Magic, Pagans, Newton, The Belgariad; Oh My.

Posted: January 24, 2009 by Guy Shalev in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

This post will contain some spoilers about The Belgariad, but they are so basic that if they do spoil much for you, you don’t even know what the second book is about.
Also, this post is somewhat tongue in cheek, and somewhat totally serious. It pokes fun at something.

So, the Rule of Three, basically, when you do a magical act, you’ll get back thrice what you have sent out, good or bad. Mostly considered a Pagan rule of magic (in the modern pagan sense), and there are some pagans that call upon Newton to describe/justify how their law not only makes sense, but is almost trivial to those of us who know some Physics.

They call upon the third of Newton’s Laws, which goes like this: “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” (which is admittedly similar, and could even be the source of the magical law, along with the religious sources, but that’s nearly groundless speculation on my part) Another form in which it is taught and explained, which is interchangeable with the above is that if Object A exerts Force on Object B, then Object B exerts an equal amount of Force on Object B in the opposite direction.

I will soon get to my point, I promise, but first I will use what I think is both an entertaining and an educational example, which is what gelled this in my mind (or to be exact, I suddenly thought of this example with the Rule of Three attached). In the series of The Belgariad, (Bel)Garion learns to use magic (let us leave the terminology and inner workings), and is asked by Belgarath to move a boulder. Garion’s attempt ends with the boulder moving slightly and him ending with only his head above ground, and his body below. He is told by Belgarath that when he pushed the rock, he pushed himself as well in the opposite direction, and since the rock is so much heavier, he ended as he had.

He is told that aside from pushing the rock in the desired direction, he should also push the ground away with the same force in order to avoid being pushed into it/back. He basically has to apply double the force he desires.
The book has some other quasi-physical notions, such as the movement of air, so we could use this example as a bridge of sorts.

So if you push the world through magic, and you get pushed back three times as hard, then something seems quite… odd to me. It seems inefficient, and it seems backward. You should do the opposite then, direct the force in the opposite direction. If you say that you can’t exert the force in the opposite direction, and in a way, that is ridiculous, because as Belgarath told Belgarion, you do all the time, that is how you walk, that is how you push crates. It all depends on how you look at the system.
I think it’ll work better if I use an example of the sort I gave him: If I were to kick a ball, and the ball were to be moved forward 3 yards, and I were to get thrown back 30 yards, shouldn’t I attempt to kick myself back from the ball 3 yards and have it move 30 yards forward?

What it amounts to is: It is ridiculous, that if you push, you get pushed back three times as far. No, not from a belief/magical system, but it does get ridiculous when you try to fit Newton in. It is ridiculous because it means you are basically doing magic backwards: You are pushing at yourself several times and as a side-effect, the world gets pushed as well.
What you should do is learn how to push the world thrice and only get thrown back once, eventually, from a limited perspective (I am WAY over-simplifying here), that is what you do with the crate. You push yourself off the ground to do what you want to, and since the ground “stays put”, the crate moves and you do not move back.*

Now I’ll begin some conclusions and asides:
– If “they” know it is so, it may be intentional; magicians get taught backward magic so they won’t use it in an “unfitting” manner. Like giving a gun to a soldier and teaching him how to use it in a manner that the bullet will hit him, and the blunt end will smack the opponent.
– Some do not have it as “Three-fold”, but once. That is less problematic, or at least, less of a conundrum, because it doesn’t matter which direction you push at.
– Lead to from the above, there is a question of whether you can push at yourself. I think in most magical traditions today, you can, and you do. I am curious how the world “returns” the favour/force when you change something inside you.
– But if you do have one-back, then it should still be able to “negate” the opposite force in most meaningful ways, such as when you walk or push something forth (aside from the exertion itself, and side-effects such as fatigue).
* Also lead to from several of the above, and this is a big one; where are you in relation to the system? If you have a ground to stand on, metaphorically/magically speaking, then it should work out alright. But if it’s as if you’re hanging in space, and it’s you on one hand and the world on the other, then there is no traction to be had, and what you put out is what you get. Though in a not-Physically correct sense I’d then say it’s you who is pushing yourself (and if you’re pushing at the whole world, I’d say it’s you pushing only yourself, like an astronaut navigating in Zero-G), but maybe that’s what they want to teach them pagans.

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