Of Signs and Sorcery: The Branches of Magic

When I was very young, I hoped that I would receive my letter from Hogwarts at the age of eleven, whereupon I would be whisked off to the hidden world of magic and sorcery. Long story short, my letter to Hogwarts never came. 10 years later though, it seems my invitation to the world of sorcery has arrived after all, in the form of this post by Bryce Laliberte.

Bryce’s introduction is a great first step. As he says, however, it barely scratches the surface.

A good next step would be to classify the different types of sorcery. In this way, we can better understand their application and their effects.

Before we proceed, however, we must differentiate two different types of sorcery: white magic and black magic. White magic is that which draws its power from stability and order. Black magic is that which draws power from chaos and disorder. Each branch of sorcery can follow either of these paths.

It is also important to bear in mind that both white magic and black magic can be used for good or for ill. Black magic can be used for good. White magic can be used for nefarious ends. A simple “either/or” distinction does not apply here.

There are also spells that draw power from both white and black magic. Though they are rare, they can be very powerful indeed, and it is foolish to deny their existence.

With this in mind, let us classify the different branches of magic.

 Alchemy: The art of turning one thing into another

Things change. It happens. High-heeled shoes used to be a very masculine article of clothing. Nowadays, a pair of them is an indispensable female accessory.

The word gay used to mean happy. Now it means homosexual. What happened? Alchemy.

Alchemy is the sorcery of implementing change.

His magic need not be applied to mere words. Alchemy is also the skill needed to overcome functional fixedness, for example. In what other way can you turn a frying pan into a hammer?

A black magic version of this might be to alter the definition of signs with intent to confuse (such as talking in code to fool potential eavesdroppers). The white magic counterpart would thus be to tweak the definitions of words to better reflect reality.

Divination: The art of discovering deeper truths

Your friend comes to you. He has a story to tell about why he can’t pay you back for another week. He seems a little off. His posture is different than usual. You know even before you start asking him questions that you’re about to catch him in a lie.

Divination. The magic of reading signs to discern the hidden reality underneath.

This can be as complex as the artifice of modern physics, or as simple as declaring one’s name.

(Above: Pure fucking magic, drenched in testosterone to give it that extra kick.)

A failure to understand irony or sarcasm is a failure of divination. A debate about metaphysics is a dick-waving contest in which both sides try to prove that they have the superior powers of divination.

Speaking of which, the entire framework of analytic philosophy is an attempt to bring rigor to this art.

A white magic example is in the quest of modern science to discover the inner workings of the universe. A black magic example is uncovering things that are best left untouched

If you’ve ever read Watchmen, you know what I’m talking about.

Divination is often found in opposition to illusionism.

Enchantment: The art of influence and control

I was baking with some friends earlier today. When the females in the group tried to pass off some of the more difficult tasks to me, I began laughing and teasing them relentlessly, saying things like: “Women. They only do things themselves when they can’t get a man to do it for them.”

I had fun with it, and after a few minutes, one of them was earnestly shelling pistachios and making damn sure I was aware of how hard she was working.

Enchantment. Simple shaming tactics of the black magic variety, but very effective.

Enchantment is not just the art of getting people to do what you want, however. It is more accurately conceived of as the art of instilling certain emotions in people.

Enchantment is perhaps one of the most intuitively simple branches of magic to pick up, as skill in enchantment is most commonly manifested through charisma and social skills.

Trying to get your friend to go to the gym? Enchantment. Charming people with witty banter at cocktail parties? Enchantment. The entire concept of “game”? A way of teaching men the subset of enchantment known as seduction.

In enchantment, white magic is that which draws on constructive emotions, like love or happiness, while black magic draws on destructive emotions, like envy or rage. Seduction is a most interesting form of enchantment because it can be white magic, black magic, or both, depending on the tactics used.

Enchantment is often found hand-in-hand with illusionism.

Evocation: The art of conjuration and banishment

Justice. Fairness. Human rights. These are weighty words, but why?

They are weighty words because they are conjurations of concepts with great weight behind them. To speak these words is to evoke the ideas they symbolize.

People turn when they hear their name because to utter a person’s name is, quite literally, to evoke them.

This is not the sum of evocation though. Evocation is also used to call into existence new constructs, as well as banish them. White magic is that which creates and sustains new constructs. Black magic is that which shatters or destroys them.

This makes more sense with a few examples.

I take this woman to be my lawfully-wedded wife.”

I now proclaim you a knight of the British Empire.”

Congratulations. You’re hired. You start the job on Monday.”

White magic. New constructs and orders of being are created.

I’m breaking up with you.”

For the crimes you have committed, I sentence you to die.”

You are no son of mine.”

Black magic incantations, and powerful ones, too. Old constructs are being disintegrated.

Evocation can also be used to compliment or to insult. To call someone a good person (or alternatively, a worthless cunt) is to evoke a beneficial (or malevolent) ideal and imply that the person you are complimenting (or insulting) falls within the class of things that belongs to this construct.

Evocation is perhaps the most variable type of sorcery.

Illusionism: The art of altering perceptions

They say that perception is reality. If this is true, then illusionism, being the art of altering perceptions, is the ability to play with reality itself. Even if it isn’t, illusionism is still arguably the most powerful branch of sorcery. There is practically no limit to what it can do. It is, for all intents and purposes, impossible to overestimate its sheer power. Underestimate it at your peril.

Humans are subjective creatures. We are fundamentally unable to grasp a truly objective reality. The subjective personal reality crafted by each individual to make sense of the world is but an illusion, yet it is a necessary illusion, for we would not be able to function in the world without it.

Because illusion is so vital to the human experience, altering the illusion can have effects as drastic as altering any vital organ. Take a look at the way that alcohol and other drugs change the way that people behave. Consider the effect it would have on a person to make them believe that everyone they love is dead.

Nietzsche’s great criticism of morality (and religion, especially Christianity) was that it was a form of illusionism meant to paralyze the strong and bring them down to the level of the weak. This isn’t exactly false, but that doesn’t mean that this is a bad thing, either.

I’ve mentioned “tactical assumptions” before, and it is now that I should point out that such things fall firmly in the category of illusionism.

White magic is those illusions that foster order, stability, and human flourishing. Civilization and morality are two illusions firmly rooted in white magic. The black magic counterpart is that which breaks down illusions, though fostering illusions that degrade also fall into this category. The concept of atomization that help American consumerist culture thrive is a powerful black magic.

In the words of Goethe, “None are more deeply enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free”. That is the power of illusionism in a nutshell.

Politics is the art of applying illusionism on the scale of a nation. Many types of art (such as film or theatre) apply illusionism for entertainment purposes. The way the media uses illusionism ought to be self-evident.

Illusionism, though powerful, can be countered not by illusionism of equal power, but also by divination. Indeed, the very nature of the two arts often sets them in opposition to each other, though this is not always the case, and in certain situations, they can be directed towards the same end (the power of this synthesis can be absolutely terrifying to those at whom its force is directed).

Necromancy: The art of giving and taking life

With one hand he giveth, and with the other he taketh away. Such is the creed of the necromancer. Illusionism may be the most powerful of the arts, but necromancy is the one that sends shivers down the spines of even the bravest men. It is that which takes life from the living and grants life to the dead.

In one sense, necromancy is evocation. When we speak the names of “Odysseus” and “Achilles”, we conjure them from the dead, and they live on through our incantations. The entirety of philosophy is one grand edifice of necromancy, with the living arguing with the dead before passing into death themselves to argue with the living.

However, this does not comprise the entirety of necromancy. Necromancy is the sorcery that enables one to commune with the incommunicable. It not only removes death as a barrier to human action, but it also alters the very nature of sorcery itself.

Words, just as humans, live and die. Necromancy, in a very real sense, is the art of applying life and death to words, the very signs through which we accomplish sorcery. The coining of neologisms is the archetypal white magic example of necromancy. Far more dubious (if not nefarious) is the black magic of reviving dead words. Darker still is the act of killing off a word entirely.

The revival of Neo-paganism is an attempt to perform necromancy on a dead form of religion. Whether it works will be dependent partly on how powerful the Neopagans can make their necromancy.

A more successful example might be the way in which Latin, though a dead language, continues to live on, especially in the legal and medical fields (and, to a very limited degree, this blog).

Combining Magics

Each of these magics are powerful on their own. However, the most powerful forms of sorcery are those that combine different branches of magic. The most successful societal innovations and social technologies are those which balance the different types of magic.

Marriage is the evocation of an illusion, often done for reasons of enchantment, in order to bring together the elements needed for a very particular combination of necromancy and alchemy to take place (arguably, this makes the family the most powerful spell of all).

The western court system is an organized clash between the illusionism of the lawyers and the powers of divination of the judge or jury. The outcome of the battle determines the final evocation that the court will utter.

Propaganda and rhetoric, two of the most powerful forms of sorcery known to man, are also examples of combined magics, emerging from the union of enchantment and illusionism, though it is conceivable that a skilled sorcerer will be able to add any of the branches of sorcery to this mix (evocation is the most common addition).

They say that when you grow up, it is time to stop believing in magic. I disagree. This world runs on magic. A fool will ignore this and retreat to whatever illusion he pleases. A man with an interest in leaving his mark on the world will take great care to understand magic, for it remains the greatest power in the human toolbox for influencing the world around us.




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