Like the Kindred, the Mages have undergone a political upheaval after the Second World War. Like the Uratha, (and unlike the Kindred), their social structure is fairly decentralized, with no one faction in a dominant position.
Being half-way between the Kindred and the Uratha is a familiar position for the Mages. Whilst there's no real trust between the "Big Three" supernatural factions, it's probably true that the Uratha and the Kindred trust the Mages to a greater extent that they trust each other. Which, ironically, allowed the Mages to increase their own power at the expense of both, for a very long time.
Not that the Mages saw it that way, exactly. Although they were proud to claim descent from the rulers of ancient Atlantis, their social and political philosophies in the centuries following the Great Fire were shaped more by the Age of Enlightenment than legends of a prehistoric past. In their own minds, the more hubristic of the Mages saw themselves as somewhere between America's Founding Fathers and Plato's Philosopher-Kings. They were an educated elite, offering benevolent guidance born of superior wisdom not just to mortals, but the other supernatural factions as well.
The other supernatural factions would of course have been happy to describe, in anatomically precise detail, exactly where the Mages could shove their benevolent guidance and superior wisdom, and even the most elitist of the Mages were sufficiently educated to realize that. So they kept their "little suggestions" subtle and low-key. But however subtly they were made, those suggestions were listened to and followed more often than not.
The Nameless War at the end of the nineteenth century did surprisingly little to shatter the Mages' complacency. They could, after all, console themselves that the new Free Council believed in the same ends as the Consilium's leaders - the elevation of humanity - differing merely on means. The Great War of 1914-18 was another matter entirely. The slaughter in the trenches shook the Mages' world-view to its foundations, on many different levels. The leaders of the Consilium, Victorian gentlemen and gentlewomen to the core, had been driven by an ideal of a utopian society, resting on the triple pillars of Science, Reason and Progress, secretly guided and protected by Awakened visionaries.
The Tory historian Alan Clark memorably described the soldiers of the First World War as "lions led by donkeys". The callousness and ineptitude the the Generals cracked the edifice of Victorian social hierarchy, discrediting the whole concept of rule by an elite. The industrial, technological nature of the slaughter demonstrated that Science and Reason didn't always lead to Progress. Worst of all (at least to the rulers of London's Consilium), the war showed them to be irrelevant. They couldn't prevent the war; they couldn't stop the carnage once it had started; their efforts to alleviate its effect amounted to little more than tinkering on the fringes. The great masses of normal humanity were beyond their vaunted guidance and protection.
About the only thing that stopped support for the Consilium's leadership from hemorrhaging was that one of the Free Council's core beliefs - the greatness and potential of the human spirit - had been equally damaged by all the horror and death. Through the inter-war years, the Consilium was divided on the lessons of the Great War - did the failure lie with an outmoded, callous, incompetent and unaccountable leadership, showing a need for greater freedom and democracy (the Free Council position), or did it prove that the Sleepers were incapable of governing themselves without stumbling into tragedy, and needed wiser heads to rule them (the Silver Ladder's conclusion).
At first, the outbreak of the Second World War seemed to prove the Silver Ladder's point - Sleepers couldn't be trusted to rule their own lives. Ultimately, however, it was the Free Council's arguments that were vindicated by this new conflict. Hitler's regime was not, to put it mildly, an advertisement for the virtues of rule by an unaccountable few, while the famous London "Blitz spirit", and the tremendous upsurge of hope and optimism following the war's end, proved that ordinary men and women needed no magical help to dream of a better world or strive to build it.
Somewhat ironically, considering its arguments over the value of democracy for Sleepers, the London Consilium had always had a strongly democratic element, with membership conferred by the majority support of the city's cabals. The Free Council's takeover of the Consilium wasn't a single, decisive coup of the kind mounted by the Carthians against the Invictus. Instead, it was a slow erosion of support for the Silver Ladder / Adamantine Arrow alliance which had dominated it for so long. In 1948, the first Free Council Hierarch took his seat; by 1950, the Free Council, though still a minority, were the largest single faction in the city, with two Councillors beside the Hierarch belonging to their Order, and a third (a Mysterium Mage), tending to vote with them on most issues. London is now, if not Free Council-dominated, at least Free Council led.
Until recently, the Mages maintained only two Temple representatives, fewer than either of the other supernatural factions. This was a throwback to the days when they were the dominant supernatural faction and the others tended to follow their lead. In February 2008, the Silver Ladder finally got agreement for the number to be increased to five, one from each of the Orders of the Pentacle. The old titles - Herald to the Kindred and Herald to the Uratha - were retained for the existing Heralds, with the new members simply knows as "Heralds to the Temple". By tradition, the Herald to the Kindred is always a Moros and the Herald to the Uratha a Thyrsus, to make them more comfortable dealing with their respective areas of responsibility. The new Heralds will be allowed to come from any Path.
For centuries, the Adamantine Arrow was one half of London's Consilium leadership. Like gardeners, the Silver Ladder worked to make sure that mortal society would flower and bloom. The Arrow's job was to uproot any weeds which might have choked off that growth. That covered a lot of ground, of course. Some Arrows hunted the Seers of the Throne. Some kept watch for Intruders, or Banishers. Some kept Kindred predation in check through the Temple - and when that failed, though more direct measures, although in those cases, they were extremely careful to make sure that the Kindred members of the Temple didn't hear about it. And some policed the Mage community itself.
None of those functions suddenly stopped being necessary when the Free Council displaced the Silver Ladder as the Consilium's leaders, which might explain why the Arrow suffered less of a loss of influence from the takeover than the Ladder did. In fact, the Order has actually expanded over the last couple of decades, although its character has changed significantly. In its glory days, when Victoria was on the throne, it contained so many current or former military officers that its informal nickname was "The Officers Club". The Great War thoroughly discredited the old military officer class, and the Arrow slowly began to expand its recruitment base from the 1920s onwards. The process accelerated in the 1980s as the last of the old guard died off. These days, Mages with military backgrounds are still welcome, but so are police officers, firemen, paramedics, instructors in dangerous sports like mountain-climbing or scuba-diving, and even social workers (particularly those who've had to deal with the sharp end of inner-city deprivation). Despite the muttering of a few old dinosaurs, the change is widely seen - both inside and outside the Order - to have helped the Arrow maintain its position of respect in the Consilium.
The Free Council has managed - by the narrowest of margins - to pull off the difficult trick of combining broad diversity with an absence of serious internal divisions. They all agree on the destination - a democratic Utopia and an enlightened, magically aware mortal populace - and while their ideas of how to get there might differ, those ideas tend to complement each other rather than compete with each other. The result is an Order that's politically dominant in the Consilium, vibrant in its intellectual life, and invigorated by a steady infux of eager young Mages who are drawn to it as a result.
In short, the Free Council has nowhere to go but down.
The Techno-Wizards, or Techies, see technology as the key to building a better world. Look at the evidence, they say - look at the explosive speed at which both quality and quantity of life has improved since the ninteenth century, after centuries of social and scientific stagnation. Focus on the technology, and the rest will take care of itself.
No it won't, retort the Bloggers, the newest faction of the Council. Science and technology have created nukes and global warning as well as antibiotics and cell phones. The way to curb those excesses is through mass democracy, in harnessing the tremendous potential of the internet to express and project the popular will.
The popular will, reply the Parliamentarians, the single largest faction of the Free Council, is all very well when you want to push good causes, like AIDS relief for Africa, up the media agenda. But fashionable causes and petitions and popular fads are not going to arrange for anyone to collect the trash or fix the street lights. Strong, stable societies need governments, not cultural zeitgeists. The Internet is an exciting tool for expanding democratic participation, but ultimately, it can't replace traditional electoral politics - and if the Free Council are going to nudge the Sleepers into creating a better world, it should be concentrating its attention on keeping those politics dynamic and competitive and corruption-free.
The Guardians of the Veil used to be like sewer repairmen. The job they did was certainly seen as necessary, but nobody liked thinking about it too much - or being around the people who did it.
That started to change in the 1960s. A few of the younger and more irreverent Guardians joke that James Bond is an honorary member of their Order. Although flippant, that quip does contain a kernel of truth. Mages, for all their lofty pretensions to the contrary, are usually as affected by prevaling cultural trends as anyone else. The paranoia of the Cold War helped to make spies and secret agents seem respectable - or at the least, necessary - while James Bond, the Avengers, and the Man from UNCLE made them seem cool and sexy. While the Guardians were still frequently the targets of scorn or even hate, they slowly found it easier to show their faces in polite society. That, in turn, allowed them to garner more recruits and play a more open role in the Consilium's politics.
Since the late 1990s, Mage society has found an increasing number of reasons to value the Guardians. CCTV, the internet, wiretapping, identity theft, phishing... more and more Sleepers are finding more and more ways to find out things that they shouldn't. A fair number of Mages are becoming a little paranoid, and turning to the Guardians as their best defense against these new threats. As more and more willworkers voluntarily turn to them for advice and help, the Guardians are becoming increasingly aggressive in pushing their list of do's and don'ts to the Consilium as a whole.
The Mysterium rises above the politics of the Consilium with a lofty indifference born of its focus on the search for higher truths.
Well... that's what they claim, anyway. Actually, they still need access to Hallows, or grimoires that aren't already in their extensive collections, or even (whisper it softly), money. It's just that their scholarly expertise is enough in demand that they can afford to negotiate from a position of strength, and couch any deals they make in terms of "compensation" for being "distracted" from more important work.
The Mysterium is probably the oldest Order active in London tonight. Their earliest legible records (that any other Mage has seen), go back to about 863 AD, but those records include transcriptions of considerably older documents, which record the Order's activities in the ancient Roman city of Londinium. Its primary Athenaeum in the city dates, at least in part, to medieval times - an extensive complex of underground chambers which is part vaulted medieval stonework, and part antiseptic tiled corridors which the few ousiders who've seen it say are strangely reminiscent of the London Underground. A few parts look even older - perhaps even ancient Roman in origin - but the Mysterium aren't saying. Only the highest-ranking members of the Order know its physical location - all access to it is via Portal spells, and it has formidable defenses against any form of scrying.
Politically, the Mysterium could be described as "ostentatiously neutral". It does have two menbers on the Consilium's ruling council, but they carefully steer clear of controversy wherever possible.
In truth, the Mysterium doesn't have a lot of sympathy for the Free Council's liberal notions - power should be held by those with the intelligence and education to use it wisely, not the ignorant masses - but it doesn't push the point, on the tacit understanding that the Free Council, for its part, steers clear of loaded phrases like "full disclosure", or the dreaded "information wants to be free".
In 2008, the Silver Ladder was in the middle of a painful process of reinvention. The majority of the Order were uncomfortably aware that they'd failed to live up to their own ideals. It was all very well to believe in the elevation of humanity through the rule of an enlightened elite, but since their fall from power following the Second World War, they'd been taking a hard look in the mirror and wondering whether they did enough to merit the terms "enlightened" or "elite".
A New Guard, with a social conscience and a keen awareness of the dangers of hubris, was slowly rebuilding the Order's reputation. They tested themselves constantly, working as schoolteachers in the most deprived inner-city schools, detectives hunting major organised crime bosses, and organisers of protest movements against polluting industries. They were still leaders, but in leadership roles that had a redeeming social value - and a humility-inspiring awareness of the challenges that ordinary Sleepers face and overcome without the help of magical silver bullets.
Then came the Dumas Revolt, when the Consilium discovered that the Silver Ladder had spent centuries harboring a secret conspiracy that used an Abyssal horror as a murder weapons. Worse still, the Order's representative on the Consilium Council was exposed as an agent of the Seers of the Throne. The political damage to the Silver Ladder was immense. Their influence in the Consilium has shrunk radically; there is no longer any Silver Ladder representation on the Council, and precious little at the next few levels of authority. For now, the Ladder has almost given up its political ambitions in the Consilium, focusing almost exclusively on making small, incremental improvements to mortal society.
London's Mages recognize the usual five ranks of advancement - Initiate, Apprentice, Disciple, Adept, and Master - but informally, they also use their own nomenclature, derived from London's medieval Craft Guilds. Initiates and Apprentices are both known (confusingly), as Apprentices, while Disciples and Adepts are referred to as Journeymen. Masters, of course, are still called Masters.