Doing Magic In Otherworlds
excerpt from The Pathwalker's Guide
Once you leave your homeworld, things change. Some spells that worked before don't work, and have to be altered; others work even better. If you're pathwalking in two worlds at once a spell might work in one world and not the other. There are sound and logical reasons for this, but in order to explain them, I'll have to digress into a bit of magical theory. Bear with me.
Although magic can be divided into a wide variety of traditions, and aesthetic and technical styles, its basic nature can be reduced to two general categories: thaumaturgic and theurgic. They have very different science behind them, and are good for different goals and places. Most magical systems are a blend of the two; for that matter, so are many spells.
Thaumaturgic magic is direct, and based on the properties inherent in the natural world. It is done by directly and consciously hitting something with "juice", or energy. That can be your own personal energy, or it can be drawn from the cosmos, but it is always consciously directed towards a specific goal. Usually, the accompanying visualizations or words are clear and direct as well, such as "Open!" or "Stay!" or "Attract wealth to me!" Visual patterns used are representational of the goal, even if only symbolically; for example, if you're drawing a binding spell, you might use the figure of a knot or chain. If you're doing it physically, you'd actually tie knots in a piece of string or cord.
When you use props and tools for thaumaturgic magic, you use the inherent natural qualities of those things. For example, a stone undeniably has the qualities of "solidness"and "endurance", so it could be used in magical work for gaining those qualities. A piece of clear quartz would have those qualities plus "clarity"; a sharp-edged stone would add "sharpness", and so forth. A strawberry might have the quality of "sweetness" to magically call on, as well as being close to the earth. A dropped feather from a bird has once flown through the air, and would be useful for invoking mental flight, or lightness. And so forth.
Thaumaturgic magic, as I've said, is very conscious, because if you can't feel it, you can't hit your target. It can be done with the unconscious mind - and I've known some people who were just not naturally good at feeling energy, so they trained themselves to do it unconsciously - but some part of you is actually handling the "juice" and sending it out to do its carefully directed job. The good thing about thaumaturgic magic is that you don't have to know a lot of lore to do it. You also don't have to know anything about religion, or deities, or how people lived long ago. People who are very scientifically minded can do it, because it only requires a keen observation of the natural world. One of the drawbacks, however, is that it requires focus and concentration, and if you're hysterical or otherwise in a mood where that's impossible, your spell may not work. Another drawback is that it falls down somewhat when doing pathworking, as I'll get back to in a moment.
Theurgic magic is entirely different. Imagine that the universe - our world and many layers of other worlds - is crisscrossed by a giant web of energy that binds it all together. The thought and intent of people from all worlds travels back and forth across this web. Some strands of the web get so much intent traveling down them that they develop grooves, shallow to deep depending on how much use they get. The intent of deities makes very large grooves. A group of people can get together and create a new groove with their combined intent. Myths are grooves like this; people reenact them over and over again, often without realizing it. So are stories, songs, chants, symbols, words of power, and spells.
When we say an old spell, or sing an old song, or use an old symbol, or enact a myth, we fall into that groove and slide along it to its end....unless something goes wrong and knocks us out of it. It takes very little energy to do this; usually only enough to connect with the groove, and then its own energy takes over and carries your intent to its end. Sometimes you may have to push it along if it stalls out for some reason, and of course you can feed it more of your own energy to make it move faster along the groove, so to speak, and thus have a bigger impact at the end, but in general theurgic magic takes less energy than thaumaturgic. The other side of that coin, however, is that it doesn't always work, because there are a variety of reasons why you can get tipped out of the groove, or more likely, miss it entirely. For beginners who are working with old spells, I'd give it a 50/50 chance of working at best.
The more familiar you are with a particular groove - say, an old non-representational symbol or spell - the easier it is to find it and fit your intent into it. Because the energy of the universe carries the work for you, many people can't feel theurgic magic the way that they can thaumaturgic magic. You write the mysterious symbol, and you hope it works, and maybe it does and maybe it doesn't. There isn't that feel of energy going from you to the goal, so it may be imperceptible....unless you are really hooked in to the energy of the web enough to feel it, which most beginners aren't. On the other hand, theurgic magic can actually work for people with no psychic knack, no ability to sense energy flows, no experience, and no belief that what they're doing is actually going to work. If they manage to hit that groove, something will happen regardless of ability, knack or belief. That's where all those stories come from about the fool finding the magic book of spells that work when he reads them, even when he has no idea what he's doing. It also means that it has the same chance of working when he's too messed up emotionally to be able to do a focused, conscious, thaumaturgical spell.
Theurgic magic is very abstract. A symbol might not look at all like what it's supposed to symbolize as far as your mind is concerned, but it will still have a chance of working. Perhaps it meant something direct once, but that culture has faded and the original meaning has gone with it. Perhaps it meant something to one specific person once, but it was repeated out of faith without understanding. Perhaps it is the symbol of a deity associated with what you're trying to accomplish, and its groove was created by that deity and is difficult for us mere mortals to understand. Perhaps it never had any representational meaning at all in this world....and maybe, just maybe, it's an import from another world. People like me are not that unique; there has been a flow of ideas and communication to and from other worlds as long as people have been doing this, which is a pretty long time.
Because theurgic magic is bound up with learning grooves created by other minds and souls, many of which cannot be found by looking at the natural world, it requires a huge amount of study and memorization of lore. Thaumaturgic magic, ideally, could be figured out by someone who'd never read a single myth in their life, or for that matter a single book. Theurgic magic, on the other hand, we have only through the written words of those who worked on the huge job of mapping out cosmic grooves. That means research, and trial and error.
So what does this have to do with way-taming? The problem with us is that we're too centered on our own world and our own species. Just as we tend to anthropomorphize other entities when we meet them (and then be surprised when their motives are not human), we also tend to assume that other worlds will have physical laws that are just like ours. They don't. Clearly, if their laws were too different, we wouldn't be able to function there, but we can't assume that the natural properties of anything in their world will be identical to those properties here. Even a plant which looks the same in both worlds could be poisonous in one and non- poisonous in another. This means that thaumaturgic magic based on the natural properties of this world has an iffy chance of working somewhere else. Maybe it will, maybe it won't....and the only way to figure it out is to try by trial and error. This can take a long time, considering that every time you change worlds the rules are a little different.
Theurgic magic, on the other hand, works wherever you are. Those universal grooves are accessible anywhere, which is how magic spells originating in other worlds could work here if they're strong enough to have created a groove. The runes, for example, not only work properly in every one of the Nine Worlds, they work in worlds outside of the Norse cosmology. Although I'm not covering those in this book, I can assure you on this point. They are a groove carved into the cosmos by the will of the Norns and the suffering of Odin. You can call upon them wherever you are, and the next chapter will explain their special uses for pathwalking.