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Rival claims to the contrary, the world's oldest profession is probably sorcerer. Shaman, witch, medicine man, seer . . . the origins of the magic-user, the-one-who-intercedes-with-the-spirits, almost certainly go back to the very beginnings of humanity—and beyond. Fascinating traces of ritual sorcery have been unearthed at various Neanderthal sites: the ritual burial of the dead, laid to rest with their favorite tools and food, and sometimes covered with flowers; a low-walled stone enclosure containing seven bear heads, all facing forward; a human skull on a stake in a ring of stones. . . . Neanderthal magic. A few tens of thousands of years later, in the deep caves of Lascaux and Pech-Merle and Rouffignac, the Cro-Magnons were practicing magic, too; perhaps they had learned it from their hairy Neanderthal cousins. Deep in the darkest hidden depths of the caves at La Mouthe and Combarelles and Altamira, in the most remote and isolate galleries, the Cro-Magnons filled wall after wall with vivid, emblematic paintings of Ice Age animals. There is little doubt that these cave paintings—and their associational phenomena: realistic clay sculptures of bison, carved ivory horses, the enigmatic and non-representational "Venus" figurines, the abstract and interlacing "Macaronis," the paint-outlined handprints—were magic, designed to be used in sorcerous rites (although there is some recent debate in anthropological circles as to how the cave paintings were magically employed; the old symbolically-kill-the-painting-to-ensure-success-in-the-hunt theory may turn out to have been too simple an answer to fit a multiplex and probably multipurposed cultural phenomenon). So Magic predates Art. In fact, Art may have been invented as a tool to express Magic, to give Magic a practical means of execution—to make it work. So that, if you go back far enough, artist and sorcerer are indistinguishable, one-and-the-same a claim that can still be made with a good deal of validity, in fact, to this very day.

For the last couple of decades, the most common public image of the sorcerer, at least in America, has probably been that of the benign, white-bearded, slouch-hatted, staff-wielding wizard—an image which almost certainly owes most of its ubiquity to the enormous success of J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, an image primarily composed of a large measure of Gandalf the Grey, with perhaps a jigger of T. H. White's Merlin thrown in for flavor. Throughout history, however, the sorcerer has worn many faces—sometimes benevolent and wise, sometimes evil and malign, sometimes—ambiguously—both. To the ancient Greeks, it was the Great Science; Paracelsus called it "a great hidden wisdom," and the famous mystic Agrippa considered it to be the true path of communion with God. Conversely, to medieval European society, the sorcerer was one who collaborated with the Devil in the spreading of evil throughout the world, in the corruption and ruination of Christian souls, and the smoke of thousands of burning witches and warlocks filled the chilly autumn air for a hundred years or more. To some Amerind tribes, the magic-user was either sorcerer or magician depending on the use—either malevolent or benign—to which he put his magic. In fact, nearly every human society has its own image of the sorcerer. In Mexico, the sorcerer is curandero, brujo, or bruja; in Haiti, he is houngan or quimboiseur; in Amerind lore, the Shaman or Medicine Man or Singer; in Jewish mysticism, the kabbalist; in Gypsy circles, the chóvihánni, the witch; in parts of today's rural America, the hoodoo or conjure man; to the Maori of New Zealand, the tghunga makutu . . . and so on, throughout the world, in the most "progressive" societies no less than the most "primitive." The fact is, we are all still sorcerers under the skin, and magic seems to be part of the intuitive cultural heritage of most human beings. Whenever you cross your fingers to ward off bad luck, or knock wood, or insure the health of your mother's back by not stepping on the cracks in the sidewalk—or, for that matter, when you deliberately step on them, with malice aforethought—you are putting on the mantle of sorcerer . . . then you are practicing magic, as surely as the medieval alchemist puttering with his alembics and pestles, as surely as the bear-masked, stag-horned Cro-Magnon shaman making ritual magic in the darkness of the deep caves at Rouffignac.

In this anthology, we have endeavored to cover the whole world of magic, the sorcerer in every mask and role. Here you will find benevolent white wizards, and the blackest of black magicians. Sorcerers who can kill with a touch, or the point of a finger. Sorcerers who encyst their enemies in crystal spheres forty-five miles beneath the surface of the earth. Whimsical sorcerers who make magic with newspapers and beer cans, grim sorcerers who whisper of death in the still of night in the most chill and terrible of voices. Sorcerers who rule your dreams and shape them to their own ends. Sorcerers who command the forces of Hell. Sorcerers who guard the very world of life itself against vast implacable Powers from beyond the dry vales of death. Here you'll drink and dice at the Silver Eel tavern, and sample the dangerous wares of Azenomei Fair. . . . Cross the black and measureless Outer Sea, sail aboard the Night Bird, or with the fabulous ship My Boat, whose ports of call include Knossos and Atlantis, Kadath in the Cold Waste, and Celephais the Fair. . . . Meet Iucounu the Laughing Magician, General Jack, and Silver John . . . squint-eyed Mr. Onselm and the fearsome Hag Séleen . . . . Encounter, if you dare, the monstrous Dead Horse . . . the Ugly Bird . . . the sinister River Spider. . . . Visit worlds outside the time and space we know, the mythic lands of Earthsea and Newhon and The Dying Earth . . . Lankhmar and Almery . . . and then return home to find that magic is also afoot in the remote hills of Appalachia . . . in the deep bayou country of Louisiana . . . in post-colonial Africa . . . in a sleepy little Central American nation . . . in a big-city park at night . . . in the stuffy environs of a Long Island high school in the fifties . . . amidst the whir and clatter of an ultramodern computer room . . .

. . . and perhaps you will find that magic is afoot in your own heart, as well. . . .

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