I am not a High Fantasy fan.
When I do read books where magic is a central theme to the story, I enjoy worlds where magic is something other than wands and spells.
I loved the magic of necromancy using bells from the Abhrosen trilogy by Garth Nix. I also enjoyed the portrayal of magic in The Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo and The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman.
I’m also a (mostly) observant Jew. One of the difficulties I have with magic in books is how they make it impossible to square the circle of magic existing in a world with organized religions. I.e., what separates magic from miracles? For instance, in Harry Potter, they celebrate Christmas, but if you know magic to be real, why would the miracle of the death and resurrection of Christ be the cornerstone of your religion? I’m sort of surprised that nobody said “Jesus was a wizard, Harry.”
But I digress…
So I have been fucking around with an idea for a world in which magic exists that takes a non-traditional approach to magic and ties it in with certain ideas from monotheistic religion. I currently have no plot for a story in this world but I thought the world would be interesting.
In the beginning, there was nothing. Then God created the heavens and the earth and all the things between and within.
This is, in the strictest sense, magic. Magic is the creative power of God. The power to will something into existence and create something from nothing.
We as people were made in the image of God, we possess a soul. That soul is the tiniest spark of divinity within us. It is what elevates us above the animals, and one of the things that separates us from the animals is the ability to be creative, a power that derives from our soul.
If you have ever listened to a great piece of music or seen a great work of art and felt as though your soul has been moved, that is the faintest bit of magic. It is the intangible quality in a piece of sublime creativity, channeled from the spark of divinity within a person that transcends the elements and invokes the power of God.
Among the greatest examples is Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. Whenever it is played, virtually every person within earshot will stop and listen. They will want to participate in the music. The desire to sing or hum along or wave their arms like a composer is undeniable.
That is the magic, the divine creativity in such a beautiful piece of music, reaching out and drawing power from the souls of all who hear it to become something more powerful than just the compression and rarefaction of air molecules in a sound wave.
Consider the Pieta or the Veiled Christ (Giuseppe Sanmartino), statues carved from marble so perfectly that you swear that if you were to reach out and touch the folds of the Virgin Mother’s robe Christ’s veil, they would be soft and move like cloth.
In the Jewish tradition, we have the story of the Golem. A wise and ancient Rabbi who creates a man from mud and whispers into its ear the name of God causing the mud man to come to life. That is an act of creativity that draws directly from the power of God.
So how do we get from that concept of magic to practicing magicians?
A magician is someone who studies and hones the skill of sublime creativity.
The power of magic in the magician’s ability to borrow the power of God and will something into existence.
A sculptor who creates a sculpture of a man that is so perfect he comes to life.
A painter that can manifest the subject of a painting into reality.
A musician who can play a piece of music so deep that it doesn’t just stir the soul like the 9th Symphony, but actually dominates the listener’s free will and manipulates them.
Being more of a technical person myself, I thought of having magical technopaths that can create clockwork machines so complex that they manipulate the universe. I wanted to tie this one into the Antikythera Mechanism. Rather than a machine that predicts the movement of the stars and the tides, a clockwork that actually controlled the motion of the moon in its elliptical and ebb and flow of the sea.
I also had an idea for an ancient order of of magical lissiers or tapissiers who slowly manipulate events and human civilization by weaving an unending tapestry of life on earth.
Magic in this world would be more subtle and deeply impactful.
Also, anyone can make the effort to become a magician, people are not born into it, but it is a closely guarded secret and not well known outside of the practitioners.
It would be lots of master and apprentice-type education, perhaps with some small schools led by guilds in specific magical arts. Masters would seek out people who display extraordinary talents and then show them what the true unlocking of their talent can do.
Of course, since people are literally playing with the power of God, problems are bound to happen, which is where I can start to stick in the plot.
It’s an idea in the raw that needs a lot of fleshing out. I just wanted to come up with a novel form of a magical universe that has a vaguely plausible magic origin story.
Based on a comment, I wanted to explain just a little more on what separates a magician from a great master. I don’t think I was clear enough.
Like the Rabbi of the Golem story, a magician is someone who knows the secret of how to deliberately channel the spark of divinity for creation.
A great artist will do it by accident but the difference between a great artist and a magician is the knowledge and purposeful skill of engaging in an act of sublime creativity.
That said, in this world, a lot of great masters would be magicians. Leonardo Di Vinci would be a perfect example. So would Michelangelo and Beethoven.
Clearly, people with the skills of being great masters would be people capable of learning to control of the spark of sublime diving creation. But they would also engage in lesser great works of art.
So the closely guarded secret from above that is kept within the magic community is the transcendent knowledge that separates great skill from sublime creativity.
4 thoughts on “World bulding without a plot – Update”
Magic as you have introduced it in this post, I have thought of as ‘spirituality’ based within the mind which reveals itself through the individual’s free will—made in the image of the Creator’s personality and persona, human beings take the elements of creation as they discover them and create, not something from nothing, but from something to something more.
The evidence which strikes me as pure magic within the physical universe, as you have presented it, is when the heart of a baby in the womb, receives a spark of pure energy, (which doesn’t come through the umbilical cord neither from the mother’s mind or heart), and enters the baby’s heart. The spark of energy simply appears, and the heart starts to beat independently—an individual is born and free will begins. I call this an act of the Creator because it doesn’t originate from anything physical and comes from the spiritual realm into the physical realm independent from all things physical. It is the very breath of life given by the Creator to Adam.
All other forms of ‘magic’ spring from this magic.
“A magician is someone who studies and hones the skill of sublime creativity.”
So, Faust with a bit less hubris?
“Also, anyone can make the effort to become a magician, people are not born into it, but it is a closely guarded secret and not well known outside of the practitioners.”
Wait, are you describing a fantasy world or the real world? I guess it depends on what you consider “a closely guarded secret”; in my world, the “secrets” of most of the crafts aren’t so much closely guarded as (1) more comprehensible to some people than to others, and (2) a heck of a lot of work. This makes the skilled trades indistinguishable from magic, to the general public, with no effort to hide the “secrets” – or even with active efforts to spread them.
This does sound like an interesting world, and ought to have plenty of room for storytelling.
Hm. Kinda ties in with a notion I had, inspired by The Compleat Enchanter: the “magic” of any given reality is merely the technology of that reality, seeming magical because the observer doesn’t understand it. Technology carried across realities (gunpowder, stainless steel, etc.) by someone who doesn’t understand it won’t work, because no one in that reality understands it. And, alarmingly: technology that works in this reality only does so because it’s understood, as technology, by somebody… so, e.g., when the last person who understands quantum mechanics dies, everything that depends on quantum mechanics suddenly stops working.
Now I’m feeling the need to re-read The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump, in my copious free time. Has magic (good and evil), and organized religion (all of them, including some ancient cults kept alive for business reasons), and I don’t recall how nor when the timeline of the book diverged from our own. (And I’m trying to recall the premise of Moe Lane’s “Fermi Resolution” world.)
I witnessed magic at an early age: a child’s spirit left the body and never came back no matter how much I tried to get the child to be as I understood it to be an hour before and causing a light to become bright by pushing a switch on the wall upward and causing the light to be gone by pushing the switch on the wall downward. I was told that my sister’s body was like a switch on the wall, that the Creator controlled. And He turned the light of my sister off for us and at the same time turned her life on for Himself. I was four. It made enough sense to me at the time and till this day I can’t get enough lights on, both literally and figuratively. Learning true ‘magic’ created by the Creator is why we exist.
Agree with your number one and two Eric, it’s both a lot of work and comprehendible depending on one’s exposure to the reality of…the magical thing
Regarding the Potter universe and Christmas: I was so accustomed to people celebrating Christmas as a holiday (as opposed to a Holy Day), I didn’t really give it a second thought.
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