The Cosmology of Mage

As understood by Lankin1

This is how I see the Cosmology. I've read a lot of the nWoD books, considered the implications, gone over the exact texts and definitions and in general tried to get to the bottom of the issue without changing it to suit my preferences. That's why I have this, in fact: You need to know what the «canon» is before you can break it properly. Of course, it's all still interpretation, it's all my perspective. A lot of it could be better phrased, better worded, but that can't be helped.


The Supernal, Fallen and Lower Realms

First and foremost we must remember this: The Supernal is beyond human comprehension. That's actually one of their defining traits. Whatever we know, or think we know, is simply the human brain trying to interpret in symbol and metaphor something that it inherently can't grasp. What we see during the Awakening is the soul and mind filtering in incomprehensible truth into something we can partially grasp. The Supernal is not only beyond time, space, causality and life itself, but it's the origin point for all these. It's the place where time was conceived and minted, it's the place where the very idea of causality has its purest origin.

According to Atlantean Orthodoxy, the Supernal created the material world, later to be known as the Fallen World. The perfect potentiality of the Supernal became the concrete existence of the Fallen, with our cosmos existing on a «lower energy level» than the Supernal. Of course, after the Fall the Abyss came between us, but the relationship between the two layers of reality remains the same: Supernal Above, Fallen Below. But do note: The Fallen World is a term which includes many sub-realms, among them the material world, the spirit world, the realm of faerie, the state of twilight, the underworld, etc, etc. We'll examine these in due order, so we'll put them aside for now.

Then there's the Lower Depths. This mysterious realm is hardly touched upon in the line thus far, so let's see what the Mage Core Rulebook has to say when it defines the term, on page 61:

Some mages believe there is another world below the Fallen World, a place even further removed from the Supernal World. This place is called the Lower Depths.

Essentially, the Lower Depths is imagined as a cosmos which is as far beneath the entirety of the Fallen World as the Fallen World is below the Supernal. Earth, Hisil, Twilight, all of it is as far «above» the Lower Depths as the Supernal Realms are «above» our base earth. All the Realms Invisible, all the spirits and ghosts, are as «perfect and platonic» to the Lower Depths as the natives of the Aether and Primal Wilds are to us.

If the Lower Depths exist, of course, which is not as solid a fact as many would like to believe. Even if they do, they are a shadow, a world much less 'real' than ours. If our world is an illusion compared to the Supernal, then the Lower Depths are the flickering shadows cast by a flimsy illusion, even more removed from the actual truth of the world.

This then comprises the three «levels» of the true reality, as far as certain mages conjecture it: The Supernal above, the Fallen in the middle, and the Lower Depths at the bottom. Within the Fallen World, we find a multitude of dimensions and realms, from New York to the Court of the Maeljin. Which brings us to the next topic.


The Realms Invisible

There are several alternate worlds, all of whom are coterminous with the material world. The spirit world, for example, touches on all parts of the earthly realm, and so does the Hedge. But it is interesting to note that these worlds do not in any way touch each other. You can't reach the spirit world from the hedge, nor vice versa. Another fact is that none of these worlds has any sort of Twilight existence: In the Hedge everyone is equally material, and there is no incorporeality in the Spirit World. It's possible that this is because the entire realm is, in a way, 'immaterial'.

Or, to simply quote the Core Book, page 281-283:

These places and states of existence (they are both at once) are called the Realms Invisible. They occur within the Fallen World, within and beside the more prosaic and solid-seeming material realm. They include Twilight, the state of being for ghosts and spirits that haunt or hunt within the material realm; the Gauntlet, the barrier between the world of flesh and matter and that of pure spirit; and the Shadow Realm, where ephemera is solid and matter is a fiction from the other side of the Gauntlet. Finally, there is yet another place, although whether it is truly within the Fallen World or lies beneath it is a point of debate among mages: the Underworld, where the unshriven dead toll out the days of their eternal existence.

Of course, when this passage was written some of the realms we now know about were not even conceived of, and so could not have been included on this list. Whether they belong there or not will have to be decided by the individual ST. For myself, I'm voting 'yes' on this one. Especially when it comes to the Inferno, I feel that it is linked to inexorably to the human psyche and the human condition that it most squarely falls within the limits of our own cosmos. After all, it can 'taint' both ghosts and spirits, and every human has the risk of attracting their attention through immoral deeds. The inhabitants of the Inferno are so connected to humanity that they deserve a spot on the map next to our own earth, even though their realm is a lot more closed off from us than, say, the spirit world. But this could be because all the Realms Invisible seem to have different ways of connecting to us, different barriers between them and us.

This, then, is what we see on the following illustration I've made: The Material world (the earth we live on), surrounded by the various immaterial realms, all of them separated from us by various barriers. The Hisil has its Gauntlet, while Faerie has its Hedge. Whatever border exists between us and the Underworld will most probably be more expanded upon in the upcoming Geist game, so I won't exound further upon it. Since it's rather difficult to illustrate how four or five dimensions can be exactly lined up to touch the central hub all at the same time I've opted instead for an approach a little more easy to understand, yet slightly less exacting in its accuracy.


Fig 1: The Configuration of Otherworldly Dimensions

As we can see, there is a vague implication here that the Fallen World functions as a sort of 'echo' or 'shadow' of the True reality above it, with the various Realms Invisible taking their cures and themes from the Supernal Realms. Where Stygia is the true home for departed souls, the Underworld is the best the Fallen World has to offer. Where the Primal Wilds are the templates for all life and essence and spirituality the Spirit World is what the Fallen World has going for it in that department. Similarly, the Supernal Arcadia is the originator of the perfect and sublime system of cause and effect, past and future, destiny and freedom, yet in the Fallen World we only have Faerie, which isn't perfect. Because nothing in this cosmos is perfect.

Then there's Pandemonium. This is the place where all thought and memory and cogitation has its origin, where it is defined and created. It's a crucible, where we are confronted by our own flaws, where our every urge and idea is externalized as an inescapable part of the world around us. Conversely the Inferno can be seen as a Fallen reflection (for those who want to), where our inner wickedness and corruption has its home and its power. It's the collected result of all our immorality and self-judgment, as that's how the potential reality has manifested in the specific and Fallen cosmos.

The idea is that the Supernal is everything that could be, simultaneously encompassing all potential reality, while the Fallen is a single reality, a reification, a realization of an immaterial possibility into a specific and material reality. But the problem of going from perfect to real is that you have to live in reality, which isn't perfect. And so things don't fit a perfect pattern, don't act as they «should» at all times.

Or all this could be the hubristic theorizing dreamed up by prideful mages who want to fit everything magical into their own ideas of how the cosmos should work.


The Astral

But where, I hear you ask, does the Astral Realms fit in on that handy chart of mine? Easy. It doesn't. Or rather, it was supposed to, but I couldn't find room. Also, it requires us to delve further into the nature of the Astral itself, what it is and how it operates. To help in this endeavor, we have another map:


Fig 2: The Mind-Soul Astral spectrum

Here we see how each individual human connects to the larger cosmos, how each of us has untapped depths. Let's explain this image a bit more. Every vertical pillar is a human being, but for clarity I only illustrated fully a single one. Let's look at that one. We see that it is divided into many layers, each of them separate and different. At the top we have the most material, the most solid, earthly and mundane, the Body. From there we delve deeper into the more and more ephemeral parts of the human being. Yet they are all connected, which we should be very aware of.

The Body is directed and controlled by the Consciousness. We tell it when to move, where to go, what to eat, and so on. The Body is affected directly by the mind. Yet the reverse is also true: The conscious mind is directly affected by the body. The sensory input causes new emotions and thoughts, as we see, hear and touch the world around us. The needs and sensations of the body affect how we think, and what we think about.

This two-way interaction shall serve as our primary example, for every single pair of «levels» on the chart has the same relationship: All the layers influence and are influenced by the layers above and below them. We simply have an easier time with grasping the concept when we look at how the body and the conscious thought work together, and so it serves my purpose to use it as something to compare the more remote conceptual dimensions to this very real-world phenomenon.

In any case, beneath the conscious mind we have the unconscious mind: Everything you're not thinking about right now, but which remains a part of your working mind. The deeper, unvoiced notions, your memories and existing ideas. The consciousness constantly produces new material for the unconscious, but similarly the deeper level influences and directs the conscious mind, making it focus on aspects and trains of thought that the unconscious dwells on.

Beneath this we have the layer of nightly dreams, where we all go when we fall asleep. Here the deepest levels of our mind is free to act, to process the unconscious activity and to receive input from the deeper level of the human soul. The soul gives input to the dreaming mind, which in turn affects and is affected by our waking state.

Interesting derailment: This is the level that normal Mind magic can manipulate freely: When the spells let you enter the 'nightly dreams' you're roaming around here, just above the Astral Barrier. Here we note the difference between «entering someone's dreams» and «entering someone's oneiros». The one is governed solely by Mind, the other is not, since it is beyond, beneath and exceeds the sole dominion of the Mind. It is also here that the Changelings travel when they enter the realm of dreams. Never into the Oneiros proper, yet the world of dreams is so closely connected that they touch upon it and perceive it constantly during their dreamwalking, much as the waking thoughts constantly touch upon and influence the unconscious mind all the time.

Now, when mages meditate to enter the Astral they let their conscious thought delve through these layers. First one enters a meditative state, as we get in touch and balance with some of the subconscious, and then we enter a lucid dreaming state as we sink deeper down, letting our conscious thoughts enter our dreams and thus becoming aware and lucid even at this level. Then we hit the Astral Barrier, as we try to go from the deepest point of our Mind and into our Soul, the Oneiros.

Once beneath the Astral Barrier we are in the Oneiros, which gives input to our nightly dreams but which isn't technically a part of them. The Oneiros in turn receives certain influences from the Temenos, the common human soul, and also produces ideas and concepts that the Temenos absorbs in turn. All the Oneiroi in the world, both past and present, collectively fill the Temenos with their own content, while the Temenos still receives influence from the astral realm of the universe itself.

Here we find the interesting part: The soul and core of the cosmos connects to the collective human soul, but the astral realm of the cosmos is supposed to be directly linked to the Supernal. But it isn't. There's an Abyss in the way, you see, and it stops the direct link and dual-way interconnection that the rest of the Astral is built upon. The Supernal can't influence the rest of the astral as directly or forcefully as it's supposed to, and the Anima Mundi in turn can't 'send' content and input to the supernal. Well, they can't do so directly.

Several of the books indicate that there's still a trickle of ideas and information and energy flowing down to us. Magical Traditions, for example, as supposedly Supernal Truths that have entered into our world and entered human thought and belief, with the human Temenos finding and using them so that mages later on can draw supernal power out of them. In short, the Astral is the link between the material world and the supernal, or was supposed to be before the Abyss entered into the picture. It's not some random ephemeral dimension focusing upon a facet of the fallen world: It's a sliding scale where the world becomes more and more rarified, more and more abstract, more and more supernal. It rises perpendicular to the world-discs seen earlier on.

Essentially, to illustrate how the Astral fits into it all there should be a sort of pillar or obelisk from the core of the Material rising up through the Abyss and into the Supernal. As seen in the last image, every human is connected to the soul of the world itself by simply having a human soul, and through that to the Supernal. If only the Abyss wasn't in the way, of course. The Astral is, after all, not just a realm of the Mind (as Astral Realms reminds us), but a realm of the Soul itself. And the Core Book tells us that the Soul is a shard of the Supernal, a fragment of the true reality that has been 'trapped' within the Fallen World. Which means that every soul is a part of the supernal, and links back to it once the Abyss is overcome, which is what we call The Awakening. Every sleeping soul is a bridge to the supernal that has been broken, a pillar to heaven that fractures before it reaches the top. So to insert the Astral into the shape of the cosmology would look a little like this:


Fig 3: The Astral vis-a-vis Realms Invisible


The Arcadia Naming Issue

Let's look at what the Changeling Core Rulebook has to say about the subject of this realm, page 16:

Lexicon: Arcadia:
The domain of the True Fae and once-prison to all changelings. Also Faerie. […] Faerie: Arcadia, or more rarely, the inhabitants of Arcadia.

And again on page 20:

There are three places that are called Arcadia. One is the mortal Arcadia, a Greek prefecture on the Peloponnesus. One is the mythical utopia, a land of incomparable natural beauty where all manners of joy and pleasure might be found. Unspoiled by man, that Arcadia is the home of supernatural beings that exist without conceit or greed, filling their days with idyllic pursuits among the verdant forests and meadows of plenty. And then there is the domain of the True Fae. […] In Faerie (for so it is also called), forests, dark and primeval, writhe alongside concrete jungles thick with artfully bent metal and delicate snowflakes of broken glass.

And like that it continues. In the Changeling Core Rulebook, in the first pages where they introduce the concept of Arcadia itself as that gameline knows it, they continually and consciously alternate between the names Faerie and Arcadia. Constantly. They point out that both names are appropriate, that neither is «more correct», and that there IS indeed another 'magical Arcadia' out there.

As such, I've chosen to call the Changeling world «Faerie», and the Mage realm for «Arcadia», not to throw my support into the «they're different places» debate but simply because I'm a great proponent of clarity, of being concise, having good definitions and of establishing sound and unmistakable definitions of the terminology we use in order to communicate. In short: Using these names like this hinders misunderstanding and confusion.

And because it always bugged me that more or less everyone somehow glossed over the fact that the frickin' core book of the frickin' game points out in big letters that the realm is actually called «Faerie» just as much as it's called «Arcadia». But I guess I'm the only one who actually reads the fluff and descriptions in the books these days (grumble, mutter, millenium hand and shrimp…..)



There you have it. A brief and hastily composed glimt into how I see the Mage setting connecting and operating. There's a lot of very complex ideas in there, and I've tried to summarize and simplify as much as I can, but every point could be a dissertation in itself. If there was anything that was unclear or caused confusion do feel free to ask about it: I'm all too aware that my thoughts tend to be a bit off the beaten track, and that I don't always realize that others don't follow the same modes of cogitation that I do.

I can only hope that it's been at least entertaining, and that some people got something out of it




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