[Unknown Armies] Artikel zu Mysterien-Kulten in UA (von JamesCat)


18. März 2004
Nachdem ich schon in diesem Thread zu Thema "UA nur für Modern Ages" einen von mir sehr geschätzten Artikel aus dem rpg.net-Forum des dortigen Mitglieds JamesCat eingestellt habe (ab Post #17 ), möchte ich hier dessen Ausführungen zu Mysterien-Kulten in UA (aus diesem Thread im rpg.net-Forum ab Post #31) vorstellen. Ich fand sie sehr interessant.

More old notes. This time: Mystery Cults! Note that God's Heralds made it into To Go ...

[Design goals: Well, these guys are mentioned briefly in the rulebook in a couple of places, and are a fairly logical part of the UAverse. After all, worship/emulation/religion is a pretty logical follow-on to finding out that there’s gods out there. I’ve tried to avoid the ‘evil subversive conspiracy’ theme, but to make them worthwhile opponents/allies/curiosities/adventure hooks …]

The Mystery Cults

Humanity seems to have a natural inclination towards religion, a deep desire to believe in and worship forces more powerful than us. It isn’t surprising, then, that when people found out that there were beings out there in the Statosphere distinctly greater than us, some of the discovers decided to worship them. Discovering the power of Avatars, they attempted not only to emulate them, but to set up rites and rituals that would aid the process of becoming an Avatar, and which would honour the Archetype as a god.

Some of these rituals simply encouraged initiates into certain behavioural patterns which echoed the Archetype’s function, such as the solitary wilderness rites required by cults focused around the Masterless Man, or the requirement of the Cult of Cybele, which followed the Mystic Hermaphrodite, that her initiates castrate themselves. Some, however, were genuine rituals, focusing and channelling the power of the Archetype to great effect.

As described in the History chapter, the Mystery Cults as organised institutions were wiped out by the fearful Roman Underground, and dealt a further blow by the birth of Christianity. You can’t keep a good religion down, though, and the basic ideas and processes of the Cults have returned again and again throughout history. In today’s Occult Underground, the various scattered cults are one of the most potentially powerful forces – and, indeed, the newly forceful Sect of the Naked Goddess is a classic Mystery Cult, although its use of an entirely new school of magick is unusual, and helps account for its remarkable success.

Indifferent Gods

Nobody really knows what the Archetypes think, or feel, or whatever it is that Archetypes really do, about the Mystery Cults. Many of the cults are convinced that their Archetype watches over them directly, but it seems as though most of the worshipped Archetypes frankly couldn’t give a damn about their followers. Steve Johann, a Midwestern trailer-park seer, claimed once in conversation with Dirk Allen that the Archetypes are a tad embarrassed about the whole business, but to attribute blushes to such entities seems a little unlikely. However, a couple of Archetypes appear to take a more direct interest in their cults; certainly the Sect of the Naked Goddess seems occasionally to be helped by their deity, perhaps because it has been such a short time since she Ascended.

Are They All Avatars?

In a nutshell, no. Out of any Cult, only perhaps one in ten members, if that, actually channel the Archetype the cult worships. Most people simply don’t have the necessary commitment and devotion that being an Avatar requires, or the skill at manipulating symbols and perceptions, or the stubbornness and alertness not to break taboo - which is why, outside of the cults, every politician isn’t a Demagogue, or every loyal secretary a Necessary Servant. The actual Avatars, who normally head the cult hierarchy, tend to keep the symbolic tricks that help maintain Avatar status secret except for a chosen few, out of a combination of any one or more of jealousy, privacy, a wish to maintain their own unique status, and a belief that certain things are best left to the chosen.

What do the non-Avatar members of a cult get out of it, then? They get to be close to something magical, they get the reassurance that any faith, no matter how ridiculous, gives to people, and they get a sense of community and family. Many of them may have had somewhat tough lives, or be quite lonely, and the cult provides them with a great sense of comfort. They tend to turn to the cults rather than more conventional religions for two reasons

Much of the activity of many Cults, then, is given over to the normal activities of any small church; communal worship, rites of passage, support groups, theological study. Of course, the worship occasionally involves animal sacrifice, nudity, or flagellation, but more often it’s restricted to silly outfits, ritual objects, and symbolic actions.

For example, The Blessed Fools, a San Diego cult, celebrate April 1st by dressing up in butterfly costumes and dancing round the front room of their Exalted Foolish Hierophant. The Church of Our Lady Jesus, a Brazilian semi-Christian cult of the Mystic Hermaphrodite welcome a new member by holding a large drag party, to which numerous transvestites unaffiliated with the Church show up, and where the Church members switch sex halfway through. The Sistren of the Sun, who follow the Flying Woman, run regular study groups at a local feminist bookstore which examine the magical power of sisterhood, lesbianism, and sun-worship throughout history, with particular reference to the peaceful ancient Aztec and Minoan matriarchies.


Common Misconceptions

Most of the Mystery Cults aren’t exactly one hundred percent correct in their view of the universe; most of them do well to be even half-right. Their views tend to be skewed by their considerable, powerful faith in their Archetype, and occasionally by deliberate falsehoods on the part of the higher echelons of the cult hierarchy. Here are some of the more common misconceptions that mystery cults may hold:

• [Cult’s Archetype] is the one True God, and others a) don’t exist, b) are forces of evil, or c) are weaker than our God.
• [Archetype] loves us.
• [Archetype] chooses people to manifest its will on earth. These people are known as Avatars, and are living, powerful manifestations of our [Archetype], given god-like powers.
• [Archetype] has always existed, throughout the many incarnations of the universe.
• Magic? The only magic is through the power of [Archetype.]
• [Archetype] is the defender of humanity against the evil forces of the Invisible Clergy, invaders from a twisted former universe.
• [Archetype] used to be worshipped by all of humanity, but has been cast down from his/her true position. Now he/she has returned to the world!
• Our leader chooses who channels the power of [Archetype.]
• Every generation, the head of our cult ascends to become the new [Archetype]
• We are the Children of Satan!
• [Archetype]’s chosen people are the Americans/English/Whites/Blacks, and all others are inferior.


Initiation Rites

The most important part of any Mystery Cult is its initiation rite. This is a ritual, in both the magical and conventional sense of the word, which marks somebody as a member of the cult or elevates his or her status within the cult’s hierarchy. (For all you purists out there, this isn’t really a ritual as such, because the cult generally invents it themselves; rather, it’s a specific application of collective willpower and belief somewhat akin to Tilting the Statosphere.) Most Cults possess only one initiation rite, but some have multiple levels of initiation.

The specifics of rites vary wildly, but generally involve the participant, alone, undergoing a series of ordeals which symbolically represent the nature of the Archetype. To take an ancient example, the initiation rituals of Mithras, involved the initiate being left in a dark cave, where he remained for a day and night before participating in the sacrifice of a bull – thus representing both the solitary, self-reliant nature of the Masterless Man and his physical strength.

The initiation rites of modern cults can be equally daunting. The Made Men, a group of New Jersey Mafia wannabes who worship the Executioner, require the initiate to firstly be symbolically killed themselves, in the traditional street-style posture, with an empty revolver – well, almost always empty, and then to personally kill their own pet. They would require an actual human killing, but they don’t really have the guts. The Esoteric and Ancient Order of Hermes, a Magus cult, requires the initiate to spend the night in prayer and meditation before his own reflected image in a deep underground lake, before swimming the length of the lake clad in full robes. The Lady-Killers, a Mystic Hermaphrodite cult consisting entirely of high-flying city types, requires the initiate to have some form of sexual contact with every other member of the cult, and to break off all sexual contact with outsiders.

The psychological effect of initiation rites is to make the initiate feel special, and to bind them more closely to other members of the cult – or, if they are being initiated into a greater degree of initiation, to impress upon them the importance of this new status. Sometimes several initiates participate in the rite together, in order to strengthen this sense of bonding. The supernatural effect is twofold. Firstly, it can either start somebody on the Avatar path – if they have the proper inclination and will – at a skill of 5%, or else raise their existing skill by 3-7%, depending on the extent and difficulty of the rite. Later rituals generally raise skill by only 1-3%, however. Secondly, it marks them, magically, as a member, and makes it possible to use certain other rituals, detailed later, upon them.

Types of Cult

Every Mystery Cult is different, of course, and the Archetype worshipped makes a considerable difference to their outlook, but there are certain basic patterns that seem to regularly crop up. Here are some of the more common types of cult.

Ancient Survivors

Almost every mystery cult claims some antique heritage, but in a very, very few parts of the world, mystery cults survive that can genuinely trace themselves back to the ancient world. The most common areas to find ancient survivals are Iran and Afghanistan, areas heavily influenced by both Persian and Roman culture which consequently fell into a relatively ‘primitive’ state. In general, they are based in a tiny, tiny area – perhaps just a few people in one village – and, not infrequently, have entirely lost the supernatural element of their rituals and become a simple religion. These cults are of great interest to occult historians, but have little to offer in terms of practical power, except, just possibly, an artifact or two.

The Followers of the Horseman: An Ancient Survival

The Followers of the Horseman are a small Afghanistan cult, based around the worship of Iskander, a mythologised version of Alexander, who channel the power of War. They have perhaps thirty members left, mainly in the city of Kabul, who pass on the rituals to their sons, but they will probably be extinct within two generations. It is a sacred heritage to most of the members, not a means to gain power, and they will be highly unwilling to talk about their faith. They possess one moderately interesting significant artifact, however, Bucephalus’ Reins. These reins, used by Alexander when taming his famous horse, add +30% to any riding skill and automatically break in any wild horse they’re placed upon. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the horsemen discovered that they have a symbolic power with rather more use in the modern day; if held by the driver of a tank, the modern cavalry, they add +10% to his skill in operating the vehicle.

Lunatic Visionaries

Occasionally a particularly gifted mortal gets a glimpse of the Statosphere in a dream or vision, especially if he or she happens to visit the site of an Ascension. Some of them go crazy, some die on the spot, but normally they interpret it within a religious framework, and quite often, especially if they happen to be naturally charismatic, they start a group around their vision, normally under the general aegis of their old religion. Many of these groups have no powers at all, but a few manage to key in to the tricks of channelling Archetypal power. The original visionary is often a Demagogue Avatar, but the cult may worship a different Archetype altogether.

God’s Heralds: A Visionary Cult

Terry Young was a FedEx employee with an almost religious fervour for her company mission. She was also a devout evangelical Christian, and an unwitting psychic. When she happened to be given a delivery to Dermot Arkane, she caught him in the middle of one of his not infrequent battles with the current Messenger, and was caught up in the unnatural backwash of the incident, receiving a powerful vision of the Statosphere. Terry is now convinced that there is a great battle going on between G-d and the Devil, and that Arkane is the Devil’s Minion, and she is G-d’s. The only way that Arkane can be stopped is by the spreading of the True Message, the Truthtelling, but she cannot do it alone. Consequently, Terry has gradually begun to initiate other members of her church, as well as a couple of other FedEx employees into the Ways of the Message. They have been given something of a morale boost by the recent release of Castaway, and may represent a considerable irritation to Arkane’s plans. It is not unlikely, by the way, that the Messenger has set Terry up as a deliberate strike against Arkane.

Desperate Losers

The shortcuts to power represented by the rituals of Mystery Cults is a powerful temptation to those who feel life has dealt them something of a kick in the teeth, as is the comfort that any form of faith offers. Many Mystery Cults are therefore centred around the downtrodden and desperate of society; the poor, the homeless, the lunatic. The ‘mole people’ of the New York underground are thought to harbour at least one cult, and at least three operate on the Indian Reservations.

Hold Me Baby: A Desperate Cult

Based around the worship of the Mother, Hold Me Baby is a Jamaican cult of unknown origin which has recently been making some inroads into the inner-cities of the U.S.A. It combines elements of voudoun with Catholic worship of the Virgin Mary to create a powerful, Christian-based religion centred around motherhood. A common symbol of the cult is a statue of the black, pregnant Virgin, which looks somewhat like Epstein’s sculpture ‘Genesis.’ Members babysit for each other’s children, raise abandoned children, and generally act as centres of parental life within their communities. A strong emphasis is placed upon continued pregnancy as a talisman against disaster, and many members of the cult are under the delusion that being pregnant protects them from anything, from gunshots through to the police. At least one member, however, has been convicted of smothering her child; whether the secret worship of the Devouring Mother is part of the cult is up to the GM to decide.

Pragmatic Schemers

Not all Mystery Cults actually worship their Archetype; some merely see them as a convenient path to power. This kind of practical, pragmatic approach to the Avatar path is relatively rare among the Cults, because individuals with this point of view tend to figure out the Avatar approach on their own, and not feel the need for others to help them. It isn’t unknown, though, and it’s also fairly common to find a pragmatist or two among the membership of other cults. Pragmatic Cults are generally founded by people who are fairly clued-in as to the nature of the universe, and have more genuine information than other cults; the members are often magicians as well as Avatars

The Organization: A Pragmatic Cult

Kenneth York, a middle-aged Canadian bank manager, found out about the Occult Underground when a pissed-off Annihilomancer whom he’d just denied a loan blew up his car with a wave of his fingers. The police talked about explosives and grenades, but Kenneth knew what he had seen; magic. It surprised him to find that he wasn’t scared, but curious. He dug a little deeper, using the connections and influence that any small-town banker has, and it didn’t take him that long to find out about Avatars. Well, the Merchant seemed an obvious choice, but he felt he couldn’t really go it on his own.

He gradually introduced a couple of members of his local Rotary Society – and old boyhood friends of his - to the path of the Merchant, and the Organization more or less expanded from there. It now has about twenty members, all middle-aged Canadian businessmen, mostly family men, although York himself is gay, who meet once a month to discuss the best symbols to use to further their power, how to keep themselves a secret from the rest of the Underground, who don’t seem to be very nice people, and to conduct certain rites which seem to help them get on. There is very little sinister about it, although a few of the members are not averse to slightly shadier business dealings, but PCs who stumble upon it – perhaps through one of York’s occasional forays into the rest of the Underground, seeking information to help the Cult – will doubtless read far more sinister motivations into it.

Fakers Gone Real

Faking religions for money is nothing new; depending on your cynicism, almost all religions can be seen as being money-making schemes in one way or another. As shown in chapter X, the Underground is rife with false cults, rip-off schemes, and con men, seeking to exploit the lonely and gullible. Occasionally, however, these fake schemes go wrong, and become real. If a good conman creates a plausible enough religion, drawing upon real archetypal images to create something that will, so to speak, pull the punters in, he can end up tapping powers far greater than he realized. In this case, the conman at the top of the operation may well be totally unaware that his followers do, in fact, have actual mystical powers – or he may have realized what’s happening, and either seized the opportunity or disappeared, terrified.

Love’s Children: A Formerly Fake Cult

Katie Turnbull, also known as Sandra Topley, Sister Beauty, Rainbow Cornwallis, Ash Loveblossom, and Moonbeam Sunshine, was one of the most successful pseudo-religious con-artists of the late 1960s. Katie could start a religion in under a month, provided she was in either California or India, have the suckers milked in six months, and be out of there within the year. She didn’t discriminate; she was as happy to bilk Catholics with a fake Madonna as she was to skin spiritual seekers in Benares, but eventually she settled down in the mid-1990s, having established herself as the Mother of Love’s Children, a thriving sect on a private commune in Oregon with several rich and gullible members. She’d made the beliefs of Love’s Children up one drunken night; they were a mixture of pseudo-Buddhism, alchemy, channelling, bisexuality, tantric sex, and Doom Patrol comics.

As time went by, the bisexual and androgynous elements of the cult became more and more emphasised, and the rituals and orgies involved more complicated and disturbing; Turnbull found herself caught up in something quite beyond her control, and the realisation that she’d tapped into something much deeper than she expected came when one of the more devout members of the Children went to bed a man and woke up a woman. Now Turnbull is desperately trying to figure out what’s going on, and is making tentative contact with elements of the Occult Underground while trying to keep control over fifty-odd cult members who are quite convinced that she is the living incarnation of Rebis, the alchemical union of male and female.​
AW: Artikel zu Mysterien-Kulten in UA (von JamesCat) Teil 2

Religion and the Underground

Unsurprisingly, the Mystery Cults draw much of their imagery and beliefs from various major and minor religions, and the religious background of the founder deeply influences the character of any particular cult. Religion tends to be a major factor in the way that most people react to the discovery of the reality of the supernatural anyway; after all, a conservative Catholic is going to look upon a naked porn star ascending in a blaze of light rather differently from a romantic Wiccan.


Christianity, in all its myriad varieties, remains by far the largest religion in the United States. Despite the fact that the esoteric and counter-cultural interests of most potential occultists often means that they’ve supposedly renounced Christianity before they encounter real evidence of the supernatural, a Christian worldview tends to be what they fall back upon when they find a demon trying to cram itself into their skull.

Christianity, essentially, doesn’t like the occult, doesn’t believe in reincarnation or multiple universes, and generally doesn’t lend itself to the reality of the universe of Unknown Armies without quite some twisting. The response of devout Christians who encounter the occult tends to be to characterize it as evil (which is sometimes true), dangerous (which is normally true), and quite possibly satanic (which isn’t really the case.) A surprising number of wannabe occultists who think they’ve put ‘the oppressive Christian tyranny’ behind them nonetheless find themselves scrabbling for crosses and frantically praying when they first encounter true magick.

Of course, there are also a lot of occultists who characterise their actions in terms of an inversion of Christianity; Satanism. This tends to be essentially egotistical showing-off, with very little thought or excitement behind it – pretty much like most of the Underground. Some adepts and avatars, such as [what’s her name] (see LG&M, pg. XX), see themselves as having been given divine gifts; this is easier for avatars, whose power genuinely does come from another realm, than for adepts, for whom personal will and self-belief tends to be all important. Those clued-in occultists who are also devout Christians tend to believe in an ultimate God above and beyond the Invisible Clergy, or to see Jesus as the one Archetype which returns in all worlds.

A lot of Mystery Cults – perhaps as many as twenty or thirty percent of those in the United States – have Christian elements. Catholicism, in particular, which has a greater tradition of the veneration of individuals and private devotion to particular saints than Protestantism, tends to lend itself to the development of Mystery Cults, as does some of the backwoods fervour of the evangelical churches of the Deep South; the greatest group of Christian-based Mystery Cults, however, is in South America, where the syncretistic Catholic elements of such belief systems as santeria and obeah produce some very strange cabals.


The mystical and magical elements of Judaism, the most prominent being Kaballah (see pg. XX), sometimes result in devout young scholars discovering certain truths best left alone, but, generally, Judaism takes a negative view towards the occult. Judaism has much less of a Satanic tradition than Christianity, and the initial reaction of a Jew, lapsed or devout, encountering the supernatural is marginally more likely to be disbelief than panic. Jewish Mystery Cults are very rare, the only known examples being in some of the very isolationist and insular ultra-Orthodox communities. Hasidim, strangely enough, generally find it easier to accept the reality of magic than other Jews, because of the wonder-working tradition associated with the rebbes, and because Hasidism has some mystical elements hinting at the possibility of reincarnation, multiple universes, and the suchlike. Perhaps the most common belief among clued-in Jewish occultists is that G-d is working gradually to perfect the world through its multiple incarnations.


You’re kidding, right? Islam – whose followers, on average, tend to be somewhat more devoutly religious than the average Christian or Jew – doesn’t like the occult one tiny little bit. While there was a magical tradition in some of the medieval Islamic kingdoms, a modern Muslim who encounters magic is likely to respond in a highly negative fashion. The only exceptions are some Muslims from Indian and Pakistani backgrounds, where the pir, or magical holy man, is still a respected figure.
There are occasional Islamic Mystery Cults, arising out of the more esoteric, and often very ancient, sects of mystical Sufism, but these tend to be restricted to exotic backwaters; it’s very rare that a new cult bases its beliefs on Islam.


Of all religions, Hinduism corresponds most closely with the realities of the universe of Unknown Armies. Reincarnation? Humans incarnating some of the powers of the gods? Multiple incarnations of the universe? A long tradition of wandering magicians? Got ‘em all. Hindus have very few problems adapting to the discovery of the supernatural, and numerous Mystery Cults are based upon Hindu beliefs – often filtered through the lens of the New Age, and picked up in India in the 1960s. India itself is rife with Mystery Cults, sometimes with quite ancient roots; the tabooed worship of gods is considered, after all, a perfectly normal thing. The taboos and oppressions of the caste system, still very dominant in India, produce a slightly higher percentage of Avatars than in America, though as the older Archetypes fall from the Invisible Clergy, the developing countries produce less and less Avatars, being less in tune with the new realities of the Statosphere. A small but significant percentage of Hindu sadhus (wandering holy men with peculiar taboos, such as nakedness or not washing) are Avatars, normally of the Pilgrim.


Buddhism has less of a magical tradition than Hinduism, but still tends to view it more favourably than the Judeo-Christian traditions. The meditative and introspective focus of devout Buddhism, however, tends not to produce adepts or avatars, for whom a large part of their power comes, essentially, from a lack of examination of their own beliefs. Occultists, however, have often been influenced by Western Buddhism (which tends to bear very little resemblance to the way Buddhism is practiced in Asia), filtered through Jung and the idealisation of Tibet, and what might best be described as ‘Hollywood Buddhism’ is a considerable influence on the Underground. About a tenth of adepts, if you questioned them, would probably describe the thought processes involved in working magick as Zen, without having any real idea of what Zen is.

Buddhist Mystery Cults are rare in America, but extremely common in Nepal and Tibet, where Buddhism’s fusion with earlier traditions, as well as an emphasis on esoteric forms and particular taboos, has long produced a number of isolated and often rather nasty Mystery Cults, generally of the darker Archetypes. Most of the Tibetan Mystery Cults have been wiped out by the Chinese as part of their purges of Tibetan Buddhism; those European scholars and adventurers who penetrated into the region before WW2, such as Angela Forsyth, who briefly visited in 1937, speak of this with a tone of great relief for humanity.


Popular Chinese Taoism, with its numerous gods and rituals, has perhaps the richest magical tradition of any religion, and the old Chinese occult establishment was thoroughly steeped in it. Chinese-American Taoists, who tend to take quite a pragmatic attitude towards what the gods can do for them, are not uncommon in the Occult Underground, but the influence of Taoism on the Occult Underground as a whole tends to be through the medley of Hindu, Buddhism, and Taoism beliefs that made up the ‘New Age’ movement.


Ever since Gerald Gardner made up Wicca out of whole cloth and a considerable imagination in 1947, neo-paganism has been one of the most influential religions within the Occult Underground. ‘Pagan’ ideals were held by a significant part of the Underground long before that, of course – such as by the True Brittanick Church of Druidry, a briefly flourishing 18th century cabal that combined blood-magick, Anglicanism, and long white robes, or the Children of Pan, a wild party-going cabal of the 1920s – but Gardner’s new religion, and all its bastard children, has been a bigger influence than any previous movement.

Neo-paganism is a very diverse movement, but its chief features are, generally speaking, a romantic desire for a golden age, credulity about the supernatural, a willingness to incorporate new beliefs, an intensely local nature, and an intense bitchiness and competitiveness within the movement. (As an example of the last, some years ago English Heritage banned neo-pagan groups from using Avebury and Stonehenge to hold midsummer rituals, not out of some anti-pagan bias but because there was actual physical violence between the groups as to which of them were the ‘true’ pagans.)

It has produced a huge number of potential members of the Occult Underground, and the number of neo-pagan Mystery Cults is somewhat out of proportion to their actual numbers compared to Christians or Jews; the Archetypes make as good gods as any, and the tendency of local pagan groups to focus upon particularly . However, the percentage of neo-pagans who actually break through into real magick, rather than the sappy, tedious, and sentimental ‘magick’ practiced idealistically by most covens, is actually rather small, because, when it comes down to it, neo-paganism simply doesn’t produce the kind of obsession and guts that real adepts need, nor does it provide a sufficiently rigid mental framework to produce real paradox. Most clued-in adepts regard neo-pagans in much the same way that a card sharper regards a room full of keen and drunk amateur poker players. After all, how can you really take seriously a religion which claims to be based on ancient paganism and doesn’t even have the balls to practice animal sacrifice?​

(Dies ist der zweite Teil. Der Artikel war leider länger als die Maximallänge eines hier im Forum zulässigen Posts.)
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