Working on my current short story “Jake and the Knight Who Wasn’t There” I came across the issue of how one of my characters would learn about magic. The story is set in alternative version of the 14th century, so I can hardly have a Hogwarts or Unseen University equivalent. I suppose I could make my world much more alternative and include this, but really I want magic to be something that’s fairly secretive and under the radar.
How I Fudged It
In the case of my short-story I decided that the character would know how to perform certain magic because they had been visited by the ghost of a loved one.
From Books or Old Wives Tales?
But in other cases where would the knowledge come from? Well those who dabbled in trying to do magic were often clerics, monks, friars, priests. So this meant they had more access to books. They would probably search for books such as those by Albertus Magnus or those said to be written by Solomon. Alternatively there was what might describe as folk magic, or what would become seen as witchcraft, practised by uneducated men and women. This might have fed into newer books on magic perhaps, although they tend to look to antiquity as their source.
A Medieval Magical Underground?
But how were new methods tried out? Were medieval magicians just basing their practices on books, or did they have other sources. Was there an underground network of communication between different practitioners of the dark arts? I suspect we will never know, but it’s fun to speculate.