The Unthinkable: Magic in the Far East

The land of silk exists. Ptolemy knew about it. Alexander knew. There's a sourcebook for Persia coming out, and it pretty much borders. Let's talk about it.

India, IMO, folds in neatly because of its shared Indo-European heritage. Except instead of Aesir and Vanir, Olympian and Titan, we have Asura and Deva. Interestingly, in India, the Devas (masters of natural forces, magic realm) are more respected than the Asura (masters of human dealings, fairy realm). There's an entire saga in that disjunct alone.

Buddhism is nominally monist, and The Church (the sourcebook, that is) lumps monistic mysticism with the Divine. Zen/Chan Buddhism is definitely monist, and is already an old religion by 1220 (although calling anything paradigm this far away from Europe is rather silly.) However, other branches of Buddhism have significant syncretism with Hinduism, and there's always Greco-Buddhism to consider (which has been brought up before), so fairy and magic Buddhists seem plausible too.

Shinto has a Realm War parallel in that Susano-wo ruled the earth for generations, before being pushed aside by Amaterasu. Assigning Magic to Susano-wo and Fairy to Amaterasu would be in keeping with 5th edition's cosmogony. Or reverse the assignment if you want to align them more with India.

Taoism is monist/divine again, but geomancy/feng shui seems to be magic, based as it is on an indifferent topography. Chinese folk deities are mostly fairy, as the celestial bureaucracy couldn't be more human-mimicking. I haven't the foggiest what to make of Confucianism, it's the most mundane "religion" I've ever seen, in more ways than one.

And to be honest, that's where the fun runs out for me, because there are no more parallels to draw. We could talk about what kind of powers they have and such but then it's no longer Ars Magica. I mean, they don't recognize Air as an element, and they think metal isn't Earth. Savages. (and yes, I'm purposely misinterpreting the five elements)

Because it isnt really a religion, so not really surprising.

Well, that depends on where you ask really.
The buddists that influenced the origin of ninjas used the 5 elements of earth, air, fire, water and void/all.
The classic 4 element version is also around(but i dont know where my books on the subject is right now so cant tell you what areas) even if its not dominant.
Where the Air element doesnt exist, its mostly replaced or made irrelevant by Heaven or Thunder.
And its not so much that "metal isnt earth", its that earth sometimes is split into Mountain and Metal, and as with Air its more a thing about aspect variation.
(im not sure if my above element translations are valid in English, but hopefully)

I´m not sure i agree there. Its rather more focused away from deiism so magic realm more likely.

With Susanoo and Amaterasu being siblings(together with Tsukuyomi, the moon god, parents being Izanagi and Izanami) i think it would be a bit odd having them be different realms?

No taboo that i know of, more a subject of "that´s so darn hard to figure out that we dont really want to try mess with it" or variations on similar thoughts that authors have expressed when its been brough up.

Someone(one of the authors) also said something about classic far east magic tended to be so heavily tied to spirits and deities that it got problematic for that sake alone. While i dont really agree with that, i can see how it can get hard to mesh with standard RAW in many cases.

Very true. However, they have rites and ceremonies, which are believed to perfect human nature and create harmony in the state. So, in paradigm, they do. That means they're aligned with a Realm, since supernatural effects don't arise from the mundane alone. Given their focus on perfection, however, I'm now leaning "Magic."

Can you link me to more on this? I'm just finding stuff describing heaven/earth/fire/water/mountain/lake/wind/thunder as a separate set of 8 unrelated to metal/water/wood/fire/earth.

The Tao is in all things, it is one and unknowable. Maybe I'm leaning too hard on the fact that monistic mysticism was acceptably divine in The Church. I'm going to go have a nice cup of coffee and re-read the realms chapter in the main book.

The Olympians were children of the Titans, and they're different realms, so I'm not particularly bothered by it. I have to admit the idea is a shoe horn, the kami should probably be considered independently.

It could be some form of natural philosophy. So no supernatural effects just purely natural effects.

But are the effects really supernatural?

Point taken though and i think i will agree on "Magic".

Not really, im not even sure where the books i have that describes it are so i havent a clue where to find it online.
Some quick online rereading on wiki reminds me though that Air is also sometimes replaced by Wood or by Qi, which isnt really part of the "Elements" at all.
So in the case of those 5 elements, Wood would essentially be the replacement(which does get kinda crazy for game purposes), and then the version where the 5 elements is "earth" while "heaven" is separate.

This gives a decent quickie by region/religion, and since most does include Air, i dont think its a huge problem.

Well, Tao is usually translated as "road" and taoism pretty much means to make an effort to find "your own road" or "your place in the universe".
And taoism, while not exactly heavy on worshipping anything, is clearly polytheistic.
And since its more reverance than worship, while the basics of the "religion" is harmony and perfection, i just cant see how it could be either divine or faery by RAW definitions.
I think you may have mistaken the "one with the universe" as having a connection or similarity with monotheism, which it does not.

Lol, i forgot about that...
Its not how i would play it if it ever came up(and it didnt last time we had player characters running around in east and south Asia) but you may be right about it in relation to RAW.

Truth be told, the four realm conception does not sit well with Confucianism.

It is clearly NOT a religion in the Western sense of the word, but it may be hedging close to the Cult of Sol Invictus.

Confucianism reveres the Way of Heaven, that is, it posits that there is a higher principle (a Supreme Ultimate) according to which the moral and natural worlds function. The purpose of ritual, tradition and custom is to bring one into right accordance with the will of heaven, the tao which runs through all things.

While Konzi's Annalects were purposfully cryptic regarding the possibility of divine beings, he was certainly dissimissive of the idea that this was an important question.

Later Confucian thinkers would be hostile to the notion, particualriy because they wished to contrast themselves from Christianised Confucian thinkers and fom Taoist and Bhuddist "superstitions."

If we are to continue from the game's vantage point that the Abrahamic faiths are right, the Hinduism must be Magic or Faerie realm. I'd prefer to see Bhuddism and Confucianism be Magic, which Bhuddist magic practices being not disimilar to Criamon mysteries. Certainly, this would throw the competition between Christianity and Easter Religions into sharp contrast, as a true battle between realms.

Confucians delved heavily in Astrology, and that should be reflected in their magic.

Yeah, I'm persuaded now that the Tao is magic realm. They seek immortality in this life, and they try to understand the interplay of natural forces in hopes of gaining access to supernatural powers.

Buddhists, OTOH, seek Nirvana, which is a reward that ends your life on earth, and fear damnation to the Naraka, which is corporeal punishment after death for your sins in life. They have a Prophet and scriptures, and form monasteries to retreat from the travails of this world. They value poverty and chastity, and encourage others to seek the right way. They even have a prophecy of a messiah, the Maitreya. If Zoroastrianism makes the cut for the Divine Realm, then Buddhism has to as well.

I tried to research a little on Islam's opinion of Buddhism, since Islam is known to be divine and had the most contact with Buddhism, but the discussion got too real world for me, always a danger when discussing a game based on history.

Vulcano, half the fun for me is that it's difficult to assign values. To be honest your description of Confucius reads to me like something a Hermetic Magus might say, so I'm further inclined to push Confucius into the Magic Realm. The problem with Confucians denigrating Taoist/Buddhist "superstitions" is the same one Mythic Europe has calling religion and/or hermetic magi superstition... the magic works verifiably. The 5th edition response to those kinds of people tends to be to ignore they exist. If it's really that big a component of Confucianism, though, well... I knew Ars Magica wasn't going to fit well into the Far East before I started.

That sounds very good to me.

Buddhism does have a range of spirits attached to it and I think most of them would fall in to the Magic domain. That also fits well with those sects and rituals that emphasis a detached being. However I'll admit my grasp of Buddhism is quite rudimentary and probably a bit rusty. One of my professors in college was a Tendai priest and he was a wonderful teacher, however he showed up right before I graduated and I only managed to take one class of his: Introduction to Japanese history. It was a fun class but taking a 100 level course when you're a senior is a bit odd :slight_smile:

There's defintiely a flavor of Buddhism that's (probably) fairy... an accretion of supernatural entities onto the main foundation, which sounds a lot like the kind of thing fairies would try to do if something (Divine) started pulling their worship away.

I can't believe it, I glossed right over your post the first time through. And that's a good argument, especially since my copy of Art of Academe just arrived and I'm reading about it now.

When we took a shot at this some time ago, we changed the Realm Alignment Table, so that there were Civilised and Wild Auras. A spirit can be aligned ot either. Monkey is an elemental, who becomes a God, who then becomes Buddha Victorious in Strife. He isn't Faerie or Magic, he's just Wild and over time aligns more with Civilised.

If you're implying a progression from magic > fairy > divine, I dunno that I like that. It pushes magi further away from God, which conflicts with both the platonic and aristotelian interpretations of the four realms presented in the main book. Admittedly those interpretations are just interpretations, but I really like them and the wild/civilized thing bruises my ego. Also, God demonstrably detests Magi the least, at -3xaura instead of -4 or -5.

(And I'm starting to come off as taking all this way too seriously. I promise I'm able to distinguish fantasy from reality, it's just I've always enjoyed thinking "in character." Possibly a little too much.)

I believe he's saying this is the progression of this particular being, not that it is an inherent progression in the Domains.

Yes: my point is, in a larger sense, that by trying to force the four Western Realms into a Chinese setting, you are pushing a cosmology that's far less permeable onto the Chinese cosmology, which, in popular folk belief at least, allows creatures to change realms. he Hog Spirit in Monkey, for example, is a guardsman in Heaven, is cast out and becomes whatever you think Chinese demons are, and eventually becomes the collector of food acrifices for all Buddhist temples everywhere. I think you might try to embrace China on its own terms, rather then through Western terms.

Respectfully, Chan is not monist: you are mistaking an upaya (a false thing that is useful because it leads closer to true things) for a statement of doctrine.

Hinduism is far closer to monism than Buddhism (all is Brahma) because Buddhism decries statements of ontoloigcal certainy as wrong, or at least as absurd. Therefore you can't say everything is one, because that means, as they say in Chan, that this means difference and sameness are one. And this is true only in the sense of being something useful to think about, rather than really true. (And in other Buddhist groups, they'd suggest this isn't even upaya: it's just the sort of contradiction you get when you make strong statements about the ultimate nature of things, which are absurd and proper Buddhists should just leave them alone and worry about matters of greater significance. The Buddha disliked this sort of thing, and commanded against it, which matters more in India than China of course.)

Why is it acceptable to force the Greek and Norse Gods into magic and fairy categories, but when considering the Chinese and Indian traditions we must accept them on their own terms?

I will defer to your expertise on Chan. Also, I've given up the notion that monism guarantees Divine aura. However, for the other reasons I stated, I still think if a magus finds his way into a Buddhist monastery, he will take a 3xaura penalty on his rolls, and depending on the state of his conscience, be overwhelmed with feelings of awe and reverence, or guilt and fear.

I have the greatest respect for the current handlers of Ars Magica. They have always been tactful in every supplement, far more tactful than I have the patience or wit to be, as demonstrated by this thread. If I have offended, I apologize, it was never my intention.

Well, for two reasons:

  1. The term "faerie" makes at least some cultural sense in the Norse case, or GReek case, as each were contributing mythologies to our current meaning of the word. This is notthe case with Chinese spirits.
  2. Ars has, generally speaking, avoided telling people with active religions that their gods are less big than the Christian God. Magi kill faeries and suck out their vis, and so the first thing that'll happen if you make Chinese gods faeries is that magi will attempt genocide on them. This is not classy.

Oh, you haven't offended me in the least. I think you've come closer for a model of Eastern magic than any of us have before.

2 is incredibly valid. So valid it makes 1 moot. Maybe you could boilerplate it away the same way I did. "These are the effects. Why, yes, it does look similar to a Divine Aura. Don't take that too seriously." Anyways I've learned a lot from this thread. It changed my mind on Confucianism, Taoism, and monism. Buddhism not so much, but I'd feel incomplete if there weren't something I could be stubborn about.

I think to clarify something, thinking about this is for the possibility of having magi visit the east, not to be able to play a campaign entirely in the East, so my focus is on how western things interact with eastern things. Like I implied, my interest isn't whether Buddhism is truly divine or not, it's how magi feel and interact with a "Buddhist" aura, and making it familiar yet strange seems like more fun than just hand coding new rules for the East. (Actually, that's a good idea. If by some miracle a book like this happens, make sure the foreward says that it's not about playing a game in the East, it's about magi visiting the east. If they want to play a game in the east, maybe they should try Feng Shui? Would that be crass?)

This makes realm drift a feature, not a hindrance, IMO. Magi visit a monastery, the aura feels divine and interacts with their magic as if divine, the monks seem pious but don't talk about God at all, and then they meet monkey... and he has (what their magic tells them is) Fairy Might. (That's his origin, right? Celestial bureaucracy, which I tagged as Fairy?) "OMG we're not in Europe anymore are we?"

With things like Holy Magic, Ars Notoria, and the Natural Magician's ability to invoke the powers, a small amount of realm drift is already possible in the rules as written. Magi hearing legends on the silk road about the East, where creatures their Magic Theory tells them should be Fairy serve a tradition that isn't, might be prompted to go there and see, in the hopes of finding a way to overcome their own limitations in other auras.

I'm interested to see how the new supplement handles the Jinn, who might have similar drift problems, given that they existed before Islam, and were not forced to choose until they received the word of Mohammad, unlike the angels, who made their choice somewhere near creation (I forget the exact timeline). Or maybe I've failed my Jinn lore roll.

Yeah, that wasn't easy... I spent a lot of time on that aspect. Due to NDA I can't discuss further. You will gain some idea of the direction I headed in from my Sub Rosa #2 article.

After the book comes out we can thrash it out further... :slight_smile:

BTW I also wrote the Silk road section so I had to try and address some of the issues you've brought up - please recall Ars is about how people in Mythic Europe perceive things not necessarily how concepts that we understand from a modern or within the specific cultural perspective would fit into the Ars cosmology. China may not even exist in the same sense as discussed here in Mythic Europe but there are legends about Serica that do.

This is why Timothy maintains it would be difficult to do a Mythic China that was faithful to the Tao/Buddhist/Confucian concepts you've discussed using Ars Magica and I agree with him.

That doesn't mean that elements of the east can't make an appearance - if Criamaon magi are anything to go by they already have, eh?


Well it depends, theoretically you would have to check (Realm) Lore for the magical aspects of a particular jinni, alternatively you could make a Theology: Islam (jinn) roll for the metaphysical aspects or theological teaching on the true nature of jinn according to the Qu'ran or you could make a check against Organisation Lore: Jinn if you wanted to comment on the society and culture of a particular tribe of jinn. Confused?

Such is the nature of the jinn.

Your choice :slight_smile:


Or Area Lore for stories about jinn. :slight_smile: