Rust Never Sleeps
Circle of the Crone
Associated Disciplines: Crúac Rituals
Few vampires outside the Circle of the Crone have anything even approaching a complete understanding of the group’s secretive beliefs and behaviors. As a covenant, the Circle is as devoted the Carthians, more tightly organized than the Invictus, and as often as not, more feared and misunderstood than the Lancea Sanctum and the Ordo Dracul. For many neonates, these mysterious Kindred are the “bogeymen” of vampire society — those who gather in sequestered cabals, where they practice ancient and eldritch rites in reverence to bloody gods and goddesses of cultures forgotten or shunned. These are the vampires about whom elders warn their childer: The political outcasts, iconoclasts and, to some, heretics of the Damned.
The Circle of the Crone decries what are the most widely accepted creation myths of the vampire. To these cultists, the Lancea Sanctum’s progenitor is not to be revered, worshipped, or even heeded. Nor is the Ordo Dracul’s nigh-mythical founder anything but a grand ruse. Instead, the Circle of the Crone claims a more naturalistic origin for vampires, that they have always been a part of the world, spawned in the dark places where mortals fear to tread and where guarded suspicion yields to open fear. Their origin stories invoke such names as the Russian witch Baba Yaga, the horned god Cernunnos, the Thracian goddess of moon and magic Bendis, the animal-god Pashupati, bull sacrifices in the name of Mithras, and the bloodier incarnations of the Morrigan. Members of the Circle of the Crone occasionally even incorporate elements dating before Lancea Sanctum dogma into their philosophy through Lilith, the first wife of Adam. Acolytes, as members of the Circle are often known, reject vampiric notions of penitence entirely. Instead, they take a more organic approach to unlife, one that allows for all creatures — even the living dead — to continue to learn, grow and find enlightenment over time. While much of Kindred tradition places emphasis on guilt and penance according to the Judeo-Christian model, the Circle of the Crone sees itself as outside that framework.
Members of this covenant maintain that the primary lesson to be learned from whatever origin of the undead any given Kindred espouses is that a vampire, though damned to an eternity of unlife, is no more or less a victim than he chooses to be. Empowerment and enlightenment are both well within the reach of any creature, vampire or otherwise, who is truthful and dedicated enough to attain them. Although the Circle is primarily a vampiric phenomenon, its ideology extends beyond the worldly borders of the Kindred plight and is attractive to non-Kindred as well. As such, the Circle boasts some of the most extensive and unusual contacts among other, similarly inclined creatures, including mages and even werewolves.
As might be expected, Acolytes are none too popular with the fervent Lancea Sanctum, which takes great offense at the Circle’s “corruption” of its dearly held ideals. Some truly hardline Kindred, especially those in power in conservative domains, go so far as to outlaw the practice and spread of what they call “demon worship,” and they lay heavy penalties down upon those caught in violation of the decree. Most of the time, however, even the most stalwart Prince or Archbishop satisfies himself with making sure that those around him are free of any Acolyte heresy, thus cutting off any potential threat at the source.
The Circle of the Crone boasts a diverse collection of Kindred among its adherents. Members of every clan and those of any age are drawn to the Circle’s particular ethos, and the covenant is certainly stronger because of it. If the covenant is weak in any one demographic, it is likely in the number of Ventrue who share in its beliefs. The Ventrue are childer of tradition, and among the more conservative members of the clan, tradition suggests that core Acolyte ideology is foolishness at best and heresy at worst. Conversely, the Gangrel (who are known for their disregard of both mortality and Kindred convention) are perhaps the perfect fit for the covenant’s mindset. Many Acolytes do indeed hail from the ranks of the Savages, who can find a symbolic resonance between their nature and those of the many gods and spirits in the Circle’s pantheon.
Given the relatively radical nature of their philosophies, Acolytes are understandably preoccupied with the continued growth of their membership. In recent years, many have begun to actively seek converts, particularly from among the downtrodden and dispossessed of Kindred society. This search often leads to the door of unaligned Kindred, many of whom are somewhat more tolerant of Acolytes than they are of the Lancea Sanctum or Invictus. And there are others who view the Acolytes’ ideology as compatible with their own political outlook. As a result, the Circle’s missionary efforts have been rewarded, and the number of former independents who have become members grows with each passing night. After all, if vampires are real, who’s to say that the blood gods and deities of the Old Ways aren’t?
At the core of Acolytes’ belief sits the Crone, a sort of vampiric mentor and lover of mythological “monsters” during various stages of history and among innumerable cultures. Obviously, reverence for the Crone is the source of the Circle’s name, and she is by turns an amalgamation of spirits or gods from whom vampires originated, or a literal figure not too vastly different from the Lancea Sanctum’s own progenitor. Acolytes revere the image and teachings of various mother-goddesses, who, according to a variety of mythological and religious texts, was cast out of the company of fellow gods for seeking to better herself by consuming the blood of those whom the gods had made in their image. Through trial and pain, the Crone managed to uncover the secrets of creation, and to survive the harsh wasteland that was life outside the gods’ own paradise. All on her own, the Crone is said to have created form, shape and beauty out of the barren nothingness that lay beyond the ken of men and gods, and her Circle seeks to emulate her experience so that it too might achieve her wisdom and power. Branching out from this core precept are two underlying themes.
Creation Is Power: Vampires of this covenant are perhaps the most honest with themselves about what they believe to be the truth of the Kindred condition. They recognize that the Requiem tears them from the natural world and suspends them in a state of eternal stasis, forever unable to create life. For those who let the truth of this realization destroy them, existence becomes an unending spiral of manipulation toward destruction, with resources being allocated merely to fuel the perpetuation of the cycle. Creation, then, becomes both the source of true power and the only way a static creature can otherwise remain a vibrant part of the earthly order. Some Acolytes practice this ideology in small ways, tending gardens or breeding animals, while others take the broader view, seeking instead to create things of lasting beauty or utility such as art or invention. Whatever form it takes, all Acolytes strive to emulate creation in their own way.
Tribulation Brings Enlightenment: Acolytes believe that any creature can overcome its own weakness and moral failings by continually testing its physical, mental and spiritual limitations. Only through ongoing tribulation can one’s consciousness expand, and thus true understanding be reached. Cultists empower themselves by alternately exciting and challenging the senses, and through the newfound comprehension that results, they finally transform the static nature of undeath into the miracle of creation. Many cultists take this to a literal level, engaging in bouts of flagellation and other self-abuse that would make a mortal’s stomach churn. Others simply put their bodies in new and difficult situations so that they may better understand themselves and their fears and limitations. Whatever the motivation, the results are undeniable: Those who endure are tempered by their experiences, making them ever more capable of enduring whatever comes next.
Rituals And Observances
The Circle of the Crone is a rigidly ceremonial covenant. It claims a variety of different special rites, many of which are unique to the Acolytes of a given coterie or domain. Of those that see more widespread observance, three stand out.
The Crone’s Liturgy: One of the most frequently heard recitations at cultist gatherings, this observance takes the form of passages read from various accounts of mythology or creation stories. The Liturgy has become the ceremonial opener (or closer, depending on the domain) for the regular meetings of assembled Acolytes. The passages themselves tell the tale, or in some convocations sing the song, of the Crone’s perseverance through adversity after banishment from the company of the gods. The text has a lyrical quality to it, due to the action-reaction nature of the Crone’s life, and many Acolytes have taken to employing the Greek method of call and response when reciting the Liturgy. (This has the effect of making everyone present feel involved, as opposed to just the speaker.) As most passages are fairly long, most Acolytes prefer to limit each recitation to whatever sub-section of the Liturgy is most appropriate to the subject or subjects of the meeting at hand.
The Winnowing: Acolytes claim a great many holy nights, adapted from the mythologies with which they most closely associate, and they tend to observe them with great sincerity and respect. The most important event to the covenant at large is an annual rite known as the Winnowing. The night itself falls upon a different date every year, and is dependent upon a whole host of variables, including the alignment of the stars and the phase of the moon. On the whole, though, it usually falls some time around the winter solstice (not dissimilar to the Celtic Yule, though with notably less connection to male divinities). On this night, Acolytes take stock of the trials they have bested, the pains they have endured and the things they have either created or destroyed in the intervening year. Since these matters are specific to each cultist, this ritual is always a highly personal one, and it is usually conducted in absolute silence under starlight. During the rite, each participant offers some of his own Vitae to the ground, in the hopes of cleansing his spirit before the coming year. The rite concludes with the Hierophant placing a wreath of laurel around the head of each participant, to represent the reestablishment of each Acolyte’s connection to the natural world, both within and without. Other holidays associated with the Winnowing and observed in their unique formats punctuate the Circle’s calendar. The Feast of Samhain (October 31) represents the Crone saying farewell to the world in preparation for winter, and is celebrated with much revelry and orgies of blood. Latha Lunasdal (near August 1) commemorates the time of year when the nights grow longer than the days, and when the Kindred may claim more time as their own. Those Acolytes who choose to Embrace often do so on Walpurgis Night (February 25) in observance of the custom of fertility associated with that holy day. The Pyanepsion Noumenia (September 26-27) marks the honoring of the Crone herself, and is celebrated in all manners, from vampiric celebrations that resemble wild marauds to contemplation on what it means to be a creature of the night.
The Crúac: The Circle of the Crone holds the mystical ways of Crúac, the “bloody crescent,” in high regard. A form of ritual magic, Crúac draws as much on shamanic systems of belief, druidic practice and even arts that resemble “black magic” in its performance. This magic is uniformly sanguinary in its practice, involving blood sacrifices at the very least and occasionally mortification of the flesh, scarring of the vampire’s body or even the death of a ritual victim for its most powerful effects. As fearful as the practice’s trappings are, none who has seen its powers in action can deny its effectiveness. Those outside the covenant might deride Crúac as “witchcraft,” but Acolytes themselves would never stoop to using such base terms for their spiritual sorcery.
Titles And Duties
The ritualistic nature of the Circle of the Crone seems to lend itself to a hierarchy of titles and roles, each fulfilling some unique niche or aspect of the covenant’s esoteric dealings, but such is not the case. In fact, only a single “official” title sees very much use throughout the covenant. The rest are either titles pro-tem, city-specific titles or simply convenient descriptors for duties that almost any Acolyte might fulfill.
Hierophant: In domains where the Circle of the Crone has a significant enough presence to warrant it (that is, in cities with three or more members), the wisest take on the equivalent role of high priest. Such a spiritual leader is called a Hierophant, and is charged with a number of duties to his fellows. The Hierophant is responsible for calling meetings to order and for leading various rites and rituals (such as the Crone’s Liturgy). The Hierophant also oversees the induction of new members to the Circle, and no Acolyte may be granted full status without his leave. “Hierophant” is also a term of respect, and even elders who no longer lead rituals may continue to bear the title as a “badge of office” or a sign of enlightenment. Among the Hierophant’s responsibilities is the actual formation of dogma observed by the covenant in a given domain. For example, some Hierophants call extensively upon the Celtic pantheon in interpreting the Kindred condition, while others invoke “demons” who are actually nature spirits in certain Eastern European followings. Still others might have an outlook that draws heavily on Judeo-Christian myth, substituting Lilith for the Crone, while other groups see themselves as incarnations of the Native American wendigo or manitou. Still others blend a variety of religions into their own unique view of the Kindred. This body of dogma almost always grows organically over time, incorporating new Acolytes’ beliefs, changing when the the circle of the crone covenant’s tastes dictate, or taking into account new information or discoveries. More so than any other covenant, the policies of the Circle of the Crone morph and adapt, and the responsibility of keeping it all cogent rests in the hands of the Hierophant.
The Chorus: The chorus is not an actual title in the covenant, but rather a descriptor for a certain type of member. The chorus is the collective “new converts” to Acolyte ideology, and a probationary member of the Circle. Few would-be converts are capable of grasping the often painful truth of the Acolytes’ mindset, so most new members go through a period of “apprenticeship” during which they slowly acclimate to existence in the Circle of the Crone. As a point of order, covenant secrets such as Crúac are never revealed to the chorus, and they are watched just as much as guided for the duration of their probation. This introductory period exists as much for the chorus’ security as the covenant’s, for once members are fully inducted, there is truly no turning back.
Stereotypes Of Others
Carthian Movement: Misplaced values
Invictus: A foul aristocracy
Lancea Sanctum: Hateful demagogues
Ordo Dracul: Distracted from true understanding
Unaligned: Lost within themselves