View Full Version : Original System What do we call psychic powers in the middle ages?

2017-06-16, 04:46 AM
I'm toying with my grungy medieval fantasy game again - think "Superheroes in 10-14th Century Pseudo-England" - and I'm wondering what I should call my magicky psychic powers.

(Obviously there's a great deal of superhero stuff out there, so please realise I'm just using the term as a short-hand - I'm thinking more like Batman and Captain America and Professor X, rather than Superman and Doctor Strange.)

I've got three broad classes with lots of customisation options: essentially Skillmonkey, Psychic, Fighter. Everyone gets superpowers appropriate to their class - Skillmonkey gets auto-success on skills, Fighter gets damage boosts and extra attacks... and the Psychic gets psychic-themed magicky stuff (telekinesis, object-reading, suggestion, etc).

Now, I may have based my magicky thing on psychic powers from modern era stories and Fortean Times and the like, but I'm concerned that the term "Psychic", or "Psionic" doesn't fit so well with a 14th century milieu.

Am I right? Is it jarring for such a setting? And given that I'm sticking to a psychic-style theme, what would be a better term?

Lvl 2 Expert
2017-06-16, 05:01 AM
The first thing that comes to mind is "witch", which is what normal medieval folk might identify them as. But that will just be confusing to the players. Maybe just make up a term? "I'm a skifter, I was a member of the skiftarian sect of Benzul, until I realized what they were doing in there."

Okay, maybe make up a good term.

Alternatively something with mind or brain or spirit in it. A mindreacher, a spiritbender?

2017-06-16, 05:16 AM
"Psychic" is just fine.

Seriously. It comes from Greek word "Psyche" for spirit or soul, and that word has been in use at least since 4th century BC (as it is also name of mythological figure).

"Spiritualist" means essentially the same thing, it just has Latin root instead of Greek. "Spirit" with its supernatural connotations has been in use at least since mid 13 century.

If you do a search on what these various words meant, you will find that nearly always they can be linked to some earlier word meaning "breath". As breathing was the sing that something is alive, breath was abstracted into that which makes something alive. In addition to Greek and Latin, this is seen in Finnish (Hengitys = breathing, Henki = spirit) and Chinese and Japanese (Qi/Ki = breath).

2017-06-16, 06:23 AM
The Mentalist (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mentalist)?

2017-06-16, 06:43 AM
As Frozen_Feet said, Psychic and Spiritualist are perfectly fine - at least in circles that know greek or latin. There should also be several vulgar names for those people. Are there physical indicators of the gift, such as glowing eyes, strange gestures, clothes or behaviour that set them apart from normal people? Those would be a good inspiration for nicknames in plain english. If the gift manifests along with physical indicators such as birthmarks, tattoos or even physical wounds that can be interpreted in a religious context you could use "Stigmatist" or "Stigmatic" ("One bearing a brand or mark"). Depending on the deeds and reputation of individuals there could also be individual classifications instead of a general one (e.g. "Cerwyn the Saint and Kendra the Witch" instead of "the Psychics Cerwyn and Kendra").

2017-06-16, 07:00 AM
The Mentalist (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mentalist)?

Not sure if you meant that seriously - but no thanks. In my part of the world, that's used as an insult for people who act erratically, crazily, and almost always in a negative manner.

2017-06-16, 08:32 AM
Occultist, depending on how the powers manifest, a demon-binder or pactmaster? For people in the medieval world, spirits, djinn, demons, ghosts and the devil were very real, and people believed that you could command these spirits and get them to do stuff. If the origins of psychic powers aren't all that well known, that's how people, and maybe even the psychics themselves, might explain them.

2017-06-16, 09:50 PM
Shaman gets the job done, if you substitute spirits for thoughts.

2017-06-17, 10:50 AM
"Mystic"? "contemplative"? "sophomancer"?

2017-06-17, 07:37 PM
Occult philosopher, Hermetic philosopher, astrologer
Depending on the details - anything that doesn't get them burned at the stake, or the other death of choice for heritics and pagans.

2017-06-18, 04:02 AM
These are all good suggestions, but perhaps I should have said - I'm looking for a generic term that can be applied to everyone who has such a power, rather than a term that is essentially a job description.

With that in mind, I'm going to go with "Psychic", and term the power "Psyche", and have some notes about how individuals might call themselves wizard, witch, miracleworker, mystic or whatever - and that showing your power to the ignorant public being a dangerous invitiation to the aggressively closed-minded. Witch-hunts and false accusations are the norm.

Liran Sterling
2017-06-18, 03:13 PM
You may also want to come up with some slurs that people call these psychics, other than just "Witch!" Something along the lines of "soul-thief," or "dirty-old-man-who-reads-minds."

2017-06-18, 04:00 PM
seer, clairvoyant,

if we don't limit ourselves to europe we open up the terms "fakir" and "yogi", which I think fit very well, especially for the two wisdom based classes from Complete Psionic

2017-08-04, 09:39 AM
You should call each one a different name. And you're really missing out if you don't call the skill monkey the Renaissance Man.

2017-08-04, 01:52 PM
"Mesmerist", "Esper", "Enlightened"/"Awakened", "Seer"/"has 'the Sight'" (sixth sense), "Blessed", "Three-eyed" (third eye is open), "fairy-touched"/"fey touched"/"kissed by the fairies", "Touched", "Hermeticist"... even "Magus" ('wise man'), "Dervish", "Brahmin", "Clairvoyant".

Psyche was an ancient goddess -other mind-themed deities include Hypnos, Metis, Mnemosyne, Morpheus, Somnos, Ptah, Thoth, Prometheus ("Promethean"), Athena/Minerva, the Oneiroi, and many others...