History of Magic, Vol. 3: Scientific Magic

From the Peace of Lodi to Maria Theresa(2207-2533 AUC)

This was the era of the dramatic changes of the Renaissance, the Reformation of the Empire, and the Age of Enlightenment. On the one hand, the traditional collegia were more powerful than they’d ever been; while on the other hand, secret societies were forming that were approaching magic in radically new ways.

This was also the age that saw the terrible ravages of the Drow and their Black Death, along with the chaos of the Century War. This introduced powerful changes in the practice of magic, especially among the Elves, but also among all the races, Free or Wild.

In the end, the power of the Great Houses, along with the Guilds and the Orders, created a layer of authority that proved repressive. Innovation was stifled. New thinkers were persecuted. The old magic had proved itself so convincingly in the Century War that challenging it seemed a mad combination of treason and heresy.

Creatures

The most important new creatures to emerge were, of course, the drow. So much attention has (deservedly) been paid to these inimical monsters, other foul Wild beings are sometimes overlooked. These include the appearance of ghouls, liches, and wights, each deadly in its own way.

The Guilds

A favorite of romances and other novelties, the Guilds were in fact primarily craft organizations, free associations of masters who were focused more on economics than on magic. They were interested in production, rather than in scholarship or warfare. Even so, Guilds became both important and powerful by the 22nd Century, particularly in the cities, and they harbored a considerable magical knowledge that was later made use of by alchemists and others.

The Proto-Sciences

Although they were birthed in the schools, most specifically in the Quadrivium, both alchemy and astrology quickly became more or less independent disciplines. Or, rather, they quickly became dependent not upon Universities but upon powerful patrons. Kings, nobles and City Councils all came to have their own court astrologer and a bevy of alchemists. There is considerable evidence that many of these were charlatan, but few nobles were willing to admit they had been hoodwinked. Sort fact from fiction in these centuries, in these disciplines, is a task for Sisyphus, but some historians have undertaken it. Perhaps a later generation will know whether or not there was something to it, after all.

The Free Arts

Perhaps the most famous of all medieval magics is the so-called Free Arts; that is to say, the Quadrivium and the Trivium — the Way of Four and the Way of Three. There is no doubt these Ways mark an important step forward in the development of a Science of Magic, although it must also be admitted they have done nearly as much harm as good.

The Trivium

The Grays, so named from their characteristic gray hoods, base their knowledge on three core practices: enchantment, invocation, and casting. The emphasis among Threes is on the individual mage, on his personal training, individual talents, and discipline. Great emphasis, too, is on the Doctor who instructs the mage. Each Doctor gains a coterie of followers, some of whom become associates and eventual successors. Tradition becomes deeply entrenched.

The Quadrivium

The Four Ways consist of astrology, alchemy, cartomancy, and numerology. Where the Trivium focused on the master, the Quadrivium focused on the methodology. Secrets are the essence of the Quadrivium. The astrologer seeks the secrets of the heavens, the numerologist see secrets in numbers, the alchemist seeks the secret of the physical world. The cartomancer divines the past and the future in the cards.

Throughout the Quadrivium run two streams: research and practice. Ideally, these are to be twins, the one supporting the other. In practice, however, and from fairly early on, two competing camps formed. Those who advocated pure research scorned those who sold their skills to the great of the world, while the pragmatists mocked the researchers as living in towers of ivory. Many historians believe this divide prevented the Quadrivium from becoming a real power in the world.

Scholastics

From the Universities emerged two schools that became bitter rivals: the Scholastics and the Nominalists. The former were the real home for the Free Arts. The Universities provided a structured, protected environment for experimentation, research, and practica.

The recovery of Aristotle’s writings in the 20th century gave rise to Scholasticism, particlarly his work on Logic.

Nominalists

Nominalists rejected the formalism of the Scholastics. They rejected, too, the structure of the Free Arts. They hearkened back to the Heroic Age, celebrating the unique skills of each magician.

The discipline is so called because of its emphasis on names. Everything, they argue, has a true name. Knowing that name allows the practitioner to command it. Nominalists hid their learning beneath a thick layer of symbolism, arcane language, and even codes. They loved cryptograms, seemingly senseless proverbs, and elaborate rituals designed to disguise the true nature of the spell being cast.

The Twenty-First Century

In this century, the Colleges solidified their control over the practice of magic. For over a century they had tried to extend their power over elvenkind, dwarf folk, and other races, with limited success. They now decided to formalize their control, leaving non-human races to go their own way. This would have significant consequences in later centuries.

The Twenty-Second Century

War and magic plague dominated this century: the Century War, the Black Death, and the Long Freeze. In the face of unprecedented threats, the Colleges on the one hand tightened their grip on magic, for they were in the front lines of the fighting. On the other hand, because the Colleges seemed unable to stop the repeated waves of dark forces overwhelming Europa, secret societies formed, led primarily by elvenkind. These fought independently. They were erratic, only occasionally effective, but these groups were the forerunners of later groups that so deeply divided the magic users of the world.

Despite the terrible wars, there were glimmers of hope. All across Europa towns and leagues of towns were able to stand independently and create their own cultures. These came into being unexpectedly, shone brightly for a few generations, only to be overwhelmed again. Nevertheless, like the secret societies, they laid the foundations for later recovery.


Footnotes

  1. The classic work on the Trivium is Professor Tierney’s magisterial six volume work, The Trivium. Nine Centuries of Knowledge. University of Wisconsin, 2708 AUC. [return]
  2. See, for example, Emma Faversham, “Ghouls of the Pripet Marsh” Nature et Natura, Vol 44, 2791 AUC. The literature of the so-called secondary monsters is quite large. A useful starting point is Julian Palmer, An Encyclopedia of the Lesser Wild. Diogenes Publishing. 2749 AUC. [return]