There are a lot of fantasy magic systems that diverge drastically from realworld magic, for some reason. It’s as though people don’t understand that a)there is a long tradition of divers magic systems from ancient times onward and b)there is a strong archive of many of them. At bottom, all magickal systems are about arranging the psyche to be a conduit for the divine. Alchemy, Sufism, Shamanism (in all its forms), are all methods of communing with one’s self, the selves of others, and with the higher conscious – sometimes referred to as the Collective Unconscious. According to legend, this psychological reordering enables spiritual feats that seem miraculous. Today’s modern fantasy magic systems, on the other hand, never seem to ask about the magic user’s relation to the magics employed.
Even an epic adventure such as the “Dragon Age” saga has such a simplistic, adynamic, moralistic view of its magic that it becomes unbelievable. The Fade, where magic comes from, is never discussed in cosmological terms, and the schools of magic are neither discussed cosmologically nor in terms of their relation to the Fade. If there are towers everywhere, there is certainly interest in the way the Fade relates to magic relates to the physical world. And, indeed, this is the nature of realworld magick. This is how one begins to tease apart the reality of magick, by deciding upon one’s relation to one’s own psychology, and how that individual psychology relates to the Collective Unconscious.
A classic system of fantasy magic, Dungeons and Dragons presents an interesting array of cosmological problems, stemming from the exact laziness I have just described. For my purposes, I will be invoking the mostly the third (and point-five) edition, with which I am most familiar.
The first problem is the most obvious, and this is the division of magic into arcane and divine parts. As stated above, true magick is about communion with divinity. All magickal effects are divinely evinced. What, then, is to be made of a magic system for which the effects are not so evinced? With what do the wizard, bard, and sorcerer commune to create the magical effects so highly spoken of? Of what substance is the magic missile, for example? The answer to these questions may be partly derived from the prime requisite abilities of each. For the wizard, the intellect is of highest importance; for the bard and sorcerer, the charisma.
These faculties of human nature have their alchemical correspondences, as all the abilities do. Because charisma is about interrelationships between people and each other, and between people and objects (as in, for example, the Use Magic Device skill), the corresponding planet is Venus, the corresponding metal copper. One may be tempted to consider Intelligence a key ability for Mercury, but if this were the case, then where would one place Dexterity? Dexterity, after all, is the prime requisite for rogues, for thieves, and Mercury – Hermes – is the Thieflord. I suspect that Intelligence may correspond with Saturn – lead.
William Dennis Hauck tells us that Saturn’s sole virtue is practicality, perhaps exalted in prudence. This holds up in the real world where practicality and convenience are learned as the One True Science. There is a correspondence here between the Dismal Science of economics and the Appraise skill, which is governed by Intelligence. The Craft skill is also governed by Intelligence, crafting being one of the most practical methods of earning money, with which to amass wealth. All of these are Saturnine concerns – money, wealth, craft, practicality. But if this correspondence is to be respected, then the wizard becomes nothing more than an artificer; whereas the truth is that a wizard is the cause of supernatural effects issuing from the body through the mind.
This rift between systems is made all the deeper when we complete the planetary referrals of the abilities. Strength is the prime requisite of fighters and other warrior types, and is thus referred to iron and Mars. Dexterity, as aforementioned, to Mercury and quicksilver; Constitution to Jupiter and tin; Wisdom to Selene and silver; and Charisma to Venus and copper.
The problem is that under this system, one planet – one heavenly body – is left out. It is either Sol (Phoebos) or Saturn. But even in this problem there may be the seed of its own solution. Intelligence may “vibrate” between Saturn and Phoebos – lead and gold. This vibrating motion is not unheard of. In fact, it is this kind of motion that gives all magickal systems life. This motion is a particularly potent one – rather a seventh, musically.
Wisdom, on the other hand, has its own internal scale, being referred to Selene. That accounts for the difference in spell knowledge. A wizard knows no spells outside of the book. A cleric knows all spells, and must choose from amongst them. In later levels, a distinction becomes less easy, but to the lower levels – the uninitiated – the difference is vital. While a cleric can explore the range of her abilities within the first levels, the wizard must practice his over and over. The cleric learns what suits her quickly, and her early-level play is more fluid. The wizard begins by knowing the spells inside and out. In the feminine instance, who you are shapes the spells; in the masculine instance, it is the wizard who is shaped by the spells. Only a high-level cleric with exceptional discipline of will might use a divine spell list the way that resembles the way a wizard must, and there is a way in which the high-level wizard is forbidden from using his spell book the same way a high-level priest ordinarily would.
In terms of Charisma-based arcane magic, sorcery and bardery, there is a sense of an alchemy between the above two methods of knowledge and casting. Bard spells are a very specific list, and cross over arcane and divine boundaries. A bard has healing spells, for example. Most of the bard’s other spells are either illusion or enchantment – Venerean spells because they involve interaction and interrelation. So, the bard’s Venerean nature is clear. Beginning at fourth level, the bard can replace two known spells with two others. This can only be done when leveling, just as the wizard gets to choose new spells at the beginning of a level, and both bards and wizards choose their new spells at this time.
On the other hand, a bard, like a sorcerer, needn’t memorise spells. Both bards and sorcerers can cast spells of a certain level only a specified number of times per day. They always know the spells they know, but their power wanes with each use. This assumes a distinct division between energy levels. You cannot, for example, use second-level energy to cast first-level spells. Such a clear distinction suggests that there is something qualitatively different about the levels of spell access, not just quantitatively different. So, you can’t use the energy you’d use to cast Identify to cast Detect Magic because those two spells draw from completely different faculties of energy, even though the one may seem like a natural extension of the other.
At this point, it would be wise to consult a diagram of the Qabbalic Tree of Life. (Please excuse the amateur Photoshop work.)
As you can see, there are ten different nodes, each with a different position and different meaning. These nodes are intended to represent emanations of God, but the Order of the Golden Dawn also uses these nodes to represent ranks of initiation, whereby the organization grants deeper secrets and higher magicks. We can use a similar system to describe the ten levels of spells in both the wizard/sorcerer and cleric spell lists, and we can also use it to note the limitations of other classes.
Cantrips are known as 0-level spells, and are the weakest. So, if magic’s goal is to reach the highest power, we should start our correspondence at the bottom. Thus, 0=10. (Already, those who know something about the Golden Dawn will recognize what’s going on.) The first order of spells lifts one’s consciousness from the base physical level, or else represents the fact that one has lifted oneself. Thus, 1=9. This inversion continues up the Tree until we reach the highest emanation, the Crown, Kether. Thus, 0=10; 1=9; 2=8; 3=7; 4=6; 5=5; 6=4; 7=3; 8=2; 9=1.
It is important here to note that not all spell casters can attain to the highest, and amongst them are bards. Bards only have seven levels of spells, including their cantrips. Obviously, neither ranger nor paladin can attain beyond fourth level, but there are no zero-level spells for them, either. The best they can achieve is 4=7.
A bard, who taps out at level 6=4, cannot reach the Supernal Triad at the top of the Tree, but a Sorcerer can. From a purely mechanical point of view, this is for reasons of balance. A bard is never supposed to be masterful at anything, but can perform most tasks adequately. The same goes for magic. It stands entirely possible that, even in-game, no bard has ever attained those supernals because they’re just too damned distracted. It’s something Joseph Campbell laments of his own life in “The Power of Myth”. He has been too general with his studies, and though his knowledge and wisdom are great, he will never attain to the highest. But a sorcerer can, if he so desires.
All of this is well and good. There are here some rigorous correspondences, if only superficial. A more thorough look at the nature of the spells for each level would provide a deeper sense of such correspondences, but none of this truly addresses our aim in this article. And that is: What, exactly, is the difference between arcane and divine magic? After all of this, I am left with very little. There is a difference, but this difference is not one that is dependent on the words “arcane” and “divine”. That is, the words “arcane” and “divine” do not in any way describe these differences. The differences are, as discussed above, solar versus lunar.
Historically speaking, the divine spell list only went up to seven, whereas the arcane spell list went up to nine. I suspect that this is as a result of the Catholic cosmology of Heaven and Hell. Whereas Hell has nine layers, Heaven has only seven. While the cleric was intended to be seen, perhaps, in a holy Christian light, the wizard was to be seen as colluding with the denizens of Hell. Previously, there were no 0-level spells. Thus, the arcane and divine systems had differing cosmological structures. With the advent of the third edition, however, the distinction became obscure yet they retained the nomenclature for the sake of tradition and brand loyalty, perhaps. However, because of this ostensibly arbitrary change, there is a much more cohesive magical system, especially when corresponded to the Western Occult systems.
Next time I post – perhaps next week, even – I’ll be discussing the planes of existence as they are in the Western conception and in the realm of D&D. (That’ll be weird.)