidly around him and the unrecorded nature of his death.
In truth, the ascension of the Magus, while it did occur, took place considerably earlier, when Zyto, the court sorceror of King Wenceslas of Bohemia (not ‘good King Wenceslas, but a rather nastier monarch), cemented his reputation as a mysterious wonder-worker, so solidly in the imagination of the Bohemian aristocracy, that he was, as contemporary accounts put it, ‘carried off by the devil’ in a blaze of white light. This ascension may have been the impetus for the rapid growth of magic; it certainly helped it along. The emphasis upon individual power of this archetype also meant that individual magicians were much more common than organised cabals, although they often corresponded, occasionally co-operated, and frequently quarrelled.
Zyto, while an adept magician, was not an expert self-publicist like Faust, who was, in fact, only attempting a bid at becoming Godwalker, but managed to leave a reputation behind that substantially exceeded his gifts. He failed his bid, and died a lonely, poor, unrecorded death. At that point, however, other magi were just beginning to catch onto the fact that there was somebody Up There who liked them, and, with Faust’s disappearance and all the stories about him going round, most people in the know simply assumed it was him who’d managed to Ascend.
Zyto remained part of the Statosphere until 1693, when he was ousted by Isaac Newton, long aware of the Occult Underground, but also a deep believer in the power and supremacy of reason. Newton’s explorations into alchemy and obscure theology bordering on theurgy were, in truth, a pose to become Godwalker of the Magus and, from there, Ascend and replace Zyto, becoming a new, more modern Archetype, the Scientist, consequently influencing (though not controlling) the rise of the modern scientific method. He Ascended in his college rooms at Trinity College, Cambridge, leaving behind a golem version of himself, crafted over several years and given an extra dose of power and creativity by its presence at Newton’s Ascension. (Zyto, forced through the House of Renunciation, and with his endless desire to know stripped from him, became a contemplative hermit and reported miracle-worker in rural Poland.) The golem Newton eventually faked its own death and retreated to a sealed laboratory beneath Cambridge (now part of the network of underground tunnels that make up the storage facility of the University Library), where it may be still.
[Just realised; we need Greg’s write-up of the ‘false’ Magus to go in here]
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Testimony: Dean Newport Pseudo-Occultist Showoff
Sure, I picked this up in Istanbul. What is it? Oh, the shewstone of John Dee, you know, that he used to talk to angels. Yeah, I can still use it, it’s pretty potent. Hey, you remember Kathy? Yeah? Oh, nothing. Well, yeah, I had to use it against her old boyfriend. No, it was nothing, really, just - well, he was trying to enslave her with - hey, you don’t really want to talk about this, do you? - well, with magic. I don’t really want to talk about it; it was pretty harsh, but - it was worth it to protect her, I suppose. Well, I try to look after people, especially those with potential. Magical potential. Hey, of course you do, I just haven’t been mentioning it …
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The Anatomy of Magick
Renaissance magick was built around a powerful paradox, on which many types of magick were based. Unlike contemporary magick, it wasn’t strictly divided into schools, but involved numerous workings based around certain basic principles - any one magician might practice any combination of techniques. Its energy, though, came from a combination of these paradoxes and the will of its casters, like all magick.
The chief paradox of Renaissance magick was the conflict between hierarchy and the individual - or, to put it another way, between destiny and free will. There was a deep belief in the idea of a divine chain of being, starting with God and working its way down through the angels, kings, nobles, merchants, commoners, and animals - but at the same time, the individual was suddenly more powerful and influential than ever before, and people could climb the ladder fast. Equally, there was a strong conviction that your fate was predestined, and could be told through the stars, or through your hand, or through the new-fangled Tarot cards - but the idea of free will was becoming increasingly powerful. Magi believed that the destiny of the whole universe was fixed and unchangeable, but that they, as the homo magus, had a powerful will of their own.
Magick was caught up in this paradox, and the actions that surrounded magick, such as ‘perverted’ sex, the use of ‘ancient’ symbols created a few years beforehand, and the peculiar status of magicians as half-insiders, half-outsiders to society, gave them great power. The most common expressions of this power were theurgy, astrology, and psychoerotomachia.
Theurgy worked around the conjuration of airy spirits, angels, and demons, which the magicians bent to his will. In actuality, these beings were neither divine nor diabolical, but in fact ghosts, demons, and revenants, forced by their own and the magician’s power into playing the roles of these creatures, or else disguised by their own wiles in their hunger for flesh. (Edmund Kelley, the charlatan used by Dr. John Dee to contact ‘angels’, was in truth one of the most powerful natural mediums to have been born in this universe; although much of what he passed on to Dee was pure fiction, his ability to see the workings of the Invisible Clergy means that Dee’s papers are still highly valued by some modern-day occultists.)
Astrology took the movements of the stars and applied them to everyday activities, combining the highest and the lowest elements of life. It was a relatively passive form of magick, but a powerful divinatory tool. Finally, psychoerotomachia focused around the power of the unfettered imagination, and the ability to focus desires and make them come true. Simply by imagining that somebody was desperately in love with you, for instance, you could make it so.
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I Did Exactly What It Said, And Nothing Happened
Occultists have long tried to rediscover the magic of the Renaissance, to little avail, prompting the question; why don’t old schools of magick work anymore? Has the nature of the universe fundamentally changed, as some in the Underground theorise?
Possibly [see page XX], but some argue that the universe hasn’t changed, but the mundane world has, and magicians are inevitably a product of their own time and place. A modern-day occultist simply doesn’t believe in the Great Chain of Being, or in the Aegyptian wisdom of the Tarot, and so doesn’t have the will to power the magickal techniques of the Renaissance. Equally, he doesn’t live in a society where sex is primarily a political tool, and so can’t work the Roman version of pornomancy. Cryptomancy is virtually the only school that has survived the changes in society, because secrets are so caught up in the very nature of magick, and they’re having fairly major problems nonetheless.
Now, if John Dee had accidentally frozen himself in 1598 and was unthawed by a modern-day cabal, he could still work his version of magick to some degree, because his view of the world would be unchanged - assuming, that is, he was kept away from too many new ideas
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The Tiger Strikes Back
The Occult Underground wasn’t really affected by the so-called ‘Great Witch Hunts’ of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which, while they resulted in the execution of some 40-50’000 suspected witches, both male and female, mainly affected rural areas, not the cities in which the Underground was thriving. Some lonely and isolated rural adepts, practising their own weird theories of magick, were caught up in the persecution, but they were a tiny, tiny minority. [[again, see above. I know you’ve got your vision of the interaction between cities and adepts, but consider that a powerful mind without a proper education to focus it is much more likely to veer off on unnatural tangents. Or, to put it another way, a genius at college becomes educated. A genius in the middle of nowhere becomes an autodidact weirdo theorist.]] Very few of the thousands murdered had anything to do with magick at all, but were the victims of a combination of paranoid quasi-religious delusions, rural rivalries, and petty interpersonal squabbles. Real magicians were generally well-in with various political factions, too, and, although an occasional court sorcerer was caught up in mundane intrigue and executed as a witch, the greatest threat to most occultists of the time was other occultists after the same goodies, or the often casual brutality of the age; more magicians died for being Protestants than for being witches.
Early in the 17th century, however, occultists became aware of a more powerful threat moving against them, the Holy Office, also known as the Inquisition. Firstly, magicians in Catholic countries found themselves targeted by efficient, well-organised, knowledgeable foes, ardently bent on their destruction, then Protestant magi discovered black-clad figures sneaking around their sanctuaries, and soon the whole of the European Underground was shaken by secret war. In fact, the Inquisition wasn’t the main force working against occultists; the Order of St. Cecil, a secret organisation within the Holy Office, were the real movers and shakers, the Inquisition being far more concerned with Jews and heretics than magicians.
Tynes: This may be the place to tell the story of St. Cecil’s origins, placing it in the appropriate point in the article’s chronology. Greg, I recall you having some thoughts along these lines but I don’t recall if we ever explored this.
Did I? Or was it Chad?
Hite: I still maintain that "Cecil" is actually code for "caecus" meaning "blind" on the "if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out" principle. If it's tied to the Inquisition, it can't much predate 1231, and the official founding of said batch -- and if they're coterminous, that's another argument for an OU in medieval Paris or Venice or both, since the OSC wouldn't have been established without an OU to whack about. We could set up the OSC with the modern Inquisition, the Holy Roman Congregation ("Holy Office") in 1542, except that in Statosphere, we hint that the Order kacked Hubert Roscommons in 1541. OTOH, the Roscommons op could have been the kind of thing that led the Pope to decide to found a formal group, specifically the OSC, and set up the Holy Office as camouflage at the same time. Which reminds me, the 1520s is when the House of Renunciation appears on the occult scene; should we mention it? Done, back there. I’ve reasoned that the OSC were founded sometime back, but were pretty small in the medieval period, given that the Church wasn’t nearly as obsessed with diabolism and magick back then as it later became, and that the Roscommons op gave them a big boost in power.
The Order had been around for some time, but had waited to make their blitz upon the Underground until they had more knowledge, equipment, and recruits. When they did strike, it was lethal - far more so in Catholic than Protestant countries, although one or two of the Inquisitors did manage to leak information surreptitiously to ardent Puritans, willing to ally even with the Whore of Babylon to take down these foul witches in their midst. English occultists, in particular, suffered greatly under the brutal Puritan dictatorship of Oliver Cromwell, as did most people. The Restoration of Charles II in 16XX, on the other hand, was a boom period; the sudden explosion of play, fashion, and elaborate sexuality resulted in the English Underground briefly becoming the most notorious and innovative magicians in Europe.
According to Sleeper histories, they were founded during this period in order to prevent the Underground from further ravages by the Inquisition. The heroic efforts of the first English Sleepers prevented the Order of St. Cecil from making even more devastating inroads against the Underground through culling particularly blatant sorcerors themselves in order to fool the Church into believing that more efforts weren’t needed. They continued this valiant task through history, working to cover up the real truths of magickal activity with very little thought for their own lives. (Of course, there’s more to the story of the Sleepers than this - see ‘Hush Hush’ pg 34-37)
Ultimately more destructive than the Order of St. Cecil, however, were the advances being made in science, both physical and philosophical. The gradual destruction or outmoding of the paradoxes of humanism and hierarchy on which Renaissance magic was founded meant that it was becoming harder and harder for occultists to teach their magick to new apprentices, who simply didn’t have any enthusiasm for what seemed to them deeply old-fashioned ideas. In particular, Isaac Casaubon’s debunking of the Corpus Hermeticum, one of the key texts of Renaissance magick, in 1614 eventually had a highly debilitating effect on the attempts of any new magicians to use their will in the old fashions.
The Corpus Hermeticum, which explained the principles of Hermetic magic and had its own complicated internal mythology, supposedly dated from ancient Egypt; through his philological analysis, however, Casaubon conclusively proved that it dated from the 2nd century AD onwards. Ironically, however, around the same time that Casuabon debunked the Hermeticum, papers and books claiming that magickal power could be found in the writings of the completely fictional Christian Rosenkrautz, who had supposedly lived in the 15th century but inherited much older wisdom, began to receive wide circulation. In that delicate balance between credulity and scepticism, some cryptomantic adepts managed to work themselves into the newly founded Rosicrucian orders, most of which otherwise had about as much to do with real magic as the Rotarians today.
Some occultists also remained determinedly convinced that the ancient rituals still had power, and began systematically categorising and testing them in accordance with new-fashioned scientific principles, resulting in the discovery of the art of ritual thaumaturgy; the skilled use of rituals by non-adepts. Because thaumaturgists tended to be somewhat more stable than the average run of adepts, if less directly powerful, they had a considerable influence on many of the conspiratorial occult groups of the next couple of centuries, such as the Freemasons. The genuinely magical tradition within these groups, always small, was largely lost in the 19th century, when they became largely social institutions; however, a group of American Rosicrucians fairly recently rediscovered the art of ritual thaumaturgy, which has become increasingly well-known, thanks to its all-round usefulness, in the modern Underground.
Tynes: Yet again, we’ve got Rosicrucians in the Coriolis scenario. Which asks a question: what about the non-UA magic/occult societies of these centuries? They pop up a bit, but I’d like to see more about them even though it swerves us briefly into Nephilim territory. To my mind, the OU has so many overlaps with non-UA historical groups (such as modern wiccans) that you can’t exclude them to the extent that we did in the rulebook. We need to better integrate the UA OU into the real-world OU, despite the differences in their magickal abilities within the game. Part of UA2’s treatment of the Venn diagram that is the OU is dealing with groups such as new age cabals, militias, eco-terrorists, anti-globalization activitists, alternative sexuality groups, and other affinity groups that have overlapping memberships and interests even when their ideologies are in conflict or simply appear to be unrelated. The truth is that the fringe is the fringe, and it’s a small enough segment of society that a lot of fringe groups unintentially recruit from the same self-selecting pool of free-thinking (or whack-job) applicants. Truth be told, there weren’t really pseudo-magickal societies around; there’s a big boom in them in the 17th century when the Rosicrucians and Freemasons turn up. I’ve worked them in a little later. As for the whole overlap thing, it’s covered more in the ‘types of people’ chapter.
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Homosexuality and the Underground
Like occultists, gay men (and, to a lesser degree, women) have often, throughout history, been forced to exist in a hidden subculture of their own, and there has been a certain degree of crossover between the two. Sexual transgression and ‘inversion’ has been an important element of magick ever since the Mystic Hermaphrodite Ascended way back, and the Underground always had a slightly higher percentage of homosexuals or bisexuals than most cultures. The master-apprentice relationship involved in much magical instruction was quite often a sexual relationship as well, sometimes loving, sometimes abusive, often with the apprentice taking on the ‘female’, submissive role to his master. Just as many homosexuals as heterosexuals have used the trappings of occultism to get laid, too, and many of the surviving false rituals have homosexual elements, often concealed under a veneer of symbolic language. With the increasing acceptance of homosexuality within society, however, the potency of its secrecy and taboo nature have increasingly diminished.
The most charged locations for the association of homosexuality and magick were, traditionally, male brothels, where elaborate and powerfully symbolic role-playing often took place. Often prostitutes would dress as women, pretend to have babies (wooden or rag dolls), imitate a higher social standing than their customers, and so forth. One of the longest running London cabals was the Molly Boys, a very loose association of male prostitutes and their customers where magickal knowledge was passed on as part of the religion and rituals of an elaborate artificial world, Invertia, which maintained its own reality within a Soho house for at least two centuries.
Conspiracies and Clockwork
By the middle of the 18th century, the Occult Underground was in a state of quiescent decline, gradually sinking away into history. It found itself massively revitalised, however, by the sudden explosion of conspiracies, secret societies, and revolutionary cells that erupted around the 1760s and 1770s. The most famous of all were the Freemasons, closely followed by the Bavarian Illuminati, but similar groups were springing up all over Europe - and in the colonies of America. Freedom! was the word of the day, and that was echoed in the Underground, where a startling new development reshaped the magickal world.
[[A bit that Chad suggested for SpOrd and his St. Cecil book was based on the Freemason layout of Washington DC. We banged it back and forth for a while, and the version I recall coming up with was something like this: Freemason sorcerers try to make DC the magickal capital of the world with all the symbolism in the street layouts – but they fuck it up. They assume that they can use a symbolic human sacrifice at the climax of their ritual instead of the real thing. Consequently, whatever they summoned (or created) is incredibly pissed off and lays over DC as a cloud of mystic funk. If you charge up or discharge there, you get physically hurt. (Avatars are unaffected.) This makes DC powerful bad medicine for adepts and a haven for avatars – and both assume (incorrectly) that the Freemasons INTENDED it to be that way.
Actually John, as I write this it seems to me like a good thing to put in the main book.]]
[See, the more I look at the history of the Freemasons, the less likely it seems to me in UA terms that they actually knew shit about magick, or even cared about finding out. They’re a big boys club and always were, with a smattering of ritual to seem cool; hell, they come out of Scottish guilds. Small individual groups within the Freemasons, sure. Mass conspiracy? Nah.]
In Switzerland, the bastard son of a sorcerous French noble became fascinated with the art of clockworking, and combined it with what he knew of magic, memory, and desire to form a powerful new art. Clockworking epitomised the new philosophical spirit; the potential of machinery, the ordering of time, everything in its place. Even the God of the Deists was a clockworker; setting the wheels of the universe in motion, and then retiring; some clockworkers speculated that the implication of this was that God had sacrificed his own memory in order to form the cosmos.
Clockworkers gave up their memories, because clockworking was a thing of the present, not the past. They began to strike against the remains of the Occult Underground, eager to wipe the old guard out once and for all. A new school of magick was rapidly developed by some to counter them, paleomancy, which sought to recover the artifacts of the past and use them in new, modern ways, but it was no match for clockworking and was rapidly destroyed or assimilated into clockworking. The clockworkers, also known as The Turn of the Wheel, were involved on the fringes of the French and American Revolutions, and they revelled in the shattering of the old orders.
French politics had long been influenced by a loosely organised group of sorcerous nobles known as the Masters of the Line [this needs translation; anyone got high school French? That’s line as in ‘lineage’] Their magick, haemomancy, was based on the ludicrous intricacies of the lineage-based French etiquette, where your status - and, consequently, your allowable actions at court - could be based on such technicalities as whether a noble ancestor had been beheaded or broken on the wheel. With the collapse of the hierarchy on which it was based, however, haemomancy suddenly and catastrophically lost its power, and the Masters of the Line found themselves hauled before revolutionary courts, their magick near-useless.
Numerous other schools of magick were created around this time, and some of them contained the seeds of today’s postmodern practitioners. Helotomancy, where adepts submitted themselves to a set of arbitrary and iron-set rules in order to gain the power to enslave others, was popular throughout the Americas, as was Sucromancy, which drew on the massive popularity of sugar, sweets, and spices to create a form of addiction-based magick; drawing upon ghosts’ traditional fondness for sweets and treats, it was particularly good at summoning and bargaining with demons. Sucromancy and Helotomancy, both popular among slave-traders, were eventually imitated by the slaves and their descendants and incorporated with African magickal traditions to create the various forms of voudoun. The Triangle, a Liverpool based cabal of sucromancers and helotomancers, used its magicks to enforce the control of the Liverpool cartels over the sugar and slave trades, and to influence politicians against the abolitionists, until a sudden wave of popular anti-slavery feeling completely destroyed their efforts.
In fashionable European society, Agapeomancy, a school whose adepts held parties, balls, and orgies in order to gain individual power, and whose members could never be completely alone, was somewhat influential. The youth turned instead to Juvenomancy, youth-based magick, whose practitioners, inspired by Byron and Shelley, sacrificed their future years for current power. Scatomancy, a school supposedly founded by the Marquis de Sade, turned to the basest elements of humanity for higher knowledge, drawing on the old alchemical principle of gold refined from dross and seeking to expose the brute foundations on which society was built; despite these high philosophical ideals, scatomantic adepts tended, in practice, to be callous, spoilt rich brats who used the philosophy of the school to justify their cruelties.
However, by the end of the 18th century, the clockworkers were, at least as far as the French and Swiss Underground was concerned, the only game in town, and they were major players in the rest of Europe. Other adepts, avatars, and ritual thaumaturgists were still around, and deeply involved in various conspiracies of their own, but in terms of pure magick, clockworking dominated. They were organised, they were mean, and they had, quite literally, teeth.
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Testimony: Max Lindt Well-Dressed Lunatic
They are still there, you know. Everyone thinks they’ve gone away, but they’re still there, in between the gears, grinding away. The clockwork ghosts, the remains of dead machines, our cast-away toys. They hate us now, for grinding them up and spitting them out and turning away from them to our new electrical entertainments, and they’re going to come back and get us. Someday they will come crawling out of the junkyard, all the little mechanical monkeys and bootmakers and torture machines, and they’ll eat us all up between their grinding crunching biting teeth. I hear them, at the noon and at the evening, that is when they talk to me.
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The New Victorian Order
Of course, the dominance of clockworking couldn’t last. The rise of the British Empire at the beginning of the 19th century, half-consciously modelling itself on the ancient Romans, was mirrored by a resurgence of older, more direct forms of magick, and by 1848, when revolution shook Europe, these new schools took advantage of the situation to strike against clockworking. They formed a rough alliance to shatter the crude hierarchies that had evolved among clockworkers, destroy their devices, and break their frail memories. The schools involved haven’t survived, but have instead mutated into new forms.
Hierarchomancy was the magick of class and social climbing, invented by a recently knighted merchant who had started life the son of a baker; its adepts concealed their own humble backgrounds while using their new-found status to trample others, and it contained the essential seeds of plutomancy. Anarchomancy, the magick of freedom, destruction, and chaos, was an early form of annihilomancy and entropomancy, though its more direct descendant was to be a curious Russian school of magick based around the Will of the People. Terminomancy, the magick of borders, was a product of the East India Company; its most direct expression was the immense hedge planted across India as a trade barrier, and it can be seen as an antecedent of cliomancy. The British Company, descendants of Anglo-Indian merchants, still exists in India, now dependent on a stock of rituals and a diminishing store of wealth; they do, however, have a member sitting in the Lok Sabha, the Indian Parliament, and are trying to ride the recent surge of ‘Hindu-based’ magickal groups caused by the rise of the nationalistic BJP.
Haemomancy, a new form of the old French magick of blood and heritage, spawned somewhat crazed adepts who would cannibalise other adepts, and even unnatural beings, for their power, and was partially responsible for the popularity of the vampire in Victorian popular literature. Clockworking, meanwhile, survived chiefly under the more despotic regimes of Eastern Europe and Russia, where the mundane revolutions were more swiftly and brutally crushed than elsewhere, which accounts for its current, near-antique status as the magick of elderly refugees.
The new schools were even more aggressive and evangelical than the 18th century Underground has been. The Victorian zeitgeist, the will and self-belief driving the new adepts, focused not only on personal perfection and self-control, but on the solid conviction that your way was the Only Way, and everyone else ought to realise it just as soon as possible. The evangelical spirit of the adepts was directed, however, not towards the pagan Indian or the heathen African, but towards convincing their fellow magicians; disputes could range from heated coffee-house arguments (as in the famous three-day quarrel between two anarchomancers, one Hungarian, one Italian, in the British Library that Underground rumour boasts was overheard by Marx and turned into the basis for the Communist Manifesto) to covert warfare. The two-year struggle between Grim Peter, Susanne Winter, and the entirety of the Thimble Gang left Prague so magickally booby-trapped that adepts have been forced to be careful in drawing any kind of charge there since.
The new magicians rapidly turned to fighting among themselves over the ruins of the clockworkers, but as rapidly turned away from European infighting to concentrate on the possibilities presented by the new craze for Empire, just as their Renaissance predecessors had fought over the fresh opportunities of the New World. Africa and India became the chief battlegrounds, and the Greatest Game, the hidden conflict for the magickal and monetary resources (and the chance to get some exotic sex in) of the old African and Indian kingdoms - not to mention the slow collapse of the Turkish and Chinese empires - dominated the Underground for most of the century.
India became the centre of the ‘career Avatar’ Underground. Out among the petty princedoms, where the Europeans were regarded with something close to awe by much of the population, it was all too easy to slip into a powerful archetypal role. India’s own native magickal tradition was almost entirely Avatar-based, the Hindu understanding of the role of the gods being, in many respects, quite close to the actual powers of the Invisible Clergy, and some Westerners studied under mysterious gurus and Brahmins in order to learn their mysterious archetypal wisdom. The role of the wandering sadhu, in particular, was a powerful way to walk the path of either the Pilgrim or the Masterless Man.
When it came to facing down native opposition, the European occultists fared pretty well. Remember that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where the baddy leaps up to face Indy, does his magnificent twirling sword act, shouts his battle-cry, and Indy casually shoots him in the chest? Much the same principle applied. Sure, some of the natives had powerful magicks, blood-ghosts, earthquake jars, shapechanging masks, unspeakable servants, castings which could rip a man’s heart out, but the European magi had funky magick shit and big guns, and the big guns pretty much tipped the balance (‘Bloody’ Jack Roxton, the death of many an unfortunate African shaman, was briefly infamous in the 1870s for having a Remington warped into a flesh pocket in his stomach). The ‘ghost-shirt’ rituals hastily concocted by native magicians all over the world were next to useless; their magick simply wasn’t adapted to cope with firearms. In the (later) words of Hilaire Belloc
Never forget that we have got The Maxim gun, and they have not.
As a consequence of all this resource-hunting, the Occult Underground became bloated with plundered artefacts. The Sleepers, in particular, have benefited from this legacy of plundered items from all around the globe, but many other European occultists still have inherited ghost-sticks, torture-dolls, soul-capturing mandolins, and other such pleasant legacies of world culture. Countless more sit in antique shops and museums around the world, powerless without the proper application of ritual and focus.
Energy and the East
Occultism experienced a massive surge of popularity again in the 1880s and 90s, partially due to the growing use of electricity, which seemed almost a form of magic in itself, and which popularised the concept of energy, unseen force, untapped powers, and psychic abilities. The fin de siecle mood of the 1890s, too, was particularly suited to the atmosphere of mild decadence in which the Occult Underground thrived. The translation of Asian religious texts in the hugely popular ‘Sacred Books of the East’ series brought the idea of ‘Oriental mysticism’ into the popular consciousness, adding an element of exoticism to new occult organisations, the most successful of which was the Theosophists, whose combination of supposed psychic abilities, ‘Eastern’ wisdom, and a hearty dose of racism attracted recruits in droves. Some genuine Asian magickal organisations, such as the Chinese Brotherhood of Harmonious Repose and the Indian Little Brothers of the Most Holy took this opportunity to integrate some of their members into Western society.
The Occult Underground thrived off this new blood, the older magicians exploiting the gullibility of the new generation for money and sex, while the new generation accidentally stumbled into various powerful new forms of magic, birthing the first schools of today. The Hellfire Club, a revival of a group of cheerful 18th century orgaists, became a notorious Soho haunt, and many a vicious little conflict was played out there, while the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, mainly a refuge of romantic poets and playwrights, sheltered a few genuine magicians inside its ranks. Its offshoots, descendents, and revivalists exist to this day.
The Underground began to really take off in America around this time, too. There had been magickal cabals there as far back as the 1740s, but the explosion of new ideas, religions, and pseudo-sciences throughout America, from numerology through to intimate massage through to Dr. Kellogg’s health regime (which inspired a fitness-obsessed adept called Bran the Blessed to create a short-lived school, an Epideromantic forerunner, that combined intense purging with supernatural bodily ability), gave a peculiar boost to the Underground, which became centred in two important American cities, New York and San Francisco. The Mormons, in particular, set aside from mainstream American society until their abolition of polygamy and with strong elements of occultism and Freemasonry already incorporated into their religious practices, produced a surprising amount of adepts, including the group known as Stones of the Temple, which made several pioneering excursions into South America for both missionary and magickal purposes.
The mass influx of immigrants into America was also a strong influence on the Underground. For the refugees, migrants, and hopefuls pouring into Ellis Island, America was a land of wonder, opportunity, and - sometimes - horror, and magick, to some, seemed a perfectly plausible part of that. Clockwork monsters were no less unlikely than the Empire State Building; it was as plausible that a man could make himself invisible by burning dollar bills and sucking the bone of a cat as that the son of a village pedlar could head a bank or open a chain of stores. Some turned their attention to protecting or dominating their own small communities - the successive Orthodox Jewish Kings of Gotham being the most famous of these, though nobody was ever quite certain whether they were True Kings or Fools; meanwhile, the Russian Night Work and the Chinese Pure Gold Flower Gang acquired a reputation for going to any lengths to protect their ‘people.’ Some adepts had come from the kind of desperation that can drive people to any expediency in order to survive, and a tiny fraction of those had found that the seemingly insane techniques they’d adopted to survive actually worked. The infamous and insane thanatomantic adept Daniel Woods never lost the skeletal appearance he’d had coming out of the Irish famine, and when they returned to Naples the Empty Moon Society had little mercy for the camorra gangsters who had driven them out in the first place.
Mud, Drink, and Ghosts
The First World War only served to further strengthen the European Underground. The numerous ironic paradoxes of the war - civilisation reduced to mud less than seventy miles from Paris, or a day’s journey from London, men ordered to walk towards machine gun fire by their generals - and the sheer insanity of the whole affair created magicians out of some few of the survivors – perhaps one in every ten thousand - and provided a huge number of new demons. One Canadian regiment, near-annihiliated at the battle of Passchendale, saw its seven surviving members acquire a spiritual and magickal link and, as The Friends terrorise the (fairly small) Canadian Underground until they fell apart as the mental breakdown of individual members spread rapidly among the collective mind. Cliomancy was birthed in 1915 by Dugan Forsythe (see HUSH HUSH) and rapidly became the most powerful force in the European Underground. The growth of spiritualism immediately after the war provided many occultists, real and fake, with a source of regular income, and the deadened, hollow generation that followed was ideally suited towards taking up magick, desperate as it was for something, anything to relieve the supposed emptiness of life.
It was noticeable, however, that a rather larger number of women were now present in the European Underground, because most of the men were dead. Previously the Underground, like most things, had been largely dominated by men; they were the ones, after all, who mostly had the education, the money, and the social freedom necessary to participate. There were some notable female occultists, such as the discreet, intelligent, and quite ruthless Duchess of Old Miles, whose soirees were the highlight of the Paris Underground in the 1830s, or the transvestite Pole spirit-sculptor Anna Koltun, three times lover of the Comte de Saint Germain (under an older, darker name) between 1473 and 1596, or the Sicilian wine-cult Daughters of Fury in the 1780s, but they were notable exceptions.
With increasing emancipation, women were playing on more equal terms for the first time in the Underground, and the sheer shock of this was enough to scare many of the old magi away. (‘Why, they’re no better than priestesses! Are we to see a return to the naked orgies of Ishtar and the bloody fury of Diana, sir? No, I wash my hands of the whole thing!’) The sudden opening up of possibilities meant that an iron-set will, the deep belief that you could make a difference on the world, was suddenly a plausible option for many more women. Female adepts tended towards cliomancy and personamancy; many of them were from the upper classes and found the idea of multiple roles or the overwhelming importance of place easy to incorporate into their psyches. The most famous cabal was probably the Boston Poppets, whose seeming cutesiness belied their skill at various painful and manipulative forms of fetish-magick.
In 1927-8, the European Underground became briefly obsessed with the conception of a ‘perfect child’ who would channel the powers of the Statosphere and usher in a new golden age of magick. The first to attempt such a conception were Constance Spring and Hetty McArthur, an American lesbian couple resident in Paris, but the boy born to Constance emerged a perfectly normal, healthy child with not the slightest occult trace whatsoever. The attempt of The Prince of Cats was frustrated when Septimus Orange, the Godwalker of the Pilgrim, shot his pregnant wife, which resulted in Septimus’ own bloody death some months later, and the scattering of his pieces round the back alleys of a dozen cities. The leader of the Empty Moon Society, Clara Salvo, made her own elaborate ritual attempt, aided by what she sincerely believed was the birth caul of Jesus Christ, but the child that resulted was merely capable of seeing spirits and breathing underwater.
Tynes: I hate to say it, but as we’re trying to work the OU into historical occultism more, you need to cover, at least briefly, the whole Blavatsky-Theosophists-Spiritualists-Crowley-OTO-etc. axis. Our UA OU needs to be nestled within the context of real-world occult activity, so that it doesn’t feel so artificial.
Rather than going into detailing all of the various whackos there have been, I’m saving this much more for the ‘peoples’ chapter. Have a look at that in a few days, and then decide what to do here. Also, this chapter is getting really big.
Hite: On the other hand, the "birth caul of Jesus Christ" is just fricking wonderful.
Meanwhile, the American Underground was given another boost by the introduction of prohibition, which produced a whole underground culture of its own that the Occult Underground could feed off. Dipsomancy, naturally, was invented around this time, though back then it was more associated with hard-drinking youngsters than broken old bums. It was around this time, too, that the Underground began interacting seriously with the new underworld of organised crime, which became another source of income for ever-broke magicians, who found that their talents came in peculiar handy for helping the bosses out a little. Some of the new mob lords, of course, were Avatars in their own right, embodying as they did the fear and greed of the American public, and they weren’t entirely afraid of magick. Chicago, the mob city, became a third centre of magickal activity in the USA, and the only one to maintain that status right through to the present day. Ken Hite, mysterious chronicler of the Invisible Clergy, maintains, however, that Daniel Burnham and the Auriga Society had been developing a kind of long-range urbanomancy ever since the Chicago Fire in 1871, and the invention of the skyscraper a decade later, gave them the opportunity to magickally design a city from the ground up.
After the Wall Street Crash, the desperation of the Depression, when people were willing to try or do anything to escape from the grinding poverty and bleakness that seemed to have overwhelmed the country, pushed the Underground into further harshness. Dry Bones, a half-Cherokee, half-Negro calling-man, made a speciality of enslaving the dust-caked revenants of Oklahoma, as desperate for food in life as death, and his song-bound spirit-slaves can still be found, grey people in ragged clothes hanging round lonely roadside diners, awaiting a long dead master or the blessed release of soul food.
Film provided both Undergrounds with extra bite. In America, Hollywood’s dreams became the focus of America’s desires, and magicians and Avatars began to flock to Los Angeles. Perhaps there was some truth in the belief that film captured a portion of one’s soul; certainly magicians who caught their enemies on flickering reels of tape found it considerably easier, back then, to work curses against them. Over in Germany, where the Weimar Republic was becoming a byword for decadence, the first true horror films were being created, and some of the directors would hint at further, darker truths.
For a little while, unreleased movies and director’s cuts became the object of hot competition among the European Underground, partially out of the belief that many of them contained secrets or were artefacts in their own right, but mainly out of sheer fannish enthusiasm. Phobomancy, fear magick, was an offshoot of these horror movies, and thrived among the terror of the 1930s. Epideromancy, incidentally, is believed to have been a by-product of some of the more peculiar clubs of Berlin in the late 1920s, where pain and pleasure mixed together to form one of the nastiest schools of magick around, and the Secret Flesh, the first epideromantic cabal, was a minor player in Weimar politics, eventually becoming mixed up with some of the homosexual sadists of the SA, along with the Stocking Brigade, a transvestite Mystery Cult of the Mystic Hermaphrodite. Both were destroyed during the Night of the Long Knives.
XXX INSERT BOXED TEXT XXX Testimony: Lawrence Underling A Stately English Homo
My dear, dear boy, Aleister didn’t know anything about magic, not really. He trifled around with a few demons, of course, but don’t we all, in our youth? I hear from Nancy that he converted back to the Brethren in the end, secretly - the Plymouth Brethren, that is, not the Brethren of the Dark Mouth, which I have to admit I was a member of briefly in about 1924, because they had a simply delectable leader, all blond curls and Roman nose and megalomaniac drug-fuelled insanity. He was going to consume the Senate - the real Senate, not the Hidden Senate - oh, a Roman cabal, very mixed up in politics, like most Italians - with nightmarish dreams of the coming collapse of civilization, but nothing ever came of it, because he was stabbed one day by his lover, who was a dear skirt-wearing boy from Pakistan, or somesuch, over sleeping with someone else, but I gather that was really a memory planted by that funny Englishman with a name like that ghastly long book they showed on TV a few years ago but which totally eludes me now …
Am I rambling? Do excuse me.
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The Purging of Europe
In the frenetic atmosphere of the 1930s, when the Western democracies seemed to have failed, minor wars were springing up all over the world, and powerful new leaders, a couple of which were Demagogue avatars, dominated the political scene, the European Underground continued to thrive. To take only a few examples, the aloof Miss. Pym stood in Godwalking judgement over London occultists, Curse and Cure smuggled magickally-spiced opium and whisky between Italy, China, and America, The Wizard briefly channelled archetypal power from early comic books to destroy the influence of the Twenty Skulls in Vienna, while the Straw Men struggled with the Ragtime Band in the American South, Secretly, however, the seeds of its downfall were already being sown.
Russia had had a thriving occult community right up until the Revolution and Civil War, when most magicians sided with the White Russians and were forced into exile. Stalin’s purges of the 1930s destroyed those cabals that remained, as they were caught up in Stalin’s fear of anybody who showed the slightest bit of personal initiative, curiosity, or free thought. Self-aggrandising occult historians claim that Stalin’s main aim was to destroy the cabals, for which the purges provided a cover; in fact, he was utterly ignorant of real magick, though personally superstitious, and destroyed the cabals by accident. Back in Germany, the newly dominant Nazis were implementing their own purges of any group they saw as having the potential to harbour secret revolt, and most magicians, except for those few allied with the occult-obsessed Himmler, found themselves fleeing the country or in detention camps.
This, however, was only a taste of what was to come for the European Underground. When WW2 broke out and Hitler’s armies marched across Europe, the SS followed in their wake, rooting out and destroying any organisation that might provide shelter or aid to Jewish refugees or English spies. Magick proved little defence against the ever-vigilant SS, and many a previously powerful magician perished in a backalley execution or a concentration camp, while thousands of artefacts were smashed, looted, or burnt by the SS or German soldiers. To make matters worse, there was a small but influential group of phobomancers (known variously as Eye Sockets, The Long Knives, or The Rats in the Walls) high-up in the Nazi hierarchy, who targeted the SS against their rivals and provided them with just enough magickal backup to ensure they carried out their tasks successfully.
The English Underground, dominated by Dugan Forsythe and the Sleepers - known among the rest of the Underground as The Enigma - who had made a temporary and short-lived alliance with three Cryptomantic cabals, struck back at the Nazis through the SOE intelligence service, charged by Churchill to ‘set Europe ablaze.’ Cliomancy proved particularly suited for intelligence and propaganda work, unsurprisingly, but Forsythe’s manipulations also led to considerable tension with other intelligence services, who thought, rightly, that SOE seemed to have hidden motivations. After all, Forsythe was just as interested in grabbing the remaining books and artefacts of the destroyed European Underground as he was in fighting Hitler.
As a result of the Second World War, the current European Underground effectively dates only from the late 1960s, when occultism began to seriously reestablish itself in its former birthplaces. The Underground in Eastern Europe, where Communist paranoia kept the secret purges going long after the War, only started growing again in the late 80s. The only exceptions to this legacy of destruction are England and Switzerland; the English Underground only prospered from the war, though it is still far more dominated by the Sleepers, Dugan Forsythe’s legacy, than America, and Switzerland’s neutrality protected its occult community, which, unsurprisingly, still remains dominated by clockworking. There have been rumors of a secret Swiss cabal which uses the resources of the Swiss banks to exercise a powerful plutomantic influence, but canny adepts tend to dismiss stories of the Gnomics of Zurich as unlikely, given the basically conservative, staid, and tedious nature of the Swiss underground.
Dampening Things Down
By the end of WW2, then, the centre of the Underground had well and truly moved to the United States. In the heady post-war rush, things became pretty chaotic, and equally violent. The new rush of European immigrants, many of them occultists of every stripe from kabbalists through to sex magicians, stirred things up no end, as did the development of entropomancy sometime in 1943. The involvement of the Underground with organised crime reached its peak, and the late 1940s saw a number of intensely violent wars between cabals, most notoriously the 1948 showdown in Detroit between the Snapdragons, a group of baby-faced near-psychotic freaks who included the infamous Little Lucy, given to playing with her dolls until they broke, and the quietly insane Snap himself, and Olivia de Quincey, an aging thaumaturgist with all the fading resources of the old Underground behind her. Olivia was broken in half by Snap in front of a terrified crowd, half the Snapdragons having succumbed to madness or death when their entire hotel filled with the smoke of the Grey Opium, but Snap was, in turn, beaten to death by one of Olivia’s old mob lovers. Things were heady, bloody, and nasty.
Two factors combined to quieten things down a little. Firstly, the Sleepers engendered a massive elimination of the Occult Underground in New York, which had previously been the absolute dead centre of magickal activity. In doing so, they also created a deep distrust of magic and the occult among organised criminals, thanks to a series of faked betrayals planted through cliomancy, thus cutting the Underground as a whole off from a valuable source of income. [[I think this gives the Sleepers almost too much credit. The mob had, by this time, probably had ample experience with GENUINE occultist battiness, unreliability, and untrustworthiness. Every adept is, by definition, obsessed with his own quirky thang, not with obedience to the godfather. There are exceptions, but generally they don’t play well with others… Something we may want to stress in descriptions of TNI, now that I think of it…]] [I thought, however, that we already had the Sleepers doing this in canon …] This distrust wasn’t too hard to create; the mob had ample experience with the genuine battiness, unreliability, and untrustworthiness of adepts by this point. In an organisation where loyalty and reliability were all-important, this didn’t bode well. A similar, but less thorough purge went on in California, after one of the most powerful magicians in the country decided to quit the Underground and take out a fairly large portion of it en route.
Secondly, the increasingly conservative atmosphere of the 50s simply wasn’t that conducive to magick - or, more to the point, to providing a convenient stream of suckers for the Underground to feed off. The old-fashioned Hermetic groups and conspiracies made something of a comeback at this point, often hiding within more mainstream freemasonic and Rotarian groups. Perhaps the most powerful was the Red and Rosy Cross, a Rosicrucian group which, rumour has it, had at least two Republican and one Democratic senators in its pocket. Magick moved quietly into the corners, the shadows, and the bloody internecine warfare of the 40s was put aside, producing, at least for the moment, a more peaceful Underground.
A Bitter Chill
During the late 1940s and throughout most of the 1950s, one of the main sources of income for the Occult Underground was, funnily enough, espionage. Some cabals were directly involved in the Cold War; after all, it was a great excuse to go to foreign countries with a lot of money, hang about with odd people, and pinch neat things. Both the English and German Cryptomancers were heavily involved; The Apostles, a homosexual society at Cambridge that the Cambridge traitors – Philby, Burgess, Maclean – belonged to, had strong Cryptomantic elements. The modern form of Personamancy was also strongly associated with espionage, as many of the first personamancers were long-term agents for either the West or the East. The KGB lacked magicians of its own, as magick had been largely crushed by communism, but there were a very few agents who practiced a form of magick based around the individual will subjected before the Collective Will. Their superiors were almost never aware of their agents’ powers, nor did they actively try to recruit adepts, not knowing of their existence; espionage was simply a good place to be if you were an occultist.
However, some cabals weren’t directly associated with the Cold War, but simply managed to squeeze money out of the willingness of both the CIA and KGB to fund groups who claimed to be promoting American or Communist values. They didn’t claim to have anything to do with the occult, normally, but instead pretended to be involved in a conspiratorial underworld; both sides were often all too willing to believe their opponents were being manipulated by old, dark societies. Several cabals caught onto this fairly fast, and exploited the KGB’s naivety about Western life to make it appear as though they were much more influential than they actually were. The KGB found itself funding half the English underground, who were giving themselves names like ‘The High Labour Executive’ and claiming three-quarters of the Cabinet as secret members, while the CIA was similarly gulled by European and Latin American cabals, such as the infamous Coiners, which purported to be a secret Masonic group with immense pull among the Italian, Brazilian, and Spanish establishment, but which was, in fact, two Frenchmen with a talent for accents over the phone . Most adepts didn’t really give a damn about the triumph of either communism or capitalism; they just wanted the money.
Tynes: Rework this section so that we don’t have government-funded adepts doing their thing, and instead posit that many people in the intelligence community were secretly adepts pursuing their own agendas within the context of their work. In other words, it was a great place to be an adept, but that doesn’t mean the CIA had a magick training manual and so forth. It was just a cover career of choice, and a natural wellspring for such activity, without it becoming an official practice. This was meant to be the implication; they were just parasites, basically …
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Testimony: Spice Williams Retired CIA Agent
Jesus, I remember the fifties. All those whackos coming out of the woodwork, wanting cash, and the Agency willing to fling it around on the off-chance. The other side were doing the same, thankfully, but we never got shit out of any of them. I was stuck in an office in Vienna dealing with the oddest bunch of folks - there was this one little gal who had three nipples - she showed me, boy! - who kept insisting she was a witch. She had the funniest eyes, that gal, but, like the rest of them, she never produced a single result, not one that would hold up. Weirdos.
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Unsurprisingly, the Underground benefited greatly from the various cultural changes of the 60s and 70s. Wacky theories were part and parcel of the mainstream, and, yet again, the whole of society seemed to be changing; the opening up of possibilities and the sudden exaltation of the individual against authority made magick, for a few, a plausible method of rebellion. The East was all the rage again, and a half-baked understanding of Hinduism and a sincere, stupid belief in the powers of mysterious yogas and gurus was, ironically, a pretty good qualification for accidentally stumbling into magick. (The loose alliance of cabals that had actually formed while travelling in India was, briefly, known as the Third Eye Movement; it never had much unity, unsurprisingly.) The gullibility, wealth, and unsuppressed desires of the new generation of youth meant that money was pouring into cults, movements, and gurus at a rate that even exceeded the 1890s. Old adepts look back upon the 60s as glory days; many of them got laid and paid to an extent that they’ve never really managed to emulate since.
Many cabals became mobile, moving around the country, following festivals and bands and the money, and the most notorious magickal clashes tended to occur when two groups turned up to try and rip-off the same people. California was the main occult playground of the time, and the Underground there was notoriously bitchy, and given to vicious backbiting, but rarely actually violent. King Solomon, a suprisingly stable urbanomancer, managed to get himself elected a kind of unofficial leader of the West Coast Underground, and even, with the help of Mizz Pym, the daughter of the London Judge Godwalker of the 1930s, managed to hold a kind of court. There were a number of painful incidents involving individual cults, when the leaders became so heady with power that they effectively self-destructed, but things were, for the main part, fairly peaceful. The Funky Color Brothers, a group of white, middle-class teenagers with an ever-changing membership, a surprising amount of power, and an attitude straight from Scooby Doo, made it their goal to enforce the love and harmony they thought the Underground ought to exemplify, and were somewhat successful. (By 1982, they had become intent on keeping the spirit of the 60s going through any means possible, and were wiped out by a group of Entropomancers known as Spin when at a Grateful Dead concert.)
There was a darker side to things, of course, as ever. The Underground was relatively open and tolerant, but the Dionysian spirit quickly overspilled into bloodshed. One of the most notorious incidents, for example, was when Sarah Anne Lawley, a fifteen year old runaway from Louisiana, famous among the Underground for her ability to kill with a kiss and fly without wings, was torn to pieces and eaten by a group of homeless men in Portland, under the influence of a Urbanomancer desperately and perversely in love with her. Pickled portions of her flesh still drift around the Underground, and are supposed to grant a potion of her power when eaten. Speculating as to the identity of the Zodiac serial killer who terrorised the Bay Area in the 1970s is a popular parlour game among occultists; just about every major figure of the Underground is mentioned, though the most popular candidate seems to be the Freak.
Anarchy in the U.S.A.
By the early 1980s, people were tired of the supposed love, harmony, and general sappiness of the 1970s. Punk captured the new zeitgeist; things were harder-edged, tougher, and more vicious. In Britain, annihilomancy, and sometimes entropomancy), were known as ‘The Only Magic That Matters,’ and the London Underground, which had become increasingly dominated by aging refugees from the 60s now more interested in finding ways to keep their dicks hard than in real power, was joyfully torn apart by Na Na Na, Love Boys, Dirty Pins, and other young, powerful, chaotic magicians who then went on to fight among themselves until, by the 90s, the survivors were just as conservative and out of touch as those they had replaced.
In the states, the wash of money from gullible youngsters was drying up somewhat - though the ‘New Age’ continued in California, where the supposed Comte de Saint-Germain exercised a benign supervision over the Underground in San Francisco - and occultists began to fight harder than before. The media became the new focus of competition; the golden goal of many 80s magicians was to get a live showing on network TV. The Sleepers took a different view, and planted informants within most major news organisations, and many of the more media-crazed adepts indeed found themselves on the evening news, albeit with holes in their heads or being fished out of drainage canals. This extended even to a local level; when Ping!, a group of ex-MIT dukes, discovered that personal computers and improvised ritual were enough to carve out whole new worlds of reality, and tried to show this off on their local free access channel, the Sleepers were down on them within forty-eight hours. .
Plutomancy, which had been around since the days of the robber barons in one form or another, acquired its modern form in 1983, when a group of Harvard-educated New York stockbrokers formed a cabal called simply The Universal Bank, and began using the stock market not just to make money, but to tap into power they hadn’t even dreamed of - to truly become masters of the universe. Unfortunately, they’d reckoned without taboo; spending was just too ingrained in their lifestyle to be avoided, and they were easily taken down by the Mafia families of New York, with the aid of information covertly fed to them by the Sleepers.
By the early 1990s, with the collapse of Communism, the ever-increasing power of the media, and the massive expansion of the internet, things were set for the next occult revolution; truly postmodern magick. New schools exploded all over the place, Abel found out about a new world to conquer, and the Goddess went up. Ironically, the creation of the New Inquisition and the Cult of the Naked Goddess, rather than suppressing other groups, seems to have stirred them on in turn; Dirk Allen, who has a vague interest in these things, reckons that more new cabals were created, and more natural magicians sprung up, in the 1990s alone than in the previous four decades combined - and four times that number of con-artists, fools, wannabees, and romantics attached to them.
The Underground is shook up, wide open, and major things are happening every day. Right at the moment, things are anybody’s game; it’s almost as though the Underground is birthing itself anew all over again. Some adepts point back to Rome, and speak in hushed tones of the sleeping Empire rebirthing itself; most just think that their time has come. Perhaps it has …
More old notes. This time: Mystery Cults! Note that God's Heralds made it into To Go ...
[Design goals: Well, these guys are mentioned briefly in the rulebook in a couple of places, and are a fairly logical part of the UAverse. After all, worship/emulation/religion is a pretty logical follow-on to finding out that there’s gods out there. I’ve tried to avoid the ‘evil subversive conspiracy’ theme, but to make them worthwhile opponents/allies/curiosities/adventure hooks …]
The Mystery Cults
Humanity seems to have a natural inclination towards religion, a deep desire to believe in and worship forces more powerful than us. It isn’t surprising, then, that when people found out that there were beings out there in the Statosphere distinctly greater than us, some of the discovers decided to worship them. Discovering the power of Avatars, they attempted not only to emulate them, but to set up rites and rituals that would aid the process of becoming an Avatar, and which would honour the Archetype as a god.
Some of these rituals simply encouraged initiates into certain behavioural patterns which echoed the Archetype’s function, such as the solitary wilderness rites required by cults focused around the Masterless Man, or the requirement of the Cult of Cybele, which followed the Mystic Hermaphrodite, that her initiates castrate themselves. Some, however, were genuine rituals, focusing and channelling the power of the Archetype to great effect.
As described in the History chapter, the Mystery Cults as organised institutions were wiped out by the fearful Roman Underground, and dealt a further blow by the birth of Christianity. You can’t keep a good religion down, though, and the basic ideas and processes of the Cults have returned again and again throughout history. In today’s Occult Underground, the various scattered cults are one of the most potentially powerful forces – and, indeed, the newly forceful Sect of the Naked Goddess is a classic Mystery Cult, although its use of an entirely new school of magick is unusual, and helps account for its remarkable success.
Nobody really knows what the Archetypes think, or feel, or whatever it is that Archetypes really do, about the Mystery Cults. Many of the cults are convinced that their Archetype watches over them directly, but it seems as though most of the worshipped Archetypes frankly couldn’t give a damn about their followers. Steve Johann, a Midwestern trailer-park seer, claimed once in conversation with Dirk Allen that the Archetypes are a tad embarrassed about the whole business, but to attribute blushes to such entities seems a little unlikely. However, a couple of Archetypes appear to take a more direct interest in their cults; certainly the Sect of the Naked Goddess seems occasionally to be helped by their deity, perhaps because it has been such a short time since she Ascended.
Are They All Avatars?
In a nutshell, no. Out of any Cult, only perhaps one in ten members, if that, actually channel the Archetype the cult worships. Most people simply don’t have the necessary commitment and devotion that being an Avatar requires, or the skill at manipulating symbols and perceptions, or the stubbornness and alertness not to break taboo - which is why, outside of the cults, every politician isn’t a Demagogue, or every loyal secretary a Necessary Servant. The actual Avatars, who normally head the cult hierarchy, tend to keep the symbolic tricks that help maintain Avatar status secret except for a chosen few, out of a combination of any one or more of jealousy, privacy, a wish to maintain their own unique status, and a belief that certain things are best left to the chosen.
What do the non-Avatar members of a cult get out of it, then? They get to be close to something magical, they get the reassurance that any faith, no matter how ridiculous, gives to people, and they get a sense of community and family. Many of them may have had somewhat tough lives, or be quite lonely, and the cult provides them with a great sense of comfort. They tend to turn to the cults rather than more conventional religions for two reasons
Much of the activity of many Cults, then, is given over to the normal activities of any small church; communal worship, rites of passage, support groups, theological study. Of course, the worship occasionally involves animal sacrifice, nudity, or flagellation, but more often it’s restricted to silly outfits, ritual objects, and symbolic actions.
For example, The Blessed Fools, a San Diego cult, celebrate April 1st by dressing up in butterfly costumes and dancing round the front room of their Exalted Foolish Hierophant. The Church of Our Lady Jesus, a Brazilian semi-Christian cult of the Mystic Hermaphrodite welcome a new member by holding a large drag party, to which numerous transvestites unaffiliated with the Church show up, and where the Church members switch sex halfway through. The Sistren of the Sun, who follow the Flying Woman, run regular study groups at a local feminist bookstore which examine the magical power of sisterhood, lesbianism, and sun-worship throughout history, with particular reference to the peaceful ancient Aztec and Minoan matriarchies.
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Most of the Mystery Cults aren’t exactly one hundred percent correct in their view of the universe; most of them do well to be even half-right. Their views tend to be skewed by their considerable, powerful faith in their Archetype, and occasionally by deliberate falsehoods on the part of the higher echelons of the cult hierarchy. Here are some of the more common misconceptions that mystery cults may hold:
• [Cult’s Archetype] is the one True God, and others a) don’t exist, b) are forces of evil, or c) are weaker than our God. • [Archetype] loves us. • [Archetype] chooses people to manifest its will on earth. These people are known as Avatars, and are living, powerful manifestations of our [Archetype], given god-like powers. • [Archetype] has always existed, throughout the many incarnations of the universe. • Magic? The only magic is through the power of [Archetype.] • [Archetype] is the defender of humanity against the evil forces of the Invisible Clergy, invaders from a twisted former universe. • [Archetype] used to be worshipped by all of humanity, but has been cast down from his/her true position. Now he/she has returned to the world! • Our leader chooses who channels the power of [Archetype.] • Every generation, the head of our cult ascends to become the new [Archetype] • We are the Children of Satan! • [Archetype]’s chosen people are the Americans/English/Whites/Blacks, and all others are inferior.
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The most important part of any Mystery Cult is its initiation rite. This is a ritual, in both the magical and conventional sense of the word, which marks somebody as a member of the cult or elevates his or her status within the cult’s hierarchy. (For all you purists out there, this isn’t really a ritual as such, because the cult generally invents it themselves; rather, it’s a specific application of collective willpower and belief somewhat akin to Tilting the Statosphere.) Most Cults possess only one initiation rite, but some have multiple levels of initiation.
The specifics of rites vary wildly, but generally involve the participant, alone, undergoing a series of ordeals which symbolically represent the nature of the Archetype. To take an ancient example, the initiation rituals of Mithras, involved the initiate being left in a dark cave, where he remained for a day and night before participating in the sacrifice of a bull – thus representing both the solitary, self-reliant nature of the Masterless Man and his physical strength.
The initiation rites of modern cults can be equally daunting. The Made Men, a group of New Jersey Mafia wannabes who worship the Executioner, require the initiate to firstly be symbolically killed themselves, in the traditional street-style posture, with an empty revolver – well, almost always empty, and then to personally kill their own pet. They would require an actual human killing, but they don’t really have the guts. The Esoteric and Ancient Order of Hermes, a Magus cult, requires the initiate to spend the night in prayer and meditation before his own reflected image in a deep underground lake, before swimming the length of the lake clad in full robes. The Lady-Killers, a Mystic Hermaphrodite cult consisting entirely of high-flying city types, requires the initiate to have some form of sexual contact with every other member of the cult, and to break off all sexual contact with outsiders.
The psychological effect of initiation rites is to make the initiate feel special, and to bind them more closely to other members of the cult – or, if they are being initiated into a greater degree of initiation, to impress upon them the importance of this new status. Sometimes several initiates participate in the rite together, in order to strengthen this sense of bonding. The supernatural effect is twofold. Firstly, it can either start somebody on the Avatar path – if they have the proper inclination and will – at a skill of 5%, or else raise their existing skill by 3-7%, depending on the extent and difficulty of the rite. Later rituals generally raise skill by only 1-3%, however. Secondly, it marks them, magically, as a member, and makes it possible to use certain other rituals, detailed later, upon them.
Types of Cult
Every Mystery Cult is different, of course, and the Archetype worshipped makes a considerable difference to their outlook, but there are certain basic patterns that seem to regularly crop up. Here are some of the more common types of cult.
Almost every mystery cult claims some antique heritage, but in a very, very few parts of the world, mystery cults survive that can genuinely trace themselves back to the ancient world. The most common areas to find ancient survivals are Iran and Afghanistan, areas heavily influenced by both Persian and Roman culture which consequently fell into a relatively ‘primitive’ state. In general, they are based in a tiny, tiny area – perhaps just a few people in one village – and, not infrequently, have entirely lost the supernatural element of their rituals and become a simple religion. These cults are of great interest to occult historians, but have little to offer in terms of practical power, except, just possibly, an artifact or two. The Followers of the Horseman: An Ancient Survival
The Followers of the Horseman are a small Afghanistan cult, based around the worship of Iskander, a mythologised version of Alexander, who channel the power of War. They have perhaps thirty members left, mainly in the city of Kabul, who pass on the rituals to their sons, but they will probably be extinct within two generations. It is a sacred heritage to most of the members, not a means to gain power, and they will be highly unwilling to talk about their faith. They possess one moderately interesting significant artifact, however, Bucephalus’ Reins. These reins, used by Alexander when taming his famous horse, add +30% to any riding skill and automatically break in any wild horse they’re placed upon. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the horsemen discovered that they have a symbolic power with rather more use in the modern day; if held by the driver of a tank, the modern cavalry, they add +10% to his skill in operating the vehicle.
Occasionally a particularly gifted mortal gets a glimpse of the Statosphere in a dream or vision, especially if he or she happens to visit the site of an Ascension. Some of them go crazy, some die on the spot, but normally they interpret it within a religious framework, and quite often, especially if they happen to be naturally charismatic, they start a group around their vision, normally under the general aegis of their old religion. Many of these groups have no powers at all, but a few manage to key in to the tricks of channelling Archetypal power. The original visionary is often a Demagogue Avatar, but the cult may worship a different Archetype altogether.
God’s Heralds: A Visionary Cult
Terry Young was a FedEx employee with an almost religious fervour for her company mission. She was also a devout evangelical Christian, and an unwitting psychic. When she happened to be given a delivery to Dermot Arkane, she caught him in the middle of one of his not infrequent battles with the current Messenger, and was caught up in the unnatural backwash of the incident, receiving a powerful vision of the Statosphere. Terry is now convinced that there is a great battle going on between G-d and the Devil, and that Arkane is the Devil’s Minion, and she is G-d’s. The only way that Arkane can be stopped is by the spreading of the True Message, the Truthtelling, but she cannot do it alone. Consequently, Terry has gradually begun to initiate other members of her church, as well as a couple of other FedEx employees into the Ways of the Message. They have been given something of a morale boost by the recent release of Castaway, and may represent a considerable irritation to Arkane’s plans. It is not unlikely, by the way, that the Messenger has set Terry up as a deliberate strike against Arkane.
The shortcuts to power represented by the rituals of Mystery Cults is a powerful temptation to those who feel life has dealt them something of a kick in the teeth, as is the comfort that any form of faith offers. Many Mystery Cults are therefore centred around the downtrodden and desperate of society; the poor, the homeless, the lunatic. The ‘mole people’ of the New York underground are thought to harbour at least one cult, and at least three operate on the Indian Reservations.
Hold Me Baby: A Desperate Cult
Based around the worship of the Mother, Hold Me Baby is a Jamaican cult of unknown origin which has recently been making some inroads into the inner-cities of the U.S.A. It combines elements of voudoun with Catholic worship of the Virgin Mary to create a powerful, Christian-based religion centred around motherhood. A common symbol of the cult is a statue of the black, pregnant Virgin, which looks somewhat like Epstein’s sculpture ‘Genesis.’ Members babysit for each other’s children, raise abandoned children, and generally act as centres of parental life within their communities. A strong emphasis is placed upon continued pregnancy as a talisman against disaster, and many members of the cult are under the delusion that being pregnant protects them from anything, from gunshots through to the police. At least one member, however, has been convicted of smothering her child; whether the secret worship of the Devouring Mother is part of the cult is up to the GM to decide.
Not all Mystery Cults actually worship their Archetype; some merely see them as a convenient path to power. This kind of practical, pragmatic approach to the Avatar path is relatively rare among the Cults, because individuals with this point of view tend to figure out the Avatar approach on their own, and not feel the need for others to help them. It isn’t unknown, though, and it’s also fairly common to find a pragmatist or two among the membership of other cults. Pragmatic Cults are generally founded by people who are fairly clued-in as to the nature of the universe, and have more genuine information than other cults; the members are often magicians as well as Avatars
The Organization: A Pragmatic Cult
Kenneth York, a middle-aged Canadian bank manager, found out about the Occult Underground when a pissed-off Annihilomancer whom he’d just denied a loan blew up his car with a wave of his fingers. The police talked about explosives and grenades, but Kenneth knew what he had seen; magic. It surprised him to find that he wasn’t scared, but curious. He dug a little deeper, using the connections and influence that any small-town banker has, and it didn’t take him that long to find out about Avatars. Well, the Merchant seemed an obvious choice, but he felt he couldn’t really go it on his own.
He gradually introduced a couple of members of his local Rotary Society – and old boyhood friends of his - to the path of the Merchant, and the Organization more or less expanded from there. It now has about twenty members, all middle-aged Canadian businessmen, mostly family men, although York himself is gay, who meet once a month to discuss the best symbols to use to further their power, how to keep themselves a secret from the rest of the Underground, who don’t seem to be very nice people, and to conduct certain rites which seem to help them get on. There is very little sinister about it, although a few of the members are not averse to slightly shadier business dealings, but PCs who stumble upon it – perhaps through one of York’s occasional forays into the rest of the Underground, seeking information to help the Cult – will doubtless read far more sinister motivations into it.
Fakers Gone Real
Faking religions for money is nothing new; depending on your cynicism, almost all religions can be seen as being money-making schemes in one way or another. As shown in chapter X, the Underground is rife with false cults, rip-off schemes, and con men, seeking to exploit the lonely and gullible. Occasionally, however, these fake schemes go wrong, and become real. If a good conman creates a plausible enough religion, drawing upon real archetypal images to create something that will, so to speak, pull the punters in, he can end up tapping powers far greater than he realized. In this case, the conman at the top of the operation may well be totally unaware that his followers do, in fact, have actual mystical powers – or he may have realized what’s happening, and either seized the opportunity or disappeared, terrified.
Love’s Children: A Formerly Fake Cult
Katie Turnbull, also known as Sandra Topley, Sister Beauty, Rainbow Cornwallis, Ash Loveblossom, and Moonbeam Sunshine, was one of the most successful pseudo-religious con-artists of the late 1960s. Katie could start a religion in under a month, provided she was in either California or India, have the suckers milked in six months, and be out of there within the year. She didn’t discriminate; she was as happy to bilk Catholics with a fake Madonna as she was to skin spiritual seekers in Benares, but eventually she settled down in the mid-1990s, having established herself as the Mother of Love’s Children, a thriving sect on a private commune in Oregon with several rich and gullible members. She’d made the beliefs of Love’s Children up one drunken night; they were a mixture of pseudo-Buddhism, alchemy, channelling, bisexuality, tantric sex, and Doom Patrol comics.
As time went by, the bisexual and androgynous elements of the cult became more and more emphasised, and the rituals and orgies involved more complicated and disturbing; Turnbull found herself caught up in something quite beyond her control, and the realisation that she’d tapped into something much deeper than she expected came when one of the more devout members of the Children went to bed a man and woke up a woman. Now Turnbull is desperately trying to figure out what’s going on, and is making tentative contact with elements of the Occult Underground while trying to keep control over fifty-odd cult members who are quite convinced that she is the living incarnation of Rebis, the alchemical union of male and female.
Religion and the Underground
Unsurprisingly, the Mystery Cults draw much of their imagery and beliefs from various major and minor religions, and the religious background of the founder deeply influences the character of any particular cult. Religion tends to be a major factor in the way that most people react to the discovery of the reality of the supernatural anyway; after all, a conservative Catholic is going to look upon a naked porn star ascending in a blaze of light rather differently from a romantic Wiccan.
Christianity, in all its myriad varieties, remains by far the largest religion in the United States. Despite the fact that the esoteric and counter-cultural interests of most potential occultists often means that they’ve supposedly renounced Christianity before they encounter real evidence of the supernatural, a Christian worldview tends to be what they fall back upon when they find a demon trying to cram itself into their skull.
Christianity, essentially, doesn’t like the occult, doesn’t believe in reincarnation or multiple universes, and generally doesn’t lend itself to the reality of the universe of Unknown Armies without quite some twisting. The response of devout Christians who encounter the occult tends to be to characterize it as evil (which is sometimes true), dangerous (which is normally true), and quite possibly satanic (which isn’t really the case.) A surprising number of wannabe occultists who think they’ve put ‘the oppressive Christian tyranny’ behind them nonetheless find themselves scrabbling for crosses and frantically praying when they first encounter true magick.
Of course, there are also a lot of occultists who characterise their actions in terms of an inversion of Christianity; Satanism. This tends to be essentially egotistical showing-off, with very little thought or excitement behind it – pretty much like most of the Underground. Some adepts and avatars, such as [what’s her name] (see LG&M, pg. XX), see themselves as having been given divine gifts; this is easier for avatars, whose power genuinely does come from another realm, than for adepts, for whom personal will and self-belief tends to be all important. Those clued-in occultists who are also devout Christians tend to believe in an ultimate God above and beyond the Invisible Clergy, or to see Jesus as the one Archetype which returns in all worlds.
A lot of Mystery Cults – perhaps as many as twenty or thirty percent of those in the United States – have Christian elements. Catholicism, in particular, which has a greater tradition of the veneration of individuals and private devotion to particular saints than Protestantism, tends to lend itself to the development of Mystery Cults, as does some of the backwoods fervour of the evangelical churches of the Deep South; the greatest group of Christian-based Mystery Cults, however, is in South America, where the syncretistic Catholic elements of such belief systems as santeria and obeah produce some very strange cabals.
The mystical and magical elements of Judaism, the most prominent being Kaballah (see pg. XX), sometimes result in devout young scholars discovering certain truths best left alone, but, generally, Judaism takes a negative view towards the occult. Judaism has much less of a Satanic tradition than Christianity, and the initial reaction of a Jew, lapsed or devout, encountering the supernatural is marginally more likely to be disbelief than panic. Jewish Mystery Cults are very rare, the only known examples being in some of the very isolationist and insular ultra-Orthodox communities. Hasidim, strangely enough, generally find it easier to accept the reality of magic than other Jews, because of the wonder-working tradition associated with the rebbes, and because Hasidism has some mystical elements hinting at the possibility of reincarnation, multiple universes, and the suchlike. Perhaps the most common belief among clued-in Jewish occultists is that G-d is working gradually to perfect the world through its multiple incarnations.
You’re kidding, right? Islam – whose followers, on average, tend to be somewhat more devoutly religious than the average Christian or Jew – doesn’t like the occult one tiny little bit. While there was a magical tradition in some of the medieval Islamic kingdoms, a modern Muslim who encounters magic is likely to respond in a highly negative fashion. The only exceptions are some Muslims from Indian and Pakistani backgrounds, where the pir, or magical holy man, is still a respected figure. There are occasional Islamic Mystery Cults, arising out of the more esoteric, and often very ancient, sects of mystical Sufism, but these tend to be restricted to exotic backwaters; it’s very rare that a new cult bases its beliefs on Islam.
Of all religions, Hinduism corresponds most closely with the realities of the universe of Unknown Armies. Reincarnation? Humans incarnating some of the powers of the gods? Multiple incarnations of the universe? A long tradition of wandering magicians? Got ‘em all. Hindus have very few problems adapting to the discovery of the supernatural, and numerous Mystery Cults are based upon Hindu beliefs – often filtered through the lens of the New Age, and picked up in India in the 1960s. India itself is rife with Mystery Cults, sometimes with quite ancient roots; the tabooed worship of gods is considered, after all, a perfectly normal thing. The taboos and oppressions of the caste system, still very dominant in India, produce a slightly higher percentage of Avatars than in America, though as the older Archetypes fall from the Invisible Clergy, the developing countries produce less and less Avatars, being less in tune with the new realities of the Statosphere. A small but significant percentage of Hindu sadhus (wandering holy men with peculiar taboos, such as nakedness or not washing) are Avatars, normally of the Pilgrim.
Buddhism has less of a magical tradition than Hinduism, but still tends to view it more favourably than the Judeo-Christian traditions. The meditative and introspective focus of devout Buddhism, however, tends not to produce adepts or avatars, for whom a large part of their power comes, essentially, from a lack of examination of their own beliefs. Occultists, however, have often been influenced by Western Buddhism (which tends to bear very little resemblance to the way Buddhism is practiced in Asia), filtered through Jung and the idealisation of Tibet, and what might best be described as ‘Hollywood Buddhism’ is a considerable influence on the Underground. About a tenth of adepts, if you questioned them, would probably describe the thought processes involved in working magick as Zen, without having any real idea of what Zen is.
Buddhist Mystery Cults are rare in America, but extremely common in Nepal and Tibet, where Buddhism’s fusion with earlier traditions, as well as an emphasis on esoteric forms and particular taboos, has long produced a number of isolated and often rather nasty Mystery Cults, generally of the darker Archetypes. Most of the Tibetan Mystery Cults have been wiped out by the Chinese as part of their purges of Tibetan Buddhism; those European scholars and adventurers who penetrated into the region before WW2, such as Angela Forsyth, who briefly visited in 1937, speak of this with a tone of great relief for humanity.
Popular Chinese Taoism, with its numerous gods and rituals, has perhaps the richest magical tradition of any religion, and the old Chinese occult establishment was thoroughly steeped in it. Chinese-American Taoists, who tend to take quite a pragmatic attitude towards what the gods can do for them, are not uncommon in the Occult Underground, but the influence of Taoism on the Occult Underground as a whole tends to be through the medley of Hindu, Buddhism, and Taoism beliefs that made up the ‘New Age’ movement.
Ever since Gerald Gardner made up Wicca out of whole cloth and a considerable imagination in 1947, neo-paganism has been one of the most influential religions within the Occult Underground. ‘Pagan’ ideals were held by a significant part of the Underground long before that, of course – such as by the True Brittanick Church of Druidry, a briefly flourishing 18th century cabal that combined blood-magick, Anglicanism, and long white robes, or the Children of Pan, a wild party-going cabal of the 1920s – but Gardner’s new religion, and all its bastard children, has been a bigger influence than any previous movement.
Neo-paganism is a very diverse movement, but its chief features are, generally speaking, a romantic desire for a golden age, credulity about the supernatural, a willingness to incorporate new beliefs, an intensely local nature, and an intense bitchiness and competitiveness within the movement. (As an example of the last, some years ago English Heritage banned neo-pagan groups from using Avebury and Stonehenge to hold midsummer rituals, not out of some anti-pagan bias but because there was actual physical violence between the groups as to which of them were the ‘true’ pagans.)
It has produced a huge number of potential members of the Occult Underground, and the number of neo-pagan Mystery Cults is somewhat out of proportion to their actual numbers compared to Christians or Jews; the Archetypes make as good gods as any, and the tendency of local pagan groups to focus upon particularly . However, the percentage of neo-pagans who actually break through into real magick, rather than the sappy, tedious, and sentimental ‘magick’ practiced idealistically by most covens, is actually rather small, because, when it comes down to it, neo-paganism simply doesn’t produce the kind of obsession and guts that real adepts need, nor does it provide a sufficiently rigid mental framework to produce real paradox. Most clued-in adepts regard neo-pagans in much the same way that a card sharper regards a room full of keen and drunk amateur poker players. After all, how can you really take seriously a religion which claims to be based on ancient paganism and doesn’t even have the balls to practice animal sacrifice?
Final lot of stuff - this bit's on life in the Underground
OK, design goals for this chapter are the following -
a) to emphasise that the Underground is largely clueless, disorganised, and local b) to provide a framework for groups not associated with one of the big power groups c) to present the ‘shallow’ Underground as (largely) amiable losers - which they are in real life, pretty much, and the ‘deep’ Underground as desperate losers. Magick, in Unknown Armies, is not something that makes you happy, or powerful, or influential, or healthy; it’s essentially an addiction. On the other hand, I’ve tried to include a few well-balanced, nice people, so as not to be too one-sided.
[I’ve got my comments in, but overall I like it a lot.]
Playing in the Underground
Campaigns based around the New Inquisition have a certain cinematic quality; they’re dramatic, world-spanning, explosive, full of gunfights and car chases, the PCs have serious resources to bring to a mission. Sleeper campaigns have a quieter, more literary feel, like a John le Carre thriller or a more hectic Umberto Eco. A campaign centred around the Underground, though, is more like a TV series. There are regularly recurring characters, familiar locations, developments offscreen, personal friendships and enmities. It’s worth putting somewhat more time and effort into the creation of individual characters and groups for such a campaign, because they’re likely to be around for a whole lot longer.
Cities and Fields
Plenty of occultists live a wandering lifestyle. Sometimes their school or Avatar requires it - as with the Pilgrim or Annihilomancy - but more often it stems from a simple rootlessness, an unwillingness to participate in ordinary life. After all, becoming an adept innately involves a division from mundane existence, a loss of the normal restrictions of friends, family, and work which keep most of us where we are. It tends to be, therefore, the more serious and clued-in occultists who take up this lifestyle.
Travelling adepts are even more obsessive than the normal run; they’ve pretty much given up everything. Some of them are on a power kick; move in, show off, move on, and are rather less discreet about their use of magick than most members of the Underground. When they arrive somewhere, they tend to disrupt the established order of the Underground; flashing the occult equivalent of big wallets around in order to prove that they’re ‘somebody’. More stable occultists look down on them somewhat, but there are a few who have become semi-legendary within the American Underground. Most of the show-off types get whacked by the Sleepers or by nasty rural magicians whose turf they stumble onto by mistake.
More common than the power-seekers, because they’re longer-lived, are the desperate, burnt-out, pathetic adepts who drift from town to town because they have nothing better to do; the Underground and magick have eaten them up and spat them out. They scrape a marginally better living than most tramps and drifters because of their magickal edge, but they’re still scrawny, dirty, and have unnaturally bright, fever-ridden eyes. Dipsomancers, obviously, make up a fair proportion of this crowd. There’s said to be a barn somewhere in Iowa where such adepts gather, drink cheap booze, and tell their stories. Jeeter (see UA, page XX) is a typical example of such an adept.
Some occultists, of course, are simply on the run from the demons of their past [How about we end the sentence there, and then start the next as “Sometimes this is literal, but more often it’s…”], which can be anything from the police, the Sleepers, the mob, a particularly vicious cabal they crossed, or, well, demons. These occultists stay well out of reach of the big towns, and avoid attention like the plague, living marginal lifestyles constantly haunted by fear. They take extreme magickal precautions, and often establish little hideouts and stashes all over the country, if they’ve been running for a while. Quite often, the organisation or entity they believe is pursing them gave up years ago, but they’ve become locked in the paranoid lifestyle. The New Inquisition recruits some of them, of course.
Of course, there are some travelling occultists - particularly Avatars of the Pilgrim - who are neither boastful, burnt-out, or on the run, but just like to move around, see friends, and tell stories. After all, not every serious member of the Occult Underground is ravaged, perverted, desperate, or manic; just most.
As with most subcultures, the Occult Underground has certain figures who assume… not exactly a leadership role, but a kind of mentor-like, “senior partner” position within the communities of each city. This is sometimes because they have awesome mystical wisdom and the power to annihilate a man with a glance, but more often because they just happen to have the charisma, strength of will, or backing to give their words the necessary weight. Most of these ‘gurus’, as they are sometimes known, dedicate much of their life to the Underground, seeing themselves as father or mother figures. They’re not necessarily the most clued-in or personally powerful adepts or Avatars - quite frequently they don’t know anything about real magick at all - but they have friends, status, and pull, and people go to them if they’re in trouble, or just need advice. Some of them act out a Godfather type role, seeing themselves as doing favours in return for later services, some like the attention, and some are just plain nice guys. Monica Barberry (see UA, page 197) is a good example of a guru, as was the old ‘Comte de Saint-Germain’ in San Francisco.
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Testimony: Hannah Soskice Burnt-Out German Epideromancer
I remember back when I was first learning about the bloody tricks, the knife scar magic, back in Frankfurt, when I was young, and I was pretty. I am not pretty now, am I? There was a man there, not my teacher, not even a magician proper, who everybody looked up to, called Stefan, who used to teach at the university, and hold court in his rooms afterwards, where we would all come, and he would tell us how the Priest Caste ruled this, our age of iron, from their black fortress in Washington, controlled our world through the cruelties of logic and capitalism, and it was only through the paradoxes of magick that we, the chosen, would break through, and establish the true socialist utopia. Girls would come to him, often, many girls, and men too, for advice, and for, you know, the other. He told me to give up the knife, that I was killing my soul … someone killed him in the end, left him eyeless in his office. A shame. He was a good man.
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People with the same interests tend to congegrate in particular places, and occultists are no exception. Every city has a few hangouts where occultists come to hang out, talk, scheme, and get a good cup of coffee. Normally, these places are set up to cater to the ‘New Age’ market - a small bookshop with a coffee shop attached is perhaps the most common. Small public libraries with a high content of occult books [I cannot think that that there has been an institution fitting this description in any city where I’ve lived. If it’s got a “high occult content” it’s almost assuredly not what an American is going to think of as a “public library”] also draw a lot of attention, and it’s not unknown for a particularly prominent figure in the New Age or Wiccan communities to effectively keep an open house. Bars and clubs occasionally become occultist hangouts, too, due to being conveniently open all night long. More unusual places sometimes become occult centres; there’s a twenty-four hour service station in Arizona that’s a major hangout for wandering adepts, and New Orleans occultists are notorious for their habit of hanging around in graveyards, trying to get that chic voodoo look. [Heh. Ever hear of “Carhenge”?]
Fringe occultists like this type of place because they can see their friends, boast about the spells they’ve cast recently, and generally participate in their sub-culture. Serious occultists like them because the fringe occultists give them lots of cover, and they can talk seriously in the corner while the blowhards and saps go on about rainbow power, Tantric sex rituals, and chaos magic. They also provide a clear ‘neutral ground’ for rival cabals to meet on [“where rival cabals can meet”], as there are lots of relatively mundane witnesses to stop things [from] getting messy. Some hangouts are actually run by adepts, often of some personal power, who will intervene if fighting breaks out. [I’d suspect this is rare. Most are probably run by clued-in hangers-on, but I don’t think a lot of serious, lifestyle occultists would have it together enough to run a profitable business – or even one they could keep open just from the attentions of an OU.]
A hangout is an excellent way to give a focus to a campaign. Think of the diner in ‘Twin Peaks,’ the courtroom and Meredith’s bar in ‘Seachange,’ or the bar in ‘Homicide.’ It locates the PCs firmly in their local occult community, it develops an atmosphere all of its own, and it serves as a good way to introduce new rumours, characters, and conflicts. This shouldn’t be the equivalent of ‘You are all gathered together in a tavern when a mysterious stranger approaches you with an offer …’; instead, it should be a combination of the familiar and the unusual. When one of the kids who are always discussing Black Masses and the Necrominicon on the big window table shows up without the others, but with a bruised face and a missing finger, that’s a hook. Hangouts, essentially, are a way of getting the players to actually care about their community their characters exist in. [Nice. I like this.]
Hangout: Major Arcana
Major Arcana is a big, upmarket New Age bookshop in San Francisco, run by an ageing hippy universally known as ‘Snoopy,’ who has a pot belly, a ponytail, and two diagonal scars running across his cheeks that mark his initiation into the Purified Dragon, a short-lived drug-alchemical 60s cabal. Snoopy isn’t that magically savvy, but he can mix up a few potions that combine herbal teas, various legal and illegal drugs, and his own personal mojo to unique and interesting effect. Some of these - the ones which don’t utilise illegal substances - are openly sold at The Tao of Tea, a café attached to the shop.
Most of the customers at Major Arcana are your normal run of daffy Californians, but the Fellowship of Bad Traffic and Sternos (see HUSH HUSH, pg. 25), the two dominant cabals in the city, have recently found it a convenient neutral meeting point. The selection of books is pretty crappy, being limited to glossy mass-market tomes, Wiccan poetry, the backlist of Aleister Crowley and Kenneth Grant, and a bunch of dribble from the 60s and 70s, but Snoopy’s potions have something of a reputation, too, and adepts from other cities occasionally travel there to dip into them.
Hangout: Big Violet’s
Violet Gardner is one of the most prominent members of the Pagan community in the Midwest, the head of three Druidic orders, and a fiercely imposing, 6’2”, 200 lb. woman with forearms like tree trunks. She lives in a massive rickety house in Des Moines with her equally imposing husband, Euan, and their six children, from where they run a sign-painting business, specialising in pseudo-Celtic styles. Violet welcomes guests, even with the barest of introductions, and tends to be cooking for at least twenty people every supper time, a mixture of random travellers, friends, Pagans, battered women, magicians, and homeless teenage runaways, all of whom find comfort in Violet’s lentil soup. Many a lost, confused, or poor adept has found temporary shelter there, although Violet is barely aware of the real Underground. The Cult of the Naked Goddess especially likes Violet’s, due to her recent friendship with Daphne Lee, and would try to recruit her as a member if it weren’t for the evident happiness of her marriage. Anybody who disturbs the sanctity of Violet’s risks the wrath of the Cult, a couple of travelling Entropomancers, and the fierce Violet herself.
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What’s In A Name?
As you’ve probably noticed, people and cabals in the Underground like to give themselves froody-sounding names. A group of warbucks won’t call themselves ‘The Denver Association of Plutomancers,’ they’ll call themselves Reality Cheque. A dope who wants to get attention doesn’t keep her old name of Ellen Pupkiss, she calls himself Alexandra Crowley. Partially, this is for simple reasons of advertising; a good occult name is clever, memorable, and powerful - The Six Who Dare, The Seven Sneakers, The Fellowship of Bad Traffic. They’re often also powerfully resonant with symbolic imagery for magickal purposes, as in The New Inquisition or the Sineaters, or deliberately evocative of the past, and of mystery, as in the Order of the Golden Phoenix. A good name can also disguise your true purpose to outsiders, while hinting at your true nature to the initiated - for example, take the real-life fascist group Combat 18, where ‘18’ signifies, alphabetically, A(dolf) H(itler).
Of course, not all cabals hit the right note first time. A number of words - especially in neo-pagan and New Age circles - tend to crop up rather repetitively; Chosen, Sisters, Reborn, Goddess, Sacred, Circle, that kind of thing. A common mistake made by new cabals is to put their locality in their name, as in the Atholene Brothers of Austin. Not only does this tell people where you’re from - often not a good thing - it makes you sound small and local, rather than powerful and universal. A lot of cabals change their names, sometimes more than once. Sometimes this is because the meaning acquires comic overtones, as in the unfortunate cabal that named themselves the Backstreet Boys. Duplicates are not unknown, and are often fiercely disputed; the clash between the two White Knights, one of which was a romantic, Arthur-inspired group of Avatars, the other a deeply nasty neo-Nazi group, is still remembered for its bloodiness.
Cabals often name themselves after TV programs or books; occultists are not necessarily an original lot. At the moment, there are at least four Scooby Gangs in the USA, all consisting of young, reality-defending adepts and avatars. The short-lived AMO (Alliance of Magicians and Outlaws) was a widespread group of the early 90s, inspired by Jim Dodge’s book ‘Stone Junction.’ Two new cabals have just formed in Hong Kong; Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon. (Dragon is another of those words that crops up a lot in occult names, because it sounds cool.)
As for personal name changes, these are often for purposes of magickal and mundane disguise, as in Dermott Arkane’s frequent use of anagrams of his name (and you don’t think his mother baptised him Arkane, do you?) [He was born Dermott Kane, actually.] Alexander Abel is widely supposed to have changed his name from an unknown original; Alexander, after all, suggests world conquest, while Abel hints at ability and ‘can-do’-ness. AA is also resonant of America, and of being first - first in the alphabet, first in the world of business, first in the Underground. Unfortunately, it’s simply the name his father gave him.
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It’s Not Who You Know, It’s What You Know
The biggest division in the Underground is between dopes and dukes; between those occultists who are just posing, self-deluding, or faking, and those who can actually Do Shit. It’s not a clear cut division; there are some people who can only do one unimpressive trick, or who have the kind of power, like divination or aura reading, that might just be well developed reasoning and intuition, but, for the most part, those adepts who are clued-in to real magick of one kind or another see a fairly big gap between themselves and the ‘common herd’ of romantics and wannabes. [I think this sentence is actually two sentences that want a divorce.] Those members of the Underground who have some inkling of the truth of the universe and the realities of magick are sometimes collectively referred to as the ‘deep’ Underground, or as ‘the depths.’
Dukes tend to look on dopes like professionals look on amateurs and fans the world over. Some see them as idiots, vainly striving to achieve what seems obvious to the true adept, and boasting about their petty little successes. Some see them as essentially a source of money, shelter, admiration, and sexual favours. Some see them as sweet innocents unsuited to the real world. Some see them as like themselves a few years or months ago. Dopes may find themselves treated like nothings, like gophers, or like potential apprentices.
It’s not a clean-cut leap from being dope to duke, though; nobody comes along and tells you that, hey, all magick is based on paradox and obsession, except for rituals, which are these weird leftover things, oh, and artefacts - and there’s these avatar types too. Instead, people puzzle it out bit by bit. Some adepts, of course, leap straight into practising magick, but they may well think that their own school is the only one that exists. Most occult dabblers who happen to stumble upon true magick begin by encountering rituals and artefacts, and only later find out about the power of personal magick. [You might want to stress that people who know about avatars tend to be ignorant of adepts, and vice versa. It’s perfectly possible that two separate OUs could operate in a city for years without ever crossing paths. This is referenced in “Special Orders.” One founder of Mak Attax was an avatar from a line of avatars, who had never heard of adepts. Derek, on the other hand, was an adept who learned from a relative and who had no idea about the avatar path.]
Hardly anybody is aware of all the schools out there; the big seven (the main schools listed in the UA rulebook) are the most well-known, but even your average adept may well be blissfully unaware of the existence of at least one or two of these. Maybe one in three adepts is aware, too, of the fundamental principles that lie behind magick. As for ascensions and the Invisible Clergy, most dukes are aware that the Clergy (often under some other name) exist, but knowledge of avatars is surprisingly limited, their powers being subtle, and hard to distinguish, often, from simple competence in a role. [Oh, and here you go into just what I wanted. Nice. You might also mention – or not – that a lot of adepts and avatars felt that SOMETHING big happened in 1996, but almost none of them know what it was. (If you’re wondering, I’m thinking that was the year of the NG Ascension.)] It’s a lot easier to believe somebody who claims to be an alcohol magician and can make tables levitate than somebody who claims to be channelling the Masterless Man, and who gets up a little quicker than the average. [‘You want proof? OK, go on, punch me, and I’ll recover faster than normal!’)
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Testimony: ‘Dog-girl’ Voluntary Slave and Entropomancer
It’s all about submission. You’ve got to give it up, all of it. Give up your freedom, give up your self, bow down before the universe and call it master. Make yourself a slave. That’s the only way you can master it. Got to be the bottom before you can be the top.
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It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know
Full-time cabals are actually fairly rare in the Underground. Most adepts have better things to do than give themselves a portentous name and hang out together all the time. Instead, occultists, whether duke or dope, tend to belong to several different, often quite loosely defined groups; sometimes formed for a particular purpose, like opposing another, aggressive cabal, sometimes just a bunch of adepts of the same school, sometimes just a group of friends.
The Underground is small enough, in any one city, that people know each other, or of each other, and will have fairly firm and fixed opinions on each other, too. It’s not like there’s a web of influence or anything, but you’re known by the company you keep. And occultists have histories, too; it may well be in the best interests, logically speaking, of the demon-binder to help you, but if you’re in with the guy who cheated him out of $5000 and the tongue of a Demagogue back in ’92, you don’t have much of a chance. The Underground, being full of egotistical people - magick, or the desire for magick, is, after all, a fairly egotistical desire, the wish to force your will upon the world - is quite petty; small slights aren’t forgotten.
Still, there are a lot of real friendships in the Underground; perhaps more among dopes than dukes, because the knowledge of, and the lust after, real magickal power is essentially [I’d be more comfortable with “often essentially”] selfish. Shared hobbies can mean a lot, and, in some places, merely showing an interest in Wicca, or hermetic magic, or the headhunting habits of certain tribes, can be enough to get you invited into a whole circle. Even the most nebbishy of dopes may have friends, people watching out for them. In some cities, especially smaller ones, the Underground is like a particularly large family; they fight among themselves to the point of murder, but if anybody from outside tries anything, they’re in big trouble.
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Testimony: Big Bad Hank Former Member of the Six Who Dare
So, we were down in Cincinnati, where we’d heard that this know-nothing prick who fancied himself a magician had somehow got his dirty little hands on the Ritual of Folding Five. Heard in New York once that the Bad Man wanted that thing, and we figured we could sell it to him for something worthwhile, like maybe a new eye for Josie and a new arm for Ben, or a few hundred thousand, or the ability to fly, something neat, anyway. So we go down to beat up on this guy, who was about a hundred and twenty pounds wet.
Well, it turns out the guy went to school with Neal Cullen, who’s this bigshot Cliomancer in Cincinnati - well, as bigshot as you can be looking for history in Cincinnati, anyway. And he was pretty good friends with this bunch of demon-freaks who used to come by his house to watch this huge widescreen TV he had. And he was a member of two local Wiccan groups, and at least one of them actually had its shit together enough to find our motel room. I tell you, we got burned bad that time.
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What do most dukes want above all else? Power, and especially magickal power. If power is a drug, then magick is the best-quality smack, and once you’ve got a taste of it, shot straight into your veins from the cracks in the universe, it’s damn hard to let go. It’s all very well and good being able to buy a car, or twist men round your little finger, or change a senator’s vote, but serious occultists know that it doesn’t compare a damn to being able to make a teacup explode with the sheer power of your mind. That’s what keeps adepts searching through dusty old libraries, working dead-end jobs, abandoning their families; the sheer beautiful feeling of power you get by being able to force a little bit of the cosmos to do what you want.
Artefacts and rituals are the most concentrated and easy-to-use form of magickal power, and so adepts seek even the most useless of them out with an obsessive intensity, like a junkie scraping up traces of coke from an old mirror. It doesn’t matter if all it does is turn your skin green, or make clocks in the area spin backwards, or work without being plugged in; the buzz of power an adept gets from holding it or using it or knowing it will make it worth their while to go after it. That’s what keeps most of them from spreading their knowledge around, too; not the fear of the Sleepers, but the desire to have all that lovely power for themselves.
More mundane forms of power are a dim reflection of the glory of magick, but they’re still a buzz of their own, and the kind of person that wants magick - even if they don’t actually know jackshit about it - tends to relish other types of power. There’s a lot of control games played within the Underground, a lot of blackmail and bribery and dominance of one kind or another. Even the pretence of magick can be a good tool in these kind of power-games; after all, if your rival sincerely believes that your having their locket will give you power to hurt them, and you show them that you’ve got it, and put a decapitated Barbie doll on their doorstep with their name drawn on it in pig’s blood, they’re probably going to start feeling neck pains. This kind of power-freakery, especially among dopes, is sometimes referred to as bitchcraft. [Oh, that’s magnificent.]
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Things Ain’t What They Seem
It’s perfectly in keeping with the spirit of Unknown Armies to have characters make Unnatural stress checks even when there’s no actual supernatural element involved, particularly if their particular perceptions lead them into seeing magick when, in fact, there’s only coincidence or malice. Unless the PCs drop LSD or something, this kind of check will probably never be above Unnatural-3 at most, but that can still be enough to freak them out good. At the GM’s discretion, a failed roll for a superstitious character might well cause them to produce psychosomatic symptoms that they feel appropriate; for instance, if your group happens to be a bunch of runaway teenage occultists, and they’re in an old house, supposed to be haunted, one night when the wind gets up and the floorboards start creaking, they might actually find their flesh going cold and their hairs standing up. At a more extreme example, a character who believes they’ve been cursed and fails their stress check might find themselves suffering from odd pains, loss of vision, or even heart attacks.
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Magick may kick cosmic ass, but it doesn’t pay the phone bill or put food on the table. Dukes and dopes alike need cash, and magick isn’t always that helpful in getting it. Most members of the Underground, too, don’t have either the time or inclination to pursue a proper career; instead, they take dead-end jobs, retail clerks or telephone salesmen or geriatric assistants, just to make ends meet while they pursue their real interests. A lot of them do part-time work; a day here, a day there, in between other things. Dopes tend to look on this as just a temporary thing, or as a revolt against the system; dukes think of it as a hard necessity. Sometimes cabals work together; The Righteous Temple, a Canadian Iconomancer cabal, all work as secretaries for the same law firm, while Hot Package, a very loose alliance of Pilgrim avatars, are all truckers.
The Occult Underground generates an entire economy of its own, too; New Age bookstores, retreat centers, and holistic healing weekends keep a lot of occultists, real and romantic, going. A surprising amount of people are willing to pay large amounts of money for even the illusion of magick in their lives. The ‘Mind, Body, and Spirit’ book market is a large one, too, and it’s pretty easy to get published in, though you’re also likely to get relentlessly ripped off by the publisher unless you have an agent. Ion Disjoint, a Seattle Entropomancer with a vicious reputation, never quite lived down the widely publicised discovery by one of his ex-girlfriends that he was the author, under his original name of Luke Robley, of ‘Healing the Hurt Within; the Psychic Re-union of the Soul’ and ‘Any Small Change; How to Harness the Positive Energy of Entropy in Your Life.’
[True story; I have a friend who’s a poet, in which there’s obviously no money. He’s also a healer, therapist, and writer, and his agent once managed to wrangle him a commission to do a book on alchemy. Unfortunately, he met his editor at a party, and he fancied her, and so began a whole ‘Well, of course, I know nothing about alchemy, but it’ll be a wonderful journey of self-discovery we can embark upon together.’ After the party the editor called his agent and said ‘Jay’s not doing the book; he just admitted he knew bugger-all about alchemy to me.’ He then managed to convince a strange Texan woman to sponsor him while he wrote his big book on the true meaning of love, which, depending on who Jay was sleeping with at the time, veered between monogamy and polygamy as the one true form of love. He’s basically my model for the more sappy elements of the underground. ]
Of course, there’s other sources of money. Crime is not unknown, but it’s damn risky, and organised crime, as discussed below, really doesn’t like the occult. Petty crime - stick-ups and muggings and shoplifting - is virtually a way of life for some occultists. Con-games, however, are easily the most popular form of illegal income in the Underground. Some occultists run the normal grifts, but the majority work some kind of occult element into things. They claim to be able to cure cancer, or to find lost relatives, or to contact the dead, and use all the tricks of the faith healer and the medium to do so; pulling ‘diseased organs’ that are really chicken guts out of people’s bellies, operating little knocking tables, and discovering bloody yolks in eggs; a sure sign of a curse. The best possible scenario is when you cure somebody of an ailment or a curse that you invented in the first place.
Depending on whom you target, and how superstitious they are, this can earn you anything from ten to ten thousand dollars in a single sting. Actually having supernatural abilities, of course, is a big plus here; a single minor charge used in the right way can impress a potential mark no end. After all, if you can make your arm stretch, maybe you can cure their wife’s cancer. Some adepts actually follow through on these promises; most simply take the money and run, unwilling or unable to waste significant effort on their marks. Pornomancers have it easiest; the Sect of the Naked Goddess is funded by some very [“fairly”?] rich and mildly gullible people under the influence of only a little desire magick.
Finally, there’s all the normal spiritualist and fortune teller routines, which never fall out of fashion. Reading tarot cards, casting horoscopes, reading auras; all these can be an easy, regular source of income for somebody willing to bluff a little and wear a silly costume. Genuinely psychic individuals rarely waste their talents on the day to day stuff - though occasionally a client comes in with horrors around them they never expected, and they see things they wish they hadn’t. (There’s a great example of this in Tim Power’s LAST CALL, where the hero goes to a Tarot reader and, by virtue of the evil mystic shit around him, terrifies the living daylights out of the poor man.)
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How To Be Psychic
Assuming a reasonably credulous audience, it’s not too hard to put on a convincing act of being a psychic or medium. The trick is to take control of the session, suggesting general possibilities rather than being forced to answer general questions. There are three different basic techniques -
First is doing a cold reading, where you know nothing about your target at all. Here, you throw out general questions and suggestions, letting the audience fill in the answers themselves. Even if only a quarter of your suggestions are right, those are the ones your audience will remember. ‘I feel a great sadness about you,’ ‘There’s a … John here, for somebody in the room …’ and ‘You were not happy in your childhood’ are all good cold reading questions. Once your audience eagerly responds with ‘That must be my late husband, John’ or ‘Yes! I was very unhappy in my teens,’ you can work from there, throwing out further suggestions and letting them unwittingly guide you.
Second is a warm reading, where you deduce facts about a target and work from those. Are they wearing jewellery at a spiritualist event? Throw out ‘you have on a piece which was linked with your departed loved one.’ Middle-aged woman, with a wedding ring, at a psychic? Unhappy in her marriage, almost certainly. Young man, not handsome? Worried he’s not attractive to woman. Old woman? Go for the lost love angle, and ill-health. Very much sub-Holmes, but effective.
Third is a hot reading, where you obtain information on your target beforehand, through whatever means. A good pickpocket in a magic show’s audience can work wonders, as can doing surveillance on an unwitting (and hopefully rich) target. The trick here, though, is not to reveal all your information at once, but leak it out slowly, for maximum impact. Let the target tell you they have a sister, and then look at them, deep into their eyes, and say ‘Yes … your sister - Margaret - but you are not telling the whole truth - you have two sisters.’ Play up the drama; you’re more in control of things with a hot reading.
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Sex and Drugs
The sexual habits of dopes are pretty normal, whatever that is. Maybe they’re a little more given to playing out their fantasies than the average mundane, but, otherwise, they tend to have the same needs and kinks and anybody else. The Underground, both deep and shallow, has traditionally been associated with alternate forms of ‘hidden’ sexuality, such as homosexuality and B&D (bondage and disclipine), and that’s still the case to some extent. Certainly, occultists are more likely to be given to such practices than normal, and feel familiar in the ritualised, artificial subcultures of sexual fetishism. [“Or, perhaps, they’re simply more likely to admit their desires to themselves.”]
Dukes tend to be somewhat odd, sexually. The obsessive nature required to pursue magick, and the stresses of encountering the genuinely unnatural, seem to bend their sexuality, often, if they’re an adept, in ways related to their school of magic. Epideromancers, obviously, are the most notorious for this; perhaps half [“a quarter”? That’s STILL an awful high percentage.] of them are into some form of S&M. A complete asexuality is not uncommon; it can seem as though the whole of their libido has been drained into their desire for magick. Perhaps as many as one in seven adepts was abused in some way as a child; magick attracts damaged people. It’s rare that a real occultist manages to sustain a serious relationship for any length of time, and even rarer for them to have children.
As for drugs, pot, Ecstasy, and LSD are all popular among dopes, because they’re seen as broadening your perceptions. Dukes, who live a more stressful lifestyle, tend to be pill poppers or speed freaks; the more upmarket of them snort cocaine, while those desperate for something which recaptures, even as a dim echo, the thrill of magickal power sometimes turn to heroin.
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Testimony: Alexander Thomas Urquhart Academic Occultist
Magic? It’s all about anal sex. Look at the history. The Greek mystery cults, every single one of the Gnostic sects - the Bulgars even give us the word bugger - the Templars, Aleister Crowley, what links them all? Mmm. Exactly. Perverting the procreative powers of the Mother Goddess into an assertion of sterile male power, that’s the key to it all. And what’s been the big trend in pornographic movies ever since the Naked Goddess, who was a tool of one of the Hermetic Hollywood cabals, went up? Exactly. [This is horrible, in a perfect, wonderful way. Thanks!]
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The Underground fights over all kinds of things, from the petty to the cosmic. Most quarrels among dopes stay verbal, though destroying a reputation can be far more effective than delivering a beating. Sometimes, of course, gossip can be fatal, especially if you take care to make sure it reaches the right ears. Spinning Jenny, a half-Hopi duke who used her talents to run a surveillance company in Phoenix, was shot by a member of Morningstar, a local clueless Satanist group, because Morningstar’s leader had heard at Clear Vision, a small occult festival, that she was boffing his boyfriend. The Sleepers take particular delight in creating such rumours with the aid of cliomancy.
Physical violence is rare, but not unknown, ranging from casual dust-ups to professional assassinations. Dopes are unlikely to get involved in occult-related violence beyond brawling and perhaps an occasional beating, if things get especially tense. Some of the more extreme groups, however, particularly those with extreme racist or religious views, employ more serious violence. Threats are far more common, though, from a simple insult to a prolonged campaign of harassment. Someone who believes in magick is generally a lot more susceptible to such threats, because they believe that words and symbolic actions can carry real force, and not a few occultists have been driven to illness or suicide simply through sustained campaigns of harassment.
Most of the ‘psychic warfare’ that goes on in the Underground is the result of malice, nasty phone calls, and an overactive imagination. Even Jules de Sade, who was given to proclaiming his ‘liberation from the fearful shackles of conventional morality,’ took to his bed for three days, weeping hysterically and crying that the hordes of hell were after him, after a former member of his cabal, the New Libertines, publicly cursed him with the Bethalnic Words. In actuality, they would have shrivelled his manhood [I’d prefer “made him impotent” or something of the sort, just to get people away from the idea that there are rituals that do direct physical harm. ‘Cause there aren’t. Otherwise this is pretty spiffy.] and caused his hair to fall out, except that the speaker was unaware that they required the target to be under thirty-three, that she had to wear green at the time, and that in the ceremony she’d performed the night before, she’d put the red cross the wrong way round and forgotten to pee on the apple. Such are the misfortunes of translating rituals from an obscure dialect of medieval French.
The real players in the Underground don’t shy away from serious violence, of course. When you’re playing for the future of the universe, or after a piece of the sacred scabbard Caliburn, or avenging the skinning of your sister, you don’t hesitate to use some well-applied force. Also, some of them just plain enjoy hurting and killing people. Cabals lack the influence of the New Inquisition or the Sleepers, though, and covering up their violence is a lot trickier, which is why many of them prefer to use magick than guns; it’s a hell of a lot harder to trace.
Things Worth Fighting Over
A hell of a lot of conflicts within the Underground start over virtually nothing, of course. More magickal wars have been caused by petty ego clashes, sexual disputes, and disputes over relatively small amounts of money than by anything else. Lisbon saw, in the 1970s, one of the most vicious fights ever to rock the Underground, eventually pulling in virtually all of the small Portuguese Underground, purely because the visting Rasputin III’s claims to be the direct descendant of the Mad Monk were challenged by Humberto Villalonga, the city’s premier Cliomancer. The net result was six fatalities, three maimings, the destruction of two rather good bars, two complete mental breakdowns, and the Chief of Police suffering an infestation of frogs which sang barbershop quartets.
There are, however, some things which do attract particular attention and which, when rumours of them start spreading, are bitterly fought over. [In a strange order, this sentence seems.] Of course, it’s always possible to get such things by raiding the sanctums and libraries of other dukes, but these tend to be well-defended. Still, some cabals - such as the notorious and now defunct Six Who Dare - make a habit of such home invasions, known as ‘going Viking’ in occult parlance. Only powerful and mobile cabals can afford to make a habit of it, though; it darkens your reputation considerably. More general practice is ‘ghost-hunting’ - going after strange events on the grounds that there might well be something worth grabbing there. 95% of these turn out to be fakes or hysteria, of course, but the 5% that don’t - they’re worth the effort.
The key thing to remember is that the Occult Underground spawns rumours like rotten meat spawns maggots. If the PCs get hold of something big and are even peripherally connected with the Underground - and especially if they use it where others can see it - other people are going to know they’ve got it, and there’s a decent chance some of them will come after it. Even the whiff of the unnatural can draw curious occultists; remember, your PCs aren’t the only proactive group out there.
Pure magickal force in a handy box, artifacts are probably the most hotly contended things in the Underground. After all, just about anybody can use them, they lack the time investment and tedious research needed for rituals, and to adepts hooked on magickal power they’re like a taste of heaven. Minor items, which quite a few adepts can churn out with relative ease, are not particularly hotly contended, but significant ones cause dukes and cabals to come crawling out of the woodwork and begin fighting. The whiff of a major artifact - the creation of which sends psychic shockwaves through the brains of every seer around - can cause a massive convergence of the most vicious elements of the Underground.
In the end, it all comes down to who goes up to humanity’s parliament. This is what serious Avatars fight and die for; Godwalker wars and Ascension conflicts. Preventing or causing an Ascension is, generally speaking, a long, drawn-out affair; a secret war of ideology, symbolism, and magick, with a few bullets thrown in. After all, they can’t Ascend if you kill them first. The vast majority of dukes are not aware of the full implications of such conflicts, but they can recognise and understand the accumulation of symbolic force that Ascension requires, and some of them, if they dislike the person trying to do it, will make serious efforts to derail it.
After artifacts, the second most fought over thing in the Underground. It’s harder to get hold of a ritual than an artifact, because the knowledge of them is a great deal easier to conceal. Some few adepts commit all their rituals to memory, but the vast majority have to keep them recorded in some form or other, lest they slip on a crucial detail. Kidnapping and torture is not unknown as a way of forcing ritual knowledge out of someone. It isn’t so much their effects and usefulness which attracts occultists to them; it’s their buzz of magickal power.
The Underground fights over it just as bitterly as everybody else in the world does. Becoming an occultist, as discussed before, doesn’t open up a pot of gold; quite the reverse. Pure cash is most often the source of violent disputes, of course, because it suits the secretive lifestyles of dukes, but there are also pretty major fights over good sources of income; particularly gullible patrons, for instance, or the ownership of a New Age publishing house. [If you want an anecdote, you could maybe make something up about a couple cabals in Florida squabbling over a fortune in uncut cocaine, only to see the whole schmear go up in an Annihilomancer’s fire blast. The nihilist died long and hard, but that was scant consolation to the would-be drug dealers.]
Occultists take their neighbourhoods seriously; a cabal that comes into a city and throws its weight around is inviting trouble. Privacy is particularly important to the Underground, too, and anybody who threatens that is in deep trouble. In the case of Urbanomancers, Cliomancers, and True Kings, each of which draws upon some of the same sources of collective energy focused through a particular area, turf wars can be quite literal; a small alleyway may be brutally contended between two different adepts and an avatar.
Law And Order
The police generally look with a somewhat dubious eye upon the occult, and involvement in it is likely to make them a whit more suspicious of you if you get mixed up in some affair of dubious legality. There’s quite a few lecturers, often from fundamentalist Christian backgrounds, who give talks to U.S. police departments lecturing on ‘occult cults’ and ‘satanic rituals,’ which gives rise to a certain bias. And, let’s face it, the police don’t like conspiracies, talk of sacrifices, anti-Christian propaganda, rants about being ‘beyond the law’, or calls to overthrow the government, all of which mark certain sections of the Underground - and they just plain mistrust weirdos. If you’re a suspect in a murder case and the police come round to your house to find the walls painted with pictures of Marilyn Monroe merged in alchymical union with JFK, they’re not going to look favourably on you as a consequence.
The police know nothing about the existence of real magick. There’s no secret FBI force dedicated to hunting down adepts, though many occultists think there is. A cop confronted with ‘magicide’ is going to be puzzled. A lot of blast-caused deaths are attributed to natural causes, which is why adepts prefer them to guns. On the other hand, cops and forensic pathologists are a curious lot, and an unusual death - such as one where the victim’s lungs seem to have decided to push their way out of his body, or where she’s been impaled by a kitchen knife seemingly hurled at a hundred miles an hour - is going to draw their attention. In addition, cops, like most people in dangerous professions, are a touch more superstitious than the average, and some of them aren’t above going to psychics for clues. Sometimes - rarely, but sometimes - these psychics are real.
However, most of the time the police don’t have to rely on such things to nail an occultist. Occultists, after all, tend to make the same stupid mistakes that most criminals do. Fingerprints, DNA testing, neighbours seeing the occultist in the area - many an enterprising adept has been nailed for breaking and entering, for instance. In the course of play, most PC groups perform many, many illegal actions. Remember that the police are smart, and that they do this for a living. Unless your PCs have a suitable background and skills, don’t remind them of precautions that they should take - wearing gloves, for instance, or avoiding deviations from their normal routine - and certainly don’t assume they’re doing them. In the real world, most people who commit crimes do it badly. The kind of cockups that PC groups are given to making - ‘Oh my god. Did we say we were picking up the bag with the submachine gun and Ollie’s passport from Jackson’s house as we ran out?’ - are exactly the kind of mistake that people make in real life. Your great model here should be ‘Fargo,’ which captures criminal incompetence and police determination and resources down to an absolute tee.
Deep Inner Falsehoods
[Might actually want to move this forward a little, since it’s quite important, but I’m not certain where exactly.]
People in the Underground believe in magic. Unfortunately, not many of them know how it works. Even those who actually have unnatural abilities are often quite unaware of the theoretical underpinnings of their powers. Instead, the beliefs of your average occultist are based on a mishmash of the ramblings of 19th century pseudo-Hermetics, theosophy, fantasy novels, comic books, roleplaying games, [Let’s not mention these] and good old Aleister Crowley. There are certain common beliefs about magic, based on this, which are common in the Underground, and which sometimes approximate the truth of things.
The first is that human will is paramount. Magic is the imposition of will upon the universe, a wish given form. This is partly true; human will is vital in working real magick, but many occultists take this to mean that their own will is more important and powerful than anyone else’s. Some seem half-way convinced that if they concentrate hard enough, they can make anything happen.
The second is that magic requires energy. Again, this is a vague reflection of the reality of charges, but within much of the Occult Underground magickal energy is thought of as having a much more concrete reality, attainable in many ways. Belief in ley lines, powerful currents of magickal energy that have to be tapped to cast powerful magic, and nexuses, which focus the crossing of several ley lines into sites of great power, is very common, and battles have been fought over sites which, in actuality, have absolutely no innate magical powers. Other people are sometimes also thought to be a powerful source of energy, and occultists often work in groups for exactly this reason.
Thirdly, occultists tend to wildly overexaggerate the ritual element of magic. Rituals are neat, certainly, but many occultists think they’re essential, and surround themselves with extrinsic and unnecessary objects, people, and symbolism which only clutters any real magick that they do attempt. There are epideromancers, for instance, who are totally unable to work their magick unless the bloodletting is part of a group ritual, and cliomancers who can’t drain charges from sites without dancing naked for half an hour, painted blue.
Fourthly, a kind of weak pantheism is very common among occultists; the belief that everything and everyone in the universe is connected, and that the movement and position of one object intrinsically affect another. Some adepts go to great lengths to ensure that their magick is cast under specific stars, in a particular month, or in the right country; totally unnecessary, but it sometimes helps bolster their confidence.
Fifthly, occultists, especially clueless ones, often claim that magick is naturally subtle and natural seeming in its effects, that it works through seemingly normal people and events, merely changing the flow of luck or the feelings of others. This, of course, is a get-out clause; it’s much easier to convince people (and yourself) that your magic can subtly influence their husband into staying faithful to them, or protect their house against general and unspecified spiritual attacks, than it is to convince them you can turn people into frogs.
A very common mistake made by people who’ve just encountered or learnt one school of magick is to, naturally enough, that the principles of that school underlie all of magick. The rising popularity of the Naked Goddess, for example, is causing many outside the cult to look into tantric sex, swinging Satanic orgies, and so forth, for magical powers that simply aren’t there.
Millions of people, both inside and outside of the Underground, believe in spirits, ghosts, loa, demons, faeries, angels, saints, aliens, and gods. Some of these exist, but most, unfortunately [“perhaps fortunately”?], don’t. There are no nature spirits out there, no elementals, no djinn, no fallen angels seeking to corrupt mankind, no guardian angels looking out for your health, no greys intent on probing any part of you, no Pan or Ishtar or St. Michael.
On the other hand, there are an awful lot of desperate human spirits, stripped of their flesh by death and willing to pretend to be anything in order to get a foothold back on the physical world. There are lots of people in the Underground who sincerely believe that they talk to spirits or angels, but are, in fact, making contact with a bunch of frantically bluffing demons. This accounts for the rather ambiguous, slightly confused statements that most of these spirits seem to give. They do have powers, but often not those their summoner believes them to have, and they try and fake things as best they can. For instance, a pagan magician who believes he called up a fire elemental to burn his enemy’s house to the ground probably just summoned a demon who used a touch of entropomancy to make some candles fall over; different technique, same result.
The ultimate aim of any demon, as delineated in the UA rulebook, is to get a foothold in a human’s psyche. Just about any spirit, angel, or ultraterrestial, then, will end up proposing some kind of elaborate ceremony, ostensibly to the caster’s benefit, but which actually opens them up for possession. Daphne Lee speculates that perhaps as much as 5% of the Underground is actually possessed at any one time, and older and wiser adepts tend to spread rumours about ‘do not call up any which you cannot put down,’ and generally discourage any attempt to summon supernatural entities.
Some demons, however, become thoroughly convinced that they are, in fact, another type of supernatural being. This can lead to a slow erosion of their desperate need for corporeality, as they become more and more caught up in their role as the Guardian of the Sacred Henge, or as the God Apollo, or as Gurganthor, Demon of the Fifth Echelon. (Demons are just as fond of capitalisation as everyone else in the Underground.) A very few of them have even formed groups of human worshippers around themselves, whom they take for a ride whenever they feel in need of a physical buzz. The most powerful and canny of them rarely last more than a century; the Cruel Ones tend to find most of them.
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Testimony: Susan Murphy Environmentalist
Oh yes, my tree talks to me. My spirit guide awakened it for me months ago, and now it gives me advice. It’s the soul of the tree, talking to me, telling me how to progress on the Six Sacred Stages. I’ve been purifying myself for months, eating no meat, drinking only pure water, and not touching iron, and soon I’ll be ready to progress to the Second Stage, when the spirits will fill my body, and I’ll be able to begin the Great Work of making the world whole.
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The Invisible Clergy
The Invisible Clergy, or the Unseen Priests, or the Hidden Masters, or whatever, is often used to describe the conspiratorial cabal of magicians which much of the Underground is convinced runs the world, but the true nature of the endlessly reincarnating cosmos is known to only the most hardcore of occultists. Many more are vaguely aware of some aspects of the Clergy, but put a completely wrong interpretation on things. For example, it’s a very common belief that the Archetypes are preset and eternal (and reflected in the Tarot), and that humans are merely chosen to fill one or another spiritual post temporarily. They’ve been associated with any number of ancient pantheons, from the Egyptian to the Aztec. There’s a rumour going round in South America that the Clergy is rechosen every day, and the universe remade. It’s also not unusual for even a clued-in occultist to believe that the Clergy is just a myth. Le Comte de Saint-Germain
The funny thing about Le Comte is that the more knowledgeable you are about the occult, the less likely you are to believe in him. Among the clueless, he’s commonly invoked as a Secret Master, an Adept of the Thirty-Third Degree, and so forth. Real adepts tend to think of him as either an exceptionally skilled con-artist or an adept with incredible PR skills. It’s only a very few really knowledgeable individuals who are aware of the true nature of the First and Last Man, and that’s just the way he likes it.
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Testimony: Reverend Ken Pattison Teenage Revival Preacher
Oh, I see it, brothers and sisters! I see his coming! The coming of the Antichrist, the Great Beast, the Horned Dragon! He will walk among us, now they are complete, the 666 devils of the Vatican’s Hidden Masters, and he shall be their herald, their witness most terrible, the dark preacher of the New World’s Order! He is called the Count, but in truth he is the First and the Last Man, Cain reborn, the bloody-handed sinner! Fear his coming!
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