Writing Magic: The Basics


Magic, Witchcraft, and Sorcery are all perennial hot topics in literature: but what are the actual historical basis for the so-called dark crafts?

While all these topics will be expanded upon, here are some of the basics to begin with:

Astarte, or Inanna, or Ishtar, when religion when simpler.
  • Magic: Magic itself extends farther back than written records exist, with documented use in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, and shamanic traditions as well. This includes both creative (making crops grow) and destructive (cursing another’s crops) forms of magic.
  • Prohibitions Against Magic: As long as magic has existed, prohibitions against it’s use have as well. These exist in societies that believe magic is real, and therefore is punished as if the individual committed the crime the magic had set out to do, such as killing another person.
A Mongolian Shaman who looks way too cool to be a plot point about a white traveler.
  • Shamanism: While there isn’t a true definition, shamanism is essentially traditional folk practices and beliefs that include a spirit world and often ancestor worship and some form of animism. Shamanism is alive and well in many parts of the world and is essentially a part of culture, rather than something someone chooses to be. Some neopagans call themselves shamans, but in the technical sense this is reserved for highly trained individuals who probably don’t use the term themselves. Shamans, when present in a culture, are seen as links to the spirit world and are highly regarded.
Back when being a cat lady earned you a trip to the gallows.
  • Witchcraft: In the context of Anthropology and History, witchcraft is generally an accusation made against someone accused of practicing malignant magic, or maleficium. Accusations of witchcraft can be found in nearly every society and witch hunts continue today in the very real sense in places like India and the DRC. These accusations usually involve women and children, include contract with some sort of evil force (the Devil in Christian-influenced cultures, for example) and are closely tied to folk beliefs.
John Dee, court sorcerer for Queen Elizabeth I and maker-up of angelic languages.
  • Sorcery: On the other end of the spectrum away from folksy witchcraft, the erudite study of sorcery can be found. Sorcery as we know it today originates after the introduction of the three major abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), and was practiced in one form or another by some adherents of each of these faiths. Those who practiced what was also called “High Magic” in Europe often held stations in royal courts, were wealthy men, and studied what they claimed were ancient documents. This includes necromancy, which at the time referred to those who summoned demons, like in the stories of King Solomon.
FMA: Brotherhood – a surprisingly good source for Hermeticism
  • Alchemy: An early form of chemistry and earth science. While the goals of alchemy vary on the culture, it is often linked to seeking immortality, wealth, or ultimate knowledge. Hermetic views on alchemy are attributed to the Emerald Tablet, while some scholars believe it was merely a proto-science.
  • Curse/Hex/Jinx: In general, a person doesn’t need to be a witch or sorcerer to curse their neighbor, merely an evil glance will do (hence, the evil eye). There are many sorts of curses, such as those cast by a magic user, those garnered through envy or evil thoughts, or those placed on a bloodline or location by a powerful force or person.
  • White Magic vs Black Magic: Historically, this has more to do with the action desired. White magic was used to venerate or bring the individual closer to God/Gods/Spirits/Ancestors, while Black magic was used to achieve some sort of end (positive or negative). This varies greatly compared to modern thought, which has been influenced by Hollywood and neo paganism.
Never was there a more appropriate picture of a neo pagan.
  • Wicca and Neo paganism: A revival faith of folk magic perceived to be inherited from a long tradition of “witchcraft” (or folk beliefs) but typically has a basis in more modern writings. Because folk tradition is passed down orally, there is an inherently dubious nature to a great deal of the writings. Wiccan and neo pagans are typically non-violent folk who definitely do not worship the abrahamic Satan/Devil.
Anton Le Vey, founder of the Church of Satan, ironically on the right.
  • Satanism and Devil Worship: In general, there isn’t a group of organized individuals who worship the devil as so popularly portrayed in horror films or the Satanic Ritual Abuse cases of the early 1990’s. The Church of Satan and other forms of atheistic satanism were founded fairly recently and do not claim to perform actual magic, but rather live a self-guided lifestyle that celebrates rebellion. There are also theistic satanists, whose belief’s vary greatly, and in the case of the Order of Nine Angels, are associated with the neo-nazi movement.
Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, although likely an inaccurate depiction.
  • Voodoo and Santeria: These are separate religions, first off, that incorporate traditional folk magic with Christianity/Catholicism. Both religions were influenced by colonialism and the African Diaspora. While they have been the focal point of many a scary story, these are both religions and not purely magic systems. Much like Shamanism, or really any religion, these faith systems have complex structures and adherents spend years of devotion learning these practices.
  • Divination: Any form of trying to read the future or see deeper into certain events with the aid of supernatural forces. This includes tarot cards, runes, the meanings of dreams, and the reading of animal entrails. Divination, like magic itself, likely existed before the written word and has been practiced in nearly every culture (although likely all cultures at one point or another). Like magic as well, it is often associated with witchcraft and sometimes victim to religious prohibition.

What topics would you like to see expanded? Or added to this list? Write down below in the comments!


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