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The spell mind blank protects you from divinations.

For most spells, I can figure out how their name reflects what they do: mind fog produces fog that makes your mind foggy; meteor swarm creates a swarm of meteors, finger of death involves your finger pointing at a creature, willing it to die, etc.

But when I try to link the words "mind blank" to "you are protected from divinations", I can't figure it out. Is it a noun phrase shortened from some greater sentence? I suppose 'mind' means that it protects your mind, but what is the meaning of "blank" here?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "mind cloak" would be a better name \$\endgroup\$
    – Anentropic
    Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 17:49

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Other answers are in error as to the first appearance of the mind blank spell in D&D. The first appearance was in Supplement-I for the original Dungeons & Dragons game, the Greyhawk booklet by Gygax & Kuntz (1975):

Mind Blank: By casting this spell on any person the magic-user prevents any form of detection by ESP, Clairvoyance. Clairaudience, Crystal Ball gazing (including any other form of skrying) Wishing Commune, or Contact Higher Plane. Duration: 1 game day. Range: 1".

This description was further expanded in the 1E Advanced D&D Player's Handbook (1978), before also being included in Oriental Adventures (1985). In particular, it did not originate in an asian-themed book.

Note that the first item of concern in the description is ESP (extra-sensory perception), which is fundamentally a mind-reading spell. Furthermore in original D&D, both clairvoyance and clairaudience were expansions on the ESP spell (e.g., from Volume 1 in 1974, "Clairvoyance: Same as ESP spell except the spell user can visualize rather than merely pick up thoughts.").

So the kernel of the spell's intent is to protect from ESP-type mind-reading, by making the mind effectively not there for detection. The other related divination-finding spells are then tacked on or expanded at a later date.

As an English idiom, having a "blank mind" can refer to not having any thoughts, possibly through meditation or being depressed. Looking at Google Ngram, we see that "blank mind" has had close to constant usage from around the years 1860 to 2000. Meanwhile, the phrase "mind blank" lagged behind until after 1980, when it spiked upward in usage -- I'd hypothesize that this represents usage inspired by D&D itself.

Google Ngram -- blank mind and mind blank

In the modern era, the phrase "mind blank" has become a recognized term used in academic psychology papers, for example:

  1. Ward, A. F., & Wegner, D. M. (2013). Mind-blanking: When the mind goes away. Frontiers of Psychology, 4, 650. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00650
  2. Kawagoe et al. (2019). The neural correlates of "mind blanking": When the mind goes away. Human Brain Mapping, 40(17), 4934-4940. doi:10.1002/hbm.24748

And the latter article states:

Several previous works indicate that people often spontaneously describe their minds as being “blank” in a free-response format (McCormick, Rosenthal, Miller, & Maguire, 2018; Schooler, Reichle, & Halpern, 2004; Watts & Sharrock, 1985).

Compare to other related English idioms like "go blank", "draw a blank", or "blank on (something)", each of which indicate forgetfulness or being unable to find something.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I really like how you added the further usage and etymology bits; you beat me to the origin. 😎 \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 14:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @markspace: Thanks, picked up a bad OCR scan there. What's literally in the book is "skrying" -- apparently "skry" is an alternative spelling for "scry". \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 17:18
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The first spell named mind blank in D&D was in the original Oriental Adventures, from 1985, for AD&D 1st Edition (it was originally a wu jen spell).

The mind blank spell protects the recipient from all devices and/or spells or spell-like abilities which detect, influence, or read emotions and/or thoughts, including charm and information gained by a wish spell.

(Complete spell description of mind blank, AD&D 1e Oriental Adventures, 1985, pg. 95)

Here, you can see it could block divinations—if that divination were attempting to “detect […] or read emotions and/or thoughts.”

In 3.5e, the mind blank spell is introduced in very similar terms:

The subject is protected from all devices and spells that detect, influence, or read emotions or thoughts.

(First line of of mind blank spell description, D&D 3.5e Player’s Handbook, 2003, pg. 253)

In other words, mind blank doesn’t allow anyone to pry into your thoughts. To anyone attempting to do so, your thoughts appear “blank,” and remain that way no matter what they try to do to them. Your mind becomes a “black box,” so to speak.

It’s true that the 3.5e mind blank protects against all “information gathering by divination spells or effects,” even when the information the divination tries to gather is not from your mind, but the main focus of the spell—and its name—is about the mind. After all, its first-and-foremost effect isn’t the protection against divination at all—it’s the protection against all mind-affecting effects.

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Given the name "mind blank" and especially given that it was first introduced in an eastern/oriental themed supplement, seems that the inspiration is "no-mind" (or "mushin" in Japanese, or "wuxin" in Chinese).

The names have a rather striking resemblance in trying to deny the mind.

The "no-mind" meditative practice aims to free the mind of thoughts and emptions.

In Zen teachings, it is to free one's self from distractions and be able to act with clarity.

This has been re-contextualised in a fantasy setting to protect from external influences (rather than internal) which is somewhat in keeping with the original theme of having not allowing judgement and actions to be clouded.

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