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Religion and magic – high fantasy’s Yin and Yang?
by Damien Black
As well as giving my fictional fantasy world a detailed history and geography, I also wanted to give it a fully functioning religion and magic system. In fact I developed these some time before I began writing Devil’s Night Dawning.
When I conceived the world and plot for the Broken Stone Series I consciously chose to draw on mythologies and superstitions informed by monotheism and polytheism. I quickly realised that this would lead to a rivalry or conflict between faith and magic. However, I didn’t want said conflict to devolve into a simplistic ‘good-evil’ set up favouring either side: in reflecting religious beliefs of our own world, I was inevitably heading towards something more ambiguous. I wanted to show how paganism and monotheism bleed into one another – historians have long explored how the pantheons of the Greeks and Romans influenced early Christianity, so I decided to follow the same theme and see where it led me.
I started out with a fairly simple paradigm: ‘one god/prayer’ on one side, and ‘many gods/magic’ on the other. Horskram and Adelko, the protagonists of Devil’s Night Dawning, are monks who have been trained to channel the sacred words of the Redeemer (a Christ-like figure who descended to earth in mortal form for the salvation of humankind). They use recited scripture – words spoken by the Redeemer – to fight entities from the Other Side and counter magic used by warlocks. For their part, warlocks such as Andragorix (a mortal enemy of Horskram’s) draw their powers from the language of magick and its hieratic script. Learning how to pronounce and visualise its complex symbols allows a warlock to bend the laws of the natural world and summon elementals and demons from the Other Side.
This arcane language was first taught by the archangels to the Varyans, an ancient superhuman race who mastered sorcery. Yes, you read that right: it was the angels who showed mortals how to work magic. Originally this benign Right Hand path was intended to help them survive and thrive in the world; however it was later corrupted by Abaddon (Satan or Lucifer), who led an angelic rebellion against Reus Almighty (God) and was condemned with his followers to languish for all eternity in Gehenna (Hell: think Milton’s Paradise Lost). Out of this corruption arose Left Hand or ‘black’ magic.
Both disciplines, left and right, can be broken down into the Seven Schools of Magick: Alchemy, Thaumaturgy, Enchantment, Scrying, Transformation, Demonology and Necromancy. The last two belong purely to the Left-Hand Path, for obvious reasons – summoning demons and raising the dead is generally looked upon with revulsion and typically involves blood sacrifice of some sort. The other five can belong to either path depending on how they are used: alchemy involves distilling magical powers into potions, powders and the like; thaumaturgy covers anything that alters the natural laws of the world (think fireballs and lightning bolts); enchantment covers bewitchment but also illusion magic (as this distorts the subject’s perception); scrying allows wizards to communicate with each other over long distances and to spy on ordinary mortals from afar; and transformation allows a sorcerer to change his or her shape, usually into an animal or other natural form such as mist.
Because magic has become corrupted, the Order of St Argo to which Horskram and Adelko belong has been founded to fight all kinds of wizards, of either path: in their era, distrust of magicians has become so widespread that they are almost universally feared and despised. Things are made even more ambiguous when one considers that the prayers Adelko and Horskram have specialised in (Psalms of the Redeemer) are arguably a form of magic themselves. The Argolian monks strongly deny this, but many mainstream members of the True Temple (roughly comparable to the Catholic Church) would like to see the Argolian Order expunged and its members condemned as witches.
At the time of the story, much of the world has fallen under two monotheistic religions: the Creed (loosely based on Christianity) in northerly Urovia and the Faith (likewise for Islam) in southerly Sassania. The story of Palom the Redeemer is similar to Christ’s, but instead of being crucified he was broken on a wheel: as such temples, monasteries and the like are circular and the core symbol of the Creed is the circifix – an amalgamation of the Latin word for circle and our ‘crucifix’.
Added to this mix are various remote territories – such as the druidic Western Isles and the barbaric Frozen Wastes – that have refused to embrace the Creed and still cleave to the old gods. I have predominantly used Roman, Greek, Celtic and Norse mythology as templates for these deities: for instance, Sjórkunan, Lord of Oceans is a Nordic take on Poseidon the Greek god of the sea, while Kaia the Moon Goddess is an adaptation of the Goddess, worshipped throughout Europe from Minoan Crete to Celtic Britain before patriarchal belief patterns from the Near East began to take hold around the second millennium BC.
Instead of denouncing all the old gods as demons (as the early Christian church in Rome did historically), the Creed has accepted that some of them were in fact archangels – although not all of them by any means. For instance, Logi the Nordic ‘trickster god’ was in fact none other than Abaddon (the Devil himself!), while Tyrnor their war god corresponds to the archdemon Azazel in the Palomedian faith. This is because Reus did not reveal Himself through the Two Prophets (who founded the Faith and Creed) until about a thousand years before the story takes place: but in a world where magic exists and the supernatural is not mere superstition, I realised it was essential to validate all beliefs. So when the ancient peoples of Urovia and Sassania prayed to their gods they were in fact worshipping demons AND angels (according to the Palomedians anyway…).
Foremost among the angels and demons are the Seven Seraphim (the foremost of the archangels or ‘seraphs’) and the Seven Princes of Perfidy (their demonic opposites). Here I have also borrowed from the prophet and poet William Blake’s pantheon and created ‘emanations’: in this context dark emanations of the sacred original. So for example, Satyrus, the archdemon of lust and depravity, is the dark emanation of Luviah, the archangel representing love. In doing this I am implying that evil and good are inextricably interlinked: they are in fact two halves of a whole (like the Yin and Yang of Chinese philosophy).
I have also borrowed the concept of the avatar from the Hindu religion: a lot of people mistakenly believe this ancient Indian belief is polytheistic because it comprises thousands of what appear to be standalone deities, but in fact these are avatars or manifestations of one godhead. One could argue the same about Trinitarian Christianity, with its emphasis on the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, separate and distinct yet acting together in one singular existence as God. In my work I have used the word avatar as a synonym for any saint, prophet, demon or angel, again implying that all are ultimately part of Reus or God.
Sound complicated? It’s meant to! Religions are complex, and I didn’t want to sell my characters short by having them believe in something simplistic and hollow – especially given that they live in a world where there is ample proof of the existence of the metaphysical in one form or another. This is exemplified by the Other Side, a sort of parallel universe inhabited by just about everything not of this world – from Reus and Abaddon to the lowliest of spirits. Once again, the practice of magic has played a part in bringing these two planes closer together, widening the Rent Between Worlds and allowing demons, spirits, fays, elementals and other nasties to cross over into the mortal vale with greater ease.
The Broken Stone Series explores how the use of magic can thus have dangerous consequences for mortalkind, and this is intended as a metaphor for our real-life magic: science, that two-edged greatsword that has brought so many wonders and horrors alike into our fragile lives. The quest for knowledge of the self and the world around us is age-old and fundamental to the human psyche – but its pitfalls are legion.
Those of you who know your mythology and religions will have quickly spotted how much of the nomenclature I have lifted from Judaism, paganism and Christianity – for instance, my name for God (Reus) is a simple amalgamation of Re, the sun god and chief deity in the ancient Egyptian pantheon, and Deus, the Latin name for God. Here and there I have been deliberately playful in my choice of names – for instance the Christ-like prophet that Adelko and Horskram serve is named after Palomedes, the Saracen knight in Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur.
In naming my Jesus figure after a Muslim character, I am saying ‘all is not as it seems’: my religions may resemble real-life creeds, but they are in fact distinct from them. After all, I am writing fiction! These differences will become more apparent during the course of the Broken Stone Series, and religious belief and magic both have a major impact on its characters.
Thanks for reading!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
For as long as he can remember, Damien Black has been blessed and cursed with a hallucinogenic imagination. His sleep is disturbed by strange dreams that he struggles to remember upon waking, glimpses of worlds where superstitions are reality and prayers might actually work.
The only cure he knows for this malady is writing, an auto-exorcism he performs on himself daily. Over the years, these scribblings have evolved into horror-strewn tales that plot a winding course through the tropes of fantasy fiction.
In 2012 Damien debuted with An Urban Pentagram, a collection of short horror fiction set in his home city of London. Four years on, his first full-length novel has taken him far beyond the mortal plane, as he plots a course through the dark realms of his subconscious. Devil’s Night Dawning is the inaugural chapter of the Broken Stone Series, and even now he is moving beyond it to the next stage of his remarkable voyage. He hopes you will enjoy the journey with him!
When he can drag himself away from recording his otherworldly experiences, Damien is liable to pick up a guitar and belt out a clutch of Old Nick’s tunes, singing like a fallen angel waiting for a stranger at a crossroads. Writing and music aside, he also finds time to share his views on many other diverse subjects at the Devil’s Letters.
For centuries, the monastic Order of St Argo has stood between the mortal vale and the dark forces of the Other Side. Now a mystery warlock seeks an ancient power to rule realms, and only two of its witch hunters can stop him – if they can stay alive long enough to identify him…
When young novice Adelko is assigned to legendary adept Horskram, he rejoices at the chance to lead an adventurous life. An adventurous death isn’t what he had in mind – but it comes calling when they learn of a sorcerous theft, one that could bring ruin on the Known World. They suspect a demonologist at work, but don’t know anything for sure.
Whoever it is knows who they are and wants to silence them – permanently. As they flee from one danger to another, their homeland erupts into civil war – the rebellious southern barons have reunited and want to dethrone the King of Northalde. The world they know teeters on the brink of a momentous struggle that will reshape it forever…
High fantasy meets gothic horror in this gripping tale of suspense, conflict, faith and magic – the first part in an epic saga of sweeping proportions.