Excerpt of the opening pages of ‘The History and Fields of Magic’, a Baksami schoolbook written by M.B. Asumantu
Magic is the name given to actions which are dependent upon the worldview of the actor. For example: anyone, regardless of their religious or philosophical values, can lift a cup, sing a song, have intercourse, kill a man, or swim in the sea. But what about healing a wound with one’s bare hands? Or shackling a man with invisible chains? Such actions cannot be carried out by just anyone – these are feats that are only conceivable by those whose understanding of the nature of reality, whose metaphysical convictions, make room for them. (Elaboration on the nature of the mechanics of this principle is best served for more philosophical treatises.)
Historically, Men have been divided into two camps: those whose convictions lie primarily in the natural order of things, of physical laws, of logic and reason, of mathematics and chemistry – and those whose convictions like primarily in the gods, in their faith, in those things which resonate in their heart and speak to their soul, of poetry and of song, and in the majesty of the earth. The former are called, here, ‘physicalists’, for their conviction in a world which is essentially physical in nature, and the later are called ‘theists’, for their conviction in a world which is essentially spiritual in nature.
These divisions can be seen, of course, in the intellectual, religious, and artistic movements throughout history, in the development of philosophy, in the rise and fall of political and economic systems. This dichotomy is at the heart of the nature of Men, and indeed it is perhaps most common for a man to fall somewhere in the middle, seeing both sides as fair and valid in their own ways, or at least not finding a very good reason to sit himself definitively on one side of the fence or the other. And so it is that the great unwashed masses perform very little magic, and what magic they do perform often comes to them unintentionally and in such subtle of ways so as they may not even take notice that it happened at all.
For those who do, however, take a stance, and take that stance with great conviction and fervor, they may enter those far ends of the spectrum by which they develop the potential to perform feats that might be called acts of magic. Theistic magic is generally regarded as an ancient tradition among Men, much older in its practice than physicalist magic (elaboration on the ancient history of physicalist magics can be read about in the accounts of Elves). Theistic magic was, indeed, just about the only kind of magic found in the ancient days of Men, until physicalist magic slowly began to appear, first in the East and then in the West, around 2500 years before the present. Though it gained a foothold on a few occasions throughout the history of Amostine, each time having a substantial influence on the history of Men, it generally remained an obscure and poorly-understood discipline until these last two centuries, when in Western Amostine it has seen a remarkable and abrupt surge in popularity and mastery far exceeding any that came before, an event deemed the Refinement.
Though many have quite strong feelings in favor of one or the other, especially those who wield one or the other, it is important to note that both physicalist and theistic magics have many powerful attributes as well as limitations. Physicalist magic is universal, that is to say that no matter where and by whom it is practices, its essential operation is the same. It is dependable, consistent, and repeatable. Theistic magic is relativistic to the tradition and deity to which the mage ascribes, and even to the mage themselves. Physicalist magic is constrained by distinct laws which cannot be broken or violated and within which all magical acts are constricted, whereas theistic magic is, at least in theory, infinite in its capacities and flexible in its domains.
Physicalist magic requires artifacts or reagents to function. Gadgets, foci, geometric relics, staves and wands crafted from special woods or metals, and every variety of elemental and alchemical substance – each of these serves a role in the channeling and manifesting of arcane actions. Physicalist magic requires a sacrifice of the part of one’s self which is open to faith and religious convictions. Theists accuse physicalists of stabbing themselves in the heart, while physicalists see it as a purging of the lowly, animalistic, gullible parts of the self. In the most extreme cases, physicalist magi may reconstruct other parts of themselves in order to channel more energy into their magic. Physicalist archmagi research and remove the surplus aspects of the self in order to make their minds more rational and less gullible. The result are clockwork-grafted, bio-aetherial wizards of incredible power, or, in more unfortunate cases, ravage creatures whose emotions have turned them into little more than tools or machines.
Theistic magic does not require reagents, though sometimes divine will is channeled through weapons or relics. The primary methods for channeling the divine are, however, language and bodily gestures. Theism requires a sacrifice of the part of one’s mind which is rational, exacting, and methodological. Physicalists accuse theists of shrouding their minds and blinding their eyes, while theists see those things that are beyond mortal reason as being superior, higher in importance and power. Relatively little exposure to the ‘forbidden knowledge’ of physicalism can plant a seed of skepticism in the theist’s mind which can hinder his or her magical practices forever. Physicalist magic, too, is more easily taught, and as it becomes increasingly widespread, theists have begun to see it as a contagion that threatens their gods themselves. As a result, theists have responded to the wave of popularity in physicalism with their own wave of theistic extremism. Theistic extremists repress further parts of the mind in order to focus more wholly on the gods. Through ascetic vows, their heart can come into closer contact with the divine, and they can begin to see and hear the gods directly – or go mad in the process.
Physicalist magi have accused theistic magi of prosecuting them throughout history, of restricting learning and education, of being intolerant and tribalistic, and of being involved in many particularly dark events of history. Theistic magi have defended themselves as being involved in many of the most redeeming and vital moments of history as well, for having suffered prosecutions of their own, and accuse physicalist magi of intentionally attempting to drive theistic traditions into extinction. These are just a few of the conflicts and contradictions between the two groups in the West, and many more exist in the East. It suffices to say that the relationship between the two approaches is rarely cordial.
In spite of the common understanding, theistic and physicalist magics are not the only kinds of magic, as, indeed, they are not born of the only kinds of worldviews. A third kind exists, most commonly called idealistic magic. Idealism, and therefore idealistic magic, has always been exceedingly rare in comparison to physicalist and theistic worldviews. In the east, idealism is a cherished thing, uncommon owing to the difficulty in its legitimate attainment, and revered wherever it is found. In the West, however, idealism could not be held in any more disdain, and both physicalists and theists have prosecuted idealists for as long as they have made themselves known. Today, in both the west and the east, idealists and idealistic magic is exceptionally uncommon, representing only a tiny fraction of both the population at large and the practitioners of magic.