So, I thought I might share some thoughts on magic in The Shattered Isles. Let’s start with what we already know about magic in this world: it is a learnable skill. We have seen this with Pattenia and Denalia training at the girl’s school, learning to cast spells or use magic to create potions. We have seen Serren spending hours reading tomes, learning the secrets of spell work. So, it is not just a gift from the gods, but a matter of technique and practice.
Why would this be the case? Two reasons. First, the training develops the part of the brain that controls magic. Most people are born with a very small part of their brain dedicated to magic. Even without development, people experience their magic instinct in the form of intuition, instinct and even, sometimes, what seems like luck. For example, if someone gets a strange feeling, then turns to realize someone has been watching them, that is their magic ability alerting them to their observer. Sometimes, when in danger, people will report that time seemed to slow down. Once more, this is an instinctive activation of their magic skills.
Without training, the inherent magic ability in all people never rises beyond this level of unaware manifestation.
However, with practice, most people can develop their magic instinct becoming capable of manipulating magic and using it to change reality itself. Remember that we now know that everything is made of energy. Energy can become matter, and matter energy. Magic users learn to manipulate the energy of their universe to their own ends.
So, one part of the training develops the brain and the magic ability. In addition, magic users learn to use and channel energy to and through their brains much more efficiently than most people. Although the brain takes up only 2% of the body’s mass, it eats up 20% of our daily energy needs– about 320 calories. Cognitive tasks cause the brain to eat more energy, and none more than magic. So, spell casters have to become very “fit”– the equivalent of long distance runners, with tremendous mental endurance.
The spells, symbols and secrets learned all serve to help a witch or wizard focus and bend reality to their will. They can also serve to protect them from others who would seek to use their magic against them. So, in addition to developing their brains, spell users learn certain chants and spells that have been developed over the years to help the caster bring about a specific result. The spell the hekatin used to transform Serren into a girl is an example of such a spell. Transforming someone’s sex is very complicated and difficult to manage, so the spell helps make that transformation happen without some sort of error or mistake. Even the faith necessary to believe such a transformation is possible must be learned and bolstered, and the spells help with that sense of faith as well.
Much of magic remains a mystery, even to the users. Were you to ask Actonia how she turned a buck into a doe, she would have to admit that she really doesn’t know. She only knows that when she casts the spell, the change happens. Magic defies logic, rationality, reason– which is one reason the Priests of Maxis look upon it with suspicion. The hekatin, however, celebrate creativity, emotion and the irrational, and they are quite comfortable with the notion of change, and that nothing we see might be what it appears.
Magic versus Miracles
So far, I have been writing only about the magic worked my the men and women of the Isles. There is a second kind of supernatural power in the world, however, and that is the work of the Gods and their agents. When the power comes from a deity, that power is in the realm of a miracle, meaning it is worked and granted by a divinity. Mortals have no control over miracles; they are granted according to the will of the Gods. Sometimes, a mortal of particular merit may be granted the ability to request certain miracles such as healing or protection, but this is always a power coming from outside the person as a gift. The power does not come from them, and this is not a skill that can be learned.