What makes a weapon "magic"? I am tired of those good old magic weapons portrayed in fantasy and rpgs. I started to ponder about some new ways to portray magic weapons or enchanted items in general. And as the stories often goes, all I had to do was look back instead of forward. I started to look into some information in history.
People really believed then that some weapons were magical, and some cultures still do. What were their requirements?
If you rule out the those who have aquired a certain amount of fame because they belonged to someone legendary like Adolf Hitler or Julius Cesar, what was left? I came up with these categories of requirements;
It could be the materials it was made of, method of production, producers, decoration, consecration, possesion, accumulation of power, ritual function, martial practise.
I will go trough the categories one by one. I hope that this could be of some help and/or function as guidelines for those of us that wish to create magic items with a new/old look.
Many traditional weapons are said to derive power from having been made of sacred materials. Such materials in their natural state have affinity with the divine, so objects made from them are themselves sacred. Examples: Keris blades of the Indonesian archipelago made from meteorite iron, thought to have been sent by the gods; rhinoceros horns as hilts for Arabian janbiyya, believed to have healing and aphrodisiac properties. The list of ingredients that could be used for the making of different weapons are endless.
Method of Production
The act of making a weapon itself—particularly the forging process for metal bladed weapons—is thought to be a magical process, transmuting the essential nature of the materials such that they acquire new properties not found in their natural state. We find this often taking place in a forging environment where the production is encoded in ritual processes. Example: The forging of Japanese katana blades, in which the smith dons a priest’s robes and makes numerous invocation to Shinto dieties.
We also often find that the method of production creates a visible pattern in the finished product, which is itself given specific supernatural attributes. Examples: Hamon on Japanese katana, pamor on keris, wootz patterns on Persian shamshir.
Many cultures regarded weaponmakers and blacksmiths to be imbued with magical power through their craft; their objects therefore inherit some of that power. Examples: Viking swords; West African swords.
Empowering weapons through the application of spiritually significant artwork. This is very common throughout history, with everything from full figural artwork (Example: Hilts from Bali) to talimanic markings (Example: Magic squares on Middle Eastern swords) to prayers and religious inscriptions (Example: Biblical and other Christian mottoes on European swords).
In other cases certain decorative objects thought to impart power are added. Examples: Boar’s tusks on scabbards; tiger jaws; gemstones on various European daggers.
With a few rare examples, the overall shape of the weapon itself is thought to be talismanic. the Achinese rencong, believed to spell out the Islamic Arabic invocation bismillah ‘in the name of God’.
Making weapons sacred through the blessing of ritual specialists.
Many cultures had rituals to animate weapons, calling spirits or other entities to reside in the weapons themselves.
Accumulation of Power
Some weapons were thought to absorb the strength and heroism of their previous owners, and impart those virtures onto their present owners. Examples: Viking and Medieval European swords. Others could be used to extend and focus a user’s personal energy to cultivate spiritual awareness. Example: Chinese internal martial arts.
Certain weapons are considered powerful because they are implements in specific rituals. Examples: Tomahawk peace pipes among many Native American tribes; sacrificial knives of all kinds; fraternal swords in Europe and America.
For some, ordinary weapons can take on ritual importance through the practice of marital arts, which foster altered states of spiritual consciousness. Examples: Bolos in certain Filipino martial arts; rapiers and swords in certain Renaissance schools of fencing.
This article’s purpose is to function as an inspiration for write-ups on magic weapons, thus I would like to challenge the lot of us to make a few posts with these guidelines "of old" in mind.
In connection with the quest "What makes makes a weapon magic?" I made this article a codex. It should be fun to see how Strolenites use this article to craft items.
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