From Merlin to Misborn: A Discussion on Magic- Music as Magic

As we continue our discussion on magic in the fantasy genre, I am privileged to welcome author Satyros Phil Brucato. His novel, Red Shoes, focuses on music as magic. Having been moved by music (as most people have been at one time or another), I was immediately intrigued by the idea. Satyros’ magic system is unique and grounded in the idea of music transcending the ordinary and becoming something more, something magical.

The song poured into me, lent me strength. The pounding beat melted into my pulse. Heavy chords filled my muscles, energizing me, throwing each power chord behind each punch, kick and block. My heart beat in time with the music. 

It was glorious. Red Shoes, by Satyros Phil Brucato

Music, fantasy, and magic. All three have been vital elements of my life since childhood, and so they’re vital elements of my writing, too. In my forthcoming novel Red Shoes (Quiet Thunder, Spring, 2021), I combined those elements into a tale of love, loss, abuse, revenge, and eventual recovery. Genét Shilling, a young bellydancer, sees her friend Blue burn to death on stage. As she traces the cause behind Blue’s death, Genét learns that our “reality” fluctuates in strange and sometimes awful ways. Sound, she discovers, manifests throughout creation. Everything is composed of sublime frequencies, and folks who understand that fact can manipulate time, physics, vital energies, and the nature of reality itself. Few people, thankfully, know how to manipulate sound with such potency. Those who can do so, however, command uncanny powers…

“How so, Meghan? And what sort of ‘powers,’ exactly?”

“Well,” she said, settling into the role of my mystic advocate, “the theory is that everything that exists came from a primal cosmic sound. You know that whole om thing people do in yoga class?” 

I nodded. “Yeah,” I said. “Go on.” 

“That’s supposed to be an echo of the cosmic sound – the Om, like the real one. The universe is supposed to be the echoes and refractions of that sound, running throughout the universe in infinite frequencies. If you tap into those frequencies, you can change the laws of physics and manifest things that science says are impossible.” 

“This is a weird-ass conversation, Meg,” I said, trying to joke off the eerie crawl up the back of my neck. “You sure we’re not dreaming right now?” 

“If we are,” she said with a flatness that turned that crawl into a full-force shudder, “then it’s a dream I’ve been living for most of my life.” 

There’s so much that even best friends don’t know about each other.

Genét’s best friend, Meghan, learned this stuff the hard way. During a mysterious event in high school (the subject of my next novel, Black Swan Blues), Meghan tapped into those powers by accident. Thankfully, she wound up being trained by people who understand those principles. In Red Shoes, Meghan and Genét call some of those friends in to help sort out the mess behind the burning girl’s demise. Time shifts. Blood flows. Secrets break wide open. All lives change. Some lives end.

For my approach to magic in Red Shoes and Black Swan Blues, I drew upon Vedic and Pythagorean metaphysics, combined with my own experience as a musician, dancer, DJ, and lifelong music fan. Sound, from this perspective has both physical and metaphysical effects. The physical ones are obvious: vibrations that arouse, excite, and occasionally harm living organisms and inanimate materials alike. On a metaphysical level, such vibrations shift emotions, inspire passions, and potentially connect us – for better and worse – with cosmic powers we barely understand. The idea for Blue’s death came from legends of the Dikpa Raga: a song that supposedly burns the singer alive with heat so intense it can evaporate a riverbed. I combined that idea with alchemical principles of transformative vibration and that weird time-dilation sense you get when you’re listening to great (or terrible) music or enjoying (or enduring) a great (or terrible) concert. Adding in the ups and downs of music culture and the people who create it, I wrote an urban faerie tale rooted in real-life experience and my own perceptions of this world. I’ve explored those ideas in my other work as well, especially Powerchords: Music, Magic & Urban Fantasy, Deliria: Faerie Tales for a New Millennium, and several short stories collected in my book Valhalla with a Twist of Lethe. The title track of that collection features the Norse thunder god attempting to become a rock star, realizing that the essence of human creativity flows from the uncertainties of mortal life. That interplay between sublime vibrations and earthy passions fascinates me. Although my real-life musical pursuits come nowhere near the powers manifesting in my fiction, I’ve experienced enough of such powers in my life, channeled through artists far more talented than I am, to know that while I exaggerate such magic in my fiction, the essence of that magic is real.

Red Shoes should be available for preorder this June, in print, digital and audio editions, from Quiet Thunder Productions. Ivy Tara Blair reads the audiobook edition, and she’s done a marvelous job.

About the author:

Satyros Phil Brucato is known best for his work with Mage: The Ascension, Strowlers, Deliria: Faerie Tales for a New Millennium, and various fiction and nonfiction projects spanning dozens of anthologies, magazines, games, comics, and other media. An occasional musician and outspoken political activist, Satyr lives in Seattle with his spouse Sandra Swan, two cats, and an endless supply of rage.

For an ongoing essay on this subject, expanded from an article I published in Realms of Fantasy magazine, check out the “Mystic Rhythms” series on my blog: 

Satyros Phil Brucato on wordpress: Mystic Rhythms: Music, Magic & History (Part I) | Satyros Phil Brucato (

For my now-disbanded mystic rock group Telesterion, see our page on Bandcamp:


For some of my other books on this subject, check out:

Powerchords: Music, Magic & Urban Fantasy: Rock ‘n’ roll roleplay (1)

Valhalla with a Twist of Lethe, and Other Strange Tales

Tritone: Tales of Musical Weirdness

For more from this series:
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Wheel of Time
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- The Coldfire Trilogy
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Magic in the Copper Circle
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Magic for Mercenary Kings
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- The Weather Warden
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- And Now This
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Blood, Fire, and Death
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Teaching Physics to Barbarians
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Discworld

From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Wheel of Time

This week is magic week on my blog! That means discussion about all the wonderful sorts of magic that is found in fantasy. I think that, if I were to skip Wheel of Time, I would have to turn in my Fantasy Lover card. However, it’s been a hot minute since I’ve read WoT and I am not known for having an excellent memory. Luckily, Rob Edwards, author and youtuber, has lent his expertise. As he points out, there is an upcoming TV show. If you’re a book hipster who likes to read the book before the adaptation, you might want to hop on it! You can also hear Rob Edwards’ thoughts on WoT on Youtube.

Rob Edwards:

The Wheel of Time turns…

And what turns it is magic. Or, more specifically, the True Source and its male and female halves, saidin and saidar. Every aspect of the world Robert Jordan created is predicated on this fact. The existence of people who can channel, men who can use saidin, and women who can use saidar, touches almost every aspect of the world.

I want to be particularly careful of spoilers, as Amazon’s television version of Wheel of Time is getting closer, and this story is (hopefully) going to find a brand-new audience. On balance, I think I’m safe to spoil things that happen in the prologue of book 1 of this 14-book behemoth.

The male half of the One Power, saidin, is tainted by the Dark One and male channelers are doomed to insanity as a result. One of the earliest victims of this (at least on this turning of the Wheel) is Lews Therin Telamon, who slays his friends and family, and releases so much power he reshapes the very geography of the world. Ever looked at the map of the Wheel of Time and thought it looked a bit weird? Blame Lews Therin’s madness and saidin.

The fact that only women can safely touch the One Power makes their order, the Aes Sedai, a power in the world. I’m not going to attempt to argue sexism isn’t a thing in the Wheel of Time, it is, but there are women in positions of influence in most cultures of the world. The story starts in the Two Rivers, a village so provincial they don’t even realise what country they are in, but they have heard of Aes Sedai. They don’t trust them, but they have heard of them.

But I wanted to talk about the magic system. What do we know about how the One Power works?

Quite a lot, in fact. Over the course of almost 4.5 million words of fantasy epic, we spend a fair amount of time with women, and men, who can channel. We watch them learn, and come to understand their methods and risks.

To access the power, women must surrender to saidar, being careful not to be consumed by the desire to draw too much power, or risk burning themselves out. Men channelling saidin, don’t talk about it as a surrender, their use of the power is more combative, and while the desire to draw too much power is there for them too, it is set against the oily poisonous feel of the Dark One’s taint.

The one power is used to create weaves from earth, air, fire, water and spirit. Women are typically strongest with weaves of air and water, men with earth and fire. These weaves can be used for all sorts of purposes from fireballs to Healing, from influencing the weather to influencing people. 

Over the course of the series, we learn so much more about the intricacies of use of the power. We learn the circumstances in which a channeler can (or cannot) detect other channelers’ weaves. Inevitably, we learn what happens when two channelers come into conflict.

Really, I’m trying to be vaguely specific here to avoid spoilers!

The way that channelers can come together to create greater effects are explored, including noting that in earlier Ages, it was only by linking men and women in the same circle that the true wonders of bygone Ages were achieved. To keep me on brand, there’s a table in the old Wheel of Time RPG which shows how many men and women are needed for what size Circle. This table is not something invented for the game, it’s all in the books, though admittedly not in table form.

I’m barely skating across the surface here. I’ve not mentioned the differences and significances of power-infused items like angreal, ter’angreal and sa’angreal. That new weaves are created, or old ones rediscovered. Each with implications that are explored in the…

Burn me, there’s a lot. I guess that’s part of why this series is so long.

Still, if you’re looking for a fantasy series which really explores its magic system and its implications. If you want to get into the crunchy, almost scientific minutiae, Robert Jordan’s work is astonishingly detailed. It’s not a series for everyone, it has its problems, and some of the books are… not as good as the others… But light blind me for a wool-headed sheep herder, I love this series, and if you’re into this kind of thing, you might too.

Or wait for the TV show.

About the author:

Rob Edwards is a British born writer and content creator, living in Finland. His podcast, StorycastRob, features readings from his short stories and extracts from longer work. He writes about coffee, despite not drinking it, spaceships, despite being down-to-earth, and superheroes, despite everything.

His debut novel, The Ascension Machine was published in 2020. His short stories can be found in anthologies from Inklings Press and Rivenstone Press.

A life-long gamer and self-professed geek, he is proud of his entry on wookieepedia, the result of writing several Star Wars RPG scenarios in his youth.


Follow him on Twitter:
Check out his Podcast: Storycast Rob
Or YouTube: Rob Edwards

For more from this series:
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Wheel of Time
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- The Coldfire Trilogy
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- The Weather Warden
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- And Now This
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Blood, Fire, and Death
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Teaching Physics to Barbarians