I was intrigued by a question over on the worldbuilding stack exchange. In answering that question, I realized that most ancient forms of magic were, at least according to most D&D classifications I could think of, divine. Most "arcane" or "occult" spell casters of the ancient world were more like tricksters or profiteers who simply hid their tricks from common knowledge. Even in the ancient greco-roman world, magic was differentiated from religion only by social constructs, not source of power.

Even individuals in legend who we would think of as arcane spellcasters, often have divine inheritance or are divine themselves. Merlin, perhaps the naïve choice of example of an arcane spellcaster, may or may not have had demonic inheritance, which was then "fixed" (via divine magic) so to give him supernatural powers. Such supernatural powers, especially when fixed by obviously divine magic, could be considered divine. Even if Merlin's demonic inheritance is discounted, I cannot confidently place him as an "Arcane Caster" because we simply do not know what drives his magic. This is compounded by the observation that his character may have been inspired by druids, making him a druid, which is a divine spellcaster!

Most other legendary, but still mortal, figures with magic are priests to a god or a druid, which are considered to have the divine magical hook-ups. Obviously we cannot use these individuals as the source of "arcane" magic. The source of "arcane" magic must be elsewhere.

In the editions of D&D Gygax played, there was most definitely an arcane magician of some sort. Where did the idea of Arcane Magic, magic you can use without the need of devotion or blood relation to a higher power, come from? Is arcane magic inspired from a class of tricky, manipulate-the-gods/science people that we got "arcane" magic?

To be clear, an ideal answer will have the following:

  • Quotes from or references to prominent game designers or scholars about the origin of arcane magic.
  • Mythological sources of verifiably arcane mages. Remember that arcane magic means that this magic functions and exists independent of divinity. Verification would involve someone using their magic in spite of deities or specifically stating their magic does not come from divine sources.
  • Cultural traditions of magic use without the aid of spirits or other mythological/divine creatures.
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    \$\begingroup\$ You can learn where Gygax himself got D&D's arcane magic tradition from by reading what he wrote on the subject, entitled "Appendix N". Beyond that, asking for a survey of all real-world myths and cultural traditions that could be considered "arcane" is super broad and ventures way outside the scope of RPGs. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 17, 2015 at 19:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie It's a good starting place for an answer, but does not really explain how we got arcane magic other than "I got it from these guys." \$\endgroup\$
    – PipperChip
    Mar 17, 2015 at 19:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you're familiar with Appendix N, that is the answer. It came from a wide selection of fantasy and sci-fi authors. Where they got it from is simply off topic here. (Though you could try Science Fiction & Fantasy SE.) \$\endgroup\$ Mar 17, 2015 at 19:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ They will also probably not be aware of or have access to Appendix N, so you would be best served by including that list in said question. (Well, depending on its size.) \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Mar 17, 2015 at 20:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Question has been re-stated at: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/84114/origin-of-arcane-magic \$\endgroup\$
    – PipperChip
    Mar 17, 2015 at 22:36


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