There are two basic forms of magic, magia and goetica.
Magia is based on inside, intuitive, experiential knowledge; learning a new piece of magia is like tasting a new food, living in a new neighborhood, learning to wiggle your ears.
Goetica is based on outside, formalized, technological knowledge; learning a new piece of goetica is like cooking according to the microwave directions on the package, reading an atlas entry about a foreign country, studying for an exam.
More specifically, magia is learning your own way around the spirit world and doing things there yourself. Goetica is dealing with agents in the spirit world and having them do things for you.
Magia is when someone, human or otherwise, does supernatural things with their own power.
Magia blends, on the one hand, into psychic powers and, on the other hand, into social relations with esoteric creatures that you could not normally interact with except for your magic abilities. In That Hideous Strength, Merlin's hypnosis and disconcerting little snapshots of prophecy are an instance of the one and his "friendship" with the woods and waters is an instance of the other.
The basic magian powers are prana-work and astral projection.
The power behind magic is variously called prana, numen, vis, chi, ki, mana, and many other names. Prana is identical to what medievals called vital spirit, the glue between the will and the world, between spirit and matter. It is therefore very amenable to doing special effects by sheer willpower, since, somewhere in the depths of your brain, that's what it does your every waking moment.
Prana can be stored in things or traded between individuals, either voluntarily or involuntarily. See Spiritual Predation.
Normal individuals, including beasts, humans, and djinn, have a characteristic carrying capacity of prana. If it becomes depleted, they regenerate it at a characteristic rate.
Prana is put to use by giving it an aspect, a specific quality. Telekinesis is done with motion-aspected prana, for instance. A magic spell is often nothing but a strong dose of prana given a detailed and specific aspect.
The basic magian magic-worker is a shaman, who starts their career with a spirit-journey, an astral projection using almost all their prana to form an astral body. Merlin, our prototype magian, won his intimate knowledge-by-acquaintance of woods and waters and the vitalities in them by going about among them as a spirit among spirits, projecting. At first, he probably did this while in a bodily trance; later, he was probably able to walk about, open-eyed and able to talk (though seldom eager for ordinary company) while still working on the spiritual level. See The Ka.
The following historical forms of magic are magian in nature:
Thematic magics take us from historical magic into literary magic. This is where some theme or idea so engrosses a person that their prana gets tangled up in it, circulating between them and it. You can drive this to cinematic levels when desired. Alchemy is a good historical candidate for this – which the practitioners did not even believe to be magic.
There are endless varieties of thematic magic, as many as you can think of themes for. Thematic magic is prana-work, stimulated and focused by the magician's passion for the theme. Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is very common among thematic mages, along with a fair bit of delusion and superstition, mistaking pet rituals and taboos for the way the world works, rather than recognizing them as psychological props.
A given school of thematic magic usually features thematic ways of gaining prana and esoteric sensitivities related to the theme. Beyond that, the tricks they can do depend on the theme, the mage, and the available power.
A thematic magic often dominates the life of the mage, so thematic mages seldom have more than one theme, or have small collections of closely-related themes.
Two thematic magics, though, combine readily with many other forms of magic: One is tapasya. This is the practice of generating large amounts of prana by austerities. The prana can then be applied to other thematic magics, other magian talents, martial arts, yogic powers, or what-have-you.
The other is nymic magic or name magic. This raises your chances of success in other magic if you know and use the True Name of the object of the enchantment. It also lets you make and use "words of power."
Goetica is a wholly different matter. A goetic magician does not necessarily do anything with prana. A goetic magician gets magic done by having spirits do it for him. He must therefore somehow have one or more patron spirits.
Theoretically, that could be done fairly innocently, but in fact goetica is very strongly infernal. Heaven doesn't do goetica, and the pagan pantheons that might are much reduced in power or often reluctant to annoy the bright eldila. Which leaves Hell.
The basic opening move in goetica is initiation into a social network of fellow goetics, generally some secret society, like a coven or wizard college. These human goetics have social ties to various spirits. By being sponsored, doing favors, paying dues, the new goetic can work this social network. In That Hideous Strength, had Mark or Straik gone on with the Macrobes as planned, they would have been doing this – sponsored by Frost and Wither, being given roles in their schemes, which are mostly or entirely parts of the Macrobes' schemes. Pursuing those schemes, and schemes of their own that their masters tolerate, they would strike deals with and give orders to human agents, but also to inhuman ones – low-grade demons, tame damned souls perhaps, infernal djinn, ghosts, etc. that have been drawn in one way or another.
Mark could have gotten results from such creatures, not from friendship or free alliance (as Merlin would), or from any power intrinsic in himself or intrinsic in any words or rituals he had been taught, but because he would be backed, at several removes, by the same demonic authority that commands these creatures themselves.
Dark eldil to minor infernal djinni: "You're his familiar now. I require you to keep an eye on him, appear and disappear when he utters the passwords ["incantations"], assist him in his assignments, and report to us if he looks like losing loyalty or makes major blunders. You've done familiar assignments before; you know the drill." And the djinni obeys because it fears the dark eldil, or expects reward from it, or because it is bound to it by a geas.
Frost, Mark's human patron, might have received a high-class familiar, which he would probably have called a "symbiote" or some such, that would have sworn a geas to Frost directly. This is because Frost could have been trusted to carry out Hell's schemes with what was left of his own free will, besides having that nice comfortable saddle on his soul that let him be ridden and dismounted so conveniently – his "objectivity," he called it.
One major use of a familiar is to deliver messages to mightier spirits in your network, and one of the privileges/hazards of belonging to a goetic network is showing up on the radar of these mightier spirits, so, when your familiar goes to the major spirit with the summons to a "conjuration," the majors know who you are and have some sort of motive to go. Without that entré, doing ceremonial magic is just so much parlor theatricals, unless you get very "lucky."
The following historical forms of magic are goetic in nature:
Nothing prevents a goetic magician from learning some magia. Nothing prevents a magian magician from joining a goetic network.
Magia and goetica are not "good magic" and "evil magic." A goetic can be of good intent, often believes they are in control of the situation, and might even be correct if they are backed by a pagan pantheon or an adhene. Nothing prevents a magian from doing evil with their magic. And even innocent magia has its cost:
Even in Merlin's time . . . though you could still use that sort of life in the universe innocently, you couldn't do it safely. The things weren't bad in themselves, but they were already bad for us. They sort of withered the man who dealt with them. Not on purpose. They couldn't help doing it. Merlinus is withered. He's quite pious and humble and all that, but something has been taken out of him. That quiet of his is just a little deadly, like the quiet of a gutted building. It's the result of having laid his mind open to something that broadens the environment just a bit too much.
— That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis
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Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2010