Wizardry in the Alferic Tradition
An Essay on the Fundamental Ideas of Elvish magicby Alferian Gwydion MacLir
MAGIC is a common theme in our popular fantasy culture. From Dungeons & Dragons to Harry Potter, the idea of spellcasting has risen again almost to a level of common knowledge. Yet for the practicing wizard or witch, the representations of magical craft by storytellers is problematic. Novelists tend to alternately oversimplify or exaggerate to make a story full of wonder.
As a wandmaker and druid I am frequently asked to explain exactly what sort of magic lies behind my wands. While I am not officially a druid teacher, I am considerably experienced in the uses of the imagination and in several magical traditions. Others are, no doubt, wiser than I. But, this said, I offer up this little treatise on magical theory based upon the Alferic tradition, the matter of the Shining Ones. Only those who traffic with elves are likely to have direct knowledge of this tradition. Alf, is the Old English and Old Norse word for "Elf" and the word "elves" is used rather loosely of several kinds of intelligent beings who dwell in the Otherworlds. In the Norse World Tree there are two particular realms associated with the alfar, Alfheim and Svartalfheim. The latter is the home of the "dark" elves, which are a people more often called "dwarfs." Prof. Tolkien drew a large distinction between Elves and Dwarves, and as I have studied these peoples, I have found there are many tribes and clans among them. They are every bit as diverse as the human race. Some of the alfar can travel freely in this world, but usually remain unobserved in modern times. As Tolkien has written of them, the elves are an ancient and immortal race intimately connected to trees, rocks, gems and animals. While the human species seems to have had a constant love-hate relationship with sorcerers, the alfar are all magicals to some degree and magic is as natural to them as thought.
Magic in the Alferic tradition is something entirely "natural." It is not, in other words, supernatural, but it is based on forms of energy and structures that go beyond the mundane, materialist model of Nature. Magic is a talent and a craft that allows individuals to join themselves consciously to the underlying structures upon which the manifest living world is constructed. These underlying structures or "substances" are referred to most often as essences or essential patterns. They represent a sort of blueprint out of which material things are created. Put in the language of quantum mechanics, essential patterns are the underlying flux of energy that gives form to matter at the subatomic level, but this "flux" is not random, nor is it unintelligent. In the terminology of Platonism it is Mind itself. In religious terms, it is God or Goddess spirit. There is a continuity between the field of "Essential Physics," as it is called, and the mundane science of quantum mechanics. At the same time, the essential physicist, or wizard, describes the world not in terms of "inanimate" mechanics but rather in terms of animate intelligences: spirits, gods, and angelic powers. In other words, the essential patterns are touched and related to in personal ways, not theorized as impersonal and intangible forces.
Quantum mechanics, as presently practiced in modern Terran culture, is based on reductionist materialism. The assumption is made that the world is composed of impersonal matter, energy, and "forces," which combine in random or inexplicable ways over vast timescapes. The evolution of "life" in the timeline of physics takes place in only the most recent sliver of time. Many billions of years precede it in which, to put it briefly, matter comes into existence after an initial moment called the Big Bang. What there was before the Big Bang is something about which most physicists don't usually presume to speculate. Nor do they typically admit the idea of spirits or souls, except as psychological epiphenomena of the material-chemical brain; nature is predictable, impersonal, and angels or gods are mere fantasies. The elvish worldview is quite different. Life is Eternal and precedes the creation of the universe by spiritual (or they would say, Ethereal) intelligences. The structure and operations of the cosmos are neither random, nor inanimate but infused with life and purpose.
Wizardry is a practice anyone can employ with training. It can even be employed unwittingly by the native talent. But there is no clearcut dividing line between "magical people" and the nonmagical, except the power of belief. The world is not divided into "muggles" and "wizards" as in Harry Potter, nor into witches and "mortals," as in the old TV show Bewitched or its modern imitations. There are, however, different degrees of aptitude for magical work, just as with any other talent or craft. In a sense, anyone can perform magic and interact with the essential patterns in just the same way that we say anyone can draw or paint or write. Those who pursue magic as a vocation pursue a spiritual life, living and working with their deeper vision and senses attuned to the underlying order of things. Mages, like sages, are an elite who are entrusted with, and trained to handle, the maintenance of, and the culture's relationship to, the deep essential patterns and the powerful spirits who create and animate them.
Enchantment is the word often used for magical workings. Often, but not always, acts of magical Will are carried on through songs and chants, drum and dance, but the craftsman may also "enchant" objects and lay charms upon them through silent meditation or, for example, in the act of carving. Many wizards also use the terms "spellcasting" or "spelling," which refer to the role of written and spoken language in magical acts. Often a strange collection of words and phrases is used in spells. These do not have to be in any language; often spontaneous gibberish has more power than a language used for other kinds of communication. One can liken such incantations to "speaking in tongues." In the case of Alferic enchantments the language employed is infused with symbols and every rune carries threads of meaning that tie it to elemental and essential forces.
This loading of runes with associations to nature is called Ogham in the Celtic tradition, and the Alferic Ogham is similar in many respects to the traditional Celtic Ogham. Enchantment thus requires training over many years as well as native talent. In the Alferic tradition, the talents in question are called Astral Abilities with reference to the Astral World which is a name for that underlying dimension of reality that is often invisible to the mundane eye and which joins all the Otherworlds with this one. The Astral World or dimension is so-called because it is the source of the energy and matter that emerges into three-dimensional space as stars. I will say more about Astral abilities and the various classifications of magical operations later. First let us consider the nature of the Otherworlds.
The concept of Other Worlds is central to science fiction, just as the concept of the Otherworld or land of Faerie is central to much of the Western Magical tradition. In Qabbalistic magic of the Middle Ages the Otherworld was the world of angels, the Four Worlds of the Qabbalistic Tree of Life, or the planetary planes of the Ptolemaic cosmos. In some branches of the witchcraft tradition the Otherworld is Faerie, as it is in the Celtic and Druid traditions, so far as we have reconstructed them. In Druidry Three Worlds are spoken of: Abred (the material world of spacetime and mortal existence), Gwinvid (perfected life), and Ceugant (the causative "beyond"). Of these three, Gwinvid is associated with the Faerie realm, a Summerland removed from time and full of magic, while Ceugant is a Divine realm of pure spirit, activating the spiral cycles of creation, dissolution, and regeneration, as well as the progressive evolution of souls.
The Qabbalistic Four Worlds (setting aside the more complex system of the sephiroth on the Tree of Life) can be compared to the Three Worlds of the Druid-Celtic cosmology. Atziluth is the Archetypal world of pure spirit, like Ceugant. The second Qabbalistic world, Briah, the Creative World, is called the level of pure intellect and associated with the Archangels, which is arguably like the upper reaches of the Druid's Gwinvid (literally White-Life). After Briah comes Yetzirah, called the Formative World, which describes the subtle patterns behind or beneath the world of visible matter, the realm of Angels. In the Celtic system this might be the lower levels of Gwinvid, or it might be equated with that fourth element of the Druid cosmology, the Cauldron of Annwn or Cerridwen. The Cauldron might be thought of as the container for the primordial soup. Finally, in Qabbalah there is Assiah, the world of matter and its invisible atomic forces and electromagnetic energies, which corresponds to Abred, the world of living things, through which every soul must pass as it evolves through many lives and many forms on its way to perfection in Gwinvid. In the Qabbalistic cosmology the Universe in which we live emanates from higher levels that progress downward from the Unmanifest to matter in increasingly "dense" manifestations.
This latter idea of levels and hierarchy is similar to that developed by the Theosophists, who took many ideas from Eastern as well as Western esoteric traditions. In the Theosophical worldview, the material "plane" is informed by an invisible "subtle" Astral plane. The living body has an Astral body made of matter so small and tenuous that it interpenetrates mundane matter completely. The Theosophists carry this idea of worlds within worlds further to posit a Mental plane, which like the Qabbalistic Briah, is assigned to intellect, but again is considered to be a kind of even more tenuous "matter." In modern schools of witchcraft and magic, the Astral body, or light body is often spoken of as a fact in much the same way as chakras are. The idea of an "energy body" is basic to Indian yoga and Chinese qigong, yet it remains an idea that is hard to integrate with Western science and medicine, which has found no acceptable way of measuring the Astral or "subtle" energies (Kirlian photography aside) or subtle matter either. Measurability and quantification being the foundations of Western science, this is a difficult stumbling block. One radical theory that has received some attention in recent years is physicist David Bohm's idea of an implicate order that invisibly underlies and informs the visible material world of atomic structures and chemistry. This model is closer to what the Alferic system means by the astral dimension, implying a universe that is constantly coming into existence and disappearing from it on a sub-quantum (and thus invisible) level.
The Astral dimension is a physical and metaphysical concept and it also is the world that people can enter (intentionally or accidentally) to encounter the Summerland of spirits. The Otherworld in this tradition is explicitly manifold, that is, there are many "worlds" one can visit by stepping across the threshhold in dream or meditation. I am sometimes asked whether a wizard "actually" steps into another world. People who pose this question, I suspect, probably mean: does a wizard who steps across this threshhold physically disappear from this mundane world? The answer is: not usually. Many wizarding legends tell of people physically carried off to the Otherworld, but it is not necessary to do so because it is possible to be completely manifest in an Otherworld without abandoning one's body here and now. It is a bit like the old Taoist conundrum: "Last night I dreamt I was a butterfly. This morning am I a man, or a butterfly dreaming I am a man?" The wizard or the Elf grows used to walking in this multiple existence, recognizing that there is fundamentally no difference between the Dreamworld and the world our culture calls Reality. The two (or many) are always inextricably linked and intertwined. It is true, nevertheless, that at certain times, such as Samhuinn, or certain places, such as Faery mounds, the doorways between worlds can be more easily perceived.
Let me return now to the idea of native talent underlying magical practices, the Astral Abilities which form the basis for different types of magic.
In fantasy roleplaying games the underlying talent of the mage is sometimes referred to as "psionics" or "psychic powers" or simply "psi." This term often enters the science fiction genre too. It usually does not carry with it any notion of an ethereal realm. Rather, the mind is believed to "broadcast" radio waves or "brain waves" that are just another part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Science fiction writers often use the terminology of parapsychology to represent magic's powers while preserving the orthodox materialist scientific paradigm. The term "psionics" usually refers to telepathy (mind reading) or telekinesis (the ability to move objects or inflict bodily harm with the mind). The latter is often treated as a higher form of psi power, very rare and desirable for good or evil purposes. In such fantasy/sci fi as Anne McCaffrey's "talent" series, space travel is based on the power of "talents" to teleport whole ships around the stars. Frank Herbert's Dune represents the same sort of power in the "Guild Navigators" who take the drug melange to give them the power to "fold space," which is a quasi-scientific way of saying teleportation.
In the Alferic tradition native magical talents are called Astral Abilities and are consistent with essential physics, the manipulation of the Astral dimension of essences. The term "essential physics" derives from the study of essences, the formative patterns that underlie and allow us to describe objects. Astral Abilities are rooted in a "sixth sense," which is the ability to see in the Astral Dimension to some degree. I like to think of William Blake's "fourfold vision" that sees with the eye of Divine Imagination. Alternatively, such vision is really carried out in the medium of the "quintessence" or the Element of Spirit, as it is called in the Western Tradition. Astral abilities, as indicated in TABLE 1, often blend into phenomena that we consider to be "normal," if inexplicable, parts of mundane existence: such phenomena as hunches, intuitions, inklings, serendipity, deja vu, daydreaming, absent-mindedness, etc. What raises Astral Abilities to another level of significance is that they are stronger, more pronounced, and lead to glaringly inexplicable effects that cannot be easily dismissed as "coincidence." In some cases, however, even very strong talents will be explained away or even go unnoticed except by trained wizards.
Individuals may be born with one or (rarely) more Astral Abilities and are usually not able to control them without training by a sensitive relative, a mage, or through years of trial and error. TABLE 1 briefly describes the types of Astral Abilities classified by the Alferic wizards. These types of abilities form a foundation for magical practices.
You will note that I do not include such radical magical operations as teleportation, disembodiment, transformation, translocation, or transubstantiation. In some fantasy stories (Harry Potter comes to mind as the most recent example) the talented boy or girl unwittingly causes all sorts of things to happen, such as making objects fly or disappear, reading people's minds, or transforming people into toads. In whimsical stories of magic this is all well and good as a literary convention, but it muddles together spontaneous manifestations of Astral Abilities with highly difficult and dangerous magical acts. The implication often seems to be that (a) magical powers are completely unrelated to ordinary people's experiences or abilities, and (b) that all magic is essentially the same thing: wish fulfillment. These stories, usually aimed at young readers, appeal to their wish-fulfillment fantasies. We all have these, and it is true that there is a continuity between wishes and magical Will, but representing them as essentially the same thing is misleading. I find it similarly misleading that magic is represented as merely the waving of a magic wand out of which comes some sparkles. If there are sparkles or emissions of any kind, they are almost always "visible" only to the ethereal vision of the wizard himself or herself.
Ability to sense the presence of Astral beings or influences, such as enchantment, curses, blessings, sanctity, etc. May also sense the past presence of such forces (i.e., "traces").
Ability to sense information about an object, the maker of an object, or people who have handled it. Touching the object is required
Ability to link minds with other spirits in trance. Extreme forms of this ability can manifest as possession by Ethereals or even ghosts.
Ability to sense the thoughts of others directly as if they were one's own thoughts, and in more advanced degree, to project one's own thoughts directly into another's mind.
Ability to feel the emotions and/or physical sensations of another person as if they were one's own. Rarely, one's own emotions or sensations can be projected into another person's mind and body.
Ability to see objects or events that are far away. Distance is not a factor but the ability is limited to the present and does not always allow the clairvoyant to recognize where the object or events are
Ability to hear objects or events that are far away. Distance is not a factor but the ability is limited to the present and does not always allow the clairvoyant to recognize where the object or events are.
Ability to divine the future, usually through visions that may or may not include an aural component. At a rudimentary level this ability may take the form of hunches and the ability to sense impending danger.
The ability to project one's will or personality over others to produce a certain effect. Most often this is manifested as the ability to attract others as friends or lovers by causing infatuation. It also sometimes manifests as an uncanny ability to put others to sleep or to calm people or animals.
Ability to project one's spirit into other places, persons, or things. This ability can manifest as "Astral projection" or shamanic vision-journeys, "out-of-body" experiences.
Ability to move objects by the Astral manipulation of gravitic forces. Ability to move massive objects or to move any object long distances is extremely rare,
Ability to ignite inflammable objects by the Astral manipulation of elemental fire.
Ability to Astrally manipulate gravitic forces within one's own body. Applied to others, this is a form of telekinesis.
Ability to spontaneously bring about healing of wounds, disease, or other illness. Usually requires touch of some sort. May include healing of Astral disorders such as possession or disassociation -- i.e., the ability to exorcise
Related to Healing, the ability to cause unusual growth or regeneration in plants, animals, or rarely, oneself. In some cases a slowing of the aging process occurs, but the talent is usually discovered before this can be noticed.
Ability to affect one's circumstances in generally fortunate or unfortunate ways. Usually individuals have good luck or bad luck.
Ability to affect the general circumstances of others for good or ill. This ability is frequently manifested unconsciously, i.e., without the agent realizing he or she is doing anything.
Essential Physics and Astral Technics
Astral abilities or actions are developed through the study of essential physics, commonly called wizardry, a field which, long ago, postulated that the material world was structured and given its form through an underlying (primary) layer of reality called aether, quintessence, or simply essence. Wizards (or essential physicists) in the Alferic tradition refer to an object's essential pattern, a pattern of Astral "energy" (or some say imagery) that gives the object its shape, its mass, and all its other physical qualities, including its location in space. I put the word energy in quotation marks above because Astral forces are not really energy in the way it is defined by mundane physics. Yet, these patterns are often visualized as light and have dynamic properties, so "energy" is a useful metaphor. It must be understood that one could just as well say spirit as energy. The latter sounds more impersonal, but such essential imaginal energies are never really "impersonal."
What are essential patterns? One can think of them as descriptions, but they are ever-changing descriptions that transcend time. Every natural thing has its essential pattern. Yet one must not fall into the trap of thinking that essential patterns are the same as genetic coding. The genome of a living organism is only one type of material correlative to the underlying patterns of spirit. Artifices and edifices also have essences that include their man-made construction and intended functions. If they are hand-crafted, artifices will contain some of the essential pattern of their maker. Humans and other lifeforms have what we call a "soul," -- essential patterns that include the qualities of life inherent in their makeup, including, in sapient lifeforms, memories, emotions, and relationships. Relationships are crucial considerations because there are not actually discrete "objects" in Nature; that is, everything is interrelated and interdependent, joined by energy, forces, eating, respiration, genetics, emotions, and customs with the whole world. Thus meddling with the essential patterns of one object can potentially disrupt those lives, systems, or structures connected to it. Interfering with the essential ecology of the world is just as dangerous as interfering with the mundane biological ecologies, or the "timeline" in those worlds that permit time travel.
The force or energy of the essential patterns might, thus, be better described as a pattern of information, except that it is information that is constantly changing and alive. The essential pattern of a person is what is often called, in the Western magical tradition, his or her "Higher Self." It is the "part" of the person that exists in the Astral dimension and which in turn emanates (and animates) the material body and what biologists call organic processes. Magical devices, such as enchanted wands, rings, or staves are, in a sense, devices built using Astral patterns, so that the maker puts some of his or her own intelligence, imagination, and soul into the device permitting it to perform magical operations. Some magical devices, such as a wizard wand, are used to focus the wizard's own Astral energies and manipulate the patterns. They amplify as well as focus the wizard's imagination.
Some writers wish to make a distinction between magic and psychic talents. They argue that magic employs more than the magician's "mind-energy," drawing on energies from etherial beings such as angels or daemons, gods or goddeses. In the Alferic tradition such distinctions are considered illusory. The mind and will of the wizard is essential to any magical operation, and gods or daemons are as much inward as outward beings. When the wizard links his or her consciousness to the wizard's own Astral self (or soul) and by that means to the Astral dimension of all things, the interconnectedness of all beings makes such distinctions misleading.
The mind is the door to the Dreamtime. The additional aid of Ethereals merely strengthens the wizard's magical power and can be compared to the use of a magical focus or indeed the use of a magical working group. One's connection to Elemental Earth is not separable from one's connection to the Earth Goddess Cerridwen (called Am-Mesh in the Alferic tradition). The very heart of wizardry is dissolving the dichotomy between Human and Angelic forms of being. In this way it differs from religion in that religions too often foster the dichotomy and employ priests and prayer to bridge the gap. Wizardry is, however, like religion in that the basis of magic is mysticism, the cultivation of enlightenment, or the clear grasp of one's Astral Being and its connection to the Ultimate Being, know by the elves as Olan, "the One."
The Wizard Circles
The wizards of Tranis (one of the Twelve great Star Kingdoms) are the pre-eminent mages of the Galaxy and they classify magical praxis not according to the methods or tools used, but according to the goals of the magic. This system classifies wizards and spells into the colors of the rainbow. P.E.I. Bonewits, in his bachelor's thesis, Real Magic, sketches a similar rainbow division of magic according to its effects. In Tranis the various colors of magic are the specialties of particular magical orders called Circles. The colors and domains are outlined below.
Healing or physical harm, war, battle, hunting, Fire, physical strength, sex
Animals, soil, natural processes, Earth, gems, metals, alchemy
Knowledge and communication, travel, science, books, Air, illusions, theorizing
Wealth, beauty, art, security, courage, sunlore
Nature, agriculture, trees, forests, ecology, fertility, food, herbalism
Empathy and emotions, dreams, mysticism, visions, Water, love, compassion, Moonlore
Travel, stars, astrology, astrophysics, wind, weather, birds, time travel, and Wisdom
Power, control, domination, rulership, ecstasy, secrecy, binding, prophecy
In addition to the eight color Circles, four further orders were founded in Tranis. The White Circle is an order of wizards who have studied, as it were, the full spectrum of magic in order to integrate all the colors in service of the Mellarin. The primary purpose of the White Circle is to achieve mystic union with Olan and perfect their souls, but they also intervene in the universe against the forces of greed, ignorance, and destruction. The Outer Order of the White Circle is called the Silver Circle, whose members have dedicated themselves to serving the wizards of the White.
Opposed to these is the Black Circle, which also seeks to unite the colors of magic but in service of the wizards themselves. Their primary mission is the perfection of Ultraviolet magic, the magic of universal domination. Each wizard's circle serves one or more of the Mellarin, the Twelve Great Sprits who created the known worlds. The Black Circle, however, has closest ties to the thirteenth Mellar, Vaar, Creator of the Void and Lord of Darkness and Dissolution. The order is secret to the point of paranoia.
The final wizard's circle is the Gray Circle, a significant group of wizards who have mastered all the colors of magic but who refuse to take sides in the struggle between Vaar and the other Mellarin. Their primary mission is to practice a neutral magic based upon their own moral sense of right and wrong, seeking neither mystical service nor dominion.
The Alferic tradition is older than that of the Tranisian Wizards. It flows from the wizardry of the three kingdoms of the Sarithin -- Randiel, Palanis, and Sarranis. Among the elves Green magic, Red, and Brown are very commonly practiced, but among the High Elves in all three kingdoms, wizards may be found dedicated to Yellow and Indigo magic especially. The highest masters, like those in Tranis, practice and teach all colors of magic and are usually members of the White or Gray Circle.
In addition to the spectrum of magical colors, there is another way to classify magic based not upon its ends or the methods of ritual used, but upon the magical processes performed. The Astral Abilities listed in TABLE 1 can be grouped together into three classes that correspond to the three major classes of magical process: Transformations, Informations, and Circumstanciations. Each of these categories will be described in the following sections in relation to the native abilities upon which each is based.
Simply put, Transformations change the form or some particular quality of an object. The process of Transformation is carried out by changing the essence of a material object and it is a process that is extremely difficult to control. It is far easier to disintegrate an object with Astral manipulation than it is to change a frog into a prince. The more complex an object is, the more difficult it is for a mentality to hold all the variables and qualities simultaneously in a gestalt and then alter that gestalt. For this reason a magical focus or a linkage of wills with an Ethereal being (deity, angel, demon, elemental, etc.) is almost always necessary for ordinary mortal mages to bring about such changes. Spellcasting is the act of articulating in words, symbols, and actions the intention to change the essential pattern. In the case of many Transformations, however, spellcasting alone is not sufficient, but must be structured and the Astral patterns amplified by a device designed to manipulate the substance or essence underlying the material reality. The "magical weapons" such as the athame or magic wand of the Western traditions, are foci for Astral energies and the mage's will.
Pyrokinesis is a rudimentary form of transformation that changes the temperature of an object to its point of combustion by altering its essential pattern. It is not, as its name suggests, a form of telekinesis in which the mind is used to increase the physical vibration of the molecules (though the end is the same). Teleportation, to take another example, is the transformation of an object by varying its relationship to other objects in space, part of its essential pattern at any given moment. The act of teleportation is seldom witnessed in any clear way by persons not involved. The witnessing of magical acts that radically alter mundane reality compromises the Astral ecology drastically. That is one reason it is necessary to perform most magical operations in secret. It is not to protect arcane lore from the unworthy, or to protect the mage from persecution and ignorant fear (though these are other good reasons). Rather, secrecy and privacy are needed to prevent the Astral interference of those whose reality would be radically disrupted by witnessing the act. Wizards have received undeserved ridicule and criticism for saying that magic can't be performed in the presence of those who don't believe in magic. The interference of disbelief is very real because disbelief is a rudimentary form of Circumstanciation (see below).
When teleportation is represented in science fiction, it is explained away as the effect produced by a machine. The "transporter" in Star Trek is perhaps the most well-known example. But the pseudo-scientific explanation of the "transporter" technology, involving matter-energy transfer and transmission is patently ridiculous and merely feeds an engineer's wish-fulfillment fantasies -- an excellent example of Science's love affair with Magic.
Teleportation is very rarely necessary where astral projection or translocation will serve. Astral projection, is also classed under Transformation, though it is of a subtle kind in which consciousness and the "Astral body" are moved to another place, but no materialization or dematerialization is required. This kind of "travel" is often carried out by visualizing the Astral part of oneself flying out of a room and through three-dimensional space to another destination. An element of control is achieved through that imitation of material flight. In Astral projection and translocation, one is splitting one's being (from the mundane point of view, not the Astral). Translocation is like Astral projection only with full materialization. One is effectively in two places at once. It is much easier to achieve this if one of the places you are is asleep in a locked room, however. Carrying on a conversation in two places at once is just as problematical as performing the magical transformation itself. It is worth noting that absentmindedness is often a spontaneous and uncontrolled form of translocation.
The storybook variety of magic, and that played out in fantasy role-playing games, very often includes even more radical kinds of Transformation, often performed before an audience of friends, or worse, hostile enemies. Objects are dematerialized, the mage or someone else is transformed into stone, or an animal, etc., etc. Dematerializations (making things disappear) and Transmutation (changing one thing into another) are two of the most difficult and disruptive kinds of magic. Except in the case of extremely old and powerful wizards, such radical alterations of reality almost always require the support of Ethereals. They are acts of magic that would be classified by most people as "miracles," that is, as complete violations of natural law. In fact, however, they are nothing of the kind. Transmutation of minerals into living things and vice versa are the very foundation of the natural cycles of life and shapeshifting is the process of reincarnation carried out at will. The magical manipulation alters the timescale of such changes and directs them intentionally, but this linking of will and Nature, and indeed the illusory quality of timescales are all part of Nature -- not something supernatural or in violation of Nature's laws.
Put another way, the wizard reaches into the realm of Eternity where all change is "simultaneous" and "Time" does not exist, and from this vantage point he or she effects the desired changes in the essential patterns underlying an object. It is thoroughly possible and consistent with Nature, but having said that, such acts are extremely hard to control and in most cases one risks killing or disintegrating the object of the spell if it isn't oneself. If one is under attack and wants to use magic as a weapon, it would be far easier to induce an aneurysm in one's adversary than to turn him into a (still living) toad. Petrification (turning people to stone) has a long history in magical lore, dating back at least to Medusa, if not to Lot's wife. However, in such cases, the magic is almost always the act of a "supernatural" creature, i.e., an Immortal or Ethereal being, who has a natural instinct for such things. I have it on good authority that one way to petrify an adversary is to transform oneself into a Gorgon or a Basilisk -- not that those operations are a piece of cake.
Many other magical processes fall under the general category of Transformation and are easier to perform and more useful than turning people to stone. Even telekinesis is fairly useless, except for the hopelessly lazy individual. In a pinch, it is sometimes useful to summon one's wand or sword to one's hand from a distance, to be sure, but in most walks of life telekinesis is not worth the energy it takes to do it. Magic, contrary to popular superstition, is not effortless. It takes great mental and physical energy.
Healing magic is another type of Transformation and, obviously, has wide application. Even mundane natural healing processes are often described as magical or miraculous. Many of the miracles of Jesus, or other swamis, are acts of healing magic. Making the blind see or bringin the dead back to life are the classic, but extreme, examples. Much good can be done, however, by helping or accelerating natural healing processes (which are Ethereal processes, not simply biochemical ones). Resurrection and the granting of eternal youth (Immortality) are the most extreme of all Healing spells, best left to the Creators. It should also be noted that the sort of spells we classify as Healing spells also have negative, harmful forms used by malevolent wizards. For example, disease (or siezures, heart attacks, etc.) can be magically induced, or wounds caused to putrefy or fester. Wounds can even be magically inflicted, though this is usually something Ethereals do to avoid having to fully materialize, or simply to generate higher degrees of terror in their victims. Of all Transformations, Healing and Charm are the ones that are most frequently delivered via potions and elixirs, which utilize the body's natural pathways. However, "faith healing" and "laying on of hands" are well-known types of Healing magic, as are the Chinese doctor's manipulation of Qi for healing purposes. Indeed, Qigong practice is a form of healing magic.
Levitation as performed by Indian swamis may be for no purpose other than to demonstrate holiness. But in a spacefaring society -- or even a land or sea-faring society -- the ability to levitate and move objects without the expenditure of massive amounts of rocket fuel, gasoline, or horsepower, and without damaging the elemental ecology in the process, has distinct advantages. Levitation was, like Teleportation, early developed into the Astral devices called Lifters. In the Galaxy of the Saga, Lifters are as commonplace as the wheel, if more expensive to buy. They are, as with Hyperdrives, devices that manipulate the essential patterns of objects. Hyperdrives alter a vessel's spacial coordinates; Lifters alter the play of gravitic forces. Lifter technology is even used to propel landships. Not only do the ships achieve neutral buoyancy in the planetary gravity well, they also are propelled to and fro with lateral gravitic thrusters pushing at angles to the ground. Of course engineers of many Galactic civilizations received this technology, along with hyperdrives, from Alferic Indigo wizards. It is still, however, expensive and requires more than the wave of a magic wand to build such a "magical" device. (See ENCHANTED DEVICES below.)
As indicated in Table One above, the most subtle and perhaps the most useful kind of Transformation is the sort that changes the mentality or disposition of others. Indeed changing one's own mentality and disposition is one of the most fundamental tasks of the magical postulant. The Astral ability called "Charm" is the native talent underlying such inward Transformations. To reiterate the description given in the table, Charm is the ability to project one's will or personality over another's mind to produce a certain emotional effect. Most often this is manifested as the ability to attract others as friends or lovers by causing infatuation, trust, or affection. This ability is a higher degree of qualities we usually consider mundane (if mysterious) such as "charisma" and "sex appeal," or even "leadership." It also sometimes manifests as an uncanny ability to put others to sleep, calm someone who is enraged, deflect accusations or attacks, or otherwise to tranquilize persons or animals. Charm's negative forms are to inspire fear or hatred or simply "the willies." Taken to a high degree, Charm is the projection of imagination into the mind of another and so also is the root Astral Ability for spells of Illusion that produce hallucinations and dreams. The mage learns to achieve these Transformations at will by the casting of specific charms. Effecting changes of attitude in oneself is the first step.
The second major category of magical operations is Information. Where Transformations change the character or qualities of an object or person, Informations effect the communication of knowledge through Astral means. The Astral Abilities described in TABLE 1 that underly spells of Information are telepathy, empathy, Astral sensitivity, psychometry, mediumism, clairvoyance, clairaudience, and prescience. Of all the three major categories of process, Information is perhaps the easiest to accept and understand. Spontaneous "mind reading" is a commonplace of life, along with intuition, and even feelings of lingering communication with dead loved ones. The Astral Abilities and spells to locate objects or knowledge or to communicate across space or time all seem relatively straightforward.
The spellcasting based on the native abilities is generally used simply to heighten and control them. Apart from cases of "telling the future," none of these types of magic threatens to radically disrupt reality for others, and so they are relatively benign when compared, say, to Transformations. Prescience is a talent that has received a lot of attention in science fiction, with its perennial fascination with the notion of "time travel." In terms of essential physics, however, there is nothing mysterious about it. Prescience is achieved by opening consciousness into the Astral dimension where all "time" is meaningless. Change can then be perceived all at once (so to speak); the entire life of an individual is visible and palpable "simultaneously" in the Eternal. The simplicity of this explanation, however, does not mean that telling the future is easy. On the contrary, it is an extremely advanced art form and in the case of mortal diviners, it usually requires an oracle of some kind that provides the link into the Eternal Astral realm. The oracle works much like a magical focus, but requires interpretation. Astrology, Tarot, Runecasting, Palmistry, all have been used as oracles (among many others). The crystal ball is, of course, a more direct means of "fortune telling." The Alferic traditon teaches that few people are fixed with an immutable "fate," and one's future should not be thought of as something "predestined" but rather as the full-grown oak tree is to the acorn: the playing out of one's essential pattern, one's inherent truth.
The future is difficult to forecast because, from the standpoint of someone stuck in the mentality of linear time, the future is always in flux. This is why the most accurate divination or fortune-telling comes from asking Ethereals directly. Even Ethereals, however, don't always give a very coherent answer, often because they do not wish to meddle in a creative process that should be the responsibility of the querent. One has to live one's own life and knowing the future only changes one's behavior and so alters the future. Better off not to know. The more legitimate use of oracles is to help in decision-making and this is a different operation. In this case, the querent is actually working with the oracle to divine his or her own true intentions, the inward desire that motivates one to grow in a certain direction or strive towards a particular form of enlightenment. That isn't magic to foretell the future; it's magic to make the future what you will.
The third major category of magic is known as Circumstanciation. Circumstanciation includes all Astral manipulations designed to change not objects or persons, but their circumstances. Blessings, curses, spells conjuring money, love, courage, harmony, protection, etc. etc. -- all are aimed at changing circumstances and directing the flow of events in a general or a specific way. In the table of Astral Abilities, Luck and Bless/Hex are the names given to two types of magical Circumstanciation. Actually the only difference between the two categories is that Luck is usually inwardly directed onto the talent herself (though good luck and bad luck can "rub off"), while Blessing or Hexing are outward projections of the will of the talent or mage. One can perform spells to draw good fortune or to give good fortune (or bad) to someone else. These are perhaps the most common of all witchcraft spells, and are universally appealing. The use of hexes or curses, however, must always come with the caution that projected spells are likely to be reflected back on the caster -- or as Sir Isaac Newton put it, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, even karma. The Hindu concept of karma is useful to understand how Circumstanciation works, for there is an intricate interweaving of causality surrounding and interpenetrating every lifeform and its effects are felt on the Astral and material planes.
Spells aiming to draw money or good fortune to an individual are more likely to be effective than spells aiming at the specific effect of winning a lottery or some such outcome. The reason for this is that Circumstanciation, like Transformation, requires interaction with a complex Astral ecology and the more extraordinary the outcome desired, the harder it is to achieve without botching up the works. It is worth noting here that Circumstanciation is not the alteration of any sort of "timeline" and does not involve intervention in "time" in any way. Remember, "time" is an artifice, a convenient way of measuring change. So, Circumstanciation is the alteration of the essential patterns surrounding an object or individual. It is the intervention of psyche into the larger Astral ecology or the fabric of karma, if you prefer.
Soul, Spirt, Psyche, Gestalt, and Other Terms
In all of the above discussion of the Alferic tradition, the terms soul and psyche are used interchangeably. They each refer to that part of a person, place, or thing that is Astral or essential, underlying its material form and what we commonly call its "conscious ego." All things and places are considered to have such "egos" even if they do not appear to communicate in language. A rock or mountain may not say "I" in so many words, but it does contain a level of consciousness that arises from its Astral foundations. Consciousness and Mind are used interchangeably too, though the unconscious mind plays a very large role in the development of magical abilities.
The word Spirit is used to indicate Astral substance itself, the quintessence, regardless of its association with personalities. Humans have spirit, or "a spirit," that is the Astral part of their being. Different mortals may be more or less able to retain memories from one materialization to another and some mortal spirits may completely disassociate upon death of the body if they lack sufficient spiritual integrity. This latter quality has nothing to do with moral behavior but rather refers to a spirit's ability to hold itself together and retain patterns of thought and feelings. Mortals who die and are only partly able to retain their spiritual integrity may appear and disappear as ghosts, often incompletely aware of who they were before death, and unable to reincarnate because of their semi-disassociated state. Exorcists practice the subtle art of getting such spirits to completely disassociate so that they can stop causing trouble and be reborn naturally.
Thus, Spirit refers to an individual's transcorporeal being. Soul or psyche refers to the organization of that spirit into a coherent personality (human or otherwise). In this sense animals, trees, mountain valleys, and lakes all have souls, that is, they are all organized on an Astral level. Humans are just organized in different ways than lakes or mountains. Green Wizards specialize in relating to and communicating with the genius locii or soul of a place (sometimes also called the "spirit of a place"). These beings are both ethereal and material and may be just as conscious of themselves and their existence as a human individual or a human community. Similarly, a human community has a collective psyche, with which mages can sometimes communicate. On another level, each planet and each region of the Galaxy or the Universe has its anima mundi or "world-soul." Any of these souls can be considered Immortals of a high order, living ethereally and also materially.
I use the terms ethereal, essential, and Astral interchangeably to refer to that substance of being which underlies matter, atomic forces, and electromagnetic energies. In some metaphysical systems the terms ethereal and Astral refer to an "aether" or "subtle body" or "body of light" that informs the material body as an emanation. Any of these terms may be useful metaphors, but it should be remembered that they are only metaphors. The substance -- that is, the underlying reality -- is imaginal. Whatever we imagine imagination to be made of, that is what the ethereal plane contains or is made of. "We are such stuff as dreams are made on." To the extent that imagination involves visualization, seeing magical forces as light is only natural.
The term gestalt is used to describe Astral manipulations of essential patterns. The general definition of this term is: a pattern of phenomena so integrated as to constitute a functional unit with properties not derivable by the summation of its parts. This is the sense in which it is used in psychology to describe human perception. In the case of magic it describes a kind of visualized image used by wizards to contain the spiritual integrity of a person or object. It is impossible to manipulate essential patterns by dissecting objects into their component parts. Transformations (or Circumstanciations for that matter) can only be effected thorough the mental manipulation of gestalts. The Hadraashic word for this, used throughout the Galaxy, is meledin (plural and singular), a word which combines the radicals mel and din also found in such words as Mellarin, Serdin, and Aladin -- the names for the three highest classes of Immortals, who are credited with creating all things.
The essential patterns can only be represented symbolically and the development of magical sigils is an ancient science designed in conjunction with imaginary calculus. Different magical schools teach and use different systems of sigils but these are frequently used in the writing of spells, the engraving of stones or talismans, or magical devices. Sigils and runes are not merely "representations" or signs; they are more like dream symbols. One way to think about magical writing is as a language which has been endowed by the writer with a rudimentary consciousness so that the sigils are, as it were, partly material and partly Astral, their meanings existing in the imaginal substance itself. This is why untrained people cannot decipher magical writing: it will only yield up its meaning to those who read it with four-fold vision.
This brings us back to the terms spell and enchantment. Both terms have their roots in the magical properties of language. To spell a word or to cast a spell are much the same act. To chant music or song is much the same as to weave an enchantment. The vibration of the voice is central to spellcasting, as is the articulation of one's intention in words. More than this, the mage also weaves words to join together all the symbols of the various powers employed in the casting. These powers almost always include Elemental powers, but may also include Ethereals who are named with Words of Power. In this the choice of language is also a consideration because the purpose of the words of the spell is to focus the consciousness of the wizard on the magical intention. A mortal mage has to amass as much material symbolism as possible to concentrate his or her energies enough to pass into full communication with the Astral part of his or her being and so connect to the underlying order of the world. In the Western magical tradition, this communication is called "conversation" with one's Holy Guardian Angel, (a term from The Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage) or one's Higher Self. They are the same thing: the Astral part of one's being, which from the mortal point of view may seem like another being altogether: benevolent and helpful, but distinct from one's ordinary ego. From the point of view of this "higher" consciousness, however, one's mortal, temporal existence is an emanation of one's larger being.
Perhaps a final word should be devoted to demons and monsters. These creatures are prevalent in most magical worlds. In the grimoires (grammars) of Western magic, such as the infamous Goetia, the invocation and evocation of demons is put into a medieval context in which demons are all damned to Hell and so under the thumb of God and anyone who cares to command them in God's name. The advantage, presumably, is that these fellows are available for work while God's angels are all too busy running the universe. Demons, cooling their heals in Hades, are glad for the work. The modern mage, Lon Milo DuQuette, whose books are particularly wise and entertaining, considers the Goetic demons to be manifestations of our own inner demons. They are not hallucinations or entirely personal factors, but there is an element of inwardness to them that belies the medieval paradigm of Hell. In the Alferic tradition there is a "fallen" god, the Dark Lord Vaar, Creator of the Void and one of the Mellarin who made the universe. He and his followers were "cast out" of an empire which at one time they themselves ruled. They exist in the Astral and in the material worlds, scattered about and in hiding, yet capable of great mischief. In a sense they have taken refuge in every individual's Shadow. Hell, such as it is, lies within our souls.
Monsters are an ubiquitous part of fantasy adventure and Fairie stories. They are sometimes dignified by being represented as alien species in science fiction and in such fantasy books as McCaffrey's Drangonrider series. But in fantasy role-playing games they are as like as not Undead, or werewolves or vampires, or other semi-magical beasties. In Harry Potter we get dragons and griffins, centaurs and unicorns, among others. I have been asked by young people whether unicorns and phoenixes actually exist and, if so, where? Demons, monsters and magical beasts are part of the Astral ecologies. If they manifest in this mundane world, they must do so far away from disbelieving eyes. In these times it is easier for the wizard to go to them by treading the Astral pathways into Otherworlds. These creatures, like all intelligences, may as easily teach us as harm us, if only we know how to listen and understand that their nature is part of our nature. For further discussion of some magical beasts, see that page linked at right.