When you write a Fantasy story that involves magic, there\’s usually two general routes you could go, and a seamless scale in between. What I\’m talking about is the so-called \”hard\” and \”soft\” magic systems.
The big plus of a soft magic system is its sense of wonder. By hiding the mechanics, or not having any in the first place, magic is mysterious in nature, which helps immersion.
Hard magic systems define boundaries, draw you in and allow you to check if the author is honest with you. Can your character actually do what they\’re doing right now? Can magic actually solve the current problem?
When I started world building the Aes Sidhe framework, I decided to use a hard magic system. Aes Sidhe is a world in which the really advanced tech is actually magic, and just like technology should have its scope and capabilities, I felt like the magic that\’s supposed to replace it should follow the same rules.
Aes Sidhe is, as the name already implies, set in a world based on Celtic mythology. There\’s faeries and creatures such as Cu Sidhe, Cat Sidhe. I have political entities like the humans, the winter court and the summer court, and I have the druids, as the human magic users powering space flight. Druids perform functions such as interstellar jumps or artificial gravity, they\’re vital to the story, and they\’re a lot of fun to write about.
When using druids, and already existing lore based on a certain real life mythology, I feel that, while I\’m certainly claiming my artistic freedom, I should at least try my best to be as true as possible to the spirit of those mythological roots. So, when writing about druids, I\’d world build a system that fits the general theme: nature based magic, nature loving, striving for balance. So I developed the magic system based on the Ogham, the old Celtic rune script, and the three druidic elements (earth, sky, sea). With each rune of the Ogham being related to a plant, I assigned a concept, too, and those concepts, together with the plant representing the rune, plus one of the three elements are the basis for spells a druid can use.
To make magic something that can\’t be used on the fly, to give it some gravitas, so to say, I decided to have it work via ritual only. Faeries and other fae creatures can use magic spontaneously, without preparations, but are generally one-trick ponies. Druids are very flexible and powerful, but have to perform rituals to access that power.
Let\’s take a look at the jump ritual, described at the end of chapter 3 of Pendulum (the working title of my WIP), to get an impression how this all works.
The druid performs certain rites, such as drawing a circle on the ground to \”open a grove\”, in which the ritual will be done. The druid performs a \”tree meditation\” and evokes the power of one of the three elements, gives it shape via Ogham runes carved in bones, and channels it via the plant representing the main rune used in the spell. So for the jump ritual that transports space ships over long distances (23 light years in this specific story), the runes in use are ᚉ Coll (create), ᚗ Uilleand (big) and ᚐ Ailm (movement). The terms in brackets are the concepts I assigned them, the names are the actual names of those runes. Since this is a movement spell, the element we evoke is Gwyar (blood, water), which represents movement, and we use pine to channel the energy, the plant assigned to the Ailm rune. The pine is consumed in the process.
In principle, the way this works is relatively easy. I have 24 runes, means my magical vocabulary has 24 words, which is how I design spells. \”create + big + movement\” makes sense for a jump through space, doesn\’t it?
Druids can sense magic, see creatures otherwise invisible to normal humans without the magical gift, and some of the elder druids, of which we see three in the novel I\’m currently writing, can manifest very potent magical constructs that do things a pure SF story would explain with handwavium. It still is, basically, but now it\’s magical.
I\’ve been having a lot of fun designing all this, and with later stories, I\’ll probably feel the need to expand on this and add more background and lore. Working on the background alone already feels like an adventure.
In my next blog post, I\’ll talk a bit about the protagonist of the first story in this new universe, a young druid named Deirdre MacBreen.