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RPG Scrapbook: Magical Historiography

“A Treatise on the Problems of Magical Historiography”

Written by Lyceum Scholar Scothgraw

 

The two biggest fallacies people commit when they consider history are:

1) Everything in the past can be definitively known

2) Nothing in the past can be definitively known

The advent of magical historiography has more or less obviated the latter, though there are always crackpots who attest that magical divination of the past is a grand conspiracy, but it has lent far too much strength to the former.

This is understandable. When one can, through proper preparation and magical study, verbally question a room about what has happened within its confines, or directly experience the most pivotal events in a person’s life, it makes one overconfident in the accuracy of their research. There are still unanswered questions about these methods however, which call their veracity into doubt. The reason magic is still referred to as the “Art” by its practitioners is because it is still more at the mercy of mercurial creative forces than empiricism. There is nothing in the magical theory that tells us, definitively, whether we are colored by a person’s perceptions when we use them as a focus to view a past event at which they were present. One certainly gets emotional information from the historical witness, but that may or may not be separable from the information received through the subject’s senses.

In the case of spells which query the room itself, we must ask: How reliable is a room as a witness? What sort of perspective does empty space bounded by walls have? If the Animists are correct and everything, rooms included, has a spirit, then we can at least rely on there being a guiding consciousness present to generate meaning, but then the motivations and assumptions of this “room spirit” have to be called into question rather than taken at face value. If the Animists are incorrect, that is perhaps more troubling, for it raises the question of how something with no semblance of consciousness could possibly relate such complex information intelligibly. The ritual would have to have some mechanism to translate what must otherwise be gibberish for us, but it is difficult to establish that it is doing so accurately.

Even aside from the debate on the objectivity of rituals, there remains the fact that even the most powerful individuals can only reach into the past so far. And one might argue that while the spellcaster is seeing things from the standpoint of a primary source, the information immediately degrades to a secondary source as soon as they attempt to relate that information to a third party. After a certain point, we are forced to fall back on the same old sources of knowledge. Future generations will have to rely on our word for what happened in what is now the near past, and they may well bemoan our assumptions on what is and isn’t significant enough to investigate magically.

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