Today, I'm very pleased to have fantasy author James L. Wilbur here to share his ideas about the image of magic portrayed in books and other media. Please check out his wonderful series, My Babylon. Find out how to get book one of his series for free--info at the bottom of this post!
How magick is portrayed in books and other media
by James L. Wilber
You’ve probably seen magick spelled with a K before and wondered, why do some people do that? Whether they know it or not, that spelling comes from a man named Aleister Crowley, who is beyond a doubt one of the most influential figures in modern magick. I mean real magick. The kind people practice right now, all over the world. Crowley, who was a contemporary of Houdini, spelled it with a K to differentiate the kind of magick he was doing from what stage illusionists do. Crowley may have been ahead of his time, as you get a different result if you Google magick vs. magic.
For me, the change in spelling has come to mean the difference between the real magick that I perform as a ceremonial magician, and magic as it is often portrayed in fantasy. The kind with wizards shooting fireballs and lighting from their fingertips. I write about both. In fact, one of my upcoming books, Chasing the Wyrm, is about a wizard who works as a spy for the US government. That’s all magic without the K. The most common type you see when you read a fantasy novel.
My current book, however, draws from my experience with the real deal. My Babylon is a fantasy, and fantastic things happen, but the magick and how it’s portrayed comes from actual occult practices. Something rarely seen in fiction. Which is a shame, because the source material lends so layers of depth to the story.
The characters in My Babylon use magick as a part of their daily lives. If you research real magick, you learn why wizards are always reading. You learn why magicians must constantly meditate and hone their craft. Magick is not just a tool, it’s a state of being. It colors the wizard’s actions outside of magick as well. You realize that magicians have a completely different worldview, because they truly believe that anything is possible.
Dig further, and you’ll see that magick is almost always tied to religion. Magicians create and call upon vast and varied cosmologies full of demons, angels, gods, and spirits, all of which makes great source material. Why create a fantasy realm from nothing when there’s so much real-world inspiration?
So often in fiction, the actual process gets glossed over. The magician points their wand, says a few words, and stuff happens. Real magick involves ritual, and a good ritual always involves drama. Most magical rituals are designed to be show. As Joseph Campbell says, in essence, a ritual is the reenactment of myth. Why not have that as part of the story?
A writer should be careful, though. Since magick is so closely tied to religion and people’s deeply held beliefs, using that material in a frivolous manner can be offensive. I have a thick skin, and don’t get upset over the pop-culture depictions of Wicca. (Though having Thor and Loki as brothers in the Avengers movie kinda cheesed me off.) Writers and readers should remember that these are real beliefs that many people hold dear. Writers, do your research and actually talk to someone who practices the faith you’re trying to portray. In fact, talk to more than one, because just like mainstream religions, the followers don’t always agree. Readers, don’t think you’re an expert on a faith just because you read a novel where one of the characters was a witch.
Pitfalls aside, I do believe everyone could benefit from exploring some real magick.
James L. Wilber describes himself as Anne Rice and Chuck Palahniuk's bastard love child. He's a pretentious prick who claims to pen "literary genre fiction." Which means he writes smarmy stories about wizards and vampires, doing a poor job at hiding his symbolism and metaphor. He's turned to self-publishing on the correct assumption his stories are just too weird for mass consumption.
My Babylon, a novel about the paranormal and dark desires, is the story of a cursed young man who has an intimate view of the Apocalypse. My Babylon weaves elements of urban fantasy, erotic horror, and real-world occult practices to form a unique personal tale that thrills, terrifies, and even enlightens.
You can get a free copy of Book One: Body, and other examples of the author’s work by signing up for the mailing list at jameslwilber.com.
The complete edition, containing all five novellas, is now available at Amazon both on Kindle and in print.