Laws Of Magic Part I – Correspondences

Once upon a time in first edition AD&D a Fireball filled so many thousands of cubic feet. If you set it off in a space that was too small, or the middle of a nest of tunnels or some such… the blast would fill it’s allotted space, even if that made the “ball” into a long line or it it blew back into your face and killed you. Similarly, lightning bolts could bounce back on the caster if you weren’t careful about where you set them off. Summoned elementals could go out of control and attack the summoner. There were fairly elaborate descriptions of where the energy that powered magic came from, how it was gathered, the time spent to bind it into each individual spell (fifteen minutes times the spell level for each spell so prepared – normally to a maximum of 32 levels of spells per day if you weren’t adventuring), and how tricky it was to use it properly. If you got interrupted, or fouled things up, it didn’t work. You could only learn so many spells, and would often find yourself permanently unable to learn the ones you wanted.

It was a time when making potions and scrolls required fairly high level and exotic ingredients – and if you didn’t have those ingredients, you couldn’t make that potion or a scroll. Making more powerful magic items involved arbitrary quests, and creating permanent enchantments cost a constitution point as enchanters gave up a portion of their life force to empower them. When Gods only granted spells appropriate to their portfolios, chose what spells they granted their priests, and sometimes withheld spells or other clerical benefits if said priests weren’t doing a good job of serving their gods.

For example, making a scroll of Protection From Petrification required giant squid ink, a basilisk eye, three cockatrice feathers, medusa snake venom, (specific) powdered gems, holy water, and pumpkin seeds. Lesser scrolls were usually easier, but they certainly weren’t things that you just churned out.

And there was a reason for all that. It was because classical fantasy adhered to many classical notions about how magic worked.

Classical fantasy said that gods and other magical entities paid attention and demanded that their servants and priests offer sacrifices, adhere to rigid codes of behavior, and actually serve them in exchange for the power they were given – and that various entities only offered powers related to their various portfolios. The Winter King would not – and COULD NOT – help you throw fire.

Classical fantasy said that learning to use magic without a supernatural patron was a difficult and dangerous thing, requiring years of study. It involved strange arts and the classical laws of magic – correspondences, synchronicity, sympathy, contagion, similarity or “signatures”, karma, purification, personification, destiny, and naming, magical circles, runes and occult symbols, and more. Would-be mages had massive lists of stuff to memorize in character – while even the player had quite a lot to keep track of. The Dungeon Master’s Guide showed glyphs for various Glyphs Of Warding (and noted that experienced players might remember their names from prior play, and so bypass them!) and several forms of protective inscriptions, including magic circles, pentagrams, and thaumaturgic triangles – and noted that when you summoned something the game master might require you to show them that you were using the right one!

Having an actual magic-user in your party was a luxury that called for a fairly high level party, a very experienced player, and a good deal of actual study and preparation.

And the first law of magic to take a look at is Correspondence.

Correspondence is built on the belief that every time, place, object, and symbol has some amount of magical power – and that that power is attuned to various purposes.

For simplified example, Fire is active, hot, dry, and emits light.

  • It’s season is summer.
  • Its Day is Sunday.
  • Its Time is noon.
  • Its Incenses are cinnamon, frankincense, and dragon’s blood.
  • Its Signs are Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius.
  • Its Animals are bees, lions, dragons, serpents, foxes, scorpions, and squirrels.
  • Its Alchemical Symbol is a point-up triangle.
  • Its Celestial Objects are Mars and the Sun.
  • Its Colors are white, red, and orange.
  • Its Sense is sight.
  • Its Trees are Alder, Chestnut, Cinnamon, and Rowan.
  • It Manifests in the sun, stars, and volcanoes.
  • Its Gods are Agni, Brigit, Durga, Freya, Horus, Pele, Ra, and Vulcan.
  • Its Tools are wands, lamps, and blades.
  • Its Stones are bloodstone, carnelian, fire opal, red jasper, ruby, tiger’s eye, and anything from a volcano.
  • Its Metals are gold, steel, and brass.
  • Its Herbs include allspice, basil, coffee, juniper, onion, peppers, thistle, and tobacco.
  • Its Fragrances include clove, patchouli, and chamomile.
  • Its Direction is south.
  • Its Spirits are salamanders and firedrakes.
  • It is associated with youth, war, courage, animal life, and sex.
  • It is linked with stringed instruments.
  • Its magic is suited to spells involving light, energy, love, health, and transformation.

And that list is far from complete. Those categories should have more items and there are lots more categories.

Every correspondence you involved in your magical action – or, to some extent, in mundane activities – added a little bit of power. Thus a red-haired spellcaster who’d been born during the summer, on Sunday, at noon, had four built-in correspondences for fire magic – and so would show a natural talent for it (and a likely deficit in Water Magic). He or she could get another boost from using an Steel (Metal) Athame (Blade) forged with the aid of a Salamander (Spirit), blessed by a priest of Agni (God), with a Bloodstone pommel (Stone), hilted with wood from a chestnut tree (Tree) and engraved with the constellation of Aries (Sign) – adding seven additional correspondences from a rather powerful magical tool. It would also help if he or she was smoking or had recently had sex, either of which would make an even dozen correspondences (you might not want thirteen; that has some unhelpful correspondences).

A charmsmith might gift a fighter with an amulet incorporating as many correspondences to the arts of war as possible, knowing that carrying those influences with him would help to bring him or her victory. Making magical devices that aided the user in various ways… basically involved a lot of ritual purification to help keep unwanted correspondences from getting entangled in your creation and putting together as many ingredients from your list as possible. Admittedly, such items were fairly subtle – but an item with the proper correspondences was a lot easier to enchant with active powers as well.

A diviner might use tarot cards, or throw runesticks, or use any of hundreds of other methods, in the belief that – thanks to the innate correspondences of their tools – the results will reflect the forces currently at work in a situation, providing hints as to what the future will hold. Better tools – such as tarot cards – will be constructed to incorporate as many symbols and correspondences as possible, so they are as well attuned to the universe as possible – and usually can also serve as spellcasting tools (which is where card-based casting comes from).

While this sort of thing is still fairly popular – notions of astrology, birth-stones, spirit animals, tarot cards, rune-stones, the I-Ching, and such are all over the place – few people are really aware that giving someone a little birthstone pendant, made of the “appropriate” metal and bearing various traditional symbols (knots, zodiac symbols, animals, etc) is really an act of magic meant to strengthen the recipients personal talents and improve their lives.

Correspondences are simultaneously the least and most organized bit of magical thinking. The most because Correspondences tend to come in massive categorized and sorted lists (there are entire books devoted to such lists). The least because the magical associations of times, items, places,, and materials are completely arbitrary; each culture has developed it’s own ideas on the topic. Still, the theory says that the more correspondences you manage to tie into an appropriate magical working, the more potent it became – for each contributes power.

Honestly, correspondences are far too complicated for most game systems. Even first edition AD&D, which involved a LOT of classic fantasy elements, shied away from any attempt to make direct use of Correspondences – although you can see traces of the idea in the descriptions of the various magic items (especially the wands) and in the information on creating magical items.

Other early game systems also dabbled a bit. Chivalry and Sorcery used parts of the system in enchanting the tools a spellcaster required, Dragonquest used Birth Aspects that could modify attempts to do pretty much anything, but only when they applied. A system or two used “Star Signs” which could provide all kinds of modifiers – a notion which would work nicely in d20 since applying a “star sign template” to your character is flavorful and should be relatively quick and easy.

Only one game system that I’m aware of – Fantasy Wargaming – used a correspondence table as a central element of it’s magic system. Unfortunately, Fantasy Wargaming is generally regarded as unplayable. (It’s actually not all that bad, but the organization of the book is terrible, it takes a long time to design and cast a spell, and it – as expected for the era – uses a lot of wargame ideas that limit your control of your character rather than RPG ideas).

Continuum II uses correspondences as a central part of the Ceremonial Magic system – but that is a subsystem that occasional characters dabbled in during downtime, rather than something that was expected to be used while adventuring. A player who wanted to invest some time and effort researching correspondences and coming up with ceremonies could give their party some handy (if fairly minor) bonuses to use during adventures – but a party could get along just fine without such things. On the other hand… it gave things a nicely mystical feel, which was usually well worth the trouble. That system’s basically compatible with d20, so it could be used easily enough, In Eclipse it’s just a Specialized version of the Ritual Magic ability.

Thus correspondences – while a major and extremely thoroughly documented part of classical magic – only play a small role in classical fantasy and in the role-playing games based on it. They’re simply too arbitrary and too much trouble to include more than a few nods to in anything but an optional system. .

The sign of Aries is associated with March 21’st to April 19’th, Fire, Iron, Geranium, Gorse, Rosemary, Marjoram, Sage, Tiger Lily, Thistle and Wild Rose, Holly and Chestnut, Iron, Bloodstone, Ruby, Red Jasper, and Garnet, Scarlet or Pink, Mars, Tuesday, Four o’clock to Five o’clock, Spring, The Emperor Tarot Card, the Ram, Owl, or Bull, the Magpie, Owl, and Robin, the Head, she scent of Pine or Geraniums, Athena, Shiva, and Minerva – and it goes on.

One Response

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: