The Words of Power–Background

15 Aug

The Words of Power

Magic is real. Magic is also very ill-understood. Bear that in mind.

Magic generally comes in two flavours; internal and external magic. Internal magic refers to a specific attribute, such as Lycanthropy, Vampirism or Glamour. In those cases, the magic is instinctive and the average ‘Kindred’ (as magicians call those blessed or cursed with internal magic) has little real control over their powers.

External magic is a talent; you must have the knack for magic to use it. Most magicians come into their powers without knowing what they’re actually doing, generally by using magic to help themselves, at which point they can be detected by any nearby magical cabal with the ability and inclination to search for potential recruits. However, very few magicians can master their powers without help – and an introduction to the Words of Power. There are no doubt thousands of magicians who never really realise what they are because they are never discovered and invited to join a cabal.

People who are not sensitive, even slightly, to magic are rarely capable of acknowledging its existence. While there is no major attempt to hide magic from the mundane population, there is no large-scale awareness of its existence – certainly not of the cabals, who have long memories and historical reasons to fear mundanes who know of the existence of magic.

The exact nature of the Words of Power is hotly debated by theoretical magicians. Simply put, a person with external magic who speaks one or more of the Words can use them to work magic. The Words somehow focus the magic into a proper spell, bypassing the difficulty of working magic in one’s mind. However, the more complex the spell, the more magical talent it requires to actually power the spell. Some magicians can cast very powerful spells, or multiple spells very quickly; others can barely manage the least complex spells. Spells are classed as first-order to tenth-order, although not all the cabals use the same system.

[In our terms, the Words of Power are a way of interfacing with the computer language underpinning our reality – cheat codes for the universe. In theory, a magician with enough power would be God, able to do literally anything.]

There is no consensus on the origin of the Words of Power, either. The most commonly accepted theory, among the cabals, is that God granted some humans the talents to use magic in order to provide a defence against magical creatures. Others (particularly the White Order of Christ) believe that Satan introduced the Words of Power to mankind as yet another corruption, not least because some Words of Power (and the accompanying rituals) provide the means for summoning and bargaining with demons (and angels).

What is accepted is that each cabal has its own set of Words of Power, passed down from member to member and closely guarded from outsiders. No single magician knows every Word of Power, let alone the combinations that allow different effects to be combined into a single spell. That doesn’t stop them from spying on each other and sometimes waging a quiet war in the hopes of capturing other knowledge for their own ends. Or, sometimes, they do trade knowledge.

Cabals tend to be very different from one another. The White Order is composed of specially-selected Catholic monks, chosen by the Vatican to defend the human race against demons and other magical creatures; the Muslim Dervishes consider themselves to have the same mission, although there are several separate Dervish cabals hidden within the larger Dervish community. The Learned Men of Letters are specifically British and consider themselves to be charged with protecting Britain; they are rivals to Dee’s men, who claim to have been around ever since Queen Elizabeth I.

There are darker cabals. The Black Easter and the Ladies of Hecate are both aimed at gathering power for themselves; the Black Easter because they want to rule the magical community, the Ladies because they believe that male crimes against women have to be avenged.

Theoretical magicians are treated with a mixture of awe and fear by the rest of the community, as they try to expand their knowledge of the Words of Power. Some rituals, such as spells to summon specific demons, have been hedged around with ritual since they were first discovered, with no real way of knowing what is actually essential and what isn’t. (For example, does a spell to summon the Lord of the Flies actually need a virgin blade soaked in the blood of a newborn child, or is it just a piece of nonsense that the original discover of the spell added to confuse people?) Sadly for the theorists (if not for everyone else) experimenting to discover the limits tends not to lead to a long life.

The Words of Power are intrinsically bound up in ritual. Some cabals have developed a tradition of herbal medicine and potions that invoke magical properties belonging to specific plants, animals and minerals. It isn’t actually clear if these potions are really magic, or if they’re just a form of placebo. The darker cabals have ways to pervert these rituals; possession of blood from a victim can be used to strike them with a curse, or send a demon after them. However, these forms of magic are ill-understood (just like the rest of the magic) and results tend to be mixed.

[The important detail, from our point of view, is that the Words of Power are magic words. Imagine the magicians as someone who has memorised a few words and phrases in a foreign language – “turn Jack into a toad now” – without really grasping the underlying nature of that language, or even the concept of letters. They may know ‘teleport,’ but they don’t realise that it is spelled ‘T-E-L-E-P-O-R-T’ or that one could produce ‘teleporter’ out of ‘teleport.’ Accordingly, the only way they have to make new Words of Power is hit-or-miss experimentation, when a single mistake can cause death or worse.]

Outside the human (and Kindred) community, there are four major types of entities.

Elementals can be summed up as the natural sprits bound to the mundane world. These can be as minor as nymphs and dryads to outright river gods. They tend to be bound to one specific location and rarely have much to do with humanity, although some have been moving against humans who cut down too many trees or hunt down too many animals. These beings have their own rules and rituals; bargaining with them is possible, but they don’t always want what most humans can offer in exchange. Their worldview tends to be very blunt, quite brutal in human terms.

One particularly interesting class of elemental are ghosts. Ghosts can be seen by humans with magical sensitivity, but very few of them are actually intelligent. Generally, they are echoes of human presence permanently imprinted onto certain locations, often replaying moments of intense suffering – or death. Certain ghosts are nothing more than revenge-seeking entities – but that doesn’t mean that they should be taken lightly. They tend to be indiscriminate in seeking revenge, often killing others who were not involved with the original crime.

Faerie is a catch-all term for entities that live in the Summerland, an alternate dimension that brushes against our own at various weak points. They range from brownies (friendly) and goblins (anything, but) to beings who are effectively gods. The Summerland is a reflection of our own world, ruled by the gods – for example, the area that corresponds to Britain is ruled by the Tuatha Dé Danann, the area corresponding to Rome is ruled by the Roman gods, etc. It is generally speculated that the territories ruled by the gods changed as their human worshippers waxed and waned (the Romans, for example, had rituals to invite gods to change sides) but no one knows for sure. The gods aren’t talking.

Quite why the gods went to the Summerland is unknown. The White Order believes that Christ banished them; oddly, the Dervishes share this belief, citing the fact that the Prophet Muhammad was the first and last Prophet to be truly human. Others, more thoughtful, believe that the gods were never as involved as humans believed them to be, or that humanity brought the gods into existence rather than the other way around. The truth is out there.

The gods rarely intervene in the mortal world, but they can and do play with those who wander into their territory. Seeking their favour is dicey. They tend to stack the decks in their favour.

Demons are both simpler and trickier. As legend has it, they are the original fallen angels, cast out of Heaven after Lucifer’s failed revolt. Souls are currency in hell and so they will often bargain quite intensely for a person’s soul, particularly that of a black magician. Most cabals are wise enough not to try to bargain with demons, fearing the effects of learning more about magic from such an intensely corrupt source, let alone tasking the demon with accomplishing a task in the mundane world. Those that are foolish – or corrupt – attempt to keep their demons firmly under control. This is not easy. Demons must honour the letter of the contracts they make with the magicians, but will happily take advantage of any loophole left behind by an unwary magician.

There are some limits on demonic power, at least on the mortal plane. They can claim souls, and attempt to manipulate events so that souls fall to them earlier than expected, but they cannot simply take souls that have not been pledged to them. When directed against a target, they can be defeated by holy rituals of protection – and if their target is a genuine good soul, one of the unnoticed saints, they may be chased away by an angel. However, they can give knowledge to magicians who bargain with them – the fool who summoned them just needs to be very careful that there isn’t a sting hidden in the tail.

Angels are God’s stormtroopers, put bluntly. Most cabals approach the issue of summoning angels with a single word – don’t. Unlike demons, they have no limits while in the mortal world and the mere sight of them can kill a tainted soul. Others look at angels and see all their mortal flaws reflected back at them, an experience that can break minds and – sometimes – heal souls. The only ones who summon angels on a regular basis are the White Order and even they have problems dealing with them.

4 Responses to “The Words of Power–Background”

  1. jacob September 27, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

    Do you take what you are writing seriously, or, is this some kind of spoof?

    • chrishanger September 27, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

      I’m not sure I understand the question. Can you elaborate? Chris > Date: Fri, 27 Sep 2013 13:51:56 +0000 > To: >

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard September 27, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

        I don’t think Jacob realizes that this is background information for a fictional book.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard September 27, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

      Jacob, Chris is a writer. Many writers take creating the background of a story universe very seriously. IIRC this is for a novel (or series) that he’s thinking of writing.

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