A Treatise On Magick Part 4
These are the last of my notes on my magic system for my Thyre universe. While this gives a good, general view of the current thoughts on how magic works in this world, it doesn’t truly capture all the elements and how I worked them in. For instance, the previous section mentioned Alchemy briefly and how it relied almost one hundred percent on following precise formula to perform. It didn’t, however, explain the ramifications of this detail.
One thing I didn’t want was to have magic to feel separate and disconnect from the rest of the world. I feel there’s often a tendency for fantasy to have its world and the wizards as two distinct classes. Like Harry Potter, those that wield magic only have an impact whenever the author wants something grandiose to occur. But the face of the world is rarely so affected by the existence of magic for it to permeate any other aspect of its society or culture.
It strikes me as odd that in a world where people are capable of turning a man into a newt that the entire fabric of society is pretty indistinguishable from Medieval Europe. Why is it that so rarely rulers are people that mastered the arcane? Would not ambitious individuals learn the magical arts and then turn to conquering with their new found powers? So beholden are we to late Arthurian Legends and Tolkien imaginings that wizards are little more than the mysterious mentor who flutters in and out of the narrative at the author’s convenience but rarely ever leaving a footprint on the world during his trespasses.
For me, that would not do. To circle back to my mention of alchemy, the natural outcome of its elements was that while it took a typical magical background to learn its components one didn’t have to truly be a great practitioner to derive its benefits. This translated into the field of medicine. So much of alchemy is about changing the body that it seemed quite natural that its study and application would eventually create doctors, surgeons and apothecaries. Every single doctor in my world is a classically trained sorcerer. Each of them is capable of some degree of magic. Many who seek education from the marble halls aren’t pursuing some romanticized vision of reshaping the cosmos at the bend of their fingers but simply to learn the alchemical trade so they can help the sick and the needy. And because alchemy isn’t so reliant on the deep, esoteric knowledge of most sorcery, you could have your most daft pupil still learn something helpful and applicable to the rest of the world.
A humorous outcome from this, however, is that many sorcerers often look disparagingly upon their medicinal kin. It’s a common belief amongst the scholars that doctors are just “failed sorcerers.” However, to the common man, the doctor is the epitome of applicable magick. Few are able to afford a household sorcerer for protection and prestige so most encounter sorcerers when needing attendance for the infirm and sickly. The common man sees the typical scholar as a cloistered recluse out of touch with society and a useless member to the Empire.
In many ways, the modern sorcerer is a tragic figure. So desperate are they to cling to their ancient ways even when those ways fail them. They seek a glory long lost and forgotten all the while under siege by the progress of time and technology. Theirs is a dying world and instead of seeking a true solution to their problem, they just raise their walls and cut themselves further and further off. They are like a small animal, crawling into the dark beneath a porch in order to die alone and out of sight.
Notes from Professor Jonas Kaine’s Injunction
Concerning University Curricula
The power of a sorcerer is limited only by his imagination.
This quote by the renown practitioner Malchior the Grey, has been the idealism of the arcane practices for centuries. Throughout history, the tales of powerful sorcerers have been retold. Everyone recalls the power of the ancient Pharoic’s court and their awe-inspiring priests capable of raining locusts and blood down upon their enemies.
Almost every culture has its own sorcerers of lore; the great men capable of harnessing the elements to their whim. Even the dread witches of childhood fables and villains of the legends of old were capable of tremendous feats of arcane channelling.
It may seem oddly disconnecting for the modern practitioner beginning to learn the secrets of the aether. Where are the terrific storms? Why does the earth not groan at the passage of the sorcerer, his will causing even the Lord to shudder in fear?
Partly, legends have exaggerated the abilities of the sorcerers. People, especially the layman in the dark times, did not understand how the magickal truly worked. Their fears and suspicions twisted the reports of their sorcerers into terrifying men who would dare challenge the heavens.
That is not to suggest that the enlightened man is incapable of feats beyond the simple glamours and charms taught to the initiates. Controlling the aetheric winds is a challenging but greatly awarding practice. There is tremendous power to be tapped in the world around us, more than even the Academics and the sceptics care to admit.
The truth of the matter is that invocations are limited. There is just so much energy that man is capable of channelling on his own. However, ancient man made a rather terrific discovery: the process of invoking can be delayed with the correct use of retention wards and actions.
An invocation is like digging a dike beside a rapidly flowing river. The sorcerer creates a channel they wish to redirect some of that energy, but the process is never truly completed until the shoreline is breached. However, the dike itself can last for quite some time – it need not be filled immediately.
Thus, the first rituals were cast by combining certain key invocations and timing their completion at the simultaneous moment. This allowed a sorcerer to produce a single effect far greater than any individual cast. Suddenly, terrific powers were unlocked to the resourceful mind. But with all things, there were limitations. Not all invocations would work together and many would have to be adjusted to ritual use.
However, unlike invocations, it was discovered that universal actions would produce the same results. Assuming the practitioner could isolate themselves from contaminating the ritual, just about any sorcerer could channel the same effect as their peer if they followed the same processes. This was like alchemy but at a greater level.
Even more astounding, multiple sorcerers could combine their might. This could reduce the amount of time it took to prepare a ritual and also opened up even greater and greater effects for the arcane. With precise co-ordination, effects eerily similar to the legends could suddenly be performed.
The danger ran with the inclusion of each practitioner. The more sorcerers involved, the greater the chance of contamination. While the greatest abilities required the most practitioners, the more men channelling also entailed more risk. This is why the most powerful rituals never really developed very far. Only the most experienced could produce the effects with any sort of reliability. And one wrong step could produce the most disastrous results.
Few are aware of the dangers of channelling the arcane. The layman mistakenly assumes that a sorcerer is a master of his art – that the arcane is a well of power which they can siphon freely. This is incredibly misleading. The arcane is highly energetic and reactive. If a sorcerer missteps, the best they can hope for is a harmless atmospheric discharge of the energies often misconstrued as an unimpressive glamour. There are, however, far worst consequences for the sorcerer.
One phenomenon called aetheric flashback is a chief concern amongst those drawing on lots of the arcane. Should a sorcerer incorrectly channel the great deal of energy, they could find that the currents of the aether blow back upon him. This energy burst is most commonly released in a tremendous amount of heat and light. To the untrained, it may look like a sudden conjuration of fire sweeping over the bewildered sorcerer. The least severe can just leave the sorcerer disfigured and burned.
More likely, however, if an aetheric flashback is produced the sorcerer will be consumed by the very unrestrained energy that they have released.
Current knowledge of the aether is sparse, but it is widely believed that the aether is not a passive medium through which energy flows. Many practitioners believe there are natural currents which energy travels willingly through. Learning to navigate these streams can greatly increase a sorcerer’s skill in channelling the arcane.
However, known currents are not eternal. They are more like winds, apt to sudden change in direction one day rendering any attempts to harness them rendered useless.
Aetheric currents are not of typical concern in invocations because of such a short and focused release of energy. However, rituals almost always require the use of these ever changing channels. Many scholars argue that this explains why ancient rituals are not longer effective. There is a common theory that ancient magickal practices have been lost as the great currents that ancient practitioners tapped have all but vanished.
Most rituals can be changed and adapted to the fickle nature of the aether. However, the oldest rituals are nothing but intriguing studies for the modern sorcerer who can only guess what the effects of many of these arts were capable of producing. And the stories of small cabals of sorcerers being lost in terrific explosions warn against foolishly attempting to “brute force” a ritual through a no longer existent stream.
There is one other major concern for rituals that should be mentioned. While every practice of the arcane requires some amount of cost (typically the ingredients required for the invocation), the cost of rituals is far greater than any other practice. While many will scoff at the idea of cost impinging the great study of the arcane – only those that work closely with rituals can truly begin to appreciate the expense. Some rituals turn relatively cheap invocations into a practice requiring almost a princely sum to perform. Coupled with the danger of a misfired ritual which will often destroy all the components, it is no wonder that rituals have mostly fallen out of favour with the common practitioner.
The study of rituals is still an important one. It is something that this University should not abandon in its research. While there are many difficulties involved, it is still a valuable tradition to keep alive. For one, it maintains a connection with the practices of the ancient sorcerers. It also gives further insight into the matter which sorcerers tangle with daily. Never is our ignorance of the arcane made so clear than when we attempt to understand the workings of rituals. They bring the importance of procedure and time to the forefront of a practice so wholly focused on the wills of the individuals.
Outlawing rituals would thus be detrimental to all this institute’s principles. Instead, I propose that the study of rituals is strictly limited to those capable of its investigation and who are willing to accept the risks involved.
If we weren’t prepared to take risks, then we would be nothing more than those lowly mechanists digging about in the ground.