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Magic systems

I'm in the middle of doing some additional research for THE HALFWAY HERO (my Mesopotamian historical atlas is very purty ;) ). One of the books I intend to give a thorough reading, not just for this novel but for others as well, is a guide to magic systems from around the world.

Almost every time I see magic practiced in fiction, it's either the typical Western sort with spoken spells and hand or wand waving, or it's a power inherent in a magic being that doesn't seem to require any effort or have any major limitations (other than, possibly, how much can be done at once). Which is fine, but just as I didn't want THH to be yet-another-medieval-European-fantasy-world, I don't want my magic, in this novel or any other, to be "standard". Or at least, if it's going to go by some of the standards, I want to know all the details and history of it, because otherwise I'll just end up falling back on the ways I've seen other books and movies and the like do it.

Unfortunately, it seems to be really hard to find books on comparative magic. Surely there are other people interested in this sort of thing? I managed to get the one, after much Amazon searching, but most of the books on magic are either more of a scientific study (examining why people believe in it and that sort of thing rather than the details of what they believe in), or New Age books on practicing magic (which generally don't have a lot of historical detail), or mythology books (which do have some magic in them, but again, generally not much detail). I'd even be happy to get a few books, say, one on Asian magic systems and one on African magic systems and so on. Even a really good book on a religion or spiritual practice, if it had a chapter or two on the magical components (if the culture's magic ideas are tied to its religious ideas) would be great.

Maybe I am being too picky? Or approaching it the wrong way? Anyone know any books that cover this sort of thing? Even a good, detailed book on Western-style magic would be cool.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 29th, 2008 05:53 pm (UTC)
Cross post this to nonfluffypagans. I'll bet the folks there would have some good suggestions.
Feb. 29th, 2008 06:51 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the suggestion--I'll do that right now!
Feb. 29th, 2008 06:13 pm (UTC)
Oooh! Ooooh! Oooh! Bob Brier's Ancient Egyptian Magic. He's an archaeologist, so his focus is absolutely how people practiced, and it contains SO much detail. It even has the entire Ancient Egyptian calendar of auspicious days in it, and a chapter on Coptic, Greek and Roman magic. Amulets, magical servant statues, potions, actual spell texts- it's an *awesome* book of non-Western magic.
Feb. 29th, 2008 06:56 pm (UTC)
That sounds great! I'll definitely check it out. Thanks!
Feb. 29th, 2008 06:26 pm (UTC)
Two suggestions:

Isaac Bonewits' _Real Magic_ which does a really interesting theoretical overview, with a number of examples. (or, alternately, _Authentic Thaumaturgy_, which was written for role playing gamers who wanted a sensible/theoretically functional magical system in game terms.)

Your library probably has a reference set called _Man, Myth and Magic_ (if I remember right, it's a Time/Life set: about 15 volumes). You might be able to find a used copy, but spending a couple of hours with it some day might give you a lot of places to go for further learning (i.e. a good idea of what you wanted more about, and which terms to use in various settings.)

I also agree with the crossposting to nonfluffypagans, but it'd probably help if you gave some more ideas of the kinds of things you're interested in that post: it'll help you get responses that are closer to what you want.
Feb. 29th, 2008 06:57 pm (UTC)
I'll definitely make my post more specific there (assuming my membership request is accepted).

Thanks for the book suggestions! That reference set sounds amazing. Must see if I can get my hands on that, at least at the library.
Feb. 29th, 2008 11:38 pm (UTC)
I think the Ancient Mesopotamians had spells where you said what you wanted to happen and if you were a strong enough magician it would happen. And they had the idea that the name of something was important. If you named someone or renamed them it showed you owned them. It's the same sort of idea in the bible when God changes Abram's name to Abraham after Abram promises to follow him. The Sumerians believed that humans could potentially be as powerful as gods if it weren't for the gods always limiting humankind to keep that from happening. There's a myth about the goddess Inanna where she lost her power and was defeated because she took off the symbols of her office.

That's all I can come up with at the moment. I took a Middle Eastern Mythology class last semester but I foolishly sold my books back. We used books of translated poetry with a ton of commentary, in fact this one:
and this one:
Hope that helps.
Mar. 2nd, 2008 04:30 am (UTC)
Thanks for the thoughts and the suggestions!
Mar. 2nd, 2008 03:15 am (UTC)
I've never read anything by Hal Clement, but I had the opportunity to meet him at at least three different conventions. Each time, we managed to restart the same conversation where we'd left off before, and more strangely, with the same people joining in, despite the three times being in Chicago, Detroit area, and Toronto.

The conversation was about magic in gaming systems, like Dungeons & Dragons, but not ending there. ANY novel, movie, game, or anything. He was annoyed by the game designers simply saying "It's MAGIC!", and never explaining the science, or anything behind it! So, there's a glacier next to a volcano. That cannot happen normally. So, let's say it IS magic. what sort of magic? Is it earth magic? Is it the gods themselves? Is it the people who live there? How does this climate affect their religion? Their culture? The wars in the area? Or are they a peaceful people, with such climates teaching them that two vastly different things can live in harmony? What makes the magic work? What happens if and when the magic fails? Don't just tell me "It's magic" and expect me to suspend my belief without some sort of explanation!

No, with conversations like that, I never have to read his books, to have him inspire me to great thoughts. I hope you also consider such things in your writing.

Ironically, another thing that helped me in writing is something long out of print, but maybe available on eBay. It's by TSR, and called "World Builders Handbook" or something like that. Normally, I avoid stuff from TSR and D&D like the plague, for precisely the reasons above-- they don't explain the magic! But that book opened my eyes in many ways. It started out as being more of a mapmaking book, but said that worlds are built in one of two ways-- either as an entire world concept, eventually focusing on a single small town, or in reverse, with a single town, and how it affects the world. Either way, you will have cultures, languages, histories, trade, politics-- a whole variety of things I'd never thought about. And THEN you can throw in magic and religions, for an entirely new twist to it all!

I'd suggest either line of thought for anything you're writing. No, it won't help you research your magic, but it might improve the actual story.

As far as actual magic, I've studied lots of mythologies, and find them all fascinating. I seem to be currently drifting towards Native American legends. I'd suggest Joseph Campbell, for mythology at least, and seeing what he references. For magic... I'm not sure. Pagan stuff is all over, of course, but other magics (or magicks, whatever) could be harder to learn about.

Mar. 29th, 2008 01:36 pm (UTC)
Hi Megan! As you're in Toronto, I'd suggest calling up the Occult Shop (on Vaughn Road - 416-656-6564) and speaking to Nicole, who can likely make some good book recommendations.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

My Books

Earth & Sky
(Earth & Sky #1, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2014

The Clouded Sky
(Earth & Sky #2, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015

A Sky Unbroken
(Earth & Sky #3, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015

The Way We Fall
(Fallen World #1, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2012

The Lives We Lost
(Fallen World #2, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2013

The Worlds We Make
(Fallen World #3, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2014

Those Who Lived: Fallen World Stories
(Fallen World #3.5, apocalyptic YA)
self pubbed, 2014

Give Up the Ghost
(paranormal YA)
Henry Holt, 2009

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