There are two things you need to understand about Benedict in order to really grasp how he does what he does. The first is that Flitwick was correct; he is a nephil (plural nephilim), which is defined for the purposes of this story in the Lexicon. The second is that he's a Catholic priest. Now, the exact nature of what it means to be a nephil will be explored throughout his story and another character appearing soon in the Narrator blog, and who Benedict's biological parents are will be revealed in story. So let's focus on the second for now.
Within the Roman Catholic Church, there is a belief that people undergo a number of specific ontological changes throughout their lives of faith; that is, the very essence of who they are is altered in some way through specific sacraments, such as baptism. These changes are more or less considered permanent, as they cannot be lost but the benefits of them may be sacrificed through mortal sin. There seems to be quite a lot wrapped up in this doctrine, and since I'm not Catholic I only have so much exposure to it anyway, so the focus here is on how this affects Benedict in terms of the story. If you are interested in the actual doctrine, this website seems to be helpful.
The belief relevant here is that the ordination into priesthood makes the priest a functionary of Christ. On a spiritual level, they are united with Christ in such a way that there can be times when it is Him acting or speaking or listening. Now, whether or not this is accurate within the world of Tall Tales is somewhat irrelevant. What matters is that, whatever it is that happened to the priest, it works. They administer sacraments, they preach powerful homilies, they cast out demons, they receive confession and are able to deliver a real sense of absolution, and so on. This state of priesthood cannot be lost, but the office of priest can, in fairly extreme cases. This means that Benedict, as a priest, will always be a priest as far as the spiritual nature goes, though if the Catholic church were to reject him for some reason he would no longer be allowed to act as a priest or administer sacraments or be paid by the church or any of that.
Now, in actual Catholic doctrine, this is about as far as this goes. There is no physical change to the priest, and there was no physical change to Benedict when he became a priest. What this means for Benedict, however, is that whatever benefits he has naturally by being a nephil, he gets to keep. Those are part of his biological reality and do not change through ordination. However, spiritually, he is not a nephil, but a priest. This means that, even if a being can detect his nephil biology, if they had enough information on his spiritual nature they would encounter something very different.
Within the rules of Tall Tales, this gives priests power that they are not believed to have in the real world, at least as far as I know. Mainly, this means that when dealing with spiritual entities, they are treated as holy beings. Their blood and spit and sweat function as holy water. This is because they are already consecrated, and their bodies are being used for divine purposes, which is basically all that needs to happen to create holy water. Their spirits are resistant to demonic attack (something that I think Catholics in general would agree on). They aren't immune to magic, at least in any way comparable to Matteson, but they are protected.
So, what you see from Benedict in the story is a combination of his biological nature and his ontological nature, based on taking what the Catholic church believes about priests and just applying that to a world that operates on slightly different rules. Maybe they work because this description is accurate, or maybe they work because enough people believe they work, but for the story all that matters is that they do, in fact, work.
Jacqueline Sofia Veracruz has gone through some of the most extensive changes of any character in Tall Tales. Originally a one-shot character, the reader was going to meet her in a story arc that involved Matteson investigating some strange behavior from the Loch Ness Monster. It was planned that she would be someone Matteson had known for a long time, but had moved to Scotland some time before the overall story started and was therefore largely a part of Matteson's past.
It is worth remembering that, in its original form, Tall Tales was a much more narrow story, telling the events of about four years of Matteson's life in his mid-to-late-forties. The character that became Jackie, who I think was actually named Samantha at the time, would have met Matteson in the events that are now the Born of Water arc, which I was debating referencing in flashbacks. It would have been known that Matteson and Samantha remained in contact and occasionally helped each other out, but had grown distant when she left the country and his career took off.
When it was decided that the story was going to be much larger, I realized I should actually allow Samantha to become a full character who would be active throughout, and began to seriously consider the idea that she doesn't entirely leave the story at any point. This latter concern was especially noted when I found the Loch Ness story may not even fit the larger plot anymore. I also forgot her name and had to come up with a new one (I only remember it now because I've found some of my old notes). Of course, this meant fleshing out her personality more, and I ended up borrowing a bit from real sources.
This sort of thing happens throughout Tall Tales. There are a small handful of stories which are actually based on real events, to some degree or another. Every one is significantly fictionalized, and reformatted to fit the larger story which is entirely fiction, but there are traces of personal experiences and therefore traces of real people I encountered along the way. In "Born of Water," Jackie is largely filling the role of a young woman I met in Chicago named Barbie, who I never spoke to again after I returned home. Occasionally she will borrow influence from Nicki White or Jen Dietz, witches I knew from high school and art school, respectively. But the bulk of her personality, and her involvement in most stories, are only true of her. All three of these sources, however, are white, and originally so was Samantha.
One thing I wanted to do was make her not Wiccan, which Samantha had been. There were a couple reasons for this, one being that if I specifically named a tradition I would have to be very careful to represent that tradition accurately, and I needed more freedom than that to fit the story. Also, frankly, I wanted something different, something I don't see much of in media. It seems like every witch I come across in fiction is either Wiccan or vaguely European, so I looked for other sources. Brujah ended up catching my attention, as what I found of it suggested that it fit pretty well the character that I was planning. But again, I needed the flexibility to go outside that tradition, and wanted to avoid misrepresenting something I really don't understand, so I went beyond that and started looking at other Central American folk magic traditions.
In the end, I decided that she would be using some unstated amalgam of these traditions, with a splash of influence from her mentor who I already knew was Anatolian. But hey, if she's going to be using that, why should she be white? It made more sense to me that she would have picked up these traditions from her family, so I went ahead and made her Latina. Thankfully, her story is about her exploration of magic and not a "this is what life is like as a Latina," so I can fairly easily avoid acting like I know what their experiences are actually like. There is research involved in how I have her handle things, of course, and her personality has been colored by the Latin women I've known, but I do not claim to be able to tell their stories their way and Jackie's blog is not designed to be read as though I'm trying to do that.
There's more I want to say about Jackie, but some of it should probably wait until the story develops a bit more and you see more of her.
I've been trying hard to keep up with daily writing prompts on my tumblr, and earlier this week I wrote a scene in which Jackie briefly explains the nature of magic to a character named Lori (that will be included in the story when we get to it; in fact, almost all the prompts are, so if you're interested in sneak peeks, you should be checking those out). She said:
"...it’s just a connection to the other world. There’s a spiritual backstage to reality, and changing things there can change them here. Sometimes it’s more efficient to make changes if you’re working with the spiritual side than with the physical side, and sometimes it isn’t. Magic just gives us the option."
Now, she isn't wrong. This is a functional definition for everything she does with it up until this point in the story. But readers who have been paying attention to "Benediction" may notice that it doesn't quite sound sufficient to what some characters there are doing. So how can we best understand magic as a broad concept in Tall Tales?
The short answer is that 'magic' is essentially any act that intentionally reaches across the divide between the physical and metaphysical realms. It doesn't much matter which side of that divide one is on; nor does it matter whether the effects manifest on the caster's side, the other side, or both. Magic in Tall Tales is capable of nearly anything, as long as a caster can find a way to do it and pay the price for it.
The longer explanation is that magic in Tall Tales is fundamentally about tracking down the intricate connections that exist between all things, which may or may not exist in the same realm as the things themselves. Magic will always, without exception, exploit the innate connections between things; sometimes by manipulating the connection, sometimes by interrupting it, and even by making new connections.
An example. Aaboukingon has an innate connection to the Ohio River. He isn't the only spirit that does, and there are several names he can be accurately called, but that connection exists and it is strong. The problem, aside from the overt racism of some of the characters, in "Land of Goshen" is that this connection is being severed by Aaboukingon drawing distant from his nature and role as a river spirit. By damaging the connection, both Aaboukingon and the river suffer.
Connections can be ranked as follows:
Humans have an innate connection between their physical and metaphysical selves, and the degree to which one is in tune with the other is called the Ontological Gap. A smaller gap means that there is less room for the connection to be accessed and manipulated. A gap that is functionally closed, such as the case with Warlocks and Anchors, prevent access to their ontological connection entirely; this means that magic which relies on that connection will not work. Such magic includes possession (in which a being inserts themselves into the gap and effectively overrides the connection) and mind control (in which a being implants information into the connection that the physical self reads as coming from the metaphysical self). Humans with a smaller gap, except Anchors, are therefore slightly more shielded from invasive magic and also find it easier to perform magic as they have greater access to their metaphysical selves. A full explanation of this concept will have to wait until a later post.
I did not know about this song when I developed the plot, mind you. It would be somewhat inaccurate to say that this song, or really any song, influenced the actual overarching story of Tall Tales directly (as stated previously, this is not always true for specific story arcs). However, I have found that when I find something that resonates with some aspect of the story, it is much easier to get into the mode of thinking about the story. Even if I don't borrow any details from the song, the fact that the song makes the story more accessible to me is itself a massive benefit to my inspiration.
This is probably true of all writers, really. I can't imagine I'm saying anything as yet that is particularly unique. The point is that "The Yawning Grave" is that kind of story. The central conflict of the song, a human encroaching into affairs that they should understand but may not and drawing the ire of some great entity, is the central conflict of Tall Tales. This was sufficient for me to draw a great deal of help from the song, by listening to it and drifting off into thinking of Matteson and his enemy.
As the story progresses, I would encourage you to occasionally come back and listen to this song and think about how things are playing out, and let your speculations run wild about what is coming. Maybe, if you're lucky, you'll see some of the same things I have.
What is this?
Worldbuilding Wednesdays is a real-world blog, written by Tim McLaughlin, that gives a little peek behind the curtain of Tall Tales. That includes the process of creating the story and world, influences, world rules, and even the occasional story.