It seemed a shame to break the spell

I don’t know that I believed in magic. But I believed there were people who did, enough to kill for it. I didn’t know what was happening then. In fact, my working theory turned out to be not even close. But a few things seemed obvious enough, like why my best friend was having an affair with my boss.

The details always get messy, but it seems to me most people’s motives are usually pretty simple, and sex and money count for the bulk of them. Add power, status, and revenge and you just might have a complete list. If you could live forever, you’d check every box. Not only would you stay young and appealing, but you could amass wealth, raise armies, learn everything that could be learned, and invent entirely new sciences. You really would be a god. Like the Pharaohs of old. And eventually, you could ascend to heaven.

Sounds like heresy, right? And it is. Which is why these guys ‘The Masters’ have been working for hundreds of years to suppress any investigation into the sacred marriage, which is what produces the lapis. To keep the knowledge from falling into the wrong hands, the steps and ingredients—the recipe, you could say—for combining the male and female principles, sort of like matter and antimatter, were encoded in alchemical codes and ciphers, symbols like the athame and the chalice.

The Taoists were apparently the real masters—yin/yang and all that. Chinese mythology is definitely full of xian, immortal sages like the famous Eight Immortals, each of whom rode a dragon and who could transfer their power to a relic or tool that could be gifted to ordinary men.

Only nobody knows how to do it anymore.

The old man shuffled into the room. At first I thought he was coming to shoo me out. But when I raised my head to defend myself, I saw he had a teacup and saucer in his hand. He set it on the little side table next to me.

“Charles thought you might like some tea.”

I looked at the time on my phone. It was after six. And no messages from Kell.

I looked at the tea. It was hot.

“Ceylon,” he said, turning toward the back. “It’s all I have.”

“I thought you closed at five.”

“We do.” He nodded to the front door.

It was shut.

I scrunched my brow. I hadn’t even noticed.

“It seemed a shame to break the spell,” he said without facing me. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my dinner. You may show yourself out.” There was a sliding wood door in the wall that separated the bookstore at the front from his workshop at the back. He closed it.

I looked at the tea. It was steaming. I took a sip. It was warm, and I realized how safe I felt there, curled up in an old chair with a dust-and-vanilla scented book. My eyes were getting tired though. I’d been reading for hours and I was losing concentration. I flipped through the pages and scanned the “figures,” as they used to call them—text-heavy tables that looked like they had been assembled in old movable type, with strong lines and a highly serifed font. There was a whole section of them at the back, and I turned from one to the next: Schools of Magic, Classical Symbology, Mystical Doctrines, several timelines, including a list of all reigning Masters “From the Fall of the Templars to the Destruction of the Eye of Akkad,” and so on.

But there was one table in particular that caught my eye: The Orders of Practice. It had script titles in the first column and block descriptions in the second, with a third reserved for notable examples, not all of which were filled.

A Magician, it said, is any practitioner of magic. That term, however, tended to be avoided because it didn’t distinguish from the modern professional stage magician, who offers nothing but sleight-of-hand. The title Illusionist is similarly shunned.

Conjurer is the general name for anyone who brings forth that which was not there. A Summoner, then, is a Conjurer that brings forth a creature from another realm, such as a demon.

Diviner is the formal name for fortune teller. This includes the ‘low’ variety like palmists and tarot card readers as well as the more specialized schools: anything with the suffix ‘- mancy’ in the title. Most of what historians know about the ancient Shang dynasty, for example, comes from their widespread practice of plastromancy, where they inscribed questions on turtle shells—in Chinese, of course—and then pierced them with hot irons and interpreted the cracks that ran through the characters.

A Seer is anyone who has visions, which don’t always have to be of the future. Most of your run-of-the-mill psychics fall into this category, although they can be Mediums as well, which is anyone who carries messages from one place to another, such as between the living and the dead.

A Witch is any practitioner of witchcraft, which can be of the light or dark variety. Despite the common misconception, though, a witch isn’t necessarily female. Rather, it’s simply that ‘earth magic’ attracted more women than men because, first, women were historically excluded from the more arcane schools, and second, the Druids, founders of the art, had no such proscriptions.

A Warlock is any master of the dark arts, regardless of other class, and includes both men and women.

Here there was an asterisk pointing to a footnote at the bottom of the page where the author admitted to omitting “the Shamanists and Witch-doctors.” As practitioners of the most ancient form of magic, he said, there was no agreed-upon definition, nor did the shamans themselves adhere to one or another school, preferring instead to borrow from everywhere “like leeches.” The whole note sounded much like a nineteenth-century European would’ve spoken about tribal Africa.

On and on it went: Wizard, Sorcerer, Thaumaturge, Alchemist, Magus . . . What caught my eye, though—what stopped my page-flipping and led me to read the figure in its entirety—was the second entry: Enchanter/Enchantress.

“A master of mind-magic; someone who casts spells over others, often with potions and rites.”

I looked at the heavily printed words on the page. Potions and rites.

I took the last three gulps of the tea, put the cup and saucer in the kitchen, and left out the front. I stopped at the door and shouted “goodbye” and went straight to Cram’s Sour Candy.

rough cut from Curse of the Red Dagger, the second course of my forthcoming full-course occult mystery, A FEAST OF SHADOWS.

Cover image is “Still Life” by Guang Yi

This is “The Love Potion” by Evelyn de Morgan



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