The Circle of Magi is the dominant organization for the training of mages within Ferelden and other nations of Thedas. They are governed and monitored by the Chantry. The Circle is allowed to take any child (usually age 6 to 12) from their families as soon as they show signs of magical ability. Even a royal child would be taken by the Circle should they show magical ability. The Circle then raises the child until they are a young adult and forces them to undergo the Harrowing.
The Circles, as Circle fortresses are called, tend to be located in remote and difficult to reach areas, but the Formari have outposts in major cities for the purpose of trade. The Circle's base of operations in Ferelden is Kinloch Hold. The College of Enchanters in the city of Cumberland is the Circle's headquarters, as that's where Enchanters gather to determine Circle policy.
The Circle maintains a neutrality policy, since the Chantry might take action against them if they got into the habit of getting involved into conflicts, the single exception being perhaps during a Blight. Nonetheless, it isn't that unusual to see at least one mage or two serving either side during a conflict and the Circle ignoring these, either as a courtesy or as a way of not creating too much enmity against the Circle on either side.
Each Circle follows a simple five-tier hierarchy where all residents fit; although the Tranquil seem to stand somewhat outside this progression.
- The first enchanter, leader of the Circle
- The senior enchanters, a small council of the most experienced mages
- The enchanters, those mages who participate in teaching
- The mages, all residents who have passed their Harrowing
- The apprentices, all students training for their Harrowing
The mages of the Circle are also divided into several fraternities, the equivalent of political parties, which hold diverse views of how mages should act and their place in society. The prominent fraternities are featured below.
Loyalists seek to strengthen the ties between mages and the Chantry and seek a closer 'cooperation' between the two. They often come into conflict with the Libertarians on this matter.
Libertarians seek to aquire more independence for the Circle by weakening the control that the Chantry currently has on Magic; some Libertarians even wish to break away completly from the Chantry's supervision. They often come into conflict with the Loyalists on this matter.
Aequitarians seek not to go to extremes in any matter concerning magic. Although there is some disagreement among them of where the perfect 'balance' lies, all aequitarians are pragmatists at heart, and are often called to broker compromise between the Libertarians and the Loyalists.
Lucrosians think that every affair of mages should be aimed at acquiring wealth and power by any means necessary.
Isolationists are of the opinion that mages are not fit to live a 'normal' life, with other mages or among ordinary people. Instead, they should seek to live alone as hermits out in the wilds, far from civilization, where they can cause no harm to other people.
The Harrowing is a sacred and secret rite of passage that the Circle administers, without warning, to adult apprentice mages. To determine the worth of a mage, their mind travels into the Fade and attempts to resist demons, while their body remains in the Circle Tower. Mages do not gain additional powers from fighting a demon in the Fade. Yet, it does prove to the Circle and the Chantry that they are strong enough to fight off the demons that mages attract.
When a mage fails this test, they undergo a physical transformation and are killed by the templars who watch over them. If the Circle fears a mage will fail the Harrowing they are made Tranquil.
Those mages who are too weak of will to resist demonic possession or appear to be dangerous are forced to go through the Rite of Tranquility, which (involving the use of a magical brand made of lyrium) cuts off a mage's connection to the Fade – they can no longer dream. As a side effect, their emotional center is utterly removed. One or both of these things make it so that demons can no longer possess them (it's not certain which). In the mind of one of the Tranquil, there is no passion. They keep to themselves, and, if asked directly, will readily agree that having the opportunity to live out a peaceful and useful existence is far preferable when compared to what their alternatives would have been.
If the Circle of Magi finds a mage too weak of will to survive the threat of demonic possession, making them Tranquil is considered an act of kindness. A large number of the mages who go through the Rite have never even shown a desire to be a mage in the first place, and once made into one of the Tranquil, they are completely immune to any of the mortal dangers they would have once had to face.
The Tranquil use lyrium to enchant items, providing the Circle its main source of funding. They have no innate resistance to its effects, but they possess a level of concentration far beyond a normal person's and thus are less likely to make a mistake while handling it.
Mages who are not part of the Circle of Magi are considered apostates and are hunted and killed by the Order of Templars. Mages who escape from the Circle are also considered apostates and either killed or brought back to the Circle by templars.