Zeitgeist Teaser #4: A Brief Discussion of Magic

The copyediting is just about wrapped up on Zeitgeist 1919. With formatting and the proofing process just around the corner, it's time to share another sneak peek at the work-in-progress. Today we look at an appendix describing the various styles of magic employed in the novel and their place in the book world...

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The world of Zeitgeist 1919 is one in the late stages of a magical flourishing akin to the Industrial Revolution. Though magic had been present in the world prior to the late nineteenth century, a sudden explosion of scholarship, codification, and training led to a rapid expansion of sorcery from a fringe practice to a daily fact of life for many people.

As with the Industrial Revolution, this expansion was not always greeted with enthusiasm by the majority of the population despite the benefits that everyday magic brought to their lives. Most people have a pervading discomfort with sorcery and know little about its practice, much less possess the knowledge to distinguish its various forms. What all varieties of modern magic have in common, however, is that they involve the manipulation of magical or spiritual energy.

 

 

I. Vryl

 

Diverse magical traditions attribute the source of their power to energy, spirits, or sometimes both. The modern “science” of technomancy refers to this power source as vryl and to magical energy in terms of vryl fields and vryl currents. Recent research has also hinted that vryl may be a living energy, perhaps even the stuff of life itself. While no direct evidence supports this, further study may reveal that traditions involving the summoning of “spirits” are simply a shifted perspective, and that manipulation of energy and the coercion of spirits are one and the same.

Be it raw energy or a more complex living form, vryl is found everywhere, though sometimes it becomes concentrated in a nexus. Such concentrations interfere with perceived reality and lead to discomfort, often extreme, on the part of the observer, particularly if that observer is not versed in magic. Likewise, concentrated vryl can augment or warp spells, potentially with catastrophic effect. An example of such an effect was the Wardenclyffe Disaster, wherein an accident permanently damaged the vryl fields in the area around the laboratories of the technomancer Nikola Tesla.

The origin of the term vryl is unclear, though many scholars point to it being an adaptation of the word Vril in the 1871 novel The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. This is disputed, however, and evidence of similar variants of the word are found in works across multiple languages hundreds of years prior to Bulwer-Lytton’s novel. Often these works are recordings of visions and occult experiences whose authors would have no connection with other historical or contemporary accounts.

While the specific terminology can be disputed, what is not in question is that all magic, at its heart, involves some means of controlling energy or spirits.

 

 

II. Means of Manipulation

 

All magical traditions rely upon a means of exercising control over energy or spirits. Methods often overlap in practice, but broadly, they can be sorted into physical, verbal, and ritual means of manipulation.

Examples of physical means would be a focus item (such as a wand), the crafting of runes or symbols, or even the use of spell ingredients and/or living tissue. Recent advances in research and technology have led to physical means being the basis of increasingly powerful spellcraft, notably among American technomancers. Physical means also enable the magician to imbue an item with power, enabling its use by those without magical training or knowledge. To limit the abuse of such power by the ignorant, magical devices may require an incantation to activate or change the effect of a stored spell. This is a simple example of verbal means, the second method of manipulation.

Verbal techniques have found their greatest modern refinement and expression among the zaubersänger of the German Empire. While physical means are usually external to the practitioner, verbal means are intimately connected to the spell caster, making them both easier to control and more dangerous if that control fails. For this reason, verbal means need extensive training and practice and are often combined with physical or ritual means to offer the spell caster both an aid to concentration and a buffer against ill effects should the spell go awry.

In a similar manner, most ritual magic requires both substantial training and the addition of physical or verbal means for safety and focus. Because of its more complex and time-consuming nature, ritual magic is typically the domain of specialists, often with the trappings of religion or secret societies meant to ensure the transmission of arcane formulae and training to new generations of practitioners. Ritual means are also more commonly used in spiritual manipulation though it is up for debate whether this limitation is imposed by the traditions that employ it or the greater complexity required in communicating with spirits (as opposed to the relatively “simple” shaping of raw energy).

Given that means of manipulation are not often exclusive, it should come as no surprise that while individual magical traditions often favor one means over the others, all sufficiently developed traditions use a combination of means in their practice. The following passages detail a selection of traditions that may prove of interest to the reader.

 

 

III. Technomancy

 

Technomancy involves manipulating fields of magical energy using crafted devices, often of startling complexity and power. Though predecessors of this style of magic are found throughout human history, modern technomancy developed in the later stages of the nineteenth century, primarily in America.

Though there is an undercurrent of distrust regarding magic in America, the so-called “trinity” of American technomancy,—Tesla, Edison, and Westinghouse—are regarded as national treasures and heroes. Likewise, the practice of technomancy is framed as being based on science rather than on spells and the occult, and technomancers are seen as men of intellect who bend energy to their will through skill and invention rather than mystical means. For these reasons, technomancy emphasizes machinery and devices and plays down magical symbols and verbal spell triggers when presented to the public lest the practice appear too much like witchcraft.

Other common features include the heavy use of metal in devices and the ubiquity of accumulators, a magical component that allows the gathering/concentration of energy without the need for the user of the device to either focus her mind or have any level of arcane training. The significance of this ease of use is not lost on America’s enemies, who both fear the potential of technomancy and crave it for themselves.

 

 

IV. Spellsong & The Zaubersänger

 

A style of magic principally developed and taught in the German Empire, spellsong uses a combination of music, chant, and runecraft to cast spells. Though the tradition has ancient roots, the modern practice was codified in the 1856 text Lieder der Veränderung (“Songs of Changing”) by Maximillian Ingrimm, an archaeologist who dabbled in sorcery.

Practitioners of spellsong take the title of zaubersänger, or spellsinger, from the German zauber (magic, spell, or charm) and sänger (singer), though they are often referred to as hexenmeister (German for sorcerer or wizard). Many zaubersänger consider this term pejorative, though some embrace its use.

Most zaubersänger are in the employ of the German Empire and are organized in a loose hierarchy under the Imperialer Zaubersänger (“Imperial Spellsinger”). There is no formal selection process for the Imperialer Zaubersänger, much as there is no formal schooling in the art. Those called to the practice either try to educate themselves (a folly that often ends in madness or death) or apprentice themselves to a master zaubersänger.

While song is the basis the zaubersänger’s magic, runecraft also plays an important role in providing both focus for the singer and an enhancement of spell effects. Spellsong induces a physical change in these symbols, causing them to move and glow, though this is not the only physical manifestation of spellsong. Those within hearing of the song will often feel the magic as an oily, slithering presence, sometimes visible as skeins of shadow or liquid darkness.

Recently, zaubersänger have shown an increasing interest in the magical modification of genetic material. Experimentation to this effect has resulted in the creation of chimera by fusing the cells of multiple organisms in a single host, most notably the drachenwolf, an amalgam of bird, dog, wolf, and the modern-day descendants of pterosaurs discovered in the German colonial territories of Deutsch-Westafrika (German West Africa).

This creature has the senses and body of a massive wolf with the bone structure and wings of a pterosaur. Though lighter than a normal wolf, flight would still be physically impossible without the assistance of magic. Such enchantments, along with the chimerization process itself, cause drachenwölfe to be in almost constant pain, requiring the addition of a human partner to both mitigate the pain and to keep the beasts from reverting to an untamed state. The zaubersänger identified a distinct cohort of men of certain Prussian bloodlines who could have their minds and bodies manipulated to create “riders” capable of bonding with the drachenwölfe, a process that blends the minds of both beings to the point where they identify as one creature.

Such manipulation of mind and body is not limited to drachenwölfe and their riders. Experimentation has produced a number of monsters from myth and legend such as the elben. The origin of these pale, expressionless giants is shrouded in mystery and rumors of ancient witchcraft, but they have quickly become among the most trusted of the spellsingers’ servants.

While spellsong in the modern context is most commonly associated with the German Empire, historical antecedents abound from all corners of the globe in a variety of forms. For example, while zaubersänger spellsong is noted for weakening or failing in the presence of running water, legends of dragon song, a similar magical style also based on song, note that it gains strength from proximity to water.

 

 

V. Necromancy

 

Necromancy (derived from the Greek nekromanteia, a combination of nekros, “dead body,” and manteia, “divination”) refers to several ritual magic traditions that involve communication with spirits to divine secrets or reveal the future. Such spirits often belong to the deceased but can also be creatures of living magic that transition between the mundane world and the spiritual one.

Advanced practitioners of necromancy may also be capable of “calling back” deceased spirits, either through the reanimation of corpses or the resurrection of the recently dead. Modern examples include the creation of zombies in Haitian Vodou traditions and the Armiya Mertvykh unleashed by Russian necromancers upon the encroaching German Empire in 1916. Such practices are regarded, even by those of other magical traditions, as dangerous and distasteful.

While various magical and religious traditions have their own ideas about spirits and death, some scholars theorize that the living and dead are linked by a third domain, and that this domain is the source of the magical energy sometimes known as vryl. The boundaries of these realms are not easily crossed, requiring complex rituals that drain the life force of the spell caster and pose a potential threat to sanity. 

 

 

VI. Vodou

 

A Haitian spiritual/religious practice based around ritualized interaction with loa (from the French les lois, or “the laws”), spirits that act as intermediaries between a supreme creator spirit and the mundane world. Vodou priests and sorcerers (houngan and bokor respectively) summon individual loa with varying spheres of influence or responsibility (e.g. the sea, healing, communicating with the dead) using ritual offerings, prayer, and song.

Such summonings may result in the loa’s intervention, often in the form of the loa “riding” a human host, with the host taking on the loa's mannerisms or appearance. Notable loa include Baron Samedi, master of the dead; Papa Legba, guardian of the crossroads; Agwé, ruler of the seas; and Loko, patron of healers and plants.

Vodou morality can be divided into so-called “light” and “dark” practices, with the latter often being categorized as sorcery and making use of petro (demonic or angry) loa. One of these “dark” practices is creating zombies (Haitian Creole zonbi). Though these are sometimes reanimated corpses, the vodou practitioner can also create living zombies using spellcraft and special powders to steal the will of a living soul and render it a slave subject to the vodouist’s control.

 

 

VII. Conclusions

 

While this discussion of magical systems is by no means exhaustive, it provides a general flavor of the styles of sorcery in play during the early decades of the twentieth century as they are presented in Zeitgeist 1919. The field of magical scholarship in the world is still evolving, and doubtless there will be changes to current theories and accepted wisdom in addition to advances within existing, modern practices.