Archetypology 101: Fact, Fiction, & Fallacies
Episode 7 - Roll up for the magical mystery tourby Aeon
November 27, 2001
Archetypology 101: Fact, Fiction, & Fallacies
Episode 7 - Roll up for the magical mystery tourby Aeon
November 27, 2001
Salagadoola mechicka boola bibbidi-bobbidi-boo
It'll do magic believe it or not
- "Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo," from Walt Disney's Cinderella
Any exploration of magic and magicians, be it historical, mythological or purely fictional (or, as in the case of this article, a combination of all three), will necessarily fall short in some fashion. Magic, you see, is intertwined with human nature in an inextricable way; it's been with us since the first humans crawled down from the trees (or were raised from the ashes by the God of your choice, if you prefer). And for as long as we've had magic, we've had magic-users, practitioners of the magical arts and guardians of its secrets. For that reason, any comprehensive study of magic would be millions of pages long, and would take far longer than I have. Thus, it's essential that I explicitly limit the scope of this article, to give form to what would otherwise be formless--to tame the dragon, so to speak.
First of all, it's important to note that this won't be an article about magic. The topic is too broad, and the concept too intangible, to imagine discussing it here at any length. And since I won't have time to cover magic in general, that also means I won't be discussing things like magical schools (i.e., Necromancy, Thaumaturgy, Illusion, Divination, etc.) except in the most broad terms. In part, this is because there's just no time to do each one justice, and in part it's because the history of magic does not always clearly differentiate between "types" of magic. When you're burning a witch, for example, you don't usually stop to ask her whether she specializes in Abjuration or Conjuration.
Secondly, this won't be an article about magicians, which is to say, it's not going to be about the people who practice magic as it's most commonly recognized today (i.e., stage magic). David Copperfield and his brethren are certainly good at what they do, but much like professional wrestling, there's no real attempt made by them to present their art as real magic. Everyone knows it's all smoke, mirrors and rotating platforms, and while that's certainly a valid form of illusion, it belongs more within the realm of the Role-Playing rogue than the wizard. The term "magician" is typically best avoided because of this modern connotation.
Thirdly (and in keeping with our magical theme, most importantly), this isn't going to be a religious diatribe. Various religions and mythologies are discussed herein, including the Judeo-Christian belief system as well as religions and systems that are often seen to be its opponents, including Wicca and Satanism. It's not my place to pass judgment on the validity of any beliefs, nor to try and convince an audience one way or another if it's real magic, pure hokum or worthy of worship. I can only hope that my readers can avoid falling into the same snares. I have no intention of sparking religious warfare, in part because such discussion is best restricted to articles about Role-Playing clerics, priests and divine faith, and in part because one's faith is a personal matter. Religion is discussed here as I believe it pertains to the magic-user, and that's as far as I wish to take it.
That said, what will be discussed here is the Role-Playing Wizard, where he came from and where he's going. In a column about character and race archetypes, this statement seems pretty self-evident and somewhat redundant, but whereas other columns had built in limitations, no such boundaries exist here. Every Role-Playing Game system has a different magic system, and while fighters will always fight and thieves will always steal, the magician changes his colors like a chameleon. Poof, I memorize my spells. Poof, I use mana and spell points. Poof, I can carry a sword. Poof, I can't use weapons or armor. Poof, I draw pentagrams and summon demons. Poof, I only create illusions. And so on, and so forth. Poof, I'm a magic-user. Poof, I'm a wizard. Poof, I'm a sorcerer. Poof, I'm wearing robes and a pointy hat. Poof, I'm wearing leather bondage gear and have a tattoo on my bare chest.
Ewww... how the heck did we get *there*?
Let's take a look.
Memory and Mana - The Role-Playing Magic-user
There was a man and he had eight sons... the eighth son grew up and married and had eight sons, and because there is only one suitable profession for the eighth son of an eighth son, he became a wizard... against the Lore of Magic and certainly against all reason... he fled the halls of magic and fell in love and got married... And he had seven sons, each one from the cradle at least as powerful as any wizard in the world. And then he had an eight son... A wizard squared. A source of magic. A sourcerer.
Magic (and thus words like mage, magician and magic-user) comes to us from the Middle English/French magique by way of the Latin magice by way of the Greek magike by way of the Old Persian magos, which means "sorcerer." Got all that? Good. Because we also have to add into the mix "magi," a Latin word tangled up with the Greek "magoi"; it's from somewhere in here that we get the Biblical concept of the magi, the three "wise men" who came to visit the infant Christ in his manger. These "magi" were most likely Persian Mithraic priest-magicians; according to Herodotus, a magus (the singular of magi) was one of the social classes of the Medes, similar to medicine men, or shamans. So here we've got magic tied up with religion too.
Sorcerer (and sorcery) come from the Middle English sorcerie, by way of the Vulgar Latin sortiarius, which comes from the Latin root "sort- or sors-", which has to do with drawing lots or chance. A sorcerer, then, is one who divines the future by way of casting lots (as with rune stones, or the I Ching, or knucklebones). Since sorcerers claimed to be speaking and conjuring spirits to do their divining, they were ultimately lumped in with magicians.
Wizard (and wisdom) comes from the Middle English wysard, from the root "wis or wys," which means wise. In its earliest appearances, it's almost synonymous with sage (one who is sagacious, or wise), which itself comes from some combination of the Latin sapere (to have taste/be wise), the Oscan sipus (knowing) and/or the Old Saxon ansebbian (to perceive/be perceptive). A wizard, then, is a sage, a wise man, and an advisor. At some point in the 15th century or so, wizards, too, got lumped into the larger category of "magicians" along with sorcerers. Today, of course, wizard has gotten back to its roots; a wizard can be anyone who's skilled at a specific task (often shortened to "wiz or whiz," as in whiz-kid, computer wizard, pinball wizard, etc.) One of today's most famous basketball wizards, Michael Jordan, is even a literal Wizard.
But I digress. The point here is that originally, a mage/magi was either a priest or a sorcerer, a sorcerer was a fortune teller, and a wizard was a wise man, and none of them specifically had anything to do with magic as Role-Playing Games recognize it. In today's RPGs, these terms mean entirely different things. Even if the names don't exactly line up, we find ourselves with at least three distinct types of Role-Playing Magic-user:
1) The Wizard, who came first (at least in the world of Role-Playing), was originally called the Magic-user, or the Magician. He tends to be older, as befits a professional student of magic, and spends most of his time reading ancient tomes and polishing his magical talents before, inexplicably, he chooses to suddenly drop out of college and wander around the world with killers and thieves. He's typically pictured wearing the stereotypical long robe, pointy hat with stars and slippers, and is most likely toddling around with a wand or staff. Most importantly, he must memorize his magical spells, reading them from books and then speaking the incantations which will release the stored energy from his mind. Sometimes he specializes in a particular school of magic (such as Necromancy or Illusion), but sometimes he's just a generalist. Somewhat importantly, he's also mostly limited to lists of spells, and rarely, if ever, makes things up as he goes along.
2) The Sorcerer is a more recent "invention," bolstered primarily by the popularity of the Magic: The Gathering Collectible Card Game. Sorcerers as defined here are those Magic-users who don't memorize spells, but rather have access to an array of powers which draw upon an energy source (typically referred to as mana, ki, chi or the more mundane "spell points"). Often these powers are bestowed in some supernatural fashion upon the sorcerer, who tends to be younger and is often depicted as somewhat dangerous and unpredictable. Of them all, the sorcerer is the most likely to be found brooding atop a tall, moonlit crag in a Byronic pose, tall, dark and scary. For all his wild power, however, the sorcerer is also a slave to them, for he rarely, if ever, is able to develop outside the limits that nature has seen fit to build around him. The main difference between the two is that wizardry is a career, whereas sorcery is a condition; this is often confused in some works of fiction (there are, after all, no hard rules here), such as in the case of Harry Potter, who is sorcerer-like in that he has some innate talents, but is wizard-like in that he attends a wizard's college.
3) The Mage, who is in many ways both the most modern and the most traditional of the Magic-users. The term, like the others, is typically misused, but by any name the mage hearkens back to his roots as magi, being a more general practitioner of the arts, a wanderer sans benefit of a large college, often one who acts individually (emphasizing the self over society) and breaks the rules in some way. Ars Magica, for example, features magi/mages who can either cast pre-formulated spells (which are stronger) or make stuff up as they go (which is more creative, but also weaker). Often, spiritualism or outright religious belief is a part of his magical abilities (bringing them a bit closer to the realm of the Cleric, Druid and Bard than the others). When he has achieved great heights of power, he becomes an Archmage, a truly dangerous foe, and while wizards and sorcerers have apprentices, mages don't. The mage is also often loathe to use his powers, holding back for one reason or another until it's needed, or (as in the case of the Mage: The Ascension game), not showing off his powers in public at all. Some of the best known Magic-users, including Merlin, fall into this category for reasons which will be explained later.
And yes, I know there will be someone to cite an example of an RPG which doesn't adhere to those definitions. These are guidelines, not rules, so for the sake of argument, let's just go with it.
In most game systems, no matter how ambitious they try to be, the Magic-user is extremely limited in several fashions. First of all, to keep the Wizard or Sorcerer from dominating the game too soon, they are given a limited spell selection; once they are out of spells, or energy, they are almost useless as characters and must run off to recharge their batteries. Secondly, the Magic-user is physically weaker than the other characters around him. This is almost entirely an invention of combat-oriented games, which had to balance the game out by giving the powerful Magic-users a lack of strength and constitution. Finally, the Magic-user is typically forbidden from using weapons or armor of any sort. This is somewhat hard to understand when you consider the fact that Gandalf kills more enemies with his sword than his spells in Lord of the Rings, but when you understand that we're talking about game balance it becomes clear that it's just a crutch, a sacrifice to the Gods of the die roll.
The origin of most of these flaws is Dungeons & Dragons (and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the original Chainmail rules), which almost immediately turned Magic-users into pitiful weaklings who threw magic missiles and lightning bolts around like little catapults. This had absolutely nothing to do with history, mythology or prior literature, and everything to do with the fact that there was more hack-and-slash and less role-playing in the early days than some nostalgic gamers like to admit. There was no real use for intelligence or wisdom back then; Magic-users were all just clones of the wizard in the old Gauntlet arcade game, whose only goal in life was to run around and shoot fireballs.
Such contradiction between high intelligence, and the inability to properly use it, also severely weaken the importance of concepts like the wizard's college, present everywhere from the earliest role-playing games to the Harry Potter series. Removed from its role-playing foundation, the college works because it makes sense; not only is it a place for wiser, elderly wizards to teach their skills to a younger generation of apprentices, but it mirrors widely accepted scholastic practices found around the world. However, stick the college inside a role-playing game and suddenly the towers begin to crumble. If a wizard's college is where a wizard learns his spells, then why is he instead out crawling around in dungeons? And if the world's most powerful wizards got that way by exploring dungeons, then who's teaching the apprentices? Why would a powerful wizard reduce himself to selling his wand to the highest bidder?
And what about those poor apprentices, who keep forgetting their lessons the moment they practice them. Can you imagine what it must be like on exam day if this were true for all wizard's colleges? Scratch your ear to remove an itch and poof, you've just forgotten how to answer question 17. Quite obviously, the memorization thing appears to be a game balance issue; after all, if your 3rd Edition D&D wizard could just cast fireball after fireball after fireball, you'd have... (drumroll please) a sorcerer. Yes, the debate over memorization versus spell point/mana/energy based systems has raged for years, and the most recent "solution" to the problem has seemed to be not to create a new system, but to offer both at the same time. So now (at least in Dungeons & Dragons) you can play a wizard with a large array of spells, but limited ability to memorize them, or you can play as a sorcerer with nearly unlimited ability to cast a few spells, but a serious lack of flexibility and creativity.
To be fair, the Magic-user's place in the world varies greatly from setting to setting, and system to system, and not all games shove the Magic-user to the back of the party so he doesn't die. While in many Dungeons & Dragons worlds he's just another adventurer out for personal gain, in the White Wolf world the Mage is a defender against the evil Technocracy, fighting to keep magic alive in a world that's moving towards technology. This latter view is somewhat interesting, as it openly places magic in opposition to technology, a theme which appears almost as often (such as in the Arcanum PC Game) as does the opposite point of view, that technology is a type of magic (e.g., TSR's Spelljammer setting). This relationship between magic and science forms the basis for the path we'll follow through the history of the Magic-user. A path which begins, as one might expect, with fantasy fiction.
From Pulp to Poe - The Magic-user's Literary Roots
"In ages gone... a thousand spells were known to sorcery and the wizards effected their wills. Today, as Earth dies, a hundred spells remain to man's knowledge, and these have come to us through the ancient books... But there is one called Pandelume, who knows all the spells, all the incantations, cantraps, runes, and thaumaturgies that have ever wrenched and molded space..."
At first glance, it's difficult to see where Role-Playing Games got their wizards from, even though it's pretty clear that, as with most other fantasy classes and races, literature is the closest and most direct source. Part of the problem is that many role-playing ideas about wizards are so misguided and shortsighted that trying to find similarities in works of fiction becomes an impossibility. The main problem, however, is that true fantasy magic-users don't really resemble wizards at all.
Oh, sure, nowadays we've got Harry Potter and Raistlin and Elminster and wizards by the dozens, all wrapped in robes and pointy hats, clutching their oversized phallic symbols as they throw fireballs and magic missiles around like no tomorrow. But these are all post-D&D wizards, and for the most part they are the creations of authors who are familiar with the "laws of wizardry" laid down by Role-Playing Games, almost like science fiction authors inevitably tend to follow Aasimov's "laws of robotics." To get at the heart of the real wizard, we need to completely disregard almost everything since the mid 1970s. Once you do that, the magic mirror gets a whole lot clearer; if we look at the period between the 1950s and early 1970s, for example, three names immediately jump out as having been crucial to not just the fantasy magic-user, but fantasy Role-Playing Games as a whole.
The first is the most obvious: J.R.R. Tolkien, whose The Hobbit (1937) and Lord of the Rings (1956) gave us not only Gandalf, but Rangers, orcs, hobbits, dwarves and elves to boot. The second is Michael Moorcock, of Elric fame, whose late 1960s and early 1970s work (including the Swords Trilogy and the aforementioned Elric saga) not only laid the foundation for the system of alignment that D&D popularized, but brought the world a glimpse of some truly evil anti-heroic Fighter/Sorcerers as protagonists. And the third, and most often forgotten among his more well-known comrades, is Jack Vance, who is almost single-handedly (and somewhat accidentally) the father of the Role-Playing wizard; in 1950's Dying Earth saga, he imagined not only the concept of spell memorization and casting, but the practice of giving spells and magical artifacts, shall we say, somewhat "memorable" names (including the Prismatic Spray spell and the ever-popular Ioun Stones).
If you took a survey, and the question to be asked was "Name a famous wizard or sorcerer," Tolkien's Gandalf would probably place third, undoubtedly behind Merlin (who we'll discuss later) and the aforementioned Harry Potter (only ranking higher because of his current fame). Third seems a poor place to put Gandalf, but in fact, if we're exploring Role-Playing wizards, then we have to question whether Gandalf belongs at all.
Quite curious about Gandalf is the fact that he carries a magic sword. In fact, he not only carries it, but he uses it, and quite well, in fact: if you bother to count, he dispatches more foes with Glamdring than with all his spells put together. This runs completely counter to traditional RPG thinking, wherein wizards and other spellcasters are completely incompetent when it comes to weaponry. And this, of course, leads us to the second, and more "troubling" issue surrounding Gandalf, which is that for being one of the world's most powerful magic-users, he sure doesn't cast a lot of spells; only perhaps a half dozen across The Hobbit and LotR combined, only one of which has any truly significant damaging effect while "on camera":
'I am servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udun. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.' ... Gandalf lifted his staff, and crying aloud he smote the bridge before him. The staff broke asunder and fell from his hand. A blinding sheet of white flame sprang up. The bridge cracked..."
And depending on how you read this, it isn't even Gandalf who does this, but the staff itself. Gandalf never casts a fireball or a lightning bolt. Rather, his chief value throughout the story is first as an advisor and sage, guiding the other heroes through the story, and secondarily as a warrior, wielding his sword like a champion. An easy way to see Gandalf's purpose here is to remove him from his magical surroundings, something that's already been done for us in Star Wars: A New Hope. Obi-Wan Kenobi is quite obviously a Gandalf-like character, in every respect. He's old, bearded and robed, a powerful magician from an ancient order who's subdued about casting spells. His chief value is to guide the other characters through the story, providing leadership and counsel to a young hero, and his death (battling a black-armored evil creature wielding a glowing red sword) is not final, but instead leads him to yet more power in a second reincarnation. Certainly, both Gandalf and Obi-Wan Kenobi are magic-users of a sort (mages, one could argue, and/or wizards who've long since put down the books and stopped studying), but neither of them wanders around casting spells all the time.
Much of the same is true of Michael Moorcock's magic-users, including Elric of Melnibone and Prince Corum Jhaelen. Both of them are endowed with sorcerous talents of one sort or another, Elric coming from a long line of Sorcerer-kings ("His sorcerous powers... are now greater than any possessed by his ancestors for many a generation") and Corum eventually receiving a six-fingered gauntlet and magical eye which allow him to conjure up spirits from beyond. And yet despite their magical talents, neither Elric nor Corum resorts to using them most of the time, preferring a strong sword (a magical one, in the case of Elric's Stormbringer) to a quick spell when one is in the heat of battle. Of course, what's interesting about their martial preferences is that neither of them is actually a very good warrior to start with, for one reason or another. Corum gets his hand cut off, which sort of puts a damper on plans, and Elric is, for lack of a better word, a weakling:
By magic potions and the chanting of runes, by rare herbs had her son been nurtured, his strength sustained artificially by every art known to the Sorcerer Kings of Melnibone. And he had lived--still lives--thanks to sorcery alone, for he is naturally lassitudinous and, without his drugs, would barely be able to raise his hand from his side through most of a normal day."
In fact, Elric doesn't really cast a spell until he's tossed overboard and has to do so in order to save himself from drowning. Moorcock gives us a pretty good reason for this about halfway through the first Elric story, just after Elric's summoning of Arioch, the God of Chaos, when Elric proclaims that "I hesitate to use sorcery, save where absolutely imperative..." When pressed on this issue, Elric tells his companion that "You cannot conceive of the mental and physical effort involved..." Indeed, before Elric could summon Arioch, he had to rest for three entire days, not to mention spending hours in precise meditation and study. Spells were not mere utterances and gestures, but major undertakings.
The same is true of the spells in Jack Vance's world of The Dying Earth, in traditional pulp style being somewhat of a collection of short stories gathered together to form a longer narrative (and in this way sharing even more of a kinship with Role-Playing Games, being not unlike a series of short adventures forming a larger campaign). In this world, even the most powerful magic-users can only memorize a half dozen or so spells at a time; the first wizard we meet, about to journey to a dangerous other world, can only memorize four: The Call to the Violent Cloud, the Excellent Prismatic Spray, Phandaal's Mantle of Stealth and the Spell of the Slow Hour. A far cry from the 36 to 40 spells that a powerful D&D wizard can memorize.
Of course, anyone who's ever had the misfortune of playing a first level wizard or sorcerer in a D&D campaign certainly understands the perils of running out of spells. In older editions of the game, a magic-user was quite literally a one-trick pony, typically memorizing a single magic missile or sleep spell, popping it off when needed, and then spending the rest of his time hiding in the back of the party. Vance's wizards do similar things; when one named Mazirian casts the last of his few memorized spells, he almost immediately suffers a gruesome death.
There is more similarity to the works of Tolkien and Moorcock than it might first appear. Like Middle Earth and Elric's Melnibone, Vance's Dying Earth is quite literally a world that's reaching the end of its natural lifespan. Powerful magics abound, as with Tolkien, in the form of weapons, amulets and potions, and the few powerful wizards who remember the old magic mostly keep to themselves, almost struggling to remember everything they can about what was once called the "Grand Art," but is now nearly forgotten. And the spells which the wizards do know are treasured and used sparingly, partly because they are so difficult to remember, and partly because of the hazards involved in misusing them. In one case, a rogue named Cugel accidentally mispronounces a spell, and manages to transport himself thousands of miles away from his intended destination. Later, a witch named Merthe tries to use a spell that's too powerful for her, and suffers "an explosion of power too strong for the tissues of her body, so that blood spurted from her mouth and nose."
The wizards of Tolkien, Moorcock and Vance did not arise out of thin air, but rather evolved from the pulp fiction of the early 20th Century. This is most clearly evident with Vance, whose own works are more science-fantasy than pure fantasy, as was often the case with the earliest "fantasy" stories (Vance was primarily a writer of science-fiction, and the fact that the Dying Earth stories just happened to influence fantasy RPGs is somewhat of a fluke). These earlier fantasy stories, many of which originally appeared in pulp magazines like Weird Tales, contain the roots of magic-users like Gandalf and Elric, and much like the Norse world-tree Yggdrasil, those roots take us all the way back to the world of the Gods.
The prime example of pulp fantasy is undoubtedly Robert Ervin Howard's Conan stories, some 18 of which appeared singly and in serial format in Weird Tales between late 1932 and June of 1936, when Howard committed suicide at the height of his career. Howard's own life may only have spanned 30 years, but Conan, of course, has taken on a life of his own, going on to appear in comic books, novels, and films (partly thanks to the republication of many of his short stories in novel format by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter in the 1960s and 1970s). And while one of the reasons for this popularity is certainly Conan and his muscle-bound friends (the source of the RPG Barbarian, of course), much of the success of Howard's stories has to do with his brilliantly realized villains, including some rather powerful wizards.
Howard's work has much in common with later fantasy works; for example, Conan wanders around during the Hyborian Age, a period of time some 12,000 years ago before Atlantis sunk and history began to be recorded, and as such it's roughly analogous to Middle Earth. His wizards, too, are quite similar in some respects: like Moorcock's Sorcerer-Kings and Vance's bickering mages, Howard's wizards tend to be quite selfish and evil, mostly concerned with taking over the world for their own purposes; and their power is immense, but like later wizards they were often forced to prepare spells in advance, resting afterward to regain spent strength and energy. But one of the key differences in the Conan stories is that these powerful spellcasters are removed from their central place in the stories, and are relegated to roles as either larger-than-life villains, much like Sauron in Lord of the Rings, or plot devices (as in the case of Zoqquanor, who is little more than a reason for Conan to hook up with the maiden Stefanya). They are neither heroes nor active, central anti-heroes.
One of the best examples of a Howard wizard is Xaltotun from Conan the Conqueror, a dead sorcerer from a Hellish ancient empire who is summoned from death for the knowledge he possesses. Of course, once revived he takes matters into his own hands, summoning plagues, overpowering Conan himself and using the ancient Heart of Ahriman to boost his powers, with which he intends to raise the lost continent of Acheron and rule the world. And then, of course, there's Conan's nemesis Thoth-Amon, who sends a variety of half-snake, half-human creatures after Conan in "The Sword and the Serpent", and was reborn (in a way) as the serpentine Thulsa Doom (borrowed from the Kull stories) in the 1982 film Conan the Barbarian (where he was played by the one and only James Earl Jones, voice of Darth Vader).
It's a bit easier to see where Howard's wizards stood in relation to the story's heroes by exploring the wizards of the man who is arguably Howard's heir to the throne, Fritz Leiber. While Leiber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories (mostly written between 1939 and 1970) mostly contributed rogues and thieves to the world of Role-Playing, they also contained some fairly important wizardly characters, and are worth a look.
The Gray Mouser himself is a wizard of sorts, and a shady one at that, providing a tentative link between the concept of the aloof, powerful wizard (his master) and the sword-carrying, dark-tinged, spell-casting warrior we see in Moorcock's stories. Mouser himself is originally an apprentice to a good "white" wizard, but when his master is killed he's hunted down, captured and tortured, forced to combine the white magic he knows with blacker, evil magic to free himself (white plus black equals gray). Neither he nor his companion Fafhrd are paragons of virtue (although they're certainly not evil bastards like Elric either). But more importantly, neither of them control vast, powerful magics; even if Mouser is a wizard of sorts, he has trouble controlling his magic, which is precisely why we need Ningauble of the Seven Eyes and Sheelba of the Eyeless Face to do it for them.
Even though Leiber's two main wizards are on the same side of the fence as our heroes, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, they don't really play a central role in the story. The wizards don't wander around in dungeons with the boys, nor do they stand around casting fireballs and invisibility spells. Instead, they stand back and provide support functions, in most cases doing little more than chatting at the beginning and end of a story, and occasionally providing a means to an end. For example, in "Adept's Gambit," Ningauble is needed to cast a time-travel spell to transport Fafhrd and Mouser to a historical empire; without the wizard, the two would never have gotten there, and the story couldn't take place. But Ningauble isn't about to lift a finger to actually do anything heroic:
The seven eyes of Ningauble the Wizard floated back to his hood... "Now about Lankhmar. She's been invaded, her walls breached everywhere and desperate fighting is going on in the streets, by a fierce host which out-numbers Lankhmar's inhabitants by fifty to one -- and equipped with all modern weapons. Yet you can save the city."
Ningauble and Sheelba are particularly interesting, in that they are alien entities, their faces tangles of horror. And it is through them that we can trace the origin of our wizards back to the horrible tentacled beasts and dark magics found in the 1920s and 1930s scientific and horror pulp fiction of magazines like Weird Tales and Worlds Beyond.
Certainly, fantasy itself has roots in many gardens. For example, the many brilliant short stories of Lord Dunsany, written mostly between 1905 and 1920, had a major impact on many fantasy writers, and are recognized by some as the first "pure fantasy" stories. Also not to be discounted are the many "pure pulp" action-adventures of the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s, written by such oft-forgotten writers as Talbot Mundy and Sax Rohmer (the latter responsible for the infamous evil hypnotist, Dr. Fu Manchu). Nor can we completely write off the archaeological and scientific fantasies of writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs, with his "Victorian Sci-fi" of Mars-bound dirigibles and his hero Tarzan, or his predecessor H. Rider Haggard, whose turn-of-the-century novels about Allan Quatermain, Zulu witch doctors and the immortal goddess Ayesha influenced everyone from Burroughs to Howard and Moorcock in one way or another.
But much of what has gone into the Role-playing magic-user comes from a much darker building material, clearly visible in the works of horror pulp writers as Clark Ashton Smith and H. P. Lovecraft, whose most relevant works appeared in the 1920s and 1930s. These two men were not only contemporaries of fantasy greats like Leiber and Howard, but they all shared imagery and mythology from the Cthulhu mythos between their works (Leiber's Ningauble and Sheelba, and Howard's Thoth-Amon, are purely Cthulhuesque). The Cthulhu mythos, for those unfamiliar with it, is based around the concept that alien beings known as the "Great Old Ones" long ago ruled earth, but have since been placed into a magical sleep from which they will one day awaken.
As is always the case, there are those who are willing to barter their souls for a chance to gain the favor of these creatures, and these dark cultists and necromantic sorcerers peruse ancient books like the Necronomicon in the hopes of awakening these great beings through their worship. Innocents who learn the true secrets of these ancient godlike beings are typically driven to the brink of insanity. And this, then, brings us far closer to the truth about wizards and magic-users than one might suspect--that they are those who can explore the unknown, and survive to tell the tale. This is a concept that takes us right back to the dawn of humanity; Lovecraft himself attested that "(t)he oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." Thus, not knowing the truth causes fear, and knowing the truth (at least in the Cthulhu mythos) breeds insanity and terror; only those capable of walking the fine line, willing to trade their souls and their sanity for knowledge, can survive.
Lovecraft himself cites a bewildering assortment of sources for his own inspiration, from Matthew Gregory Lewis (whose 1796 novel "The Monk" describes a Faust-like Spaniard named Ambrosio) to Bram Stoker (Dracula, as described in the 1897 novel, is as much a sorcerer as are those who hunt him down). Most directly influential in many respects was undoubtedly Edgar Allen Poe, whose during his relatively short life (1809-1849) produced some of the most darkly magical fiction of his time. Even in works without wizards and sorcerers, Poe's protagonists and antagonists are of the same cut as obvious magic-users, being tall, dark and handsome, highly intellectual and yet deeply secretive. Both "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "The Masque of the Red Death" feature powerfully disturbing central characters, the latter's Prince Prospero portrayed excellently as a Satanist by Vincent Price in the 1964 film of the same name.
Edward Bulwer-Lytton, a contemporary of Poe (and best known for his overly ambitious opening paragraphs), was also responsible for creating some oft-forgotten but nonetheless important wizardly figures who fall prey to their own dark magics in one way or another. 1842's "Zanoni" features an ancient Chaldean sorcerer who agelessly survives only to be killed during the French Revolution, and 1862's "A Strange Story" offers the magician Margrave, who is controlled in his sleep by unseen and unknown forces. Both Poe and Lytton, of course, were following in the footsteps of other writers of Gothic horror, most notably Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. Her Frankenstein: A Modern Prometheus (1817) portrayed the title character (the name of the doctor, not the monster) as part magician, part alchemist, dabbling with dark secrets that are best left untouched. In attempting to create life, Victor Frankenstein inadvertently creates a being which, through his rejection, he causes to track down and destroy everything he loves. Again, the same story: those who would perform magic and learn the secrets of the universe must be willing to face its wrath in the end.
This, then, raises an important question: exactly how did our powerful wizard arise from such horrific, humble beginnings? For where we now stand, those who would use magic must do so in secrecy, lest they be torn to shreds by darker powers, or destroyed by those who fear them. The answer to that question, of course, lies just a bit further back in history, in a little town called Salem.
From Witches to Wicca - The Persecution of the Magic-user
...they saw, standing in just the spot the screen had hidden, a little old man, with a bald head and a wrinkled face, who seemed to be as much surprised as they were. The Tin Woodman, raising his axe, rushed toward the little man and cried out, "Who are you?"
Neither The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, nor the film it inspired, have anything to do with wizards; in both cases, the deep, dark secret is that the Wizard of Oz isn't a wizard, and that Dorothy's magical slippers, nabbed from a witch's corpse, actually hold the power to get home. It is the witches in the story who have all the power; those of East and West being evil, they must be defeated in turn by Dorothy, with help from the good witches of the North and South. Dorothy herself is arguably a witch, for in keeping with some magical legends, in killing the bad witches she takes part of their power.
Of course, when you boil it down to magic, a witch and a wizard are basically the same thing; between the 16th and 18th centuries, a witch was simply what you called a wizard when you were lighting the bonfire. The name "witch" itself even carries many of the same connotations; witch itself which means to "twist or bend," and is derived from the Anglo-Saxon "wicca," which is in turn derived from the word "wicce," which means "wise." But it certainly was not wisdom that led to the widespread persecution by Christians that caused wizards to vanish from sight for a few hundred years. H.P. Lovecraft himself discussed the persecution in his story "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" (later remade into the 1963 Vincent Price film, "The Haunted Palace). Both film and story are about a male witch (i.e., a warlock) who curses a village as its inhabitants are burning him, and his descendant who fulfills the curse by murdering the villagers. But one doesn't need Lovecraft to tell us about burning witches; there's plenty of other material to go around.
Persecution of witches really started to heat up (pun intended) around the end of the 15th century. Prior to that time, there's not much evidence that witches were burned at the stake merely for being witches. For example, Joan of Arc was certainly put to death in 1431, but she wasn't accused of witchcraft, as many believe; in fact, she was accused mostly of heresy, denying the authority of the church, and crossdressing. Duchess Joan of Navarre, who died in 1437, was accused of being a witch and plotting against King Henry IV of England, but she was pardoned of her alleged crimes and freed. And Mother Shipton, a well-known witch and prophetess born in 1488 was well-respected in her community and died of natural causes in 1561. Not a torch or bonfire in sight.
But things certainly started to change around 1486, when the infamous witch-hunting manual called the Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches) was produced. A detailed exploration of exactly what the Catholic Church hoped to accomplish by hunting witches will not be undertaken here, but it's perhaps worth noting that statements in the Malleus like "No one does more harm to the Catholic faith than midwives" probably contributed to the fact that of all the witches executed over the next 200 or so years, over 80 percent of them (4 in 5) were female. Aside from being female, other obvious signs that one might be dealing with a witch were curiously similar to other undesirable conditions: homosexuality, Leprosy, or simply being Jewish. In short, a "witch" was anyone you didn't want living next door to you; it had little to do with magic or wizardry.
Regardless, people saw fit to cook up a whole series of images surrounding witches and wizards, most of them of arguable relevance except when taken in totem around Halloween, when the kids are getting their costumes ready. Certainly, black cats and toads were to be found all over in small villages, and the old lady at the end of the row was undoubtedly going to have a broom and a wart on her nose. The business about flying through the air, cooking small children in cauldrons and having sexual relations with the devil is very nearly the stuff of pornography, and would almost certainly have incited to riot anyone who actually believed the stuff. And this is precisely why we don't find many fictional wizards being written about during this period of time. Books by people like Pierre de l'Ancre describing wizardly goings-on, witches' Sabbaths and such matters were not taken as fictional accounts by a society that had been brought up to believe in the absolute truth of religious doctrine, and the supremacy of the Bible as the be-all, end-all of truth, justice and the Christian way. After all, the Bible says "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." (Exodus 22:18).
The Spanish Inquisition, of course, is most commonly associated with the most intense witch hunting, and actually stretched from 1478 until 1834. Clearer hindsight makes it evident that this wasn't so much a hunt for devil-worshippers and witches, but more of an attempt to purge society of those who did not believe in Christianity (in particular, Protestants and Jews). The most infamous inquisitor, Tomas de Torquemada, was personally responsible for over 2,000 executions over a 14 year span, but this was nothing compared to the numbers racked up in countries like Switzerland, where the first major witch-hunt occurred in 1427, or Germany, where at least 30 thousand and possibly as many as 100 thousand were killed over a 150 year period.
In some countries, the witch-hunting craze never really caught on: Ireland only officially executed four or five, for example. But nearby Scotland and England can trace their own witch-hunting frenzy to the 1530s, when King Henry VIII of England officially separated from the Catholic Church, and Anne Boleyn was beheaded as a witch for, among other things, having six fingers and not bearing her husband a male heir. The next hundred years or so were fairly rocky times, witches notwithstanding, seeing the Catholic Queen Mary fleeing Scotland, her son James taking the throne under the tutorship of fanatics, and the rise to power and eventual death of Queen Elizabeth. Perhaps it would have been wise not to allow James to become King of England as well as Scotland in 1603, considering the fact that he penned a witch-hunting book called "Demonologie" in 1597. Suffice to say that many, many people were hung, burned and otherwise done away with between his rise to power and the eventual dying down of the fanaticism, towards the end of the 17th Century when the craze spread to America, bringing us the infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692, where nineteen witches were hanged.
Surprisingly, the Salem Witch Trials are not the end of the story. Two women were burned as witches in Poland in 1793, and a wizard was killed via "ordeal by water" in England in 1865, 31 years after the official end of the Spanish Inquisition. It took until 1957 for the Massachusetts State Legislature to finally exonerate Ann Pudeator, one of the witches burned in Salem, and until 2001 for them to finally exonerate by name five more. Even as I write this, Christian fundamentalists are raising a hue and cry over the Harry Potter movie and books, claiming that they are inspiring young children to turn to Satan, wizardry and witchcraft.
Wiccan groups, arguably the only legitimate "witches" around today, steadfastly (and correctly) deny any connection between their faith, the (mostly fictional) "black Satanic witchcraft" which inspired the witch-burnings of the past, and the entirely fanciful wizardry and witchcraft of the Harry Potter books. But Wiccans do, in fact, have at least a nominal connection to wizardry as we know it, partly because of (and perhaps in spite of) Christianity, and partly because of the ancient Druids.
Druids and the Divine - Religion and the Magic-user
"Behold the sword of power, Excalibur. Before Uther, it belonged to Lud, before Lud, to Beowulf, before Beowulf to Baldur the Good, before Baldur to Thor himself and that was when the world was young and there were more than seven colors in the rainbow."
Although no one can precisely pinpoint when and where magic-users started to crawl out of the woodwork, there are more than a few experts who will be happy to point you in the direction of northern European hunters, whose artifacts and cave drawings seem to prove their case. Certainly, there's evidence that horns and claws carved with little enchantments seem to have been used in some sort of primitive magic, and cave paintings depicting hunters turning into animals demonstrates something halfway between disguise and magical belief. Without a doubt, any such natural magic found its way down into the beliefs of the ancient Celts, and the Druids who walked among them.
The Celts, descendants of the Indo-Europeans which nobody seems to be able to prove really existed, lived among the British Isles between 700 B.C.E. and 100 C.E., with the Druidic faith existing for several centuries thereafter. The Druids (and all Celts) had a pantheistic belief system, worshipping both a god and a goddess while revering nature and the divinity within it. Partly because Christianity devoured parts of their faith (Christmas takes place in late December not because that's when Christ was born, but because it was the Winter Solstice, a day when Celts celebrated the rebirth of the sun), and partly because many of them were massacred by Romans, we don't know all that much about the Druidic faith, but we do know that Druids believed in things like reincarnation, were astute students of astrology and the healing arts, and were generally revered as sages, judges and peacemakers.
As Roman and Christian influences began to dissolve the original Celtic beliefs, the Druidic faith gradually transformed itself into the much broader concept of "Paganism," derived from the Latan "paganus" which means "country-dweller." As the name suggests, it was a religion for those who dwelt in the countryside, rising up from the Celtic reverence for things like oak trees and mistletoe and evolving into a general, practical sort of religion that dealt with "hedge magic" such as crafting potions, grinding herbs and performing bits of medicine. The means in which these religious beliefs came to be seen as Satanic witchcraft have already been discussed; here we're mainly concerned with what happened before that, because it's where we find Merlin.
The Merlin that we know comes to us primarily from Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regnum Britanniae, published in 1135. Within this tome, we get a Merlinus who is a composite of several other fictional characters, including a 6th century Druidic bard named Myrddin and a bastard orphan named Ambrosius. Geoffrey's Merlin is a half-demon, his mother a nun who was defiled by a foul creature of Satan (certainly this didn't help the case of witches). But rather than being an evil creature, Merlin is instead bestowed with the ability of prophecy, helps Uther Pendragon and may or may not have been involved with creating Stonehenge. Only later, thanks to Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur, does Merlin become advisor and seer not only to Uther, but to Uther's son Arthur as well. It is here, too, that we get the full story of Excalibur, the "sword in the stone," and other such myths (portrayed beautifully, if not entirely accurately, in films like Excalibur).
Merlin's untimely demise partly results from the patriarchal influences of Christianity: he falls in love with a sorceress named Nyneve/Viviane/Nimue, who imprisons him in a cave for all eternity. In part, this is symbolic of the coming of Christianity, for where Christ comes out of the tomb to save mankind, Merlin's magical time is ended and he must go back into the cave to make room for the new religion. One wouldn't be entirely off base to compare this to Lord of the Rings, which has Gandalf sailing off as Middle Earth's magical era comes to a close. Indeed, both Merlin and Gandalf are alike in many, many ways, from their appearances (wandering old men with grey cloaks and staves) to the fact that neither of them uses magic most of the time. Indeed, but for a few choice spells, most of Merlin's time is spent making predictions and offering advice to the king he happens to be serving at the time. His value, like Gandalf's, is not that he can cast spells, but that he's smart and wise.
More important, however, is the fact that both Merlin and Gandalf are otherworldly and superhuman in some fashion. Merlin, of course, is half-demon, his overall appearance and abilities derived in part from the Celtic Cernunnos (God of the Wild Hunt) and partly from the Norse Odin, the sage and magician of that religion's deities. Gandalf is drawn from the same well, being not human but one of five Istari, otherworldly Maiar in disguise sent to protect and serve Middle Earth (besides Gandalf the Grey, there were Radagast the Brown, Saruman the White and the two "Blue Wizards," Alator and Pallando). As one of the Maiar, Gandalf is raised up into the realm of the immortal and the divine. He is older than the world itself, and will exist long after it has come to an end; his immortality is proven definitively when, after being killed in defeating the Balrog, he is returned to life as Gandalf the White, and made more powerful for the journey.
In part, Tolkien manages to present Gandalf in this way because he did an "end-around" in researching for Lord of the Rings, drawing not upon the fiction of his time but upon mythology itself. As such, he wasn't forced to drag his concept of a wizard through the mud of witch burnings and horrific otherworldly science-horror, but could present a wizard who, like Merlin, came directly from the realm of the divine.
In fact, if we look back at where everything came from, there's really very little difference between the Role-Playing cleric and the Role-Playing magic-user, but for one important fact: the cleric believes, and his God performs "magic", whereas the wizard seeks to know, and to perform magic on his own (and to extend the comparison one step further, the sorcerer or prophet already knows, because he's given the answer before he asks the question). The following chart, while most relevant to D&D 3e, demonstrates the point:
The wizard doesn't commune with God/the gods, but rather seeks to attain the divine secrets of the universe himself; a much more difficult path, but for the devoted seeker of knowledge certainly more rewarding in the long run. Of course, in the Judeo-Christian world this is the sin of Lucifer, who seeks to match the power of God and is cast out of Heaven for his efforts, as well as, in a sense, the sin of Adam and Eve, who seek to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and are expelled from Paradise, basically, for wanting to know secrets intended for God only. In a larger sense, this is the downfall of the medieval magician Faust/Faustus, who gives up his very soul in exchange for magical powers. One could argue, then, that at least from a Role-Playing, druids are actually more closely aligned with wizards than with clerics, since druids seek to understand nature and use that knowledge to create magic. One doesn't need faith to heal when one knows how to use herbs to make a poultice, after all, and both seem equally magical to those who don't know or understand the truth.
The Judeo-Christian mythos is filled with magicians of various sorts, with not only the Old and New Testaments of the Bible but many apocryphal works containing many references to magic of various sorts. Much of this is due in part to the fact that the earliest portions of the Old Testament relate events that took place in places like Egypt, where we have records of practicing magicians from as early as 2700 B.C.E. The Egyptian magician Dedi, for example, claimed not only to be 110 years old, but to be capable of severing the head of a goose or a bull and then reattaching it without harming the animal. By far, however, the best example of the old "your religion's priests are my religion's evil magicians" comes in the guise of Jannes and Jambres (mentioned in II Timothy 3:8).
The Biblical tale of the Exodus is filled with events that seem magical, from a burning bush to a pillar of fire, but the most direct magical demonstration comes when Moses and Aaron engage in a duel of sorts with the Pharaoh's court magicians.
(10) And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the LORD had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent. (11) Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. (12) For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods.
In the end, Moses and Aaron's faith in Yahweh proves stronger than the magic of Jannes and Jambres, but taken at face value it's still evidence of the presence of some sort of magic use. Indeed, part of the reason Pharaoh doesn't immediately release the Israelites from bondage, despite a series of plagues visited upon Egypt by Yahweh, is that his own court magicians are able to replicate many of the events, thus (in his mind, at least), disproving the divinity of their origins. Moses and Aaron turn the Nile to blood, and "magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments" as well. Time and again, the magicians "do so" with their "enchantments." It's quite clear here that this is not a matter of one God facing down another; although Yahweh later advises his followers to have "no gods before me," the Old Testament, at least, is pretty clear that the Israelites believed in other deities (such as Baal). But here, Jannes and Jambres are called magicians, though they are the grandsons of a priest of the Egyptian god Apis. In short, the magic they perform is wizardly magic, not divine magic.
Of course, in the end, Jannes and Jambres meet a predictably bad (and somewhat Faustian) end. According to one apocryphal source, Jannes suffers a terrible ulcer which ultimately kills him, and for his disbelief he is sent to Hell, after which his brother Jambres uses necromantic magic to summon and commune with his brother's spirit. How Jambres eventually dies is not certain, but one can surmise that it's certainly not a happy end. Even Moses, a devoted follower of Yahweh and a prophet, is not permitted to enter the chosen land of Canaan because he at one point doubts that he can strike a stone with his staff to produce water. In this, and in other ways, even Moses is wizard-like; after all, he is the one who climbs Mt. Sinai to retrieve the 10 Commandments, which are in a sense the Words of God engraved in stone. Moses, like so many other magic-users, does not pray for enlightenment and rely solely on faith; he makes the journey to the realm of the divine himself, and brings back knowledge for his people.
Of course, by no means am I claiming that Moses is on par with the Egyptian magicians; he's clearly presented as a prophet and a holy figure, and is by no means a "M'khashepah," which is the Hebrew word which translates as "wizard" or "witch." This word was clearly reserved for evil sorcerers and magic-users, against whom there was little protection. Hence, we get Deuteronomy 18:10-11: "There shall not be found among you anyone.. that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer." The M'khashepah could reveal mysteries and truths about the universe, and that circumvented the desired path of following the will of God, and having faith and belief that through Him, everything would work out just fine. Again, the distinction between knowledge and faith gives us our magic-user.
The New Testament, too, gives us several references to magic-users, not the least of which involves Jesus Christ himself; in at least one interpretation, one of the charges brought against him at his trial is that he was a magician, claiming to have knowledge that was reserved only for God. Others include Bar-Jesus or Elymas (Acts 13:4-12) and Simon Magus (Acts 8:19-24), a Samaritan magician who claimed to have the "great power of God" and gave his name to the act of simony by attempting to purchase Holy power. The delineation between the magic-user's power and that of the cleric is clearly evident in an apocryphal story of Simon, in which he uses magic to fly into the air in an attempt to impress a Roman Emperor. Two of the Apostles witness this act, and pray to God to stop him from flying; God apparently listens, and Simon plunges to his death.
More than one source also associates Simon Magus with the other magi of the New Testament; namely, the three magi who visit the manger where the infant Jesus lies. As mentioned earlier, these magi are not kings, but were likely rather Mithraic priest-magicians, part astrologers and part astronomers. Left out during the Christian Christmas celebrations is the fact that according to the ancient Persian beliefs of these three magi, a savior named Mithras would come to earth, his coming announced by a star. Whether the Christians borrowed Mithraic symbolism for their own use, or the magi followed a mistaken and false belief to discover the true savior of another religion, or whether both religions shared some common truth, it is not this writer's place to consider.
What is certain, however, is that on some level, we have here another instance of not only interaction and delineation between divine magic and wizardly magic, but acceptance of the latter as real and legitimate, if not exactly acceptable and proper. Exactly where the line could be drawn was a topic that would be considered by many for hundreds of years, leading to the development of practices which would influence not only fictional magic-users, but the medieval world's own true wizards and alchemists.
Of Angels and Angles - Mystical and Mathematical Roots
"To know what is necessary for ascent to the heavens; to travel through all that is in the seven heavens, to behold all the signs of the zodiac... to learn the names of the guards of each firmament and their work and how they manage everything, and what are the names of their servants, and what libations are to be made to them..."
One of the many reasons Dungeons & Dragons got itself in trouble with religion in the late 1970s and early 1980s was because of their detailed lists of demons and devils (many of them first appearing in the 1976's Eldritch Wizardry supplement), and their appropriation of imagery commonly associated with medieval witchcraft and wizardry. It wasn't so much that the cover featured a naked virgin bound to a sacrificial altar, or that the interior contained 13 line art drawings of demons and 6 bare female breasts. Well, maybe it was partly that. But it was also how accurately (at least in the minds of its critics) the book (and later books) depicted the world of demons and devils. After all, medusae and gargoyles and vampires were obviously fantastical and mythological, but here were Orcus and Demogorgon and Succubi, names ripped straight from old Judeo-Christian apocryphal texts and pseudo-mystical tomes from the Middle Ages. To the casual role-player, it was nothing more than one more mythos being depicted among a collage of dozens--Cthulhu, Nehwon, Greek, Norse, Judeo-Christian--but to Christian opponents, it was nothing short of heresy and witchcraft. An understandable reaction, if not necessarily a wholly logical or equitable one. After all, this behavior amounts to nothing less than saying "All religions are mythical except my own."
It's difficult to fully grasp what all the fuss was about if you merely look at the shape of modern religions, because, to a great extent, modern Judaism and Christianity are watered-down versions of what they originally were. This is not to say that either religion is invalid or impotent in any way, but rather to point out that a few millenia ago, there was a whole lot more going on than any modern day Bible or Torah can possibly relate. To use a Thanksgiving analogy, the shape of the bird hasn't changed, but there was definitely a lot more "stuffing" in the turkey.
People took religion a lot more literally back then. This goes far beyond thinking that Satan could possess a person and be exorcised, and that people could magically speak in foreign languages--such things are accepted, to some degree, even today. But medieval thinkers took literal to a whole new level. You've heard the phrase "seventh heaven?" They believed it. There was not one heaven, but seven layers of heaven, each with its own unique geography, spiritual focus and meaning. In much the same way, hell was not just a big fiery pit, but rather nine unique layers, each devoted to a different sort of sin, with Satan at the center of the earth, and of hell. Which is, of course, why Dungeons & Dragons presents nine hells and seven heavens in its planar structure: it's straight out of medieval beliefs. Or, more correctly, medieval "knowledge." It wasn't just that Dante believed that hell had nine layers when he was writing Inferno; it was a given, a fact. And it was knowing facts like that which gave the medieval wizard his power.
Take something simple like angels. Today, angels are either cute, fluffy little cherubs sitting on top of the Christmas tree, or trenchcoat-wearing Hollywood stars who perform miracles on television and fall in love with humans at the movies. The notion that angels walk among humanity is hardly a new one, and some of their modern depictions actually get fairly close to their true origins, such as the Prophecy series of movies, which features Christopher Walken as the self-serving angel Gabriel, along with a slew of archangels, Nephilim and even Lucifer himself. This film series continues a long line of pseudo-apocryphal fiction about the infamous War in Heaven, which, although it's not mentioned directly in the Bible, is accepted as fact by most scholars and theologians, and was the main source of inspiration for famous literary works like Dante's Inferno, and Milton's Paradise Lost.
The gist of the story, for those who aren't quite up on angelic history, is that at some point between the Old Testament and the New Testament (wherein there's a gap of some 400 years), Satan (then the highest ranking Seraphim and chief of the angels) decided that he was too important and intelligent an angel to bow down to God/Jesus/mankind. He and a third of all the angels (in some accounts a few hundred, in others a few million) rebelled against God in a brutal war, which ultimately led to the archangel Michael casting Satan and his rebels down into Hell. "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven," he says in Paradise Lost, apparently trying to convince himself as well as the reader that it's better to be the master of one's own destiny in search of truth than a faithful follower of a greater power. Of course, even in Hell, he and his fallen angels are subject to the will of God, even if they cannot look upon his glory any more. And it's that "fact" which led to the belief by early medieval theologians that one could summon Satan and his minions, as well as the good angels, to do one's bidding.
Of course, in order to control something, you have to understand it, and be able to find it in time and space. In our modern scientific era, this goes without saying: we know when the Leonid Meteor Shower will be at its peak because we understand it, and know its place in the Universe relative to Earth. In much the same way, it was important for early magic-users to understand the place of angels and demons, and to know where they were in relation to one another.
Exactly how or where this all got started is up for debate, but gradually a massive library of grimoires and secret texts built up, starting towards the end of the Roman Empire and peaking somewhere around the time of the Renaissance. Books like the Sefer ha-Razim (Book of Secrets), the Sword of Moses, The Lemegeton (The Lesser Key of Solomon the King), the Book of Abramelin the Mage, The Ars Notoria and the Clavicula Salomonis (Key of Solomon) proclaimed, with great sincerity and devotion, to understand the secrets of summoning and controlling angels and demons, almost always "In the name of the mighty and holy God." Though probably seen as at least mildly heretical and Satanic by some, to others they were a logical extension of religion, and a desire to attain a deeper understanding of the unknown world of the Divine. At any rate, without a doubt such tomes reached a sort of culmination with the 19th century Libellus Magicus, which explicitly placed devils and angels in their proper places with great detail.
And so we get not just Micha'el, Gabri'el and Rapha'el (from the Bible), but a whole host of angelic names, each with individual meaning, purpose and control over certain aspects of nature. Micha'el (Who is as God) was not only leader of the celestial armies and protector of Israel, but the angel of the Sun, associated with Sunday, the astrological sign of Leo, the metal gold, the color yellow, the jewels diamond, topaz and jacinth, and the powers of long life, wisdom and transmutation. Gabri'el (God is my strength) wasn't just a cute cherub and the messenger of God, he was also associated with the moon, Monday, the sign of Cancer, silver, pearls and medicine. In like fashion, every major angel was associated with a planet, which corresponded to an astrological sign, which was related somehow to a specific mineral, plant, color, shape and purpose. We have Uri'el, Chamu'el, Jophi'el, and Sari'el, Oriphi'el, Zachari'el, Sama'el, and Ana'el. Thousands of angels, thousands of names, ordered into three choirs and nine distinct groups: Serpahim, Cherubim, thrones, dominations, virtues, powers, principalities, archangels and angels.
Devils, too, were not only known by name, but by function and number. Lucifer and Satan were not always the same being, but distinct fallen angels with distinct purposes and spheres of control. Likewise, there was Belial, Beelzebub, Astaroth and Mephistopheles, as well as Mammon, Moloch, Orcus, Demogorgon and Baal. And because of the "your gods are my demons" attitude of the times, many devils took on the names of the deities of other religions: Pluto, Jupiter, Neptune, Horus, Isis, Apollo, Odin and others were all given demonic names and a place within the "infernal council." Leviathan, associated with water, was obviously admiral of Hell's navy. And let's not forget Marbuel, chief engineer and superintendent, and Astaroth and Melshom, Hell's treasurers. Striving to know and understand your enemy, after all, gave you additional powers over him. This was not a faceless random evil, nor was it a single red-skinned, horned monster derived from Greek imagery of the gods Dionysius and Pan. These were understandable creatures with a place in the divine order, and in knowing their name you could call them, and control them.
Some tomes contained extensive instructions on what colors to wear, what words to speak and what components to prepare before calling upon an otherworldly power--quite clearly, these were magical spells, not prayers, and meant for users of magic, not priests. Central in the summoning and controlling of magical spirits was knowing how to inscribe a proper magical circle, hexagram or pentagram, within which the spirit would be summoned and thereby entrapped. The hexagram, constructed of two interlocking triangles which form a star-shaped figure, was (and still is, for many reasons) one of the most potent magical symbols. Known as the Khatam Shlomo (Seal of Solomon) and the Star of David, it's not just the symbol of Judaism but has long been associated with the warding off of evil forces. But without a doubt, the pentagram and the pentacle take center stage in the world of the magic-user.
The difference between a pentagram and a pentacle is clear, even among the uninitiated; enclose a pentagram in a circle and you get a pentacle, most often associated with modern Wiccans and Neo-Pagans but historically symbolic of both man's place in the world (more clearly seen in Leonardo Da Vinci's famous Vitruvian Man sketch) as well as protection from evil (the circle protecting that which lies within). Invert the pentagram or pentacle so that two points face upwards, and you've inverted the meaning, placing spirit below the realm of the physical elements (air, fire, earth and water) and demonstrating a symbol often associated with the goat-headed Baphomet (from the Greek baphe and metis, meaing "to absorb knowledge") and Satanism (although Wiccans, too, wear inverted pentacles to symbolize different things).
Of course, there's nothing inherently evil about any hexagram, pentagram or pentacle, and the relatively modern reactions to the symbol as such are as misguided as the belief that the swastika is a symbol only of Nazi Germany. Pentagrams were used by the Hebrews, not only as the seal of the City of Jerusalem, but also as a symbol of the five books of the Pentateuch. For early Christians, including Emperor Constantine I, the pentagram was even used interchangeably with the cross as a symbol of Christ, the five points of the star representing Christ's five major wounds (from whence, perhaps, we get the notion that the inverted pentagram is evil, it being associated with an inverted cross). Throughout the Medieval era, it was also known as the Goblin's Cross, the Pentalpha, the Witch's Foot and the Endless Knot (the symbol can be drawn with a single line), and was commonly used as an amulet to protect against evil and strange demons. It's even found in apples, and starfish, and flowers, and 50 times over in the American flag. But perhaps most importantly, the symbol was important to the Pythagoreans of ancient Greece, not only because of magic, but because of mathematics.
Pythagoras (586-506 B.C.E.) and his followers were fascinated with the pentagram, known to them as the pentalpha (since the symbol can also be seen as being five letter A's) and the Ugieia, a word which brings with it connotations of wholeness of being, and described the five elements represented by the five corners of the pentagram: U for Hudor, or water; G for Gaia, or earth; I for Idea; EI for Heile, the sun's warmth (i.e., fire); and A for Aer, or air. Perhaps more fascinating, however, were the mathematical qualities that the pentagram possessed. First of all, it is a prime number. Additionally, it was contained in the faces of the dodecahedron, a Platonic solid considered to be a symbol of the heavens. It can create infinite mirrors of itself by the repeated inscription of pentagram inside pentagon. And most importantly, it contains the "Golden Ratio," perhaps the most significant mathematical proportion in the history of mankind (whereby the ratio of the lengths of the two sides is equal to the ratio of the longer side to the sum of the two sides); this ratio is present in many works of art, the Great Pyramids, and even the human body itself.
Of course, this essay is not intended to be a treatise on mathematics any more than it's intended to discuss magic, but it is certainly interesting to see how numbers and magic correlate to one another. Certainly, on more than one level, Pythagoras and his followers can be seen as wizards in the broad sense of the term, for they were renowned scholars, teachers and students of religion, music and geometry. Pythagoras, who was driven underground for his beliefs, learned much of what he knew from Egyptian scholars, where we've already seen evidence of not only the Pyramids and other great architectural achievements, but of magicians and magic. For the Pythagorians, mathematical study was nothing less than a way to unlock the secrets of the universe, and in that sense they were performing magic. Little wonder, then, that the Masonic Order, long associated with magic in more ways than one, traces their origins back 2,500 years to Pythagoras.
Mathematics and geometry is found everywhere in both religion and magical study, and to a certain extent there's little difference between the search for Pi's final digit and the search for any other celestial truth. Magical squares (in which the sum of the numbers of any line are all identical) were used by magic-users and alchemists throughout the middle ages to unlock secret truths about the universe, and every number had its own special meaning. Zero (0) represents not just a mathematical truth, but a metaphysical one as well, representing nothingness (it's interesting to note that the Pythagoreans did not have a true conception of zero). Likewise, we get: 1, wholeness, unity; 2, duality, male and female; 3, the trinity; 4, the earth, the perfect square; 5, man, the stigmata; 6, imperfection (and, thus, 666 representing ultimate imperfection, being 6 thrice over); 7, perfection, the days of the week, the creation of the universe; 8, resurrection and rebirth, baptism; 9, ranks of angels ; and 10, the number of commandments. This is to say nothing of the magical significance of the number 13, as unlucky for a medieval peasant as it was to Tolkien's dwarves in The Hobbit; it's Gandalf the wizard who does the math and selects a 14th to be their lucky number.
Alphabets and Alchemy - Qabalism, and the Quest for the Philosopher's Stone
"Now you know, poets have powers greater than those of scientists. We merely put to use what they invent. Most poets rarely use their Words of Power for any practical purpose, but when they do... The humblest poet can by his art summon springtime in the midst of winter, or bring to life improbable things."
Of course, spells aren't written in numbers, but letters, and while the former will get you symbols and structure, it takes language to fill in the necessary blanks and create real magic. The mystic Qabalists believed that language was, quite literally, magical, and that the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet had magical properties which could be arranged in different ways to bring about various magical effects. One of the most well known was in the fashioning of a golem, a being made from clay or stone and brought to life by inscribing the magic word, Emet (Truth, or Life) on its forehead; likewise, it could only be killed by erasing the first letter, E, thus leaving the word Met (Death). Even the well known magic word "abracadabra," while not directly Qabalistic, is neither merely another Disney creation, but was a powerful invocation during the Middle Ages to rid one of illness, when written on a charm or talisman in such a way that one letter dropped off the end of the word with each line. The magic was in the words themselves.
This, too, is both divine as well as magical, for in Genesis God creates the world not by dancing or waving his arms, but merely by speaking: "And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. (Genesis 1:3) Even Raistlin from the Dragonlance books could do it faster than that, with a harsh "Shirak" being the trigger for his light spell. And if God's words and language were magical, then the most magical word of all was the name of God himself, considered by some to be so holy and important that they will neither speak it nor write it (using G_d, Adonai or Elohim instead). Taken as a whole, the four letters of the Hebrew God's name, YHWH (pronounced Yahweh) were known as the Tetragrammaton, perhaps the most powerful of the many magical "words of power" which were undoubtedly uttered in dark towers during the Middle Ages. The word is perhaps one of the most significant utterances imaginable, translating as "he is," an acknowledgement of existence second only perhaps to "Yah," or "I am," this latter more powerful even than the infamous "cogito, sum," -- "I think, I am" (oft incorrectly quoted as cogito ergo sum).
Tolkien, too, understood this, which is perhaps why Gandalf and Saruman are renowned as great and powerful magic-users although they don't use magic all that often. Rather, both of them are powerful orators and rhetoricists, capable of using words to sway the minds of others. In The Two Towers, Gandalf warns his companions to "Beware of his voice!" in reference to Saruman's ability to weave enchantments through speaking, and in the wizardly duel which follows, Gandalf and Saruman cast nary a spell, the battle being won by Gandalf when he one-ups even Saruman, using not language, but laughter, to break the evil wizard's spell. Even if Tolkien himself was not aware of it, this laughter is undoubtedly related to the very real magic of ancient Gnostic amulets, which are nothing but long strings of apparently meaningless Greek vowels; only when pronounced aloud do the incantations come to life, resonating through the air and releasing their power. Laughter, anger, and indeed all emotion can echo through the air and do their magic without a single consonant pronounced.
Tolkien's elven and dwarven alphabets are also drawn from real historical sources, their origins coming from a variety of real world "magical" alphabets which have been used throughout the ages. Greeks saw Egyptian hieroglyphics as magical, as did some Egyptians, who employed a cursive form of writing for day-to-day communication. The ancient Celts and Druids had their own magical writings, called Ogham, related to the more well known Nordic Runes in that both are angular and were used for various occult purposes, not the least of which was divination. Still other alphabets were created by medieval magicians themselves for their own purposes, partly to maintain an air of mysticism, and partly to keep the secrets of their magic safe from the prying eyes of those who did not understand the code. The Theban Alphabet, for example, was created by the magician Honorious, and The Celestial and Malachim Alphabets were created by Agrippa. Modern practitioners of the magic arts often have a preference for one of the Enochian alphabets, the original created during the Elizabethan era by John Dee, a mage, and Edward Kelley, an alchemist, and the more recent "Dagger Alphabet" associated with Aleister Crowley.
It's perhaps appropriate that it is the Greek messenger God of wisdom, knowledge and trickery, Hermes, who lends his name to the Hermetic philosophy which winds its way throughout the history of magic, right alongside alchemy. A complete exploration of either Hermeticism or Alchemy would be impossible here, but it's interesting to look at both in relation to how they affected the development of the magic-user as we know him today.
Alchemy is often mistakenly defined in narrow terms like "trying to turn lead into gold," or "looking for the Philosopher's Stone" (the latter dubbed "Sorcerer's Stone" in the Harry Potter books for the benefit of what is obviously perceived as a stupid American audience). While true that alchemy was certainly a development of mathematical and scientific study, eventually giving way to modern day physics and chemistry, this is only half the story. In reality, many famous alchemists were actually more interested in exploring the mysteries of the universe and discovering esoteric truths, and it's in this way that they are the true ancestors of the modern wizard. This latter point of view is perhaps best illustrated via the example of Roger Bacon (1214-92).
Roger Bacon is heralded by many as one of the early advocates of what is known today as the "scientific method." In actual point of fact, Bacon's value as a chemist is questionable at best, many of his "recipes" and procedures offering little more than a mish-mosh of vague references. Much more importantly was that Roger Bacon was a man with an active imagination and a tendency to speak his mind about theological matters. He was at least nominally a Franciscan friar, but it was clear in many ways that he was not cut out for the life of a cleric. He was a wizard at heart, not content with mere faith and belief but instead a proponent of a careful study of the natural world by which one could discover the truth about the Creator. He was a harsh critic of theology and philosophy, much preferring the study of languages, mathematics, alchemy, and experimental science over intangibles. Whether or not he actually predicted things like gunpowder, airplanes and telescopes, or was actually capable of "real magic" is missing the point. Bacon's magic, like that of many alchemists, was in that he was interested in rooting out the truths of the Universe for himself instead of simply believing what he was told.
For the alchemists, using the Philosopher's Stone to create the magical "elixir vitae" was not merely a matter of using a rock to create a potion. The Philosopher's Stone, in many ways, was the heavy rock of logic and science used to bash philosophy on the skull, and the elixir of life was certainly analogous to the eternal life promised by religion. Alchemists simply didn't feel like waiting around for religion to provide something they felt they could find on their own. Certainly, God would provide salvation, but that didn't mean they couldn't look for the gates of Heaven on their own, for the benefit of themselves, their country and their King. Of course, the gold was nice too, and it's probably because of that hope that by the end of the 15th century, practically every ruler was sponsoring an alchemist or a "court magician" in his search for the truth. Books about their explorations soon joined the more Qabalistic texts on the shelves, including the Alchemical Catechism, The Golden Tractate of Hermes, The Mirror of Alchemy, The Secret Book of Artephius, The Six Keys of Eudoxus and the Circulatum Minus, all truly magical tomes in their own way.
By the dawn of the 16th century, our alchemists and Qabalists were happily lurking within their towers searching for the truths of the universe, joined closely by their brethren the mathematicians and scientists who would inevitably outlast them. And outside, in the groves and villages, we had our druids and pagans, practicing a more earthly sort of magic. Neither group was truly interested in simply accepting the religious beliefs of the day, both devoted instead to an exploration of how the world really worked, motivated by a desire to empower themselves with a sort of Promethean intellect, taking fire from the gods instead of waiting for the gods to throw the lightning bolt down from above. All it would take to turn them into the wizards and magic-users we know would be a powerful religious entity accusing them of true witchcraft and sorcery, driving them deep underground, and burning those who were unable to run fast enough. It would take just that to plunge magic-users into the darkness, so that they could then be lifted out again in all their horrific glory and laid on the table of fiction, quivering and twitching.
Which is, as history tells us, exactly what happened.
From Crowley to Chaos - The Modern Magic-User
In this book it is spoken of... Spirits and Conjurations; of Gods, Spheres, Planes and many other things which may or may not exist. It is immaterial whether they exist or not. By doing certain things certain results follow.
I mentioned earlier that the notion of the mage (as opposed to the wizard and the sorcerer) was perhaps the most recent type of magic-user to be developed fully in fantasy fiction. This is mostly because the most modern versions of what could be called "wizards" tend to act much like what we can call mages; that is to say, mostly solitary, wandering individuals seeking individual enlightenment and an ever-increasing sense of personal power and strength. Certainly, the more modern magic-users were not all hermits living in caves. Indeed, most were members of well-established orders such as the Gnostics, Hermetics, Illuminati, Masons and Rosicrucians, many of whom traced their origins all the way back to Pythagoras and the magic of geometry. Perhaps most interestingly of all (at least to those who would condemn all post-Inquisition magicians as Satanists) is the fact that the members of these magical orders were, for the most part, Christians. This would not always be the case.
At about the same time that Lovecraft and his fellows were churning out stories about Cthulhu and dark necromancers, groups of real magic-users were taking the traditions of the past, borrowing from the fiction of the day, and creating new wizardly orders for themselves. Some of them were even responsible for some of the fiction they were borrowing from, as in the case of Bulwer-Lytton, who was a Rosicrucian, and Sax Rohmer, who not only wrote about the fictional wizard Dr. Fu Manchu, but was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which included other writers like William Butler Yeats and had already reached its peak of influence between the late 1880s and the start of World War I. Lovecraft himself was probably not a member of any of these magical organizations; such has been alleged, but Lovecraft was, for the most part, philosophically opposed to magic of any kind, despite his vivid imagination (although his grandfather, Whipple Van Buren Phillips, was a Freemason).
One of the earliest results of this churning up of old ideas and fresh new minds was the Ordo Templi Orientis, or Oriental Templar Order (abbreviated O.T.O.), founded at the dawn of the 20th century by Carl Kellner, a chemist and student of Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism and Eastern mysticism. Aleister Crowley (of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn) would soon become a member of this order, and with his help over a dozen unique magical traditions contribute to a larger body of teachings and symbolism. Perhaps more importantly, Crowley also believed that the O.T.O. was losing its edge, that the Masonic rituals and initiations were becoming bloated, losing their symbolism and power under layers of unnecessary symbolism. His stripped down, revved up and decidedly new way of doing things laid the groundwork for what's known even today as Chaos magic.
Crowley's own first "encounter" with this sort of magic was described by him as being "an experience of horror and pain, combined with a certain ghostly terror, yet at the same time it was the key to the purest and holiest spiritual ecstasy that exists." And if that sounds contradictory, it is. To understand Chaos magic, first take everything I've told you about magic-users, both fictional and historical, and forget it. Now take Crowley's Law of Thelema, "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law" (perhaps paraphrased from the Wiccan "An' it harm none, do what thou will"), and you've basically got everything you need. Thelema, of Greek origin at least in theory, represents free will in the Nietzschean "will to power sense," empowering those believing in its tenets with a desire to think, act and do for themselves, free of the strictures of society and religion. Magic is central to this line of thinking for Crowley, who described magic as "the science and art of causing change in conformity with will." Of course, this was scary stuff, especially to Christianity, which never entirely got over the witchcraft thing and tended to associate any such turning away from God, and towards the self, as anti-democratic, anti-Christian and Satanic.
Modern Satanism (including the modern Church of Satan, Temple of Set and the Church of Satanic Liberation, as well as that of Crowley's time) has very little to do with the Satan of the Judeo-Christian mythos, except perhaps in name and in overall philosophy. The Satanist does not (and probably never did, except in the overactive imaginations of witch hunters) worship Satan, or any God for that matter; in the manner of the magic-user, he seeks personal power, emphasizing personal goals like virility, sexuality and sensuality over the needs of others. And it's because of this similarity in theme, perhaps, that Crowley and many Chaos magicians are seen as Satanic, even if Crowley himself might have proclaimed that he had moved past Satanism in pursuit of a more complete vision of reality and his place in it. Even so, in combining the ancient magical traditions passed down from early Judeo-Christian, Greek and Egyptian traditions with the more wild magics of ancient Druidism, Neo-Paganism and Eastern mysticism, Crowley and his compatriots definitely wound up with something that was pretty scary and decidedly anti-Christian in many ways. It didn't help matters any that Crowley was something of an antagonist as well as a self-proclaimed drug and bisexual sex fiend, delighting in referring to himself as Baphomet and the Beast from Revelation, probably in part because he enjoyed riling up his critics and in part because he believed it, if only symbolically. Even his closest friends and relatives couldn't handle it: his two wives both went insane, and five mistresses all committed suicide. This probably had more to do with the fact that Crowley hung out with unstable drug addicts, but it certainly didn't help his image any.
Taken to its ultimate end (and far beyond where Crowley went with it), Chaos magic is ultimately a rejection of all order and tradition, a "recognition" that established symbols, orders and magic knowledge are no more valid than fictional stories told by pulp fiction writers. Even the well known Satanist Anton LaVey openly included Cthulic magic from Lovecraft's stories in his Satanic Rituals, declaring that fiction was just as magically valid as history in that regard. In such an atmosphere, reason itself is meaningless, and the search for a power greater than oneself is perhaps a futile search, not worth undertaking when there is so much within oneself already, or when one realizes that the God one is looking for could very well be a many-tentacled horror waiting to devour one's soul. These Chaos magic-users are certainly mages in the sense we defined when we began this journey, solitary wanderers who want or need no part in the search for knowledge outside of themselves, in the realm of the divine. Language, symbolism and the like are meaningless. What matters is that one has the will to act, and if the end is achieved then all is well with the world. It's not that God is dead, necessarily; it's that it doesn't matter whether or not he's dead.
The path of the Chaos mage is rather dark and lonely, and in this respect and many others, modern Chaos mages share a lot in common with one of the first pseudo-historical mages, Merlin himself. Though not necessarily Druidic like Merlin, the Chaos mage might very well refer to his art as Techno-shamanism, an obvious reference to far older and more primitive energies. Guides like The Book of Pleasure, the Ouranic Barbaric Dictionary, Techniques of Modern Shamanism and The ChaosMatrix make it clear that the sort of magic we're dealing with here is far more raw and untapped than any rituals found in an ancient, moldy tome. It's magic that goes back to the heart of the matter, and in this it shares much in common with the mages of many of the more modern Role-Playing magic-users.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
I'm as sick of that quote as you are, but it's more relevant here than perhaps anywhere else. And that's because many of the most modern Role-Playing magic-users are going even further back to their roots, in mathematics and science, and the world of computing. Instead of Necromancers we have Neuromancers, instead of the Necronomicon we have the Cryptonomicon. Cyberpunk's netrunners send programs into the ether with a flick of their wrist, and Shadowrun's elven datajackers cast spells with one hand and jack in with the other. Right now, US spy satellites are combing Afghanistan to try and locate a man named Osama Bin Laden, while at the same time government agencies are recruiting psychics and remote viewers to try and do the same thing via magical means.
It's a little difficult to understand where this has all gone if you try too hard to sort it out. After all, we've got wizardly colleges and structured orders in both fiction and history, but at the same time we've also got chaotic bundles of horror both in the present and in the past. Is magic rooted in mathematics, Druidic nature magic or pure chaos? Is the path to enlightenment an outward journey, or an inner one? Do words give power, or is the Word of God the only source of power? Ultimately, the answer to all of these questions and conditions is affirmative. As I mentioned when we started down this road, magic is in all things, and has been with us, for good and evil, in law and chaos, right from the very start. For this reason, both today's Role-Playing magic-users and history's wide array of alchemists, prophets and mages have many faces, act in many different ways and come from many different traditions.
And yet there is a common thread that runs throughout everything we've discussed herein, and that is the search for truth. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, "Fiat veritas, pereat vita." Let there be truth, and may life perish.
There's much to be said for having faith in a higher power, or accepting the traditions of one's ancestors, or believing what's written down as the final word. But for the wizard and the sorcerer and the mage and every other type of magic-user, past, present and future, historical, mythological and fictional, it's not enough to have faith in something, to entrust one's well-being to another's care. For the magic-user, as with The X-Files (now absent) Fox Mulder, "The Truth is Out There," and it's that truth which unlocks the power of the magic-user, for good or evil. It's the Promethean myth of stealing fire from the gods, of Lucifer cast out of heaven, of Faust bargaining with the devil and the hacker cracking passwords night after night in defiance of the law. Magic is the unknown, and the magic-user is the person seeking to know that which is unknown, and to say that which is unsaid.
And that has nothing whatsoever to do with a 6-die fireball.
(in)famous Historical Magic-users
Although many specific examples of magic-users were given in the text above, it was simply impossible to include them all there, so several more are listed here. Anyone truly interested in exploring the history of magic and magicians in the real world would do well to learn more about the following individuals:
Next time: orcs and 1/2 orcs