The Three Main Types of Magic


Lets think for a minute about the three main types of magic used by mortals in Glorantha and what they might mean.

Arguably the oldest is Rune Magic, whereby mortals can wield the power of the gods. In most cosmologies, the gods created mortals to serve or aid them. Mortals were descended from the. gods that created them (as a form of very weak srvuali and burtae) or who mated with their ancestors (think the Vingkotlings, descended from Orlanth and a mortal woman). Rune Magic requires a link between the god and mortal, where the mortal can draw upon the God Time power of the god. Initially this was easy – Orlanth was your great-grandfather and could show you how. But with the Greater Darkness and the coming of Time, that link requires initiation into the secrets of the god. And this initiation requires others to pass on those secrets and initiate new generations. It also requires sacrifice to maintain that link – sacrifice of magic points, food, and other treasures – as well as specialists supported by the rest of the community. Rune cults require community surplus, and thus tends to require settled agrarian or pastoral societies.

Spirit magic is perhaps inevitable in a world where spirits are everywhere. Although most shamans are trained through an apprentice-master system, others are self-initiated. Spirit magic is ubiquitous in Glorantha – taught by shamans, Rune cults, and long-lasting spirit cults. It is the magic of everyone, and the easiest to gain access to. But it is ultimately less powerful than Rune magic, and many times we have seen the progression from shaman to spirit cult to Rune cult in Gloranthan history.

Unlike Rune magic, spirit magic doesn’t require much of a social or economic infrastructure beyond a shaman. Hunter-gatherer bands, or other bands can have extensive access to spirit magic comparable to that of larger settled or pastoral societies.

Finally there is sorcery. Sorcery is intellectual and rational – a materialist approach to command the magic of Glorantha through mortal will alone. It can be as powerful as Rune magic, although it is certainly not as easy or quick to cast – but makes up for that with its range of possibilities. Sorcery is more “expensive” than Rune magic, requiring a many years of dedicated study by specialists in order to learn. Most sorcery-using societies are built around the rest of society developing and supporting these specialists. Literacy or very long lives are needed to teach new specialists, and nearly all sorcerous societies are settled, literate, and urban.

Is sorcery any easier to learn in societies like Loskalm? Do the Malkioni churches have sorcery schools? It is not any easier to learn from the point of view of the student. But given that Loskalmi society is structured around making sure that the “best and brightest” can become sorcerers, societally it is easier.

One other thing – the mental approach involved in spirit magic is antithetical towards the materialist will to power involved in sorcery. Sorcerers tend to eschew spirit magic and treat it as beneath notice.

So when we think of the personal risks associated with magic, spirit magic poses the least personal risk. The spirit rarely ask much from those they aid, other than to be treated with respect and given sufficient mana to work with.

Rune magic allows the user to wield the power of a god, and there lies the danger. The initiate must maintain the link between mortal and god, and thereby becomes the gods agent in Time. Generally we initiate to gods that we find useful and benevolent, but on a macro-scale this continues the conflicts of the Gods War in the world of Time. And the gods often make demands on their followers that can restrict actions and compel behaviour in order to maintain that link.

Sorcery poses the opposite danger. Sorcerers are subject to only their will and imagination. Their schools may teach otherwise, and many societies have means of coercion to keep sorcerers in line (indeed this is core to Rokarism), but the God Learners showed us the dangers of sorcerous hubris.