Michael Scott (or Scot), also known as Aqua Ardens ("burning water") and The Wizard of Balwearie was a Scottish scholar, priest, mathematician, alchemist and occultist who lived from 1175 to (possibly 1232)1, leaving a great trail of legends behind him.
Born in the family seat of Balwearie Castle, Michael seemed set for a sucessful academic and therefore (in that era) religious career. Educated first at Durham Cathedral and then the universities of Oxford and Paris he distinguished himself in philosophy, mathematics, astrology (then a perfectly respectable science and a normal part of medicine) and theology. At some point in his studies (and as was normal for a medieval academic) he took holy orders and was ordained as a Roman Priest. He excelled at this too and in 1223 was nominated as archbishop of Cashel in Ireland at the recommendation of the Pope himself. In 1227 he was even offered the Archepiscopate of Canterbury.
For some reason Scott turned these positions down and instead took to wandering Italy2, sometimes working as a priest and at other times in universities such as Palermo and Bologna. Thereafter he moved to the University of Toledo in Spain, which was then a centre of applied astrology and other occult studies. During his life he wrote or translated a variety of scholarly tracts on his various fields of study and his nickname of "aqua ardens" leads some to consider that he may have been (amongst) the first to introduce alcohol distillation to Scotland and therefore been the progenitor of the Scotch Whiskey industry.
Such are the known facts. The legends are even more impressive.
At some stage Scott is said to have experimented with a ill-thought of cave near his home in Balwearie which was said to release blasts of vapour from heaven or hell which could grant a man great power or strike him dead. He was also said to consort extensively with the powers of Hell, including forcing a demon to build a road for him (and then binding it to spin him a rope out of sand when he couldn't get rid of it afterwards), sending his demonic servants to steal cooked food from the royal kitchens of Europe and intimidating the King of France with a demonic horse whose stamping hooves brought down the towers of his palace. Not all such adventures went well however - one legend tells of an angry demon pursuing Michael across the countryside so that he only escaped by creating a deep wooded valley behind himself with magic.
According to legend, Scott's occult powers allowed him to forsee the manner of his death down to the mass of the stone that would strike his head and kill him. Thereafter he wore a protective hat at all times - except in church, where no man would wear a hat. It is said that during a church service a small stone fell from the church roof and struck his bare head, killing him … and when the stone was taken up and weighed, the mass was exactly that which he had forseen.
He was buried amidst a dreadful storm at nearby Melrose Abbey with his "Book of Might" at his side but his legend lived on after him, such that he warrented a name-check in Dante's Inferno amongst the wizards and fortune tellers.
Game and Story Use
- As illustrated above, being an occultist and a churchman have not always been mutually exclusive…
- Double values dissonance for the idea of what is essentially "occult studies" being openly taught in a university.
- Although the idea of a man who openly consorted with demons becoming head of "the Church" in England is somewhat alarming.
- Even in consecrated ground, this man is a good candidate for transformation into a worm that walks.
- Some or all of his demonic allies might still be hanging about Balwearie - such as the horse, or a shrivelled, worn out demon still trying to make a rope out of sand.
- …who could well be grateful if a PC can figure out a way to do it. Of course, a demon's gratitude might not necessarily be a good thing…
- …and the cave is probably still there as well. Are you prepared to risk it?
- A good NPC for PCs to meet in the right era.