A Brief History of Magic (in My Fiction).
by Tom Doyle
War and Craft is the just-released final book in my American Craftsmen trilogy, which concerns magician-soldiers and psychic spies serving their country and feuding with each other. To create the backstory of these craftspeople, I included a lot of real world events that they’ve secretly influenced.
Looking back now at my novels, I realize that despite all those events, I didn’t give a world historical narrative of the craftspeople. Mostly, that’s because my books are primarily in the techno-thriller mode and those sorts of details wouldn’t fit anywhere. So here’s a mini-outline of the history of craftspeople in the Western World. While I also have some particular events for craft history in the East (the “divine wind” that stopped the Mongol invasion of Japan, the Pandava family line in India), I’d need to do more research and thinking for that big picture overview.
Note: I hope readers will treat this not as set-in-stone canonical material, but as the beginning of a dialog, as each generalization I’ve made here brings up dozens of problems and questions in my own mind.
1- The Roman Empire consolidated the craft world of the Mediterranean and Western Europe for hundreds of years. The Emperor controlled the craft militant, and the panhellenic Oikumene continued its ancient pursuit of Left-Hand evil under imperial auspices. The craft was largely hidden from public view by the mystery cults, where individuals were sorted between true initiates and those who just got a pleasant ritual (which helps explain why the Eleusinian mysteries and others were largely and effectively kept secret).
Though initially rogue outsiders, the rise of Christianity and Christian craft didn’t fundamentally change these arrangements. The Oikumene found that Christians made good allies against Left-Hand evil, and it would come to a similar arrangement with Islam.
2- Various internal succession and power disputes destroyed or seriously weakened Roman craft families, leaving the West vulnerable. At the same time, the barbarians more effectively organized and made better use of their own craft militant. The fallen West broke into the successor kingdoms, and the craft fractured with it. The Church held some of the vestigial imperial and transnational power along with the seriously weakened Oikumene.
The East fared better until the seventh-century war with Persia and its Magi left the Byzantines vulnerable to Islam and its craft jihad. The Byzantine Empire persisted, however–in part due to its strong craft that drew on Constantinople and the old Greek centers. (E.g., Greek fire had a craft element, which is why the secret was kept and never successfully reproduced.)
3- During the Middle Ages, the craftspeople were natural landed military aristocrats because of their tie to the land, their combat skills, and the fact that their magical power tended to be inherited. The truth behind the Grail conspiracy was that the aristocracy of Europe was full of magical families of greater or lesser power. (Note: Canute really could alter the local tide, but wanted to make a demonstration of humility.)
Once established, the older magical families were jealous of their power and often destroyed new craftspeople when they arose. Some of these new craftspeople found refuge in the Church along with the extra sons and daughters of the nobility–and the old Families accepted this because craftspeople wouldn’t be allowed to start lineages there. (I wrote more about the Roman Catholic Church and magic in War and Craft.) Others sheltered in towns, creating the initial tie between the guilds and secret societies. The old Families tolerated these because they didn’t challenge the rural order, the town craftspeople found ways of making themselves useful to the old Families, and the towns had built up sufficient numbers of practitioners to make their elimination costly. Some new craftspeople just went rogue, either hiding in the underclass and attempting to avoid notice, or running their own private resistance, sometimes at a profit (see hedge knights and Robin Hood).
In one famous instance, a new craftsperson saved France.
4- The Renaissance study of magic began with the rediscovery of Greco-Roman Hermetic and other Neo-Platonic texts. People started to ask questions about craft: why did some people have it and others didn’t? Could the talent be acquired? Why were some forms of magic relatively common, but other potentially lucrative forms (transmutation of metals) either rare or impossible. Under the protection of various rulers, craftspeople (new and old) and mundanes explored these questions. This would lead not so much to knowledge of magic as to the development of science, and despite this seeming level of tolerance, “white magic” never came completely out into open public view.
An archetypical public figure of this period was John Dee, adviser to Queen Elizabeth with later connection to Emperor Rudolph II, and (fictionally) the ancestor of Christopher Dee in The Left-Hand Way.
5- With their discovery of the New World, Europeans and their diseases killed a large percentage of America’s population and its practitioners. Formerly mundane Europeans found that, upon reaching America, they were craftspeople, and practitioners already known as such retained their power once there. As long as the faith of these new and old practitioners stayed acceptable, Puritan settlers in New England incorporated them into their communities. Some famous examples of practitioners whose faith was unacceptable were Anne Hutchinson and Thomas Morton, and those divisions drove much of the plot of American Craftsmen.
Back in Europe, more new craftspeople were appearing. Many were going rogue and fleeing to the Americas, while others challenged the existing regimes. The structures of repression and control of the craft began to crumble along with the political absolutism that supported them. Revolutions in the craft and mundane world were inevitable.
6- In general in modern democracies, craftspeople have avoided public positions of political leadership for the same reason as the truly rich do (see Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire): the attention doesn’t help their real power and comes with great risk. The magic that they draw from the land also generally creates a sense of service to their countries. But the temptation for the craftspeople to again assert themselves as a natural aristocracy remains, particularly when combined with the promise of possible immortality.
I hope this has been helpful for my readers, and intriguing for those considering the trilogy. Thank you to Between Dreams and Reality for again hosting one of my posts.
American Craftsmen, Book 3
The greatest evil of the Left-Hand Way forces a final showdown with the magician-soldiers of American Craftsmen, in this triumphant conclusion to Tom Doyle’s imaginative tale of a cryptohistorical America.
After a bloody wedding-night brawl with assassins in Tokyo, the craftspeople are again on the move, this time to India, where a descendant of legendary heroes has the supernatural mission for which they’ve been waiting. Preparing for that mission, powerful exorcist Scherie Rezvani searches for secret knowledge with a craft agent of the Vatican and tries to cope with the strange new magics resulting from her pregnancy. To save her unborn child from the Left Hand, she will risk damnation and the Furies themselves.
Meanwhile, the malevolent spirit of Madeline Morton is caught in an infernal trap from which even self-destruction is no escape. That crucible may transform her utterly, if it doesn’t break her mind first.
All comes to a head on a plateau hidden high in the mountains of Kashmir, where the Sanctuary of this world will face an undying threat from another. It’s Armageddon in Shangri-La, and the end of the world as we know it.