Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The European Edge

I promised to talk about Zoroastrianism but rest assured, I'm not going to go deep into it.  If the reader knows nothing at all about the religion or about Zoroaster himself - or Zarathustra, as he's sometimes called - then it's worth digging into the subject, if only to get a conceptualization of a lot of the crap that permeates the texts of both the Bible and the Koran.  However, we'll leave all that on the shelf.

 Of a sort, Zoroastrianism is a strongly observational religion combining elements of alchemy (the conception of the four elements, earth, air, fire and water) with the perceived difficulties that every human faces of whether to perform acts of good or bad.  This is then mixed in with concepts of predestination, creation and existence, some of which are distinctly twists upon Vedic philosophy (Hindu polytheism).  Whereas virtually all the details about the order of the universe and matter are deeply in error, one gets the feeling from reading extensively into Zoroastrianism that the founder and his immediate adherents were trying.   After all, we're talking about an obscure period sometime in the early to mid first millennium, BC.  We shouldn't expect a profound scientific revolution.

This post intends to address a minor point associated with the religion that has been ascribed to Zurvanism, a Persian cult within Zoroastrianism that is responsible for giving us the concept of the Magi.  These are theological thinkers that are mentioned in Herodotus' Histories and also by Aristotle and other Greek writers.  The reader will immediately note the obvious connection between the title and 'magic' - and indeed this is the origin of the word.  The Greek magos, meaning a conjurer or a charlatan, became applied to individuals who read palms, omens and who performed slight of hand, so that 'magician' became any person who could stupefy an audience with such tricks and insight.

Stories arose of the Magi being wise, causing the insertion of the "Three Wise Men from the east" into the Christian myth.  The three stars in the belt of the constellation Orion were called the 'Magi' up until the Middle Ages in commemoration of the event (the stars point at Sirius which was widely considered to be the 'star' that they were following).  The Zoroastrian cult that arose in Rome was that of Mithra (which many will remember from the Conan series as the cult of magicians).  Mithra, curiously, was known to have been born on December 25th - and in many parts of the eastern Roman Empire was heavily associated with the saviour Christ. A diligent study of religious iconography post-Zoroastrianism will turn up all sorts of these things.

But consider my D&D world that takes place in this same environment, with much of the same history.  Suppose that we argue that the Magi were not merely religious hacks wandering about doing card tricks.  Suppose magic is something that's real . . . and that the presence of the Magi in my world's ancient history actually references the moment in time that magic was invented.

I know that many players have given very little thought to the logic that an existing magic would be a technology, just as any other development would be.  If magic were real in our world, the origin of that magic would certainly be a major subject in universities (which would seem strange to our eyes, no doubt).  We only give little thought to the concept because magic isn't real . . . and therefore it's origin as a failed philosophy is of very little interest.

Given that it is a D&D world, however, and that characters and their enemies can use magic, we must suppose someone, at some point in time, created the first spell.  No doubt it was a cantrip, but it would have led to a radical revision of the world and its potential.  In my world, that individual who stumbled upon the first form of humanly controlled magic was Zoroaster.

Now, if the reader will allow, I will point out once again (as I explained yesterday) that there are no human cultures in the New World.  Even if there were, they would have crossed the land bridge between the Old World and the new long, long before the birth of Zoroaster.  In my world's case, no human ever did cross that bridge.  My Siberia is full of hobgoblins and norkers (which I perceive as a sort of caveman goblin/hobgoblin that goes back 15-20 millennia in time).  When the humans in my world emerged out of Africa, their descendants ran into these non-human cultures and were turned back.  Therefore, no diaspora into North America, no native human races at all in the New World.

Those races that do exist in the New World have had very little contact with the cultures of the Old.  They would have had some contact with their personal gods, however, so we may grant a developed religion among the Inca and Aztecs, as well as the other races I mentioned in my last post.  However, no Zoroaster, no magic.

So, just as the real Europeans entered the New World with guns that the natives had never conceived, in my world the Europeans possess magic.  That is their edge.  The Bokkeer may have telepathy, but this is a genetic development, not a learned skill.  The Helsith may transform as they age, but once again, they have no control over this.  Wild magic exists everywhere, but the technological construction and adaptation of magic, in the form that we call spells, that doesn't exist except where the breakthrough in logic has occurred.

Thus, a small town of 700 Spaniards can thrive amidst a culture with several hundred thousand natives.  Of course, there has to be considerable care taken, as the potential for Tucapel is far, far greater with these more dangerous non-human races.


2 comments:

JB said...

And that's where I figured you were going with this. Bravo. Plenty of correlation between a magical "technology" and a technology of firearms.

Plus you've still got steel armor and horses.
; )

Ktulu said...

Really interesting concept! It is, honestly, something I've only ever given passive thought to in games. I mean, I generally assumed elves first discovered the magic and passed it on to the other races, but I hadn't ever considered the idea that some cultures have not encountered magic at all, or have been restricted from learning due to location, education, or otherwise. Something to think about, definitely. Thanks!