Welcome to the Occult Triangle Lab

You opened the box, he came.

This is the Occult Triangle Lab, a blog about fantasy, trigonometry, and ungodly amounts of milk. New posts are below, but for new visitors, here’s a guide to some of the coolest projects on the Lab so far:

  1. Ergodica: Experimental Literature, Fractals, and Necromancy
  2. The Making of ANATMAN: Origami Books, Zen Buddhism, and Oroboro
  3. The Rats in the Walls: Graffiti, Lovecraft, and an NYC Alternate Reality Game

Other posts cover my fantasy world and short stories, including posts on worldbuilding, magic systems, and sketches from my stacks of notebooks. I also talk about books and articles I’m reading.

If you want to get in contact with me, email me christophmahon [at] gmail [dot] com or Tweet me @DeadmanMu. I’m always happy to talk.

Welcome to the Occult Triangle Lab

I’m Going to Have a New Column on Magic at the Fantasy Hive!

Hey all, I’m back to being a freelance writer, and I’ve signed on to be a staff member for the upcoming fantasy website Fantasy Hive, along with Laura Hughes, A.Z. Anthony, Steven Kelliher, and a bunch more!

I’m going to be writing a column on magic called “Magic and Mayhem,” which will explore building magic systems, magic in fantasy, and magic in history/mythology. I’ll still be doing my column on worldbuilding for Fantasy Faction, too.

The Fantasy Hive launches on January 1st at Fantasy-Hive.co.uk!

 

I’m Going to Have a New Column on Magic at the Fantasy Hive!

My New Post on Magic and Kung-Fu is Up on Fantasy Faction!

After doing a lot of research and resigning myself to the fact that the number of kung fu duels I fight will be increasing exponentially in the next few years, I turned in my article on magic and qi to Fantasy Faction. You can read it here!

The article includes a basic overview of qi (aka chi or ki), its history and relationship to Daoism, its use in the training of the Shaolin monks, and the introduction of the Monk class into D&D, which became an archetype for fantasy martial artists in the Western fantasy genre.

This is the second column I’ve done focusing on a specific type of mage and magic, the first being my column “Old Grey Beards.” If you haven’t read my Worlds Within Worlds columns on Fantasy Faction, here they are:

THE NECRONOMICON TO THE NOKIZI: CREATING TEXTS FOR SECONDARY WORLDS

EXPLORING VVARDENFELL: HOW MORROWIND CREATED AN IMMERSIVE SECONDARY WORLD

WORLDS WITHIN WORLDS – PART TWO: MAGIC WARFARE

WORLDS WITHIN WORLDS – PART THREE: OLD GREY BEARDS

WORLDS WITHIN WORLDS – PART FOUR: QI AND FANTASY

The next spotlight on mages and magic will (hopefully) be necromancers and necromancy!

My New Post on Magic and Kung-Fu is Up on Fantasy Faction!

Beneath Ceaseless Skies Has Accepted My Short Story “Old No-Eyes”!

After seven years and a lot of rejections, I’ve made my first professional short story sale to Beneath Ceaseless Skies, my favorite fantasy magazine!

Two of the major reasons BCS is my favorite is because they focus on worldbuilding and “literary adventure fantasy,” the latter of which encourages strong characters and well-crafted prose. That’s what go for when I write, so BCS has quietly sat at the top of my list of places I’d like to be published for a while.

“Old No-Eyes” tells the story of a hermit-like scholar named Yute, who gets a letter from an old colleague that backstabbed him out of their shared tutelage in the art of immortality years ago. His old colleague needs Yute’s help to decipher a little black book that claims to undermine everything they learned about life, death, and immortality, but Yute has his own plans. The story has some elements of horror and suspense, and gives a good idea of what necromancy looks like in my world.

The “little black book” in the story is The Nokizi, which I actually wrote up in five parts (the full text is up on Medium, starting here). It’s a necromantic manifesto that draws on Zen, mathematics, and the occult, and fleshes out my world almost as much as the story.

For those keeping track at home, all of my stories take place in the same world, meaning that references to characters, places, and events in past or future stories will pop up.

It’s really exciting to finally get a story of mine published. I don’t do this for the cash, money, or fame. I write stories so I can share them with people. On that note, thanks to all the people that read early drafts of Old No-Eyes (including the folks at Brooklyn Science Fiction Writers), thanks to Scott Andrews for working with me on revisions, and thanks to everyone who gave me encouragement over the years.

Old No-Eyes does not have an official release date yet, but BCS is tentatively shooting for next summer.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies Has Accepted My Short Story “Old No-Eyes”!

Worldbuilding: Martial Arts, Magic, and ‘An Account of the Dyer’

I’m working on a new story about a character I’ve had in mind for several years, called ‘the Dyer’. He’s meant to be a mage who mixes martial arts with magic, and he gets his name from the bruising he leaves behind on his opponents, which is actually subcutaneous bleeding. The bleeding is so dark and persistent that it ends up ‘dyeing’ the skin black.

I wanted to write a non-fiction piece about the Dyer, sort of like Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings, but told from the point of view of another martial arts master. I came up with the character of Ryu-Ito, who interacts with the Dyer and writes down observations about him.

Here’s what I have so for her book, An Account of the Dyer:

Introduction by RyU-Ito

I write an account of a figure who has no need for words, whose style transcends description, and whose genius demands firsthand experience, not ink on pages. He has read this tract with bemusement and forgotten it as quickly as he was told of it. He never learned his movements from books, and regards scholarship with bewilderment; why would one write about a style, instead of practicing it?
When putting this account to pen, I was faced with these questions and more. But I am committed to the belief that while words cannot bring us to the summation of understanding, they can help us take the first steps. Where words’ usefulness end, experience takes us by the hand and leads us on down the path, which I have learned has no end.

The hand that can break bones moves with strength and speed; the hand that can split the sky does not move at all.

Chapter 1

The first time I met the Dyer, I was taken aback. I had heard of his strange appearance, but I was not prepared to find a man like a scarecrow in the meeting-room. What struck me were his long fingers, wrapped in bandages, and his white porcelain mask, which is unsettling to anyone who is not familiar with his gentle nature.

The Dyer is notoriously shy, but it is well-known that he has a special discomfort for being alone with women. In our meeting, he kept his gaze rooted firmly on the floor, only raising his head when one of the students knelt to fill our cups. It was at that point that I decided to dispense with all the trappings of a formal meeting and challenge the Dyer to a duel.
The cups were cleared away and I shed my outer robes, leaving only my gi. I took my stance and waited. The Dyer stood up abruptly and stood awkwardly for a moment or two, then bowed. I practiced the breathing my masters had taught me and prepared to advance. A thousand subconscious thoughts ran through my head like fish below the surface of the water, gauging his reach, his inertia, his movements. I led with my right hand, leaving my left to block in the wu position, and moved into his range.

And then I stopped. The Dyer, at some point that I had not noticed, had completely relaxed. He was leaving himself completely open to attack from any angle, but seemed absolutely untroubled by it. Gazing at his mask, I searched for a trace of his eyes to give me insight into his thoughts or emotions, but I found myself hypnotized. The harder I tried to look past his mask, the more I saw myself through his eyes. I found myself cycling through a thousand different potential mindsets to explain his serenity, a thousand different images of the Dyer behind the mask, but all of them fell away in the face of him. Suddenly, his great height seemed to grow even taller, and his presence filled my world. He was simultaneously everything I could imagine and none of it, at once peaceful and overwhelming. I knew in that moment, while I stared into the twin eyes of his mask, that I could never defeat this man.

And then he did something surprising: he raised his right arm and held it in the same position I had mine, so that our wrists crossed. He mirrored my stance, and he gently pushed his wrist against mine, so that my arm rotated a little. I instinctively pushed back, and his arm gave way, at which point I ceased applying pressure. He repeated the gesture, and we went back and forth like that for a long time. Slowly, he brought his other arm around, and I met it with mine. We began pushing with both our hands, and I began taking steps forward, which he mirrored, until we were dancing.

It was then that I understood the heart of the Dyer’s style and the secret to his invincibility: no one fights the Dyer himself—his opponents only fight themselves.

Worldbuilding: Martial Arts, Magic, and ‘An Account of the Dyer’

Fictional Reading Lists: Yute and Samal

I recently saw an exercise online where authors wrote up lists of real-life books that they thought their characters would like to read if they were brought into our world. I thought it’d be fun to write up lists for two of my characters: Yute, a psychopathic immortality-seeker who disarms people with his wit and charm, and Samal, a sea-wizard and vagabond who has devoted his life to becoming a selfless, benevolent survivor.

Yute

Yute, as I’ve explained in detail in a previous post, is meant to be a charismatic psychopath. He’s charming, worldly, well-read, self-reflective, inquisitive, intelligent, and deeply egocentric. As I was building his list, I realized that it was really a syllabus for a bizarre kind of self-education: Yute doesn’t read for pleasure, he reads to learn things, hence the large amount of non-fiction titles. His choices in Western philosophy reveal a strong interest into the nature of being and self, which connects to his obsession with the soul and immortality.

The 48 Laws of Power would be one of his bibles. Because Yute is an inherently manipulative and egocentric person, he views others as tools for his own advancement. He has a strong desire to control others, and he accomplishes this through his glib charm and charisma. Everything he does around other people is part of a performance, meant to advance his own ends, and 48 Laws reflects this mindset. The handbook on interrogations characterizes his intent when it comes to conversations and manipulation–instead of reading a book on clear communication, he goes instead for a book on how to provoke confessions and guide discussion through deception and coercion.

With his need of a ‘mask of sanity’ to hide his intentions, I realized Yute would be drawn to Montaigne and David Sedaris in order to familiarize himself with popular commentators’ wide-ranging views on daily life and experience–as a hermit and scholar, he needs to fill gaps in his knowledge of the world outside scholarship and be able to relate to more common folk. At the same time, he’s interested in the extreme ends of human experience, from enlightenment (there are two Zen titles, by Alan Watts and Lin Chi respectively) to absolute depravity and cruelty (120 Days of Sodom).

  • The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers
  • The Psychology of Interrogations and Confessions by Gisli Gudjonsson
  • Sein Und Zeit by Hegel
  • A Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
  • The Complete Essays by Michel de Montaigne
  • Me Talk Pretty One Day
  • The Way of Zen by Alan Watts
  • Three Hundred Mile Tiger by Lin Chi, translated by Soke-an
  • H.P Lovecraft: the Great Tales by H.P. Lovecraft
  • 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade
  • The Fractal Form of Nature by Benoit Mandelbrot
  • Fractals: Form, Chance, and Dimension by Benoit Mandelbrot
  • The Secret Teachings of All the Ages by Manly P. Hall
  • The Mystical Qabbalah by Dion Fortune

Samal

I was surprised when I composed this list–I didn’t expect Samal, a sea-wizard, to lean so heavily towards tales of survival, but the more I thought about his interests and aspirations, I realized that what draws him towards books like Into Thin Air and Endurance is the idea of individuals overcoming death through sheer force of will (or being conquered themselves). Samal is influenced heavily by his belief that a wizard is meant to be a pillar that holds up the rest of the world, and as such, must be able to survive anything. Despite his well-developed sense of humor and tendency toward being an extrovert, I found that his personal reading would reflect his constant quest to become a bona-fide sea-wizard.

I added two books related to martial arts: The Art of Peace, which informs Samal’s approach toward conflict and his interest in a fighting style that is benevolent and effective, and Vagabond, which parallels his journey to understand what it means to be a bona-fide wizard. Like Samal, Inoue’s Miyamoto Musashi meets old masters and struggles to understand them. One of the most relevant parts of Vagabond is probably the scene where I’nei and Sekishusai meet Ise No Kami, who tells them that “his sword is one with heaven and earth.” Embedded in this scene is the essence of Samal’s quest to understand the true meaning of being a wizard, just as Musashi searches for the meaning of invincibility.

Samal’s choice of fiction reflects his interest in sea tales and adventure (Robinson Crusoe and Monte Cristo), but Ficciones speaks to his sense of imagination and wonder. As a sailor, his travels take him to unimaginable and exotic places that expand his mind, and I thought he would be interested in Borges’ explorations of the bizarre and wondrous. Lord of the Flies, on the other hand, speaks to Samal’s deepest fears: the betrayal of one’s own humanity and one’s inherent kinship with other human beings. The fact that it takes place on a deserted island makes it even more relatable to him, as a sailor. I imagine Samal having nightmares of his own pig-head, telling him to despair and abandon his desire to save others.

  • The Encyclopedia of Russian Prison Tattoos, Vol 1 and 2 by Damon Murray
  • Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  • Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
  • Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
  • The Art of Peace by Morihei Ueshiba
  • Vagabond by Takehiko Inoue Inoue
  • Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose
  • Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Journey by Alfred Lansing
  • Bushcraft 101 by Dave Canterbury
  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  • Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
Fictional Reading Lists: Yute and Samal

Iaido, Wing Chun, and ‘After the Rain’: Reflections on Martial Arts

I started taking wing chun classes at City Wing Tsun in Manhattan recently. In the two months since I began, it’s been a great experience, partly because the people are almost universally friendly, and partly because doing martial arts has made me feel more at peace.

Practicing some of the forms in wing chun reminded me of a scene from one of my favorite movies, Ame Agaru, or After the Rain. The movie follows Misawa I’hei, a ronin, and his wife, who are staying at an inn. After stopping a duel, Misawa gains the attention of the local ruler, who invites him to interview for the position of master-at-arms at his castle. Misawa turns out to be an unparalleled swordsman, but his weakness is his kindness and humbleness–as one character says, Misawa’s empathy toward his opponents (who inevitably lose) ends up coming across as mocking them, and Misawa himself seems resigned to being perpetually unlucky and undeserving of any good things that come his way.

The scene I was reminded of is a three-minute sequence in the forest, where Misawa is practicing drawing and sheathing his sword:

After two months of Siu Nim Tao, the first form of wing chun, I had a new respect for this scene, which seems pretty simple and boring at first glance. So much time and attention is given to the minute, almost ritualistic movements Misawa uses in the simple act of pulling out and putting away his weapon. When I first watched the movie, I was struck by how long the scene went on, that there was no music or dialogue, and that the director/screenwriter had chosen to forego doing another episodic fight scene in favor of a contemplative scene where Misawa reflects on how useless he is.

For comparison, here’s what Siu Nim Tao looks like:

One of our instructors at City Wing Tsun told us that he’d attended a class of high-level wing chun martial artists who practiced this form so slowly and deliberately that the set took them an hour to complete. Their movements were so gradual that you couldn’t tell they were moving, like the hands of a clock.

Looking back on that scene from After the Rain, it makes more sense to me. Rather than a weird little digression that fails to advance the plot, it touches upon something essential about Misawa: without delving into exposition or his past, it shows that this is someone who has dedicated his life to his art, and has maybe even mastered it. The fact that he does it alone, in the middle of the woods, hints that his path toward mastery was completed alone, and that like a tree falling in the woods, it’s still real even if he’s the only one who appreciates it.

But the end of the scene, where Misawa reflects on his uselessness and how his wife is the only thing that gives his life value, is most important of all: at this point in the movie, Misawa has just fucked up his interview in a catastrophic duel with his potential lord, and once again ruined an opportunity for his (and his wife’s) happiness. Him saying he’s useless, to me, just seemed like dejection, kind of a hapless “I can’t do anything right!” But in the context of his iaido, it seems like he’s saying “What good is mastering the sword if it doesn’t bring you happiness?”

Misawa may be the polar opposite of Miyamoto Musashi in Vagabond, which is my favorite manga series: Musashi is a swordsman driven by a desire to be invincible, and enters his fights with bloodlust and brute strength. Misawai I’hei enters his fights with benevolent intentions, either attempting to defuse the battle or hurriedly asking his enemy if they’re okay once he’s disarmed them. But I think both realize that at the end of the way of the sword is another path that doesn’t need the sword at all.

Iaido, Wing Chun, and ‘After the Rain’: Reflections on Martial Arts

My New Post on Magical Warfare Is up on Fantasy Faction!

Here are the opening lines:

“Fallout taught fans that war…war never changes. Military historians, however, argue otherwise. Case in point: the stirrup.

Before firearms dominated the battlefield, it’s generally agreed that the stirrup was the most important innovation in warfare for a couple centuries. Fans of the Rohirrim will recognize why: cavalry is fast and maneuverable, and the stirrup allows the rider to swing swords, carry lances, and fire arrows with ease. Anyone who doesn’t have an army equipped with stirrupped cavalry is doomed to be dominated by those who do. As a result, the stirrup changed the way armies waged war and (arguably) the very face of medieval Europe. Keep in mind, the stirrup is a piece of leather that’s attached to the saddle.

With that in mind, what would magic do to warfare?”

You can read the article on Fantasy Faction here!

Link