Ars Magica: Romandy
Seshat’s roots delve back into Egypt’s Old Kingdom and its cult devoted to the wise scribe of the gods. Its influence peaked during the Roman era when Isis’ sister cult penetrated most corners of the empire. Seshat’s cult began its decline when the Ptolemaic Egyptians came to regard her as Ptah’s daugter or consort and not a goddess of wisdom in her own right. The cult then suffered immense blows with the destruction of the Library of Alexandria and the Serapeum. Though it didn’t completely vanish like the Cults of Isis and Mercury, it struggled to survive under Christianity and Islam’s dominance.
The Order of Hermes first encountered the cult’s remnants during the Crusades, though neither party engaged seriously until the Mameluke sultans began their steady suppression of Christians and pagans.
In 1387, the Seshat sorcerer-priestesses finally swore their Hermetic oath and joined House Ex Miscellanea. About a third of the Seshati dispersed among the covenants of Southern Europe, half remained in Egypt, and the rest attempted to establish bolt holes throughout the rest of North Africa.
The Present House
In 1400, the Seshati number 93 magi, almost half as many apprentices, and is almost completely female.
Even as the plague periodically sweeps through Europe, the Christian realms continue to harbor small pockets of relative religious tolerance, especially among the Hermetics. The Seshati’s position in Egypt had long since become precarious enough that they recognized the wisdom of spreading out.
The tragedies in Alexandria during the Roman Empire eradicated most of the cult’s accumulated knowledge, and yet the sorceress-priestesses can still claim to maintain a library of ancient writings that are the envy of the Order of Hermes. This trove alone guaranteed that the Order would accept the Seshati the moment they asked for membership, but it wasn’t enough even for the relatively enlightened Order to accept a tradition of exotic pagan women as its own Hermetic house. The high priestess Tsante allowed this indignity rather than drag out negotiations while her entire cult faced the growing possibility of violent persecution (at present, those fears remain unfulfilled, defying Tsante’s expectations).
At present, the only Seshati magae and apprentices in Europe are both female and natives of Egypt. Furthermore, belief in Seshat remains intrinsic to this house’s magical techniques. Therefore, Seshat maga chargen imposes more requirements than with other houses. In addition to any other requirements for magi mentioned on the Character Generation page:
Your PC must be female and originally from Egypt.
Your native tongue is Arabic. You must take Coptic (evolved from the Ancient Egyptian language) at level 5, and you can write in Coptic, Demotic, hieratic, and hieroglyphs (the last is a lost art to all but the Seshati now, and they don’t share this skill with anyone).
You worship Seshat and thus are a pagan, but you don’t need to be vocal about your faith. Some of the more doctrinaire Christians in the Order know you’re pagan anyway and might give you lasting grief about it.
You gain the following Merits and Flaws for free (as per rules for House Ex Miscellanea) — Subtle Magic (Minor Hermetic Virtue), Guardian Angel (Major Virtue), Requirement (Major Hermetic Flaw):
Subtle Magic – Seshati rely on the primal power of words to work their magic. To them, gestures do little to focus the mind.
Guardian Angel – Each of Seshat’s clergy are attended by a soul assigned by Seshat. Just like angels, they advise their charges more than they serve them, and they can withhold their aid and very presence from the unfaithful.
Requirement: Words – Though the power of the word eliminates the need for gestures in Seshat magic, it also becomes inoperable without words. This need for words does not necessarily mean that one must speak when using Seshat magic—though normally that’s what Seshat magae do.
They can also use their magic without speaking if they can focus on a strongly crafted glyph or script for which they know the meaning. A “strongly crafted glyph or script” is more than scratchings in the sand or slapdash inking. It must have been rendered with a flawless hand (the equivalent of a scribe or appropriate craft skill of 3) in an essentially permanent medium, about 1 square inch in size, and discernible in all its intricacies.
When substituting the spoken word with a glyph, the maga suffers no penalty for silent casting. However, any subsequent Finesse roll suffers a -3 penalty since she will be attempting to maintain some attention on the glyph while trying to aim at something else.
[Design note: Seshat is the goddess of scribes, so it makes sense that the Requirement: Words flaw would not simply mean that the maga must speak to use her magic, that glyphs would be an appropriate substitute.
[However, the flaw is still a major flaw that is supposed to cause grave difficulties now and then during a campaign. Therefore, as a design consideration, I limited appropriate glyphs by size and quality. A maga won’t be able to simply write an appropriate word in a single round or by using nothing but a dirtied finger on a pane of glass, nor will she be able to tattoo hundreds of appropriate hieroglyphs onto her forearm.]
The Seshati are renowned for their erudition. Most have moderate to high skill in Philosophiae, Artes Liberales, Greek, Arabic, and Scribe. For ease of using and creating Hermetic materials, you should take Latin of at least 4 unless you have a compelling reason not to (and even then, I recommend fudging around that reason and taking Latin 4 regardless).
Supplemental – Men Among the Seshati and the Dilemma of the Hermetic Oath
Though the Cult of Seshat had a significant male presence in its priesthood, it mostly vanished with the cult’s power. Only the truest of the male believers remained because simply professing faith in Christ or (later) Islam could dramatically improve a pagan man’s social status in post-pagan Egypt. Furthermore, neither faith necessarily precluded such men from joining other arcane traditions. Seshat’s cult, on the other hand, requires faith in and devotion to Seshat and the Egyptian pantheon: they are linchpins in the functioning of the cult’s magic.
The Seshati continue to try to apprentice Gifted boys, especially because (cynically speaking) male Seshati have more potential influence to insulate the cult from Christian and Muslim recriminations. However, the Seshati encounter almost insurmountable problems starting with recruitment.
The cult’s ethos requires taking guardianship of prospective apprentices through the consent of their current guardian(s). Boys (even bizarre Gifted boys) are usually regarded as an economically valuable resource, so the Christian and Muslim parents that wouldn’t flatly reject giving over their boy to pagan matriarchs demand a high price, sometimes more than the cult is willing to afford.
A Seshat Mater does her best to cultivate a love for Seshat and her way within her boy apprentice because so often, only love and faith can keep a boy loyal to the cult once he becomes a man and a magus. A preponderance of them chafe too much under the matriarchy of their cult—invariably at odds with the patriarchy of their larger society. They soon find their way out of Seshat’s hidden libraries and into an emir’s court or a Suleimanic lodge. These defections from the already small male community in the cult reinforce a cycle that evaporates male influence and crystallizes female leadership.