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A Discourse On the Hermetic
Laboratory from Ars Arcanum,
| In one of my contributions to the Wizard's Grimoire, I
discussed the possibilities for improving a laboratory. In that work, I glossed
over the appearance, contents, and function of the basic laboratory, assuming
that it would be familiar to all magi of the Order. It seems, however, that
some magi and apprentices are interested in a more basic survey, concerned
purely with the standard laboratory, as designed by Bonisagus himself. In this
essay, therefore, I shall devote my attention thereto.
The contents of a standard laboratory can be divided into two sorts. There are the pieces of equipment which manipulate magical energies directly, and those which merely assist the magus in some of the mundane tasks associated with laboratory work. These mundane items are generally gathered first, and make work a lot easier. Indeed, it is, on the whole, possible to undertake any laboratory project with only those items, although it is far harder.
The first of the mundane items is a room secure against the elements, since a vagrant gust of wind or fall of rain could easily disrupt a project. Tables, shelves and cupboards are also needed, to store the equipment and to support the projects. A large range of containers of different sizes is also required, and most magi use pottery jars for this purpose, although some few use glass. Some air-tight containers are also needed, and these are generally fashioned of metal. Heating and cooling are often important, so laboratories generally have a couple of braziers of different sizes, and a double-walled box that can take ice, and thus provide a cold environment. Tongs, spoons, wire meshes, and trays complete the set of these most mundane things.
The other mundane items are measuring devices. A set of vessels marked for different volumes of fluids, normally in pottery, calibrated metal rules and callipers, and a balance with a set of weights are all essential items. An hour-glass, to measure the passage of time, is also required, as is an astrolabe, for measuring the positions of the stars. An orrery, which allows the positions of the stars to be noted when the stars themselves are not visible, is also useful.
These items normally cost around 8 shillings. It is possible to spend more, of course. Some magi have all their containers made of glass, since it makes it easier to see the contents, but this doubles the overall cost. Similarly, gold astrolabes decorated with gems and figures are found, but these are very expensive, and do the job no better. On the whole, the quality of the materials and workmanship of these items, so long as it is adequate, makes no difference to the functioning of the laboratory, although it may affect the appearance.
Enchanted items can also be substituted for some of the aids, and this may improve the laboratory. Items enchanted with Creo, Perdo, and Rego Ignem can replace the braziers and ice boxes to great profit, allowing much more precise control of heat. Similarly, Intellego devices can replace those made for measuring: Intellego Auram astrolabes will allow one to see through clouds and the day's glare and measure the stars, while an Intellego Terram weighing device will be able to report exact weights. Few magi bother to spend raw vis on improving their laboratories in this way, but it can certainly be very profitable.
This brings us to those items designed to interact directly with magical power. It takes rather longer to gather and make these items, but an essential part of the training in Magic Theory is training in their manufacture. Possession of craft skills may result in better looking, and possibly better functioning, items, but it is not necessary to their manufacture.
The first item is the porta vis. This is the item through which magical energy, whether from raw vis or from the magus' spell casting, can be fed into the system of laboratory devices, thus allowing it to be manipulated and analysed. The porta takes the form of a small funnel, made of pieces of glass and semi-precious stone held together with gold. The pattern of the gold and the panels allows of some variation, but the limits of that variation are obvious from basic principles of Hermetic Magic. Normally, a glass bowl that will fit snugly onto the porta is also made, to contain raw vis that is being fed into the system. It costs about 2 shillings, and takes only three weeks or thereabouts to make.
The second item, or rather set of items, is the itinera magiae. The itinera control the flow of magical energy in the laboratory, directing it to analysing items, or into magical creations. It consists of a large number of tubes, rods, plates, grills, and wires fashioned of glass, stone, semi-precious stones, different metals, woods, and animal bones. These items must be inscribed with certain symbols, in order to ensure that the magic flows correctly. A large set of stands and clamps for holding the itinera in place is also a common part of the apparatus, although some magi enchant an item to hold them by magical means. The components of the itinera are linked up into complex networks which vary for every project undertaken, and usually vary while a project is in progress. A complete itinera costs about 8 shillings, and takes about a season of work.
The two formati are the devices that focus the magical energies into the magus' projects. The formatus aritificii is used for enchanted items, while the formatus potionis is used for potions. The formatus artificii is a dome of glass and semiprecious stone, about eighteen inches in diameter, which contains many movable rods, panels, tubes, and meshes. It can be linked to the itinera at various points. It costs about 8 shillings, and takes about a season to make.
The formatus potionis is much smaller, a glass bowl about six inches across with a tight fitting lid. This lid contains a large number of rods and plates of various materials - glass, metal, wood, stone, bone - which can be lowered into the body of the bowl. It serves the purpose of focusing the magical energies into a potion. It costs about 4 shillings, and takes about six weeks to make.
The other items that deal with magical power directly are all devoted to analysing and displaying it. This is one of the most important functions of the laboratory, as the detailed awareness of the flow of magic is vital to any intelligent manipulation thereof. The most important of these items is the speculum magiae. This consists of a large sheet of rock crystal, about two feet across, set in a bronze frame which allows it to be easily tilted in any direction. The crystal contains very specific internal stresses and fractures, and allows the magus to see the ebb and flow of magic around the items under consideration. It costs about 6 shillings, and takes around nine weeks to make, because it is very difficult to get such a large piece of crystal set up just right.
The fluxio vis is, like the itinera, really a set of items. Normally, a dozen are made, and each item consists of a small wheel set on a vertical axle. On the edge of this wheel are three gold plates, each one shaped and pierced according to the requirements of magic theory. When placed around an experiment, they spin in ways that indicate the amount of magical power passing that point, and the way in which it is flowing. Each fluxio costs about sixpence, and the whole set takes about nine months to make.
The natura vis is the device that allows a magus to determine the nature of the magical energy in something. It consists of a glass sphere about six inches in diameter with an input point, for connection to the itinera, and fifteen arms, each about nine inches long and ending in a bulb. Each arm has some energy of one of the Arts woven into it during manufacture, and the designs on them reinforce this. The bulbs glow with an intensity depending on the relative strengths of the Arts in a surge of magical energy. It costs about 4 shillings, and takes about six weeks to make.
Finally, the pondus vis is the most simple of the measuring devices, and is used to measure the strength of the vis flowing through a point in the experiment. It is connected to a balance in use, and balanced with mundane weights. The pondus itself consists of six glass plates, each about one by two inches, fixed radiating out from a central line. The plates are filled with holes and designs, and linked together by small rods and plates of other materials. It costs about 2 shillings, and only takes about three weeks to make.
These items can be replaced with enchanted equivalents, which will do the job more effectively. It must be remembered that they have no intrinsic magical force: they serve merely as foci for the magic of the magus using the laboratory. Thus they are of no use to mortals, nor, indeed, to magi trained outside the Hermetic tradition, who would not know how to use them. Improving a laboratory involves the replacement of the materials and design of these items, and the introduction of additional items. However, Bonisagus only designed the basic materials, and so more advanced versions differ radically throughout the Order. This is especially true of those devices designed for specialised laboratories, or for experimental labs. Notwithstanding these differences, the account of laboratories given above holds true of most laboratories in the Order.
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