Anthony Scopatz

I think, therefore I amino acid.

Origins of Cannonical D&D Spells

As you may or may not know, there was once a time when Dungeons & Dragons and related role-playing games were based on actual mythology. I think it would be an interesting exercise and possible academic article to denote some of this explicitly. Specifically, in the realm of magic and its use in game. Many of the original spells and items come directly from things out of a greater mythological structure, whether they acknowledge this or not. So without further ado,

Wish - This is basically a gimme. The wish spell is near an exact replica of the various Djinn appearing throughout Arabian folklore. Of course western traditions re-appropriated it in with translations of A Thousand and One Nights. Aladdin is the most notable example. The fact that the wish spell functions mechanically to screw over headstrong players is reflected in the stories.

Sleep - This is one of the more interesting examples. Most players might think that this spell is just an obvious, low-level tactical. However, it really has a deep historical basis.

Invisibility - This spell is arguably one of the most ancient. The word itself is arguably the Roman translation of a god. Invisibility directly from the Helm of Hades, used most notably in the Trojan Wars. This items imparts invisibility unto its user. An important linguistic note is that the word Hades is thought to be the combination of the aspirated alpha privative with the “ides”, or sight. Thus Hades is literally the unseen. This has interesting social implications for the ancient Greeks which we won’t delve into here. These subtleties are mostly overlooked in the game.

Alter Self/Other - These spells occur throughout almost all of mythology. For example, many people do not realize that Merlin had the ability to alter his appearance to that of youths, maids, and other persons at will. Athene, of course, changes the appearance of Odysseus to that of an old begger in order that he may slay Penelope’s suitors.

Hex (Curse) - Additionally curses are placed on many characters throughout stories. The Gorgons being cursed by Athene. Morgana le’Fey handed these out like candy.

Flesh to Stone - Speaking of the Gorgons, this spell is an exact copy of their supernatural gaze. The reverse of this spell is of course triggered by slaying the monster. However, Stone to Flesh is also used in the story of Hephaestus and Pygmalion.

Augury - This spell is the clear domain of Apollo through his oracles. Higher divination magics are not expressed in mythos, as the future is unknowable. However, the trance-induced visions do give vague notions about what is to come. Generally a “Weal or Woe” as cryptically as possible.

Lightning Bolt - This is one of the few evocation spells that is tossed around. It is wielded by the such power houses as Odin, Thor, and Zeus.

Major Transmutations - A few select individuals are able to cause full changes to their person. They tend to be deities rather than mortal casters. Zeus even goes so far as to impregnate people while in alternate forms.

Locate Object - Saint Anthony of Padua has an impressive list of patronages. Among these are lost items and seekers of lost things. If there is a divinely inspired reason these, then it bears inclusion on this list.

Divination - This power was wielded by soothsayers and their like throughout many traditions. However, few had true innate ability on the level with this spell. And none more so than the blind seer Tiresias. His punishment for such power is that of his blindness.

Fly - Flight is never conferred directly in legend. Icarus gains it through the creation of artificial wings. Hermes is granted flight through winged boots. Sinbad is content to hitch rides on Rocs.

This is all I can think of for now. I’ll update as I think of more.

Comments