The Witches in the Wood
The Order of Hermes is bound together by a shared Oath, shared Houses and a shared magical tradition. However, the Founders long ago discovered that the governance of a continent-spanning association of oft-feuding magi was a daunting task even assisted by magic. Therefore, early in the history of the Order it was decided to split the Order into Regional Tribunals – each able to govern itself and to police itself, but each ultimately answerable to the Order as a whole in the form of the Grand Tribunal.
Note on Usage: The term “Tribunal” refers both to the semi-autonomous regions of the Order of Hermes, and to the periodic assembly of the Hermetic magi of a region for the purposes of fraternizing with their sodales, receiving guests, voting on matters of Hermetic Law, and trying legal cases. This article is concerned with the former usage.
An Edict of the First Tribunal of 799 created the first of the Regional Tribunals and established rules concerning their organization. The Grand Tribunal has the power to establish, disestablish, and reorganize the Regional Tribunals of the Order, subject to the following rules.
- A Tribunal must contain at least 4 covenants, each with at least three Hermetic Magi as members. (Smaller covenants and solitary magi are not counted toward this requirement.)
- The total number of Hermetic Magi within a Tribunal must be at least one score.
- The distance as an eagle flies between the two furthest-separate covenants within a Tribunal must be at least 33 leagues (about 100 miles).
- A Tribunal must be geographically contiguous.
Every Regional Tribunal is required to hold a meeting (called “Tribunal”) no less than every 7th year to decide all matters of Hermetic Law within their region. At such meetings, they may create, amend and abolish local policies which are binding within the Tribunal’s lands, as long as they do not directly contradict an Edict of the First Tribunal or a Grand Tribunal ruling.
The Present Tribunals of Hermes
At the 5th Grand Tribunal in A.D. 964, the Order of Hermes was subdivided into five Regional Tribunals.
- The Tribunal Britanniae, or Tribunal of Britain, formally compasses the entirety of the British Isles, including the island of Ireland, the Hebrides, Shetlends and Orkneys, the Isle of Man, and the Isle of Wight (the other Channel Islands are disputed with the Tribunal Franciae.) In practice, the Order is only scantily represented north of the Firth of Forth, and has not managed to secure a presence in Ireland. Britanniae contains the Domus Magna of House Ex Miscellanea
- The Tribunal Franciae, or Tribunal of West Francia, is bounded on the north by the English Channel, on the West by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the East roughly by the rivers Meuse and Rhone. Its southwestern border is expanding, as bit by bit Hermetic wizards expand into Al Andalus – but at the moment, it only holds influence over only about the northern third of the Iberian peninsula. Franciae contains the Domus Magnae of Houses Diedne, Tytalus, and Flambeau.
- The Tribunal Germaniae, or Tribunal of Germany, is bounded on the North by the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the Rivers Elbe and Trave; on the West, by the Tribunal of Franciae; on the South by the Alps, and on the northeast (roughly) by the river Neman. Its southeastern border with the Tribunal Orientale is a bit fluid. Germaniae has pride of place among the Regional Tribunals because it contains many of the oldest Covenants of the Order, as well as being the site of the Grand Tribunals. It contains the Domus Magnae of Houses Bonisagus, Bjornaer, Jerbiton and Merinita
- The Tribunal Italiae, or Tribunal of Italy, controls most of the covenants of the Alps, as well as the entire penninsula of Italy, the northern stretch of the Dalmatian coast, and the islands of Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily. It has only nominal control over the southern parts of Italy and Sicily, however, as these areas remain very scarcely populated by Hermetic magi. Italiae contains the Domus Magnae of Houses Criamon, Guernicus, Mercere and Verditius
- The Tribunal Orientale, or Eastern Tribunal, controls much of eastern Central Europe around the Danube Basin. Its Eastern bound in Europe is approximately the river Dnieper, although as with most of the frontiers of the Order this is not entirely fixed. It also holds the frontier on the northern and western portions of Asia Minor. Orientale contains the Domus Magna of House Tremere.
The Earliest Years of the Order
When the Order first convened in the Black Forest in AD. 767, the twelve Founders (and Trianoma) agreed that they would return to the same spot where they had sworn their oath every 8th year, in order to reaffirm their oaths, to report new discoveries to one another, to write laws and issue judgements, and to introduce new apprentices that they had found and trained in the intervening period. This they did in 775, in 783, and in 791 – by the last of which meetings the Order of 13 had already grown to over three-score!
Already by the Tribunal of 791, however, the strains in the system were showing. The Order, originally focused around Central Europe with very few outliers, was already spreading far apart geographically. Travel was becoming difficult, and even the simple logistics of feeding more than five dozen wizards was growing unmanageable – especially as the meetings dragged on to a week or longer, as each of these dozens of wizards had to have his say on every matter of import. When the 791 meeting concluded, the members of the Order were sent home to contemplate a solution, to be worked out at the Tribunal of A.D. 799.
The Creation of the Regional Tribunals (A.D. 799)
The original Regional Tribunals of the Order of Hermes, circa A.D. 825.
Ultimately, it was the Order’s great Architect, Trianoma filia Bonisagi, who would devise the plan to restructure the Tribunal. When the Order convened in A.D. 799, she proposed the splitting of the Order into two separate regional Tribunals, which would have the authority to handle simpler matters and purely local concerns, leaving the Grand Tribunal free to meet at rarer intervals to handle concerns of greater importance and review the decisions of the lower assemblies.
The two Tribunals thus created were the Tribunal Occidentale and the Tribunal Orientale – the Western Tribunal and the Eastern Tribunal. The former governed the regions west of the Rhine and the regions south of the Alps (and, following the addition of House Ex Miscellanea to the Order, the isle of Great Britain), while the latter governed the Alps themselves, as well as other regions to the east of the Rhine, as far as the Hellespont. These were directed to gather every 7th year, and the date was set for the first Grand Tribunal in 832.
The First Re-Ordering (A.D. 898)
The Regional Tribunals of the Order of Hermes after A.D. 898.
The two-Tribunal structure was stable and satisfactory for nearly one hundred years. By the time that the Third Grand Tribunal of A.D. 898 loomed, however, it was apparent that another adjustment was necessary. An Order with a little under a hundred members in 799 had shot up to nearly 400 in the intervening century, and the same logistical problems that plagued early Magi were recurring.
The decision was reached – not without a certain acrimony over specific borders – to split the Order into three Tribunals, taking pieces of both East and West to form a New Tribunal (Tribunal Novum, sometimes also called the Tribunal Lotharingiae) in the middle. Under the terms of this decision, the West retained Britain, much of France and the growing regions of Hermeticized Spain. The East retained the Danube plain and Byzantine territories, as well as claimed territory to the northeast. The New Tribunal which was created controlled Germany, Italy, and the Alps in between them.
It was also in A.D. 898 that the procedure of selecting Electors was introduced. The Order had grown simply too larger to even consider encouraging all members to make the journey to Durenmar and speak and vote at Grand Tribunal, as had been the case for a hundred years. Each Tribunal was instead directed to convene a special Tribunal meeting in the year prior to a Grand Tribunal, and select from amongst its number 15 Magi to serve as voting representatives at Durenmar in the following year.
The use of Electors remains in place to this day, although a clarifying ruling was made in the 4th Grand Tribunal of A.D. 931 that all magi, even those not selected as Electors, had the right to attend the Grand Tribunal and to request permission to address the gathering; it is only voting rights which are reserved to representatives.
The Second Re-Ordering (A.D. 964) and the Future
It only took two further Grand Tribunals before it became apparent that yet another division was needed. The Order had grown to nearly 700 members, and the same old problems of crowding and logistics were surfacing. In A.D. 964, therefore, the current structure of five regional Tribunals was instituted. Again, there was bitter acrimony, as several borders (particularly those between Italiae, Germaniae and Occidentale) were bitterly contested. Representatives of House Tremere, most of all, were dissatisfied with several shifts made to their Covenants.
Worst of all, the changes may still prove to be unsatisfactory. Scarcely 20 years later, the five Tribunals of the Order are still overcrowded – the Order now boasts just over 800 Gifted magi, and tensions are on the rise. Reformists and hobbyist cartographers of every stripe now look at the map of Europe with carving knife in hand…