Friday, November 2, 2018

Continuing To Evolve An Approach To Magic - Introductory Library

For both the Sundaland and Middle Sea settings, and perhaps for future iterations of the Deindustrial Future setting, I want to keep refining my approach to magic. I've never been very fond of the lightning bolts and fireballs approach of D&D and its derivatives, even though I understand the process that got it there. I'm also not really that happy with the exploding chests ("I think I will take your heart, Kerim Shah!") and rays of energy approach of Conan and the like. I want magic to be subtle, but still effective.

To that end, I have been trying to work out an approach that retains the mystery of magic and the spiritual world, but also would allow me to replicate something like the way that magic is perceived in the world we live in. Clearly, there are magicians. Equally clearly, there are people who employ those magicians to do something for them. What it is that they do is the area I want to try to approach for my games and stories.

As usual for my process, I want to start by providing a library for anyone who might be interested in a similar approach. Mostly, it's books by people who seem to think that magic is a real thing that can have real effects in the world, but some of it is by anthropologists who study people who seem to think that way.

  • Child, Alice B. and Irvin L. Child - Religion and Magic in the Life of Traditional Peoples - an excellent overview of the subject from an anthropological perspective.
  • Couliano, Ioan P. - Eros and Magic in the Renaissance - Prof. Culianu's work regarding magic, or rather his apparent practical application of the principles to the political situation in his native Romania, may have resulted in his assassination in a bathroom at the university where he taught. In any case, perhaps the best introduction to the realities of magic as it was understood by at least one famous Renaissance-era magician.
  • Dunn, Patrick - Postmodern Magic: The Art of Magic in the Information Age - an attempt to provide an explanation for magic, different than some others here, but definitely worth looking into. Dunn has other books on the subject as well.
  • Greer, John Michael - Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth: An Introduction to Spiritual Ecology - one attempt to lay out the practical boundaries of magic from the point of view of one practitioner. Different people are of the opinion that there is more or less permeability between different "levels" of existence, and that there are more or fewer levels in the first place, but this offers a pretty basic outline of the general concept.
  • Greer, John Michael - A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism - a polemic argument in favor of spirit beliefs.
  • Harpur, Patrick - Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld - an essay toward a reconciliation of materialism and spiritualism through some strange ideas indeed. Like a lot of similar works, ends up talking about flying saucers, by necessity.
  • "IAO131" - Naturalistic Occultism: An Introduction to Scientific Illuminism - in addition, the author maintains a website here. An overview of those elements of traditional magical practices that have correlations with neuroscience and similar disciplines.
  • Keel, John A. - Operation Trojan Horse: The Classic Breakthrough Study of UFOs - sometimes titled UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse, Keel penned one of the more interesting books on a phenomenon where some of the stranger details make more sense from a spiritual/animist perspective than a materialist one.
  • Keith, William H. Jr. - The Science of the Craft: Modern Realities in the Ancient Art of Witchcraft - tried perhaps too hard to reconcile science and magic. Ends up going down a quantum mechanic-esque rabbit hole. Some of the ideas serve to provide an introduction into the fringes of science that lead to difficult questions about the materialist assumptions regarding reality.
  • Lecouteux, Claude - Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages - I'll let this stand in for a great number of works by Lecouteux. An excellent introduction to the ideas that underpin Northern European magical ideas. He has a number of excellent books on the topic, some still awaiting translation to English.
  • Luhrmann, T.M. - Persuasions of the Witch's Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England - Luhrmann was castigated by her informants after the fact for betraying their confidence, and she chose to "explain" elements of her informants' testimony from her own perspective. This is both a detriment and a benefit, as it gives a partial explanation of magic that is palatable to those with a modern materialist set of assumptions, but it also caused her to miss a lot of what was going on. Really needs to be supplemented with some of the other books in this list.
  • Paper, Jordan - The Deities Are Many: A Polytheistic Theology - a description of spirit belief from an educated insider.
  • Pócs, Éva - Between the Living and the Dead - spirit beliefs in Eastern Europe.
  • "Skallagrimsson, Wayland" - Scientific Magic - an attempt to define magic as a product of altered states of consciousness. Pretty good, but as a result of its central thesis it is unable to cover more than a fraction of magical practices.
  • Walsh, Brian - The Secret Commonwealth and the Fairy Belief Complex - an analysis of an early anthropological essay regarding native spiritual beliefs in Northwestern Europe.
  • Wier, Dennis - Trance: From Magic to Technology - the author has a number of other books here, but I haven't read any of his others.
  • Wilby, Emma - Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic - an overview of the matter as it existed in recent history in largely English-speaking regions.
So, that's my introductory library. I could add any number of other works, such as those which include recorded testimony of accused werewolves in Europe—you might be surprised to find out how prosaic their claims really were—or the large body of texts on NLP, hypnosis, and stage illusion, among other topics. I didn't even touch on the literature about entheogenic substances and practices.

Anyway, next time I'll get into how I think that magic should work in my settings.

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