The "Realistic" Emulation of the Occult world in RPGs part 1
So, as I promised earlier, I'm going to write a bit about this subject that I'm fairly familiar with; bearing in mind that the point here is to serve as a resource for those who might not be so familiar, as to how to create a real "occult scene" for use in modern-era RPGs; this series will work on the premise of magic (or "magick" if you will) doing what it actually does, and people doing what they actually do. Take it or leave it as you will.
We should begin with the majority, however. And those of you familiar with Sturgeon's Law might have guessed that a significant majority (don't know if its 90% but probably pretty close) of everyone who auto-defines themselves as being into "the occult" are basically gormless. Poseurs, or the chronically clueless. However, there are several different main categories of these gormless would-be occultists; the following is the breakdown of the four most common "types", and how to effectively emulate them:
1. The Gormless New-Ager
-the New Ager is recognized for usually wearing somewhat colourful clothing, though of the various types he or she is often one of the least unconventional of the categories of "occultist"; the new-agers often have fairly middle-class type jobs (or are housewives), and aside from their interest may otherwise lead normal lives.
-New Agers will be quite eclectic in their tastes of what they read or get into, so long as it fulfills two conditions: first, that it is not something they would interpret as "dark" and second that it is not in any way approaching what they define as "hard".
-They will tend to be fascinated with all kinds of real and imaginary foreign cultural elements, ie. "tibetan", "indian", "buddhist", "hindu", "atlantean", "native", etc etc. but only the most superficial elements of the same; ie. jewelry, clothing, music, or crafts. They usually have no capacity to discern whether something is authentically a product of a foreign culture/religion or just claims to be. If we were using FATE aspects here, an appropriate one would be something along the lines of "Its Native American Because a White Guy With a Ponytail Calling Himself Running Bear Said it Was".
- Their actual practices: amount to buying a great number of books, many of which were recommended by Oprah, none of which are particularly profound, listening to New Age CDs of dubious musical quality, owning a significant number of crystals and trinkets that are supposed to fix their problems for them, and engaging in positive affirmations ("I will have money come to me", "I am a spiritual person", "i am bathed in white light").
-on that note, obsessions: "White" and "light". For New Agers the world is a kind of Manichean dualism (though they'd never use that term) between "white/light" and "black/dark". The whole raison d'etre of their spirituality is to try to immerse themselves in as much white-light as possible and push out and reject all that is "dark" or "Negative". They are thus easily terrified of anything that feels "dark" or "negative" to them, and constantly worried about being insufficiently bathed in the "white light" (which they do by chanting affirmations, going to new-age healing sessions (reiki, psychic healers, etc), and thinking happy thoughts.
-They are quite interested in psychics, mediums, channelers and new-age healing; though only a rare few will actually want to learn how to do any of these things themselves; instead they will be frequent customers of a great variety of those offering such services. They will be very impressed by any claims of Psychic power or "energy work" power, and will almost never disbelieve such things; instead, if for any reason at all the person making such claims or offering such services in some way annoys or causes them displeasure, they will start feeling that such a person is "negative" or has "dark energy" and will try to avoid them.
-in a random encounter with Gormless New Agers, there is a roughly 50% chance that said New Agers will be scared shitless of Gormless Wiccans, thinking that the latter are "dark" or "negative"; the chance is 100% when New Agers encounter Gormless Quasi-Satanists or Gormless Hermetic Magicians.
-There is, however, a certain level of crossover between Wiccans and New Agers, a certain amount of "cross-class" individuals exist, who touch on certain wiccan behaviours and beliefs while being mostly new age in practice.
-Gormless New Agers will automatically classify as "negative" anyone who mocks any of their ideas, beliefs, or practices, or who suggest that spirituality requires actual work, study or discipline beyond thinking about "white light".
-"Real" New Agers: There are none. Anyone in the new age who graduates to real practices will switch classes into a serious practitioner of some spiritual tradition (hindu, buddhist, shaman, pagan) or more rarely become a hermetic magician. There are, however, New Ager "prestige classes", who are more intellectually involved or specialized; the most common of these are the "theosophists" of various types: whether the traditional sort who speak a lot about Chakras, the "Seven spiritual rays", the OM or I AM affirmations, etc, or the freeform "channelers" who work on receiving "teachings" and "prophecies" from "Ascended Masters" (spiritual beings who exist on another plane of reality, usually called Shambhala). These teachings are almost always complex description of metaphysical systems describing the universe as a series of planes or dimensions, talking about the different rays or vibrations of energy that connect to our emotional, mental or spiritual problems, giving remarkably mundane and often stunningly bourgeois advice on daily living, and claiming to reveal secret history about the past that is almost always unproveable and usually has something to do with Atlantis. Essentially, none of this adds any level of practical application to new age beliefs, its just (mis)information for its own sake.
-Danger level: Virtually nil. Very rarely, some new agers can get recruited into cult-like movements; for example the channeling/theosophist cult of Elizabeth Claire Prophet that preach a coming doomsday and stockpile weapons in a bunker somewhere in the pacific northwest. Occasionally, gormless new agers can get caught up in UFO/Conspiracy movements (there being a substantial crossover between new-age believers and the David Icke "The Royal Family and All World Leaders are Secret Alien Lizardpeople" conspiracy movement. In earlier decades, new-age theosophical beliefs were intertwined with eugenics and racism (interpreting the "white race" to be the most spiritually evolved due to atlantean descent), but this has been almost entirely eliminated from modern new-age thinking. Generally speaking, Gormless New Agers themselves are pretty much completely harmless.
Stay tuned for Gormless Wiccans, Gormless Quasi-Satanists and Gormless Hermetic Magicians!
(originally posted June 1 2011)