What’s an Arcanist?

Author: Gabrielle Benele
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Written for the University of Gwylim, Monthly Arcanum Circular

What’s an Arcanist? Part 1

What in all the realms of Oblivion is an arcanist? I've been asked this question by no fewer than a dozen students and half as many professors, and I desperately wish I could give you an answer that wouldn't make you think I was pulling your leg. So let's start with the basics and work our way out from there. Nice and easy, like extra frosting on a sweetroll.

SYSTEMIZED THAUMATURGY

Let's start with a brief aside on organizational arcanum. If like me you've had the chance to talk to a number of adventurers in the last several years, no doubt you've heard terms thrown about that made you wonder if you missed a university flyer or two. "Templar, warden, nightblade." Fancy titles that in the end mean precious little to the educator on the ground.

In an era when any kind of agreement on what magic "is" seems damned near impossible, why are these terms relevant at all? Well, that's the point, isn't it? You need only look to the free-form nature of arcane thought that rules the day to see how tempting, how seductive, any kind of compartmentalization at all can be!

You need only look to a recent interview with fellow Mages Guild member Dhulef, when trying to talk about what a warden "is," to see how rife with potential these titles can be for a learned citizen of the world.

(As an aside, I would invite readers to revisit my "Schools of Magic" proposal based on my time at the Shad Astula Academy. While this ever-growing stack of rejection letters from Vanus Galerion likely means he still sees no interest in the subject, perhaps one of you will.)

TOMES OF ERUDITION AND OPPORTUNITY

Now that I've couched my answer sufficiently, I'll attempt to directly address the question. As best as I can tell, an arcanist is a spellcaster who makes use of arcane spellforms learned from and driven by a mystic tome touched by the power of Apocrypha.

As most learned members of the university are aware, "Oblivion realms" exist as much as points along a spectrum as specific or constrained physical localities. We know from extensive documentation that creatures, spellwork, and even mortal beings transported to Oblivion realms will conform or change due to the influence of a Daedric Prince within their principality.

In the case of Apocrypha, the metaphor chosen (imposed?) by Hermaeus Mora is that of a grand and sweeping library. And so it makes sense that as beings entering a realm can shift to fit it, so too does a part of a realm exiting comport itself to fit the mystical metaphor in which it finds itself. That is to say, it's my hypothesis these "books" are the cruft of Apocrypha itself. Oblivion substrate shaken loose and given a home on Nirn and—crucially—in a mortal's mind.

What’s an Arcanist? Part 2

CURRENTS IN THE ABYSSAL SEA

So what do arcanists do? Well, just as Dhulef struggled to explain what a warden is, so too am I hard pressed to categorize these spellcasters. I'll try to paint with a broad brush and apologies in advance if I splash you.

Arcanist spellcasting makes use of several potent metaphors, each of which seems to result in extremely powerful workings. While all mages use runes of varying kinds, the runework utilized by arcanists is elaborate in the extreme.

These runeforms allow for powerful beam projections, near impenetrable spell armor matrices, and—I'll use the word "inventive"—restorative magics with a variety of possible outcomes. Runes and language seem to be the core conceit of arcanist thaumaturgical underpinnings. While many of these other metaphors are used variably by individual spellcasters, the idea of scribing a rune on reality to shape and shift its form seems to be universal.

Because of the connection to the Scryer's realm, it most likely will not surprise readers to learn tentacles play a role in several common spellworks. Offensively, these constructs are highly impressive and highly disturbing. I saw firsthand a self-professed arcanist make use of quickly summoned tentacles to fend off a horde of undead on the outskirts of Glenumbra, and it's a visual, olfactory, and auditory experience I won't soon forget.

Another common metaphor draws from a defining characteristic of Apocrypha, the great Abyssal Sea that dominates a large portion of the realm. Its far shores have never been fully explored by any researcher I'm aware of, and the depths of its inky waters have likely swallowed more secrets than living memory can imagine. Tides, swells, breakers, and shoals, this extra-Nirnian ocean is a powerful source of magic for arcanists, who seem to have no trouble channeling and shaping its waters to their will.

Fate itself is a sharply honed instrument in the arcanist tool box. I've seen arcanists tweak probability around them in clever and interesting ways, an echo of the fate sight said to be held by the lord of Apocrypha.

WHAT TO MAKE OF ALL THIS

While it's tempting to ring the university bells and proclaim a new and potent locus of mystic abilities gaining prominence before our very eyes, as with so many things in our world, I believe the truth is somewhat more complicated. Research into this phenomenon leads me to believe "arcanists" have likely been among us for some time, though perhaps in different forms or without the catchy appellation.

It's worth noting, too: Hermaeus Mora's "portfolio" among the Daedric princes plays heavily into the mystic metaphors used by these casters, but that's entirely a function of the arcanist relationship with the realm of secrets—not the squid-faced prince himself. In point of fact, several arcanists I interviewed recently expressed a deep distrust or even hatred of the Prince of Knowledge. While others verged on a cultist's zeal for the Inevitable Knower.

This is all to say magic in Tamriel is far more varied and unique than our scholarly papers and neat historical treatises could ever allow for. The arcanist phenomenon is one that I wanted to draw your attention to, and perhaps make you aware of new and exciting metaphor groupings cropping up in your own province or town!

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