Tag Archives: magic

The Fabled Land of Witches

Tournament of Witches, Book 3 of the Glimnodd Cycle, is finally available. (The paperback is on sale now , and  the ebook up for pre-order on Amazon , with publication set for July 15).

Tournament of Witches Cover

The writing of this novel took far longer than I like to think about. Suffice it to say that the original outline was developed sometime in the last century. So it is extremely gratifying to me for this mind-child to see the light of day at last.

This third volume of the saga sees Amlina the witch and her Iruk warriors sail to Larthang to return the Cloak of the Two Winds to its rightful owners, the witches of the House of the Deepmind. Epic fantasy often involves a journey, as well as a multi-layered plot rife with contending forces and intrigue. Tournament has all that aplenty.

The Golden Land

Larthang, Amlina’s homeland, is the westernmost of the Three Nations and has a long history of deep magic. But along with great witches, it is a land of warriors, sages, scholars, philosophers, and poets. Elements of the cultural background are drawn from ancient China, mixed with other historical sources, and transposed into the magical universe of Glimnodd.

Map of Larthang
Map of Larthang, (c) 2020 by Jack Massa. All rights reserved.

The Iruks, barbarians from the south polar region, are largely unfamiliar with Larthang and unsure what to expect. In this excerpt, as they near the coast, the scholar Kizier gives them an introduction to the history and politics …

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Their destination was Randoon of the Onyx Gates, one of three major ports on the Larthangan coast, each built at the mouth of a river. Kizier described the city one evening, as he and Eben sat in the stern beside the windbringers. It had become their custom to spend an hour or two there each day reviewing and practicing Eben’s language lessons.

In ancient times, the scholar said, the three rivers had flowed free and wild from their sources in the west and north. But during the first centuries of the current era, when the Dynasty of the Tuans was established and the great witches of Larthang practiced their arts, the rivers had been tamed. Now levees and dams controlled the floods and maintained irrigation of the farmlands. Inland, a grand canal linked the three rivers at Minhang, the Celestial Capital.

“But why is it called Randoon of the Onyx Gates?” Eben inquired.

“This you will see when we arrive,” Kizier answered. “On each side of the river stands a mighty tower fashioned of smooth, precious stone. These towers control a magical force that can be raised from the riverbed like gates of onyx to prevent ships from passing in or out of the channel. This witchery guards Larthang from invasion by sea.”

“So? Do the other ports also have such defenses?” Eben asked.

“Indeed,” Kizier said. “Hanjapore of the Jade Gates to the south, and Haji-Chan of the Moonstone Gates in the north.”

“The history is all very interesting,” Lonn grumbled, speaking Low-Tathian. Standing at the helm, he had listened to their talks in Larthangan for days now and was understanding much of what they said. “But I am more concerned with the greeting we’re likely to get when we land.”

“Yes, and with good reason.” Kizier shifted to Low-Tathian himself.

“This war faction that the drell described,” Eben said. “They tried to take the Cloak once. We haven’t spotted any naval vessels since Fleevanport, but once we near the coast of Larthang, what then? Will Amlina wield the Cloak against their ships again? If not, how will she keep them from taking it? But if she does, it’s hard to imagine we’ll be received as friends when we do reach Larthang.”

“All true,” Kizier allowed. “But there are other powers in Larthang.”

“You mean the witches at the House of the Deepmind,” Eben said. “They who sent the drell.”

“They, yes. And still others, I am sure. It’s many years since I studied in Larthang, and no doubt the political situation has evolved. But I can tell you this for certain: by tradition there are three powers in the Golden Land, known as the Three Pillars of the Throne. The Witches, who practice the arts of the Deepmind; Warriors, who practice the arts of war; and Magistrates, who administer the laws and maintain the civil government. Within these three orders, or estates, there are always factions and sub-factions, and constantly shifting alliances. Above all sits the hereditary ruler, the Tuan. In name, the Tuan is supreme, but in practice he or she must balance the contending forces of the three estates.”

“Are the witches always women?” Eben asked. “We know that elsewhere in the Three Nations, mages and sorcerers might be men as well. Is this not true in Larthang?”

“No and yes.” Kizier seemed to relish conveying the complexity of these matters. “The House of the Deepmind, known as Ting Ta Roo, is the supreme magical power and home to the Five Revered Arts. It trains only women and only they may properly be called ‘Witches of Larthang.’ But there are other, lesser traditions of deepshaping and deepseeing that teach both males and females. These schools train prognosticators, alchemists, and conjurers, as well as scholars and sages who may include mysticism as part of their studies. Any of these practitioners might be called mages, but never Witches of Larthang.”

“Sounds very complicated,” Lonn grumbled. “So, assuming we manage to land, Amlina will need to seek out her fellow witches, since she plans to surrender the Cloak to the House of the Deepmind.”

“Yes, but perhaps not just any witches,” Kizier said. “Some witches are allied to the so-called Iron Bloc. This we have seen already. No doubt there are other factions in the three estates who would love to possess the Cloak and the power it brings. Amlina has chosen to surrender the Cloak to the Archimage in Minhang—but how we will get there is an open question. Indeed, what will happen when we land in Randoon? That I cannot even guess.”

— from Tournament of Witches, Chapter Ten.
Copyright (c) 2020 by Jack Massa. All Rights Reserved,

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You can:

Purchase Tournament of Witches here.

Or check out the other volumes of the Glimnodd Cycle,

Read more about the magical world of Glimnodd,

Or sign up here for our mailing list and get a free prequel short story to the Cycle, “Street Sorceress”

Castle Image

 

Magic Systems and the World of Glimnodd

To start off this post with a picture, here is the new cover for Cloak of the Two Winds, Book 1 of the Glimnodd Cycle.

Cloak of the Two Winds New Cover

I’m excited to announce I will be re-releasing this series over the next couple of months AND publishing Book 3, Tournament of Witches.

To mark the occasion, let’s talk about magic systems in fantasy and in the Glimnodd books in particular.

I think a lot about magic in fiction (and also in real life for that matter). For fantasy, I find constructing magic systems to be one of the most interesting points of world-building.

But how do you build a fictional magic system that readers will understand and love?

Brandon Sanderson’s First Law of Magic

For many, a cogent answer to this question begins with author Brandon Sanderson’s famous Three Laws of Magic. As presented by the author in a series of blog posts beginning here, these laws are:

  1. First Law: An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.
  2. Second Law : Limitations > Power (For story purposes, limitations on the magic are more important than the magic powers.)
  3. Third Law: Expand what you already have before you add something new.

Now, as author Max Florschutz points out in a blog post here , these laws are not so much about creating magic systems as rules for how best to use magic in a story.

Nevertheless, when you invent a magic system as an author, you need to be aware of the First Law in particular. In other words, you have to figure out how to make the magic comprehensible to the reader.

Hard, Soft, and In Between

In his essay on the first law, Sanderson elucidates with examples of different magic systems on a continuum from “soft” to “hard”:

On one side of the continuum, we have books where the magic is included in order to establish a sense of wonder and give the setting a fantastical feel. Books that focus on this use of magic tend to want to indicate that men are a small, small part of the eternal and mystical workings of the universe. This gives the reader a sense of tension as they’re never certain what dangers—or wonders—the characters will encounter. Indeed, the characters themselves never truly know what can happen and what can’t. … I call this a “Soft Magic” system…

Sanderson cites Tolkien as a prime example. In The Lord of the Rings, the rules of the magic are never much explained. By the same token, while magic creates the dangerous situation (the Lord of Mordor and his rings), magic is seldom if ever used to solve the characters’ problems. Frodo and Sam don’t magically teleport to Mordor to drop off the One Ring.

Illustration from Lord of the Rings
Illustration from The Fellowship of the Ring. Source: https://www.theonering.net/torwp/2019/02/13/105874-free-lord-of-the-rings-art-show-in-san-jose-ca/

On the other end of the continuum is “hard magic,” where the working rules are explicitly explained:

The magic itself is a character, and by showing off its laws and rules, the author is able to provide twists, worldbuilding, and characterization.

If the reader understands how the magic works, then you can use the magic (or, rather, the characters using the magic) to solve problems. In this case, it’s not the magic mystically making everything better. Instead, it’s the characters’ wit and experience that solves the problems. Magic becomes another tool—and, like any other tool, its careful application can enhance the character and the plot.

Taken to its extreme, hard magic systems can be like table-top gaming, where specific powers are based on point-systems. Many readers want this kind of hard-and-fast rules-based world, but I personally find hard systems less than appealing. If everything is known, where is the sense of wonder?

Fortunately, as Sanderson points out, most writers choose a middle ground between the hard and soft extremes. He cites the Harry Potter novels as a prime example.

Each of these books outlines various rules, laws, and ideas for the magic of the world. And, in that given book, those laws are rarely violated, and often they are important to the workings of the book’s climax. However, if you look at the setting as a whole, you don’t really ever understand the capabilities of magic.

This strategy allows characters to solve problems with magic while avoiding the trap of the magic becoming a predictable, rote system and thereby losing all the mystery and wonder.

Harry Potter artwork
Artwork for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix DVD, source: https://goldendiscs.ie/products/harry-potter-and-the-order-of-the-phoenix-david-yates-1
Magic in the World of Glimnodd

I am big on mystery and the mystical sense of wonder. Nevertheless, magic is integral to the plot of my fantasy stories. Which means my characters often solve problems with magic. Which means the reader has to have a sense of the limits and the rules. So my stories fall somewhere in the middle of the hard-soft spectrum.

In the Glimnodd Cycle, magic is definitely and consistently a deep aspect of the story lines. On Glimnodd, magic has been around for a long, long time. So much so, that the unrestrained use of magic caused the fabric of reality to fray and the world to change. This brought about a time known as The Age of the World’s Madness, where chaos reigned, new sentient species arose, and one of the three moons flew off into space.

Later, balance was restored. To preserve the balance and vent off excess magical energies, great spells were woven. One causes the seas of Glimnodd to shine with a perpetual light. The second causes magic winds to blow which change the seas to ice or the ice back to soft water.

Icy seas on Glimnodd

There are multiple magical systems mentioned in the stories. In terms of magic used to solve plot problems, there are touches of shamanic magic, alchemy, and ancient evil sorcery (with clearly defined rules in A Mirror Against All Mishap).

But the most detailed magical system is that codified and used by the Witches of Larthang. This is based on five arts.

The Five Revered Arts

The Five Revered Arts of Larthangan Witchery are:

  1. Deep Seeing (wei shen) – The art of perceiving thoughts, images, and events through no physical sense but through the mind alone.
  2. Formulation (jai-dah or “weaving”). The creation of mental constructs that are stored and then released at a chosen moment, through incantation and mental casting.
  3. Trinketing (barang-xing). The fabrication of magical objects. In this art, the witch generates a magical design and binds it to a material object, allowing the power to be unleashed at a later time by herself or another person.
  4. Magical combat (weng lei). In this art, a witch trains with dagger, sword, ritual stances, and fighting techniques. With the force of her mind she can send blades through the air or cast weakness into an opponent’s body.
  5. Pure-shaping (quon-xing). The spontaneous use of mental power to create effects in the world.

In terms of their limitations, all five arts depend on the practiced skill and mental strength of the practitioner (the witch or ‘deepshaper’). In scenes where magic is used to solve problems, there is always a sense of struggle, tension, and doubt.

For further reading …

To learn more about Brandon Sanderson’s work, check out brandonsanderson.com.

You can read his posts on the Three Laws of Magic here:

  1. First Law
  2. Second Law
  3. Third Law

To learn more about the magic of Glimnodd, check out these pages:

Or you can pick up Book 1, Cloak of the Two Winds on Amazon.

Or… Sign up here for our Triskelist Newsletter and receive “Street Sorceress,” a short story that takes place prior to the events of Cloak.

Street Sorceress Cover

Use this link to get the free story.

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Origins of the Frog Monster

As guest author at a book club meeting recently, I was asked about the egregore, a figure in my latest novel Ghosts of Lock Tower. In the story, the egregore is a thought-form, a monster that originates as an internet meme but soon takes on a life of its own.

Ghosts of Lock Tower
Ghosts of Lock Tower is available on Amazon.

As I explained to the book club, as much as possible in my fiction, I like to base magical content on the real thing—that is, magic as it is actually believed in and practiced in our world. I have researched this quite a bit, and both historical and modern occult practices are represented in Lock Tower.

Two Schools of Magic

The protagonist, Abby Renshaw, is an initiate of the Circle of Harmony, a magical order loosely based on the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Founded in the late 19th Century, the Golden Dawn became a wellspring of modern occultism, and there are still Golden Dawn groups practicing today.

Perhaps the best-known book on the Golden Dawn, by Israel Regardie

During the story Abby encounters another tradition, called “Postmodern Magic,” which is (again, loosely) based on contemporary occult practices grouped under the collective term “Chaos Magic.” As explained in Wikipedia: “Chaos magic has been described as a union of traditional occult techniques and applied postmodernism – particularly a postmodernist skepticism concerning the existence or knowability of objective truth. Chaos magicians subsequently treat belief as a tool, often creating their own idiosyncratic magical systems…”

A character in Lock Tower explains to Abby that he was drawn to Postmodern Magic because it is “free of doctrine and bullshit, a completely scientific search for truth.” Abby finds this appealing, but also worrisome. Postmodern magic lacks the structure and guidance she is used to from the Circle of Harmony. Yet is also offers power that she needs.

The Concept of the Egregore

Two concepts from Chaos Magic that figure prominently in Ghosts of Lock Tower are sigils and the egregore.

We’ll leave sigils for perhaps another time, but (again quoting Wikipedia), “Egregore (also egregor) is an occult concept representing a “thoughtform” or “collective group mind”, an autonomous psychic entity made up of, and influencing, the thoughts of a group of people.”

Source: Supernatural Magazine, Image Source: https://supernaturalmagazine.com/articles/egregore

Notice that an egregore is both made up of the thoughts of a group of people (usually an occult circle) and also influences their thoughts. An independent entity, created by thought, that manifests in the world and affects peoples’ minds – if you spend any time on social media, it is no stretch at all to see how this idea compares to a meme.

The egregore in Ghosts of Lock Tower begins life as a character in an online game. Soon he is adopted as a meme representing collective rage and hate.

But why a frog?

The egregore first appears early in the book. Abby has a nightmare that takes place in a virtual reality game world. She runs in terror through dungeons and corridors filled with dazed and injured young people. Finally:

I enter an upper chamber, like a temple or throne room. Suits of glittering armor stand along the walls. More kids are lined up in a queue, approaching a throne. On the throne sits a huge white frog, with mad angry eyes in its head—and dozens more eyes in its stomach. A girl approaches the throne, and the frog monster opens its mouth. She shrieks as he sucks her in, like sipping cola through a straw.

A frog monster
A Frog Monster similar to the one in the novel. Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/480266747758596316/

When I drafted that scene, the image of the egregore as a giant white frog spilled readily out of my unconscious. It was only later that I realized a connection. In our own little world there is in fact a meme (or egregore) that started as a harmless online character but transformed into a powerful emblem for hate. You may have heard of Pepe the Frog .

Pepe the Frog from New York Magazine
Pepe the Frog, from an article in New York Magazine. http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2017/04/the-whole-world-is-now-a-message-board.html

The ways of the group mind are vast, deep, and strange, gentle reader. Like Abby, we all must look for principles and guideposts to help us navigate the chaos.

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To learn more about Abby’s quest to combine the two forms of magic, check out Ghosts of Lock Tower here .
You can also read more about the frog monster in this (free online) story published by Harbinger Press: “Return of the Egregore.”

All the Sorrows of the World

Content Warning: Magical Philosophy

I’m very happy to report that I am finally nearing the completion of the third of the Abby Renshaw Adventures, which will be titled Ghosts of Lock Tower. This book’s been over a year in the making and was originally planned as a novella. It took on a life of its own, as stories often do.

Bok Tower, a real building in central Florida on which the fictional Lock Tower is based.

This month’s post is inspired by a phrase that appears in the novel. Midway through the story, something terrible happens. Abby, our protagonist, is devastated by horror and grief. She is also racked by guilt. She had a premonition something bad was going to happen, and feels she should have found a way to prevent it, or at least to warn someone.

Kevin, one of her mentors and an initiate of the same magical order as Abby, tells her this:

“You had a vision, Abby. But you didn’t have enough information to act on it. Or the power to stop what happened. I understand how you feel. But there’s a lesson in the Circle of Harmony that says ‘you can’t carry all the sorrows of the world.’ A true magician is prone to see many things. Sometimes that can include terrible evil. You cannot let yourself be crushed by it—not if you want to keep any hope of doing good.”

 

When I wrote that speech, the phrase carry all the sorrows of the world strongly resonated with me. I was dimly aware that it’s source was something I had read years ago, in Israel Regardie’s The Golden Dawn.

As you may know, the Golden Dawn was a magical society of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Its members included prominent occultists A.E. Waite, Dion Fortune, and Paul Foster Case, as well as artists, authors, and poets, such as Arthur Conan Doyle and W.B. Yeats. (See this article on Wikipedia for more.)  The Circle of Harmony, the secret magical society in the Abby Renshaw stories, is loosely based on the Golden Dawn.

As revealed by Regardie’s book, initiates in the Golden Dawn advanced through a series of grades. Each advancement was marked by a ritual, in which the candidate was given new knowledge. The system of grades and the paths of advancement had correspondences both to the Qabala and the Tarot.

In some rituals, paths would be shown to the candidate but were not yet “open”—until the candidate had attained a higher grade. This was the case with the particular ritual I remembered. The path in question is named for the Hebrew Letter Mem, and corresponds to the Tarot Card, The Hanged Man. It is a path of sacrifice.

Image of the Hanged Man; By Pamela Coleman Smith – a 1909 card scanned by Holly Voley (http://home.comcast.net/~vilex/) for the public domain, and retrieved from http://www.sacred-texts.com/tarot (see note on that page regarding source of images)., PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17299698

In this ritual, the candidate is told:

“The Portal of Mem is barred. Yet it is well to be willing for the Sacrifice itself, is as yet, not fully prepared. For in the Path of Mem rules the Hanged Man, the power of the Great Waters. Can your tears prevail against the Tide of the Sea, your might against the waves of the storm, your love against the sorrows of all the world?”

From The Golden Dawn, as revealed by Israel Regardie, Llewellyn Publications, 1990,  page 212).

 

Surely, in the way of poetry, there are many meanings we could unwrap here. To me, an important one is this: No matter how awful the evil we witness in the world (and these days, if your eyes are open at all, you’re witnessing plenty), we must not let it destroy us.

As Kevin tells Abby, we are not required to carry all the sorrows of the world. We are only required to do the good that we can.

I think this quote from the Talmud gives the same message:

Internet meme, source: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/3b/ce/44/3bce445d6f971d4ff592b27cea1f32c0.jpg

At least, that’s how I see it.

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Ghosts of Lock Tower is scheduled for publication Summer of 2019

Meantime, you can check out the first two Abby Renshaw adventures here.

 

The Goddess Who Shapes All Things

In Ghosts of Bliss Bayou, Abigail Renshaw is a young woman studying magic—a kind of magic formulated by her ancestor and his contemporaries, who founded the town of Harmony Springs in Florida.

Midway through the story, Abby’s grandmother gives her a ring that has been passed down through the family.

She places the ring in my hand, and I feel its energy, like a tiny electric current. The gold is formed into leaves and vines framing a cameo: the white-on-black image of a woman with wild hair, holding a torch.

I’m stunned. “Who is she?”

“Part of the magical lore of the Circle. She’s the Great Goddess Who Shapes All Things.”

Hekate Image
Goddess Image, possibly Hekate, from antique tile.

The idea for the fictional Circle of Harmony came from the so-called “occult revival” of the late 19th Century, a period when spiritualism and magic became fashionable in Europe and America. During this time, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn flourished. The Golden Dawn espoused a system of magic that drew on many occult sources, including Kabbalah, Tarot, and Rosicrucianism.

Another source of the Golden Dawn system was Neoplatonism, a philosophical tradition of late antiquity. A key document of Neoplatonism is the Chaldean Oracles which survive today only in fragments.

The cosmology of Neoplatonism envisions a divine creative fire, which is the source of the manifest universe. Seated at the portal between this uncreated fire and the world we know is a Goddess Figure. In the Chaldean Oracles, she is named Hekate, after the goddess of the ancient Greeks. A good scholarly summary of this topic can be found in this paper by John D. Turner of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

This idea of a Great Goddess who sits at the threshold between the creative source and the manifest world, is also pictured in the Tarot.

Tarot High Priestess
from the Waite-Rider tarot deck created by Pamela Colman Smith.

Early in Ghosts of Bliss Bayou, Abby comes across this card in a reading.

But my eyes are drawn to the crown position—the High Priestess. I’ve read that she’s actually a goddess, seated on her throne at the place of balance between the positive and negative polarities of the Universe. I stare at her serene face and her robes. In the picture, the robes turn into a waterfall and then a blue stream that flows away. It flows down through all the other cards that have pictures of water—the Stream of Life that gives birth to everything.

Late in the novel, when Abby is in deep trouble, she encounters the Goddess again, in a vision. Like all magical guides, the Goddess does not solve her problem, but gives her knowledge that might help her solve it herself…

She stares at me, calm and gentle. “What would you ask of me?”

I didn’t expect that. “Umm. There is an evil spirit who wants to kill me—and other people who are dear to me. I must learn how to banish him or…defend us from him.”

She considers before answering. “Behind me are the hidden sources of creation. The river of the Universe flows at my feet. I sit at the gateway between two pillars—light and darkness, love and strife. The contention of these forces causes all things to be. To wield the highest magic, you must station yourself at this gateway, the point of perfect balance. Then your will can shape what flows into manifestation. So all things are possible.”

Hecate as triple goddess. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=604834
Hekate as triple goddess. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=604834