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witchcraft and the law

How would you go about prosecuting a witch in a world that had functional witchcraft?

A witch makes a little ship of eggshell, and sinks it -- and leagues away, a ship wrecks, and all its crew are lost.  A child dies of fever, because hidden somewhere in the village is a poppet that was burned.  Witches cook up a cauldron, and a horrific hailstorm tears up the crops and breaks all the tiles on all of the houses.  And all three hit the problems that in real life, brought down the witch hunts.  How did you prove that it was witchcraft and not natural occurrences?  And even if it were overtly magical in origin, how would you track down the culprits?

Worse still if all that witchcraft really was diabolic in origin, so you couldn't call in counter-magic.  Divination would be needed at the very least to find out anything.  And a heavily forensic magic would be useful.  Perhaps something could be whipped up with theurgy, and directly calling on angels or other good supernatural, but that has a long history of being impiety -- which is not exactly what you want to indulge in when facing devils.

Of course, if it were heavily dependent on Stuff, as many historical practices were, that might help.  Learned magic for instance -- great thumping books of spells would tell you what spells were cast.  And other things might be distinctive.

Might.  What fun.


( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 9th, 2014 04:06 am (UTC)
First thing I'd like to know is; given a world where magick works, and can be demonstrated to work, would any religion insist that it can't be used for the good? Remember that first the Jews, then the Christians, insisted that what false gods did was tainted because false gods can't do real miracles.

Second; given clergy (even ordinary people) who can call upon their god for true miracle, why not for finding out why something happened?
Apr. 9th, 2014 06:16 am (UTC)
You have saved me an awful lot of pondering and composition. Thanks.
Apr. 9th, 2014 12:45 pm (UTC)
Well, then, I think I probably addressed your concerns in my response to mythusmage. 0:)
Apr. 9th, 2014 07:42 pm (UTC)
You're welcome, but fret not, you'll think of more to say.
Apr. 10th, 2014 01:30 am (UTC)
I have. I don't want to. I have three different projects in the air now, and that's not even considering the ones I've been putting off!
Apr. 10th, 2014 02:26 am (UTC)
yeah, that's exactly that sort of situation where the imp keeps suggesting things to drag you off track
Apr. 9th, 2014 12:45 pm (UTC)
If it comes from devils, how in blue blazes would you know what you were doing with it was for the good? They are more powerful than you, obviously, since you are calling on them and not vice versa, and therefore you can't control them. And they are smarter than you are, so you can't count on outwitting them. Plus, of course, they are notorious liars. (In the witch trials, the accused would say that they had been promised wealth as well as revenge, but then the Devil would renege on the first.)

Anyone can call upon God for a true miracle. It's yet another to GET it. If you really have something that reliably produces miracles -- are you really calling on God? And are you going to get into a really truly hot situation if you did? Even among the pagans, that could get you into serious trouble, claiming you could coerce the gods. Well, there was some variation. In Egypt, you could use the names to control gods, but in Greece and Rome, that would get you put on trial for impiety, where you would have to plead that the god did as he wished, you merely implored him for aid.

There's natural magic of course. The notion that it was wrong to use precious stones in an attempt to heal was formally anathematized by the Catholic Church -- and using herbs, too, in the same decree. Put that through a wringer and what pops out the other end is Science, in a new outfit and name, and pretending not to know its antecedents often enough. But Science would have a real trick detecting witchcraft. A more efficacious natural magic is one possibility -- but the writer doesn't have to use it.

And, at that, the Orthodox was much more wary about it, and if there are effective demons in the world, how do you know that you are actually using the herb or stone, and not signalling a demon? (See first paragraph for how that could be problematic.)
Apr. 9th, 2014 07:45 pm (UTC)
Different world, different rules. Do not assume that it has to be like Earth. Indeed, that the demons of one world have to be as the demons of our world are purported to be.

It's your world, don't insist it has to be like our world. Just keep it consistent, and most readers should be fine.
Apr. 9th, 2014 08:35 pm (UTC)
If they're so different, then what's the point of calling them "demons"?

And since it was in the context of witchcraft as was believed to have existed in this world -- then, whatever you called them, they would be demons as our witchcraft folklore would describe them. There could be other worlds without them, but in the context described, there could be worlds with them. Don't insist that it has to be unlike our world.
Apr. 10th, 2014 02:44 am (UTC)
We have a talent for getting things wrong. We'll use bad words for things that scare us, and good words for things that delight us. And don't forget, originally we called them daimons and saw them as inspiration.

But always remember that a fantasy doesn't have to strictly follow our reality, so long as is it consistent.
Apr. 10th, 2014 02:58 am (UTC)
"And don't forget, originally we called them daimons and saw them as inspiration."

Why not? Are you saying it is illegitimate to forget it entirely and instead build a world on a later conception? It's not as if things that scare us can't be bad, or even evil, and things that delight us can't be good.
Apr. 10th, 2014 04:50 am (UTC)
No, more limiting, for the real world is a complex, complicated, and confusing place. And more often than you'd think honesty can be misleading and destructive. Don't forget the part in the oath given in court where the witness swears he will tell the whole truth.
Apr. 10th, 2014 12:40 pm (UTC)
Was this supposed to mean something?

Limits are the artistic essence of world-building. To include this and not that is how you define the world.

As opposed to the limits you are offering here, which is that you aren't allowed to choose the later conception -- now that's really limited, and a peril to the writer who accepts the imposition.

As for the rest of it, I have no idea how it has any relationship with anything in the discussion.
Alan Kellogg
Apr. 11th, 2014 02:19 am (UTC)
While you, on the other hand, insist that the limitations of your sub-creation be that of reality.

I don't believe in real world magic. I believe a thing can be magical, but that is an indiviudal response, moderated by hormones and pheromones, and not a sign of working magic aat all. A lake becomes magical when you're in the right mood and with the right person.

I submit, Ms. Catelli, that in any world where magic works, it will have an impact on people and society. It will be used. Using some of it will earn you a stiff penalty, not because you are committing fraud, but becuase you are making people do things they would not otherwise do.

When magic works we call it technology. And even today there are many who consider our technology a type of magic. We call magic wondrous because of our ignorance. When we know a little of it, we stop seeing it as wondrous. When we have an even better understanding, it becomes wondrous again.

How is it tasmanian devils bond so quickly with us? Or barn owls for that matter. Both are wild animals, they're supposed to be afraid of us. But tazzies will cuddle with us, and owls express happiness when a favorite human appears.

My point in all this is, accept your world as it is, but don't expect it to conform to your expectations. The people of that world may have ideas as to how things work, that doesn't mean they are going to be rigth. For thousands of years we just knew that the Sun Orbited the Earth. It explained things. It was just the wrong explanation. We learned better. There are people who deny what we have learned, but there is so much that relies on a Heliocentric Solar System the fact the Earth orbits the Sun cannot be ignored.

So let your characters be wrong, for how they undeerstand their world depends on what they know, and what they know depends on what they learned as children.

Thanks for your replies, I am learning that I need to address your objections, and to address them as clearly as I can.
Apr. 11th, 2014 02:53 am (UTC)
Earth to Alan, come in Alan.

I started with a "what if", namely "what if a world had functional witchcraft?"

To call this "insist[ing] that the limitations of your sub-creation be that of reality" when you "don't believe in real world magic" is -- err -- gibberish. To say nothing stronger about it.

"In any world where magic works, it will have an impact on people and society."

And the impact will depend on HOW it works, in which the world-builder has a lot of leeway.

"Using some of it will earn you a stiff penalty, not because you are committing fraud, but becuase you are making people do things they would not otherwise do."

Only if you are caught. Which is the question at hand.

"When magic works we call it technology. "

Only magica. Not goetia or theurgia.

"My point in all this is, accept your world as it is, but don't expect it to conform to your expectations"

My very own imaginary world, built by me for my very own purposes, is going to conform to my expectations. It could hardly do otherwise. I'm the author.

"The people of that world may have ideas as to how things work, that doesn't mean they are going to be rigth."

Moot point. The author has to know how and whether they can detect witchcraft and defend themselves against it. Otherwise the world-building will be too weak to support the story.

"So let your characters be wrong, for how they undeerstand their world depends on what they know, and what they know depends on what they learned as children."

Only it makes a good story for that to come back and bite them. Because -- remember the what-if? -- having false ideas about whether they can detect and defend against witchcraft is really going to bite them. Hard.
Apr. 10th, 2014 02:21 pm (UTC)
I think about that a lot...it would be rather scary if you couldn't prove it...so easy to spark witch hunts.

A lot depends on whether there is some kind of truth magic (visions/makes you tell the truth, etc.,) or not.
Apr. 10th, 2014 02:38 pm (UTC)
Yeah, truth magic would cut it as well as divination.

Of course, in one you need to know who has to tell the truth, but in the other, you have to know where to look.
Apr. 10th, 2014 02:43 pm (UTC)
Very true.

That's why I think a world with real magic would be all about wards and defenses...everyone would try to be protected against magic.
Apr. 10th, 2014 02:45 pm (UTC)
And then you practice witchcraft behind them.
Apr. 10th, 2014 03:07 pm (UTC)
Hmm. And if these are natural magic, magica not goetia, or theurgia (for reasons enumerated in the comments above), the wards could not keep out malefica, probably, at least some of the time. Mere humans? Keep out demonic forces?
Apr. 10th, 2014 03:14 pm (UTC)
whatever stopped it, that is what people would flee to. In the Middle Ages, they believed in magic. They thought the Church stopped it.

I have read a number of things that think the witch hunts of the 1600s and 1700s were brought on by the fact that the people could no longer go to the Church for protection from those whom they thought to be a witch.
Apr. 10th, 2014 03:26 pm (UTC)
Of course, in the Middle Ages, it was easier to believe that something would stop it because whatever it was, having natural origins would stop on its own.

That's one reason why folk medicine is so hard to eradicate. Not only do they have a few effective things -- willow-bark tea -- and the placebo effect, there is the way most diseases are self-limiting, so you take the cure until you get better.

If it's actually driven by malice, that would be harder. I observe that in witch trials, the witches' purported motive were usually not just malicious but vindictive.

Anything that would stop them would be put to use. Alas, no doubt, that would include counter-goetia.
Apr. 10th, 2014 03:35 pm (UTC)
Before that period, though, people believed that witches attacked...and they would go and get prayed over or get a holy wafer...pray and holiness is what they believed stopped malicious magic.
Apr. 10th, 2014 02:44 pm (UTC)
Plus of course the side effect that both divination and truth-telling would have other effects. What could you not see? Is there any way to limit it to scrying things like witchcraft? And what happens when the bandit chief forces all his men to tell whether they are loyal under the truth magic?
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )


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