Practical magic

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magicians.jpgVery much in the same way there were books about magic and books on magic, one could divide magic into theoretical and practical. Being the opposite of theoretical magic, practical was the state of magic prior to the departure of John Uskglass and its subsequent descent into academic theorems and cultivated boredom all but obliviated it.

Compared to the asphyxiating nature of its antonym, practical magic is considered strikingly complex and difficult to grasp in its entirety. One of the difficulties is that many of the source documents are –not so- mysteriously missing, and those that exist are sometimes fragmentary, due to the history of dispersal (some would say deliberate pillage) of all the books and manuscripts. This has allowed numerous interpretations to arise, some of which have solidified into schools of thought with individual bodies of interpretative literature: the so-called books about magic.

Another reason for the system's difficulty is the way in which the system has to be interpreted, and the complex possibilities of the mathematical permutations of several of the letters, tables and diagrams fundamental to the practical system.

A third difficulty is the use of the language for the invocations. Magicians see the correct pronunciation of the letters, words and calls to be integral to magical success in utilising the system, and the letters must be memorised and their pronunciations learned. Unfortunately there have been several compilations of words made to form magical dictionaries which act as a handy reference but turned out being useless just the same.

Practical magic forms the backbone of both the Norrellite and Strangite systems of magic: many individual magicians or very small groups prefer either style. On the other hand, elaborate equipment is required to perform practical magic properly, including correct copies of the various nowhere-to-be-found books Mr Norrell safely purchased and hid from all potential indiscretions.


It should, however, be stated that even now, in our post-post-postmodern age of detached whateverness (hail the conquering 21st century), there are still Practical Magicians around.

Some of them try to ‘do the magic’ by mysteriously pulling pigeons out of several unsuitable orifices; others will beseech people to pull a card, look at it, lose it again and then find it back again. Many a woman’s head has been severed off its body and posthastily restored without anyone wondering "why?"''.

But only a fraction of these magicians actually try to do ‘useful’ magic. It's not surprising that an infinitesimal part of this fraction has in point of fact read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.