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Teaser Tuesday: The Limits of Magic

Tuesday, February 7, 2017 - 08:34

Just a brief snippet this time, sparking a consideration of magical healing. One of the first contexts in which Margerit designed her own "effective" mystery was in Daughter of Mystery after Barbara was attacked on the bridge by Langal's thugs. That mystery was for the purpose of protection, not healing, and Margerit bemoans the fact that every kitchen maid knows an array of healing charms and her more ceremonial interests are of little immediate practical use. But that raises the question of how "effective" healing charms are in the world of Alpennia.

The philosophy that Margerit follows--as expressed in a prior lecture to her students--is one with clear limits. "I’ve never succeeded with healing mysteries that acted so directly. Only ones to cool fever or to heal wounds without infection—ones that work with the body’s natural desires. If a soldier’s leg is amputated, mysteries can save his life but they can’t regrow his limb. Even miracles must work hand in hand with nature." But is this a fact? Or is it one of those circumstances where Margerit's abilitiles are shaped by her beliefs about those abilities?

Magical healing in Alpennia seems to belong much more to the "low magic" of the charm-wives in the market than to the formal mysteries of the guilds. Charm-wives are notoriously uneven in their talents and effectiveness and--as Celeste notes in passing--there's a social disincentive for looking too closely at patterns of effectiveness. In The Mystic Marriage there's a suggestion that Princess Elisebet's personal thaumaturgist is concerned with health-related work, but we don't know much about the effectiveness given that the one episode we see him involved with was a matter of magical influence rather than biological health.

There will be a bit more exploration of this topic in Floodtide, when we spend more time with Celeste and where we see practices around the cyclical "river fever" that has been mentioned at various points. I have my own underlying philosophy of the limits of magical healing in Alpennia, though I'd rather lay that philosophy out in the stories themselves than state it too baldly. What do you think about magical healing as a world-building device? What are its uses and misuses?

Chapter 31 - Margerit

Barbara should have been here. This was her world—the game she had played since her youth. It was hard not to feel like a green girl in Princess Annek’s presence, surrounded by the lords of state on one side and Archbishop Fereir with the masters of the most powerful mystery guilds on the other. Margerit had last known this scrutiny when she had been approved—no, approved was wrong, admitted—as Royal Thaumaturgist. This time it was Serafina who laid out the pages of the depictio with shaking hands and led the watchers through what she had seen.


Barbara should have been here—no, she should be at Barbara’s side. Cooling her brow through the fevers, lighting candles to run through every healing mystery she knew, helping to change the bandages that covered the torn flesh and bound to it an array of amulets delivered from Antuniet’s workshop. It didn’t matter that every member of the household clamored to keep that vigil for her. She should be there.

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