#FolkloreThursday, Aprilynne Pike, Bloodlines, Brothers Grimm, Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Faeries, folklore, Folktales, Harry Potter, Iron Fey, JK Rowling, Julie Kagawa, Lucy Cooper, magic, Melissa Marr, Merlin, Patricia C Wrede, preview of work, Richelle Mead, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Shakespeare, The Adventures of Saphira the Faery Dog, The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies, The Originals, The Vampire Diaries, Wattpad, Wicked Lovely, Wings, writing
Everyone has an opinion about magic. Though, for the most part, no-one really has anything to back up the knee-jerk reaction they have. Some are okay with the fairy godmother in Cinderella
Magic is as old as the world itself. Traditionally, it is the use of actions, rituals, gestures, symbols and language to evoke and use supernatural forces. It’s a belief and practice that’s been present since the earliest cultures and continues to have an impact on many cultures today (sometimes in spiritual, religious and even medicinal roles. I’ve touched on this in a previous post about witches.)
Wikipedia explains this folkloric and cultural aspect a little more:
Appearing in various tribal peoples from Aboriginal Australia and Māori New Zealand to the Amazon, African savannah, and pagan Europe, some form of shamanic contact with the spirit world seems to be nearly universal in the early development of human communities.
Although indigenous magical traditions persist to this day, very early on some communities transitioned from nomadic to agricultural civilizations, and with this shift, the development of spiritual life mirrored that of civic life. Just as tribal elders were consolidated and transformed into kings and bureaucrats, so too were shamans and adepts changed into priests and a priestly caste.
This shift is by no means in nomenclature alone. While the shaman‘s task was to negotiate between the tribe and the spirit world, on behalf of the tribe, as directed by the collective will of the tribe, the priest‘s role was to transfer instructions from the deities to the city-state, on behalf of the deities, as directed by the will of those deities. This shift represents the first major usurpation of power by distancing magic from those participating in that magic. It is at this stage of development that highly codified and elaborate rituals, setting the stage for formal religions, began to emerge, such as the funeral rites of the Egyptians and the sacrifice rituals of the Babylonians, Persians, Aztecs, and Mayans.
Let’s look at how magic influences the past and thus the present.
Magic in Folklore
The Brothers Grimm Folktales are filled to the brim with magic. Rapunzel has a witch. Briar-Rose has thirteen fairies. The Fisherman and his Wife has an enchanted prince who grants wishes in his flounder form. Rumpelstiltskin can spin straw into gold (for a price). The list goes on.
Perhaps this serves to show that magic is an easy solution with severe consequences. Even if death was the alternative…
It can be argued that Merlin, the most powerful warlock in the Arthurian legend, is either a real historical figure or born from folklore.
Merlin is one of the most fascinating figures in the Welsh literature and the Arthurian legend. He is a man of mystery and magic; contradiction and controversy surrounded his life. Merlin was the last of the druid, the Celtic shaman, priest of nature, and keeper of knowledge, particularly of the arcane secrets.
Read more about the history of Merlin at Timeless Myths.
The belief in faeries is strong all over the world. The folklore involving them is rich and very entertaining.
“Boggles, Bloody Bones, brownies, black dogs, Shellycoats, barguests, Robin Goodfellows, hags, hobgoblins, dobies, hobthrusts, fetches, kelpies, mumpokers, Pans, sirens, nymphs, incubuses, Kit with the Cansticks, Melsh Dicks, knockers, elves, Rawheads, Padfoots, pixies, dwarves, changelings, redcaps…
These are just some of the fairy creatures listed in a series of nineteenth-century folklore pamphlets by a Yorkshire tradesman named Michael Denham, later published as The Denham Tracts, edited by James Hardy (London: Folklore Society, 1898-1895).
This snapshot of the fairy realm in the British Isles of the not-so-distant past introduces us to a world in which nursery bogies, such as Bloody Bones, lurked in the cupboard under the stairs, and mischievous pranksters Puck and Robin Goodfellow cavorted in the countryside, likely to transform at any moment into flickering lights and lead unwary travellers on a merry dance through briars, ditches, bogs and streams.
This brief peek into fairyland reveals a colourful cast of denizens, wildly different in appearance and characteristics, before we have even ventured further afield than the British Isles. Fairies have appeared in various guises in cultures around the world since ancient times, from the dryads and nymphs of ancient Greece to the noble Sidhe of Ireland, and from the Australian arawotya to the zinkibaru of Africa.
Traditionally, fairies have assumed a number of different roles, as guardians, guides, gatekeepers, muses and messengers, exerting an influence over human lives that may be by turns benevolent, malevolent or mischievous.”
– from the book The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper
This belief in magic and the fantastical had survived and is part of modern stories (the type we write, read and watch).
Such magic often serves as a plot device and has long been a component of fiction, from the days of Homer and Apuleius, down through the tales of the Holy Grail and King Arthur to more contemporary authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, Ursula K. Le Guin, Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, J.K. Rowling, Mercedes Lackey or Derek Landy.
Within a work of fantasy, the function of magic is to move the plot forward, providing power for the hero of the story and/or power for those who oppose him/her. The use of magic frequently manifests itself in a transformation of the character, if not the world.
In order to carry out its function, magic often carries a price, equal to its value.
Fictional magic may be inspired by non-fictional beliefs and practices, but may also be an invention of the writer. Even when the writer uses non-fictional beliefs and practices, the effect, strength, and rules of the magic will normally be what the writer requires for the plot. Fictional magic may or may not include a detailed system, but when the author does not bother to systematise the magic or create rules, it is more likely that magic will be used simply at the author’s convenience, rather than as a believable plot element.
In any given fantasy magical system, a person has limits to their magical abilities, otherwise the story will have no conflict and the magic will overwhelm the other side. Fantasy writers use a variety of techniques to limit the amount of magic in a story, such as limiting the amount of spells a character has, restricting a character’s magic through the use of an object, limiting magic to the use of certain materials and making the materials hard to find, and restricting the amount of magic a character can use due to the consequences of using it.
Remembering all the rules of using magic in fiction, especially that every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction (very Newton, I know), is important while reading and writing fantasy.
Magic in Popular Culture
Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last two decades, you know about Harry Potter. In the Harry Potter books (and movies, games, etc.) Harry is a wizard who goes to a special school for witches and wizards. They use wands, potions and spells to perform magic.
Of course, magic is a key component in a lot of fantasy books.
In the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede, the entire forest bends to the will of the king. Also, wizards can be melted by lemon and soap water.
In the Bloodlines novels (and the Vampire Academy novels that preceded it) by Richelle Mead, various kinds of magic is used. The Moroi (good vampires) have power over the elements and can compel others to think what they need them to. The Strigoi (bad vampires) can make anyone do anything, feel anything, want anything with the power of their compulsion. And then there’s the witches… Though they use different spell books (grimoires) for different types of spells, the magic is a lot like what the Moroi use and then some.
And then there’s Faery magic.
In the Wicked Lovely books by Melissa Marr, the most powerful magic comes from the monarchs of the different Courts (Summer, Winter, Dark and High Courts). The High queen can bend reality. The Dark king can summon horrific things. The Winter queen controls everything to do with winter (including creating ice). The Summer queen makes plants grow (and other summery things). Though all Fae have a bit of magic in them to keep them hidden from humans, none are as powerful as the monarchs.
In the Wings series by Aprilynne Pike, faeries are plants. Spring faeries are a dime a dozen and used as servants and bodyguards. Summer faeries are the entertainers. Both Spring and Summer faeries have power over basic glamour (magic). Autumn faeries are rather rare and live in a greenhouse (or magical school) where they learn everything about making potions and being awesome. They are much more powerful than the previous group. Winter faeries are the rarest and most powerful of all. Most magic used by these faeries involve nature.
In The Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa, faeries and Faerie is only strong while humans believe in them and remember them. The summer court is ruled by Oberon and Titania (from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and the winter court is ruled by Mab (also from Shakespeare’s play). And then they find that there’s a third court: the iron fey (dreamt up by humanity from the Industrial Evolution and on). All of these faeries use glamour to shape the world around them. It’s a matter of pulling the magic to them to change leaves into money (and other things).
There are many more examples from books. And as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, there’s a lot of magic in TV shows too.
But where does magic come from? Fictionally, speaking of course.
There are different ways writers give their characters magic.
An innate talent. (The character is usually born with this “curse” and has to learn how to deal with it.) E.g. Title character in BBC’s Merlin.
Through studying. (Somehow the character can learn how to control and use magic by studying books.) E.g. Gaius in BBC’s Merlin.
Bestowed by another. (Magic can be gained if given. Usually through a pact with the devil/spirits/faeries as is common in folklore.) E.g. in CW’s The Originals the witches can get their magic from their ancestors by either interring the bones of a powerful witch in their cemetery or by killing a couple of chosen teenaged witches.
Enchanted objects. (Something magical gives the person magic or a way to control magic. Wands, staves, amulets, bracelets, the list goes on.) E.g. in CW’s The Vampire Diaries, the Salvatore brothers have magical rings that protect them from the sun.
Magical places. (Battlefields, execution spots, places of great tragedy, enchanted forests, homes of magical creatures and other places filled with strong emotion and magic can fuel the magic of the character.) E.g. in CW’s The Vampire Diaries, Bonnie harnesses the magic left by a hundred executed witches to make herself stronger so she can kill Klaus.
Language. (This includes the casting of spells and usually needs a spell book (grimoire) to be successful.) E.g. In the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling, the characters use special spells to do what they need to.
Magic can come from different places.
In folkloric an occult tradition, magic can be divided by colour: black magic and white magic. This usually serves well to show the dichotomy of good and evil.
Wikipedia says this about white magic:
White magic or light magic has traditionally referred to the use of supernatural powers or magic for good and selfless purposes. With respect to the phi left-hand path and right-hand path, white magic is the benevolent counterpart of malicious black magic. Because of its ties to traditional pagan nature worship, white magic is often also referred to as “natural magic”.
Obviously you can deduce what black magic is on your own.
As The Mist is what we call the all-consuming, all powerful magic that runs raw through Druids and Cù Sìth. Other humans with magic need talismans to tap into the Mist. Normal Fae can fashion Glamour – weaker magic than that of the Cù Sìth – out of their connection with the Mist.
In the newest instalment of The Adventures of Saphira the Faery Dog, a vicious race of dwarves have taken magic forcefully from another magical creature to make themselves stronger. This dark magic is unnatural and evil. But even a Cù Sìth on her own cannot stop it. She needs her Faery friends to help her. And when they find out what awful thing the dwarves have done, even victory feels hollow.
‘Well, Cian’s reflection in the pool of water said, ‘the only way to stop them is to trap them in the mountain range they’re in. You and Jade will have to do it together if they are using a dark object to make themselves more powerful.’
‘Jade will know.’ He sighed. ‘Do you know the nature of the object they hold?’
<No. And that worries me. If they have something like dragon’s blood, Jade and I do not stand a chance.>
‘I’ll try to find out. Don’t do anything until Jade has recovered. You’ll need all of your strength to be successful.’
Moments later he disappeared from the pool and Saphira knew that she wouldn’t be able to reach him again. Time flowed differently in Faerie and it made conversations like this short and possibly dangerous.
Saphira’s head was pounding still. She wished she knew when the pain would stop. A day? A week? A month? She sighed and walked away from the pool deep in the mountain.
– Saphira and the Dwarves in her Mountains, The Adventures of Saphira the Faery Dog, Ronel Janse van Vuuren
I hope you enjoy reading the eighth tale in the series. Comments can be left here or on Wattpad – I always appreciate feedback. What do you think of the different types of magic in folklore and modern tales? Do you believe, as some do, that someone is by default a creature of darkness if they’re curious about the arcane?
Sign up for my newsletter and receive a free ebook. I won’t share your information and I’ll only email you once a month with updates on new releases, special offers, and a bit of news.