Friday, June 21, 2013

[Let's Read] Playing With Fire, Part 13: Chapter 5 The Occult Connection

Chapter 5: The Occult Connection ranges from pages 63 to 78, and consists of a single title page, two blank pages, and thirteen content pages.

Three items of Note:
1) direct quotes from the text will be italicized,
2) my analysis of this text is not an attack on individual Christians or to paint Christians as a whole in a broad brush, and
3) the authors' ideas will be critically examined, especially when they present a Christian idea without using the same rigor that they have used on RPGs.

Chapter 5 beings with "(t)he occult is without doubt the area of greatest concern" (Pg 65) and "(o)ne occultist, Philip Emmens Isaac Bonewitz, considers Dungeons and Dragons such a good introduction to the occult that he wrote a book to show players how they could move into real sorcery" (Pg 65). The  footnote references "Authentic Thaumaturgy: A Professional Occultist on Improving the Realism of Magic Systems in Fantasy Simulating Games (Berkeley, Calif.: Chaosium, Inc. 1980)" (Pg 65).

Again, I'm forced to ask: which of us has a grasp on reality. 'Occult' practitioners have had plenty of opportunity to present evidence of the supernatural or paranormal existence of their powers, which each time they have failed to provide (see The One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge). Why should I believe that the occult is a real thing, since all along in this book, the authors have failed to provide any evidence for their other assertions, what's one more?

While I actually don't have a copy of Bonewitz's first edition, I do have the reprint put out by Steve Jackson Games in 1998 and there's nothing in it to suggest anything more than ways to improve magical characters, not players, using examples from Earth. It is the height of dishonesty to directly state that the book is there to "show players how they could move into real sorcery." One would be lead to the conclusion that, yet again, the authors didn't actually read the references they cite.

Next, the text talks about "magic and casting spells ... as an integral part of most games .... witch magic can be used for white or black witchcraft .... spells for different characters, levels, categories, and expectations .... Much of what is presented is similar to what one would find in sorcery or witchcraft" (Pg 65-66) and that "(i)n Chivalry & Sorcery, the game manual contains instructions on how to cast spells" (Pg 66).

Except for the fact that what they wrote is patently false. Imaginary spells cast by imaginary characters, none of which has any real descriptive spell casting potential. For example, let's examine the Bless spell on page 43 of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook, a reference that the authors have cited more than once.

"Bless (Conjuration/Summoning) Reversible, Level: 1, Components: V, S, M, Range: 6", Casting Time: 1 round, Duration: 6 melee rounds, Saving Throw: None, Area of Effect: 5" x 5". Explanation/Description: Upon utter the bless spell, the caster raises the morale of friendly creatures by +1. Furthermore, it raises their "to hit" dice rolls by +1. A blessing, however, will affect only those not already engaged in melee combat. This spell can be reversed by the cleric to a curse upon enemies which lowers morale and "to hit" by -1. The caster determines at what range (up to 6") he or she will cast the spell, and it then affects all creatures in an area 5" square centered on the point the spell was cast upon. In addition to the verbal and somatic gesture components, the bless requires holy water, while the curse requires the sprinkling of specially polluted water."

Reading this spell, is there any way that this could be cast by a player? No. There is no description of the verbal or somatic gestures required. What does +1 mean in the real world? What does 6" mean in the real world? This is ludicrous to think that games like D&D give players some secret way to cast spells when all that is being described in the spell is the in-game, imagined effect of the spell. The player says "My cleric casts Bless on the party" and that is the extent of the spell-casting.

Also, if Chivalry & Sorcery has a description to cast spells, why didn't they actually reference it? Why did they simply state that it does? Another assertion that the authors don't support with actual evidence. Why am I not surprised?

The second issue with RPGs is that "occult forms of protective inscriptions can be found in certain games .... Players are taught how to use these symbols as forms of protective inscriptions in ... the way they are actually used in witchcraft and Satanism. In one account, for example, a spell caster, who has just summoned a demon, is warned that he 'must be within a circle of protection (or a thaumaturgical triangle with protection from evil) and the demon confined with a pentagram (Circle pentacle) if he or she is to avoid being slain or carried off by the summoned cacodemon'" (Pg 66).

Again, the authors confuse player and character and their reference of the Cacodemon spell on Pgs 86-87 of the Players Handbook misses the mark. And that "one account," it's not a single spell caster, it's in the spell description, so it applies to any wizard character that casts the spell. The text of the section in question is:

"Cacodemon (Conjuration/Summoning), Level: 7, Components: V, S, M, Range: 1", Casting Time: Special, Duration: Special, Saving Throw: Special, Area of Effect: Creature summoned. Explanation/Description: This perilous exercise in dweomercraeft summons up a powerful demon of type IV, V, or VI, depending upon the demon's name being known to the magic-user. Note that this spell is not of sufficient power to bring a demon of greater power, and the lesser sorts are not called as they have no known names. In any event, the spell caster must know the name of the type IV, V, or VI demon he or she is summoning. As the spell name implies, the demon so summoned is most angry and evilly disposed. The spell caster must be within a circle of protection (or a thaumaturgic triangle with protection from evil) and the demon confined within a pentagram (circled pentacle) if he or she is to avoid being slain or carried off by the summoned cacodemon."

The protection from evil mentioned is actually another spell. And there's no actual instructions on how to cast the spell (what words and materials and hand motions are required) or how to make the circles of protection (words to say over them, what materials to use, how big and what symbols to write in them). In point of fact, the spell description only has the words "circle of protection," "thaumaturgic triangle," and "pentagram (circled pentacle)" in it. If merely having the words in a text is occultic, then the authors J. Weldon and J. Bjornstad have written an occultic book themselves.

The third issue with RPGs is "astral projection, or soul travel" (Pg 66) and that "this practice is possible by various means, including specific magic spells and psionic disciplines" (Pg 66). For at least the third time in this chapter, the authors are confusing players with characters. If players pretend that imaginary characters astrally project, what is the occultic results of that? Nothing. The players certainly didn't soul travel. Again, a ludicrous issue that the authors want to make real. Which of us has a problem with fantasy?

The fourth issue, fifth, sixth and seventh issues are "necromancy, communication with the dead" (Pg 67), "conjuration and summoning of demons and devils" (Pg 67), "occult alignment with powers or deities" (Pg 68), and "names of occult, or magic, orders" (Pg 69), respectively. Yet in each of these sections, the authors again confuse player and character and seem to have an inclination to believe these spells, powers and groups are real, even complaining that the D&D Monster Manual has a whole section on demons and devils and that "(i)n Chivalry & Sorcery, an entire section of the game manual is devoted to necromancy" (Pg 67). And just as the spells in the Players Handbook are not instructions on how to actually cast spells, the monsters in the Monster Manual have no basis in reality, and whose specifics are limited to the scope, and mechanisms, of D&D. 

"Dungeons and Dragons even includes the primitive occult idea (and practice) of trapping the soul." (Pg 69). After that statement, I just have to stop. I have 8 more pages to go in this chapter and I just don't have the stamina to continue, at least not today.

But before I go, this section of the book just continues with the problems the whole book has exhibited. I am forced to ask myself, are these authors nuts? Because they obviously have a problem distinguishing an imaginary spell, monster or character with reality.