The Hermetic Wild West
Recent History of the Order
The Order of Hermes has never been a “secret” organization, exactly, but the tendencies of its members to seek secluded, magic-rich environments far from civilization, along with the social problems inherent in the Gift meant that those mundane people or organizations that knew about them tended to discount them as eccentrics and fools.
Those members of the Order who lived in closer proximity to mundanes, with covenants in their cities, or in service to Kings and Generals, tended to downplay the Order’s power and ability so as to avoid being forced into the untenable position of being asked (or compelled) to violate the Code, which prevents magi from meddling in the affairs of mundanes to the detriment of other magi.
Another order of European wizards, however, had no such compunctions.
The Augustan Brotherhood (Rival Magic p. 47) had flourished in the courts of European powers since the 1140s. Hiding under the noses of the Order of Hermes in the guise of court wizards and occult specialists, the Augustan Brotherhood thrived in the heart of mundane power just as the Order thrived far from such places. For centuries only House Jerbiton had any suspicion that a rival order of wizards existed in Europe, and even they were quick to discount the “hedge wizards” serving in the courts of Kings and Dukes. Although less broadly powerful in their magic than the Order, the magical techniques of the Brotherhood were subtle and potent in their own ways. The Brotherhood spent its time carefully cultivating and breeding the noble families of Europe, seeking their Emperor Augustus Reborn, a man to reunite Europe under a single flag once more.
The Brotherhood believed they’d finally succeeded with Napoleon Bonaparte, and the Napoleonic wars burst across Europe fueled not only by the Emperor’s tactical success, but with the full magical support of the Augustan Brotherhood, who rose up across Europe to cast down rival nobles and monarchs before Napoleon’s armies. The sudden arrival of potent, blatant magic in warfare shook the people of Europe to the core, and they sought desperately for wizards to counter the Brotherhood’s power. The Order of Hermes was likewise shaken up. It had grown complacent, its famous “Join or Die” doctrine lying fallow for hundreds of years. Now, Napoleon and his Brotherhood wizards were taking vis sources and magical sites, despoiling Hermetic covenants, and looting ancient artifacts.
Magi across Europe met in emergency tribunals and, in the Emergency Grand Tribunal of 1812 declared Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and the Augustan Brotherhood “Enemies of the Order.” War began.
For three brutal years the Order fought against the Brotherhood while mortal armies clashed. The Brotherhood, while powerful in its own way, was no match for a unified Order of Hermes. Napoleon was defeated, the Brotherhood was shattered and driven into hiding, and Europe caught its breath.
In the aftermath, no country on earth could deny the existence and power of the Order of Hermes.
The United States of America watched these events with great interest. The young country got an excellent deal buying the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon in 1803, opening up vast swathes of the continent to exploration and expansion. Magi from the Order had long since been crossing the Atlantic, establishing the “Tribunal of the Atlantic Colonies” in the waning years of the 18th century, and members of House Jerbiton and House Tremere saw the way the wind was blowing in Europe. Prominent east-coast magi reached out to members of Thomas Jefferson’s government, presenting the Order as an enlightened organization, a society that had embraced democracy before most European countries had even existed. They favorably contrasted the Order to their Imperialist rivals in the Augustan Brotherhood, and offered advice and guidance.
Jefferson and his advisers were cautious, but engaged the Order in a quiet and unofficial capacity. The war of 1812 changed that, however. With Order magi openly fighting Brotherhood wizards in Europe, a loose cadre of predominantly Flambeau, Tytalus, Bjornaer, and Tremere openly aided the United States against Britain and her native allies. The motivation for the Order was to claim vis and other magical resources from native hands while demonstrating their value to the United States government.
The collaboration was deemed a success, and as the Napoleonic wars in Europe winded down, a pro-Order of Hermes sentiment swept US government, leading Congress to recognize the Order as a quasi-sovereign international organization, and entering into the Treaty of Mercury, which prevented the government of the United States from compelling a magus to violate the Code of Hermes, a legal document granted full Federal recognition. Magi of the Order, who were usually also citizens of the United States, were confirmed in their citizenship. Congress even went so far as to recognize the jurisdiction of Hermetic courts in trying matters related to the Code and to the practice of magic.
This ushered in an age of prosperity for the American Order. The US public schools movement combined with innovations in the newly renamed “Atlantic Coast Tribunal” to revolutionize how Hermetic apprentices were discovered and educated. Hermetic boarding schools cropped up where would-be apprentices could be given a standardized education prior to one-on-one training. Hermetic public figures, armed with the gentle gift, or mentem magic to counteract the Gift’s negative effects, traveled the land as coveted public speakers and entertainment, demonstrating magic for the amazed masses. Police forces began consulting local covenants for aid in criminal investigations, prompting discussion and court cases into the admissibility of magically-obtained information in the court system. Covenants themselves started to acquire more of a masonic clubhouse feel than fortresses of magi.
The Order pushed west into the Louisiana Purchase territories, seizing magical sites and sources of vis, commonly from native practitioners. House Ex Miscellanea and Bjornaer recruited heavily from the Gifted of the American Tribes, but many native shamans, understandably, resisted the Order’s advances, leading to magical conflict.
The Order once more openly fought alongside American forces in the Mexican-American war, and the other skirmishes and wars that solidified American claims over former Spanish territories in Florida and the American southwest. The Order was becoming a well-accepted fact of American life, and parents would bring their children to local Hermetic schools to have them tested for the Gift in hopes that their child’s antisocial tendencies might be a sign of great power and potential prestige.
The Order threw their political might behind the election of Andrew Jackson, a president whose interests and goals aligned well with that of the Order. With the Indian Removal Act, native territorial rights were further eroded, with magical sites granted to the Order for their use.
Not all was well with the Order integration. Many pious congregations saw the Order as proof of devilry on earth, quoting portions of the Bible forbidding sorcery and witchcraft. Anti-Order protests were common, and rarely aided by the Gift’s tendency to repel mundanes. Some scholars credit the Order’s public stance as a major stimulus to the Second Great Awakening, the chain reaction of mass Protestant religious fervor that swept the country in the first half of the 19th century.
Overall, however, the first half of the Nineteenth Century saw the Order becoming an accepted and integrated fact of American life. Magi went west, and believed in Manifest Destiny. Covenants popped up along the Oregon Trail and in California and Oregon. Gold rushers were sometimes accompanied by “vis rushers” who would help blaze a path through dangerous territory, working together to find their respective riches. All was looking up for the Order in America.
And then came the Civil War.