The Regulation of Magic

Memo, Magic Liaison

Cromwell,  Judith  (Director, BOA)
Kaur,  Ranat  (Magic Liaison, BOA)
The Magicians' Guild and Regulatory Practices

The Regulation of Magic

The Magicians' Guild was formed by Dr John Dee during the 16th Century. Though always ruled by magicians, for the first few centuries of its existence it also permitted witches, druids, seers, shamen or any human practising magic professionally to join its ranks. Despite this the High Council, which ruled the Guild, was formed entirely of master magicians, the three most senior officers being the Elder (effectively president of the High Council), the Keeper (effectively Membership Secretary) and the Recorder (effectively the Secretary).

They ran their own licensing system for every type of art, awarding forms of professional recognition to practitioners that favoured wealthy human males who practiced sorcery. Despite this, other human practitioners joined in order to access knowledge and whatever power they could. That grew as the Guild became more powerful following the Restoration. It began to admit non-human magical people to its ranks. Almost immediately, this brought them into conflict with the Seelie Court and various gods, who were opposed to another organisation having control over the fay.

It also created other problems. By taking fay into its ranks, the Guild found itself subject to having to revise the recognition it gave to magical ability, which had previously been based on university degrees. As the fay did not, on the whole, bother with the human education system, they did not fit within the Guild's established standards for qualification to the various grades of whatever form of art their human membership used. This cast the Guild into some confusion in terms of the way it awarded professional recognition; a discussion which continued for another half century and paved the way for the modern grading system.

By the middle of the 18th century the Guild was crumbling under the internal and external pressures. It was undermined by the fay's inability to preserve Guild secrecy and found itself unable to use their membership to its advantage with the Seelie Court. In addition, the upheavals created by their difficulties in grading fay aptitude was absorbing internal resources. As a result, the Guild split into two factions: the Independents and the Pragmatists. The pragmatists wanted to work with the gods and take an active part in human politics, while the independents opposed any collaboration and wished to preserve the Guild's independence against external interference. It began to look as though the Guild had bitten off more than it could chew and, for a while, there was a serious possibility it would founder. That it did not was mainly due to the complex political situation of the time.

The last seven years of the 18th century saw Britain at war with France. The Prime Minister, Pitt the Younger, viewed the Guild as a potential ally in this war and persuaded King George III that aiding the Guild would benefit the country. The King agreed, mainly because the Guild was opposing the gods and George III was a staunch Christian. Pitt seized the opportunity after the Guild deposed three Elders in one year, due to its factional differences, and seemed too exhausted to agree about the next. Pitt persuaded them to accept his appointee: Justin Magnus Ambrosius, then Chancellor of Ambrose College. His views straddled both camps and he was viewed as an impartial candidate. However, once appointed, Justin Magnus proved to be his own man, rather than Pitt's.

Magnus' first move was to set up the Council of Rank, which still exists, charging it with developing a grading system covering all levels of magic and appointed five men of his own choosing, one from each of the principle magical colleges, to oversee its work. When the Guild's fay members made it clear they would not comply unless he included a fay appointee on the Council of Rank, Magnus signed the Avebury Agreement with the Seelie Court and the gods, that fay could only join the Guild with their permission and if they went through the Guild’s grading system. That had the immediate effect of neutralising the hostility of the Seelie Court and the gods but displeased both the King and the Prime Minister.

Magnus also drove through major reform of the registration system, including the appointment of the first Keeper, who was responsible for maintaining the record of members, and the recording of legal names and addresses. Magnus intended to go further than that but this proved such a radical and controversial issue he was forced to be satisfied with the elevation and appointment of an unknown compromise candidate as Keeper, and commissioning a report on registration. The report, submitted a year later, recommended the registration of both magical signatures and true names.

During the next thirty years, the Guild was entirely pre-occupied with the internal dialogue about registration and recognition of professional status. This led to the precursor of the current system, with grading extended below degree level. Where the beginning of this work was marked by the strict enforcement, for those over grade nine, of the registration of legal (as opposed to working) names of its members, it ended with Magnus gaining acceptance for the registration of magical signatures, but not of true names. Opinion is split over whether Magnus ever meant true names to be registered, or whether that was, in fact, a political manoeuvre to gain the other concessions. Whatever the truth was, as a result of his reforms, Magnus attracted so much opprobrium in the eyes of some senior Guild members that he spent the end of his life under severe protection, and the location of his grave remains a closely guarded secret. Many members resigned from the Guild following Magnus' reforms, though most of these eventually drifted back into membership.

The Guild played a key role in the drafting and passing of the 1895 Magical Practice Act, which established the General Magic Council, to oversee the system of professional regulation of sorcery. Prior to this anyone, qualified or not, could practice. This also positioned the Guild to play a major role in future magical politics. However, during the early 1920s the serving president, Aleister Crowley, created controversy by fighting further regulatory legislation, especially expressing concerns over any proposed governmental access to the Guild's membership records. This caused a split with the so-called 'progressives' forming the Magic Temple, which later became British Fay & Magic (BFM). The great majority of the 'progressives' were junior magicians and a few non-sorcerer members of the Guild who, like the fay, perceived an imbalance in control and interest within the organisation in favour of senior magicians. Those magicians who also joined the Temple mostly trickled back after Crowley left office. Even those who stayed with the Temple – at least until the Glastonbury Accord (see below) – remained subject to the Guild’s standards of qualification to the various grades of magician.

As the Magic Temple didn’t view itself as bound by the Avebury Agreement, and sought new members without regard to race, many fay took the opportunity. This brought the Temple, in its turn, into opposition with the Court and the gods, until a third organisation, Aegis, was set up to counter both the Temple and the Seelie Court. Over the next few years the Temple lost most of fay members to Aegis. However, those few years of the peak of its membership coincided, happily for the government at the time, with its attempts to introduce more draconian measures to control magic. As result the Practice of Magic Act was passed in 1927, controlling magic in the workplace and society, introducing more criminal laws relating to magic, replacing the General Magical Council with the Bureau of Occult Affairs, and establishing the Occult Crime Branch, as the Occult Crime Squad (OCS) was originally known.

The Bureau negotiates standards that regulate magic across the various strands of witchcraft, sorcery, divination etc. It is still the Guild that determines the standards for the grading of magicians, and the qualification to each grade. Negotiations with, first, the Temple and Aegis, then with BFM, have resulted in agreed standards across other disciplines, subject to examination. Criminal activity, including failure to register, under-registering (registering below one’s real level of ability), using magic unlawfully or illegally in contravention to the various Acts passed since the late twenties, is all policed by the OCS.

The secrecy of the Guild was effectively dented by the Practice of Magic Act in that the OCS could require information from their records, under tight guidelines and as determined by an independent magistrate. The Guild was forced to move to a more open set of rules and an electoral system, whereby the Elder is elected every five years (or, more usually, can be deselected), and one third of the High Council is also elected every five years, from the ranks of either master magicians or Grade 10 magicians. However, the three principal officers still have to be drawn from the rank of master magician, and the posts of Keeper and Recorder remain elected only by members of the High Council. Although there have been fifteen Elders in the last 200 years, there have only been seven Recorders and three Keepers. The low number of Keepers reflect the importance members of the Guild attach to this position, given the influential nature of the data maintained by this particular officer.

Ranat Kaur

Regulation (Magic) Policy Advisor

© Alexa Duir 2006. All Rights Reserved.