As usual, I’m taking advantage of the Tough Traveling feature at Fantasy Review Barn to talk about a story-related topic. Unusually though, I don’t have anything from the actual text to highlight — there have been no real witches in the story thus far.
Oh, there have been people who were called witches. And there are witches around.
But I wanted to talk about a broader topic of small magics, because it’s a concept that underlies my worldbuilding even if it doesn’t show through very often.
I’m also going to truncate the entry, as previously. While some Tough Guide entries are still highly relevant, others have aged badly…
Witches are special and probably at least the equal of Wizards. They come in several kinds:
1) Good. These are the commonest type. Most of them seem to be, at most, in their early thirties, and they are often good-looking and extremely well-dressed. All of them have commanding personalities and great skill in Magic, but from time to time they show an endearing lack of confidence in themselves. …
2) Bad. (See Enchantress, which is really the same thing.) …
3) Freelance. These are rarer and tend to be:
a) Mature ladies who have decided to strike out on their own, in which case they look like bad Witches or are fat, overdressed and silly-seeming. In very rare cases they may be retiring and ugly. They live in Cities and can usually be persuaded to join your cause.
b) A very young witch in search of more Magic or adventure, who will probably join the Tour. …
A related and probably more relevant description is found under Herbwoman:
Said to be the female equivalent of a Hedge Wizard, but this is seldom the case. She is never rich, but she can be any age, and the older she is the more likely she is to be an accomplished midwife. She will usually wear Homespun Robes. If young, she may join your Tour. A Herbwoman will have had little or no formal training, but she will have received enormous amounts of lore from her predecessors, and anything to do with the natural world is an open book to her. She will be quite a powerful Witch and often able to Heal when normal Healers have given up. She is also likely to have Legends and other Knowledge you need.
Maybe I’ve been reading the wrong books, but I can’t remember running across any witches that organize themselves into convents, which is what the full text of the ‘Good Witch’ part implies. Anyone?
Anyway, before I get into my own stuff, I want to mention one literary witch that I really enjoyed, even though I can’t remember her name (dangit). Martha Wells’ ‘The Death of the Necromancer’ was probably the best book I read in 2012, and I just read a review of it (while looking for the character’s name, argh) who likened it to The Lies of Locke Lamora spliced with Sherlock Holmes. Not sure about Sherlock myself, but when I was reading Lamora, I had intense flashbacks to Necromancer, so I definitely feel that comparison.
In about the middle of it, the protagonist Nicholas seeks shelter with his lover Madeline’s ‘witch-grandmother’, an awesome lady with a house protected by a magic tree-thing that defends them against the force following him. She doesn’t have much page-time but she makes a big impression, and I wish we’d been given more of her no-nonsense self.
That seems to be an overall theme of witches. If they’re not a bit hapless or slightly arrogant trainees (like Magrat or Tiffany Aching), then they’re motherly or grandmotherly ladies who wouldn’t hesitate to paddle your sassy protagonist butt. I really haven’t seen any of those ‘fat, overdressed and silly-seeming’ ones. Where have they been hiding out?
I should make some. I have the perfect template…
But I promised small magics.
The concept here is that the world is overflowing with life-energy, which can be easily harvested or harnessed — and that most people do so without even realizing it. Mages are trained to see and manipulate these flows of energy, and with enough work they can move such vast amounts of it that they are capable of depleting the land and killing it, but accidental practitioners just skim off the top layer of ambient power to enact whatever the world will allow.
Because the world is not only alive, but sentient. It’s not awake, but is arguably dreaming, and these ‘dreams’ are influenced by the behavior and needs of the people on its surface. Over time, certain needs can imprint a solution upon this dreaming consciousness, so that a ‘small magic’ is enacted whenever someone with that fervent need concentrates on it in a place of overflowing energy.
Witches are not mages. They do not twist energy by sheer force of will and soul, nor do they rip it away from the world in the process. They are merely more sensitive to places of energy, and aware of the solutions that have been imprinted on the land, and use those ‘small magics’ to do things like bless harvests and cleanse wells, strengthen the ill and soothe the dying, call rain and ward away storms.
Because this is more of a petition to the world than any type of spellcasting, it is not limited to humans (or wraiths) like standard magic is. Humans, skinchangers and beastfolk can all learn witchcraft in addition to any other skills; wraiths are almost exclusively locked out, because the world still feels hostility toward them, but the few who have embraced more terrestrial ways can sometimes make themselves heard.
Additionally, as mentioned, people can do witchcraft by accident. I do have a short story involving one such incident, but can’t show it, since it’s deep backstory for a currently mysterious character. Some day I will rewrite it into a prequel. But there are certain folk-songs and children’s games and fire-tales that, when done in certain places or under certain special conditions, will accidentally trigger a small magic effect — though whether it is a blessing or a curse depends entirely on the instigator.
Imagine telling spooky stories around the campfire only for them to immediately start coming true…
Fortunately (or unfortunately), most of the civilized world has been drained enough by current magic use or by the scars of the ancient mage-wars to never quite reach the threshold required for small magics — especially in cities. Practitioners of witchcraft have to seek out energy-pooling places or await certain tidal fluctuations (lunar, seasonal, et cetera) before they can enact a desired effect. However, some people are born — or otherwise become — more visible to the dreaming mind of the world, so that energy naturally pools toward them, making accidental witchery more common in their vicinity.
Whether or not they invoke it.
This came up in discussion post-post (heh), but it’s not just that wraiths can’t trigger witchcraft effects — they can’t even see them. Being too close to the surface of the planet shuts down their higher senses, including their arcane ones, so they actually pull energy blindly when they cast spells and trust there to be enough around for their purposes. This means that they have accidentally created a lot of the dead/wounded spots on the world because they can’t tell when they’ve taken too much. Human mages, not being reliant on expanded senses, can see the magic levels in their area if they have been taught how, and so are more capable of managing local resources.