12 September 2014

The Arcanist's Conundrum (Comic)

This is entirely too silly a concept for me, but I like the idea.

It's a strictly modern conceit that magic is some sort of an "other" force in the world. It used to be that learned men would gather in universities to study alchemy, gnostic lore, astrology, and other parts of the natural sciences. They saw nothing "occult" about using the position of the stars to learn about the world they inhabited, and if they saw fit to summon a spirit or two it was nothing unusual. It was the same kind of knowledge, preserved and transmitted and respected the same way a man might be famous for his healing abilities, or for his historical knowledge. If you look at long-preserved histories, you can see that even the brilliant Isaac Newton took time off from developing calculus to study alchemy. It was not strange or unusual; it was a perfectly natural thing for an inquiring mind to study and learn about.

So, as silly as the comic is, and as great as the joke is, there's an element of truth in there somewhere. There very likely were quite a few heroes out there who believed that their success in combat was due to their inherent magics, who might have believed that their sword must have been enchanted to cut through a man's head and not even suffer a nick, and who was blessed by the gods themselves to never be defeated.

It's fun stuff.

1 comment:

  1. It's been argued that Newton could not have developed calculus and the theory of gravity without his "occult" studies - it was the concept of invisible forces affecting material objects that allowed "gravity" to be conceptualized in the first place, and it was to quantify that force that he developed calculus. Also, he spent more time on alchemy than anything else, if the volume of his writings is any guide.

    One of the things that I love about RuneQuest is that most characters will have minor magical abilities, generally (for adventurers) related to their ability to fight or otherwise pursue their primary occupations. It's also interesting that characters in that game tend to start a fight by standing back and casting magic on themselves, much like people tend to vocalize ("I'm gonna kick your ass!") and posture to puff themselves up and psych themselves into it before a fighting in the real world.

    I always recommend to anyone who is interested in learning what magic was (and is) in the real world to read Professor Ioan Couliano's (sometimes given as Culianu) book Eros and Magic in the Renaissance. There are a few others that are useful (most released since Eros… was first published), but Couliano was groundbreaking in presenting the concepts clearly and without the sneering tone of dismissal that is all too common in the study of the history of magic. It's too bad that he was (probably) assassinated by Romanian nationalists due to his politics.


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