Belief and Paradigm

All she can see
Are the dreams all made solid
Are the dreams made real
All of the buildings, all of those cars
Were once just a dream
In somebody’s head

- Peter Gabriel, “Mercy Street”

Belief and Paradigm

Belief lies at the core of all magick. Most mages believe that their common adage, “The flesh is willing, but the spirit is weak,” embodies an ultimate truth. The limitations of mind, spirit or body per se are not real. We impose our own limits, the limits of belief. For many years, Sleepers (and thus static reality) firmly believed that man could not run a four minute mile, until Roger Bannister ran the mile in 3:59.40 in 1954. Within two months, the four minute mile was beaten again… and again, and again. Now all top runners regularly beat the once-mythic mark. Roger Bannister’s belief and skill overcame a tenet of static reality (albeit a minor one) and in so doing changed the world.

The Awakened believe that our personal beliefs shape our actions in many ways. When Freud first discovered hysterical paralysis, he gained some inkling of the true power of belief. This power goes far deeper than such obvious problems, however. In fact, belief often becomes reality. Should an individual believe strongly enough in a particular concept (say, that he cannot open his own front door), he isn’t likely to challenge this belief. If he does try, his muscles may grow weak. After a few ineffectual tugs, he concludes that he was right – that he can’t open the door. This way, he strengthens his own weakness.

Most people cling to their beliefs as security blankets against the great unknown. Even harmful beliefs may become cherished in their certainty. Should enough people believe in some idea or thing, it becomes part of static reality and the established paradigm. What we believe shapes what we do; a man convinced humans cannot fly is unlikely to jump off a cliff while flapping his arms. Even if he does try, he will fall.

Static reality infuses the beings of all human mages, just as it infuses the Sleepers’ consciousness. Beliefs structure material reality, yet that reality also structures beliefs. Each participant in this cycle influences the others and ultimately themselves. The Awakened, however, are able to consciously step around – or even punch through – humanity’s paradigm.

Of course, humanity is not the only participant in this cosmic dance. Spirits from the Umbrae or other realities may well influence our own world through their own consciousness, beliefs and paradigms. The Dreamspeakers and Verbena often speak of how animal and plant spirits add their voices to the world’s song, while the Virtual Adepts insist that the techno-spirits influence the spread of the world-wide computer web.

Although philosophical arguments concerning belief and paradigms have filled countless scholarly texts, and will undoubtedly fill countless more, almost all sorcerers agree that our beliefs form both our personal paradigms and the Tapestry of static reality.

Paradigm and Style

Mages are magickal, so it is a disservice to the character and to the story to describe a wizard calling elemental vengeance from the skies with, “I’m using Forces 2, Prime 2, to blast him with a lightning bolt.” Dramatic (and consistent) descriptions of your mage’s willworkings involve more than just good roleplaying; they require some idea about the character’s beliefs.

Say the mystick in question was a Hermetic Master; he might inscribe an ornate circle with a specially prepared knife or bit of chalk, then call upon the secret name of the Archangel Gabriel. An aboriginal Dreamspeaker might enter a trance and summon angry spirits to smite his foe, while a Son of Ether would pull out his meteorological acceleration ray, aim it at the sky and pull down some charged electrons. An Iteration X HIT Mark would not even bother with the sky; he would simply point his cybernetic electron gun at his enemy and blast her to cinders. Four paradigms, four styles. Two would be vulgar under most circumstances, while the fourth would usually be considered coincidental, and the third would be open for debate. All four mages, however, have used the same Effect, with different results.

Determining your mage’s style is essential in the beginning. The character’s philosophy will govern his magick – not only how it appears, but how it is performed and what it can and cannot do. As a mystick learns more about the subjective nature of reality, his understanding expands to the point where he does not need a style – he realizes that all styles are indeed one. At that point, he can choose to cast aside the rituals and objects of power he once used (see “Foci”). Even after he reaches this realization, he may still use that familiar style to focus his intentions better – i.e., he may gain an additional modifier when casting a spell. Up until that point, however, a mage’s Art, and the way he uses it, depends upon his style.

Keep your character’s view of magick in mind when using it. A sorcerer’s paradigm can often spell the difference between coincidental and vulgar magicks. And that makes all the difference in the world to a mage who wishes to survive!