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.

Making MagicRealer”

The average player of fantasy games is swamped and sometimes bewildered by different games, supplements, magazines, and other publications, many of which claim to be The Best Way to Play™. Some may feel that the last thing they need is another writer telling them how to play their own games, and may wonder why they should take my word over anyone else’s. The first answer I can give to this is that I am a professional in the magic field. I have spent many years doing research, writing books (the best known of which is my first, Real Magic, still in print from Samuel Weiser Publications) and articles, giving lectures and running classes in minority belief systems, including magic, Witchcraft, Druidism, psychism, Voodoo, etc.

I was originally asked by a game publisher (Chaosium) to write this book on how players of fantasy games could improve the realism of their magical characters. Several well known GMs in the San Francisco Bay Area went over the manuscript before its first edition, including Clint Bigglestone, Dave Hargraves, Carole Rode, and of course, Chaosium founder Greg Stafford. The tables and formulas were originally constructed with the help of professional mathematician, game player, and friend Larry Press.

Additional editing and updating was suggested by the staff of Steve Jackson Games before this current edition was printed (though I am solely responsible for any shortcomings the book may now have) and my sincere thanks go out to all of them. Despite the many improvements that have been made in game magic systems since Authentic Thaumaturgy or “AT” was first published, the folks at Steve Jackson Games concur that there is still a need for accurate books about “Magic in Theory and Practice” (so-to-speak), written for gamers, especially the players of the older games and designers of new ones.

Because many players are still using a simplistic approach to magic, they are missing a great deal of what their characters would consider the real fun of spell casting, which is in the use of tiny amounts of psychic energy to produce large and complex results.

The whole artistic and intellectual joy of magic is in the subtlety of it all, and in the occasional need for instantaneous rational and/or intuitive judgements about life and death situations. All this is missing, and so is the simulation accuracy, when a magical wand becomes just another sort of laser pistol.

The whole purpose of the book you hold in your hand is to get people thinking about subtlety and creativity in game magic. By understanding the nature of psychic powers and magical techniques as they appear to operate in this universe, as well as the psychological rules by which magicians operate, the true relationships between “magic” and “religion,” the limitations of magicians and of spirits, proper technical terms for different kinds of magic users, etc., you will be ready to play any of the currently popular fantasy games with far more realism than before. This will be true whether you wind up “believing” in magic or not, and whether you decide to adopt any of my suggestions or not, because after reading AT you will know how the overwhelming majority of real magicians here on planet Earth think and behave. After all, if players and referees can learn how to fight with real swords and shields, in order to play their warrior characters more realistically, there is no sane reason why players of magic-using characters shouldn’t learn how it is that real magicians do Real Magic.


“Will it Ruin My Games?”

Because I’m an occultist and not a game designer, it’s possible that some of my suggestions may be difficult to work into your favorite game in a playable fashion without drastic changes. So I want to emphasize that I do not have the One True Right and Only Way. Perhaps one of the reasons that Steve Jackson Games decided to publish this new edition of AT is that, like GURPS (the Generic Universal Role-Playing System), it’s designed to be as compatible as possible with many different games, by suggesting ways in which people can, if they wish, modify the magic systems they are now using. Readers should feel free to take all, part or none of my suggestions, depending upon how they think the ideas would fit with their game universes. Since the ideas are based firmly on authentic occult theory and practice, however, every suggestion followed will add yet another touch of magical realism to your games.

Using the AT system, realistic magic-using characters will wind up being more powerful in some areas of game activity than before, but also weaker in others. This should keep the balance of the games intact.


Some Fair Warnings

Details about certain earthy aspects of magical theory and practice have been deliberately omitted from this work. Adults should have no trouble extrapolating appropriate spells and rituals for your characters to perform.

There are now hundreds of fantasy games on the market — so it’s been impossible to keep up with all the changes in fantasy gaming. If you agree with my suggestions and comments, then see if they can be applied to your favorite game, whether I mention it or not.

This book is not a full introduction to magic and readers should not attempt to do real world magic based only upon these pages and the rules of whatever game you regularly play.

You should especially avoid attempting to perform summonings or worship rituals of any sort unless you are absolutely sure that the entities you are attempting to contact (a) are friendly, and (b) are forgiving of amateurs! Contrary to opinions in some quarters, genuinely nasty spirits are rare, but ones with weird senses of humor are fairly common!

Preparation for such ceremonies should include a great deal of research (about such rituals in general and your chosen entities in particular) and a consultation with your rabbi, pastor, guru, minister, swami, priest, or priestess. Speaking of which…


Dungeons & Demons?

That section title, of course, will scare the “devil” out of a lot of right-wing parents and busybodies who’ve been pumped up by a swarm of books, pamphlets, and sermons claiming that fantasy games are a tool of the Forces of Evil™. Little Johnny or Suzy plays Dungeons & Dragons, GURPS Mage, or Magic: The Gathering for a few weeks, gets a few non-fundamentalist ideas about the nature of magic and religion, and in a couple of weeks the kid naturally starts invoking real demons, going to orgies at the referee’s house, and sacrificing babies to Satan! Of course, the purveyors of this nonsense are the same folks who claim that the entire entertainment industry, the F.B.I., the C.I.A., the United Nations, and the leaders of major (competing) churches, are all secretly led by an International Conspiracy of Hippie Commie Prevert Devil-Worshippers who just happen to also be billionaire international bankers with Jewish-sounding names.

Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that the fascists, jerks and psychopaths who actually populate the subculture of modern Satanism are a tiny bunch of losers who can’t organize their way out of a wet paper bag, let alone run a world government. Instead, let’s look at the people preaching so vigorously against fantasy games:

These are the same hardcore members of the Religious Reich who also oppose the teaching in public schools of evolution, cosmology, astronomy, geology, sexual hygeine and AIDS awareness. They try to suppress rock and roll, MTV, meditation, yoga, martial arts, homes for battered wives and public anti-child abuse campaigns. They actively advocate discrimination against Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, Neopagans, Santerians, Native American religionists, and members of every other non-monotheistic religion on the planet (and several competing faiths that are monotheist). In short, they oppose every concept that might disagree with their narrow-minded religious, economic, sexual and political agendas.

Obviously, a hobby that teaches young people how “reality” is a socially constructed concept, that many people have had different religious and magical ideas over the millenia, that one faith’s demons are another faith’s deities, and that anyone can easily invent their own religion (complete with “infallible” scriptures), is going to be a direct threat to wealthy and powerful men who would rather not let such “dangerous” knowledge spread. At this point, trying to scare the kids off with demonic boogeymen is the pathetic best they can do.

In fact, the first edition of AT received a “review” of sorts from Bob Larson, a third-rate radio evangelist, in his 1989 magnum opiate, Satanism: The Seduction of America’s Youth:

“Isaac Bonewits, a well-known practicing Witch, considers Dungeons & Dragons such a good instructional mechanism to Paganism that he has written a book showing players how to move from D&D into real sorcery. His special manual on demons describes the appearance and power of evil entities with accompanying sketches.”

Obviously, his knowledge of AT was second or third hand, since one of the points I repeatedly made then was that the original version of D&D was a bad source of information about the occult and that a study of real occultism (or, dare I say it, Real Magic?) could only improve the absurd magic rules then in widespread use. He deliberately reversed the whole point of this book, which is to move from “real sorcery” to better gaming. His description of AT as a “special manual on demons” can only have been based on the deliberately silly cartoons that filled the first edition (the “accompanying sketches”) rather than any in-depth theological analysis. But then, theological depth is not what we should expect from hysteria mongers and professional witchhunters.

So I’ll have to assume that newly printed copies of this edition of AT, along with boxes of AD&D, decks of MTG, and books of GURPS and Storyteller rules, will continue to be denounced and burned on fundamentalist church steps. The preachers’ kids and their friends will, of course, continue to read and play fantasy games whenever their parents aren’t looking. Perhaps when enough young people have learned the tolerance, flexibility and creativity that becoming good game players requires, the Greyfaces who’ve built their empires of anger, hatred and fear, will finally fall — and the real Illuminati will be able to rejoice!


~ Isaac Bonewits

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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