Paradigm Basics: With magick based on sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll the Ecstatics must be the party Tradition. It's all about using the power of the buzz and the orgasm to summon up some major mojo, right? Hardly. Demonized by the puritan ethic of the West and thought of as immature cereniacs, the Cult of Ecstasy is so much more. "Reality" is only one way of seeing, and those that can look beyond can work miracles.
At the center of the Ecstatic paradigm is the Lakishim, the heartbeat of everything. By expanding consciousness and senses a Cultist can see the force for a timeless moment, experiencing the bliss called Ananda. When interfaced with the Lakishim the mage is briefly like unto a god, and can adjust reality accordingly. The teachings of the spheres, to a Cultist, is learning just how to influence the Lakishim to produce the desired effects.
Reaching Ananda is not an easy task, and involves removing the mind and perceptions from their boring, mundane method of interpreting the world. Methods towards this transition are many, and include the extreme pleasure of sex, drugs, endorphins, or adrenaline, the feeling of becoming washed away in the pull of music, or the extreme state brought on by powerful emotions. In these states, when the mind isn't exactly "sane" and is willing to accept other versions of what might be the truth, the experienced Cultist can look towards the Lakishim.
The Cult has a very limited role for the sorcerers that flock to its doors. Truly reaching Ananda and using this rush to manipulate the Lakishim seems to require an awakened Avatar. Or, conversely, the act of perceiving the Lakishim seems to invariably be a cause of Awakening. Hedge wizards of the Cult use mythic threads laid down by the cult, aping rituals of sex, drugs, and music, but are performing shadows of the true magick. Those Cult members who never reach Ananda and never Awaken are often kept on, and can even achieve great respect in the egalitarian Tradition, but will never truly be the equals of those for whom the tools are just a gateway and not the whole of the magick.
Paradigm Casting: Spontaneous effects typically take a while for a Cultist to produce. Typically, this time is directly related to how long it takes for the Kammarga (focus) to lead to a change in consciousness. Sex can require several minutes before orgasm, physical exercise can take quite a while to build up endorphins, and music generally takes at least into the middle of a song. Drugs and adrenaline can result in this state much faster, within a few seconds or minutes, but may have detrimental side effects involved.
However, a Cultist with one or more sensory effects active is halfway to Ananda already, having partially transcended mundane perceptions. An Ecstatic can work effects from any sphere for which she has sensory effects active in a reasonably short time frame, but still requires Kammarga to make some degree of a push into the Lakishim. Officially, Cultists learn nothing by rote, but each Ecstatic nevertheless eventually learns to create signature effects with less difficulty. These "rotes" allow effects to be pulled off quickly without penalty and with reduced need for Kammarga.
Ritual effects for a Cultist can take hours as the passions are cultivated slowly. They're generally a lot of fun, though.
Paradigm Benefits: Ecstatics, due to their reliance on sensory effects, have learned to overcome some of the difficulty inherent in maintaining multiple level 1 effects. Cult of Ecstasy mages only suffer half the penalty of other mages for having level 1 sensory effects active on themselves. This covers both penalties to Perception rolls and penalties to Arete rolls for multiple active effects. In addition, the first one's always free. The first sensory effect an Ecstatic activates has no penalizing effect on any of the mage's rolls. The character must still cast the effect as normal, requiring 1-2 successes for duration and 1-2 successes for effect. Most Ecstatics activate their senses as part of a standard ritual in the morning, and Storytellers may allow multiple rolls to be made in rapid succession should the need for 4 successes be making it too difficult for the Ecstatic to maintain these senses.
Another benefit of the paradigm is the coloration of resonance. Where other Tradition mages with resonance may feel "weird" to sleepers, Cultists are more likely to come off as "interesting." While this resonance may still serve as a penalty in social dealings with those that completely reject the Ecstatic paradigm, in most cases it counts as a benefit. Those with repressed urges, those on the fringe, and those who are looking for answers will find themselves drawn to the resonance of an Ecstatic, rather than unsettled by it. If the Ecstatic can get such a social situation into a position where her resonance adjectives apply then the points in that resonance are added as difficulty bonus for the situation. Ecstatics often find themselves as new age gurus without even trying.
Paradigm Limits: This attractiveness to the fringe can also serve as a detriment, however. While allowing the Cultist to draw choice friends, allies, and students the attraction is not so focused. Ecstatics who are active socially will find themselves also attracting individuals who are less useful to have around. Psychotics, fanatics, criminals, and just plain annoying people are as likely to be drawn to a particular Ecstatic's aura of interest as other, more acceptable friends. An Ecstatic makes lots of friends, but these friends have a tendency to be just as harmful as they are worthwhile.
The real problem with the Ecstatic paradigm, from a modern standpoint, is the fact that many Kammarga are dangerous and/or illegal. Profligate sex can result in STDs. Adrenaline and endorphins are released when the body is in danger or at the brink of exhaustion. Drugs can be addictive, frequently levy dice penalties for their effects, and are illegal in most areas. By pushing boundaries, the Ecstatic foci wind up being dangerous in many ways not present in the foci of other Traditions.
Finally, between the last two paragraphs there is a composite problem for many Ecstatics: they are much more easily affected by the powers that be. Hanging around with potentially dangerous and always noteworthy individuals will get almost every Ecstatic into the police and government databases eventually. That they frequently own illegal chemicals only adds to the criminal marks gained by being an active mage. As such, while other mages can make it very hard for enemies to use governmental influence against them, even an Arcane Cultist is prone to being easily harassed by the Man.