Mark Teppo, Author of Lightbreaker and Heartland, on "The Nature of Magick"
Mark Teppo is an interesting new author whose first two novels in the Codex of Souls, Lightbreaker and Heartland, fall loosely into the category known today as "urban fantasy". It's a type of fiction that came out of supernatural romance but is slowly developing its own identity. Teppo's main character, Markham, starts out searching for Katarina, the girl who, a decade ago, tore his soul from his body. But, as the cover copy reads, "what he discovers upon arriving is dark magick--of a most ancient and destructive kind! An encounter with a desperate spirit, leaping destructively from host to host, sets Markham on the trail of secretive cabal of magicians seeking to punch a hole through heaven, extinguishing forever the divine spark." It's an impressive and unique start, with Heartland continuing in the same dark vein. Many novels that deal with magic do so in a Disneyfied or illogical way. But as this Amazon exclusive short essay by the author proves, Teppo's more than just a novice on the subject. (Wednesday we'll run his piece on monsters.)
On the Nature of Magick, by Mark Teppo
I recently ordered a copy of the Bibliotheca Magica et Pneumatica (the Bibliography of Magical and Pneumatic Texts). It contains several thousand occult books, and the edition I found has them listed in their respective languages. Pages and pages of entries written in French, Spanish, German, and Latin, all notated in the cryptic shorthand of bibliographers. I'm never going to be smart enough to read any of these in their original languages, but that's not the point. The point is that they're out there, and for an inveterate bibliophile like myself, this is the sort of detail that keeps me warm at night.
Eight thousand books filled with secrets. If I took over a floor [somewhere] I might have enough space to shelve them all. Storage aside, there are more bits of obscure and occluded knowledge in these books than I could ever hope to absorb in my lifetime. I love the idea of secret knowledge, and when you strip away all the pomp and circumstance surrounding most modern religious practices, what remains is an unshakeable faith in a secret.
There's a strange disconnect between modern thrillers and the urban fantasy genre. Modern thrillers (and I'm talking about the likes of Dan Brown, Jim Rollins, Matthew Reilly, and our old hoary grandfather, Clive Cussler) are primarily secular books, though they make no bones about robbing religious and occult history for shiny artifacts by which to propel their plot. Urban Fantasy seems intent to maintain its obsession with supernatural monsters and otherwise ignore the rich threads of magic that pervade human history. Shouldn't that be the other way around?
Drafts of the first two Codex of Souls books go back more than a decade, and in the new millennium rewrite, I threw out the monsters (well, some of them crept back in) and focused on the mysteries of the unknown. Most of the monsters have been turned into objects of fervent nocturnal fantasy, and the only mystery there is the attraction of the unknown and mysterious stranger. No, what appealed to me was the fascinating material that could be found in books like Richard Argentine's De praestigiis et incantationibus daemonum et necromanticorum (with the delightful subheading of "liber singularis numquam antehac editus”; in this day and age, it would be retitled to: Richard's Big Book of Summoning Demons and Spirits [with all new material never before published!]).
Yes, there's an assumption here. I believe that magic is real, but I studied anthropology and comparative religion back in the dark ages, and so how I define "magic" is a little slippery. When you strip the attributions off religious texts and when you examine any belief system's ritual structure and mythology on a more generalized level, patterns begin to emerge. You begin to see how a lot of the differences between one system and another are nothing more than regional differences. Don't focus on the specific mechanics of how they demonstrate their dogmatic fidelity, but consider what it is that their dogma says about the human condition.
Aleister Crowley, in his introduction to Magick, Book 4, defines magick as "the Science of understanding oneself and one's condition. It is the Art of applying that understanding in action." Unlike stage magic, which is nothing more than an illusion meant to confound an audience, the distinction afforded by the additional "k" is the realization of the magus’s Will upon the world around him. When Jesus transformed water into wine for the wedding party in Cana, all he was doing was causing Change in conformity to his Will.
Crowley goes on to say that the act of creating incantations (putting pen to paper) in a ritual language (i.e., words on the page) creates an environment where spirits (publishers, printers, booksellers) carry his desires to his intended targets (the readers). Viola. Magick.
Like I said, the definition is a bit slippery, and it might be a bit much to attribute to the writing of a pulpy occult noir book the grandiose intent of creating magick, but that's part of what inspired the Codex of Souls. Not so much making magick, but rediscovering the possibility of it. Instead of holding such strangeness at arm's length and pretending that we're an entirely rational species, I wanted to embrace our esoteric history. Let it all be true. Why not? It's a matter of faith, isn't it? One of the things that separates us from the beasts with smaller brains is the ability to believe in something that isn't there, and you can argue that when we learned how to dream, our brains got bigger.
Descartes said: I think, therefore I am. It's time to update his maxim: I dream, therefore I will be.