The Arcanum is a secret society of scholars that pursue knowledge of the supernatural. A number of Arcanum agents act as hunters, though they usually hunt in the pursuit of esoteric lore rather than actively hunting supernatural creatures. Many Arcanum scholars are sorcerers, and a handful possess True Faith. A member of the Arcanum is referred to as an Arcanist.
The Arcanum was founded in 1885 by Benjamen Holmscroft, a former member of the Hermetic Order of the Rising Day. Disappointed with what he perceived as charlatans, Holmscroft instead decided to found his own society of scholars who would study the supernatural with genuineness. Holmscroft invited occultists from all over the Western world to attend him in Vannevar Hall, which he claimed as his ancestral estate. All agreed that most active occult societies were mostly escapist fools. Holmscroft had purposely chosen people that believed there was much more to the "world of shadows", as he called it, than most people would be willing to believe. When the Arcanum was founded, its structure was built to imitate the ancient mystery cults, while drawing on elements from the Hermetic Order, combining fraternal, ecclesial and professional organization models.
During the next years of its existence, the Arcanum slowly began to expand its membership. Under Holmscroft's direction, not only scholars were targeted for recruitment, but also psychics and other persons who exhibited limited supernatural powers. Even women were considered for joining if their talents were sufficient. Early attempts of infiltration by other secret societies, like the Society of Leopold, were thwarted. In 1888, one of the founding members, Jebediah Brown, seemingly betrayed the Arcanum to focus on his personal vendetta against vampires. As a reaction, the group went global, with Vannevar Hall as their hidden headquarter. New Chapters were opened in Vienna and Boston, with others following the British Empire and its expansion. Soon, all major nations in Europe were home to at least one Chapter House.
In 1910, the Boston Chapter House came under attack after it had infiltrated a blood cult that revered “Hecate”. When one of the infiltrators fled after “Hecate” was revealed to be a vampire, the cult learned of the location of the Chapter House and set fire to it, destroying numerous priceless tomes and the Arcanum's archives. In the wake of this attack, additional security measures were implanted for all Chapter Houses. The newly founded Chapter in Washington, D.C. became the new headquarter for the American Arcanum, while Holmscroft and the other founding members retreated further and further from leadership positions.
When World War I began, many Chapter Houses fell on opposing lines of the conflict, resulting in mistrust and much of the field work and shared research coming to a standstill. Even worse were the events of World War II, which resulted in the Berlin Chapter House falling under the control of the Nazis and their pet occultists, the Thule Gesellschaft. Many Arcanists depleted their stores and libraries into foreign Chapters or their own cellars to avoid their destruction.
In the aftermath of the conflict, colonies were introduced to avoid too large concentrations of knowledge at a single place. Most of these colonies were used as testing ground for the installation of new Chapter Houses.
With the advent of the millennial hysteria, some Arcanists began to argue that the passive approach of their organization to supernatural abuses is unethical. While not warriors themselves, they support others in their struggle. For example, the Las Vegas Chapter House cooperates with the police, alerting them to supernatural activity that is harmful. Others act as informants to the Society of Leopold or government officials. Similarly, Reverend Jebediah Brown, who has survived the centuries through his vast understanding of alchemy and the efforts of Crucible Genetics Amalgamated, still believes his ongoing theft of intelligence from Arcanum Chapter Houses goes unnoticed — but, in truth, he is but another tool in an intricate armchair war. Not even all of the Arcanum participants in these redirection efforts are aware of one another's work. No member risks more with these clandestine pursuits than Sandeep D'Souza, Chancellor of the New Delhi Chapter House, who is poised to assume the Arcanum's Grand Chancellorship. Yet, since finding himself amidst rioting Sabbat vampires in Frankfurt and witnessing their depredations up close, D'Souza is a changed man. He does not understand why he was spared, which further fanned his guilt and ultimately propelled the Arcanist onto his current course. D'Souza is uncomfortable with using people as pawns against the Kindred, but he now finds inaction to be unthinkable.
Positions in regard to other supernaturals
The Arcanum has learned that vampires do not like being the objects of investigation, a fact harshly emphasized by Cainites' torching of the group's Boston Chapter House in 1910. The resulting loss of life and destruction of irreplaceable books (the latter perhaps more than the former) left the Arcanum wary of delving into Kindred secrets. Nonetheless, vampires remained a focus for the group's curiosity — and for its collective guilt. Various members argued over the years that turning a blind eye to the activities of vampires was complicity in genocide. Because of the intense danger vampiric investigation might pose to the entire organization, such activity is grounds for dismissal. Thus, Arcanists engage in "siccing the witch-hunters” singly or in groups of two or three at most, and always with extreme care to preserve their anonymity. It was through analyzing accounts by Arcanists who were looking for other things entirely (including the Grail) that D'Souza and his ilk have been able to pinpoint many Kindred havens. Of course, some of their suppositions are based on where missing colleagues are thought to have vanished. With much of the world in a state of religious agitation, the Arcanum has found Kindred in greater numbers and of more varied ideologies than they had guessed existed. For some unknown reason, the Inner Circle of the Camarilla has barred the Kindred from interfering with the Arcanum.
Mages, on the other hand, have taken up an honest interest in the Arcanum. The Order of Hermes in particular sees the development of the Arcanum from one of the hermetic sects that they once had fostered as a sign that they are kindred spirits. Some mages even go so far to claim that the Arcanum itself is merely a front for the Order of Hermes, but the Hermetics know that this is not true. Instead, they wait for them to discover enough about the supernatural that they might present the world with irrefutable proofs of its existence, which would reinforce their paradigm in the Ascension War. The Arcanum itself knows of the existence of a medieval Order of Hermes, but believes that this institution died out centuries ago after magic began to disappear from the world. The Arcanum works to regather the lore of this “lost” Order, combining it with their knowledge of sorcery.
The Arcanum regularly deals with ghosts and spirits. Understanding of these entities is tied to the physical world, so few Arcanist know about the different Umbrae beyond the Gauntlet. Most deal with ghosts and spirits either when they are summoned and subdued or when they haunt a specific area. Demons are regarded as a classification of destructive spirits. The Arcanum has its share of demonologists, but watches these agents carefully for corruption. Demonolatry and Infernalism are crimes that result in expulsion.
With the appearance of the Imbued, the Arcanum has a new, fascinating supernatural phenomenon to study. While most Hunters appear to be normal humans, the fact that they can read Hunter Code, hear divine messages and can see through the falsehoods that supernaturals use to disguise themselves makes them points of interest. Some Arcanists have tried to establish contact, with mixed results.
The Arcanum studies Werewolves, Faeries, Bygones and Mummies more as a matter of hearsay. While vampires and mages often live amidst humanity, werewolves are rare creatures more often found in the wilds, while Faeries and Mummies are extraordinarily rare and difficult to locate.
The Arcanum values knowledge above all. They see the world occluded by shadows and see knowledge as the light to drive away that darkness and discover what is hidden. Driven by some of Holmscroft's darker predictions about a cataclysm of unknown sort, the Arcanum believes that knowledge of the supernatural will safeguard humanity's future.
Arcanists’ methods are neither particularly hightech nor absolutely conclusive, but they are expected to conduct themselves as respectably and scientifically as possible. Although they are sworn to keep the existence of their society secret, many have made a name for themselves working with local police as consultants on cult-related crimes. Some approach the news media as experts on the paranormal. Still others aid desperate psychiatrists trying to treat patients who claim to have paranormal afflictions. A rare few Arcanum scholars even offer to help private citizens who have no other recourse when the supernatural affects their daily lives.
Borrowing from the groups esoteric origin, the path of each Arcanist is referred to as the "Journey". Rituals mark the ascent within the group. These rituals are never written down, relying solely on oral tradition. Most of these rituals were installed by Holmscroft and bear a distinctively Eleusinian or Egyptian touch.
Members of the Arcanum have their own factions that vie for influence within the organization. The Seekers emphasize personal enlightenment and the quest for knowledge, while the Templars want to focus on combating those supernaturals they regard as evil. Progressivists, on the other hand, seek to open the Arcanum to the public and reform it into a more modern structure. Most Progressivists also support the hunters within their organization, disavowing the passivity of their organization.
The Syllabus is the code of conduct of the Arcanum. The Syllabus was often revised during the short existence of the organization, the most actual being the one from 1978.
- The Arcanum is an organization dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. We, the members of the Arcanum, seek our own enlightenment and the enlightenment of our Brothers and Sisters, and ultimately wish to aid in the enlightenment of all humanity.
- The Arcanum posits that there exists another world, one in which the supernatural and mythological world conjoins with our own, and that it is our duty to understand its secrets. We shall seek this knowledge in the places of mystery, through the pages of history, and in the lore of all people. As the Ancients understood, so, one day, shall we.
- The Arcanum believes that only through scholarship and learning can one separate fact from fiction, and can mere superstition be shorn from supernatural truth. Myths and folklore speak of higher truths, and it is through diligent study and investigation that these higher truths may be revealed.
- The Arcanum exists to learn, not to manipulate. We are objective observers, and not judges. The Arcanum does not evaluate the “morality” of the supernatural simply in light of the fact of its existence, nor does it take any action against the supernatural based upon any predetermined system of ethics.
- What the Arcanum studies and learns, it does so for its own benefit. The resources of the Arcanum are not to be shared with anyone outside the Arcanum, nor shall the precious knowledge earned by our studies be spread without the consent of the Executive Committee. When it is time, we shall teach others; for now, it is our duty to safeguard this knowledge, to protect it from a humanity that is not yet ready to receive it.
The Arcanum is still headquartered at Vannever Hall, Holmscroft's "ancestral estate" in England. In contrast to several other groups, the Arcanum is not a secret society. The public knows of it as a prestigious, if odd, global academic society. Peer-reviewed journals circulate in universities and accept publications from the uninitiated. Chapter Houses exist all over the world, each headed by a chancellor who reports to the Grand Chancellor of the Arcanum. Chapter Houses may also administer "colonies," collectives of researchers without the autonomy of a full Chapter House. A single group of Arcanum researchers is called a "lodge," and often consists of a group of Arcanists who came up together as Neophytes through the organization.
The Arcanum also includes a number of "colleges" which cross-cut the hierarchy of Chapter Houses, uniting scholars with a shared interest in a particular field of the occult. Known Colleges include topics like Thaumatology, Lycanthropic studies, Extraterrestrial studies, mytho-archaeology, Egyptology, Hermetic Studies, Shamanic Studies and Parapsychology. Each college is headed by a dean who convenes with other deans in a Senate that addresses the Executive Committee to discuss funding.
Members go through several levels of initiation, with those at the fringes of the organization called "associates". The only way of entering the society is through invitations, so these associates work to prove themselves useful. New initiates are called Neophytes, who after a period of training become Journeymen. Those Journeymen who take on the responsibility for shepherding Neophytes are given the rank of Elder Brother or Elder Sister.
The leaders of the Arcanum are, on paper, the Executive Committee, lead by the Grand Chancellor. There are rumours, however, of a secret cabal called the White Monks who are the true directors of the organization. They are said to be opposed by the Red Monks, though whether this other groups desires to reform or destroy the Arcanum is never clear. If these Monks even exist, they may be mages, vampires, Umbral lords, or merely very long-lived mortals as Holmscroft appears to have been. Winthrop Murray will neither confirm nor deny his involvement with the Red Monks.