So a persistent bugaboo on RPG discussion is that people want magic that feels “magical.” When pressed on what this means they tend to clarify that they mean magic that isn’t predictable or “rational.” As someone who studies religion and the closely related category of “magic” academically this has strikes me as profoundly strange. When we look at people who actually practice “magic” of various kinds, we find that they have lots of logic and rationale. (as an aside when I talk about real magic I mean the practices and beliefs of people who believe that their magical actions have a tangible effect on the world. Acknowledging the reality of the practices is not an acceptance of the claimed results.)
Now where RPG and fictional magic does tend to fall down a little bit being like real magic is that RPG magic tends to be very impersonal affair, whereas real world magic is very often all about personalities. Spirits, gods, ghosts, and demons abound.
I suppose that highly mysterious, unpredictable magic does, sort of, fit fairy tales and certain other branches of fiction. Of course, what the people who want unpredictable magic seem to fail to comprehend is that the predictability and logic is what makes magic something worthwhile for players to use. It is okay to have games where the PCs aren’t magic users at all (Pendragon being the classic example). But I feel it’s important to point out that there’s a lot of magic in systems with lots of internal logic.
I could, and probably will in future leaps, go into much more detail about what magic is like in real-world pre-modern magical belief. But this quick note is enough for today.
I don’t have time for a long post here, but I am reading Mauss’s General Theory of Magic in addition to the theoretical readings for my Magic and the Supernatural in Asia class. It’s really interesting to see how Mauss breaks away from earlier secular scholarship of magic (read Frazer) while ending up recapitulating earlier ideas.
Mauss, as a sociologist rejects the idea that magic is this non-functional “failed science.” Magic has to be doing something for people, or they would stop doing it. Instead he ends up seeing magic as about appropriating the social “power” that religion (the inverse to magic for Mauss) makes available to the community for the magician (and client) alone.
This is not entirely dissimilar to of course older Judeo-Christian ideas of magic. While the orthodox Christian idea of magic makes the sources of Magic and the religious opposites (demons and God respectively) part of the reason this can supposedly be seen is by the selfish and hidden (occult) nature of magic and the communal nature of true religion.
So those are my brief thoughts. Another leap coming soon!
So one of the articles for my class on “Magic and the Supernatural” in Asia for this week argues that dharani which are phrases that usually are not intelligable in any language that are attributed great power in Buddhist texts are so important to Mahayana Buddhism, because they have no referent.
According to the argument if they had clear meaning, they would mean one thing, that could be attacked with the sort of nondualistic contrary logic so favored by the Mahayana. But by not meaning anything they can become a symbol (but not a signifier) for the radical non-conceptualized universe of Mahayana philosophy, and therefore also become associated with the ability to accomplish both Soteriological and Worldly goals.
I’m not sure I buy the argument, but it’s super neat.
In issue 170 of Doctor Strange:
Hamdi is surprised that the Master of the Mystic Arts would use a spell.
Dr. Strange and Nightmare are engaged in weird sex games, I think.
And don’t worry the Ancient One allowed the incredibly powerful evil being to imprison his mind, because, to be honest Steven, you were in kind of a funk.
Dormammu’s greatest embarrasment is that Rorkannu is a relative of his, and has the same haircut.
Dr Strange 173 & Nextwave Agents of H.A.T.E. 7.