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. The Arcanum was founded in 1885 by Benjamen Holmscroft, a former member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. For some unknown reason, the Inner Circle of the Camarilla has barred the Kindred from interfering with the Arcanum.
This secret society’s members are among the foremost mortal pursuers of supernatural knowledge in Classic World of Darkness. They are scholars, librarians, and archaeologists; epopts, Hermetics, and herbalists; Kabbalists, cryptographers, and students of the occult. Since the Victorian era, the Arcanum’s academics and explorers have ventured into the world’s oddest, most remote corners to learn everything they can about the unseen and the unknown.
Long ago, these mortals learned that the unseen and the unknown sometimes have very sharp teeth and most unsavory appetites. Arcanists also 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.
Lately, unbeknownst to most of their fellows, several Arcanists have taken action in this area. None of the organization’s members qualify as fools, however, and few consider themselves warriors, so “action” in this context means the judicious synthesis and redirection of information. Therefore, several strikes by the Inquisition (which Arcanists also learned about long ago) against Kindred lairs had their secret origins in the Arcanum’s archives. Similarly, the Reverend Jebediah Brown, an independent witch-hunter and former Arcanist, 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. 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. 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 doesn’t 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.
Most of the organization’s seekers of mysteries continue to encounter vampires unexpectedly, as mortals always have. 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. This fact makes the Chancellor’s abstinence ever more difficult to maintain — though he has gone so far as to “suggest” that discreet Arcanum fellows of immediate means test their own boundaries. D’Souza wishes to gauge their success in these clandestine endeavors, and has no idea how close his own secret machinations are to those of the feared and hated vampires he observes.
The Arcanum is still headquartered at Vannever Hall, Holmscroft's "ancestral estate" in England. 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.
Members go through several levels of initiation, with those at the fringes of the organization called "associaties." 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 rumors, 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.
- Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition, p. 375-376