Elements Of The Path

No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown. ~William Penn

Whatever Path a mage follows, three common elements apply: awareness, conflict, and resolution. Almost every mage runs across them at some point, though most see them in different ways. An Iteration X cyborg may have Awakened in wild dreams which he brushed off in the morning. A Dreamspeaker will actively seek her destiny in a visionquest, but may ignore unresolved conflicts. Either mage may die or get stuck before reaching some resolution. So it goes.


Though some few Awakened are born aware, many are not. They begin their lives as mundane humans, who often have some sort of "gift" that sets them apart — a hint of precognition, an otherworldly air, exceptional talent, insight or wisdom beyond their years. This early "difference" helps set them up for what happens next.

Mages call themselves the Awakened for a reason. At some crucial point — often a crisis of some kind — that person becomes more and more aware that reality as others perceive it is a sham. This may occur through a gradual build-up or a sudden revelation, though some kind of "tremors" usually foreshadow the Awakening itself. These might include a mentor's formal approach, strange dreams, blackouts, brushes with supernatural or any number of odd things. Suddenly, these tremors explode, the Avatar reaches out, and the mage Awakens.


Awakening is not simply saying "Wow, man! Magick works!" It is a fourfold embrace — mental, spiritual, physical and intellectual — of the existence of magick. Without it, a person may see magick, feel magick, grasp magick, but never become magick. Such Awakening, called an Epiphany, is always sudden; the mundane world goes pale and the hidden one bursts into full-color. Some mortals go mad forever upon Awakening and never progress any further than that. Strong-willed mages recover and advance, but they never forget the experience.

While successful Seekings grant further bursts of insight, no later Epiphany can ever match that first moment when a mage truly understands the existence of magick and the nature of the world.


With Awakening comes an affinity for the hidden world and a vison of the "overall picture." Once a person's eyes are opened this way, they can never close. The mage may never call what he does "magick," but the essential idea — that of changing reality itself through personal will — is universal.

The Path comes through this vision. The mage may never have a literal vision, but the purpose behind it will haunt her until she follows it.


An Epiphany is traumatic; everything a person has believed until now turns to dust. Finding a mentor is usually a good idea at this stage; without one, a mage quickly goes out of control or gets swept up in some other supernatural agency's plans. The four great factions and lesser Crafts often sow the seeds of Epiphanies among prospective recruits or entice the self-Awakened into their ranks, using anything from friendship to instruction to strong-arm tactics.

If the mage finds a good mentor, she may learn to control her power and advance her understanding of reality in all its aspects. The teacher ideally passes on both his wisdom and his protection. Without either, a newly-born mage may often find herself slaving away under some powerful master or decaying in a nameless grave.


At some point in her life, the mage will encounter conflicts, both internal and external. Internal struggls include those with doubt, pride and loneliness, while external battles rage against rival mages, supernatural beings, Sleeper society and reality itself.


It is not an easy task to be a mage. Doubt and hubris (excessive pride) are constant enemies, and either one can lead a sorcerer to destruction. Even if she triumphs against those, the solitary Path she has chosen will often drive her to regret the day she first Awakened.

Magick requires confidence; without it, reality refuses to conform to your desires or slaps you in the face for your presumption. Shocks to a mage's confidence may cause him to doubt his ability to do what he must. This may paralyze him just when he needs his power most. Overconfidence, however, leads to the hubris that makes horrors out of even the best intentions. Because I can change reality with my will, the prideful mage believes, my will is always correct. This attitude leads to arrogance, rivalry and eventual stagnation. A prideful wizard may attain great power, but he loses his enlightenment, his purpose and often his friends in the process. Without moderation, he becomes a force for corruption, not growth. The Nephandic Descension, Technocratic Pogrom and Doisstep intrigues are only the most obvious examples of hubris in action.

Humans, too, are a fickle and jealous lot. Although they instinctively bwo before someone with power they don't have, such worshippers turn on their "betters" sooner or later. When they do, a mage may find herself running for her life. The Burning Time, when witchfires raged throughout Europe, was only manipulated, not caused, by the Order of Reason. The embers still smolder, waiting to engulf any sorcerer who steps too far out into the public eye. Hence, a mage must hide some part of herself away from the society she once belonged to.

Seekings often turn these conflicts into a gauntlet of trials which the mage must overcome in order to advance. Those who cannot do so stop in their tracks, or falter and decline. Such failures often turn to Infernal powers, magickal Talismans and outside allies when they feel their power slipping away.

Quiet results when a mage slides too far into her own world-view. This madness, which sometimes manifests in solid hallucinations called hobgoblins, imprisons the sorcerer in her own mind. It takes a dedicated Seeking or outside aid to free a mystick fro Quiet, and the effects may linger for lifetimes to come. (See Paradox)


No mage escapes dealings with the outside world. Even hermits who sequester themselves on mountain-tops meet spirits, other mysticks and supernatural creatures. No one makes friends with them all. Unless the mage offers her throat willingly to the first vampire or demon to cross her path, she will, sooner or later, have to fight.

The hidden world teems with enemies — vampires, werewolves, demons, Umbrood, ghosts, rival mages, the spirit-ridden (called fomori by some) and even, it is said, the last of the faeries. The mortal world includes a host of witch-burners, government agents and simple thugs, any one of whom could end one's life. The wise mage knows when (and how) to fight and when to run.

Some mages surrender themselves to such conflicts. War Chantries, Rogue mercenaries and Technocratic death squads see enough combat to make a Marine turn queasy. They do not, however, tend to live long; if an enemy doesn't kill them, Paradox inevitably does.

Intrigue offers a better chance of survival, at the price of paranoia. Magickal enemies can strike at you in any number of ways. Old mysticks, who have left their ideals behind, treasure such rivalries. For them, power-gaming is all they have left. Young sorcerers are advised to tread lightly among those who measure their life spans in natural histories; such wizards are indeed subtle and quick to anger.

Paradox is the enemy of all who twist the threads of fate. Unless a willworker is very careful, the weight of consensual reality will squash her like roadkill. Reality is like a river, and each new soul speeds up the current. Mages who ignore the current may be swept up by it and drowned.


If a mage survives all obstacles, she may reach her ideal Ascension. If not, she falls into whatever trap fate has laid across her Path.

The Fall

This could come in any number of ways — stagnation, corruption, death, madness, slavery and annihilation are only the most obvious.

Stagnation or corruption comes from within. In the first case, the mystick simply surrenders himself to worldly power, loses sight of hisgoal and becomes a disgrace to his role. He may remain powerful, but he never grows. Sooner or later, his life span becomes an insult to consensual reality, and he is forced to hide in a Realm or some obscure Domain.

Corruption, to the Nephandi, is weakness and the fear of Final Night. To others, it is the point where power-lust blinds the mage and turns her away from her ideals. Some willworkers are corrupted by raw force, others by worldly distractions and still others by Otherworldly influences. In either case, the mystick lost the Path, possibly for good.

A mage who dies, it is said, returns to the cycle of the Wheel to be reborn. One who makes an Infernal pact (or gives himself to the Higher Powers upon his death) is taken out of this cycle, and his Avatar endures whatever praise or punishment its incarnation earned. Mysticks wonder about the fate of the Technocratic Avatars. Although Technomancers theoretically remove themselves from the cycle through their own disbelief, there never seems to be a shortage of such mages. Indeed, the Euthanatos and Akashic Brotherhood once mounted a rare cooperative scheme to take Technomancers "out of the loop;" it failed. Those who study the ways of Drahma (the Akashic view of destiny) say that Static Mages, too, play a part in destiny's plan.

Some mages never escape Quiet. Thee would-be mysticks end up in asylums or homeless shelters, lost in halls of mirrors. Some say Marauders and familiars are in fact mages who lost their sanity forever, but the only way to know for sure is to go mad and see.

Slavery is a cruel end to the Path, whether it comes from the Blood Bond of a powerful vampire, magickal shackles, emotional weakness or capitivity in a Realm. A mage who ends up a slave has rnu the scale of mover of reality to mover of shit. Though survival means possible escape, a willworker never heals the scars that slavery brings.

Worst of all are those whose Avatars are demolished through the Gilgul Rite, warped by the vampiric Embrace or sent out into the Deep Umbra to be devoured by the Umbrood. Such deaths are eternal, tragic ends to a final Path.


Ascension can be global or personal. Even Orphans and Craft mages have some ideal to which they aspire; they just don't put labels on it. The four Ascension War factions, however, are defined by their ultimate goals. The extent to which a member of one of these "teams" actually believes in his professed goal depends upon the mage himself.

To the Technocracy, personal perfection takes a back seat to global unity. Under this vision, all random elements would be stomped out or harnessed for the common good. Eventually, everyone would come to realize that this is the best destiny possible — harmony under the Technocracy's benevolent gaze.

The Marauders seek an end to the order they feel was imposed upon the Earth by too much sanity. Although many of them seem like mere kooks, underneath delusions, each Marauder sees the primal chaos from which all possibilities spring. It is their goal — when they think about a goal at all — to open that vision to everyone.

Nephandic Ascension is Descension, nothing less than painting the whole world black or dying in the process. Some, it is rumored, want to let demented entities through the barriers between the Otherworlds and our own. Perhaps they just want each of us to let our own inner demons free. In either case, the Fallen Ones seek to bring the world as we know it to an eternal end, to usher in Final Night.

Diversity is sacred to the Council of Nine Traditions. No other faction, with the possible exception of the Marauders, seeks personal Ascension with the Traditions' fervor. To the Council mages, all people should have the potential to grow toward some higher state. Though each Tradition, and each mage within each Tradition, has a different idea of just what Ascension is, all agree that the other groups must not have their way. For the firts time in centuries, it appears that the Council may have its wish.

So what happens when a mage Ascends? Who knows? Some say she joins the Oracles in their Umbral paradises (or, in the case of many Technomancers, the Autocthonia's fabled Halls of the Machine). Others speak of passage to the Afterlies, ascension into Heaven or withdrawl from all earthly needs. In the modern age, however, all too many mages dismiss personal Ascension as a pipe dream. And that may be the saddest belief of all.