The scholar, the mage and the cloister

Oct 03 2021

I’ve been pretty busy and I have many tasks that I inadvertendly collect. A strand of white hair sprouts from my head.

What I’ve been up to:

Chasing the newRemembering the old
Bootstrapping “DocOps” / “ContentOps” at workTruly participate in writing groups to see if I fit
Documenting open source projectsSeveral short stories need revision and feedback before I can ship them around for submissions
Jotting down ideas for stories and literary study techniquesBackburner novella is starting to become a novel because of old-timey-wimey research articles I keep finding

Anyway, this post is dedicated to research rabbit-holes! One goal I have is to recreate what it would be like to live in a pre-industrial world, and there’s a lot of neat knowledge like the Sushruta Samhita medical compendium. The cloister is the gateway, the scholar is the job, and the mage is the goalpost.

Life at the cloister #

Monks have a boring life, you say?

Attract pilgrims, hunt relics, steal holy treasure

The monk who brought her relics to Conques, a French commune, went undercover for ten years at the Agen monastery there, before seizing the chance to make off with St. Foy’s skull.

Asylum Patient’s Ramblings

My Fulbourn star, but an instant seen, like a meteor’s flash, a blank when gone. The dust of ages covering my little sanctum parlour room, the available drapery to greet the Doctor, stowed away through the midst of the regenerating (water and scrubbing - cleanliness next to godliness, political and spiritual) cleansing of a little world. The Great Physician walked, bedimmed by the ‘dark ages’ the long passage of Western Enterprise, leading to the curvatures of rising Eastern morn. The rounded configuration of Lunar (tics) garden’s lives an o’ershadowment on Britannia’s vortex…

Scholarly Studies #

What did ancient scholars do? What are we studying? How to treat distraction, and a study tip: Pique Fantasy

Part of monastic education involved learning how to form cartoonish cognitive figures, to help sharpen one’s mnemonic and meditative skills. The mind loves stimuli such as colour, gore, sex, violence, noise and wild gesticulations. The challenge was to accept its delights and preferences, in order to take advantage of them.

I teach medieval cognitive techniques to college freshmen, and this last one is by far their favourite. Constructing complex mental apparatuses gives them a way to organise – and, in the process, analyse – material they need to learn for other classes.

Exotic Herbalism: discover life-sucking plants, walking trees, dancing leaves

For instance, medicinal plants are used without anybody asking why it is that they synthesize precious, valuable molecules in the first place.

Animal Philosophy, or, wrestling with death and mortality

Humans have long thought of themselves as the only animal with a notion of mortality.

Magia Sophia #

Forget fantasy magic systems, let’s consider what is the essence of magic. Is it a mystical force that courses through your veins and makes you do weird things? Unexplicably supernatural yet real? If knowledge is the basis of magic, does magic come from knowing too much, or knowing too little?

Modern Druidism, a reckoning of spirituality

There is a real American optimism buried in this: that if we show up ready to try, something in the universe will respond positively to us. That we can deal with it, negotiate our futures: a bit of chocolate for your blessings, a dram of rye for your luck.

When it doesn’t work, it looks like cheap theater. But when it does, something inside turns like a combination lock until it clicks, and then slides open. After all, there is nothing like watching the world respond to you.

The Immortal Count St. Germain

The Count of St Germain also spoke of other historical celebrities such as Cleopatra and Henry VIII and as if he had known them personally. Whenever sceptical historians would try to trip the Count up by questioning him about trivial historical details that were not widely known, the Count would always reply with astonishing accuracy, leaving the questioner quite perplexed.

The Count is certainly well-educated, enough to the point that regardless if people believe he is truly immortal or not, he can convince others that he’s magical. It would be better to be an intelligent mortal than an immortal with dementia.

(I uploaded the site to Outline because I’m paranoid that the original source is going to die off)

What is magic? #

Is magic a knowledge gap? In RPG terms, mages have to have higher “intelligence” or “wisdom,” and maybe a dash of “will” compared to the average population. But prayers and magic are not limited to geniuses. Warriors and ninjas make the signs with their hands, ask for protection from the gods, and foray into danger. Eastern fantasy has a more nuanced approach to magic, where mental and physical health are both important. Hence, instead of casting mages as frail nerds that only know how to study (although this trend is probably due to authorial wish-fulfillment) the wuxia and xianxia martial fantasy shows people who oppose fate by tooth-and-nail.

Regardless of culture, intelligence is largely judged based on social class. Have you ever met an intelligent peasant? Yes, there are people who drop out of high school. Yes, there are immature atheists who imagine that only nimwits would follow religion. Brain damage limits cognitive capabilities, and retards born from incestuous relationships exist.

A democratic type of magic would be interesting, and the closest label for it is “progression fantasy.” I think we can all appreciate an underdog who tries to improve themselves. Regardless of the cards that were dealt, or the Sisyphian barriers stacked against them, or the numerous failures and struggles, success feels like magic. Bird brains can soar.


Photo from Beaford Archive