A continued look into the strange inhabitants of The Ancient Magus' Bride!
Welcome back to The Wonderful Worlds of Fantasy! In Part One, we took a look at the creatures that inhabit the strange and mythical world of The Ancient Magus’ Bride. This week, we’ll be diving into the human-like creatures of The Ancient Magus’ Bride. Whether it be large dogs, tiny faeries, or wandering evils, everything has a root that can be traced back to real life myths, so let’s get started!
While often confused with the word ‘wizard’, ‘magus’ is the singular form of ‘magi’, which goes back to the times of Zoroastrianism. Based on the Persian word ‘magu’, magus was a term for those that practiced magic. Its origin, however, does not stem from typical European descent, and instead has a Persian influence, as it was originally used to refer to Zoroastrian priests or astrologers. From there, the word spread to both the East and West, appearing in Roman and Chinese texts, and even as far as the Bible. Because of this, magi have a variety of definitions, though the common ground is that they had an aptitude to perform things outside of the ordinary. The Greeks used the word magi for religious authority; the Chinese, for shamanistic abilities; the Christians, a signaling of the arrival of Jesus, the Egyptians, as seers of both past and future.
The origin all ties back to a figure named Zoroaste. According to religious texts, Zoroaster was a reformer. Historians have traced Zoroaster back to a real figure, but little else is known about his life; the texts dictate that his teachings became the foundation for the ancient Iranian religion called Zoroastrianism. It is assumed that he lived between the tenth and first half of the sixth century B.C, spreading his teachings across Iran, Middle Asia, to as far as Afghanistan, but exactly where and when he lived has not been established. He is the author of the text Gathas, and the Yasna Haptanghaiti, written in Old Avestan - texts that establish the philosophy of Zoroastrianism. From here, however, it is hard to dictate what influence he had on the spread of the term ‘magi’; all we know is that his followers were called as such for their immense knowledge in astrological sciences.
In The Ancient Magus’ Bride, the magi are a dying breed, being driven out by human ignorance and the rapid development of technology. In order to preserve teachings and what’s left as well as to observe humankind, the prodigious magi Elias buys Sleigh Beggy Chise Hatori and takes her under his wing to learn more about the magic inside her and around her. Little astrology is found in the definition of magi here, but the spells these two have performed have been for helpful purposes, much like the Magi in the Bible or like the Chinese Magi.
Like magi, alchemy also is a far-reaching practice, rooted in both the West and East. Referring to the practice of transforming or purifying objects, it is an ancient philosophy, being developed over hundreds of years from one kind of practice to another. The word is tied to Old French, alquemie, which is borrowed from Medieval Latin, alchymia, which in turn, is borrowed from Arabic, al-kīmiyā’, which is then borrowed from Greek, chēmeía, which is then finally borrowed from Egyptian (noticing the world trend here?) kēme, meaning ‘black earth’.
With such a diverse history, it’s hard to exactly pinpoint where alchemy first came from. There are generally three areas of origin: Western alchemy, which starts from the Mediterranean and gradually spreads from to Greece/Rome to the eastern Islamic areas, Chinese alchemy, which was largely within China, and Indian alchemy, which started in Southern India and spread to the rest of the subcontinent. Each area had its unique goals and customs which fragmented into more specific and different kinds of practices. For example, Indian alchemy was focused on creating a divine body (divya-deham) and combining immortality with humanity (jīvan-mukti). Chinese alchemy was more medical, closely related to Taoism and the idea of balance and maintaining one’s higher form of health. Islamic alchemy was much more chemical and thoroughly recorded as experiments through which scientists discovered the existence of acids and bases and the philosophy of five modern elements: air, water, fire, aether, and earth. Lastly, Western alchemy was a mix of religious philosophies and scientific practices: in medieval times, it was dominated with a Christian perspective, but through the Renaissance, it became more accessible and associated with the pursuit of knowledge and transforming materials.
In the series, alchemy and sorcery are interchangeable terms to describe a more mechanical practice of magic. Whereas Elias and Chise are born with the ability to use magic - hence being magi - people like Renfred and Angelica are not so innately talented. They instead, must use tools and equipment to aid them in casting magic. In this sense, magic is more of an exploration of how something functions, and manipulating it with the aid of physical energy to transform or change an already existing presence. As a result, this practice is much safer since it doesn’t involve creating something out of one’s imagination or with a few resources, but it requires more work and materials.
Unlike Alchemists or Magi, the Wendigo has a very specific mythology, this time stemming from the West, in North America. ‘Wendigo’ roughly translates to ‘an evil spirit who devours mankind’, and usually refers to a cannibalistic monster that originates from the Algonquian people - a subgroup of Native Americans. That said, they can also be found in Iroquois stories as well. The Wendigo is said to have an insatiable hunger; no matter how much they eat, they’ll continuously want more. Depictions of the Wendigo range from more animalistic monsters to skeletal, demonic figures, but they all share the common ground of having physical characteristics of a raving appetite. The Wendigo would arise usually when someone, most likely a warrior, would make a pact or deal with the Devil. They would then be outcasted from society, forced to wander the forests and devour those who came in their way. Some stories mentioned that the Wendigo still retained a human heart, though the soul was corrupted, and that the only way to kill the Wendigo would be to kill the human within.
Sounds familiar? It’s only a hypothesis, but it’s what I personally believe is the direct reference for Elias. His tendencies to devour, be easily overwhelmed by negative emotions like anger, loneliness, and jealousy, and lack of belonging in any given magical family all seem to point toward the theory that Elias may have been an anomaly or a corrupted spirit/monster. It’s not confirmed and we might never know for sure.
Next time: Wands? Chimeras? Werewolves? In Part 3, we’ll be looking at more mystical elements of The Ancient Magus' Bride and where they come from!