Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Tag: magic


May 27, 2023

That morning as they rode past a town, a grey-striped cat made his way through the stream of people coming to market. There were animals enough on that road in that hour: horses and mules of course, and donkeys, and dogs, and pigs and cattle and sheep being driven to market, and here and there a quick-witted cat. But this one came direct to King Malcolm’s riding, lofted weightlessly to Edith’s saddlebow, and yawned in her face.

The puca seemed quite as much at ease in this world as in the other. What he was doing here, she did not know, but from the way he curled on the pommel of her saddle, he was not about to leave.

Some of Alain’s Bretons slid eyes at him. So did a few of Malcolm’s Gaels. They knew what they were looking at.

The puca met their glances. They looked away in haste. It was never wise to question the whims of the Old Things.

Edith took comfort in this one’s presence. There were folk of air enough, some of whom had followed her from the abbey, but a puca was a stronger power by far. A power for mischief, yes—but also a faithful ally who had sworn to her his service.

King’s Blood, Chapter 24

Emphasis mine.

Service Promised Was Service Given

May 22, 2023

There was a person in front of her. He was neither as tall as the fair ones who crossed the land in their ridings nor as small as the fey and lesser folk who populated both this world and the other. He looked quite human actually, if one disregarded the sharply pointed tips of his ears and the sharply pointed teeth, or the eyes as green and slit-pupiled as a cat’s. His hair was as brown as oak-bark, and he was dressed in green and brown.

“Puca,” she acknowledged him by name and kind.

He grinned and bowed. “At your service, lady,” he said.

She was very careful not to twitch. No word spoken in this world was heedless, and service promised was service given. “Indeed?” she asked. “Have I earned it?”

“Your destiny has,” said the puca, “and your magic. You’re blossoming into it, lady.”

“Like a nettle,” she said.

He laughed. He was not mocking her, she did not think. But then he sobered. “We’re not at ease with all of magic, either. Some of what’s been breeding and growing in Britain is frightening. Even the great ones walk wary of it.”

“The black places?” Edith asked. Even out of the body, the thought made her cold. “The places where it’s all rotted and dead?”

The puca nodded. “It scares us. It’s all wrong—and what ever it touches, it twists. It’s caught the Hunt; they’re ever turning on their own, and feeding on magic.”

“Won’t the rites of Beltane and Midsummer help?” said Edith. “Aren’t they supposed to feed the magic?”

“They do,” said the puca.

“You want me to do something,” Edith said.

The puca grinned. “Everyone said you had clear sight. Yes, we want something. We’re not sure what, yet. Just… something. Because you have so much magic, and your blood is what it is.”

“You want my blood,” Edith said. She was very calm. “Do you think it will help?”

“Maybe not that kind of blood,” said the puca. “We don’t know. Fate swirls around you—time comes to a center in you. But we can’t see how. Not yet.”

Well, Edith thought. She was born to matter: king’s daughter and descendant of kings. That she mattered to England came as no surprise.

“Britain,” said the puca. “You matter to Britain.”

“But England is—”

England is a shadow. Britain was there before it and will be there long after it is gone.

“I was born to England,” Edith said a little stiffly.

“Your mother was born to England. You are half a Gael, and all the magic is in you.”

Edith set her lips together. She did not know that she was angry. He was saying things she had thought for herself. But part of her was still her mother’s child, however little she loved the life her mother had meant for her. She had to defend it somehow.

“I won’t destroy England,” she said. “I’ll never agree to that.”

“We won’t ask it,” said the puca. Still smiling at her, he shrank and dwindled and shifted, until a sleek striped cat stood where he had been. His eyes were still the same, and his teeth not so different. He was purring loudly; his whole body shook with it.

Edith blinked. She had not expected that, even knowing he was a puca and therefore a shapeshifter. He crouched; she was prepared, somewhat, when he sprang to her shoulder.

His claws dug in, but gently. His purr was raucous. She caught herself smiling and stroking his fur. He was seducing her; but she did not mind.

King’s Blood, Chapter 16

Emphasis mine.

Reaching Through the Matrix

May 14, 2023

[Vasque] stepped to the [battle] suit and ran his fingers over first the plastron, then the sheared metal along the cut…. Hansen couldn’t judge the status of the smith and his apprentices. Vasque wore a gorgeously-embroidered tunic—though there was a cracked leather apron over it. Even the youths were dressed rather better than many of the warriors.

“Not much of a suit,” Vasque said. “Dilmun’s work, I wouldn’t be surprised, and he was never much.”

“Dilmun’s good enough to dress the Lord of Thrasey,” said Malcolm. “And as for this suit, there were three arcs on it together before it failed.”

“On a good day, I suppose Dilmun might be all right,” Vasque admitted grudgingly. He took the severed arm from the slave and worked the elbow joint with his hands as he peered at the cut. “Well, we’ll see.”

The sleeping youth groaned loudly and threw out an arm. After a moment, his eyes opened. The other apprentice helped him sit up on the couch.

Vasque handed the arm back. “Go on, boy, go on,” he said to the apprentice, making shooing motions with his hands. “There’s king’s work to be done.”

He turned to the slaves. “Lay it down by the couch, you. I’ll take care of it now.”

As the slaves laid the damaged suit full-length on the floor, the two youths positioned the [severed] arm by it so that the cut ends joined. Vasque himself stepped outside. He came back with his leather apron laden with bits of ore.

“Might need more than this,” the old man muttered, “but I think not, I think not….” He arranged his chips and pebbles around the severed arm with as much care as a florist creating a wedding bouquet…. [Then] Vasque lay down on the couch…. One of the youths took a polished locket on a thong from around his neck.

“Keep back, boy…,” the smith murmured.

His eyes, focused on dustmotes dancing in the light, glazed and closed. The apprentices watched with critical interest, while the slaves gaped with amazement as great as that which Hansen tried to conceal….

Vasque was shuddering in his sleep. Hansen gestured toward him. “Is he any good?” he asked Malcolm in an undertone.

“You won’t wake him,” said Malcolm in a normal voice, as though that were the only reason someone would want to discuss the matter in a whisper. “And yeah, he’s very good.”

The veteran smiled impishly. “Almost as good as Dilmun, I’d say. You’ll have a suit to be proud of.”

…The ore shifted around Hansen’s suit. The chunks on top of the pile slid as dust puffed away. As Hansen watched, a fist-sized lump he thought was magnetite crumbled as though in a hammermill. Bits of it drifted down through the interstices of the pebbles beneath it.

One of the apprentices bobbed his head in approval. “Look, he must be four centimeters away from the join,” he said. “Great extension!”

Malcolm sniffed. “The important part,” he said, ostensibly to Hansen, “isn’t how far a smith can reach through the Matrix for material but how well he stitches the result together. That’s the craftsmanship that keeps you and me alive, Lord Hansen.”

“That and skill,” Hansen remarked coolly….

Half the gravel piled on the shoulder of the battlesuit powdered and slipped to a flatter angle of repose.

Vasque shuddered like a swimmer coming out of cold water. His apprentices stepped toward him, one of them with a skin of wine or mead, but the older man waved them away. “There!” he gasped. “There, Lord Malcolm. Tell me about Dilmun now.”

“Although,” he added as he got to his feet and only then accepted the container of drink, “I checked the whole suit while I was in the Matrix, and it’s not so very bad after all….”

“How do we test it?” Hansen asked. Malcolm smiled.

“I get my suit,” he said, “we go out to the practice ground … and I see just how good you are, laddie.”

It wasn’t an especially nice smile; but then, neither was the grin that bared Hansen’s teeth.

Northworld, Chapter 10

The Sands of Nisanti

May 7, 2023
The Sands of Nisanti
Doctor Strange:
…Please, do you honestly want to have a wizard’s duel with me?
Nicodemus West:
Not in the least.
Vrak par hensargini!
Doctor Strange:
The…the Sands of Nisanti?
Nicodemus West:
…For the next three minutes, neither of us will be able to use magic in any form….

— “Doctor Strange: The Oath” #5 (2007)

Used without permission.

Jealous Hoarding of Magic Spells

February 20, 2023

7 Myths Everyone Believes About Druids suggests that druids should be fractious.

Dojo Storming is but one example showing that martial artists are violently rivalrous about their skills, masters, and/or schools.

So, too, should magicians because it would be an identical situation. Spells are analogous to martial art maneuvers: most are common but advanced ones are secrets known to perhaps only a single master and her disciple. How shall all other magicians in the world learn such secrets? By force, most likely. Jack Vance’s Dying Earth series—a major influence on Dungeons & Dragons’ magic system—depicts all wizards as jealous hoarders of the hundred spells left in that world.

Xenograg’s homeworld of Panadus has not yet advanced to where schools—of any kind—are common. Indeed, the Imperial School founded by Demograg was part of his sorcerous revolution. The three masters that coexisted as the Veler Magi were unique; likewise their College where the sum of their knowledge was taught.

Xenograg is the only person to ever be a student of both those schools. That fact predates this retrospective but this is not a retcon. The old and this new dovetail nicely. The original narrative portrayed Maret, the last Veler Magi, as very wise and peaceful. Amazingly, it is Maret who invites Xenograg into the College. Xenograg did not seek it; would have believed it impossible. To his mind, Xenograg would have had to “storm” the College to get the spells within.

Now there is a “What If…?

Addendum: I neglected to include the witches coven. Either through temperament or necessity, female magic wielders are often depicted as working together in small groups.

While You Train Here, Listen

February 11, 2023
This is stone city. Where many ancient warriors come. While you train here, listen.
Listen to what?
Just listen. With your mind, your heart, your whole being.

— “Kickboxer” (1989)

Beasts Hold Important Offices in the Cosmic Order

January 1, 2023

Deeply distrustful of their powers of achievement, people do not seek salvation in the human sphere. Their main religious functionary, the shaman, travels to the world beyond to obtain a blessing. He must also shed his human rationality and obtain a state of superhuman frenzy; he is helped by animal familiars, for human strength is not sufficient to the task.

Beasts, altogether, hold important offices in the cosmic order. In a widespread myth, the world was formed when a bird brought some mud from the bottom of the sea. Beasts may create storms and winds. And the highest god of the Ainus is a bear.

The bear is the most sacred of all creatures, so holy that in some places his name must not be pronounced. When this noblest of all beings is killed, countless ceremonies are enacted to assuage the guilt of the human hunters. The bear is brought to the village where he is received in joy and reverence; the slayers try to overcome their shame and guilt in the rousing celebration of the “bear wedding” or “bear feast.” Seated in the place of honor, the beast is the Lord of the festivity. Throughout, the fiction is maintained that the bear is still alive, or that he himself had willed his death.

The Faces of the Goddess, p. 40

Transmuted From One Form Into Another

December 25, 2022

The great procession of the triumph passed under the Spatian Gate, and I marched with it, into the atrocity. That ceremonial arch, so splendid and massive, forms a threshold in the course of my life. I stepped across it and was remade, transmuted from one form into another.

Some have said that I was crippled beyond the measure of a man. I do not see it that way.

I believe I was liberated.

— Gideon Ravenor, preface to The Mirror of Smoke

Ravenor, preface

“Gideon Ravenor…suffered crippling injuries during an [atrocity] on Thracian Primaris, and was confined to a suspensor chair for the remainder of his life. His confinement only boosted his already formidable psyker abilities….”

Gideon Ravenor – Lexicanum

Once They Had Been Greater In Number

December 25, 2022

Each [spaceship], as it approached the landing site, was disguised in a different, beautiful illusion. A silver fish wound among the evening stars, singing a haunting aria. A golden dragon breathed bouquets of flowers. A sailing ship rode the air currents. A giant model of an atom made a stately descent. A pinwheel of fire spiraled through the night. They were dreamers and shapers, singers and makers.

Once they had been greater in number. Yet in the past, more had been drawn to them for power than for understanding. Now they were five hundred, dedicated to learning, sharing the beauty of magic, doing good. For once no mage was in serious violation of the Code, and no feuds between mages seemed likely to erupt into violence. They were far from perfect, to be sure—eccentric, opinionated, intense, quick to anger—but Elric had never been more proud of them.

When he had been elected to the Circle nine years earlier, his feelings toward the mages had subtly changed. Before that, they had been his colleagues, his order, his clan, his family. Now they were also his responsibility. Joining the Circle had been a great honor, yet it was also a great burden, in ways he could never have anticipated. The mages’ past, and their future, lay in his trust. It was his charge to keep them safe and whole and focused on the Code. He felt that responsibility keenly now.

The convocations were critical times of bonding and affirmation, and this one perhaps more than any other. The signs were uncertain, yet he felt a growing sense that things were changing, quietly but irrevocably, not only here on Soom but everywhere. A darkness was growing. The mages had to be unified in purpose and spirit, prepared for any danger that might threaten….

Casting Shadows, chapter 2

Artificial Distinctions In Fantasy Magic

December 25, 2022

From a practical point of view, most distinctions made between “magic,” “psychism,” “sorcery,” “witchcraft,” “psionics,” “shamanism,” or “miracle working” are simply not relevant to magic in the real world, although as artificial distinctions, the terms are useful for anthropological classification and to add variety in games.

Authentic Thaumaturgy, p. 19

Author’s emphasis.

Magic Use Elicits Strong Reactions

December 19, 2022

Pondering one of my book excerpts, Performing Miracles, led to some jotted-down thoughts:

  • Public use of magic elicits strong reactions from everyone.
  • Usually fear but sometimes awe.
  • First impressions are critical.
  • Must overcome—or confirm—initial doubt and anxiety.
  • Awe can be just as troublesome as fear.
  • Consequences either way.

(I frequently take notes in bullet-point format.)

Inscriptions Charged With Occult Force

December 17, 2022

Odin, father and chief of the Norse gods, passed on his knowledge of magic and rune-lore to poets, sorcerers, sages and other especially favored mortals. The runes in his gift constituted an alphabet for writing. But they were far more than mere symbols: Initiates knew them as actual sources of power—tools and weapons of wizardry.

Those who understood the secrets of the runes knew the proper figures to inscribe on a sword to protect its owner in battle, or which runes to carve on a tombstone to keep evil spirits at bay. The cunning of some runemasters ran so deep that their inscriptions could even control the dead, preventing a restless corpse from rising and wandering, or causing a hanged man to walk and speak.

But men of such prodigious power inspired more fear than admiration in Europe’s dark ages of rival cults and warring tribes. Kings and priests looked upon them with suspicion. In some lands the very possession of a tablet filled with wonder-working runes became a punishable crime. Adepts were burned to death, and their knowledge disappeared with them. In the remotest regions, their carved stones survived as objects of mystery and menace. But the real power of the runes was lost forever.

The Secret Arts, Chapter 1

Preserving Magical Knowledge For Adepts As Yet Unborn

December 17, 2022

Insatiable in their lust for knowledge, the practitioners of magic yearned to see beyond the tangible world, to learn the secret laws that governed the fates of souls and nations. In every age, scholars sought to piece together fragments of these hidden truths, and to grant themselves a kind of immortality by preserving their hard-won discoveries for adepts as yet unborn.

Their messages took different forms. Fragile baked-clay tablets bore cuneiform impressions made with reed pens when the clay was new and soft. Carved hieroglyphic charms were sealed in the changeless air of Pharaohs’ underground tombs. Shreds of papyrus lay deep under hot sands that over the centuries crept whispering away, revealing the scrolls finally to the eyes of mystified herdsmen. Tall sentinel stones inscribed with spidery runes wept with the gentle rain that soaked the hillsides where they stood. Heavy volumes with black-lettered pages were chained out of sight in monastic libraries. Encapsulated in silent characters, the words waited, charged with arcane powers.

To those adventurers who would crack their codes, the chroniclers passed on a caveat: The secrets of the universe were not lightly disclosed, any unworthy soul who probed too deep risked an unspeakable fate. Yet the lure of knowledge often overcame the dictates of caution.

The Secret Arts, Chapter 1

The Magical and Musical Arts Are Entwined

December 17, 2022

When the first sorcerer lifted his voice in a chant to weave a spell, he discovered the potent magic of music. In the sinuous melody that charmed serpents, in the pulsing rhythm of the rainmaker’s dance, spellcasters harnessed music to control the lowliest creatures of the earth and the mightiest elements of the heavens. Humans could also be enchanted into sleep, love, battle, even death, by secret harmonies played on certain instruments. So entwined were the magical and musical arts that scholars who needed words to describe the dreaded work of sorcery found them in the language of music. The words enchantment and incantation came from the Latin cantare, to sing, while the word charm was derived from the Latin for song, carmen.

The Secret Arts, Chapter 3

Non-Mages Are Amateurs Not Cripples

December 3, 2022

A Mage or Cleric of any rank above Apprentice will always be able to do magic better than a Warrior or Thief or Assassin of equal experience points and equal Psi Potential, simply because the non-Mages and non-Clerics are amateurs—not because they are some sort of psychic cripples.

Authentic Thaumaturgy, p. 25

Author’s emphasis.

To Limit Immersion in the Wells of Power

December 1, 2022

To remain restrained, to remember law, to limit immersion in the path.

Yesugei had always preached that, even in the midst of the worst and bloodiest combat. To lose yourself—that was the danger. Any village-witch could drive themselves mad by supping too deeply from the wells of power. Such practices might yield a moment’s glory, but the price would always have to be paid further down the line.

Warhawk, Chapter 20

The Worst Ignorance

November 18, 2022
The worst ignorance
Doctor Strange:
The worst ignorance is always the ignorance you haven’t been aware of. My Cloak of Levitation has served me well more times than I care to think. But now, when it becomes time to repair its torn fabric after my disastrous battle with Khat—although I am Dr. Strange, whom no living being can contest in sorcerous power, lore, or skill, I find myself realizing that I know so very, very little.

— “Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts” #78 (1987)

Used without permission.

Aims of Magic: Malign Magic

November 2, 2022

Interestingly, this is a smaller category in terms of the varieties of activity found, but it has nonetheless been given a great deal of attention: the literature on modern witchcraft alone is vast. It is an interesting question as to why malign magic is not more common, and it is possible that creating and maintaining good relationships have always been more central to life than efforts at harm, though this might be seen as a romantic and unrealistically positive view of human groups.

Witches, witchcraft, and sorcery. These are people or activities that cast spells, effect unwanted transformations—such as turning someone into a frog (and counter-activity, often unwitting—kissing the frog to turn it back into a prince)—or cause harm. Such practices are very widespread: European witches are well-known, but witchcraft is also very prevalent and feared in Africa. Specific cultural differences are important: sorcery is found throughout coastal Papua New Guinea but is absent from New Guinea Highland cultures, a division that is widely recognized but poorly understood, deriving in some way from the separate historical trajectory the Highlands have followed.

Curses. Most common in competitive cultures, such as those from the Middle East to Greece and Rome, as were counter-curses. Curses can cause personal harm or illnesses, but they can also be used to help a sports team win or to make an opponent lose. Cursing is very well developed in the Mediterranean world but is probably global in its scope.

Magic as counter-culture. Ceremonial magic can be developed to deliberately attack or invert general cultural norms. This takes the form of so-called Black Magic, most famous in the recent West through Aleister Crowley and Thelema. Such attempts may involve a deliberate inversion of religious practices (the Black Mass) and use symbols in a manner similar to protective magic (mentioned above).

Magic: A History, p. 24

Aims of Magic: Benign Magic

November 2, 2022

Much magic involves attempts to do good in the world, or to avert bad outcomes. Benign magic is more common than its malign twin.

Relationship work. This is a very broad category, as people have multiple relationships with significant others, which can include the land on which people live, plants, animals, artefacts, houses, fellow humans and so on. Each relationship might have its own magic, so that if relationships have gone wrong in some way, or need to be rebalanced or readjusted, effective action can be taken….

Apotropaic/protective magic. This is linked to relationship work above and seeks to protect people, animals, plants, landscape or ancestors from harm, and involves practices such as those found in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (immuring cats or shoes in walls) or symbols, such as those used to keep out the devil.

Foretelling the future. This can often concern relatively local or personal issues—the health of a child, personal career prospects and so on. Here local fortune-telling or divination may take place, which we think of colloquially as reading the tea leaves. More learned forms of prediction came into being through astrology. Scrying the future can be even grander and more cosmic, through inspired prophecy, often of momentous events such as war or even the end of the world….

Understanding the past. Looking at the causes of things is also very important, with oracles a powerful technology for finding out the cause of an accident, a death or another misfortune. People want both to diagnose the cause of what happened and then to take appropriate remedial action. The classical anthropological case is the Azande poison oracle, although looking for past causes takes many forms.

Dying, death and the dead. Notions of how to die, what happens immediately after death and becoming more stably dead in the form of being an ancestor are all of great interest—the Ancient Egyptians created very elaborate means of dealing with dying and the dead, although this is a theme relevant to all humans. In addition to becoming an ancestor, widespread preoccupations include talking to the dead and making sure they do not bother the living.

Medicine, sickness, health and possession (mental and physical). Prior to the existence of germ theory (and even after its rise) people’s ideas of health often involved relationships with a range of spirits, demons or bad human relations that needed to be counteracted. Frequently, as in the case of Ancient Mesopotamia, dealing with relationships involved herbal remedies but also a series of spells or practices to negate the effects of demons or other malign forces. In most cases, little distinction is made between mind and body, something found increasingly in “Western whole-body approaches to well-being.

Understanding and effecting transformation. This involves activities such as craft production, with concerns about the practices of the smith, who is able to wield and control powerful forces, being common. Craft production often involved a series of magical practices vital to its efficacy. Alchemy was a series of varied attempts to transform base metals into gold, giving rise to more recent chemistry. People also worry about monsters and hybrids (griffins, sphinxes, etc.) or more usual transformations, such as a predator eating its prey. The arts shared between the Steppe and Europe in the first millennium BCE exhibit an obsession with transformation and ambiguity.

Manipulating desire. Siberian hunters feel they have to make reindeer desire them so that they will give themselves up during the hunt. People have ancient relationships with reindeer, going back to the Last Glaciation, and it is possible ideas of physical closeness have developed over millennia. Similar notions of sexual desire are also found in Aztec contexts. Many other cultures, such as those of Ancient Greece and Rome, concentrated efforts on love magic, with occasionally comic outcomes.

Magic: A History, pp. 19-24

Domination Magic: Dark Side of the Force

October 30, 2022

This is the first installment of a series on my (incomplete) thoughts concerning magic used to dominate other people.

Caveat: I am not knowledgeable about the Star Wars Expanded Universe. My questions here—to myself—may have been answered there. I am unbothered by that.

“You don’t know the power of the Dark Side. I must obey my master.” — Darth Vader, Return of the Jedi (1983)

That line has fascinated me for decades. How much control does Emperor Palpatine have over Vader via the Force? Not total, as Sith apprentices frequently kill their masters. As to why not, total control would result in a mere puppet rather than the needed junior partner and successor. So partial control of some kind. Magical control. Something beyond the mundane tools of social control which might be ineffective against special subordinates. Enough to keep the subordinate in line without losing what makes them special.

This could simply be a magical analogue to physical coercion: causing pain to the target’s mind instead of their body until the desired behavior is performed. That analogue is sufficient but neither interesting nor creative.

But the important detail is the partial domination. Almost none at all, judging by the frequently successful rebellions.