Saturday, January 18, 2014

Understanding "Sorcery" in Sword & Sorcery

Last time we talked about ideas on how to research combat, warfare, and the effects of battle in hopes of creating realistic violence in fiction. This post will be very different that one, as we will discuss the use and construction of magic, hopefully to fill in the other half as the title suggests. There won't be a book-list, but if you want some suggestions, leave a comment and I will be happy to assist in a direction.

Growing up with martial arts instilled me with a sense and interest in spirituality that led to me going out and finding out more about other world beliefs. One of the things I found interesting about all religions and spiritual paths is that there are so many different systems of magic inherently built into them. It doesn't matter if you are talking about mantra and tantra within Hinduism, Kabbalah in Judaism, or the entire offshoot of Islam known as Sufism--there are even intense systems of esoteric practice within Christianity. Have you ever really talked about communion with a Catholic?

Now, one thing that I want to get out of the way is the question "what do you think about this author's magic system or that author's magic system?"

The truth is there has never been a magical system I have ever read about where I can't point back to another magical system that hasn't already been created and used in the real world with the exception of the magical abilities and spells seen in Dungeon & Dragons, and even much of that was taken from Jack Vance's Dying Earth. Remember, nothing is original but the way it is executed. But it doesn't matter if you are Faith Hunter, who masterfully uses skin-walker lore and shamanism from Native American magic in her Jane Yellowrock novels, or Brandon Sanderson, who uses what he calls "hard magic", a system that has rules written around manifestation.

But for me magic is simple to construct if you think of it this way: Genesis, Will, and Manifestation.

Let's define these:

Genesis: This is the origin and mode of creation or alteration, which magic definitely is. It can be as simple as someone saying a spell in Harry Potter or starting to chant a mantra, this is a place where magic begins. This genesis can be both within and outside the characters you use in your story. For example, in my Vedic Sword & Sorcery novel, there is a scene where The Hero is given a piece of Soma or hallucinogenic mushroom by The Teacher, which I drew from the Rig Veda and Terence McKenna's theory on what the botanical plant the Ancient Vedic kingdoms may have used for ritual use, though later on I use other plants since we know that there are many types of flora that create similar effects.

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The Genesis in is The Hero being given the mushroom cap, just like there is Genesis taking place when Harry Potter decides to use the Patronus Charm to fight of the Dementors. The magic is drawn from some place either within or without. So what happens when the spark is lit? You have to do something with it, which leads us to...

Will: this something that gets stressed in magical systems both real and fantastical, whether it is Aleister Crowley's system of ceremonial magic or rolling for a magic missile in D&D. In all magical systems the user has to make a decision and "will" their expectation to manifest. Let's use Harry Potter and the Patronus Charm again, because I think the scenes written around the teaching of the spell to Harry really help exhibit this idea.

When Lupin instructs Harry that to conjure a Patronus, he has to summon all of his happiest memory and turn their wand into a circle while incanting "Expecto Pantronum!" The happiest memory-portion of the spell is the will. Harry has to draw this memory as he uses the spell, and the power of that summoned memory can make the manifestation as weak or as powerful as the effort he puts into it.

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So I've covered Genesis and Will, both of which lead to...

Manifestation: This is the ultimate result of a magical working. So Harry has seen the Dementors coming for him, he has summoned his happiest memory, and now there is a white deer scaring the crap out of them. This is the same as your D&D character laying waste with his Cloudkill spell or Thoth-Amon summoning a fanged demon to slay one of his masters that is attacking Conan in The Phoenix on the Sword. What this is, plain and simple, is the result.



I am going to cut it off here for now, but next time I am going to discuss the different between High Magic and Low Magic, which are two very distinct forms you often see in fantasy. I will introduce the magical system I use, the origins of how I built it, and the "rules" I wrote around it and why I picked those "rules" to form the backbone of the system.

Until then, stay safe!

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