Magic: Histories, Theories & Practices, by Jordan Brown, Ph.D. Dr. Brown is the Chief Librarian and Curator of the Lacuna Library¹. The book was published thirteen years ago, and is a 777 page tome, with large pages printed with two columns of type (Times New Roman). Its title is somewhat self-explanatory, but it should be noted that though it discusses Magic in all its aspects, including magic tricks and illusions, as well as fictional portrayals, it does contain detailed descriptions of effective rituals, spells and other reality-distortion techniques. We have managed to limit its circulation by targeting it with negative reviews and discouraging potential publishers. Lacuna Library is currently the only public library we know of with the book on its shelves. There are other copies in circulation, but it is the opinion of our analysts that its potential to cause deviance from conventional reality has been effectively curtailed.
What is magic? It seems that every human culture since the dawn of history has included the practice of magic in some form or another, and there are words for it in a multitude of languages, yet it is a particularly and peculiarly difficult word to define. The term itself originates from the ancient Greek word magike, referring to the Persian priests of Zoroastrianism and their practices. Over the years, it has migrated into modern English and on the way become a vast and complex concept, bearing multiple meanings and connotations. The one that most readily springs to the mind of most is the stage magician, who uses tricks and illusions to produce effects that seem magical. Yet the word does also have other meanings.
Aleister Crowley defined Magick² as “The Art and Science of causing change to occur in conformity with Will”.³ We, humanity, strive not only to understand our environment, but to bend and shape it to our Will. What is technology but a manifestation of our collective Will? We Will our bodies to move, and they do, an act which could be called magic, even a miracle. We can extend this Will through our bodies and into the world. We have even extended this desire to each other: to creating and controlling societies, civilizations, and empires. Our material knowledge and technology is an extremely powerful force in our history and our everyday lives and has given us an unparalleled ability to transform the planet and ourselves, though it has also allowed us to destroy both.
A man named Arthur C. Clarke once put forth three “laws” he had created:
First: when a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong. Second: the only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
Third, and most relevant: any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
We can light up the darkness with electric fire. We can conjure fire and explosions that can kill a single man or annihilate entire cities. We can build towers taller than trees. We share information with one another worldwide and almost instantaneously through glowing mirrors whose surfaces are full of constantly shifting images. Magic is everywhere.
Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in a market square in Rome, a place called the Campo de’ Fiori. His “tongue imprisoned because of his wicked words”. It seems they used a wooden vice for this purpose. I imagine it also prevented him from screaming very loudly, though I am sure he tried. It is possible that the vice included a spike or spikes driven through the tongue, in which case he might have mercifully drowned in his own blood before or shortly after the flames began to consume him, especially since he wouldn’t be able to spit it out. The swallowing of and choking on blood would also have affected the sound of his screams, making them garbled and possibly reducing their volume. But no matter their sound, they assuredly at least roughly followed a bell curve, increasing as the pain became more intense, and falling off as his lungs filled with smoke until he finally fell silent.
Bruno was charged with a great many things. A few selections from the long list are:
Holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith and speaking against it and its ministers;
Claiming the existence of a plurality of worlds and their eternity;
Believing in metempsychosis and in the transmigration of the human soul into brutes;
Dealing in magics and divination.
It is of course this last charge which is of particular interest in this context.
Magic and language are deeply and intimately connected. For much of human history, especially the periods during which literacy was a specialized skill, writing was seen as an essentially magical act. Many of the ancient gods of writing, most notably Thoth and Hermes, from the Egyptian and Greek pantheons respectively, were also gods of magic. Both of these deities were also messengers, travelling between the worlds of the gods and humanity, connecting the two by translating the divine into human language. This points to one of the fundamentally magical aspects of language: words are the mediators between worlds. They can build bridges between the subjective worlds of individual humans, and are also able to carry concepts from the darkness of the deep mind into the light of consciousness. What is not known by many is that this communication can go both ways. Words (among other symbolic forms) can carry concepts and even instructions back into the depths, though they must be coded in the special, secret symbolism of the unconscious. If done correctly, this can cause the Deep, Dark Mind to create change in the world which follows the Will of the magician.
¹ The library sits on an island at the center of the lake, and is housed within a huge statue of a human head. Dr. Brown lives in a small chamber at the very top of the head, above the stacks. We were unable to obtain his personal copy from this chamber, due to the large number of wards he has placed within and around it. However, several copies were sitting on shelves in the stacks, and our agent was able to extract one by obtaining a library card with one of his fake identities.
² Crowley added a “k” to the spelling of the word to distinguish it from the illusions of stage magic. Though according to Dr. Brown, the distinction is not so clear as it might first appear to be, a position which he elucidates in a later chapter.
³ This definition could arguably even include simple, seemingly mundane actions such as opening and closing one’s hand.