Saturday, June 21, 2014

Expressions of Magic

I felt myself wilting under the heat of the Inquisitor’s gaze.  My heart pounded.  I could take no breath to allow my lungs to fan it cool.  It would soon burst like an ill-made pot in the potter’s kiln.  
I saw his hands moving.  His finger, tracing something in the air. As if he was drawing something...?  Or writing...?
A glyph!  The inquisitor was casting a spell!  A chill born from the dead of winter descended upon me.  How many strokes hand he done so far?  Eight?  Ten.  Eleven...  Twelve...  
His hand closed into fist, then he flicked his pointing finger at me.  
The words boomed inside my head.  They were spoken in my voice of my departed mother, but with an imperiousness that she had never used.  Following their reverberation, a calming silence came over me.  My flesh vibrated like the skin of a drum.  
“I ask you again, my landlord’s son...”  
I looked up.  The inquisitor was now a pillar of smoke, ascending beneath a ceiling lofted higher than that of the largest cathedral ever built.  His eyes were like glass, beaming a light down on me born of the divine fire that created him.  Somewhere, in the farthest recesses of my head, I knew I still stood in the Portico Entrance of my family’s inn, surrounded by guests seated at their tables.  But it felt as if myself and the inquisitor were the only beings in all creation.  Bathed in the light streaming from his eyes, I could hide no secret from him.  
Nor, did I want to.  
“I am looking for someone that came from the North...”
This is a scene from my novel, A Spell of Thirteen Years, when the main character, Enrico Paoli, experiences what it is like to have a Spell of Truth-Telling cast upon you, when the Church Inquisitor visiting his family’s inn comes to believe he is hiding something.  
Before we find out what happens to Enrico, I’m going to go back to show what the Inquisitor went through to cast his spell.  
In my last blog entry I wrote about the glyphs that sorcerers use in my world to cast spells.  Each glyph represents a word or concept that the practitioner wants to bring about into the world.  In the case of the Inquisitor, it is the telling of absolute truth by someone he is questioning.  
To cast a spell, the practitioner must first select, or create if he or she is advanced enough, the glyph needed for the effect in question.  In the case of the Inquisitor above, the glyph for the Spell of Truth-Telling is one that has been long known and used often for decades by the Inquisitors of the Church.  It is the same glyph used when any Inquisitor wants whomever they are questioning to respond with perfect accuracy to questions put to them.  There will be hundreds, if not thousands, of such common glyphs known to any working practitioner.  A professional sorcerer in the world of A Spell of Thirteen Years would be expected to know something on the order of a thousand to fifteen hundred glyphs.  
It is possible, though, to be more specific.  Instead of a generic spell, like the one the Inquisitor used, it is possible to create a glyph representing the concept of having a specific person tell you the truth.  Such a spell would have much greater efficacy, as it would be tuned to work on that one particular person.  In the scene above, a “Spell of Enrico-Paoli-Truth-Telling,” would work much better, with fewer opportunities for errors or omissions that the generic spell applied.  But the creation of such narrowly defined glyphs can be arduous one, as I hope to demonstrate.  
To create a glyph, a practitioner needs to understand the concept of “glyph radicals.”  Glyph radicals are simplified versions of glyphs that are incorporated into other, more complicated glyphs.  
An example from Japanese.  Below is the Japanese kanji for “hand.”

Like other kanji, which is pronounced “te,” it started out as a drawing of a hand which became more stylized over centuries of continued usage.  
Now here is another kanji, for the word “hold,” as it to hold on to something.

The first three strokes of this kanji, which create a shape that looks something like a cross with a check mark going across it on the left hand side, is the radical for hand.  By taking the radical for hand and adding it to other components, which in this case are “ground” (土) and “measure” (寸) we can create the concept of holding something.  
To show how a different radical might change a glyph’s meaning, I offer this one: 

The two stroke character to the left, replacing the one for hand shown above, is the radical for person.  This kanji is the one for “samurai.”  If you think of it as “the person that measures the ground,” dolling out parcels to the peasants to work on, the extrapolation becomes clear.  
Once the glyph is chosen, or glyphs if more than one glyph is being combined for the spell, the practitioner must study it.  This is done by writing the character, over and over and over again, until it can be written clearly and precisely within the required amount of time.  For basic spells this would be one or two glyphs whose strokes can be done in thirteen seconds.  For longer spells, greater combinations of glyphs, forming magical sentences if you will, will be written out in the corresponding time frame, such as thirteen minutes or even thirteen hours, which is the upper limit for a single practitioner casting a spell alone.  
For all spells, the final unit of measure, whether it is a single second for a simple spell or a minute or hour for longer, more complicated and powerful spells, is taken up with the execution of the “invisible glyph.”  The invisible glyph is the portion of the spell that represents the practitioner.  Like the Formative Reading, the correct magical pronunciation of a glyph, it has to be discovered by the practitioners themselves.  Unlike the Formative Reading, though, there are no texts to assist in finding it.  It must be discovered through meditation, study and reflection.  As with the spell-glyphs, the practitioner will spend hours upon hours practicing the execution of this glyph.  Once it is perfected, any written copy will be destroyed.  Allowing another practitioner to know one’s invisible glyph is like giving away the password to your computer or the PIN to your bank account.  
With the glyph in hand, the practitioner will then search for the spell’s Formative Reading.  For known glyphs, like the one for “Spell of Truth-Telling,” there are texts that the practitioner can find where, by reading through the Assigned Readings of the glyphs use to tell the story or puzzle written down, the practitioner can discover the Formative Reading for the glyph they want to use.  For a glyph they have created for themselves, then the practitioner needs to work out the pronunciation by combining the Conjunctive Reading of the radicals involved in creating the glyph.  For the definitions of Assigned Readings and Conjunctive Readings, you can take a look at last week’s blog entry, Words of Magic.  
With the glyph studied and its Formative Reading discovered, the practitioner now needs to execute the spell by writing the glyph, either physically or in their mind, and saying the Word the glyph embodies.  
A quick note about Wands and Staffs.  Wands and staffs have long been considered a part of a sorcerer’s equipment, but they have no special powers associated with them, nor do they impart any special ability to someone holding them.  A sorcerer’s wand or staff, in the world of A Spell of Thirteen Years, is nothing more than a reference device.  A sorcerer will carve the image of the glyph they have studied into the surface of the wand or staff they carry.  When it comes time to cast a spell, the practitioner will turn the wand or staff to the glyph they need to use and then trace it as they recite the word for the embodied concept.  
Amongst professional practitioners, wands and staffs are tools used by practitioners who are in the very early stage of their careers.  Apprentices serving more powerful practitioners, sent out into the “real world” on errands, are more likely to make use of them.  This is probably why the average person, who is more likely to meet an apprentice than a true adept, associates these devices with sorcery.  They do have the advantages of being more durable than the tomes practitioners keep in their libraries, and being used for secondary uses, such as stabbing the last dumpling from the common plate or bopping an attacker over the head.  
And that is how a sorcerers cast their spells.


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