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Basic Information

Theurgy: where the magic is done entirely by spirits and gods with whom the caster makes deals; the "caster" in this case knows nothing more than a glorified phone number.

Wiccan magic — both as practiced in the "real" world and as depicted in Buffy The Vampire Slayer and, to a lesser extent, Charmed — is mostly Theurgy. When Magic itself is a kind of entity with which casters make bargains and cut deals, this becomes a variety of Wild Magic.

Broadly if your magical practice and your religion are one and the same - or even if they overlap significantly as in Kabbalah then it's probably safe to call it theurgy. Shamanism is another popular form of theurgy (although not nearly as popular today as it seems to have been in the past).

In some RPGs this school includes Summon Magic, in which the caster summons the entity itself to wherever he is and bosses it around. As one might imagine, this can easily lead to the entity turning on its would-be temporary master if done wrong, especially if the entity is a demon or some other form of Always Chaotic Evil. See also Deal With The Devil. This is a somewhat poor fit with the rest of theurgy as one does not generally summon ones deity and bark orders - even shamen, who traditionally deal with entities a long way down the scale of things that get worshipped will normally use more courtesy in their dealings.

Respectful summoning, as might be undertaken by a theurge (possibly summoning one of his deity's minions) might be termed Invocation.

For a pseudo-historical European campaign (as represented, for example, in the cRPG Darklands), it would be entirely feasible to use a form of theurgy to model the intervention of various saints in response to the prayers of pious individuals. The "spells" in question might then take the form of specific, perhaps little known, prayers dedicated to a specific saint to be invoked in an appropriate context - the invoking character's personal knowledge of theology and hagiography are likely to be important, and working in a context that mirrors something in the life of the saint in question, or which directly involves them in a way besides touching on their portfolio, should also help.

From Wikipedia:

Theurgy describes the practice of rituals, sometimes seen as magical in nature, performed with the intention of invoking the action or presence of one or more gods, especially with the goal of uniting with the divine, achieving henosis, and perfecting oneself.

Some regard the Roman Catholic mass as a form of theurgy, in which the being of Christ is called down into the Host, transsubstantiation of the Host, and hence assimilation by the communicant.



Game and Story Use

  • Theurgy blurs the line between religion and occult, and the line between magic and divinity. There's some serious potential for heavy gaming in those gray areas.
  • It also opens the possibility of magic itself being an NPC (or, PC if you're really brave and innovative). A powerful PC witch might have to coax power and favors out of a temperamental NPC spirit. Said spirit may also require an Equivalent Exchange, so Be Careful What You Wish For.
  • The summon/invoke dichotomy can be useful if you leave it in place - where a theurge invokes respectfully, a summoner is rude and disrespectful … possibly getting faster and more reliable results in the short term, but having far bigger problems when things go wrong.
    • Although this could depend on the deity. For some deities, politeness costs nothing and rudeness is expensive. For others, having the courage and/or power to dictate terms to a god proves that you haven't insulted it by thinking you were worthy to call upon it.
  • If going the Darklands route, the GM will need a list of appropriate saints, their portfolios and other important characteristics, so that they are fully equipped. Of course, they may then require the PCs to learn this list in game by researching saints in monastery libraries and the like.
    • They may also include the odd "false saint" as discussed in the entry concerning the Emerald Lama … invoking one such may only have the effect of depleting any reserves of divine favour, or it may generate a useful effect with later repercussions…
  • This is also the basis behind sorcery in the works of Eric Moorcock - even the greatest human sorcerers have virtually no ability to work magic on their own, except for summoning and binding a variety of spirit creatures, who then can be forced to work wonders on their behalf.
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