Let me prefix my question by saying that I absolutely adore M:TA. I love the idea to death, and the philosophical implications are wild and good for a lot of discussions.

However, I see problems with the idea of a paradigm within a mage character itself. I might be too influenced by my upbringing, but I'd argue that proof should always be able to change my mind.

Now, imagine being of any of the denominations/clans that M:TA provides. I use my magic by employing a fitting paradigm, be it "SCIENCE!" or "God" or any number of other ways.

Now, playing with other mages, every day I'm confronted with magic that does not work the way it works for me. I see a Verbena casting something fire-related just by chanting or gesturing, yet to do the same, I need to use a device? Something smells fishy here.

You could argue that I stick to my paradigm "'cause it works", and that's certainly a reason. But in the long-ish run, wouldn't I just be pretending to adhere to my paradigm, all the while I'm laughing my ass off internally because it all has become nonsense to me?

You could argue that this exact process is how a rising arete would express itself, but I could see most reality-grounded persons proceeding through this in a month.

I should end by stating that I have never really played M:TA, and therefor I am not familiar with the way this is handled in real games, or if it needs to be handled at all.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Which edition are you using? 1st, 2nd, Revised or 20th Anniversary? The answer is going to depend on the edition to some degree. \$\endgroup\$
    – eimyr
    Jun 6, 2016 at 9:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ I wouldn't have guessed. I'm not sure which edition I played, I don't own the source book anymore. But from an availability perspective, let's say Anniversary. \$\endgroup\$
    – 0xCAFEBABE
    Jun 6, 2016 at 9:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ What proof would you require to reject empiricism in favor of some other epistemology? \$\endgroup\$
    – user11450
    Jun 6, 2016 at 13:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Without thinking too much about it, I'd probably say that it's currently the best way to learn stuff about basically anything. If something would arise that could make the same predictions with higher precision and/or less effort, this way would make a better candidate, at least in terms of real-life-application of the findings. \$\endgroup\$
    – 0xCAFEBABE
    Jun 6, 2016 at 13:48
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ 'However, I see problems with the idea of a paradigm within a mage character itself.' Bingo! You've just explained to yourself why paradigm is a concept per person. Your personal paradigm, like all others, is one that does not accept other paradigms as valid. \$\endgroup\$
    – user28291
    Jun 17, 2016 at 11:45

4 Answers 4


Because of confirmation bias

The act of Awakening is not described as a coherent, logically sound philosophical reasoning that leads the Mage to believe in his paradigm over ones of his peers. Awakening is enlightenment and as such imparts the Mage with an unyielding conviction that this one particular paradigm is right, wholly right and the only one right. It takes no less than a successful Seeking ending in an Epiphany to change that belief. Any evidence to the contrary is reinterpreted until it fits the revealed truth.

The source of such a conviction is external to the Mage. Mages generally believe that their paradigm is a divine (or profane, or scientific, secret, mystical, whatever rocks your boat) truth and as such shall not be challenged. How can other people claiming to break your paradigm's constraints be proof of it's invalidity if you can prove it works by doing magic yourself? They are no less of a scam (or a great misunderstanding) than the Consensus is. At best the Mage concedes that either the paradigm is not understood well enough to explain other people's magick or they are unwittingly using it, misunderstanding the real truth behind their petty ideas.

...and that's why there are many Traditions.

In M:tA 20th Anniversary the Paradigm business is a bit more lenient.

The Focus (which is the magickal HOW&WHY, mostly equivalent of 2nd and Revised Paradigm) is divided into Paradigm, Practice and Instruments,

20th's Paradigm is simply an explanation of why magick exists - like the familiar It's All Written In A Book, or The World Is A Machine. Practice explains how the character affects that world to do magic (I Rewrite The Pages In The Book or I Can Control The Machine). Instruments, like Foci of older editions, are mundane items and acts that one uses to enact the Practice.

In that light, one Mage can look at another's practice and decide that in essence with a slight rewording it's a valid way of doing magick, even if the other mage is completely clueless about the paradigm.

Example Time!

Let's take a group of mages:

  • Alice, a Chorister who believes The World Is a Divine Being
  • Bob, Etherite convinced World Works Through Science
  • Cecil, Virtual Adept who thinks The World Is Software
  • Debbie, Verbena with The World Is A Living Thing paradigm

They witness a Hermetic mage casting a fireball through chanting and mystical crystals.

  • Alice: "The God listened and responded."
  • Bob: "Obviously the currents in alpha-field were induced by Ether-charged resonance patterns amplified by vocal vibrations. Nothing mysterious here."
  • Cecil: "It's a glitch exploit in the frontend. Pretty basic hack."
  • Debbie: "With this amount of wailing even a dead world would budge."

Of course, they all think they would do the same magic better and with a more appropriate method. No one is right.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I need to think about this longer, but thank you for the extensive answer. How does information exchange in cabals figure into this? Isn't the dynamic between mages (as in, the players) and the Technocracy explained? As I understand it, that would ruin the possibility for confirmation bias. \$\endgroup\$
    – 0xCAFEBABE
    Jun 6, 2016 at 15:06
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ You're assuming a Mage questions his Paradigm or looks for proof/evidence. Each Mage would process their peers' claims within their own paradigm and their own paradigm (the very one you ask them to abandon) posits other paradigms are false. There are only two conclusions to be had here: either the other Mage misunderstands your Paradigm and unwittingly uses it or you haven't discovered enough about your paradigm to explain this evidence. Revocation of one's Paradigm is simply not an option - and when it is, you go into Epiphany. \$\endgroup\$
    – eimyr
    Jun 6, 2016 at 15:31
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ ... so basically all Mages are reality-warping conspiracy theorists? \$\endgroup\$
    – Tacroy
    Jun 6, 2016 at 18:04
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ @Tacroy What Mages do is essentially weaponized solipsism. Belief hard enough and you can make reality do what you want. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 6, 2016 at 18:08
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Tacroy Weaponized Clap Your Hands exactly. The thing is, each one of them is absolutely convinced that his way is the one true way and that's the primary reason why the setting is called the World of Darkness. \$\endgroup\$
    – eimyr
    Jun 6, 2016 at 20:14

Remember that in the standard setting of Mage, all non-Technocracy paradigms are interlopers pushed forward by an Awakened will as manifest through an avatar. Your Paradigm isn't just the way you think the world works; it's the way you believe the world should work. The Verbena believe in a world where blood and sacrifice can change the world, where wanting someone to die badly enough can kill them, where leaders really do have ties to the land where they rule. Because of that, they can call forth fire from their voices, and would really like it if that was just something powerful people can do. This may not be the way you'd like the universe to run, and promoting your paradigm through exercising it is one way of getting the world to act as you would like.


As I understand it, the higher a mage's arete (and the closer the mage gets to ascension), the more he realizes that in the same way as foci are physical tools, paradigms and practices are mental tools. (M20, p. 568 - "Focus, Belief, and the One-Inch Punch"). But! The fact that you realize this on an intellectual (and purely theoretical) level doesn't help you much. In most cases, to will-work a mage needs to posses a soul-deep and pretty much sub-conscious conviction on how he is able to do the thing he wants to do.

I recon that in most cases adopting this kind of flexible/liberal paradigm would prove to be detrimental - validating paradigms and practices of other mages (at least somewhat) invalidates one's own.

Actually, the kind of viewpoint you propose is a paradigm of it's own in M20, called "Everything is Chaos – You Only Think it Makes Sense" (M20, p. 570), coupled with the "chaos magick" practice.

And since everyone is right and wrong at the same time, it becomes less about finding out how magic and reality really works and more about how the mage (more or less) consciously shapes reality to fit into his paradigm... Because even if that's not how reality works it certainly is how it should work.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Hi Kranf, and welcome to RPG Stack Exchange. Check out our tour to see how we work here, and when you reach 20 rep, you can join us in Role-playing Games Chat. This answer would be improved by citation of what gives you this understanding -- it helps build confidence in this answer as a reliably correct source. You may understand it's not enough to just take the word of some unknown person on the internet. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 20, 2017 at 9:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for expanding on your post and adding those citations! Enjoy your time here Kranf. :) \$\endgroup\$ Jul 20, 2017 at 12:54

But in the long-ish run, wouldn't I just be pretending to adhere to my paradigm, all the while I'm laughing my ass off internally because it all has become nonsense to me?

If that's how you feel, this is kind of what real-world chaos magick is like. Feel free to use "it all has become nonsense" as your character's paradigm, although your GM might accuse you of cheating and/or reject you from all Traditions. The Hollow Ones should be fine with it.

The actual details of how, say, an Euthanatos gets their mind around the idea that "stuff which works for those Verbena doesn't work for me" aren't AFAIK presented as a single coherent explanation. Just like the paradigms themselves, this can vary from mage to mage and it's something you can think about as part of your own character's philosophy. Perhaps you interpret what others do within your own paradigm (a stereotypical Order of Hermes mage loves mansplaining other people's magic to them), or perhaps you accept that others access sources of power which you simply cannot, and have some mental model of why you cannot. If you want to actively engage and co-operate with their magic then it's going to have to be more like the former, because the latter is basically saying "this is a mystery beyond my comprehension, let me know when it's over".

One meta-approach to take from an out-of-character POV is that your character will in their own way be delusional, by definition of "delusional" as "someone who doesn't accept the prevailing technocratic paradigm" and therefore fundamentally does not see things as you the player see them. Someone who cannot truly believe in their own paradigm despite others doing magic in other paradigms, is insufficiently strong-willed to be a mage.

That said, mages are not (universally) stupid. They're fully aware that they meet lots of mages with very different beliefs, and that their own paradigm can be seen as one among many. It's then down to the individual how ecumenical they can be about tolerating/humouring/exploring the views of those they don't agree with.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I really like your explanation. I'd be interested in how the last part works. I'd see myself (as in, me reflected as a mage character) to be doing rationalizations practically full time, leaving very little time to do some adventuring. If you might have a link, I'd be very interested. \$\endgroup\$
    – 0xCAFEBABE
    Jun 7, 2016 at 13:39
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The Celestial Chorus, by way of example, may well believe that the Verbena successfully call on dark powers through their evil magic. Euthanatos obviously work through dark forces. Paradigms don't have to explain all of reality. Just the magic the character touches. (There is plenty of nasty magic bouncing around the world of darkness that isn't Mage.) \$\endgroup\$
    – The Nate
    Jun 8, 2016 at 4:03

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