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June 7, 2007, 11:02 am

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The Great and Terrible Awe-Inspiring Powers of Math?

By:

The TRUE origins of Magic, and dont even get me started on Prophecy.

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.



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Comments ( 12 )
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Voted Cheka Man
June 6, 2007, 15:53
Only voted
MoonHunter
June 6, 2007, 17:56
0xp
While I like this sort of things, this seems quite incomplete. I am holding my vote and hoping it will be finished. And if not... welll...
Voted Murometz
June 6, 2007, 19:45
0xp
interesting piece. Could use a bit more oomph, info, and polish, as Moon suggests, but a fascinating thesis nonetheless. Could be a classic if further fleshed out!

Even as is, its a nice primer for those (PCs) who need a quick, cliff-notes version of "where did magic come from, grandpa?" explanation

and of course, Math IS Magic!
Voted valadaar
June 7, 2007, 8:33
0xp
For what it is - an editorial piece, I think it is good, but it could be better.

I do like the writing style and am looking forward to more from you! :)
Corinth
June 7, 2007, 11:02
0xp
Updated: Added a few things
Voted Wulfhere
June 7, 2007, 17:40
0xp
This one just didn't work well for me. Corinth, it seems that you were trying to explain how systems of magical thinking have their origins where superstition intersects with developing knowledge.

To some extent, I think that your description does an injustice to those who labored to bring meaning from ignorance. Mankind seeks patterns and tries to understand how things relate to each other: It's in our nature. When one has little solid information, apparent patterns may deceive us.

My problem with this essay is its assumption that we have evolved past our foolish ancestors, when we actually seem just as prone to error. It is true that our advanced knowledge makes us wiser?
Corinth
June 12, 2007, 21:44
0xp
True - and good point - those patterns turn up alot in fantasy rpgs, the orientation of the planes, the interaction of the key elements; but thats part of what I'm trying to say, that we take what we know and add it to what we suspect or believe, but we always forget to carry the one... And as for moser day society being any wiser (chuckle), we now have the capacity for even greater stupidity, and we have all sorts of people that are educated beyond their intelligence to prove it!
Voted Scrasamax
June 9, 2007, 2:05
0xp
Excaliber's original English name (since Excalibar is a french name) is Caliburn.
Wulfhere
June 13, 2007, 2:28
0xp
...But, before that, (in Geoffery of Monmouth) Arthur's sword was named Caliburnus.

Not all the sources agree that Excalibur was the same blade as the Sword in the Stone. Later sources claim that the Lady of the Lake gave it to Arthur, suggesting that it was a different sword altogether.

(Of course, the scabbard's magic was much more valuable than the sword itself, a lesson to all of us: The things we treasure are often less precious than the things we take for granted every day.)
Voted Drackler
June 13, 2007, 9:59
Only voted
Voted Chaosmark
June 29, 2007, 12:42
0xp
I find this to be interesting in its own way, but honestly can't give it a good vote. It seem incomplete, and jumps around slightly in spots...And yes, I'm sure the religious bashing had /something/ to do with it. Remember, however, some of the best mathematicians in Europe were firmly and devoutly religious. It was their belief that in fact drove them to discover some of the things that they did.
Voted PseudonymDL
June 9, 2010, 8:14
Only voted


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       By: ephemeralstability

On route from Geli to Nekrass the characters meet a peasant boy on the road. He's wandering in the direction from which they've just come. If this seems a little bit incongruous, they may wish to ask him a few questions. He's perfectly willing to talk: he's called Lamish and he's run away because he knows he is the heir to the throne of Geli and his parents didn't believe him. How far is his home? About five weeks walk from here. How much has he eaten? Nothing. Has he drunk? Only from the filthy roadside ditches. In short, it's a wonder he is still alive. And yet he seems perfectly healthy.

Is he a thief, waiting for travellers to trick? Is he lying because there's something more sinister under all of this? Is he telling the truth? And anyway, what should the characters do? Do you take him to Geli? Do you try to find his parents? Or leave him to make his own way?

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