At its simplest, a medium is a being who is able to communicate with those who have moved beyond the Shroud – those who are, essentially, dead. Most mediums are born with their ability, either manifest or latent; although some develop it later in life, or learn to be mediums by their own efforts.
In order to retain her sanity a medium needs to make sense of what is happening to her, the sights she sees and the sounds she hears. Ghosts have their own drives and motivations for communicating with the living and not all of them are benign in their interactions, let alone truthful.
The Restless Dead are not supposed to treat with the living and, whilst many do break this rule (known as the Dictum Mortuum), they have to be careful to avoid coming to the attention of those who rule over them. Both these factors mean that ghosts can be dishonest or, at best, cagey when explaining the facts of their own existence and the nature of life after death.
It is difficult, if not impossible, for a medium to discern the whole truth about postmortem existence. At best she will gain small shards of truth which, being human, she will attempt to piece together into something that makes sense. What makes sense to her will depend largely upon the beliefs of her family and her society.
Mediums are nearly always otherwise-normal humans, as mages, werewolves and vampires have their own special means of communing with the departed. A talent for mediumship often runs in family lines, who are themselves known to (or even founded!) certain secret societies, helping to explain the closely guarded nature of some of the most provocative truths and methods of interacting with the departed.
As with any other talent, many assume that mediums are born, not made, and no one born without the latent talent can develop it. As with any other nature/nurture controversy, it is impossible to prove this either way.
As the child matures, two things are likely to happen. Firstly, it becomes more likely their abilities will become of interest to a broader variety of ghosts, with all of the confusion, conflict, and chaos that brings. Communication is a two-way process and ghosts will use infant mediums as a gateway to the living world. Secondly, unless the child is from a family which understands and values their talent, seeing and hearing things their relatives cannot usually spawns enough of a reaction for the child to recognize something strange is going on.
A child medium may not realize there’s anything weird about seeing a grandparent who died before they were born, or the man down the street who disappeared after his house burned down. But when they talk about it to others, they quickly learn Mom and Dad get really uncomfortable around mention of seeing Grandma at the foot of their bed, or helping Mister Johnson find a new home for his old dog who has been wandering the neighborhood since the fire. It’s hard for kids to cope with this; comparing one’s experiences to those of others is an important part of learning to be part of a community, and child mediums growing up in mainstream cultures may have profound difficulties with this.
While those who are born mediums may find their situation becomes more difficult as they age, at least they’ve had time to attempt to find ways to mentally and emotionally deal with the challenges before them. For those who develop their abilities later in life, discovering an ability to see ghosts is as unexpected and seemingly impossible as sprouting wings.
In human society, the price paid for deviations from standard perceptions is often suspicion, ostracism, and even death. This, of course, is not true for all societies, some of which value traits that in a WASP family would get a child sent straight into therapy.
Sadly, a child whose nearest and dearest fail to appreciate their talent, and who is not fortunate enough to find a mentor will struggle with their own ability and try to mask it as best they can. Such mediums have a hard ride through life and often find it difficult to form any kind of relationship at all. Most wander from place to place (some call them “boardwalk” or “orphaned” mediums) never really finding a niche. As such they could be immensely helpful to any sincere ally who was prepared to make the effort to earn their trust.
These “orphaned” mediums have spent their lives heretofore in social isolation, rejected by their families, disbelieved by their therapists, horribly teased at school, ostracized, and condemned by conventional religious groups; they have never had a sense of being part of a community. They put up barriers to protect themselves from being hurt. So, if a group manages to break through those barriers and give the orphaned medium a sense of belonging, there is very little that orphaned medium might not do for their ‘new’ family. Unfortunately, they put their new found sense of trust in the wrong leader or organization, this can lead to them getting exploited.
A few manage to both control their fear, develop their gift and even one night turn it to their fame and fortune. Not every cold read artist is a charlatan in the World of Darkness, after all. These individuals are usually too independent-minded (not to mention entrepreneurial in spirit) to willingly subordinate themselves to any organization. Although, they will happily ‘consult’ for an appropriate fee. Project Twilight is known to secretly keep the occasional ‘celebrity’ medium on retainer, flying them to ‘cold’ spots around the world. Sometimes they’re even the real deal.
The least common type of medium is one either born or recruited into a secret society (such as a family, cultural or religious tradition, or membership within a secret society) that allows them to fully explore and harness their talents for far more than mere survival, fame or profit. They are imbued with a greater mission, and their great knowledge and ability to interact with the dead is simply one formidable weapon among others in their arsenals. There are a few formidable African witch doctors, native shamans, Catholic exorcists and ‘secret masters’ of various forbidden lore that can give even a monstrous Spectre considerable pause.
Some mediums – usually referred to as demonologists – are able to see and communicate with stranger entities than ghosts; often making inadvertent contact with, hideous Spectres, enigmatic spirits and various Malfean entities – although precious few understand enough about the Underworld to truly know the difference. It takes a great deal of experience, knowledge and willpower to deal with such forces, and it takes only a momentary lapse to lose your soul forever. This tends to mean that there are old demonologists and bold demonologists, but no old, bold demonologists. At least, not one that you would ever want to encounter.
The secret society known as the Arcanum regularly deals with ghosts and spirits. Understanding of these entities is tied to the physical world, so few Arcanist know about the different Umbrae beyond the Gauntlet. Most deal with ghosts and spirits either when they are summoned and subdued or when they haunt a specific area. Demons are regarded as a classification of destructive spirits. The Arcanum has its share of demonologists, but watches these agents carefully for corruption. Demonolatry and Infernalism are crimes that result in expulsion.
The most formidable Mediums within the Arcanum are experienced thanatologists, devoting their lives to communication with the dead and understanding the workings of the afterlife. Indeed, Arcanum mediums mostly spend their time tracking down mysterious occurrences and rumored ghost sightings. While they can interact with the Umbral realms, because they are mortal their actions are severely limited and doing so is dangerous. This fact rarely stops obsessed investigators from skating dangerously close to their doom.
Mediums who have a living relative to guide them will have easier access to family myths and stories about the nature of the dead and the nature of their own abilities, not to mention teaching about methods and mechanisms designed to ensure their safety when dealing with the denizens of the Shadowlands and beyond. Some may gain these benefits from a relative who is already dead, but able to assist from across the Shroud. Those who have no such family support will have to develop these safeguards for themselves, unless they can find a mentor, and mentorship in mediumship is not an easy thing to come by.
Most mediums will acquire a set of props which help them to contact the dead and to feel more in control of their communications. For those born into families where the talent is known, these are often heirlooms handed down from grandmother to grand-daughter, from godfather to godson. Each family will have their own set of symbolic items. Others may adopt the props of the fairground medium: crystal balls, decks of tarot cards or some other item, traditional, new age or purely individual, which helps them to focus.
Although the Embrace (i.e., becoming a vampire) removes the medium’s talent, certain ghouls (i.e., the servitors of vampires) may retain the ability to commune with ghosts. In fact, there are reputedly cultivated families of such individuals (especially among the Giovanni) who serve their undead masters in this fashion.
Learning to be a Medium
There are some out there who believe mediumship is a skill that one can study successfully with a living teacher. Perhaps more surprisingly, there are some genuine teachers out there. Some of them ask for money, some of them ask for service, some of them ask for nothing and get loyalty and love in return. Their teaching methods are as various as the teachers themselves and, as ever, deeply dependent on the teacher’s own background, beliefs, and cultural matrix.
Does such teaching only achieve success with a pupil with inborn potential for the talent? Or could it (or something similar) produce mediumship in a perfectly mundane mortal? These remain unanswered questions.
Some wraiths can even sense this un-awakened potential in dormant mediums and go out of their way to trigger as much conflict for their targets as possible, hoping to speed up the inevitable metamorphosis and perhaps gain a vehicle to accomplish their own agendas. It must be very disturbing for a family to see their child ridden by a Spectre, so it is not surprising that the most loving of parents would wish to see their offspring “cured” of this frightening condition.
In some cases, assistance coping with the dead comes from across the Shroud. While the prohibitions against dealing with the Skinlands and its citizens are far from trivial, ghosts may use information as a bargaining chip with mediums in order to convince the living to perform tasks the dead cannot complete themselves. While some might fear they were giving up their last grasp on sanity by listening to the apparitions everyone around them insists cannot be real, desperation breeds strange bedfellows.
Ghosts may also, intentionally or inadvertently, tip off other mediums to an untrained talent’s presence. A careless word here or there may alert one medium to the fact that “their” ghostly contact has been talking to another medium, which may well be enough to start the more experienced medium toward seeking out the uneducated one. Or, part of the bargain a medium strikes with a wraith might include raising the alert whenever their otherworldly contact encounters a living soul who can perceive them as well.
Why would one medium seek out a less experienced one? In some cases, it is for altruistic purposes. Those who have endured the trauma and pain of thinking they are crazy for hearing voices from beyond the Shroud may wish to help others avoid that hardship themselves. Some might like the increased status they believe that having an apprentice will bring, and some just want to pass on their knowledge and experience whilst they are still breathing.
Some mediums will seek out a teacher. They may go to a wise man or woman of a traditional community, they may go to their local spiritualist church, or they may seek the wisdom of the ancients in books or on the internet. Some of these searches, particularly those undertaken with the aid of Google, may lead to a ghost hunter, or a ghost hunting team or organization.
The information taught to them may vary drastically from family to family, depending on their clan’s religious views, how informed the family is about what truly lies beyond the Shroud, and previous encounters family members may have had with wraiths, Spectres, or other Shadowland denizens. Teachings are often solely by word of mouth (which makes the information- seeking medium’s ability to hear, and thus learn from, their ancestors who have already died even more valuable).
There may be an archive, kept from generation to generation in some kind of cryptic form. Family Bibles are a rich source of advice and information to anyone who can decipher the notes and comments scattered among the records of births, marriages, and deaths within the line.
Some of these families are known to certain organizations such as powerful patrons, ghost hunting groups or the Arcanum; although nobody knows everything about all of them. Myths, legends, and gossip regarding these families abound, requiring careful research to sort out the facts. All the same, knowing a medium is part of a recognized medium-producing family or culture often serve as some kind of guarantee to a potential client that the the medium will be both genuine and trained.
There is nothing to prevent a medium who comes from one of these families from gathering around herself those with other talents to further her agenda.
Mediums & Ghosts
Contact with a ghost is terrifying. Even the most skilled and experienced mediums describe a shiver down the spine and a feeling of supernatural dread as the ghost makes first contact. In time, a medium can become attuned to a particular ghost with whom she is in regular communication.
However positive her feelings toward the ghost, that initial dread occurs at the beginning of every contact, dissipating when and if the medium recognizes the ghost as a friendly presence or even a spirit guide. Others possess objects, physically manifest themselves or engage in poltergeist-like activity.
A skilled medium can carry on an internal conversation with the ghost, much as all humans do when they imagine themselves in conversation with an absent friend or loved one. The major difference here is that the medium is not in control of the ghost or the answers it gives to her questions. She may hear the ghost talking in the voice it had when it was alive, but this is a voice in her head; although it is as real to her as the voice of a living person, others nearby cannot hear it.
It is not every medium who can choose which ghost she contacts. Some may find their talents confined to a particular class of ghost, such as their own ancestors; others may only be able to contact Spectres or wraiths whose agendas are not compatible with those of the hunters the medium is trying to assist. Even the most highly skilled are not always capable of contacting a specified ghost. Wraiths have their own needs and motivations and will always attempt to serve their own agendas rather than those of whoever happens to carry their voice into the Skinlands.
When a ghost possesses a medium, the medium’s own consciousness becomes dormant, much like it is when she is deeply asleep. She may awake to dream-like memories of things she did when the ghost was “in charge” but she will be reliant on other observers for reliable information about her own behavior. Or, rather, what her body did when the ghost was riding her.
Although possession by a ghost cannot directly change a medium’s body or physical features, it can make such a massive difference in her non-verbal language and facial expression that she is scarcely recognizable as herself: Her voice changes as the ghost manipulates her lips, tongue, breath, and vocal cords. Her behavior changes; a non-smoker may demand a cigar, a vegan a rare steak or a teetotaler a gin and tonic. She may experience desires and drives that are alien to her nature.
All this can be terrifying when the medium comes back to herself, and this is why religions and other social groups which invite such possession have support mechanisms for celebrants lucky enough to be the vehicle for a ghostly manifestation.
There is no “natural” explanation for such manifestations and it is clear that these ghosts are real and can show themselves to the living. These genuine manifestations are rare and, obviously, of great interest to ghost hunters. The medium’s experience of the manifested ghost is identical to that of other observers. She is the one the ghost wishes to be near and, although she may have seen the ghost on many occasions, few mediums ever become blasé about the experience.
There is an entire Guild of ghosts, known as the Puppeteers, who specialize in possessing living humans. They can do many things, from occupying a host’s body as a mere observer to taking over their host entirely, fully possessing them. Even ghosts outside the Guild can learn these arts.
Many ghosts who have dealings with humans have places they like to frequent, and this accounts for the haunted areas which can attract ghost hunters’ interest. Some ghosts attune a chosen human to possession, and such humans are known as Consorts. The relationship is two sided and many ghosts are keen to contact people who were important to them in life. In many ways, a genuine medium and a Consort are equally in touch with denizens of the Underworld; to a ghost hunter there may be little or no difference in their utility. Even someone who is neither a medium nor a Consort can be in touch with a ghost.
Consorts, and those whom ghosts have chosen to contact on a less regular basis, lack several of the abilities of a true medium. They have no control over the dead, nor can they initiate communication with ghosts or summon them. They are, however, in some senses uniquely in touch with their personal ghosts. Which leads to an interesting question:
Is a Consort a false medium, a particular sort of genuine medium, or something else entirely? To make things even more confusing, being a medium is no defense against experiencing ghostly possession. To the contrary, a ghost often finds it easier to take over the body and mind of someone who is actually capable of inviting them to do so.
For more information on ghosts, their organization and powers, please see Wraith: The Oblivion 20th Anniversary Edition. This information is not essential, however, as nearly all mediums and ghost hunters are totally ignorant about the lands and experiences of the dead and most ghosts are reluctant to enlighten them.
Medium Rules & Systems
There are as many ways to contact ghosts as there are mediums. Each practitioner will, over the course of time, evolve her own methodology. Mentors (should the medium have been lucky enough to find one) teach some methods, others come from popular perceptions of what it is a medium does.
There is always a lingering question on the periphery: Do crystal balls, tarot cards, trance states and the like work because the medium believes they will work, or were they adopted by human culture in the first place because they had worked for mediums at some point in the past?
It is possible for certain individuals who hail from a specific cultural background or belief system to initiate contact with ghostly phenomena. Their methods are even more effective when used in the hands of a true Medium (that is, a practitioner who has the Medium Merit). See Appendix D for a selection of relevant belief systems in the World of Darkness.
Mediums, particularly those brought up or trained in any of the various traditions, often employ ritualized, protracted performances designed to attract a ghost or ghosts to themselves. The nature of these performances varies greatly: tribal dances, shamanic drumming, painting symbols on the floor, and using dead languages to call the departed are equally valid forms of ritual. Other mediums use drugs or sexual ecstasy to get “out of their minds” and into a state of being which is more conducive to contacting the dead. Some forms of ritual are easier to perform on a ghost hunting expedition than others, and some are entirely unsuitable for daytime television.
Some use mandalas, others a specific personal item. Props can also assist in a cold reading as clients often start to come up with pertinent information when the medium gazes into the crystal and announces that the clouds are clearing. Some mediums will not do cold readings when the ghosts fail to appear, and a genuine shaman is more likely to announce that the spirits are not feeling like communicating than she is to perform a cold reading.
System: Entering a state where the would-be supplicant of an appropriate culture, background and belief system can perceive ghosts and spirits requires a Perception + (Specialized Meditation, Occult or Performance) roll with a difficulty of 9. If they succeed, what happens next is largely controlled by the Storyteller.
Characters with the Medium Merit who are making use of cultural methodology and props (Appendix D has information on the most common belief systems relevant to modern Mediums in the World of Darkness) may make this roll at difficulty 5.
A single success makes the medium aware of any ghosts or spirits in the area that are willing to reveal themselves. Instigating communication with an entity requires more successes (or alternative methods). If the ghost or spirit is actively trying to hide, perceiving it requires a contested roll between whatever dice pool the entity uses for hiding and the medium’s prop-assisted Meditation roll.
Failure here means that nothing happens, though the medium remains free to perform a cold reading.
When used by a skilled medium who has the ability to contact a specific entity, these methods can be extremely informative. In amateur hands they are a recipe for disaster as a demon, mischievous spirit or Spectre can use the board as easily as a helpful wraith. Things can get out of control as poltergeist activity spirals outward from the Ouija board into the environment.
System: Any use of a Ouija board or similar method is an open invitation to any disembodied entity in the immediate area who is in the mood to leave a message, play with mortals, or just terrify unwitting amateurs. Those without the Medium Merit can contact spirits in this way but have no means of identifying or controlling them. Inviting a specific spirit, ghost or entity and controlling its interaction with the sitters requires other abilities.
System: The medium or Consort holds a pencil, pen or other means of expression as if to use it themself, and attempts to empty their mind of extraneous thoughts. If there is a nearby ghost or spirit who wishes to use this channel of communication, they may do so (automatic success).
If a Consort’s ghost is not in the mood, or if the medium wants to persuade a less willing entity to communicate, they roll Manipulation + Etiquette with a difficulty of 7. If contested rolls are in use, the entity defends with Willpower.
Anyone can attempt to perform a ritual to conjure, command and communicate with the dead. Mediums are far more likely to succeed. When dealing with the Restless, a great deal depends on the wraith’s own motivation and the way in which the ghost understands the ritualist’s intent. A ghost will never go willingly to its own destruction, but if it believes that the ritualist might be able to pass on a message, or that compliance will protect its Fetters, it is likely to oblige.
Rituals use symbolism and imagery associated with the practitioner’s belief system; a Christian exorcist will use bell, book and candle, a shaman might drum herself into a trance. The success or failure of a ritual depends less on the nature of the ritual than it does on the ritualist’s faith in its efficacy. Whatever form the ritual takes, the system remains the same.
System: The summoner spends a Willpower point and conducts the summoning ritual, then rolls Charisma + Occult (difficulty variable). The base difficulty for this roll is 10. The following factors reduce the difficulty:
- The summoner possesses an object important to the ghost in life (– 1). If the significant object is one of the wraith’s Fetters, the summoner also gains two automatic successes.
- A person important to the ghost is present (–1).
- The summoning takes place in the ghost’s former home (–1).
- A Hermetic or other Western Mystery ritualist is using an effective grimoire (–1).
- The summoning occurs in a place where the Shroud is thin (–2).
A true medium with the Summoner Merit enjoys a -1 difficulty modifier plus a dice bonus equal to the number of dots they have in the Summoner Merit.
Each success rolled holds the ghost in place for one minute; spending a further Willpower point doubles the amount of time it stays.
Failure means that the ghost is not available or does not arrive. A botch results in the ghost possessing the summoner or another random person or object in the immediate area.
This does not require expenditure of Willpower or the performance of a different ritual — it is connected to the summoning ritual. However, it is possible to summon a ghost successfully and still have it refuse to answer questions truthfully or do what the conjuror requires.
System: The conjuror rolls Charisma + Occult (difficulty 8). If the character is a true medium, they roll at difficulty 6.
Success allows the character to compel the ghost to perform one course of action (its simplicity vs complexity dependent on the number of successes), or they may instead ask one question per success. However strong the compulsion, a ghost cannot perform a task which is outside its ability, nor can a ghost respond truthfully to a question when it does not know the answer. It is the conjuror’s responsibility to ask only what is achievable.
Failure means the conjuror may ask or command as he likes, but the ghost does not have to comply. With a botch, the ghost will accept the command but attempt to undermine it or will deliberately give misleading information in response to questions.
System: Any attempt to dislodge a ghost requires the expenditure of a point of Willpower followed by the performance of a lengthy and exhausting ritual in line with the ritualist’s cultural values and beliefs.
To determine the success of the ritual, make a Charisma + Occult roll (difficulty equal to the ghost’s Willpower + 3, maximum of 9); this is an extended roll, requiring a number of successes equal to twice the ghost’s Willpower. This can go for as long as the Storyteller deems plausible (possibly involving Stamina rolls and such.)
If any roll results in a botch, the ritualist must start over, and spend a further point of Willpower.
True mediums with the Exorcist Merit begin with two automatic successes as well as add a dice bonus equal to their dots in the Merit to every roll.
System: The ritualist spends a Willpower point and conducts a warding ritual. A successful Wits + Occult roll (difficulty 8) prevents ghosts from entering a room-sized area. This effect lasts for a number of weeks equal to the number of successes.
A true medium with the Warder Merit rolls at difficulty 6, plus enjoys a dice bonus equal to the number of dots they have in the Warder Merit.
On a failure, the warding does not happen. A botch results in a wraith deciding to haunt the area the ritualist attempted to ward.
Medium Chargen: Merits & Flaws
Medium characters should set their ‘type’ as ‘Medium’ while proceeding with mortal chargen as normal. Depending on the starting Merits, they might have access to certain Numina as well (although note that mediums are not considered hedge wizards or psychics – the numina are simply the best approximate representation of their interactions with the Underworld).
There are several Merits and Flaws relevant to dealing with the Restless Dead, such as the Antecessor or Ashen Merits. You can find those in the Mortal/+ Merit and Flaws table, here, in addition to the Medium-only selection repeated below for convenience.
A character with the two-dot version of this Merit is an unwilling medium. They can occasionally hear spirits, ghosts and shades when they are very frightened or uneasy, yet they can never see them or interact with them. The ghost will need to somehow make their presence known before the medium can answer them in any fashion. Most people respond to such experience by either taking a lot of drugs (illegal or prescribed) and seeking a therapist.
A character with the three-dot version of this Merit is an unwilling medium. When she’s under stress, she can see ghosts. Precisely what counts as stress is up to the Storyteller, but taking an action with a high difficulty, or having to spend a temporary Willpower point both count. She can see present ghosts for the remainder of the scene. The character is inexperienced enough that they might not realize that someone is a ghost, until they do something supernatural.
In addition, the Antecessor Merit no longer counts against the medium’s 10 dot Merit limit.
The four-dot version of this Merit offers more control. The medium is closer to the Underworld and can perceive ghosts as distinct entities from mortals without the need for a stressful context. In addition, the Exorcist, Summoner and Warder Merits no longer count against the character’s 10 dot Merit limit.
The seven-dot version of this Merit marks the character out as a very special rarity: They are one of the most naturally gifted and/or experienced mediums in the World of Darkness. It confers the following advantages:
* They’re allowed to learn two of the following Paths of Magic or Psychic Phenomena: 1) The Path of Ephemera, 2) The Path of Starlight, 3) The Whistle version of Maelstroms, 4) the Pallio Dolorum version of Mortal Necromancy, 5) The Black Hat version of Necronics, 6) The Phenomena of Channeling, or 7) The Phenomena of Ectoplasmic Generation.
Note: The medium is not a true hedge wizard or psychic. These are simply the mechanics that best represent an advanced control, harnessing and exploitation of the powers of the dead.
A talented exorcist receives certain story benefits in exorcist-related situations, and can add a die bonus equal to their rating in this Merit to their exorcism rolls.
A talented Summoner receives certain story benefits in summoning-related situations, and can add a die bonus equal to their rating in this Merit to their summoning rolls.
A talented warder receives certain story benefits in warding-related situations, and can add a die bonus equal to their rating in this Merit to their warding rolls.
You never found a mentor or teacher, neither living nor dead. Due to this, your talent is completely untrained. Following repeated rejections throughout your childhood and adolescence, you are uneasy around others and find it difficult to trust them.
Story-wise, the exposure could have been evidence falsified by a personal enemy or someone who wants to prove that all mediums are fakes. It could be that you were put on the spot in public and your talent (which is never 100% reliable) failed to provide the evidence the audience craved.
Whatever the particulars, your “fakeness” gained wide circulation on TV, social media, or in the press. You find it hard now to get anyone to hire you, except for those who want a fake. This has had the knock-on effect of enormously hurting your reputation in ‘legit’ medium circles as well.
Story-wise, your cold readings delight your clients and you get commissions to conduct seances in the best society. You could even, if you wished, take part in a reality TV ghost hunting show or be secretly consulted by the government or Arcanum scholars. You laugh at the disapproval of your so-called peers who take all this claptrap more seriously.
It’s all one great joke to you of course. This is even despite the fact that you might (just might) be the genuine article. For whatever reason (perhaps related to some past trauma), your mediumship is intended to be strictly theatrical and entertaining.
There could be a more cynical reason why you persist in believing it’s all a scam: You might otherwise have to confront dark truths about your motives, and what you might owe to both the living and the dead with your gift, beyond just making a buck off them. Then again, you could simply be a greedy fraud.
System-wise, you are at +2 difficulty to all Social and Mental actions whenever confronted with the fact that you are completely full of shit.
Appendix A: Artifacts & Relics
True mediums are those who can perceive ghosts or other Shadowland denizens without effort on the part of the ghosts themselves. But what about those for whom this ability is neither innate nor acquired by long study and practice?
There are a number of devices or external aids that allow people who are not mediums to perceive ghosts. To their ghost-hunting teammates (and their spirit quarry), their medium-like abilities, granted by relics or technology, are more important than whether or not they technically fulfill the definition of “medium.”
There are a couple of problems for any ghost hunter wishing to make use of one of these cameras. Firstly, development of the prints takes time, time during which the ghost might decide to move on. Secondly, interpretation of the films is an extremely specific skill that takes time and study to learn.
System: Unless the ghost hunter has taken Kirlian photography as a specialty on one of their Skills or Knowledges (e.g. Occult, Crafts or Science) they will not be able to interpret the Kirlian photographs correctly, although sometimes they might make a lucky guess.
System: Such a grimoire is useful to a Hermetic ritualist as it reduces the difficulty of rolls to affect ghosts using Hermetic rituals by 1.
System: Beating the correct rhythm on the drum reduces the local Shroud rating by 1 for every 15 minutes spent drumming without error. Roll Dexterity + Expression, difficulty 6.
The number of successes determines how many 15-minute increments the drummer can keep up the required rhythm. If the drummer stops drumming for any reason, any remaining successes are lost. Once the drumming stops, the Shroud recovers its previous rating at the rate of 1 level per hour. The Shroud rating can never be dropped below 4 by this method.
System: The •• version gives 15 doses. The •••• version of the Shadow Salve gives the recipe, but the ingredients are not easy to come by and include herbs that are only effective if gathered under the right astronomical conditions. Assembling the ingredients can be a mission in and of itself.
They resemble other African carvings but, unlike their ethical counterparts the Uzoma, the Nhanga do not choose a beautiful piece of wood for their carving. Instead they seek out rotting, degraded material which they paint with all manner of bodily fluids and decorate with the skins of stillborn children.
System: Originally made to enable the evil enchanter to bring sickness and misery to a community by night, anyone (un)lucky enough to find such a mask can use it to travel, in spirit form, into the Shadowlands. The practitioner’s body remains in the land of the living. The wearer’s ghost-form can reach into the living world by rolling her Willpower against the local Shroud rating. If she fails to return to her body by dawn, her body will crumble to dust and she will remain trapped forever in the Shadowlands.
There, she is vulnerable to anything that would affect a wraith, but has no means of affecting any other entity she comes across. For this reason, most sources will refer to these objects as cursed by the wicked sorcerers who made them.
Appendix B: Finding & Employing Mediums
It is not impossible to find a genuine medium by googling, scanning the classified ads in a local or national newspaper, or by dropping into one’s local Spiritualist church, New Age shop or occult book store. Self-professed mediums are relatively common amongst practitioners of Vodou and other syncretic religions. It is not difficult to find a person claiming to be able to communicate with the dead; the difficulty lies in vetting them to assure oneself of their authenticity.
Fake mediums are both a blessing and a curse to the genuinely gifted. They are a blessing in that they make it easier for a medium to hide in plain sight. They are a curse in that many, if not most, people will assume that any medium, genuine or not, is fake. Someone with a real gift may experience prejudice as society assumes she is a sham, out to con money from the vulnerable. At the same time, such assumptions do provide a measure of protection from those in the lands of the living who would exploit her mercilessly for their own aims.
There are many reasons a person might present themself as a medium when they are not. Foremost amongst these is the good old con. A fool and his money are easily parted, and some see pretending to be in touch with the dearly departed as a particularly easy method of bringing this about. The skill set of a successful con artist is a close match with the skill set required to perform a convincing cold reading. Other fakes genuinely believe that they are able to contact and communicate with the Restless Dead.
One way of detecting a fake medium is to notice whether she tries to tell you what you want to hear. The wily and determined interviewer will set false trails and see how far the candidate chases them. For instance, if you are a Red Sox fan, wear a shirt proclaiming your support for the Dodgers. A genuine medium will not make too much of a meal out of these subtle clues, though many of them can perform a cold reading if the spirits are not in an obliging mood. A genuine medium is more likely to discuss her own limitations; a fake will try to minimize these.
The more knowledgeable and sophisticated a client is, the easier time they have of discerning the frauds. An Arcanum scholar, for example, might determine the authenticity of a medium by quizzing him on his knowledge of the lands of the dead, judging whether it accords with what the Arcanum knows. Fake mediums do not make a living out of telling their clients about the harsh realities of Stygia, they paint pictures of the deceased walking toward the light, reaching out to their loved ones and waiting patiently for reunion across the Shroud.
The reality of post-mortem existence is somewhat different than most people suspect, and a genuine medium will be aware of this, though she may try to wrap it up nicely so as not to upset the client. Wraiths do, of course, sometimes wish to help those they loved when they were alive, but their motives for this are rarely completely altruistic. A genuine medium is likely to warn the hunter of the dangers of communicating with the dead, and to remind him that the dead are not always benign in their intentions towards the living.
Like the medium herself, they may have little or no insight into the realities of the lands of the dead or the nature of the entities they think of as “ghosts.” They are often seeking out specific pieces of information which the medium may or may not be able to provide, and this applies even if they are employing a genuine medium who is genuinely committed to their cause.
A ghost hunter who wants to find a genuine medium who can perform reliably as required faces an almost impossible task. Even if the hunter can establish that the medium is genuine, they still need to assure themself of the medium’s objectivity — or relative objectivity — and ability to perform the task at hand. It’s no wonder ghost hunters value such mediums, when they are able to find them, and will do anything they can to keep them on board.
So, why would a medium become a ghost hunter, or join a group of ghost hunters? And how would a ghost hunter without the medium talent go about persuading one to join his team? The answer to both those questions is “It depends.” It depends on the nature and belief system of both the medium and the ghost hunter(s) concerned. Sometimes the aims of the medium and those of the ghost hunter will coincide so that cooperation comes naturally, sometimes they will conflict, and sometimes the medium will be happy enough to work for the ghost hunter as a professional contractor in exchange for a generous stipend.
Some have the very human longing to be a valued part of a team doing something they are convinced is worthwhile. Some welcome assistance in learning about the Underworld and the nature of ghosts and the dead. Many mediums are ghost hunters themselves. Nobody can do everything and ghost hunters have equipment and skills which can augment whatever the medium possesses. Just having friends and colleagues who share a belief and interest in ghosts can be a great relief and very fulfilling to a medium who would otherwise have to go to huge lengths to justify their own usefulness in the modern world.
Typically, the medium in a team of ghost hunters will act as a spotter or information gatherer. Most hunters will be unable to see ghosts (unless the ghost wishes to reveal itself), so a medium can point out the ghost’s position. The medium can also communicate with the ghost. If the team are investigating a reputedly haunted area, the medium can attempt to contact the ghost or ghosts responsible for the eeriness of the place. Assuming the issue here is a ghost and that the medium manages to contact it, she can then ask the ghost why it is haunting. This can be of great assistance as the team can then work out how to stop the haunting, capture it on film, or tap into its energy.
A medium is most likely to work with or for a ghost hunter whose aims are compatible with her own. Where their aims and values align closely, the medium may be happy to team up without any form of payment, or she may work beside the hunter as a favor, in exchange for a favor for herself in the future. The nature of that repayment will depend on the hunter’s skill set. A hunter who is a cop or a lawyer could help should the medium run afoul of the law; a used car salesperson could ensure that the medium gets the best possible deal on an automobile. There are plenty of favors a person can do for a friend.
Many mediums are ghost hunters themselves. These individuals will readily form part of a team. Rather than working for hire, they may seek out those with other useful talents to assist them in their own ghost hunting activities.
Mediums come from all sorts of cultural backgrounds — as, of course, do ghost hunters — and the relationship between the two vocations can be especially tricky when they come from different cultures. There is no guarantee the medium will be sympathetic to her would-be employer’s aims. A potential patron would be well-advised to do their homework carefully before revealing too much information to a medium who might well turn into an enemy.
Mediums who do not advertise or seek alliances may have good reason for wanting to stay hidden, since other kinds of hunters might hunt mediums as well as ghosts.
Mediums whose faith is bound up with their talent may be reluctant collaborators (though those employed by various churches are easy enough to find). In such cases, it is less a matter of the potential client interviewing the medium than it is of the medium interviewing the client. The first test the client will need to pass will be to prove their sincerity and the worthiness of their cause. Such mediums are unlikely to demand payment and could even take offense if money is on the table, but they will demand the utmost respect.
Appendix C: Ghost Hunters
It isn’t just Mediums who are drawn to the hereafter, and all its mysteries and poltergeists. A number of individuals – even the occasional secret society or corporate entity – sometimes see a benefit in it. This does come with a host of challenges, however.
Hunters of all sorts stalk their prey predominantly through sensory input. Many species, including humans, rely mostly on visual cues to locate their targets. Others rely on sound, odor, or even touch and taste. No matter how well-honed, however, sensory techniques are useless when one’s targets are invisible, intangible, and in fact exist in an entirely different plane of reality from the hunters themselves. Obviously, this means that hunting ghosts involves challenges that other prey do not present.
Most ghost hunters must rely on some sort of assistance in order to sense (and thus hunt) their targets, or simply wait for their quarry to choose to manifest in some perceivable manner in the physical world. Some ghost hunters, however, are blessed (or cursed) with the ability to perceive ghosts directly. These mediums are capable of seeing, hearing, or otherwise sensing ghosts even when the normally-incorporeal entity is not attempting to manifest. While not all mediums are ghost hunters, they can certainly provide ghost hunting teams with an incomparable advantage over those who are, essentially, blind to their targets’ existence.
Some ghost hunters work alone, some assemble a team, and some join larger organizations that may bring together teams of hunters from across the globe. A hunter who desires power or hunts ghosts for kicks may seek knowledge first as a weapon to use against their ephemeral foes. What starts as idle curiosity and thrill-seeking may end up as serious academic study of ghosts and their habits. On the whole though, ghost hunters tend to have one of four basic motivations:
Mediums brought up or initiated into a cultural matrix where talking to ghosts is, if not the norm, at least acceptable may also be interested. Mediums with this background are normally more ready to work with those who share their culture and beliefs but, as long as they receive respect and the hunters’ aims are in line with their own beliefs, they may well join a group. Such mediums are more likely to ask for a return favor than cold, hard cash, though norms do vary between different cultural groups.
Hunters seeking knowledge often attract the kind of medium who is under the control of a Puppeteer who would be happy to pass on her own personal perceptions of the Underworld. They can also very easily be deceived by fake mediums, particularly those with enough knowledge to fake a séance convincingly.
In the event that a ghost hunter or group of hunters manages to contract a genuine medium, of whatever stripe, they should be in a position to work very well together; the medium can seek out answers to their questions from any Restless Dead they manage to contact. As ever, though, the wraith is theoretically bound by the Dictum Mortuum. On top of that, the wraith, even if it wishes to be truthful, can only tell the truth from its own perspective. Of course, if the entity contacted happens to be a Spectre rather than a wraith…all Hell could break loose.
The work of hunters in that organization has to do with capturing wraiths and attempting to derive energy from them. Although they have had little success to date, it seems reasonable to suppose that, from a wraith’s point of view, capture by this group is not all that different from falling into Oblivion. Some mediums who grew up in isolation and have had little training in the ways of the dead might be willing to work with them if the pay is good enough, as might some who are the witting or unwitting puppets of Spectres.
If capturing and draining ghosts in this way were a route to their actual destruction, the Damnation Theorists of the Benandanti would promote such groups with enthusiasm. Indeed, there are some Benandanti in these organizations, but not all Damnation Theorists approve of using ghostly energy for anything, as many argue that it is hopelessly contaminated and a risk to any who come into contact with it.
Other mediums who would work well with these groups are those who have reason to hate or distrust ghosts, such as those who have been Skinridden by ghosts who made them commit acts that they find repellent. This might have been a Spectre or it might simply have been a wraith with a different morality from that of the mortal they rode. Additionally, being a medium is no proof against avarice, and there are some mediums who will do anything for pay. Being a medium does nothing to protect you from blackmail or other threats, and mediums have been forced to work toward the destruction of ghosts against their will.
It is important to remember that exorcising a ghost is not the same as destroying it. Once detached from the person, place, or object it was haunting, a ghost will return to the state it was in before forming the attachment. Destroying a ghost permanently involves throwing it into Oblivion, which is something few mediums understand how to do. A medium could, of course, work to deliver a wraith into the hands of a Spectre, but that would require a specific set of circumstances and an individual medium with specific motivations and talents.
Permanently destroying ghosts is outside the competence of nearly all mediums, though that would not necessarily stop them from trying. Fortunately, perhaps, few ghost hunters are aware of this limitation. Even if they were, a medium would still be useful as he could pinpoint the positions of entities the hunters could not see, allowing them to target the hapless wraiths.
Just like some mediums and some people of faith, some ghost hunters desire to exorcise or remove ghosts from a person or a place rather than destroying them outright. Exorcists have their own ways of dealing with ghosts (see above) but a ghost hunter is in no way confined to these, as many mediums of differing beliefs are capable of abjuring a ghost to depart.
Why would a genuine medium want to work with a reality show? Well, why would any person want to work with such a show? Money and 15 minutes (or more) of fame motivate some mediums, just like they can motivate any other individual. By working with these shows a medium can make a reputation for herself, and can then go on to take other commissions, monetize her blog, and revel in her avid followers.
What is unlikely to happen on these shows, however, is the manifestation of an actual wraith. Most mediums with the power to command a manifestation are aware that the degree of publicity surrounding these shows is all too liable to scare the ghosts away. It would be an extremely public breach of the Dictum Mortuum and would land the wraith in a whole lot more trouble than it is worth.
The tendency for certain vampires to wear anachronistic clothing, their typical pallor, and the ability to disappear have led to fledglings being mistaken for ghosts on a number of occasions with occasionally fatal consequences. It is the the unfortunate team of ghost hunters who peers too closely into the affairs of vampires. One group of five who followed a mysteriously shrouded figure into the sewers beneath Hollywood suffered a particularly terrible fate in the late 1990s, which still ‘haunts’ the City of Angel’s local ghost hunters.
There are also spirits. Nearly all ghost hunters and the vast majority of mediums are unaware of the differences between a ghost and a spirit. Although they come from different realms and have completely different agendas and motivations, they do look somewhat similar when they manifest, and their powers overlap enough to be easily confused by the uneducated. Some spirits might delight in leading the ghost hunter on a merry dance. Does it really make a difference? The average ghost hunter will get precisely the same value from interaction with a spirit as he would from interaction with a ghost — unless he is a seeker of truth, and even then he could learn something.
Be warned that ghost hunters who inadvertently interfere with the spirit balance of an area could find themselves coming into conflict with other powerful supernatural beings as well.
And then there are demons…Yet Infernalism is a road best left to the desperate and deranged.
Appendix D: Common Beliefs
There are many belief systems that acknowledge the existence of ghosts. Some of these have traditional methods for dealing with ghosts, most of which will work whether or not the practitioner has the medium talent. Mediums, of course, have an advantage in all dealings with ghosts. Training in any of these systems is of great benefit to a medium as it gives her a structure upon which she can hang, define, and take control of her experiences. All of these beliefs can give rise to rituals to summon and affect ghosts.
Not every medium is an exorcist and not every exorcist is a medium. Some individuals, however, are both. There are factions of ghost hunters whose aim is to drive ghosts out of areas they haunt, and there is a clear (though specialized) need to drive ghosts and other entities out of people they are possessing, especially when they drive their hosts to behave in an undesirable manner.
The exorcist believes that whatever is possessing a person is inherently evil or, at the very least, in the wrong place. He seeks to drive it out. This does not destroy the ghost or spirit, but it does cause it to go elsewhere, either back to the Underworld or into another person or object.
The Roman Catholic Church continues to authorize exorcism. According to the Vatican only an ordained priest may perform the ritual, though, as every diocese must employ at least one priest trained in exorcism, it is not difficult to track one down. Before the priest consents to exorcise a person, he must work with medical professionals to ensure that the individual has no physical or mental illness that might account for their behavior. The Vatican lays down criteria for determining whether a person is the subject of demonic possession and a priest will not act unless the subject meets these criteria. Most people possessed by ghosts will meet the criteria, which include:
- A cold feeling in the room in which the subject is present
- Knowledge of things that are distant or hidden
- Change in the subject’s voice
Once the priest is confident that the subject truly houses a demon, the victim will be restrained so that she can’t hurt herself, the priest, or other bystanders. The priest will pray over her, using prayers that are familiar to every Catholic: the Pater Noster, Ave Maria, and recitations of the Athanasian Creed. The priest may use incense and holy water, both of which he believes will repel demons.
An exorcist is unlikely to summon a ghost but might well ward an area.
Many other Christian churches support exorcists and some have less stringent criteria. Pentecostal churches will perform deliverance ceremonies on those who are not “wholly possessed” but who only show some signs of possession. It takes a person with the ability to discern spirits (i.e. a medium) to detect those signs of possession and, whilst the medium may not perform the exorcism herself, she can direct the exorcist to the appropriate subject. Some Pentecostals view mediumship as a gift of the Holy Spirit.
Typically, a Christian exorcist will use the traditional bell, book and candle. He may also utilize holy water and incense to purify a person or an area.
Shamanism is not a religion, it is a methodology which involves having traffic with spirits, some of which are ghosts and some of which are not.
Many modern Native Americans reject the label for their traditional beliefs, believing that its use as a descriptor is due to a misunderstanding and denigration of non-European cultures, preferring the term ‘medicine-man’ instead. This may well have come about due to understandable resentment of cultural appropriation. Still, this sometimes causes confusion, and there have been scholarly works addressing the issue:
“It is then possible to differentiate between the shaman as primarily the mediator between the supernatural powers and man, and the medicine-man as primarily the curer of diseases through traditional techniques. The shaman may also be medically active when his expert knowledge of the supernatural disease agents is called for. This means that some shamans are medicine-men. Conversely, some medicine-men are shamans.”
Regardless, If a ghost hunter or medium wishes the assistance of a Native American wise man or woman, they should treat that person with respect and avoid using the word “shaman” or “shamanism.”
Many New Age spiritual people have adopted shamanistic practices, borrowing bits of culture in an eclectic manner. Whilst purists might not approve, these practices can be an effective means of communicating with the spirits of the dead. In terms of ritual, a shaman is more likely to think of communing with a ghost or a spirit than she is to think about “summoning”, although that is what it amounts to, game-wise. Many refer to this as a spirit journey. The process is fundamentally cooperative. The shaman prepares and purifies herself, and then goes into a trance.
Shamans use various means of inducing the trance. Some will flagellate or pierce themselves (the latter being common in Central American traditions), some will intoxicate themselves with drugs (such as peyote) or alcohol, and drumming and dance are common. Once they enter the trance state, a shaman is open to communion with any ghost or spirit who happens to be around. Calling up an individual ghost or spirit is not a customary practice, although some shamans who also have the medium talent have worked out ways of doing this, mostly by surrounding themselves with objects associated with the desired entity. Many shamans have spirit guides, but these are more likely to be spirits than wraiths.
It is rare for a shaman to command a ghost or spirit; they have too much respect for the otherworldly being to do that. Instead they will cajole, often promising favors in return. Many wraiths will take advantage of this. Having a living shaman carry out their wishes or protect their Fetters is worth the time it takes to answer a few questions or promise to bring rain. Bringing rain is, of course, beyond the ability of a wraith. Not every shaman, however, is aware of that.
A shaman will often be called upon to remove “evil spirits” from a place, object or person. The ritual for doing this often involves dosing the unfortunate Skinridden person with natural medicines (which may have hallucinatory effects), and purifying the victim with smoke, incense or running water. A shaman is more likely to think of this as healing than exorcism; the removal of evil spirits is how shamans explain their ability to cure illnesses.
As they use naturally occurring drugs in the form of herbs, leaves, and pulverized bark, their cures are often effective. As shamans operate in close cooperation with spirits, warding an area is not something they will generally attempt.
Western Hermetic Traditions
This tradition arose from the teachings ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus. Rediscovery of his writings during the Renaissance led to the development of schools of magic and philosophy by men such as Marsilio Ficino, Giordano Bruno and Pico della Mirandola.
The boundaries between religion, magic and science were thin at that time and some of the work of the Hermeticists formed the basis of what was to become the scientific method. Hermeticism became involved with Freemasonry during the Protestant Reformation and both of these fed heavily into the philosophy of the Golden Dawn and other, less famous, magical orders of Victorian days.
Whilst Hermeticism does not specifically concern itself with ghosts, hermetic writings and instructional manuals are freely available in bookshops, libraries and on the internet. Some mediums will study these as a means of getting control over their talent and over the ghosts who plague them. It is also possible for ghost hunters without the medium ability to deal with ghosts via suitable rituals. Effective Grimoires (see Appendix A, above) assist practitioners of these traditions, though these are difficult to come by.
One fundamental principle of Hermeticism is “as above, so below.” So, if a medium or ghost hunter who follows this tradition wishes to deal with a ghost, they will surround themselves with those items and symbols they associate with the entity they wish to attract. Whilst a Thelemite and a Chaos magician may seem quite different on the surface, both will utilize this principle of attraction. Another feature of this tradition is that it is very anthropocentric. Hermeticists consider humans to be a prime motivational force in the universe and the practitioner will seek to impose her will upon reality.
In order to deal with a ghost or other unseen entity, the ritualist draws a circle on the ground and performs a banishing ritual to ward the area within it. A Thelemite will use the lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram, intoning phrases, and censing each of the cardinal points with incense. A Chaos magician will dispense with the props and merely intone a vowel at each of the points, and the final one in the center of the circle. If she intends to summon a ghost, the ritualist draws a triangle outside the warded circle. This is where the ghost will manifest. The ritual space will contain anything the ritualist feels might attract the required entity. Apart from items that are important to the ghost itself, these will often include cloths and vestments of the color the ritualist associates with that entity, suitable implements, and gemstones. For instance, if the ritualist is trying to summon a dead soldier, red would be the predominant color and martial music would provide the soundtrack.
The ritualist then calls upon friendly powers to assist her, often in an ancient language, though some prefer the vernacular. These incantations tend to be long, convoluted, and difficult to remember. She may read from a grimoire to aid her memory but this will only affect the summoning if it is an Effective Grimoire. A magician in the Golden Dawn tradition will call upon the Angels and Archangels, a Chaos magician may just hum.
Once a ghost answers the summoning, it must remain within the triangle until the summoner releases it. Once she has trapped a ghost the ritualist may attempt to issue commands or require it to answer questions. The language used is typically flowery and archaic, but the Western Mystery ritualist will always take the attitude that she is firmly in charge of the situation. She issues her commands and questions with a confidence bordering upon arrogance.
To end the session, the practitioner gives the ghost license to depart. This is usually quite simple and most ghosts are happy to oblige. What the ghost does after its release is a different matter.
Syncretic Religions of Central & South America
The colonizers and conquerors of the Americas imported a huge number of people as slaves from Africa, mostly West Africa. Naturally they brought their own religion and spirituality with them, but their owners forced them to convert to Christianity. In areas conquered by the Spanish and Portuguese, the conversion was to Catholicism.
People being people, the new converts perceived parallels between their original African spiritual beliefs and new Christian beliefs. Thus the syncretic religions like Vodoun, Santeria, Candomblé and Umbanda were born. These religions identify the Orisha or loa, the godlike spirits, with Catholic Saints. Some, like the Umbanda of Brazil, also have strong parallels with Victorian and early 20th-century spiritualism and deal with the spirits of the dead.
The general methodology for summoning (or, to be more accurate in these religions, invoking) a ghost is to have a group of people singing and dancing. Practitioners of Umbanda always perform invocations in Portuguese and use a strict sequence of hymns to summon ghosts and other otherworldly beings. If the summoning is successful, one or more of these beings will skin ride or possess one or more of those present at the ceremony. Followers of Umbanda recognize several types of ghosts and distinguish them by the actions they take when in possession:
- Preto Velho are the ghosts of slaves, often Yoruba priests. They have difficulty walking, drink coffee and smoke pipes. They are compassionate and sought out for healing, having deep knowledge of herbal cures.
- Baianos are ghosts of more recent Umbanda ancestors who speak slowly, drink coconut water and smoke cigarettes. They talk of the difficulties of life and how to overcome and learn from them.
- Boiadeiros are the ghosts of gauchos who speak of love and assist with purification.
- Marujos are ghosts of sailors. They drink rum and stand as if on a rolling ship.
- There are also evil spirits called Kiumbas. Should these possess a medium, the celebrants will send them off to higher planes for purification.
At the end of the ceremony the practitioners perform the same hymns, starting with the last and ending with the first. This disperses the ghosts and readies everyone for a return to normal reality. It is not entirely dissimilar from what occurs at some Christian fundamentalist prayer meetings when some amongst the congregation have an illness or disability healed, or start to speak in tongues.
These traditions are really not about commanding ghosts; rather, participants may ask the occupying ghost or spirit for advice. Many ghosts in this situation give consultations, helping people to solve their problems, heal their hurts and cure their diseases. These possessing spirits demand and receive the deepest possible respect.
Modern spiritualism began in 1848 when the Fox sisters in New York gave a number of very convincing seances. Forty years later, the two younger sisters confessed that they had faked the whole thing, but became victims of their older sibling’s expert branding and management of their so-called talent. Despite this, the spiritualist movement continued to gain momentum and, of course, even though the Fox sisters may have been fakes (they later tried to recant their confessions), this does not imply that all mediums within the spiritualist movement were fakes.
The practice of spiritualism gained considerable popularity in England and English-speaking areas of the Americas between the mid-19th and early 20th century. It was particularly attractive to middle-class and wealthy women, many of whom were also active in reform movements such as women’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery. There has never been much unity among the various spiritualist churches, each of which has its own dogma, order of service and administrative functions. What unifies them is the belief that the individual personality survives death, continues to evolve, and exists on a higher plane of reality. They believe that it is not only possible but also desirable to communicate with these beings via mediumship. Those who have moved on may become spirit guides, able and willing to promote the spiritual growth of those still in the lands of the living.
The various spiritualist churches and societies rely upon mediums to bring messages and guidance from the higher planes, and they use many methods to facilitate this. Commonly a medium will enter a trance state and speak with the voice of her guide or a deceased loved one of someone in the congregation. Some spiritualist mediums use automatic writing or drawing. Interpreting knockings (one rap for yes, two for no), Ouija boards and other means that allow the departed to express themselves remain popular. These days, though, it is most common for a medium to enter a meditative state and allow the ghost either to speak through her or to inspire her to speak with her own voice.
Numerous exposures and confessions of fake mediums harmed the movement’s reputation but failed to wipe it out. Indeed, some of those who investigated spiritualist mediums were so convinced by their genuine nature that they joined the movement themselves, becoming some of its greatest advocates.
Spiritualists, on the whole, do not go in for elaborate ritual. A typical service consists of hymns and prayers followed by a talk from a medium, or, perhaps more accurately, a spirit guide speaking through the medium. The imagery tends to be Christian, and very “low church” at that. The spirits of the dead, they feel, should speak for themselves.
Appendix E: The Benandanti
The Benandanti (singular Benandante) are a secret society of mortals who have developed sorcerous means of crossing over into the Underworld. Note that the Benandanti are currently considered an NPC-only faction, owing to their involvement in certain wraithly subplots. They have been given a writeup for the sake of consistency and for the interest of certain Storytellers.
Their greed and maltreatment of apprentices backfired on them, however, when a group escaped their clutches and, along with Paulo, a fully initiated elder, went into hiding in the foothills of the Lombardian alps. They called themselves Benandanti (“Good Walkers”), and though not necessarily related, they were tied together by virtue of having been born with a caul. They entered into local folklore, not due to any talent for mediumship but because of their rumored battles with strega (witches) which occurred when their former masters, the Maldonati, came out to hunt them down.
The Benandanti are not just mediums and walkers in the Underworld. They are also healers, and many have competence with healing numina. In the time before Christianity came to dominate Europe, these powers, along with the Benandanti’s assistance in determining the timing of agricultural tasks such as sowing and harvest (which they achieved through a combination of weather-wisdom and divination), found them a warm welcome in many of the communities they visited.
The Benandanti formed their own structure of apprenticeship and spread throughout Italy, teaching the uses of the caul, and acting as physicians and advisors to the peasant population.
That is, until they drew the attention of the Inquisition, which regarded them as a pagan cult and persecuted them. Thus, the Benandanti acquired an undeserved reputation as orgiasts and devil-worshipers, crimes the Inquisition tended to attribute to any pagans they came across.
Those who survived went underground. No longer able to recruit from the local population or feel safe in their home land, they spread out across the globe, many of them to the newly discovered lands to the West.
In the 21st century most babies are born in hospitals and birthing centers where the staff do not recognize the important mystical properties of cowls and will throw them out with the clinical waste. In view of dwindling numbers of newborns able to retain their cowls, there are Benandanti who have found work in hospitals and birthing centers and are actively on the lookout for potential recruits. Where possible, they will work casually as cleaners or porters rather than on a professional basis (though many are qualified to work in the professions). This makes it easier for them to rescue the cowl from the waste, re-unite it with the potential Benandante and perform the ceremony of Unhooding.
Professionals have to keep records and are responsible for their practice in a way that cleaners and porters are not. Once Unhooded, the fledgling remains the responsibility of the Sapiente, or “Wisdom,” who Unhooded her until she reaches the age of 20. The last thing the Sapiente teaches is how to perform the Unhooding ceremony.
The ceremony itself is quite simple, though variations have crept in over the centuries as Sapientes add their own personal touches which their students will perpetuate. There are three essentials:
- A fully initiated Sapiente
- A person who was born with a caul
- The caul with which they were born
The Sapiente will take care to perform the ceremony in secret but, as most children are born in hospitals which are relatively public spaces, it has not been possible to maintain total secrecy.
The Sapiente holds the child securely in the crook of his left arm whilst holding the child’s caul and his own caul in his right hand. Bringing the cauls together between his index finger and his thumb, he recites (in Lombardic) a verse, swearing that he will protect and guide the child, teach the child to roam the Deadlands and forge their fennel sword. Finally, he swears that he will teach the child to guide another, so that the tradition will persist long after both are in the Deadlands themselves. Following the ceremony, he places the child’s caul in an elaborately decorated box bearing both his name and that of the fledgling Benandante.
The Sapiente will keep the caul and the box until he releases the child from tutelage, usually at the age of 20, when it is handed over in a ceremony of release, unique to the student and the Sapiente. Until then, the student may only make use of their own caul under their Sapiente’s supervision.
They signal the place of their meeting by hanging a flag of gilded white ermine, symbolic of wisdom and purity. Due to the isolation of individual Benandanti, they have few shared resources, and groups tend to act in isolation.
Amongst initiates, commonly held opinions arose at various times, and these can arouse passionate debate between Sapiente and student, as well as between fully initiated Benandanti at their periodic meetings. Adherents of these schools of thought are even less organized than the Benandanti as a whole. Members of any one school may have nothing in common with each other apart from being Benandanti and thinking along similar lines. Students may follow a different school from that of their Sapiente. Many Benandanti change their way of thinking as they grow older and more experienced, and there is absolutely no problem with this. Only one in 80,000 births occurs with a caul and only a small proportion of these are ever Unhooded. The Benandanti are few enough without creating internal subdivisions.
Within these schools there is no agreement about the best methodology for achieving their aims. There are other, less persistent schools of thought that come and go over the years. All Benandante can enter the Underworld through Ekstasis, but this does not mean that they need to agree about the meaning of what they find there, or what their attitude toward beings and events across the Shroud should be.
First, all will learn everything they can about the afterlife in order to better bring about the destruction or transcendence of wraiths (or whatever else their minor school of thought believes is the right thing to do with them).
Secondly, they carry a fennel sword, and each Benandante must forge their own. This is accomplished only at great cost, as some stages take place in the Skinlands and some in the Underworld, with the final forging taking place within a Nihil. The sword comes to represent the Benandante’s power over and integration with the Underworld.
Ekstasis (prerequisite Merit: Medium): Ekstasis is only possible during the hours of darkness and, even when the Benandante takes all possible precautions, is potentially extremely dangerous. The Benandante meditates, using their caul as a focus (Perception + Meditation, difficulty 8). Success will put the Benandante’s spirit form in the Underworld, along with their fennel sword which acts as a Stygian steel blade.
Once in the Underworld, the Benandante must immediately take a moment to orient themself (Wits + Alertness, difficulty 6) to the location of the entrance through which they crossed the Shroud, as they will need to return there before dawn in order to return to the Skinlands. Whilst in the Underworld the Benandante has the same vulnerabilities as a wraith.
Additionally, she must take great care of her caul. If she loses it, or becomes separated from it, she must recover it or stay in the Underworld forever. If someone or something destroys her caul, it is impossible for her ever to return to the Skinlands.
The entry point to the Underworld created by meditation on the caul will last until the next dawn, at which point it disappears. It is therefore important that the Benandante gets back to that point in the Underworld in good time. If the entry point is still there and the Benandante took the trouble to orientate themself as they entered the Underworld, they can find it without significant problems (Wits +Alertness, difficulty 5). Once they find the entrance, the Benandante concentrates hard on the living lands whilst stretching the caul over their eyes, enabling them to escape the power of death (Perception + Meditation, difficulty 6).
Loss of the entry point or caul, or failure to successfully perform the return to the Skinlands, leaves the individual stuck in the Underworld. It is possible to find a lost caul or an alternative entry point. Benandanti have been known to make trips to the Underworld in order to find lost loved ones, or just to create a new entry point in the hope the lost one will find it. These quests, however, can take anywhere from a few nights to several decades. Some remain lost for all eternity, and those who cannot retrieve their caul will never return at all.