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

From the Ars Magica FAQ written by David Chart

Section 3.0: Medieval Paradigm

Based upon our own European medieval period, Mythic Europe is said to be Europe as the folk of the time believed it to be. God rules absolute in Heaven, and Satan plots the corruption of Mankind in Hell. Giants and Faeries, demons and angels, wizards and dragons all play a very real role in the life of the populace. The physical, secular, spiritual and supernatural laws all combine to form the Medieval Paradigm.

There are two very broad ways of considering the Medieval Paradigm. According to the first, the inhabitants of Mythic Europe have much the same beliefs as the inhabitants of Medieval Europe, but the inhabitants of Mythic Europe have many more true beliefs. If Mythic Europeans were to come to believe that the earth went round the sun, they would acquire a false belief. In this view, reality is fixed independently of what the people believe, and it is fixed as something very close to what medieval people believed. This is the "official" view -- the one that Atlas Games will be taking in the supplements for the game.

The second approach says that Mythic Europe is as its inhabitants believe it to be, because they believe it to be that way. If everyone in Mythic Europe were convinced that the earth went round the sun, then that would become true. This "belief defines reality" view is quite explicit in White Wolf's World of Darkness games, especially Mage. However, since that Ars Magica is no longer supposed to portray the past of the World of Darkness, this need not influence you. Either approach is a perfectly good way to run a Saga, but putting forward the "belief defines reality" approach on the mailing list is likely to attract strong opposition. Caveat scriptor.

The Medieval Paradigm is not a predefined absolute. Like so many other things, it is quite different from saga to saga. Some troupes will play with a very 'tight' Paradigm, very true to the views of the time. Others may play with a much more 'loose' view of the Paradigm, where more current views hold true.

Troupes have to decide for themselves how true to the historical Middle Ages they wish to be. Some people on the mailing list are capable of giving the impression that you need a degree in medieval history to play Ars Magica properly: this is arrant nonsense, of course. Medieval history is very interesting, and can provide lots of stimulating ideas, but this is a game, and the SMArM will not send operatives round to make sure that your characters do not have pockets. (Pockets were not invented until after the Middle Ages: people used hoods and sleeves with closed ends instead.)

It is also worth remembering that Mythic Europe is not supposed to be our history. The presence of the Order of Hermes will have changed things on a local scale, even if the magi stay completely out of politics. If nothing else, there are a few extra castles around, with covenants in them. Historical details will differ: a broad overview is all that you need to play in a good medieval paradigm.

The 'truth' of the Medieval Paradigm can become quite complex, particularly when one begins to extend out the concepts. One of the more difficult questions with regard to the Medieval Paradigm is the role of Christianity and competing religions. At the similar period of our own history, Jews and Muslims were viewed by mainstream Christianity as servants of Satan. Were one to run a very 'tight' Paradigm, one would presumably hold to this view. Perhaps, though, the troupe may prefer a less absolute view of non-Christian religions -- at this point some difficult ideas should be considered. If the non-Christians aren't the agents of The Devil, who exactly are they? Do they in fact worship the same God? A different, but cooperative God? A competitive God? What is the nature of their Dominion Aura? Is it the same as the Christian aura?

Spirituality isn't the only difficult area when deciding on the nature of the Medieval Paradigm, long debate can be found in topics ranging as widely as the animal kingdom to political theory. The fact that, unsurprisingly, medievals disagreed with each other on many points makes this more complicated. For example, many philosophers in the thirteenth century argued that the world could not, physically, have been created, while others argued that it not only could be, but it was, by God. Which one is "paradigm"? Aristotelian and Ptolemaic systems were both used in discussing the heavens, but they are very different. What is actually up there "in paradigm"? The degree of authority held by the Pope was up for debate throughout the medieval period, and the Albigensian heretics, at least, were widespread. Who was right? If these things become important in your Saga, the troupe must decide, and there is no right or wrong answer. In fact, no matter what you decide, you could probably find a medieval philosopher, mystic, or heretic who agreed with you. The lesson? It isn't worth losing sleep over whether something is genuinely in paradigm.

A final word of warning, however -- the topic of Paradigm is almost certain to give birth to Heated Discussion, so tread carefully when discussing it on the Mailing List; some take it lightly, others quite seriously.

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Last modified: Sun Dec 27, 1998 / Jeremiah Genest