Jul. 24th, 2012

fiat_knox: silhouette of myself taken at sunrise (Default)
[The blog below was originally published here. The context is that this forms part of the prelims running up towards the August topic of "Magic and Sorcery" next month. Nevertheless, I came away with a feeling that this article may be too rich for their blood, so here it is ...]

For many works of fiction focusing on sorcery, the story has not been about the magic itself. The story, rather, has always been about the young magician, coming to terms with his heritage, his talent and his destiny.

The stage of the sorcerer's initiation is known as Awakening.

At this point, I was going to bring up The Hero's Journey, the distillation of all the world's myths by Joseph Campbell into a single grand Monomyth which describes how the hero first receives the call to go off on an adventure, refuses it, watches his home burn down - thanks for that free will thing, God! - takes his first steps into adventure, picks up toys and tools along the way, faces down the Bad Man and comes back changed, supposedly. Smiles all around. Here's your hero, your Kwisatz Haderach, your White Light Agent of the Right Hand Path.

But then a quick think about how magic works turned all of that on its head. The Hero's Journey is more like a Champion's Journey - the person that comes back is a Champion, not a Hero.

There's a difference. A Champion represents something - a cause, a positive power, some force of Good with an ultimately political aim. The Monomyth doesn't produce heroes. It produces creatures out of prophecy, beings in whom the downtrodden masses imbue all their wishes and desires for a purely political change - which the Champion duly produces.

Neo. Luke Skywalker, Theseus. Harry Potter. Horatio Caine ("YYYEEEEEAAAAAAAHHHHHH"). All of them possess some faculty, some ability; and society responds by giving the person some sort of status and a solemn duty to execute their powers for the benefit of mankind.

In other words, doing the dirty jobs most normal people will not touch - chasing down bad guys, toppling corrupt empires, facing down menacing monsters.

A true sorcerer's journey is different. A magician undertakes his own form of journey, a mythic quest - not to acquire his power, because his power will come to him whether he wants it or not - but to ...

To what?

If the magician will awaken to magic, come what may, what is the purpose of his journey of Awakening? The purpose of the magician's awakening quest is to undergo a change. An alteration. A metamorphosis. The power flows through the magician, who at first suffers from the release of all that power; but then the release of power catalyses the change. The magician enters a pupal stage, shut off from the mundane world, facing a series of internal trials collectively known as Chapel Perilous. In Chapel Perilous, from amid the swirl of confusing riddles, illusions, delusions and fears, a challenge may come, asking one question over and over again.

Who are you?

What do you want?

Why are you here?

The answers are snatched away in the whirling winds, shredded and burnt, each one a unique answer, until the magician has no more answers to give. Until the magician runs out of things to say.

Until the magician has no idea who he is, what he wants or why he is here.

Only when he has reached this stage of aporia does the real magician step forth. The magician is the character who knows, who wills, who dares ... and who is silent. Not because he needs to keep his order's secrets to himself, but because the revelations of Chapel Perilous have driven him past the point of speech, so he can no longer articulate about what he has seen within its bounds.

He will not share with another the secrets of Chapel Perilous, because he cannot - literally, humanly cannot. It would be like trying to describe the taste of snozzberries from a drug-induced dream.

The process of Awakening is more akin to the process of Breaking Out from Roger Price's The Tomorrow People, or the process of becoming a telepath in Babylon 5 or suffering the emergence of one's mutant powers in Marvel Comics' The X-Men: the process is life changing, complete, excruciatingly painful and utterly irreversible. And it is an internal change, not an external one; the abilities awaken from within. They are not gifts bestowed from without.

For the most part, also, the post-Awakening character comes back changed, just like the Eternal Champion, however, the magician has to accept a comparatively low position in society. The shaman's position in any village or community has always been outcast; and since the situations a magician faces are more occult than political, the urgency to hero worship is never as great.

Thus, the story of magic is more often as not the story of the magician himself or herself. Not so much the story of the Mona Lisa, or of the paints and canvas which were fashioned into that iconic image, but more the story of its artist, Leonardo daVinci. Awakening is about people.

People who become magicians.

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