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Barzai the Wise Speaks ~ Magical Theory and Theology

News 08-09-2001

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Barzai the Wise answers a Student...

"Master, what schools of magic is practiced by the famous Ahmet the Egyptian?"

"The world of the Oath of Empire is strongly based on the history and philosophy of our own world, as are its systems of magic.

Your last question is the easiest to answer: Ahmet was trained at the School of Pthames. Unfortunately, this is roughly equivalent to saying "Thomas Harlan was trained at Miles Elementary School"; it doesn't tell you a lot unless you also know about the peculiar philosophy of Miles "ELC".

The School of Pthames is one of the schools operated by adherents of the Order of Hermes Trismegistus, which is more likely what you wanted to know.

Now, the Order of Hermes Trismegistus is a body of men (and occasionally women) who study the nature of the universe, attempting to understand why and how the world is the way it is.

They have accumulated a body of knowledge and teachings which they pass on via their schools [1].

Rank within the Order is determined by one's seniority and by one's grade of initiation.

The principal magics taught to their Initiates consist of enabling contact with the multiple planes of reality -- planes here referring to the layers of manifestation that separate the mundane from the divine.  They are also typically potent thaumaturges-- literally, "miracle workers."  The sorts of effects which we see Ahmet use early in TSoA (dismissing the bees, causing crocodiles to avoid the swimming boys) fall into this category.

Note that Dwyrin's skills with fire are also a manifestation of thaumaturgy; he simply happens to have a natural affinity for fire, much as a musician might be able to play several different instruments, but have an affinity for piano which lets their performance thereon exceed what their training might otherwise lead one to expect.

Regarding your second question, most Persians (like most reasonably sane people) have as little to do with the practice of any kind of magic as they can.

That said, the philosophy of Zoroastrianism (which at this time pervades Persia) is given to seeing things starkly in terms of light and dark, good and evil, with little of the shades of meaning and intent that color Greek and Roman philosophy; thus, when a Magus (a person trained in the magical forms of Zoroastrianism) turns to evil, he turns completely to evil.  His philosophical training won't let him do anything else.  Since evil tends to be more outspoken than good, this leads to the stereotype of the "evil Persian sorcerer" so beloved of Alf layla wa layla [2].

Dahak is, I believe, a special case that I will not -- for your safety and mine -- elucidate in this forum.

How many schools of magic are there?  From your list, I can see that you're using "school" to mean approximately what I mean by "affinity" or "talent", which is how our heroes would think of it.

The notion of a "school" or any kind of institution devoted solely to, say, fire-casters, would be thought of as dangerously unbalanced.

For example, note the concern of the Legion that Dwyrin receive training in skills other than fire-casting. He already  knows how to wield fire: he needs training in how to do other things, like turn arrows aside, or purify water for drinking, but he doesn't go to a separate institution or Order for each of these things.

The way our heroes think of these things is as schools of philosophy, of ways of looking at the world: the Magi have one way, the Order of Hermes Trismegistus has another, Galen's Order of Asclepius has yet a third.  In the religious orders, each Temple had its own perspectives and teachings: the Temple of Jupiter Lapis [3], for example has a different philosophy than the Temple of Jupiter Invictus [4].

Of such schools of philosophy, there were several thousand attested historically, though most were local phenomena, similar to religious denominations in the United States in the 1800s.  Only a hundred or so reached any kind of prominence: the Order of Hermes Trismegistus, incidentally, being one of such fame that there are a number of occult and mystical organizations today that trace their roots to it.

Most of these schools with an emphasis on magical ability taught their students whatever range of skills was appropriate to the philosophy, thus the Hermetics teach as wide a range of skills as possible, where the Asclepians focus on manipulation of the anima [5].

The situation is much as a student at Julliard specializing in violin will also be taught composition, music theory, the theory of orchestration, and several other skills that have little to do with violin performance -- but all of these things will be taught in such a way that, years later, an observer will be able to look at the way the performer holds her bow, or the way the composer lays her notes on the staff and say "Ah!  She was trained at Julliard."

I hope that this essay has provided some understanding ot the complexity [6] and depth of our world."  ~ Barzai

[1] I could go on about the specifics at some length, possessing as I do several copies -- some in the original classical Greek -- of their religious, philosophical, and alchemical teachings, but I'll leave that for another time.

[2] "The Thousand Nights and a Night," a popular collection of Near Eastern folktales.

[3] Literally, Jupiter the Stone.  This was one of the earliest attested Jupiter cults, who used a stone imbued with the numen of Jupiter in their divinatory rites.

[4] Literally, Jupiter the Unconquered.  This was a prominent cult of the later Republic, membership open to the Patrician class only. Gaius Julius was in fact an priestly initiate in the Temple of Jupiter Invictus, though he did not frequently exercise this function.

[5] This is translated as "soul" in Christian ecclesiastical texts, though it classically refers to the quality of being that imparts movement to animals -- hence the term, "animal.".

[6] If this seems complicated -- it is!  There are literally entire libraries devoted to the topics of natural and religious philosophy, and more scholarship than it's possible to absorb in a human lifetime.  Literally millions of people over the last five thousand years that people have been writing on these topics have contributed to a modern understanding of them, and we've still only scratched the surface.  Only in the last four hundred years or so have we come to any understanding at all of what's possible with philosophical engineering, and the efforts in that direction have been uncoordinated at best.


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