Secretum secretorum - De Mirabilibus Mundi - Paradigm
Background for Ars Magica sagas

Paradigm in the context of Ars Magica

All societies develop a story about the way the world works. Margaret Mead once remarked that she never found a primal people who lacked a cosmic story. "Humans will have their cosmic stories as surely as they will have their food and drink." Stories also are necessary to our definition of ourselves. "Each human enters the world and awakens to a simple truth: 'I must find my own story within this great epic of being.'"

The stories that dominate interpretation of reality in a society might be thought of as sets of cultural lenses: they provide the structure for social learning. These stories, this worldview, are often called paradigms by the scholars who study them. A good definition of paradigm, one of use for Ars Magica, might be: A constellation of concepts, values, perceptions and practices shared by a community, which forms a particular vision of reality and a collective mood that is the basis of the way the community organizes itself. Paradigms provide maps of what the world is believed to be like. They constitute guidelines for identifying and solving problems. Above all, paradigms provide the framework of meaning within which "facts" and experiences acquire significance and can be interpreted.

Often a belief paradigm that is dominant in a given society is called a dominant social paradigm (DSP). A DSP may be defined as a society's dominant belief structure that organizes the way people perceive and interpret the functioning of the world around them.

Now in Ars Magica, there are three distinct issues arising from paradigm. The first is that the majority of players have no clear concept of what the DSP of Mythic Europe might be, this is compounded by the vagaries given in the published material. Second, there are the stresses created when the perceived DSP comes into conflict with other societal paradigms, such as Islamic or others.

The third issue, one that arises from time to time has to do with the concept of paradigm shift. A defining characteristic of paradigms is that changes of paradigms occur in discontinuous revolutionary breaks, which distinguishes paradigm shifts from more gradual kinds of social change. From time to time, dominant paradigms are challenged so fundamentally that they give way to new paradigms. In Ars Magica, one of the aspects of the DSP is that it is inviolable. The world-view is the absolute truth, and thus it will not change. However, we existing in the modern day know it will. This causes understandable confusion, and friction, on the issue of the future of the Ars Magica DSP.

There tends to be two camps within Ars Magica as it applies to paradigm. One can be called the capital-P Paradigm, which is not really a paradigm in Kuhn's sense: It is, essentially, the physics of our Mythic European gameworld, however yourSaga chooses to define them. We generally define them based on some variant or combination of small-p paradigm(s), which are the worldviews of the people who live in our Mythic world.

Some people go further and say explicitly that the Paradigm conforms to the paradigm(s) BECAUSE people believe it. This is a sort of meta-Paradigm, if you will, what is known on this list as BDR (Belief Defines Reality). In this case, a Paradigm-shift is possible.

Most players of Ars Magica seem to prefer another meta-Paradigm, that their Paradigm is fixed and unchangeable, and perhaps some of the paradigms of the medievals are wrong, or incomplete, or whatever, because they disagree with the paradigm.

It is the attempt of this page to outline the basics of belief during the Middle Ages on how the world worked. Due to the focus of the game on Western Europe, the original focus here will be the same. Now, some will protest that the emphasis is on the educated. To which I can only offer the simple answer, show me another that we have access to.

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Last modified: Sun Dec 27, 1998 / Jeremiah Genest