Magic [ˈmæ dʒɪk] serves as a convenient cover term for aspects of Almean life that are not explained by our own scientific understanding. These aspects do not seem unitary to Almeans; since they have neither our experience nor our science, the phenomena discussed here would strike them as strangely miscellaneous.
In our culture, rationalism is so ingrained that even fantasy writers may be unable to imagine magic except as a sort of technology, perhaps based on aspects of physical law yet undiscovered. Since we cannot directly experiment with Almean magic, we cannot rule out that some or all of the phenomena below are “natural” in this sense. But for the same reason, the rationalist perspective has little explanatory power; and we had might as well use Almeans’ own emic categories.
Types of magic
Below I review some of the phenomena we may call magical on Almea, with notes on how to find them, and what sort of wonders to expect— both explorers and readers, it seems to me, should be fairly warned about how far things Almean may vary from earthly norms. Some things, of course, may yet surprise us all.
The serving of Powers
A Power (Ver. vyoža) is a supernatural being; magicians seek a relationship with one, and thus gain certain powers and perquisites. The vyožî are fastidious beings who do not accept all who call on them, and who place great demands on those they do receive. One who simply seeks rewards is apt to be disappointed; the vyožî are not jinni, much less cornucopias for earthly gain. The best analogy— though writers on magic avoid it for its indignity— is that vyožî take magicians as pets. If they like the pet, they may do much for them, but the pet cannot make demands. It seems to be possible, as well, to fall too deeply into the world of the vyožî. From a worldly perspective, the strongest magicians are those with enough will to remain apart from the vyožî, but enough diplomacy not to offend them.
Medieval Uytai made perhaps the only concerted effort to exploit the Powers (Uyseʔ purhret) for the good of the state; though one or a few wizards were unreliable, they supported thousands, ensuring that their needs (from communications to architecture to military use) were met. There were many strange side effects, from magical plagues or darkness to a propensity to insanity in the imperial family. The period also retarded progress of a more conventional sort.
|Typical of||Verduria (alcedla); Dhekhnam; ancient Skouras; Uytai (loyhret)|
|Practitioners||Rare— a handful per province|
|Capabilities||Being helped by Powers is like having an army of fast, invisible, not very bright demon helpers. A house could be built in a day, a town searched for a trinket, a band of warriors disarmed; but items cannot be changed in nature. Powers may have unusual knowledge, but cannot foretell the future. Alcedlomî may know other forms of magic.|
This includes herblore, traditional medicine, and prophecy, and extends with no clear dividing line into alchemy. The vast majority of this is, as on our world, a mixture of actual knowledge, treatments that are effective but not for the reasons practitioners would adduce, and total claptrap. (Almean herbs may have unusual properties, such as the contraceptive powers of uciro, and still be “natural”.)
However, some residue of earth magic is hard to explain naturalistically. As one example, the king of Bhrum maintains a guru with the ability to accurately foretell the next day's weather. Verdurians have visited the court, kept careful journals for as much as two years, and confirmed the ability, as well as its limitations (the man has no other unexplained abilities, and cannot use them elsewhere in Téllinor.)
|Typical of||Verduria (zobát); Axunai ranaxunudo; Dhekhnam (shkono); and most other cultures in some form|
|Practitioners||Very common; every village likely to have one|
|Capabilities||Medicine; visions, hallucinations, oracles, and predictions; curses and blessings; knowledge of and claimed control over the weather; magical fire and protections; awareness of spiritual threats. Earth magic generally avoids large claims, but is also considered more reliable.|
The Uytainese maintain that our spirits persist on Almea for a time, before moving on somewhere else. The impulse to move on is strong— spirits may even resent being held back; but they can be induced to remain with suitable supplications, or they may have their own reasons to stick around. A spirit can be a powerful ally— or enemy.
|Typical of||Uytai (uyhret) and Belesao; but common elsewhere; cf. the mureši of the dead in Mešaism; and some Caďinorian fantit are ancestors|
|Practitioners||Fairly common; everyone can point you to a place which has, or till recently had, a ghost|
|Capabilities||Unaided spirits can only speak softly within the mind; they are strengthened by the presence of their own bones, certain herbs, or other spiritual presences. Strong spirits can control matter, even possessing living spirits, but this tires them. They cannot generate a body— even a transparent one— but they nonetheless create a strong sense of their presence; those affected often report looking around in puzzlement, expecting to see where that voice is coming from.|
These include the ability of the iliu to induce visions and illusions in each other and in other Thinking Kinds, and the ability of ktuvoks to exert a sort of hypnotic control over other species. Iliu are also known for their healing ability, which is usually considered supernatural, but you never know with them.
Almeans attribute magical abilities to the icëlani (e.g. invisibility, herblore, power to enchant) and to the elcari (e.g. near-invulnerability, powers of fast orefinding or stoneworking). These are most likely mythologized exaggerations. E.g. the icëlani certainly know how to make themselves scarce; it's a small step to thinking they can make themselves disappear.
The inner world
The term is calqued on Lé nɔŋǎ, but the concept is common across Almea: there is a world— or several— hidden behind the visible one, subject to difficult-to-fathom laws, but which can be traversed by those who know the secret. Sometimes this world is identified with that of the dead (and thus with ancestor magic) or with gods or other supernatural beings; elsewhere, as among the Lé, the inner world is something of a cosmic neutral ground, alien to the gods as well.
|Typical of||Belesao (nɔŋǎ); Axunai (the mureši); Mnese|
|Practitioners||Less common; you may have to hunt around to find an adept|
|Capabilities||The inner world can be accessed to travel, to track, to find hidden connections between things, or even to interpret dreams or cure mental disorders. There may be inhabitants to talk to, or to combat; these may include gods or the dead.|
This refers to any attempt to work out cosmological systems underlying or parallel to Almea. Religions do the same, of course, and religious cosmologies are likely to be the starting point for a culture's scholarly magic. But the scholars insist that their knowledge is systematic and practical, and isn't tied to spiritual insight. Again, much of this is likely to be nonsense— in any case, the different systems contradict each other— and even what is true may be buried by obscurantist drivel. (Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell contains a fine portrait of a magic system which has declined into dead scholarship.)
- Mešaic magic was swept away by Endajué, which considered it one of the nine forms of illusion.
- On the other hand, Bezuxau insisted that some forms of magical power were straightforward, but resisted systematization because of moral scruples: murder, for instance, released magical energies that could be tapped in reproducible ways.
- Nanese magicians consider that the Zone of Fire is magical, and that its power can be tapped for various purposes.
|Typical of||Civilized realms (less advanced realms prefer earth magic). Magic is easier to study than to practice, so other forms of magic generally decline into scholarship. There is a professional fellowship (cumoterát) of magicians in Verduria; these are largely mere scholars.|
|Capabilities||In most cases, none; in the exceptional cases, not enough evidence to say.|
The protoypical miracle is a monotheistic god setting aside natural law— though C.S. Lewis would insist that Christian miracles only relax timing; e.g. Jesus turns fish into more fish, just as nature does; the miracle is that he does it instantly. Pagan gods usually don't face such scruples; on the other hand, in some religions the gods are really members of the natural order, so that ‘miracle’ is not really a conceptual category.
Miracles are most characteristic of Eleďát, though other monotheisms, such as those of the Cuzeians or Qaraus, record them. The greatest miracles are generally one-off events, such as the Miracle of the Translation; as such they are not amenable to scientific investigation. Theologically, some everyday activities (such as communion) are miracles. The Eleďi generally consider all other forms of magic (except for the abilities of the iliu) to be either illusory or demonic. Jippirasti take an even more extreme view; Jippir's only miraculous activities are the creation of souls and his revelation to Babur.
|Typical of||Eleďát; though present to some degree in all religions|
|Practitioners||Spectacular miracles are vanishingly rare. Visible miracles are always theologically possible, but are not a common aspect of church life. Interaction with God, however, is considered to be common and accessible to all.|
|Capabilities||The most spectacular miracles are associated with spreading the faith, or preserving those who do so. Minor miracles include healing, exorcism, prophecy, visions, and speaking in tongues.|
Though most Almeans will never meet an alcedlom, magic items are not uncommon. One reason is the nature of the relationship with the Powers: a vyoža is more likely to offer his human servant a magic item (a one-time gift) than a spell (which would require attention every time the magician cast it). Another is that magic items usually last for centuries, and thus tend to accumulate over time. They are highly valued, of course, and are likely to be the great treasure of a family or a monarch— you're not going to find these in a store. It's said that magic items hate to be idle, and somehow hoarded or lost items find their way into the hands of those who will make use of them.
Some known magic items:
- Longstones, allowing conversation over a distance; Caďinas possessed a full dozen, and three remain in the hands of the kingdom of Verduria.
- Everwax, which emits a candle-bright flame but is not consumed by it.
- Stones that detect poison, or purify water, or start fires.
- Soothwine, a potion which inhibits lying; one of the few magic items which can be consumed.
- Cloaks that confuse viewers' perceptions.
- A cloth which will bind a broken limb such that it can be used normally (it does not actually cure the break, but does facilitate healing).
- Keys that will open almost any lock; locks which will resist such keys.
- A pouch that supplies gold pieces, and regenerates them when empty; but the gold evaporates within a day.
- A gourd which, once a day, produces a cup of pure water.
- A lozenge which can be swallowed, and allows water breathing— not so pleasant to retrieve, perhaps!
- A dull cloak which fits anyone, and becomes a gorgeous raiment until removed
- A glass eye which will watch for its owner, and communicate what it has seen.
- A perpetual motion machine— no more than a toy, but good for extracting money from the wealthy to research duplicates.
Here I mean alcedlomî, those who serve Powers. Men who desire temporal power generally find directer means, and their personalities seem not to interest the Powers anyway. But there are some exceptions. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
- The wizard Uhnonca seized control of Verduria and Arcaln in 2198 from the Red Cabal. It took the Cabal three years to retake the city.
- Another wizard, Utu, took power in Verduria precisely a thousand years later, in 3198. Unusually, this was the command of his masters, dark Powers who desired resources that only a king could provide. Utu passed power to his protégé Čagu, known as Utu-On, defeated by Tomao in 3241.
- The baroness Burcuma Čuneona has ruled Guaya for more than 120 years.
- Sundu of Imuṭeli is described as a wizard. It's likely that this is simply an expression of moral condemnation, as he started the first major Skourene war, in 243.
- Bezu ma-Veon, founder of Bezuxau, overtly claimed magical powers in addition to offering spiritual revelations.
- The cult of Kâ, in northwestern Arcél, centers round a malevolent vyoža; see The rogues.
|Incomplete||Zompist is still working on this article; best to leave it alone till it's done.|