Secretum secretorum - De Mirabilibus Mundi - Human condition - Mind
Background for Ars Magica sagas

On the Human Mind


At 11:37 AM 5/31/97 -0400, Jeremiah Genest wrote:

from the previous material, I think it reasonable to state that Mentem truly affects the intellectual principle. Which is why it will not affect animals, which lack said principle. However, the magical creatures of Mythic Europe, no matter what their form, if they possess a rational aspect, the rational intellect, will be affected by Mentem.

Yes, to a very great extent.

In medieval Jewish mythology, for example, the donkey that spoke to Balaam was created and then aside during the six days of creation, because an animal that could partake of language (Mentem) as would a human is intrinsically different from other beasts, which lack reason (Mentem.)

However, folklore to some extent contradicts this perspective. Wise people can understand and talk to animals, who often have very interesting things to say, Balaam's ass notwithstanding. Folklore can more easily contradict itself than philosophy, and in fewer words!

At 11:37 AM 5/31/97 -0400, Jeremiah Genest wrote:

I find it interesting that it is possible through magic to bestow a creature that lacks the rational intellect with it. This indicates that this is not part of the essential nature. I'm curious of what others think of this.

Hmm. Depending on the sort of medieval reality I want to implement, I'm not sure I like this.

So let's consider a few issues:

1) Can Mentem affect the intellectual principle?

At first glance I'd have to answer affirmatively. Perdo Mentem can cause a person to stop thinking. A nice and quick example. But then, so can a powerful PeCo, or CrIg spell.

What is rational intellect? If we take Jeremiah's post, it is the ability to form abstractions from a set of particulars.

What is Mentem? Perhaps it includes rational intellect, but also pertains to other things. Emotions are not rational intellect, by this definition, except where they pertain to abstractions. Knowledge is also Mentem, but not necessarily rational intellect.

Can we then consider Mentem to exclude the intellectual principle, yet achieve a set of effects that feels appropriately Mentemlike?

Let's try. I'll set up a strawman, and see if he stands: Mentem cannot directly effect 'rational intellect.'

What about the Gift of Childlike Bliss? No problem: That removes knowledge and experience. The subject retains his rational intellect, but like a child, lacks the knowledge needed to use it effectively.

What about the ability to comprehend languages, which I hold to be Mentem, (and, judging by Jeremiah's quote of my opinion in his saga page, he seems to agree,) which is consistent with his post, since language is the ultimate abtraction of intellect, recognizing the correspondence between 'dog' and a dog? Hmm. This is a problem.

What about CrMe "Gift of Enhanced Reason" (or whatever the name is) that enhances a person's clarity of reason? Hmm. Another problem.

So I'll take down the strawman to favor something more reasonable: Mentem spells can effect rational intellect, but can neither create or destroy it utterly.

This seems better. Mentem spells cannot affect animals, because animals don't have any. They can augment intelligence, but cannot create it. They cannot absolutely extinguish 'rational thought', which means that True Love and other emotions that derive from a more godlike spiritual state of being cannot be obliterated, though PeMe can put all sorts of interesting obstacles in the way that might cause a person to lose the emotion on his own, and lesser emotions can be snuffed or created. So this works.

What about giving animals intelligence? This cannot be done. What about creating an intelligent animal (using this definition of intelligence?) Again, not possible. Thus, one cannot create an intelligent dragon. One cannot create a zombie that can talk. This works well with the golem legends of the Talmud and at the end of the 'middle ages,' though perhaps less well with other folktales. The zombie also ought not be able to understand language either. Hmmm.

Time for more counterexamples.

What about a dog, who can understand a limited set of commands? Isn't that language, which is Mentem? I cannot take the easy way out, to say that the dog listens to the sound, and makes his own, primitive association, because that smacks too much of modernity.

Ok. How about this. Everything has some Mentem, according to its nature. But only a very few have enough Mentem to actually think with it, specifically, Man and other higher beings. Other creatures 'think' using their instincts. A bee can thus be very wise in her own way, but this wisdom is not normally accessible even to the bee: It is a bee, and therefore does bee-like things. A Mentem spell cannot command a bee, because the bee uses its Animal-nature to do things. Similarly for a dog.

However, because every animal has some Mentem, it is possible to train dogs and horse to recognize commands (spoken commands are Mentem.) It is possible to cast a spell that allows speech with animals, and, depending on your saga, animals might have some surprisingly interesting things to say.

But wait: If the animal has latent Mentem, then I *can* 'grant' the animal intelligence. Hmm.

(This is a good place to note the superiority (IMHO) of modern reasoning.)

Ok. So a Mentem spell cannot work on an animal, unless a CrMe(An) spell is cast upon it to make it intelligent by augmenting what Mentem latently exists.

But I don't like this, because the boundary between animal and human is then too easily crossed with two fistsful of vis and some spellcasting. On the one hand, the boundary should be hard to cross, but on the other, a Storyguide ought to have talking llamas. Ok, not llamas because they don't belong in Mythic Europe. Mythic Peru, and Tyler too? I digress. Maybe even the players should have talking llamas. But the last thing we want (I hope!) is for a bunch of talking llamas to found a village of talking llamas, and try to get a talking llama to become their parish priest. Most irregular. (A lama llama?)

Here's another go: Perhaps limited Mentem is not actually Mentem. Oooh, this looks like fun. It is Mentem, but it isn't. (Starting from 'A and not-A' is a great advantage in discussions of this kind, because in theory I can prove *anything I like*.) So. Language is Mentem, and every bit of language is Mentem. But a dog can only understand a little bit of it, and therefore has no Mentem of its own. However, because words have power, a parrot taught the names of Demons Whose Names Ought Not Be Mentioned can be a real problem. Thankfully, these parrots probably don't exist in great numbers due to the hazardous nature of their training.

Now, a person has unlimited Mentem, though not quite as unlimited as God's. Another way of looking at it, perhaps people don't have limited Mentem, but don't have unlimited Mentem either. Ah, this sounds good: People have unlimited Mentem, but God has more unlimited Mentem than people. There, this works. Animals have a limited amount of limited Mentem, and therefore cannot be considered to really have Mentem at all. People have a limited amount of unlimited Mentem - their respective souls. God has an unlimited amount of unlimited Mentem.

Can we cut this down, to decide that people also have unlimited Mentem, but cannot access it all in this form? And angels too? The difference between a soul and God would then lie in capability. God is omnipotent and omniscient, and an unattached soul is omniscient but not omnipotent? If so, Satan rebelled knowing he would lose. Nice, but doesn't feel appropriately Christian. This is approaching a Jewish perspective on Satan, who does his job because he has no choice in the matter.

Or, let's have another shot at it. People and angels also have unlimited Mentem, but lack God's experience. Therefore they do not and can never equal God's knowledge, or even come close,

because God has existed for an eternity before creation, and no other being has, which makes it impossible for anyone else to catch up. Further, God has always been omniscient, because he

has always had eternal experience combined with perfect Mentem.

Yeah, this works. This works very nicely. God has given certain beings, people among them, Mentem, which is perfect. It is the same kind of Mentem that God has, absolutely the same. Perfect. Not having the same experience as God, and therefore not having the same knowledge, all other beings are as infants or less compared to Him. Not having read this mailing list, Satan did not appreciate this in his revolt against God, and chose to rely on his equal Mentem. (Satan sits in the pit of hell, forced to read every word of every post to any mailing list or newsgroup. Such torment. Worse, he has to use rn.) Animals do not have perfect Mentem, and therefore do not have Mentem at all. The qualitative difference is too immense. Limited Mentem allows communication of a sort that ought to be saga-dependent.

Ok, so what about faeries? Ah, this one becomes fun. If no Faerie can create anything, they do not have a perfect Mentem. This means they cannot be commanded using Mentem, which makes them notoriously difficult to control. This is nice. So what about a person who becomes a faerie? Since his soul/Mentem is incorruptible, this should not be able to happen.

If I go ka-ballistic, I have an answer for this one: The soul has been recycled, to go to someone else or back to God. The faerie, who has once been a person, has left the Gilgul, the wheel of souls, without having completed his journey. It's a kind of stasis. Twilight is similar to this, as is every other sort of unnatural life extension. But magi of the OoH, especially Criamon, are not likely to be exposed to reasoning of this kind.

Perhaps the whole issue of faeries is one the Order does not understand, leaving room for controversy over whether faeries have souls, and whether all faeries are completely uncreative or whether they are just playing at it, or whether all those encountered *so far* are uncreative. Indeed, I very much can't stand the idea that magi can predict faeries' behavior with great precision using 'rules of Faerie' as though they had majored in folklore. This is even worse than "It's a demon, so it's dangerous even to talk to the thing: Kill, kill, kill!" To some extent, faeries' behavior should be predictable, to the extent that people's can: (now remember not to spill wine on the lord's clothes. Compliment him on his family, but not overmuch, lest he think you plan to seduce his daughter. etc)

Back to the animals. Not having perfect Mentem, they cannot be accessed in any manner through Mentem, unless the SG likes smart animals. Because they have imperfect Mentem, however, it is possible to command and communicate with them using Animal, which takes their Animal-like-limited-Mentem into account as part of the Art.

Similar reasoning can apply to plants.




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Last modified: Sun Dec 27, 1998 / Jeremiah Genest