Good and Evil Magic

an excerpt from

Authentic Thaumaturgy

Copyright © 1979, 1998, 2001 c.e., Isaac Bonewits

Here’s an excerpt from the Second Edition of Authentic Thaumaturgy, my book on magic and religion for players of fantasy games such as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons®, G.U.R.P.S.®, and Magic: The Gathering®, etc. “A.T.” is published by Steve Jackson Games and is available from them, from, or from your local game store.

Thaumaturgical magic is as moral as electricity and as ethical as sociology. While we may fervently hope that scientists, technicians, engineers and researchers will attain and use their knowledge and skills in a way that will benefit us (and which we are thus likely to consider “ethical and moral), we have no way of enforcing our moral and ethical standards upon the laws of physics, genetics, sociology or mathematics. Therefore, each culture decides what it considers appropriate behavior by those who wield these powers, then tries to enforce those boundaries.

The commonest forms of social control for wielders of all kinds of power are religion, spirituality, and philosophy. When its magical power that people are worried about being handled “properly,” theurgical systems of magic are created which build into themselves artificial restraints of a moral and ethical nature. Thus, contrary to a currently popular opinion in some occult circles, “evil” spells do not automatically rebound from an innocent victim back to the caster three times as strong, unless the caster believes they will. That belief may be based on naivete, in that the caster believes whatever he has been taught or has read in books, or it may be based on a deliberate oath or geas (a type of magical restriction) that he has consciously taken upon himself as a spiritual decision, perhaps during an initiation or ordination.

What is true is that a dedication to “Evil For Evils Sake” is a cardinal sign of a psychotic who will eventually slit his own throat through committing some grossly stupid blunder. Similarly, while purity and innocence do not guarantee protection from malevolent magical attack, in some game systems intense religious piety may provide some divine protection.

No psychologically healthy person (or other intelligent critter) engages in activity of any sort without having some idea, however vague, of whether he, his fellows, and/or his society at large would approve or disapprove, that is, would consider his actions good or evil. It is a sad truth that all too many evildoers in history have thought themselves good, and been thought good by others. What one game character may consider an evil act (such as using magic to steal gold from a wealthy man) another character might consider perfectly reasonable and good (if its to feed a starving family, for example). Each game and each group of players will have to make individual decisions about how to define “good” or “evil” - yet another reason why representatives of the Religious Reich are horrified by gaming.

The “Lawful vs. Chaotic” political alignment system invented early by D&D players (probably taken originally from Michael Moorcocks Eternal Champion cycle of fantasy and science fiction stories) is far easier to define. But as players and referees have noticed, considering the “lawful” Nazis and the “chaotic” Robin Hood, these terms cannot be equated with moral ones. But it can be amusing to watch how the real-world political attitudes of players and referees get involved in automatic assumptions about the morality of order and anarchy.

The bottom line about magical motives in gaming, however is this:

“Evil magic is done in pretty much the same ways that good magic is done — only the psychological and spiritual/ethical flavors are different, though these will affect such issues as what sort of spirits will help or hinder the magic as well as reactions by other characters.

But let me close this topic by repeating the Law of Positive Attraction, that “like attracts like.” A dedication to “demonic” pursuits tends to attract “demonic” energies (many of whom are aligned “Hungry) and repeated destructive acts usually wind up attracting destruction (thats why you never meet a genuinely happy and successful diabolist). This is especially true in the psychic realms, where physically weak “victims” may have sneaky and unexpected ways of lashing back at their unwary attackers (unlike most victims of physical violence). Or to put it another way, “those who live by the wand, often die by the wand.

Copyright © 1979, 1998, 2001 c.e., Isaac Bonewits. Unlike his other sharetext postings, this text file may NOT be freely distributed on the Net, since it is part of a book available for purchase from Steve Jackson Games and/or If you would like to be on one or more of Isaac Bonewits’ emailing lists, click here to get subscription information.

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