Date: Fri, 1 Nov 91 11:18:03 +1100 From: email@example.com (Michael Barlow)
A continual topic of discussion in this group has been the rules that govern magic. I was fortunate enough to pick up a copy of Bonewits’ book “Real Magic” a couple of weeks ago.
P.E.I. Bonewits received a Bachelor of Arts in Magic and Thaumaturgy in 1970 from the University of California. Bonewits is (or was) a very controversial figure (particularly, as you might imagine, in academic circles) and his writing style portrays that. Though my memory is poor I believe that Bonewits had much to do with the Chivalry and Sorcery magic system, and I’m sure that I’ve seen a complete, independent magic system (for roleplaying) written by Bonewits.
Anyway, enough digression. Of particular interest to us is the first chapter of the book which is titled: The Laws of Magic. I’ll try to summarise this chapter and the laws it puts forward but there are a couple of difficulties. The laws are extremely inter-related; often being a sub-law of a major law, or combinations of several laws etc. Now Bonewits has a “nice” picture (looking like some incredibly complicated Venn diagram) to explain these inter-relationships but unfortunately such a diagram is too time consuming to reproduce with simple ASCII characters. So, you’ll just have to put up with my explanations. On with the show:
Bonewits states that “Over the centries a collection of basic magical and mystical axioms has surfaced in culture after culture throughout the world, even in cultures that were totally isolated. These we can, and will, call the Laws of Magic. … Not all these laws are consciously known or understood by those using them, and not all will automatically appear in every single culture with a tradition of magic.”
OK, so these laws apply to ALL magic, no matter what culture. Some mages know them, some don’t. Not all mages use all the laws; however these laws underly the way that the magic works.
I’m going to go through now and list the Laws in turn as they appear in the text. I’ll try to give a description of the law along the lines that Bonewits does, maybe give an example and try to give an indication of relationship of the law under discussion to other laws.
The Law of Knowledge [Major Law] The most basic of laws. “Understanding brings control.” Key phrase is: “knowledge is power.”. If you know all there is to know about something then you have complete and total control over it.
The Law of Self-Knowledge [Sub-law of Law of Knowledge] The most important kind of knowledge is knowledge of oneself [aside: this attitude is true for martial arts]. Key phrase is “Know thyself”.
Bonewits says of the above 2 laws: “All the other laws depend upon these two; it is wise to keep that in mind at all times. i don’t think these need any more explanation or defence,…,we can go on to others.”
The Law of Names [Sub-law of Law of Knowledge & Law of Association] Knowing the complete and total true name of a phenomenon or entity gives you control over it. Key-phrase: “What’s in a name? - everything!”. Example is Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea, traditional demonology etc.
The Law of Words of Power [Sub-law of Law of Names] There are certain words that are able to change and influence the inner and outer reality of those saying them. The power is said to lie in the sounds that compose the words. Related to mantras, magic spells (in the typical say those words sense etc.). Key phrase is: “A word to the wise is sufficient”.
The Law of Association [Major Law] If two “things” have something in common then that common thing can be used to control both. Also, the two things have a mutual influence on each other, the degree of influence depending upon the “size” of the thing shared (commonality). Examples are hunters eating the liver heart of their prey to take their strength; the bread and wine of Christian services as blood and flesh of christ. Not used very often in its “pure” form. Has two sub-laws which are heavily used; often by so called “primitive” cultures.
The Law of Similarity [Sub-law of Law of Association] The basis of “sympathetic magic”; effects resemble causes. Birds feathers stuck to your broom might make it fly etc. Key phrase is “Lookalikes are alike!”
The Law of Contagion [Sub-law of Law of Association; overlap with Law of Similarity] Things once in contact continue to interact after separation. Emphasis is on objects or people that have been in physical contact. An example of the combination of the above 2 laws would be a voodoo curse of someone. Make a doll to resemble them (Law of Similarity), stick bits of hair, toe nail clippings etc. from the victim to it (Law of Contagion) then away you go. Association can be used in reverse to render an enemy powerless (e.g., Black Masses–> Christian pray in reverse, inverted cross etc.). Bonewits states that the Laws of Association are the most commonly used. Key phrase for Law of Contagion is: “Power is contagious.”
The Law of Identification [Sub-law of Knowledge, Association, and Personification] By maximum association between your created pattern and that of an entity being “imitated” you can actually become that entity and wield its power. An example of this in a FRP context is avatars, priests etc. of a god. Bonewits states that the problem with this is that you can become lost in the personality being “assumed”. When it is only a temporary identification this is possession.
The Law of Synthesis [ Independent Law?] The Law of Union of Opposites. The combination of 2 opposites leads to a 3’rd “thing” that is stronger/truer etc. than either of the 2 originals (sounds like a buddhist middle path to me :-() ). The new idea/object etc. is not a compromise but something brand new. Key phrase is “Synthesis reconciles.”
The Law of Polarity [Independent; but related to Synthesis?] Anything can be split into 2 opposite parts; and these 2 opposites contain the essence (potentiality) of the other. Bonewits makes statements such as “the blackness of white”, “the whiteness of black”, “as above so below” (pretty famous that one :-) etc. Other parallels are the microcosm through the macrocosm, macrocosm through the microcosm etc. The key phrase is: “Everything contains its opposite.”
The Law of Balance [Related to Polarity and Synthesis] To survive and become powerful you must keep all aspects of your world/self etc. balanced. Dynamic balance. Extremes are bad. key phrase is: “Strike a balance.”.
The Law of Infinite Data [I’m not going to even try!] Impossible to know everything. There is an infinite amount of knowledge/data. Key phrase is: “There’s always something new.”
The Law of Finite Senses [Related to Infinite Data and others] Our senses are only capable of showing part of the total reality. There is/could be a heap more out there. Goes hand-in-hand with infinite data. Key phrase is: “We can’t see everything.”
The Law of Infinite Universes [The above 2 and more…] There’s an infinite number of ways to view the universe and by the Law of Pragmatism [its coming, don’t panic] an infinite number of universes. Hindu and Buddhist perceptions of the universe. Everyone lives in their own universe (e.g., blind, death etc. people live in a different world). Key phrase is: “Infinite universes exist.”. Bonewits states that “The Incomplete Enchanter” series is based on the premise of altering perceptions and hence realities.
The Law of Pragmatism [a whole heap of inter-relations] If it works then do it/its right/true. Key-phrase is: “If it works - its true.” Combined with Law of Infinite Universe leads to the statement “truth can be defined as a function of belief”. Now we are back on our Believing is Seeing discussion of last year…
The Law of true Falsehoods [sub-law of Pragmatism, related to synthesis etc] Contraditions, paradoxes. Techniques etc. that “shouldn’t work”, but somehow do. key phrase is: “If its a paradox, its probably true.”
The Law of Personification [Major law] Any phenomenon can be considered alive and to have a personality (be an entity) and therefore (by pragmatism etc.) its true (and often quite useful). Elementals, spirits of various phenomenon etc. Key phrase is: “Anything can be a person.” How do you like that for equality?
The Law of Invocation and Evocation [Sub-law(s) of Personification] You can summon (conjure) entities from the “inside” or “outside” of any “pattern” that you have set up. Hence (I interpret) we can summon entities which are personifications of anything we desire/design etc. Key phrase is: “Beings within, beings without.”
OK, thats the end of Bonewits list of Laws. I hope you’ve stayed with me. What I hope is that “list” will rekindle the discussions we have had of magical systems etc. Some of these laws seem to lend themselves fairly easily to a system for roleplaying magic, while others serve more as useful explanations for the way the fantasy world is. For example the laws of contagion and similarity lend themselves fairly easily to a spell system (e.g. a percentage add to spell chances for each invocation of one of the laws:– +5% because you have the hat they wore; +15% because you have a lock of hair etc.). While the Law of Personification can explain gods, demons, spirits etc.
So, please, if you have comments on the above; even such as Bonewits is a fool, or left out…, or ahhh, so Words of Power explain the AD&D Power Word Stun et. al. spells then don’t hesitate. I’ll try to add some more once I’ve recovered from all this typing :-)
Spike Bun Bu RyoDo