De Magia 00: Judging This Book by its Cover

If you are like I was when I was like you, then no doubt you’re picked up this text because you’ve been considering a future in Epistemic Magosophy, as the instructors at your local lyceum will attempt to call it. Perhaps you’ve already begun your studies, or maybe you’ve even finished them and have started your own journey into wage-labor. I’m sure this seems as good an idea to you as it did to me at the time. As our society becomes more and more reliant on magic, on crystals and aetherics and spellcraft for its proper function, no doubt the demand for those knowledgeable in how it’s all put together will increase. Many other areas of scholarship have become dependent on magic to speed up or enhance their research, and new fields of study are opening constantly out of the union of magic with some other intellectual pursuit. Indeed, at some academies, one can hardly swing a dead cat without hitting some graduate student investigating how crystals will change the way plants grow or cows breed, it seems.

It doesn’t hurt that the coin can be quite good, as well.

In fact, absent anyone telling you otherwise, you might be thinking right about now, as I did when I first went to academy, that a degree in Crystal Esoterica is almost certainly the best way to ensure a prosperous future. Every organization everywhere, from the smallest shop to the Royal Council itself, uses crystals in some capacity, ensuring a steady supply of wage labor positions. With an ever-expanding number of crystals supporting an even-faster-growing number of spells, the demand for those who know how to maintain and extend such intricate workings should rise at a rate that even the greatest academies in the land would find it impossible to meet. Surely, if one grows an intimate understanding of the inner workings of magic, one should never go hungry again.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

People generally understand two types of pursuits in the world: arts and esoterica. Artistic endeavors, while generally based upon well-understood principles, are ultimately creative in their nature. One may, if one has sufficient license, toss paints upon a canvas using a brush in each hand, one’s hair, or a short-furred cat for that matter, and still call it art. One need have only the barest understanding of composition or form before slap-dashing together rounds of doggerel or pretentious purple prose full of its own importance, and yet still be hailed by others as a brilliant visionary. At worst, one is merely forever ahead of one’s time.

Esoterica, by contrast, is wholly dependent on one’s ability to make sense of increasingly detailed and intricate knowledge as one pursues deeper into one’s area of specialty. Whether one chooses to become a taxonomist, barrister, or chirurgeon, one’s ability to succeed is directly connected to one’s powers of intellect and devotion to detail. Knowledge becomes power, and entire academies have arisen dedicated to the preservation and spread of ever more finely categorized branches of these areas of understanding.

If art and esoterica may be considered twinned cushions on a comfortable divan, then spellcraft—and crystal esoterica in general—sits awkwardly with one buttock upon each. Spells are governed by what can best be described as highly complex and seemingly arbitrary rules, which may change depending on the crystal itself, upon the base enchantments upon that crystal, whether they’re meant for ritual casting or some dialect of runic, the other spells already cast upon that crystal, the fields in which that crystal rests, the other crystals sitting in those fields, the spells cast upon those crystals, the phase of the moon, the color of one’s mother’s hair, and so on and so forth. An understanding of those rules is absolutely essential if one is to have any hope of crafting new spells that leave no lingering impact to their environment as they’re cast. And yet, even knowing them all implicitly is insufficient to be a spellcrafter of any real competency; there is, indeed, an artistry to magic as well, a certain gut instinct that informs the spellcrafter when a spell is good and when it is merely good enough, one that can only be gained by years of practice.

Unfortunately, the average person no more thinks about the art or the esoterica that goes into making a crystal perform in the way in which people expect. Some people may not even truly understand that they’re interacting with magic at all. They see the outcome of the spells, without ever looking at the spells themselves. Magic, when not actively being cast, looks like nothing at all. One can’t simply pick up a crystal, peer into its depths, and expect to understand what one sees, and this remains true even for many mages. One only truly understands the workings of a particular enchantment or blessing when seeing it in action, but then one sees the results of the magic, not the efforts to make it. People go to the exchequer and they speak with a spirit taught a multitude of simple phrases, and at the end they hold a small stack of coins, and they know only that they fetched twenty silver for supper and a carriage-ride home, never thinking of all the intricacies that must have occurred behind the scenes.

Very likely, unless you are one of the rare and lucky few, should you become a mage, your superior in whatever charter which offers you wages for your service will be one of those people. Most professional overseers are not mages, nor were they ever. There might have been a time, some fifty years ago, when in fact the overseers for mages were promoted out of the labor pool, and those that were understood the work their laborers performed because they themselves did the same work not too long prior. Unfortunately, just as has happened for all other forms of esoterica, there now exist dedicated programs of study for people who wish to supervise the work of others, regardless of the actual work they do. As it’s been true for many other crafts, so too is it true for us as well.

This, unfortunately, means that your direct superior is quite likely to have no understanding of the work that you actually do, and while you will have been taught to respect both the knowledge and the artistry of magic, your superior will be probably attempt to treat your ability to create spells, or enchant crystals, or tune resonant fields, the way one might treat a blacksmith. At the beginning of the day, a certain number of pounds of steel and coal and wood go in, and a certain number of swords or shields or horseshoes come out. Likewise, a certain number of pots of tea, sheaves of parchment, and pots of ink should arrive with the mage in the morning, and come the final bell, a certain number of dirty tea cups and spells had better be finished.

If you think this sounds ludicrous, you should speak with any mage working for any charter anywhere how much of his or her time is actually spent in spellcraft or enchantment or aetherics, as compared with the amount of time spent attempting to explain what it is one actually does and how one has to do it to people who by all rights should understand the nature of your craft but who consider the details of magosophy to be irrelevant to their jobs, since dealing with such minutiae is what they hired them to do. Then you should ask yourself again, and perhaps even a third time for good measure, if this is in fact the future that you would enjoy.

If, despite everything I’ve said above, this sounds like your idea of a good time, then this is the text for you.

8 thoughts on “De Magia 00: Judging This Book by its Cover

  1. Hmmm, this most certainly seems an interesting and wry-humored text.

    I do wonder if this is set in the same universe that Bonds is set in?

    1. A clever observation, but no. De Magia sits in its own setting, actually largely a creation of Cube’s. Proper credit will be given for that on the front page in the notes, and I should’ve included that.

  2. This sounds sooo much like studying for a college course in information systems. Which I am doing.

  3. I suspect a lot of people’s careers have played out like this.
    Mine too.
    Nice beginning! I must read more…

  4. Oh my, Computing Science recast as magic… but then, is there a real difference between these two?

    1. Not to those outside the profession, really. Then again, most things are like that. Even having learned how combustion engines work, as far as I know or care, the auto mechanic is using a diagnostic dowsing rod and a spanner that looks suspiciously like a wand.

      All technology is sufficiently advanced enough to look like magic once we let go of the silly notion that we need to understand it. *grin*

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