Magic: How And Where It's Learned

The art of magic has been taught and passed along many ways throughout the ages. It's never been uncommon for rural people to learn a few charms, wards, and divination tricks from older family members. Sometimes one person in a small community might be particularly gifted in magic. People like this tended to become cunning folk, wise women and wise men, healers, or similar. Sometimes one of them would take on an apprentice, a youngster who seemed to have a natural talent for the art, or had whatever characteristics they believed meant you were going to be good at magic. Although folk practices like these were rarely ever written down, in recent times more people have been making an effort to collect and preserve them in text. Some of them can be purchased as books online or in stores that will carry them.

There have also always been those who took a more philosophical approach to magical, believing that it was the key to understanding humanity's place in the universe and making contact with the divine. These ones usually came from more affluent backgrounds and were often more able to get their ideas written down. Because of this, their ideas are among the more well-known out there in magical circles. Indeed, there are many people who consider personal enlightenment to be the only correct way to use magic. Some even believe that to use it otherwise will result in catastrophe in some way - depending on who you ask, it might be anything from dire personal misfortune to throwing the entire universe out of alignment. (Fortunately for the rest of the magical world, there's no actual evidence that it works this way; the consequences to using magic, if anything, tend to be more of a straightforward cause and effect kind of thing - if you go around casting malicious spells on people, then it's probably only a matter of time before they get tired of it and do something to you to make you stop.) The books written by these assorted philosophical types over the ages are often easy to find on the Internet (many of them are in the public domain). That said, not all of them are of much use to more practical-minded mages - quite a lot of them are more than a bit moralizing, or place heavy emphasis on complex rituals, or simply don't contain much of anything that's very useful in one's daily life.

Since around the mid 90's, some magic practitioners have maintained online communities and educational websites. Because fewer people used the Internet at the time, and because magic was largely considered dangerous or fake (thanks in part to government efforts in the 1950s to dissuade people from getting into it), these sites attracted few visitors, and many who did find them dismissed everything on them as being the product of bored or delusional minds. Still, a few grew interested enough to try it, and over the years the magical community slowly grew. More and more mages added their own knowledge to the Internet as web hosting and blog services became more available, and today it isn't difficult at all to find informational sites.

Actual schools dedicated to magic have been fairly rare throughout history. Those that did exist were usually heavily philosophical in nature; magic was not taught for its own sake, but rather as a means to a loftier end. These schools were usually small (a dozen to thirty members was fairly commonplace in 18th century Europe, for example), and education usually took place in some unofficial location such as someone's home, someplace outdoors, or even a public venue. Education by correspondence also happened, when and where it was possible. Students were usually educated middle to upper class adults with plenty of free time on their hands. How openly the schools operated depended; some were quite upfront and open (particularly in more ideologically-tolerant societies), while others were highly secretive.

Throughout history only a few people decided to practice magic for its own sake, and these people tended to be offbeat eccentrics who didn't get on well with others. Occasionally some of them took on apprentices, and a few wrote books on what they discovered. However, these types rarely had any inclination to start any actual schools, and very often their solitary and abrasive natures made them targets of suspicion and gossip. It wasn't uncommon for these types to face trouble with authorities, or to have their works burned. And sometimes these offbeat mages got together to form loose-knit groups or even just to swap notes, and some taught their skills to their children. (Of course, not all of their children had the patience or inclination to learn magic.)

Magical healing techniques were often taught for years in conjunction with other medical techniques and practices, but these fell out of favor simply because non-magical techniques ended up being more reliable. There were numerous reasons for this: for example, not everyone was gifted to be a healer, few physicians practiced magic regularly enough to become proficient at healing magic even if they were gifted in it, and many exercises and techniques that would supposedly strengthen one's magical ability (such as running around a hill until exhausted under the light of the full moon) weren't actually helpful. Over time, many came to regard healing magic altogether as nothing more than superstition.

The early 20th century saw a rise in the study of magic for its own sake. With the scientific method becoming more commonplace than ever, a few mages around the world decided to apply its principles to their own practices. One notable figure was Alameda Crane. Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1901, Crane was the daughter of a chemist father and a mother who practiced magical arts handed down through her family for generations. Crane learned all about the scientific method and how it was used to test and refine knowledge while her mother taught her how to be a mage. As a teenage girl, Alameda couldn't help but think that it would only be correct to apply it to everything her mother had ever learned. Did you have to use this exact herb? What would happened if you tried to read the future with different types of cards? Would it make a difference? What kind of magical uses did the new alloys of the 20th century have? Young Alameda began to experiment and take meticulous notes. As an adult, she reached out to other individuals who were interested or could be convinced to take a more empirical approach to magic. It was just a small group at first - people who were interested in magic were few in number, and those who were ready and willing to test the knowledge they had been told by others were fewer.

Crane was 28 years old when she published her first book, which detailed some of her experiments and findings. This helped to get more people interested in her methods, and at the age of 32 Crane founded the Modern Society of Magical Research and published her first book, A Simple Theory of Magic. The book describes various meditation techniques, a few simple divination techniques, and includes an introduction to the scientific method. It also explains the art of sensing and manipulating aetheric currents through focus and willpower, and explains how aetheric manipulation can be used for such things as enchanting objects to bring good luck or similar, speeding up healing, driving out or repelling unwanted entities, resisting malicious magic, or even manipulating the elements. Although some consider the book to be out of date today, many people still recommend it to beginners.

Alameda Crane and other members of the Modern Society of Magical Research conducted seminars over the years, teaching their techniques and methods to anyone who'd come to listen. Many who learned Crane's methods adapted them to their own personal philosophies and styles. Some even improved upon Crane's techniques. Some eventually wrote their own books or taught others what they knew, usually out of their homes or in some public or open area.

Unfortunately, some who learned from the Modern Society of Magical Research didn't exactly have the best or noblest intentions in mind. In 1951, a 22-year-old woman named Anne Wareham wrote a book titled Dreams in the Lighttime: The Dawn of The Universal Mystic. It was comprised of watered-down versions of Crane's techniques, romantic pseudohistory, and starry-eyed promises of world-bending mystical powers to those who followed the book's instructions. She claimed that she had channeled all of this from aliens and other sundry spirits. Wareham was aggressive in marketing her book, and she held classes and seminars in several states including New York, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Arizona, and California. She gained a following of several hundred people who were so enamored with her fabulous claims that they couldn't bring themselves to question why none of her methods ever worked that well, let alone delivered the amazing results they'd been promised. (Indeed, many of them simply created justifications for their failures - perhaps they hadn't been trying hard enough, or maybe there was something in the water that was interfering with their abilities, or maybe there were evil mages at work to keep their powers suppressed - and so on and so forth.)

Around this time, certain people in the US government grew concerned that a rising interest in magic would be a detriment to society. Some believed that it would draw people away from wholesome, productive lives and get them tangled up with diabolical forces; others simply believed it was a waste of time. Assorted people were commissioned to write materials decrying magic and magical practices. One such individual, Eric Gallagher, interviewed Wareham and some of her followers. When none of them were able to produce any visible results, he used this as evidence that magic simply did not work. In his book, he opined that Wareham was most likely deluding herself about her contact with aliens and spirits, and if not, they were certainly some kind of unholy entities.

This of course did not dissuade Wareham and her followers at all. Wareham claimed that the government was sending agents to discredit them in order to prevent them from bringing about the next age of humanity, where all oppressive systems would be destroyed and peace would reign forevermore. This made the members even more determined to stay loyal. At this point, Wareham came up with a name for the group: the Luminarian Institute. The group has persevered until the present day, and many mages can assure you that their techniques are just as watered down as they've always been, and their promises of bring able to bring about a glorious new age are as empty as ever. In 2008, 44-year-old David Tompkins of took over as head of the group. Tompkins has authored several mystical and semi-mystical self-help books that have reached moderate popularity, but many who have known him closely describe him as very controlling and egomaniacal. The Luminarian Institute has its headquarters in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It mainly publishes books, though occasionally it hosts retreats where anyone who's willing to pay the costly attendance fee can attend classes and seminars.

In 1987, elf mage Thomas Zheng founded his own school, the Oak Friends Magic School, in an old country house near Roseleaf, New York. Zheng's school emphasized a naturalistic, Earth-friendly philosophy, with focus on using natural and local items, and on spells that aided in becoming more self-sufficient and in dealing with ecological damage. Thomas Zheng retired in 2013, and his then-41-year-old daughter Tamara took over his position. The school rarely teaches more than a dozen students at a time. Former students usually report that they are quite happy with the education they received there, and many enjoy that lessons are often held out in the large back yard when the weather permits.

In 2016, 55-year-old Theodore Stroud took over as head of the Modern Society of Magical Research. The organization continues to publish books and hold seminars, though they are not nearly as expensive as the Luminarian Society's retreats and are usually far more useful. Their headquarters are located in Bloomington, Indiana.

These are, of course, only a small sampling of the assorted magical schools out there. There are plenty of others located throughout the US, and indeed the whole world. The quality of what they teach varies, as do their philosophies and techniques. Exactly what they teach and how they teach it will often be influenced by their own cultural beliefs and practices.

Sometimes magic isn't learned in schools. In some places the knowledge might be passed from older practitioners to younger ones. Sometimes a mage might choose to take a single apprentice (perhaps in exchange for regular mundane help, or even money). Someone might choose to teach a few students from home, or arrange classes in an available local area.

Finally, it must also be noted that large formal schools and universities dedicated solely to magic do not exist. There are plenty of reasons for this, including such establishments being beyond the financial ability of most mages, relatively low public interest in magic, and the simple fact that the basic theories of magic are all fairly simple and don't take especially long to learn. Furthermore, few people make a business of teaching children; few parents are willing to sign them up for classes, plus they tend to lack the necessary focus and patience to practice magic effectively. Thus, attending a magical school is completely unlike attending Hogwarts and often quite a bit like taking weekend cooking classes.

Related SoulMettle content:

Magic: An Overview
Magical Tricks & Disciplines Of Note
Techniques & Tools Of Magic

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