Fictional Magic, Real Practice pt 2

It’s part two of my inquisition on the confluence of magical practice with fictional magic!

Unfortunately, my list as it stands from last week does not break into the two easy divisions I want to use here: stuff that’s easy to really use and stuff that’s hard to. So we’ll just take them in order again, shall we?

  1. Sympathetic
  2. Wishing
  3. Energy pool
  4. DnD/Final Fantasy
  5. Occult physics
  6. Symbol centered
  7. Superstition/zero world traditions
  8. Scholarly book learning

Sympathetic magic is easy to translate into zero world magical practice. It’s already a method anyway. Specifically, though, everything from sigils to charms can be made using this technique. For instance, here’s a simple sigil:

2014-09-23 13.45.57

First, this won’t really be good for anything, so don’t go tattooing it on your lower back or anything. It’s too vague. But the method there is to take the letters of an intent or desire, written out, and make them into a symbol with no obvious linguistic meaning. So in the first example the vowels are removed and the letters remaining put together – Cs turning into an S. The latter example translates the letters into the Germanic Futhark and then mashes them together, making, uh, whatever you’d call that thing. This method abstracts the intention, so you’re not thinking about it all the time, but still gives you a symbol emotionally connected to it. The symbol, or sigil, becomes sympathetically linked, rather than logically or linguistically linked.

Wishing is difficult to translate into magical practice. If you could just wish for something, without any tactile or emotional investment, then all these other practices would be a little pointless. However, it’s not impossible: consider the context of such wishing in a narrative. It’s almost never just some doof on the street wishing for something. My example last time, I think, was the sentai character who just wants it really badly. For instance, in an episode of Kyoryuger, the team is found wanting by one of the “spirit rangers,” the guides for the team, and they learn through failure and controlled success (in a temple of tricks and kung-fu) that they can put their “bravery” into their attacks – basically they learn chi. The Red Kyoryuger can’t learn it until the next episode, when he needs to beat the spirit ranger because his friend is in danger. In that context he wants it so badly he achieves it, and punches the guy out. See the thing there? He’s already highly trained and prepped to be in this situation. He didn’t just wish to be powerful one day while sitting on the couch eating chips. “Wishing” as magic functions in the sense of an already-honed skill coming to bear in unconscious ways. So what one might do to use that is to trust one’s unconscious, after retraining it to do X or Y.

The energy pool idea is also difficult to use in practice. Pretty much all I can imagine doing with it is envisioning the energy one uses in other types of rituals as coming from such a collective source. It would alter the tenor of the ritual, of the magic used wasn’t personal but from all the world and all beings. Some practices already do this. Various magical pantheisms are your best bet there, though the closer they really get to such an idea of a worldwide pool, the vaguer they tend to be about accessing it.

The MP system thing is right out, far too difficult, at least for me to imagine ways to use it. It’s a systematizing of getting weak over time, of wearing oneself out. Perhaps as a metaphor for being “tapped out” (Ha. Ha.) it could be useful, but then again, probably every DnD player in the world has said that at least once already.

Occult physics is easy to use, at least in so far as it’s been used for centuries. It’s pretty much the de rigeur explanation for magic in a lot of systems, from the Western Esoteric Tradition (everything from Dee to the Golden Dawn and beyond) to some forms of New Age magic (like Wicca). “Science hasn’t caught up to every single thing in the world,” which is almost a tautology, right? Science has plenty of stuff to still figure out about the world, that’s part of the reason it’s so exciting. Whether or not ESP and ley lines are some of the things they haven’t worked out… well, you know. But when entering a magical, meditative frame of mind, the fact that science hasn’t actually cleaned out the woodshed of metaphysics can help enter that state. And authors like Peter Carroll have adapted equations from physics, especially quantum mechanics, into actual spells and “barbarous words” to be used to affect the world by describing it back to itself in a way amenable to “change through will.”

Symbol centered magic is relatively easy to use in practice. I already mentioned certain forms of Buddhism and the like. Simply select a symbol and meditate on it, using it as necessary in your daily and magical life. Christians use Christ in this way, and you can use everything from the Wiccan goddess and god to Superman. You can even think on the Sacred Chao. Whatever gets you into a different place in your head.

Zero world traditions don’t really bear a section here, do they? They’re the magic people are already practicing. So go do some!

The scholarly “book learning” is actually fairly easy to do as well. Grab a book like The Lesser Seal of Solomon or something on Enochian magic, learn “the things that work” and “the names to call.” This is the sort of thing that’s great if you have a native reverence for books. Obviously you have to approach things skeptically (keep a record of what works and what doesn’t!), but if you have that love of books, particularly old books, then this is the method to try out for you, because it’s based entirely on knowing some great thing or other and putting it in a book. Most of these books don’t teach you method, only information. So you can use them however you like. I know of at least one person who has used the methods of the Lesser Seal to invoke deities such as Iron Man.

It looks like we’re going to push into a week three, folks! Stay tuned for ruminations on the topic overall, now that we’ve broken everything down.


2 thoughts on “Fictional Magic, Real Practice pt 2

  1. Pontifus

    Okay, let me finally clarify what I was talking about on Twitter like three weeks ago. The stuff you’ve posted so far is relevant. But here’s my core idea, and it’s pretty simple, maybe obvious: there’s a difference between magic as a plot device and magic as a practice.

    As practice magic is the use of/belief in/construction of metaphor to get what you want. (Is that remotely accurate?) As a fantasy plot device, magic is just literally metaphor, like everything else in a story. There are no rules for it beyond thematic appropriateness, or beyond the basic requirement that a story not be a barrage of nonsense information, which I think may be the same thing.

    Which is why it bothers me when magic in fiction is highly systematized. Practical magic might be a mode of perception or a means by which the will alters the world. Fantasy magic is kind of the opposite, I guess? Or it moves in the opposite direction. It’s the will of the world in which it happens. When characters can follow a series of actions and get the same result every time with scientific precision, it doesn’t feel like thematic will anymore. I want it to be more fickle than that. It should feel like negotiation as much as or more than it feels like pulling a trigger. Or, there should always be exceptions that make reliance on rules sort of a dodgy prospect.

    Magic in games is probably its own thing when it’s an aspect of play and not just scenery. Different requirements.

    Practical magic in fiction would almost strike me as realism rather than fantasy. In that case it becomes a metaphor, but less like a fireball’s a metaphor, more like washing dishes is a metaphor.

    Insofar as fantasy magic is a metaphor, it might be a metaphor for practical magic.

    Taking fantasy magic out of its context and putting in real life, making it practical, seems like a process of translation. Which, that’s fine, and maybe the point is making the IRL context more closely resemble the fictional context? I’m pretty open to the idea that, beyond the most basic bodily functions, we always operate on the level of metaphor anyway. So possibly it doesn’t matter at all.

  2. Pingback: Fictional Magic, Real Practice pt 3 | Wondrous Windows

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