I've heard from many of my fellow SR players that magic can become rather
mundane after a while and that sometime it needs to be livened up to keep it
feeling "magical" to the players. In this feature I'd like to look at
different aspects of Shadowrun magic and how you can add some interesting
features to it for your campaign in order to keep things fresh and
One of the most overlooked aspects of magic for the average Shadowrun
gamemaster is the sheer volume of variety there is in magic. Not in the
game rules, since they pretty much consider all magic equal, but in the
numerous magical traditions that exist in the Sixth World. It is these
traditions that provide the dry rules system of the game with its
individual flavor and that make magic and magicians unique and
interesting. I'd like to give you some idea of the range of different
"flavors" of magic out there for you to use in your Shadowrun games. This
is by no means a complete list, there are literally hundreds of magical
traditions, and in the information age of the 21st Century it is likely
that even the most obscure tradition will find followers in the Awakened
streets of the Sprawl.
What Shadowrun calls the "Hermetic" tradition is a general grouping
of various traditions that all take an ordered, formulaic view of magic.
Hermetic traditions make use of formulae, correspondences and complex
symbolism for their magical effects. They also tend to be the more
"techno-friendly" of the magical traditions, making use of computer
media, technological tools and other modern conveniences.
Christian mages? Why not? Christianity has a very strong mystical
tradition dating back to the First Century Gnostics, and it is not
unbelievable that many Christians would attempt to reclaim some of their
faith's magical heritage following the Awakening.
Catholics and other fairly conservative Christian sects would
carefully regulate magic according to the tenets of their faith. Conjuring
especially would be considered with care, lest the faithful be led into
sin through such practices. It is established that there is a Catholic
order of magician-priests, the Order of St. Sylvester, that investigates
matters magical for the Holy Mother Church. A player-character who is a
former (or even current) member of this Order would be an interesting
one. Katherine Kurtz's Deryni books contain some good examples of
Hermetic-type magic with a strongly Christian flavor.
Other Christian sects will have varying attitudes towards magic: the more
liberal Unitarian sects can be almost Shamanic in their practice of magic
while some of the more conservative will consider magic a tool of the devil,
resulting in magicians who don't believe that they use magic at all
(see Non-Magical Traditions, below).
Enochian is a language discovered in the 15th Century by an English
mage. Dr. John Dee. Dr. Dee claimed that Enochian was the "secret
language of the angels", the primal tongue spoken before the Tower of
Babel and that it had great magical power. Several hermetic traditions
(including the Golden Dawn and Thelema, described below) make use of
Enochian as a ritual tool. Knowledge of the language would be a useful
centering skill for these mages.
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was a magical group in England
in the late 1800s that strongly influenced magical thought and practice
in this century. Much of the work of the GD is considered the basis for
modern Hermetic practice and it is likely that their work would continue
to pervade much of the Hermetic philosophy of Shadowrun. Most of the
baseline concepts of Shadowrun magic are influenced by the GD material.
A good (but somewhat heavy) reference work is The Golden Dawn by Israel
Regardie. It contains very complete information on all of the group's
rituals and practices.
Much like Christianity, it is likely that many followers of Islam
would also hearken back to the era of their ancestors when Islamic
sorcerers were considered some of the most skilled in the world.
Islamic mages would be very skilled in the various formulae and
equations governing the use of magic and they would make excellent
researchers and scholars of the Art. Islamic magic would likewise cast a
careful eye on conjuring, but Arabian folklore is somewhat kinder with
regards to spirits and Islamic mages would be more likely to call upon
djinn and ifrits than their Christian counterparts.
The Tales of the Arabian Nights is an excellent source of inspiration
for Islamic-flavored magicians as are GURPS Arabian Nights and the story
Ramadan from DC Comics' Sandman.
The Qabbalah (spelled several different ways in English) is a Hebrew
system of mystical correspondences intended to serve as a map for
attaining wisdom and enlightenment about the universe. Many magical
traditions have adapted and use the Qabbalah as a "psychocosm"(model of
the universe). Practitioners of the Hebrew mysteries would make use of
the Qabbalah and its symbolism as a way of performing magic. Knowledge of
the different Sephirot (spheres) of the Tree of Life would make
a useful Centering skill for Qabbalistic mages.
The Tree of Life by Israel Regardie is a good, but technical, book on
Qabbalah and numerous other books have been written about the Tree of
Life. DC Comics' Suicide Squad featured a Israeli Qabbalistic mage named
Ramban for several stories who was an interesting (albeit somewhat
"comic-book") concept of a modern Qabbalist.
There are several distinct and active Satanic churches in the United
States and abroad today. It is highly unlikely that these organizations
with do anything by benefit from the Awakening, so they, or something
quite similar, will no doubt continue into the 2050s.
FASA prefers not to deal with Satanic magicians for obvious
reasons, but they could well be included in a home Shadowrun campaign.
Despite their bad reputations, most Satanic magical groups aren't really
"evil". Most follow a credo that is part neo-anarchism and part hedonism,
advocating freedom from all constraints imposed by "straight" society.
Steeped in Christian, hermetic and pagan symbolism, Satanist groups
are usually quite Hermetic and orderly (ironically) in their magical
outlook. Some practitioners are more shamanic and follow an Idol probably
not unlike the Horned God from The Germany Sourcebook (which did likely
form the basis for Christian beliefs in the Devil).
Gamemasters can also include the stereotypical human-sacrifice type of
Satanists if they want, but most such groups don't go in for the type of
thing seen in most Hollywood portrayals.
The X-Files had an episode during the '95 season that dealt with
Satanism which was pretty good, albeit somewhat lurid. Anton LeVey's
Satanic Bible is also a good source for information on modern Satanic
Taoist philosophy forms the basis for many magical practices in the
Orient, and the Taoist system of elements and correspondences (Earth,
Water, Fire, Metal and Wood) will form the basis of the post-Awakened
magical system that is much like Western Hermeticism.
Taoist mages are less likely to work with elemental spirits, as this
is a concept that is foreign to most of them. They are likely to be
skilled in dealing with ghosts and other such spirit-creatures through
Banishing and various protective rituals. Taoism also has a highly
evolved system of Alchemy, making Taoist magicians skilled talismongers
Shadis magazine recently printed an article on Taoist Hermetics that
has some good ideas in it, although the alternative Elemental Spirits aren't
really in keeping with Taoist ideas.
Theosophy was a spiritualist movement formed by Madame Helena P. Blavatsky
in the late 19th Century. It focused on the development of psychic and
spiritual abilities, mediumship and communication with spiritual beings
from the past and outside of our reality.
By the 2050s, many of the concepts of Theosophy will seem quite
dated and even "quaint", but some of the groupÕs practices will still be
in use and the possibility of a secessionist group is not out of the
question. The Theosophists also had many interesting ideas about Atlantis
and Mu that could see renewed interest in light of some of the beliefs in
the Sixth World.
Thelema (a Greek word meaning "will") is a magical movement begun by
former Golden Dawn mage Aleister Crowley, based on various messages that
were received by Crowley from his "Holy Guardian Angel" named Aiwass.
Thelemic tradition draws heavily on Crowley's work while he was in the
Golden Dawn and thereafter, with some unique variations and accents. Any
of Òthe Great Beast's various biographies and prolific writings detail a
great deal about Crowley's magical theories, many of which form the
underpinnings of Sixth World Hermeticism.
The shamanic tradition is based on the importance of inspiration,
intuition and insight. Shamans draw their power from their relationship
with the natural world and the power of their emotions as expressed in
their rituals and ceremonies.
Shamans are an even less cohesive group than mages are in terms of
tradition. There are shamanic and native traditions all over the world
that vary greatly in their practices and philosophies. In highly the
multi-cultural Sixth World, any of these practices could have made their
way into the heart of the metroplexes.
Aztec magical practices are pretty well covered in the Aztlan
sourcebook. A player-character who followed the Aztec tradition who
wanted to do something about the bad name his magical tradition had
developed would be an interesting one to play.
Brujeria is a magical tradition that is descended from an Aztec and
Christian gestalt in much the same way as Voudoun is descended from African
practices. It is still practiced in and around Mexico and would likely be
considered "impure" by the more traditionalist magicians of Aztlan.
Brujos would be useful "street magicians" in Aztlan and elsewhere when an
Aztec flavor is called for in magic. Brujos would tend not to practice
Blood Magic as it is practiced in Aztlan. If they used it at all, they
would use only blood drawn from self-sacrifice.
DC Comics' The Invisibles has an interesting character named Lord
Fanny who is a transvestite Brujo shaman following the Butterfly totem.
The three-part "She-man" storyline that was recently published is a
gold-mine of ideas on Brujeria and shamanism in general, especially
The mythology of the native people of Australia is rich with imagery
and ideas for the world of Shadowrun. The aborigines have a culture that
dates back tens of thousands of years and includes a great deal of
mystical knowledge that has been handed down from generation to
generation through oral tradition. In the Sixth World, much of this
knowledge likely came from previous Ages of Magic and the aboriginal
Dreamtime is a timeless realm of magic and creative power much like the
metaplanes of astral space in Shadowrun. Aboriginal shamans would be skilled
travelers through the astral world and would have a great deal of
knowledge about dealing with the various powers that dwell there.
Australia's current state in 2056 is directly the result of the dying
aboriginal culture, which left no one to direct and nurture the power of the
Awakened outback, which is now running wild. The work of the few remaining
aboriginal shamans to restore the Dreamtime would make an interested
adventure or campaign.
Aborigine shamans are touched upon in Bob Charette's Secrets of
Power Trilogy and an interesting aborigine shaman is also presented in the Wild
Cards anthology series.
The ancient traditions of India are quite shamanic in nature, and
Sixth World India is a land of mystery. It's population decimated by
waves of VITAS, India is home to yogis and dervishes with strange,
mystical powers (many of them physical adepts). It is also home to
esoteric knowledge from the secrets of the Sanskrit language (considered
by many to be one of the most mystical of tongues), to Tantric sex magic
and the secret Thugee cults of the death goddess Kali. The Wild Cards
science fiction anthology provides an interesting look at a Tantric
magician in the form of the ace Fortunato and the less than fantastic
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom offers a look at some of the more
fantastic settings of India.
The Hawai'ian tradition of magic is described briefly in Paradise
Lost and mentioned in House of the Sun. The Huna tradition was practiced
by the Kahunas, who were the guardians of knowledge and wisdom in
ancient Hawai'i. With the work of occultist Max Freedom Long (whose books
are recommended), the Huna tradition enjoyed something of a rebirth in
the 20th Century, both in Hawai'i and elsewhere in America. By 2056, it
is likely that haole practitioners of Huna are looked upon with
considerable scorn on the part of the "true" Hawai'ian kahunas.
Shadowrun makes something of necessary generalization regarding "Native
American" traditions. In truth, the native peoples of North America had
numerous different spiritual and magical practices that could provide
some interesting variations on the "vanilla" shamanism of Shadowrun.
The Navaho made extensive use of sand paintings for their ritual magic
workings. The secrets of the most powerful sand paintings were held only
by the shamans and spirit-men of the tribe. Alan Dean Foster's novel The
Cyber Way has an interesting use of a Navaho sand painting worth looking
The Kachina dancers of the Pueblo are an interesting group that is
touched upon in the Native American Nations sourcebooks. There are also the
Ghost-Shirt men of the plains Indians and the medicine men of the Five
Nations tribes in the East. The fate of some of the Eastern Indian
nations would be an interesting topic for an adventure. While the peoples
of the west recovered their land from the old United States, the tribes
from the East of the Mississippi lost out.
Rastafarians are best known for reggae music and smoking marijuana,
but they also comprise a strongly religious group with their own unique
faith and magical practices. The basic religious beliefs of the Rastas
are based on an Ethiopian king who took the name Ras Tafari. They believe
that Jamaica is Hell and the Ethiopia is the Promised Land and that one
day they will return there to paradise.
I believe Brian once described how the Rastas in his campaign used their
magical abilities to reclaim their promised land of Ethiopia and began
healing the damage that had been done to that land over the years while
keeping all of the non-Africans out of their land.
The Shinto religion of Japan is strongly focused on ancestor worship
and the veneration of the spirits of nature. The kami are all manner of
spirits, from humble nature spirits and ghosts, to powerful free spirits
that the Shinto miko can deal with an attempt to appease.
The ancient shamanic traditions of Japan make an interesting
counterpoint to its modern, ultra-tech image in the Sixth World. The
ancient spirits still stir in the Japanese forests and the snow-capped
peaks are home to powerful kami.
The Japanese imperial family plays a strong role in the Shinto
religion and the Emperor is considered to be a kami in his own right,
descended from Amaterasu the Sun Goddess herself. Perhaps some time
during the last Age of Magic it was indeed possible for a kami (free
spirit) and a human to mate, resulting in a family line with a strong
talent for magic. The same may have happened in other places around
the world, resulting in many human tales of divine offspring with magical
The samans of Siberia give us our modern word "shaman". They are the
classical shamans of anthropology: studied extensively. Their practices
of travel into the Underworld and trance-working are well-described by
Mircea Eliade (whose book Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy is
As described in Awakenings, Voudoun a magico-religious system
composed of part African shamanic tradition, part Carib Indian ritual and
part Catholic veneer. It is based around the worship of spirits/gods
known as the Loa. Voudounistas can call upon the Loa to enter their
bodies and possess them, allowing them to become the god for a time and
speak with His or Her voice.
Macumbe is a Brazilian form of Voudoun. It technically refers to
the many various offshoots and branches of Voudoun practiced in and
around Brazil. There are many variations of the different Loa/Orishas.
Macumbe is likely still practiced in parts of Amazonia, although much of
it may be supplanted by other shamanic forms imported during the
formation of that nation.
Santeria is a Spanish-influenced form of Voudoun based around the
worship of Orishas, many of whom are similar to the Voudoun Loas. It is
practiced in various areas of Central and South America. The tradition
shares a great deal in common with Voudoun and makes use of divinatory
rituals using coconut shells and seashells, as well as a great deal of
The division in Shadowrun between the Hermetic and Shamanic
traditions in Shadowrun is at least partly artificial. Many real-world
magical traditions draw upon techniques from both points of view, while
others have followers who are either hermetic or shamanic in their
outlook. In the game world, these magicians must be either mages or
shamans, but it is possible for a single magical tradition to include both.
Astaru is the modern incarnation of Norse rune magic. Practitioners
follow the ideals of the Norse gods, Odin, Thor, Balder, Loki and others
and make use of the eddas and runes of the Norse mysteries for divination
and spell symbolism.
Most Astaru practitioners are likely to be Nature Magicians in
Shadowrun (as described in the Germany Sourcebook). Some will be mages
who use runes as part of their magical "vocabulary".
Chaos Magick is a 20th Century magical movement intended to create a
"pure" magical system that is devoid of any one dogma or credo, a system
that works with any particular belief system but which transcends all of
them. Much of the work of Chaos Magick will likely form some of the
underpinnings of the post-Awakening Hermetic system, but Chaos magicians
also use some shamanistic practices in their work and cannot be
classified as truly Hermetic (indeed, most would strong resist
classification of any kind).
Discordians are really Chaos magicians, but followers of a credo of
freedom and randomness. Most claim to follow the Goddess Eris, Lady of
Discord, and practice messing with other people's ordered world-views as
much as possible. Discordians make great rebels and punks and their
tradition would thrive in the post-Awakening 21st Century.
The Druids were ancient Celtic priests, shamans and philosophers as
described in the London Sourcebook and Tir na nÕg. Modern Druids in the
Sixth World are divided into shamanic nature worshippers who follow
various totems and more Hermetic druids who embody the idea of the druid
as a wise philosopher, astronomer and scientist.
There are several American (and international) branches of Druidism
such as the Reformed Druids of North American and Ar nDraiocht Fein.
I'm not really sure where Chinese geomancy fits into the whole
Hermetic/Shamanic scheme of things, so I'm putting it in here. Feng shui
(literally "wind and water") is a Chinese system of understanding the
flow of chi in the landscape and through the Earth. It is generally used
in architecture and landscaping to ensure that an area is in harmony with
the natural energies there. The "dragon lines" of Feng Shui are almost
certainly the same type of manalines exploited in Great Britain (see The
London Sourcebook) and Chinese sorcerers would tend to use Feng Shui to
located and make full use of these valuable magical sites.
Wicca or the Craft of the Wise exists in both shamanic and Hermetic
forms. Most Witches are followers of Nature Magic, with the Great Mother,
Moon Maiden or Horned God as their Idol. Others (usually more British and
American) are mages who incorporate the religious observances of Wicca
into their lives, but whose magic is distinctly influenced by Hermetic
traditions in England in the 19th Century. Modern Gardenarian and
Alexandrian Wicca are strongly Hermetically influenced. Wicca is a
widely practiced religion and magical tradition that will likely see a
great surge of believers after the Awakening, although many of them will
lose interest after they find out that witchcraft isn't the "quick fix"
Gypsy Magic is practiced by the Romany tribes of
Europe as described in the Germany Sourcebook. Some Gypsy families have
made their homes all over the world and it is possible to meet a
practitioner of the tradition almost anywhere outside of Europe.
As Awakenings points out, there are magicians in the Sixth World who
don't even know that they are magicians or using magic. They describe their
abilities in terms of a power other than magic. These types of
characters, while rare, can be used to intrigue players who are otherwise
jaded with the idea of magic.
Some magicians might rationalize their beliefs as psionic powers,
casting spells that conform to their model such as Mind Probe, Manabolt,
Levitate, Magic Fingers and Ignite. They could even rationalize spirits
as thought forms, manifestations of their own consciousness composed of
Radically conservative religious magicians could manifest their
powers as "faith healers", speaking in tongues, laying on hands and
casting out evil spirits through banishment. They might well be strongly
anti-Awakened and deny that magic is the real source of their abilities.
Some real off-beat magicians might even manifest their magical
abilities based around some detailed fictional universe such as Star
Trek, Middle Earth, the Wheel of Time, or even Star Wars (21st century
Jedi-wannabes, anyone?) I've even seen an interesting character with a
magical tradition based on Doctor Who!
The possible variations of magic are almost endless, so feel free to
use them to liven up what might be just another mage in your next Shadowrun
adventure. The greatest power of magic is the mystery that it invokes, so
never let you players think that they know it all about how magic works.
ThereÕs always an unknown out there that's just waiting to be found.
(the contents of this file are copyright 1996 by Stephen Kenson and Talon
Studio. They may not be distributed in any form without the permission of
the author. Shadowrun is the registered trademark of FASA Corporation).