High Magic

Unveil the secrets of the arcane

LORE

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If there is much variation about what the practice of magic looks and feels like, there is a familiar picture that comes to mind when arcane and wizardry are mentioned.

The wizened old scholar, buried in tomes of arcane knowledge, slouched over a sea of secret formulas and crumbling parchments, might be the most iconic representation of a magic user. Yet, far from a fantasy trope, the magical tradition embodied by this archetype finds its roots in history, when esoterism met with the nascent scientific tradition, giving rise to an influential doctrine called Hermeticism.

Resurging by the end of the Middle Ages, Hermeticism emerged in Antiquity but became prevalent from the 14th to the 17th century. It was marked by a belief in universal laws that encompassed both the material and the spiritual world and often saw itself at the crossroad between faith and pure rationality. In the Hermetic tradition, nature was investigated through observations, experiments, and illuminations. The purpose was to discover the invisible, find the hidden links that ruled reality, and use that knowledge to alter reality.

This practical approach to esoterism was tightly interwoven with the emergence of science, with numerous early scientists being influenced by this philosophy and adding to it in return. While not fully accepted by the Church or reformed Christian faiths, Hermeticism enjoyed privileged treatments compared to other forms of esoteric pursuits, being considered respectable ‘’High magic’’ and thus untainted by the profane aspects associated with witchcraft and paganism. Still, many of its practitioners relied on discretion and formed secret orders to protect their research and their knowledge.

The magical practice of Hermeticism was centered around alchemy, astrology, and theurgy, and involved transmutation, medicine, a study of the sun and stars, and conjuration of divine and elemental spirits. This form of magic was highly methodical and required significant studies as well as experimentation to create complex rituals and formulas.

Characters

The scholarly aspects of high magic and the intricacies of its practice are closely related to the typical profile of its practitioners. This form of esoterism was mostly present into wealthy and aristocratic circles, among noble and wealthy intellectuals of the time. In fantasy, this relationship between high magic and the elite translates in the arcane being often the domain of upper-class individuals or at least perceived to be a superior, more refined form of magic.

In LARP, a wizard, ritualist, or any well-schooled arcanist might look down on hedge witches, sorcerers, and lowly occultists as vulgar and amateurish mystics whose mastery of magic is tainted by backward rites and common superstitions.

They may be frustrated and even worried by the lack of a method from less academic types of magic users, deeming their practice reckless and shadowy. This elitist attitude can even affect their relationship with non-magic users, making them perceive most of the populace as ignorant imbeciles that have no clue about the true nature of the world. Some may even decide to get involved as advisors for nobles and important political figures, selling their expertise for wealth and influence.

Of course, being part of the magical elite doesn’t require being condescending or flirting with the high circles of power. The more open acceptance of high magic also provides wizards and scholars with the possibility of dedicating themselves to research, and to try to use their magic for the common good.

A more benevolent side to these characters could follow the archetype of the dedicated researcher, the humble apprentice, or the eccentric erudite. No other form of magic is allowed as much freedom and as many means as high magic or is more likely to be supported by strong institutions. After all, magical schools and apprenticeships are intrinsically related to high magic, which may mean for a character that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

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Costumes

In LARP, arcanists, wizards, and other high magic users are identified by their characteristic outfits, which more often than not include robes, cloaks, hoods, and long flowing coats inspired by academic gowns and togas. Various accessories are also closely related to this form of magic: tomes, grimoires, scrolls, potions and runes being the most typical. Of course, eccentric hats are famous as well, with the wide pointy wizard hats being only one of many options for high magic practitioners.

The idea with this kind of outfit is mostly about making it known and visible to all that this character is well learned in the arcanes. These costumes are displays of skill and expertise, almost status symbols. This is why more is often better when gearing up a wizard or alchemist. Runic symbols added to clothes, rows of magic scrolls, countless talismans, formulas, and potions stacked on their body. Practicality isn’t as important for those scholars and highly learned individuals. In the same idea, bright colors shouldn’t be dismissed without consideration, as they can be used to create a more vibrant and impressive costume.

If they happen to get close to the action, these characters are working on compromises and may try to find ways to combine battle gear with magic. A staff is more than a defensive weapon; it’s also a catalyst for spellcasting and rituals. A sword or dagger might be engraved with runes or made of magical materials. Armor, if worn, might display arcane texts and runes of power.