Monday, October 6, 2008

Never consume an energy field larger than your head

So where were we?

Right, I was going to explain how magic works in the Curse/Or universe. But first, I shall reiterate my SPOILERS AHOY warning.

Okay, so let's revisit my thesis statement: Networks are n-dimensional constructs of psychic energy. In my previous post, I explained pretty thoroughly how the human brain and the internet and the Kabbalistic Tree of Life are all neural/nodal networks, and I'm sure some of you are going "Palette, I get the bit about the internet, and I even understood the Magister Ludi stuff, but what does medieval Jewish occultism have to do with it?"

And I'd love to answer that question, really. But I can't right now. If I did, I'd just confuse you worse. So hold that thought, because we will most definitely come back to it.

So. Magic. Put extremely simply, Magic is what happens when an obsessed individual alters reality through sheer force of will.

Now, when someone alters reality, she is also altering her perception of reality. Someone who makes reality conform to her will, while at the same time changing the parameters by which she perceives that reality, is not exactly what you'd call stable. A person who constantly changes her point of reference about reality is, by many definitions, insane.

But most (though, creepily, not all) clinically insane people lack the force of will to enact magical change, because their world is constantly changing around them. So there needs to be a focus, a framework, an unchanging bedrock for this crazy obsessive person to stand on while she twists reality to suit her needs.

Hence magic wands, chanting in Latin, summoning circles... or in Camel's case, smoking. All of these foci provide a rigid lattice of "If I do this, then that happens" which helps keep the merely crazily obsessed at the shallow end of the madness pool instead of diving headfirst into the deep end of heavy-duty psychosis.

So okay, you've got a focus. But where does the power come from? What actually makes magic go? This presents an interesting dilemma, because most people, even the freaky obsessed ones, don't have enough emotional/psychic/whatever energy to pour into their focus to make it work. What you need, then, is symbolic tension: something meaningful and paradoxical that you can live your life around which creates a kind of energy.

At the risk of offending people -- and please don't kill me for this -- let's use Roman Catholicism as an example. Imagine someone who goes to confession, oh, once a week. Throughout that week, he's conscious of all the ways in which he's sinned. It's like in the back of his head, he's got a little process running that keeps track of all the things he needs to feel guilty about. At the same time, there's another process that keeps a running list of all of the sins he might commit, so that he can be on the lookout and not do them.

I ask you, how much energy -- mental, emotional, spiritual, psychic, whatever you want to call it -- is expended during that week? Looking out for sin, listing sin, tabulating guilt, maintaining guilt?

One would probably think quite a bit.

That's because it's tied up in what is essentially a paradox: "Christ loves you. Christ wants you to be happy and free from sin. Keep scrupulous track of all the ways you've fucked up so you can confess and be happy."

Again, I apologize if I've offended anyone, but you get it, right? Human brains LOVE paradox. We are all chock-a-block full of hypocrisy, and while consciously we may ignore our self-contradictions we are all aware of them at some level. They sit in the back of the head, spinning like a turbine, generating a ton of energy, which is just waiting to be poured into the right focus and framework. Some people dump that energy into religion, or politics, or sports, or art, and are called fanatics (remember, "fan" is short for fanatic).

Those who are less well-adjusted sometimes have what is basically a trigger event -- such as a near-death experience -- that forces them to re-evaluate their lives. Sometimes they even have epiphanies, mystic awakenings where for one moment they understand the universe. They see the paradoxes inherent in existence and realize they are the engines that drive reality. And in that moment, a person becomes capable of performing magic.

Or batshit insane.

Or both.

Camel's magic is Cancermancy*. Her central paradox is, "Magic gives you power. Cancer eats your body. Kill your body to fuel your magic." The theme of her magic is twofold: One, it exploits all the superstitions and odd rituals that are inherent to smoking; and two, Cancer likes to spread.

So that's how magic works. For those who have been paying attention, this post just explained the "psychic energy" portion of my thesis, with the previous post explaining "constructs". My next (and hopefully final) post in this series will explain "N-dimensional" and hopefully tie all of this stuff together.

* Yes, yes, I know the proper Latin for this is actually "Carcinomancy", because the word Cancer is derived from the Greek. But fuck it! I like the rough way Cancermancer sounds, like someone is coughing up a lung while speaking. If it pisses off the purists, so much the better; tobacco smoking has been doing that for centuries.


  1. You know. That gives me a pretty creepy thought.
    Some people who are crazy perceive people who are dead as alive, as ghosts (or more accurately haunts).
    If someone saw it the opposite way, that someone would at points change to perceive people who are alive as dead (there is a precedent in some forms of ostracization). And thus they become in the decomposing while alive type of "become dead"

    Of course I haven't worked out a proper paradox, but I guess "They are already dead. Thus they must die" is a fairly straight forward one.

  2. First of all I just have to say: Girl you have got one warped (in a good way) mind =)

    Second, I love your definition of magic/psychic powers and the way you've been implementing them in the story.

    Third, I prefer Cancermancy as well =)

  3. Ok. Something strange that caught my mind on the way home.

    The more cats they keep the more power they get.
    The more cats they get the less power they wield.
    Neither cats nor fully fledged agoramancers wield any power at all.

    Who are the agoramancers and why can't they wield any power?


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