Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Posts Tagged ‘book excerpts’


Lower-Order Spirits and the Ancestral Dead

In the underworld dwelt the spirits of the dead, who could affect the living, along with a range of other devils, potentially troublesome. Gods were treated respectfully at all times, but lower-order spirits and the ancestral dead could be cajoled, mistreated and forced into acts through binding oaths or attacks on their effigies…. Spoken or written spells produced powerful effects.

Chris Gosden, Magic: a History, p. 83

The Magic of the Past is Reworked For Each Age

The Lady of the Lake drew out Excalibur and placed it in Arthur’s hand. The past is a lake from which we draw resources, which come to exist as part of our present. But things have power not just because they derive from a past, but mainly because they can help with contemporary problems, whether these are to do with identity, our connection to the cosmos or more everyday, practical issues. The magic of the past is reworked for each age, and dies only when it has no present use.

Chris Gosden, Magic: A History, pp. 237-38

To Shed Human Blood and Think Nothing of It

The rise of knighthood did not produce a submissive, nonviolent peasantry in [Medieval] Europe. Habits of bloodshed were deep-seated, perennially fed by the fact that Europeans raised both pigs and cattle in considerable numbers but had to slaughter all but a small breeding stock each autumn for lack of sufficient winter fodder. Other agricultural regimes, e.g., among the rice-growing farmers of China and India, did not involve annual slaughter of large animals. By contrast, Europeans living north of the Alps learned to take such bloodshed as a normal part of the routine of the year. This may have had a good deal to do with their remarkable readiness to shed human blood and think nothing of it.

William H. McNeill, The Pursuit of Power, p. 64

An Art of War Was Needed

[By the thirteenth century C.E.,] crossbows and pikes had to be supplemented by cavalry for flank protection and the pursuit of a vanquished foe. This obviously made war far more complicated than it had been when a headlong charge by a group of knights dominated the battlefields of Europe. Simple personal prowess, replicated within knightly families across the generations, was no longer enough to win battles or maintain social dominion. Instead, an art of war was needed. Someone had to be able to coordinate pikes, crossbows, and cavalry. Infantrymen needed training to assure steadiness in the ranks, for, were their formation to break apart, individual pikemen would find themselves at the mercy of charging knights; and the time required to cock a crossbow meant that archers, too, became vulnerable each time they discharged their weapons, unless some field fortification or an unbroken array of friendly pikes could protect them until they were ready to shoot again.

William H. McNeill, The Pursuit of Power, p. 68

Zakal the Terrible

Zakal spent the first half of the night coughing up green-black blood and listening to the wind hurl sand against the side of the mountain fortress. The cavernous chamber was windowless and dark, save for the feeble light emanating from the initiates’ room, but Zakal had seen enough sandstorms to picture this one clearly in his mind’s eye: a huge, vibrating column of red sand that blotted out the sky until nothing remained but moving desert. Any creatures foolish enough to venture unprotected into the storm would be found the next day, mummies leached of all moisture, their skin crackling like parchment at the slightest touch.

Around the middle of the night, the stains on his handcloth changed from dark green to bright, the color of a d’mallu vine after a rare spell of rain. Shortly thereafter, the healer left him, a sign that there was nothing more to be done, no more easing of pain possible; a sign that he would be dead before sunrise. The relief on her drawn face was all too evident. She was not of the Kolinahru, and had attended her charge with a mixture of loathing and terror. For this was Zakal the Terrible, the greatest of the Kolinahr masters, with a mind so powerful he had twice used it to melt the skin of his enemies into puddles at his feet.

He said nothing to stop the healer from going, merely closed his eyes and smiled wanly. It was fitting to lie here and listen to the roar of the storm on the last night of his life. Eight hundred and eighty-seven seasons ago, he had been born in a storm like this one, and so his mother had named him Zakal: the Fury, the Desert Storm.

He was drowsing off when an image jolted him awake. Khoteth, lean and young and strong, furling himself in his black traveling cloak, his expression severe, brows weighed down by the heaviness of what he was about to do. Khoteth was crossing the desert, Khoteth was coming for him. Zakal knew this with unquestionable surety, in spite of the three initiates in the next room who stood guard, not over his aged, dying body, but over a far more dangerous weapon: his mind. Even their combined efforts to shield the truth from him could not completely sever his link to the man he had raised as his own son. Khoteth had sensed his master’s impending death, and would be here well before dawn.

The new High Master was risking his life by crossing the desert in a sandstorm…and oh, how Zakal listened to the wind and willed for Khoteth to be swallowed up by it! He tried in vain to summon up the old powers, but fever and the continual mental oppression caused by the initiates made it impossible. Zakal contented himself with cheering on the storm as if he had conjured it himself. Even so, he knew that Khoteth would complete his journey successfully.

So it was that, a few hours later when Khoteth’s soft words drew Zakal from a feverish reverie, they brought with them no surprise.

“Master? I have come.”

Outside, the wind had eased, but still moaned softly. Zakal kept his face toward the black stone wall and did not trouble to raise his head. The sound of his former student’s voice evoked within him a curious mixture of fondness and bitter hatred.

“Go away.” He meant to thunder it with authority, but what emerged was weak and quavering, the ineffectual wheezing of an old man. He felt shame. Could this be the voice of the Ruler of ShanaiKahr, the most powerful and feared mind-lord of all Vulcan? He had known more of the secrets of power than the rest of the Kolinahru put together, but fool that he was, he had entrusted too many of them to the man who stood before him now. He turned his head—slowly, for any movement made him dizzy and liable to start coughing again—and opened fever-pained eyes to the sight of the one he had loved as a son, had chosen as his successor, and now despised as his mortal enemy….

J.M. Dillard, Star Trek: The Lost Years, Prologue

Achieving Life After Death

The Maya believed that there really is continued existence beyond the grave. They also knew what the earliest Christians once knew as well—that “many are called, but few are chosen.” The only important question for the ancient Maya, as for the most insightful in all religions, was, “What do I need to do to be ‘chosen’?” As we’ve seen, for the Maya shamans, the answer to this question was: Embrace death from a condition of intensified Being.

Douglas Gillette, The Shaman’s Secret, pp. 194-95

Emphasis mine.

Shamanism in Ancient Maya Life

Shamanism—the powerful psychological and spiritual process for re-creating the cosmos and turning death into life in all the dimensions of Reality—was the driving force behind every aspect of ancient Maya life. It always required that the shaman-creator sacrifice himself or herself, allow himself or herself to be struck by the terrible lightning of the gods, descend into the Abyss, and die in the Black Hole at its center. Death in its many forms—emotional, spiritual, and physical—was the price all creative individuals paid to become “Lords of Life.”

Douglas Gillette, The Shaman’s Secret, p. 117

A Ruthless Model

“The selection of a primary disciple is not an easy thing. It is often marked by blood.”

Yamashita looked at me significantly. The founder of his style, Ittosai, dealt with this issue centuries ago and had left his successors through the generations a ruthless model. The master, blessed with two remarkable students of apparently equal skill, had brought them together. He had placed the scrolls of the style and the document of succession on the ground, along with a ceremonial sword. Then he had calmly informed the two disciples that the individual who left the room alive would be his successor.

John Donohue, Sensei, Epilogue

The Game of Arts and Powers

The prior of Bec…waved away her honest respect. “I’m a man like any other, lady.”

She arched a brow. “Truly?”

“Truly,” he said.

“There is the matter of…” She flicked her hand. The lamps went out. In the sudden dimness she bade a light grow, shimmering over her fingers, unfolding from them like a strange flower.

He quelled her working with a gesture. That same gesture, completed, restored the lamps to their former condition. “This too is God’s gift,” he said.

“Surely,” she said, “but it’s given to few, and to precious few in such measure as yours.”

“Or yours, lady. You will be stronger than I.”

“But not yet.”

“You are young,” he said, “and while not foolish, perhaps not granted such judgment as will be yours with greater age and maturity.”

She had had enough of dancing around the point. “Yes, I made a mistake. Yes, I know what mistake I made. And what part do you play, Father Prior, in this game of arts and powers?

“A small one,” he said, “by the grace of God.”

That was disingenuous. She swept it aside. “So. You’re a Guardian of Gaul. Have you come to impose sentence upon me for dereliction of duty?”

“If anyone is to do that, lady” he said, “it should be your father. No; I came to offer such aid as I could….”

Judith Tarr, Rite of Conquest, Chapter 10

Emphasis mine.

Too Much Power Expended Too Quickly

He was all alone in the empty land, surrounded by people whose souls he could not sense at all. He was in hell, with no hope of earthly salvation.

He lashed out, still in a fit of panic—even knowing it was folly; knowing he hovered in delusion. Fire surged up out of the earth and poured down from the sky.

In the last instant he flung it away from the crowd, but he had neither the strength nor the speed to unmake it. It plummeted into the midst of the city. Blood-red flames roared to heaven, then sank down into mortal gold and blue and the black of smoke.

The crowd fled in a chorus of screams. The few with their wits about them surged toward the flames. The rest scattered in panic no less mindless than Henry’s, but far less perilous.

Only the monks were left with the king’s body, and Henry with the drawn and empty sensation of too much power expended too quickly….

Judith Tarr, King’s Blood, Chapter 7

Emphasis mine.

The Lady of the Lake Had a Secret

The Lady of the Lake had a secret. It was nothing mortifying or dangerous, but it might have caused difficulties if certain persons discovered that behind the veils was a maiden younger than Mathilda. Mortals, especially men, needed to see an aged face before they would believe in either power or wisdom.

Her name was Etaine. It was not something she shared with the world, any more than her face or her manifest youth. When she walked abroad from the lake of Avalon, she walked veiled, stately, and mantled in mystery.

Mathilda did not make the mistake of discrediting her wisdom because she had, at the most, fifteen summers on this side of the Otherworld. She remembered who she had been. Her knowledge passed from world to world, life to life, Lady to Lady, back beyond Morgaine and Rhiannon to lives so ancient that even bards had forgotten them.

Judith Tarr, Rite of Conquest, Chapter 29

Conversing With the Dead

Robin sank down where the shade had been sitting. With its passing the air was noticeably warmer, but Robin had begun to shudder. Even for one of his arts and powers, it was no easy thing to converse with the dead.

Judith Tarr, King’s Blood, Chapter 12

Emphasis mine.

Ignorance Is Deadly

“…We are no friends to the prince below,” she said, “or any other force for the world’s destruction.”

“Including me?”

You are no more or less dangerous than ignorance ever is.

“That’s deadly.”

“It can be taught,” she said, “and will. I am bound to it….”

Judith Tarr, Rite of Conquest, Chapter 8

Emphasis mine.

You Must Know How to Undo

“Tomorrow I will teach you how to undo what you have done.”

“That’s not possible.”

Her brow arched. He did not quite see what she did. It had something to do with a gesture of the hand, and some part of it was a slant of the eye and a turn of mind.

The charred branches stirred and cracked. Black scales fell; ash blew away in a sudden swirl of wind. Living branches unfolded, sprouting leaves as bright as the first morning of the world. They glowed in the night. Blossoms budded and bloomed, a cloud of white and palest rose. Their scent enveloped him in sweetness.

William’s mouth hung open. He could barely muster wits to shut it.

“You are meant for more and better than this,” she said, “but whatever you have done, you must know how to undo. It’s a law of our order.”

“‘Our’ order?”

“You are born to it, and reborn, for ages out of count.”

Judith Tarr, Rite of Conquest, Chapter 8

Emphasis mine.

To Pass Through Shadow and Fire

Mathilda sat where she always sat, among the oldest students, young women who would be passing through the shadow and the fire come the dark of the year. A few would emerge as Ladies [of the Wood] of full power and learning. Many would die in the testing.

Judith Tarr, Rite of Conquest, Chapter 17

Every year at Beltane, one or more of the young women in the acolytes’ house passed through darkness and fire. Then they were Ladies of the Isle; or they were gone.

Judith Tarr, King’s Blood, Chapter 33

Emphasis mine.

Why Wizards Do Not Rule the World

“You can’t leave me in this condition. What if I blast the king, or one of his courtiers?”

“You won’t,” she said.

“How do you know?”

Magic costs,” she said. “Go to the kitchens first, before you sleep.”

“I’m not—”

“Do it.”

She had laid a binding on him. A fugitive memory told him what it was. Then the griping in his belly bound him more tightly still.

He was ravenous—starving. He was dizzy with hunger. If the cooks were not awake, he would raid and pillage on his own. Then he would sleep like the dead.

Not the worst battle he had ever fought, on the field or in lordly hall, had taxed his mind and body as this little bit of magic had. Small wonder wizards did not rule the world, if this was what it did to them to try.

Judith Tarr, Rite of Conquest, Chapter 8

Emphasis mine.

Not a Delicate Art

“Wouldn’t it be easier to teach me to read? Then you could go off and do whatever you do when you’re not torturing me, and I could see this blasted nonsense laid out on a page. Writing’s like a map, isn’t it? Only it’s words instead of castles and rivers. Give me a map and I can learn this.”

“Writing would catch it on parchment,” she said. Her knuckle rapped his much-abused forehead. “You need it in there. The powers you’ve been facing, and will face, won’t wait for you to run to a library before they crack open your skull and suck out your brains.

William realized he was gaping. He did a great deal of that when he was with Mathilda. “You are the most indelicate noblewoman I have ever met.”

This is not a delicate art,” she said….

Judith Tarr, Rite of Conquest, Chapter 8

Emphasis mine.

Playing With Fire

It was still broad daylight, though the shadows were lengthening. The warmth of early spring was giving way to a creeping chill. Turpin shivered. Roland tossed a new log on the fire, feeding it till it swelled to a respectable blaze. He stayed there on one knee….

…Roland seemed lost in a dream, or in contemplation of something very far away from this royal assembly of the Franks. The fire cast ruddy light on his face and lost itself in his eyes. Such odd eyes, yellow as a hawk’s. Sometimes he did not look human at all.

He raised a hand idly, slipping it in among the flames. They licked his fingers. He stroked them as a woman pets her cat. They purred as a cat purrs, leaping, curling about his hand, arching under his palm.

Turpin set his lips together carefully. Equally carefully, and with an effort, he turned his eyes away. Roland was not as other men were. All the Companions knew it; and none of them said a word. Roland was their brother, their comrade in arms. They would not betray him….

Judith Tarr, Kingdom of the Grail, Chapter 1

Emphasis mine.

Greek Missile Tactics

Missile-type weapons played only a very small role in connection with the hoplite phalanx. With the Greeks the bow was a traditionally respected weapon; the national hero, Hercules, was an archer. In the case of the Athenians, a special archer corps is mentioned in the campaign of Plataea. But since the time the phalanx was formed of spear-carriers, the bow was pushed into the background, since the two arms, even if not mutually exclusive, can be combined only with great difficulty. One can picture the archers, sling men, and javelin-throwers in front of, beside, and behind the phalanx. Whenever they were deployed forward of the front line, they must have disappeared before the clash of the two phalanxes, and therefore would necessarily have withdrawn around the flanks. If they attempted to push back through the phalanx itself, the resulting disorder and delay would cause much more damage than the advantage from the losses that they might have inflicted on the enemy. In order to be sure of passing around the two flanks, the sharpshooters would have to begin their withdrawal while the phalanxes were still several hundred paces apart. If the enemy had no sharpshooters and we sent out marksmen against him, to fire on him continuously during the approach march, that could of course cause him serious disruption. If both sides had sharpshooters, however, these two forces would, for the most part, only shoot at each other and would have no influence at all on the decisive phalanx battle. Firing obliquely on the approaching enemy from the two flanks of the hoplite phalanx, a number of marksmen could exercise an influence on the progress of the battle. But we find no recognizable traces of this kind of action, even in the later Greek battles.

Finally, if sharpshooters were stationed behind the phalanx, they could shoot out their volley from that position shortly before the clash. Fired in an arching trajectory, however, without real aiming, this could not be very effective, especially when, as is usually the case, our own phalanx was moving toward the enemy at the assault pace. Consequently, although we find such an employment of projectiles fairly often recommended in theory, nevertheless, from a practical viewpoint, it was used only infrequently, as, for example, in the battle that Thrasybulus fought against the thirty Tyrants in the streets of Piraeus (Xenophon). There, however, the troops of Thrasybulus stood only ten men deep, on a rise of ground, and waited for the enemy, who advanced up the street with a fifty-man depth. Under these special conditions the projectiles fired from above onto the thick mass were able to do very good service. Generally speaking, however, the marksmen formed only an auxiliary arm. The real combat force of the Greeks in the Persian Wars consisted only of hoplites.

Hans Delbrück, Warfare in Antiquity, pp. 54-55

Horsemanship: Prerequisite for a Military Career

Horsemanship was the first prerequisite for a military career. [A boy] would have had his first riding lessons almost as soon as he could walk. Under the strict gaze of his father’s grooms he would have progressed from donkey to pony, from pony to horse, learning by practice how to keep his seat, how to govern a fractious beast or calm a nervous one, how to ride for long hours over rough country without tiring, and all the other skills that would go to preserve his life in the melee of combat. Hunting and hawking, the nobleman’s pastimes, developed further skills: an eye for country—surface and slope, vantage point and dead ground; the habit of moving on horseback in company, if necessary swiftly and silently; the difficult art of shooting from horseback with bow and arrow at a moving quarry; the courage needed to dismount and face the charge of a boar with only a spear to protect the hunter from its tusks; endurance of heat and cold, hunger and thirst; care of weapons and tack, where a loose knife-haft or girth worn to breaking could cost limb or even life.

Richard Fletcher, The Quest for El Cid, pp. 109-10