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 think it's time to introduce the concept of the metaphysical realm as Tall Tales understands it.
The first thing you should know, dear reader, is that it will be described in a number of different ways and those ways will sometimes conflict. This is because the blog editors have different perspectives on what the realm is and filter their information through different worldviews. As far as Benedict is concerned, there are two realms, the physical and the spiritual, and a thin veil between them. Jackie does not believe they are separate, but that humans have somehow become blind to what surrounds them and must rely on extraordinary means to access the truth of reality; wherever it is people go after they die, if they do not linger as ghosts, is a more complex concept. Matteson believes in at least three realms, a physical, a metaphysical overlaid on it, and something beyond both where souls go after they pass on and probably where angels and demons originate.
There is some truth to all of this, at least enough truth that all of their approaches work. As the Lexicon states, there are at least three realms, and the non-story text will be using Matteson's labels. They are not as separate as Benedict and Matteson believe, but they are more distinct than Jackie believes.
The fundamental nature of the Metaphysical Realm is that it serves as both a spiritual realm and an astral plane. It is the common ground of all human thought, and anything that enough people have imagined or believed or feared lurks there. It has its own tides and weather, as the fabric of the Realm itself is manipulated by ongoing changes to the collective human psyche. Beings that reside in the Realm can be altered by changes in how humans perceive them, and some degree of their relative power is based on the amount of power mankind ascribes to them.
How and why mankind can or should have this power is a mystery that will be revealed eventually as the characters continue to interact with it. But the point is that they do, and the most notable and powerful spirits have a habit of knowing this, and as such they curate their images very carefully. If they can influence how mankind see them (and they can, with effort), they can set their own course. As such, a great deal of inter-species drama in the Metaphysical Realm is focused largely on manipulating mankind and the hold each spirit has over some group of humans or another. Influence within a given fae court would never acknowledge the role of any outside forces, for instance, but the more clever fae recognize that allowing a demon or Spirit of the People to manipulate mankind's perception unchallenged is akin to begging for lost favor.
In future posts we'll explore a bit more about the history and development of the Realm, both in-world and out, as well as some of the more notable forces within it. But for a basic introduction, I think this will suffice for this week.
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.