Sunday, March 13, 2011

Magic and Mysticism

I enjoy magic that is presented like mysticism (mostly separated from religion, although not always). This style presents the idea that forces exist that are largely beyond human experience, but which can be harnessed by those skillful few that are extraordinary in some way. As others have mentioned, I think that a story needs to convey that there are rules and parameters to magic use, so that the use of magic in the story has some level of internal consistency. But actually spelling out these rules too explicitly moves toward the scientific magic camp, which I'm not a fan of. My Hemlock book describes "mystical" magic like this. In fact, I'd go so far as to assert that this mystical presentation is the "default" for fantasy books (ie: if no alternative explanation is given, then this is the assumed style of magic).

Most religious traditions include some level of magic use. I was reading about Kaballah recently, and their tradition recognizes magic use, potentially apart from religious practitioners. Buddhism and Christianity have their saints and prophets with mystical powers. I think that magic in fantasy is a fun exploration of non religious people attaining these special powers, and a further exploration of what happens when they do. It usually involves characters unlocking mysteries about their lives and existence (as surrogates for the reader?).

I think mysticism and magic argue that there is more to life than the empirically measurable. This is an appealing concept in our modern age, which seems to have studied and compartmentalised reality so completely that I think many people are yearning for myths that affirm that they are more than organic machines. I think that fantasy tales and the magic in them meet this need for some.

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