Love it or hate it weve all dealt with the crushing black oppression of (shudder), math. And despite the sweeping depression it causes we are still forced to undergo hours of unspeakable torture in order to become a better and more active part of society. For those of us who have not yet given over to the darker side of civilization we can only wish regrettably that we were not born in simpler times. But to the peoples of the ancient world mathematicians were a rare and, dare I say it, magical breed. Those few gifted with an unimaginable threshold for headaches rose to the courts of kings and emperors, their power was great, and their accomplishments inspired the fear and wonder of the masses.
The twin disciplines of math and science underwent a glorious change in times long past, opening up into the foundations of our modern culture, philosophy, astronomy, alchemy, and many other fields grew resplendent with cunning minds and bore in plenty the fruit of knowledge. These early practitioners gained insight into the workings of the universe, and began to develop apparatuses to demonstrate their discoveries to others of the learned. But to the rest of the world, the common people and the nobility, these strange items were beyond comprehension or understanding. To them they resembled tales of long past, legends so obscure that not even the greatest sages knew from whence they came. And through misunderstanding the bright horizons of knowledge darkened, and where those of limited capacity were led by those of even less understanding the first great wielders of knowledge were cast down, and their practices outlawed. And stoking the fires were the ranks of the religious, preaching to all the evils of the forbidden knowledge.
Eventually the prejudices dissolved, many of the bans were lifted, and the new generations of the world set out to reclaim the destiny of learning, and as the night passed the light of a new dawn shone upon Earths children. But the tales survived, and over the years they grew under the fanciful care of those with far too much time on their hands. Here are a few of the more common embellishments.
- The first surgeons, dissecting the recently dead, were merged with the eternal tales of the souls of the lost and became the modern Necromancer, scrabbling in the dirt for cadavers with which to fill with the essence of Hell and wage war upon the good people of the world.
- Alchemy was transformed into the Art, where a bit of this and a bit of that could allow one to disappear into a cloud of smoke with some fore planning, or call fire at will.
- A simple aphrodisiac became the infamous love potion.
- During the first Eras of civilization and before people explained things they did not understand as works of various deities or spirits.
- Monsters are difficult to pinpoint, but the various types probably arose from fear of various natural creatures, wolves have been the least changed, but their tactics and the spine curling howl trey are known for has made it easy for humans to interpret them as intelligent, evil beasts. Dragons are another type of nature spirit, albeit a more powerful one. Dire animals are simple embellishments, the one that got away. And spliced creatures, centaurs and lamias for example, are the accumulation of cultural variances and the semi-common nigh-time horseback raids on settlements.
- One only has to look at examples of gothic artwork, which were used in conjunction with tales spread and encouraged by the clergy to frighten people into piety to see where many of the nightmarish creatures we are now familiar with come from, and European alchemical theory along with Egyptian-type religions laid the background for many more aberrations.
- Demonology (the classification and ranking of demons) is, or at least was, very popular among catholic clergy as well.
- Early mechanical devices might account for constructs, and dont forget Frankenstein!
- From deep in antiquity we have numerous related tales, the great hall of Branstock from Norse myth where courtesy shown to an old man caused him to reveal himself as Odin, whereupon he thrust a magnificent blade into the heart of the great tree which held up the hall, and was subsequently removed by the youngest son, Sigmund, of king Volsung, and went on to gain great fame. This, while a significantly older tale, strikes instant recognition with Arthur and the sword in the stone (does anyone know the name, by chance? Its not Excalibur, that came later.). As it does in some way or another with many cultures. But what started all these tales of magic swords? It might have been an advantage of steel over those who had not yet made the discovery, or perhaps the wielder was just an exceptional swordsman (or woman), and their great powers in combat were attributed to some divine or abyssal enchantment.
The truth is not always so attractive, magic, beasts, and other oddities make it more interesting, and can gain undeserved respect for the focus, far above and beyond the inglorious reality. Much of our heritage of magic is wishful thinking. With the advent of modern technology the dreams once more evolved, now taking on color and traits of their brethren across the world, slowly distilled into a universal form.
All things extraordinary have a simple explanation, every story a true beginning. And those are the true sources of power, the depths of stupidity, the heights of embellishments, and our undying tendency to overcomplicate and misunderstand things.