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.