Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Tag: magic

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.

Tricking Monsters To Death

October 24, 2022

Another way to deal with monsters is to trick them to death. Almost any creature can be a mythic Trickster—an insect (grasshopper, spider, ant), a prey animal (rabbit, muskrat, mole), or even a small carnivore (lynx, fox, coyote, raven). All that’s required is that the creature display some trait or behavior that allows it to trick or confuse a predator (eye spots, crypsis and dynamic camouflage, autotomy, ingenious escape patterns, deftly hidden dens, the ability to misdirect predators by play-acting at being injured). By using these naturally occurring mimetic survival mechanisms, the mythic Trickster honors the life-sustaining cleverness of escape artists wherever they are found in nature.

Deadly Powers, p. 183

Author’s emphasis.

Subject to Divine, Human, and Demonic Manipulation

October 21, 2022

The story of Agobard and the sky sailors takes us to the heart of tenth-century [C.E.] cosmology, to the way people viewed the world. Natural events were not natural in the sense that nature was an interacting, self-explanatory, independent system. Rather, it was something subject to divine, human, and demonic manipulation. Today we understand the dynamics of nature as independent, interconnected, and self-regulating and ultimately explained by science. For tenth-century people, the borders between the natural and human worlds were permeable. Magic, miracles, and a whole constellation of intermediaries, such as the Blessed Virgin and the saints as well as those in league with the devil, could influence what happened for good or ill through weather, sickness, pestilence, and all types of disasters.

The Birth of the West, pp. 13-14

The Power To Crush Diamonds

October 5, 2022

“Mistress?” Cashel asked in a thick voice. “Is Benlo as powerful a wizard as you are?”

Tenoctris laughed and patted him on the arm. “Cashel,” she said, “I’m not powerful at all. I’ve read and I see, those are both important. But the skill I have is that of a diamond cutter who knows where to tap to split a stone on the line of cleavage. If you want raw power—Benlo could crush diamonds if he knew how to use the strength he has.”

Cashel opened his big, capable hands. “What good’s a crushed diamond, mistress?” he asked.

Tenoctris laughed again. “You’d be amazed at how few people understand that, Master Cashel,” she said….

Lord of the Isles, Book II, Chapter 12

A Thousand Arrows In Its Defense

October 5, 2022
the True Light has a thousand arrows in its defense!
Doctor Strange:
[Rintrah’s] astral form’s gone—to help fight my battles. I’ve let rage consume me—and rage’s left hand, despair, grabbed me and hurled me down! But not anymore!
Although the Darkness may come from all sides, the Light can have many facets, too! And through the spell of the Crystal of Vyhagh Ar, we shall see that the True Light has a thousand arrows in its defense!

— “Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts” #81 (1987)

Authors’ emphases. Used without permission.

That Word Has No Meaning Here

October 5, 2022
That word has no meaning here.
Hannibal King:
[Where are we?]
Doctor Strange:
Another dimension, Mr. King…another reality. In this realm, there will be no innocents to be harmed by our battle! Plus, here our foes are out of their element…disoriented.
Hannibal King:
Yeah, well they’re not the only ones. Which way is up?
Doctor Strange:
That word has no meaning here.

— “Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts” #59 (1983)

Used without permission.

The Montessi Formula

October 5, 2022

Fragments of this incantation were discovered years ago by an aged monk named Montessi. Uttered within close proximity of a vampire, even by one unschooled in the mystic arts, it would cause the unliving creature’s total oblivion….

— “Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts” #62 (1983)