Would it be bad to research real life magical systems for ficiton?

Now magic in fiction sometimes seems predictable in it’s execution and rigid b/c their’s certain cliches it follows.For example brewing potions,alchemy,doing certain dances,using hallucegenic plants or fungi,saying certain words and making certain patterned drawings and such.These doings though are sometimes based on apparently historical real life stuff.Furthermore such things are still practised today but obviously it’s WAAAAAYYYYY less common and it’s not considered fantasy but at times when you know the stuff (like using hallucegenic plants or fungi and apparently seeing visions after) cant be explained it’s occult and arguably…paranormal.

That has made me think if I were to write a fictional story esp.a historical one would it be okay to look into mystical systems?.Most of all if I were to do it I’d mainly be intent on finding out more so about the reasons and the items used for such things but not really so much the actual doing (which I’ll admit sounds sorta unnerves me).

I’m going to list some of the things that sterotypically come to mind when you think about magic in certain regions of the world.I know that some of these things sort of overlap at times.

-When you think of magic users in the Americas,Africa and the Oceanic region it’s shamans and “witch doctors” who are practising some aspect of their particular sort of animism

-When it comes to thinking about magic in a lot of Asian regions it’s reclusive mystics who might ground their magic practise on some very obscure aspect of an Asian religion.

-Now when it comes to Europe esp. after the collapse of the Roman empire…well from what I can say European lore on witches sees them in a negative light doesn’t it?.Stuff like Hermeticism and Theosophy doesn’t isn’t cast in a much better light now is it?.

It seems that if I look into the kinds from the first two points their debatably the most “innocous” of the bunch.It’s looking into the European stuff (which I’m well aware there’s lots of historical and religious reasons for being disdained) that makes me wonder whether it’s okay to look into these things for an accurate historical fiction.

Dang it! I wanna answer right now but don’t have enough time.
That and I’m not sure how much of my own personal works I must divulge here just to answer.

But first off, you chose some very interesting examples that I also like using in fantasy. Animism, shamanism are actually different in terms of depictions when compared to the more mainstream forms.

I’ll elaborate more later as I still have work to do. Two points I’d like to state now though:

  1. Shamanism, druidism, voodoo etc, are more tuned with manipulating spirits and are at times primitive because their catalysts and tools are a bit more on the raw side (e.g. ground herbs, manipulating plants, animal empathy etc). Popular wizardry on the other hand is highly more scientific. Mages dwell more in secluded castles or prestigious academies similar to the scientists of our world.

  2. Despite that, magic in fiction will always be more fantastic and accessible compared to the reality of the occult. It’s the difference that people need to keep in mind when discussing this subject.

Why? Jack Vance and Gary Gygax gave us a perfectly usable magic system:

Memorize x number of spells at sunrise, cast 'em all at thine enemies (or friends, if you’re a cleric :highprayer: :D) forget 'em as you cast 'em, memorize again at sunrise :stuck_out_tongue:

Well, I now got a little more free time so here’s a short answer and a long answer:

Short answer: No. Researching real-life ‘magic’ for fiction isn’t sinful.

Long Answer: You’re just looking up the lore and fictionalizing it. That it in of itself does away with anything that makes it occult. The rationale of the Church’s condemnation on the occult is the First commandment. We are not to have any other supernatural recourse but God. We don’t call to ‘spirits’ or other gods. We are to worship one God and that One God alone.

When you’re fictionalizing the lore of ‘real magic’ for fantasy, that does away with anything involved in that kind of worship. For example, Dante borrowed heavily from Greek and Roman myth but that doesn’t make him a pagan worshiper. He’s not worshiping anything. He’s just taking the elements of myth and incorporating it into his own work.

Regarding the different kinds of magic, the difference between fictionalized elements and the real occult only get sharper. This is because different ‘styles’ of magic in fictional settings have their own way of being different from the supposed ‘real-life’ counterparts.

Let’s use your examples:


In reality - It’s a complex, destabilized belief system. Different tribes have different takes on myth. Rituals can be just as diverse. That’s even assuming they managed to preserve their traditions for a long time. My professor studies these cultures in respect to our country. Even today, he and other researchers struggle with uncovering what little material we can gather on pre-colonial folkore. I would assume a similar situation faces other tribal, pre-colonial forms of shamanism (voodoo as well, if NatGeo and Wikipedia are any indication).

In fantasy - Shamanism in fantasy is usually characterized by its primitive and tribal aesthetics. Animal skins, bones, raw catalysts like plucked berries and ground herbs. These are all used at some point with the power of shaman-type characters. These same characters also emphasize harmony with nature. As such, it’s not surprising to see some of them possessing strong affinities with animals. The use of totems are another prominent feature. As for combat behavior, they’re a varied mix of warrior, healer, beastmaster, and spellcaster.

Asian "Magic"

In reality - Correct me if I’m wrong but I’m guessing you’re referring to the fictional depictions of religions like Taoism, Shintoism, and maybe even Buddishm and Hinduism. In case you don’t know, there’s a lot of disparity between the philosophies of these religions (some even have different schools like Buddhism) but are barely really touched by their fantasy counterparts (as far as the magic itself goes).

In fantasy - From my experience, ‘Asian’ is most often Oriental. You have Japanese mikos, Korean ‘shamans’, and Chinese sages. Asides from their distinguishing appearances, they usually use items like beads, paper talismans, staves, and sometimes even the swords of their respective countries. Magic for them is actually not much different from western magic though it does delve into communing with spirits and nature. Gestures tend to be aesthetically different as well (e.g. Japanese hand seals) with different language and symbols. The energy they channel is also different (mostly dubbed qi, ki, or chi with both physical and mental prerequisites to channel properly).

European Magic

In reality - Much like shamanism, things like Wicca and neo-paganism are no more an organized system of beliefs than they were years ago. Although, there is also an equally high fixation with nature worship, environmentalism, spiritism etc. It’s also strange that they use herbs and incense as much as their shamanistic counterparts. Why this is is all strange can be seen in the extremely sharp contrast with fantasy.

In fantasy - Magic IS science and is usually powered by a fictional energy source (mana being a commonly used name). This is perhaps the strongest point of contrast. In popular fantasy, the arcane arts do not require worship but extensive study and mental training. Apprentices and masters alike practice their crafts within the confines of secluded castles or prestigious academies. Wizards are usually depicted as braniacs, familiar with the mechanics behind mystical forces. When compared to shamanism and at times, Asian magic, it makes heavy use of civilized tools (ranging from simple wands and staves to guns and mechanical constructs). It’s like the difference between an organic farmer who likes things all raw and fresh as opposed to a genetic scientist that dabbles in artificial manipulation and advancing technology. Themes between it and science fiction are also quite similar. For example, the powerful nature of magic is discussed in a manner not that different from how real scientists debate over the proper use of dangerous tools like nuclear technology.

gets pizza

Of course you can look into them so that your fiction is accurate. Accuracy in fiction is a good – and sometimes rare, not to mention Dan Brown specifically – thing.

What Lost Wanderer said.

I do that exact thing, and I don’t believe that there is any problem with it. Fiction should reflect reality, and these things are real parts of human history, after all.

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