Entropy is the engine that drives the Universe, which exists in a constant balancing act of Cause and Effect. Once you cause something to be set in motion, it inevitably slides down the slope of entropy, into the unavoidable effect of that action. Magic works more directly with Entropy and begins with the desired effect and then alters the fabric of the Universe so the proper cause sets it in motion.
— fragment from unknown ancient text found in the Vault of Alexandria
Category: Book Excerpt
Command in ancient armies was a collective as much as an individual endeavour, because the primitive communications made it hard for one man to exercise control even over the relatively short distances involved. Indeed, command limitations seem to have been a major reason why large armies formed up in greater depth, rather than trying to coordinate operations across an unpractically long front. Pre-planning and delegation of authority to local subordinates were the norm, and some forces did not even have a single overall general. It was because command was so problematic that most ancient armies achieved so much less than the troops themselves were theoretically capable of, as inertia and confusion reduced movement rates and inhibited decisive attacks. This meant that asymmetries in command, which allowed one army to suffer less than its opponents from the restrictions involved, could have a major impact on fighting performance.
Perhaps paradoxically, given the difficulties for any single individual of maintaining real-time control of anything more than a small segment of the battle line, this was the golden age of ‘great captains’ like Alexander, Hannibal, Scipio and Caesar whose generalship was a very significant determinant of victory. The explanation seems to be that there were many other ways in which such individuals contributed to success besides their personal influence during the battle itself. Training and motivating their troops and building up capable subordinates in the months and years beforehand could significantly improve the quality of the army as a whole. Winning the intelligence contest could allow novel pre-planned deployments and manoeuvres precisely tailored to counter the enemy battle line, and seizing the initiative could panic or provoke the enemy into hurried reactions that left their army vulnerable and unprepared. The actual fighting was thus only the culmination of an overall process that stacked the odds heavily in favour of the better-commanded side.
It is a widespread spiritual belief that all humans were able to fly in primordial times, in illo tempore, before the fall from original grace, when the first people shared much in common with supernatural beings. In later times, only the spiritually gifted, such as wizards, yogis, witches, saints, and shamans, were believed to fly or levitate. Two ideas related to flight appear in religious thought around the world: first, that the human soul has the form of a bird, and second, that birds function as psychopomps, leading the souls of the dead into the next life. Associated with bird and soul imagery is a widespread notion that at death the human soul becomes discarnate, leaves the body, and flies like a bird. Flight, therefore, is a strong symbol of the soul’s autonomy, transcendence, and ultimate destiny after death. People capable of either physical flight or soul flight during their lifetimes are considered to have transcended the human condition and re-entered the original time; they enjoy supernatural privileges, denied most people until death. The shaman is revered, and sometimes feared, precisely on these terms: He or she has the power to leave our ordinary condition and pass the boundaries into the spirit world; to be able to fly and visit the land of the dead; and to enjoy the friendship of discarnate beings, the helping spirits.
…In fact, if there was one thing I thought they needed, it was more drill in full gear. A [modern] soldier in the field would probably be wearing body armor that weighed about twenty-five pounds. Plus a field pack and other equipment that could mean he’d be carrying sixty pounds. Throw in gloves and goggles, elbow and knee pads, and what you got was someone who had to move in completely different ways. Balance would be a problem. Nobody was going to do much kicking—it’s hard enough to carry that weight on two legs, never mind one.
I was reminded of one of the more obscure kata in judo—kojiki no kata. The moves are odd and stilted, very different from the other forms that judoka practice. But that’s because that particular kata rehearses movements that would be made in full armor. It’s a holdover from the days when the samurai in armor still stalked the battlefields, and a recognition that the mechanics of fighting can change technique considerably.
It may be that all this training is paying off. I went home that night uneasy: I felt some sort of psychic barometric shift taking place. It was not a good thing. The Japanese describe seme as the type of pressure and intimidation a master swordsman can force on a lesser opponent, without seeming to do anything. It’s unseen but nonetheless real. I had that sense of something pushing against me, probing my weaknesses.
— Sensei, chapter 10
…Armored men were often able to keep fighting, at least for a while, after receiving several minor wounds. Indeed, this was expected: both that fighters would be wounded and that they would continue to fight despite their injuries. One knight, whose own face was “so badly cut that it was disfigured almost all over” was “astonished,” when he met Sir James Douglas, to find that the latter’s face was not scarred. For a man-at-arms to emerge unscathed from combat could be viewed as a sign of laxness or worse: “I know full well that you are a coward: your coat of mail is neither pierced nor torn, and neither your head nor arms are wounded.” It is not unusual to read of a victorious force in which few or no men died but in which many were wounded.
…The close formations and the dominance of armored warriors in medieval fighting tended to result in relatively many wounds and few deaths for so long as the combat remained undecided. Once the balance tipped, the situation often changed rapidly and dramatically. Two quotations from the chronicler Jean Froissart nicely illustrate the point: “When once an army is broken, those that are defeated are so much frightened, that if one fall, three follow his example, and to these three ten, and to ten thirty; and also, should ten run away, they will be followed by a hundred”; “but in flight there is more danger than in the heat of the battle, for, when any one flies, a pursuit is made, and, if overtaken, he is slain.” When fighting face-to-face, a soldier strikes with some caution, needing to keep his guard up, but blows against a fugitive can be delivered with abandon, lose none of their force to an attempted parry, and are much more likely to be lethal even against an armored man. Even those who refuse to flee can be easily overwhelmed, with little danger to the lives of their opponents, once those around them have fled. The logical implication of this is that battlefield deaths were usually very lopsided, with the defeated suffering sometimes very severe losses and the victors losing only a few men killed. The testimony of eyewitness sources confirms that this was typically the result of medieval combats.
By the end of a battle, both captives and captors were likely to be wounded. Those who had taken prisoners could not benefit from their acquisitions unless both parties survived, which was more likely if they received some medical care. Basic knowledge of practical wound treatment was widespread among medieval soldiers and indeed among aristocratic women. Arrows and javelins that had not gone in too deep were usually pulled out (or pushed through) as quickly as possible, often by the injured person. Wounds were washed with vinegar or wine—effective antiseptics—to remove any possible source of infection (dirt, cloth, etc.), then covered with moistened lint, plasters, egg, or lard-based ointments, then bandaged, often with strips cut from a shirt. Sometimes herbal poultices would also be used. Later, the wounds would be washed and re-bandaged frequently, with any corrupted flesh being cut away. This was quite effective; in one sample of over 300 skulls dating from the sixth through the eighth centuries, only twelve percent of the wounds showed any evidence of infection.
Armies in the field were usually accompanied by physicians, surgeons, and barbers (who provided basic medical care). Great lords typically brought such men as part of their retinues, and infantry contingents often did the same. Medical personnel doubtless gave first priority to their own employers, but it was normally expected that wounded soldiers would eventually be tended by a physician if necessary: to say someone had been struck with such force that he would have no need of a doctor was to say that he had been killed outright. Despite the common belief to the contrary, western European surgeons of the Middle Ages seem to have been roughly on a par with their Islamic, Byzantine, and Jewish contemporaries. They could stop the bleeding of a cut artery with pressure and cauterization; they were skilled at treating broken skulls using trepanning; they could draw out barbed arrows using metal tubes or goose quills to cover the barbs; they knew how to splint smashed arms or legs. They could even suture intestines or severed jugular veins. They had analgesics and anesthetics made with opium, cannabis, and other less powerful substances….
Although Vikings did not shy from diplomacy, force was inevitable. Everything conditioned them toward achieving material goals, from religion to fame. Odin, their god of war, combined fierceness and heroism on the battlefield with cunning and treachery, and so it is no surprise that stratagems were a key part of Viking warfare. All hope for future renown was conditioned on what one did while alive; good deeds, unlike in Christian beliefs, were not a prerogative for salvation. The Viking lived in a world where chaos was the reverse side of order and where order could be imposed only by physical confrontation.
— Barbarians, Marauders, and Infidels, p. 143
Shortly after [the battle of] Sagrajas [in 1086 C.E.,] Rodrigo [Diaz, called El Cid] and [King Alfonso VI of Castile] were reconciled…. We do not know who took the initiative. What is fairly clear is that Rodrigo could make his own terms. The king was desperate, and was prepared—or could be brought—to pay Rodrigo handsomely for returning to his service. The author of the Historia Roderici tells us that
the king gave him the castle of Duáñez with its dependents, and the castle of Gormaz, and Ibia and Campóo and Eguña and Briviesca, and Langa which is in the western parts, together with all their territories and inhabitants.
He may have been quoting from a royal charter. The word ‘gave’ (dedit) is probably to be taken as meaning ‘entrusted the defence and/or administration of’ to Rodrigo. The king was not alienating chunks of territory but giving his vassal responsible and lucrative employment. Duáñez, Gormaz and Langa were important strong-points in the network of defences which guarded the Duero valley. Ibia, Campóo and Eguña were districts in the extreme north of Castile. Briviesca, to the north-east of Burgos, was contiguous to the Riojan territories of Count Garcia Ordóñez. This was not all. His biographer goes on thus:
Furthermore, King Alfonso gave him this concession and privilege in his kingdom, written and confirmed under seal, by which all the land or castles which he himself might acquire from the Saracens in the land of the Saracens should be absolutely his in full ownership, not only his but also his sons’ and daughters’ and all his descendants.
This remarkable concession has caused much perplexity to commentators…. [The author does] not see why the passage should not be accepted at its face value, as a summary of—possibly a quotation from—a royal charter granting to the Cid a very unusual gift. We should remember that the circumstances were unusual. Alfonso needed skilled commanders, and in the hard bargaining which was the essence of the lord-vassal relationship he held a weak hand. It was a vassal’s market. Rodrigo could call the tune.
One of the standard devices in the magical toolkit since early times, the magical sword is used to command, banish, and defeat spirits, especially in the practice of magical evocation. The Key of Solomon, the most famous of medieval grimoires, provides detailed instructions for preparing and consecrating no less than four magical swords, as well as a scimitar, a lance, a dagger, a poniard, and a collection of knives—the Solomonic magician entered the magical circle as heavily armed as a knight going to war…. Most other grimoires suggest a somewhat less topheavy collection of magical armament, but at least one sword was normally in evidence….
The use of the magical sword is at least partly a function of natural magic. Many occult traditions claim that iron, especially when sharpened, is inimical to many types of spiritual entity. The most common understandings of the etheric realm suggest that iron, like other conductive metals, can short-circuit etheric bodies that lack the protection of a physical form….
Because Homer’s subject is a siege five centuries old, his battlefield is full of military incongruities. He and his audience remembered, for instance, that the chieftains fought in chariots; but because men of the late eighth century [B.C.E.] had no idea how such warfare might have been conducted, Homer has his charioteers drop the heroes off on the battlefield where they dismount and then fight, often in close formation. The chariots, dimly recalled as essential equipage for aristocratic warfare, have little use in Homer beyond the aura of antiquity they lend to the proceedings. Once the heroes have dismounted, they appear to be much closer in technique and dress to the hoplite infantrymen of Homer’s own day, who wore heavy armor—helmet, shield, breastplate, greaves, sword, spear, and other bodily defenses that may have come to seventy pounds—fought in tight formation, and engaged the enemy at close quarters. They did not fling javelins from chariots as their ancestors had once done in a less populous world where warfare more closely resembled a game of chicken or a gang rumble than the massing of two trained armies on a field.
Where exactly does the power for your spell come from? Well, there are several possibilities, and rather than leaving it to chance, the spellcaster would do well to consider this question before operating and make a conscious decision. The first and easiest power source to access is you. You take subtle energy in all the time from the surrounding universe—it is called ki in japan, qi or chi in China, and prana in India, but the concept is the same. It is poor occult practice to use your own power reserves as a source, though. If you use your own reserves of energy you will feel drained and unwell at the end of the operation; effectively you have become a drained battery and will need to be recharged. In the long run, continued use of your own body’s energy for magick can lead to more serious conditions. Furthermore, it is a very limited source, and as a result not particularly effective.
The next source of energy to consider is elemental force, the neoplatonic system of earth, water, air, fire, and spirit. Depending on the spell, you may channel one or more of these forces, and they can be very effective. They are particularly useful for cleansing or blessing operations, which are often simple, localised events, and this gives a clue to their weakness, which is that these are pretty much “blind” forces. I feel that they are less effective where the spell is more complex, requiring an intelligent power source. Still, they are forces that every serious spellcaster should become familiar with and be competent in using.
Moving up the intelligence chain of possible sources of energy, we come to ancestors. But what do we mean by ancestors? Do we mean the other people on our family tree, now in spirit? Do we mean the people who lived where we do now? Or all the people bonded in some way by a common cause or set of beliefs? Actually, it is all these things….
Trial by combat was…a legal privilege, the privilege of oathworthy persons to refuse to submit to the ordinary process in a court. The duel over the point of honor was fundamentally different….
The two forms of noble combat certainly did bear some resemblances…. Trial by combat rested on two assumptions…: high-status persons were persons whose word had to be accepted as true, and they had the privilege of settling their disputes through violence. Dueling rested on the same two assumptions, at least to some extent. The starting point for a duel might well be some form of the insult “you lie.” Just as the honorable truthfulness of an oathworthy person was theoretically proved by victory in trial by combat, the honorable truthfulness of the challenger could be proved by a duel. In that sense the purpose of dueling, in its early history, was close to the purpose of trial by combat.
Yet at their core the two institutions were deeply different. Dueling, unlike trial by combat, was not a proof procedure, and it did not symbolize the lawful nonservile privilege of settling one’s disputes without going to court. Trial by combat was an alternative to ordinary trial, used by privileged oathworthy persons to resolve a legal question.… Dueling, by contrast, was purely a contest over the honorability of the duelists…, and apart from the possible criminal liability of the participants, it had no legal consequences whatsoever.
Though a highly effective weapon, especially as part of the mounted archer system, the composite bow did have limitations. The crossbow and the dismounted archer could outrange the horse archer. In addition, chain mail, shields, and even the padded undergarment, the gambesons, were effective protection from the horse-archer attack at some ranges. Thus, the composite bow was a weapon that a well-trained and well-led adversary could overcome. Still, its rate of fire, accuracy, power, and most important, the fact that it could be employed from a moving horse made the composite bow an important weapon until well after the arrival of gunpowder. Steppe archers from the Crimea employed the weapon with good effect well into the seventeenth century [C.E.].
For a thirteenth-century [C.E.] baron life indoors was always a poor substitute for outdoor activity. Despite the great fireplace and the screens blocking the draughts, the hall was frequently damp, dark, and cheerless during the long winter. The high cost of candles and the inefficiency of rush-lights drove most to bed soon after nightfall. Life in winter was only enjoyable when a crowd gathered for a great feast, or when a minstrel’s song, and the welcome warmth of the fire, added to the pleasure of supper on a cold evening. Under the prevailing harsh and uncomfortable conditions it is little wonder that the medieval poets, and even the sober chroniclers, sang the joys of spring with such lyric intensity. It gave them back light, warmth, and their freedom of movement.
Magic was accepted without exception by all strata of society, but its practice required considerable specialist magical knowledge; amateur dabbling with such powers was generally disastrous. In the official rhetoric of these times magic is a powerful but ambiguous quality, sometimes practised by specialists or charismatic individuals, and also by priests and rabbis drawing on religious lore. Magic is intimately bound up with religion for the Greeks and Romans, somewhat more removed for Jews. It is by turns valued, contested, debated and deemed dangerous; it is a variable quality but still central to social and cultural forces, as well as being a good diagnostic of them. Magic is as important for the historian in the present as it was for contemporary people millennia ago, and in order to understand it we must briefly sketch out broader cultural traditions and histories, many of which also provide the foundations of the world in which we live today.
The earlier Iron Age had seen the change that gave the period its name: the introduction of iron and the decline of bronze use. However, although bronze use declined at the end of the Bronze Age, iron did not immediately become common in many areas of north-west Europe. Only after around 400 BCE did the use of iron really take off, at which point bronze also started to become common again, together with items of gold and silver. Iron did not replace bronze, but repositioned it within a suite of materials that was available to Iron Age people. Not only were there changes in the metals used, but the styles of objects shifted dramatically: around 500 BCE a newly complex style of objects emerged that is often termed Celtic art, which was found between Ireland and western Russia, linking the whole of Europe in a common set of styles. Celtic art…like the Scythian art…derived from an animistic, indeed magical, engagement with the world.
Conventional martial training did not follow a common structure throughout [feudal] Japan; every clan had its own methodology and philosophy. Many clans had certain individual soldiers serve as group teachers, working with younger, newer troops. As a comparison the modern army, where new recruits learn from more experienced veterans on a fairly informal basis, is a similar system.
Some clans actually took the next step, establishing formal dōjō, or martial arts schools, to provide instruction to their men. Veterans of many campaigns, whose skill had been noted, would serve as instructors. This became their duty, and they lived to perfect their skills. They were more like drill instructors training recruits rather than modern teachers of martial arts. These sensei were teaching their charges how to kill and survive, not how to score points with flair and panache.
The philosophies that became a major part of martial arts as we now know them may have been in place, but only nominally. The subject of instruction was tricks and strategies to be used in defeating the enemy, not inner peace and self-control.
Another unusual martial art still practised in small numbers is armoured wrestling. Grappling with the enemy while in full gear is very different from conventional wrestling, and it needed practice. Related techniques included seizing and dismounting a rider while passing him.
All samurai had duties and were paid stipends, and from this they had to buy whatever of their equipment wasn’t issued and furnish their household (if they had one). The basis for the economy was rice, and a unit of rice that could feed a man for a year, called a koku, was the universal measure of wealth. Fiefs and estates were described in the terms of how many koku of rice they produced. One koku is 120 litres. The lowest samurai received a little less than a koku (assuming his meals were all on his lord’s estate’s books).
Middling lords, and castle commanders, might receive a stipend of several hundred koku, and with that he had to pay the samurai in his service, supply his garrison, feed his horses, pay his servants, etc. For convenience sake, hard cash was used to make payments, but ultimately it was a rice-based economy. Even the Takeda of Kai, who sat on the most valuable gold mines in the nation, needed rice to feed their soldiers.