Not a College Course
We got to talking about “power” and “magick” at lunch the other day, and that just led to massive confusion and shouting. Carol, who has actually studied more than any of us, has definite opinions. Me (Trent), I have used her conventions in the books we’re publishing. However, both of those words are ambiguous in everyday use. Meaning, you have your own definitions, of course.
So I asked Carol and Dolores to talk with me about this, since I thought you might find it an interesting sidebar to the adventures in the books. You might need to have paid attention in high school or college physics to understand some of this, but probably not.
I have linked to some Wikipedia articles for those of you who want to poke at this some more. They’re not 100% correct, but they’re a start.
Essence is Essential
Dolores had us take tea in the salon up at Gotth Hill one quiet afternoon. That’s where Alex’s piano stands, as I’ve mentioned in the stories. We sat in a civilized fashion around a coffee table while Meri, our butler, fetched us a proper tea tray and cake plates. Mrs. Beall, the under-butler, stood quietly over by the window, making sure we’re all topped up on goodies. Given the quantity of tea that we can consume, my eye teeth would be floating soon.
“OK,” I asked the ladies. “Where do we start?”
As if on cue, they chorused, “Essence.”
“Oh boy. So, explain. What is it, and why do we care?”
Carol waved at Dolores. “You start. You’re the goddess, after all, and that’s your primary business.”
Dolores added a splash of hot milk to her tea and stirred. “Sometimes.” Her smile crept up puckishly. Dolores loves to pull our tails, and I’m pretty sure that she’ll take the opportunity. I wasn’t sure whether she meant she was a goddess sometimes, or that it was her business sometimes. I knew better than to ask. She continued: “It’s has many other names, of course. Western culture isn’t very precise on the subject, which is why you and Brooke almost came to blows about nomenclature, Trent.”
“Not precise outside of an Esoteric School, you mean,” Carol amended.
“Exactly. The European Alchemists, old and new, call Essence the First Matter. That’s because it is not so much matter as the raw potential to create matter.”
“It’s all energy, then?” I said.
“As in the potential to do work? Yes,” Carol said. “But it’s more than that. It’s also the potential to create living matter as well. It’s…not just a concept or a way of measuring potential. It’s real stuff.”
“I know. We’ve seen you feed Essence to the demons in the house,” I said to Dolores, who nodded. “You told us at the beginning that the definition of a god was ‘a being that is a source of Essence.’”
“Alright,” Carol said. “Your readers, if they have any familiarity with common yoga, have heard about prana. That’s another name for it. So is Shakti. Once you think of it as Shakti, you realize it’s everywhere and in everything. Warzie geeks might think of it as ‘the Force,’ although it has nothing to do with the complications of Lucas’s later movies.” She snorted. “Midchlorians, bah.” Did I mention Carol is a real geek, as well as a mage? She’s also a snobby Star Wars purist. But not to get off topic.
“Life force,” I said, nudging her knee with mine. “But living beings use it to do more than just live.”
“Yes,” Dolores answered. “With more than they need to live, it is possible for some to do more with it. They have to have the proper, let us say, spiritual composition to do so. Not all souls do. It’s neither a good nor a bad thing. It’s more of an apples and oranges thing,” she hurried to add, gesturing with a scone at me. Then she bit into it. “My compliments to chef, Mrs. Beall,” she said.
“Those are Meri’s,” the butler said quietly. “I’ll convey your compliments.”
“So you’re a being,” I nodded at Dolores, “That is a fount of Essence. Which means you can do miraculous things and give life, heal, and all that stuff we’ve seen you do over the years.”
“And harm as well,” Dolores said. “I’ve done that, too. Essence is neutral. We, the living, give it the flavor of our intentions. We judge the results or its applications. Our Essence takes on the flavor of our personalities.”
“Steering away from ethics for the moment…” I suggested.
“Yes, that would take too long for one afternoon.”
“Then, with this nomenclature,” Carol said, “When I say ‘powerful mage,’ I mean a sapient being that can bring forth and direct a great effing lot of Essence according to his or her will. And that business of bringing forth and directing by means of the will, that’s magick with a K.”
Basic definitions, we haz dems.
Oops, a Lolcat just died…
Never mind. *cough*
“Magic without a K, in our discussions, then, would be prestidigitation or stage magic. The art of illusion.”
Carol nodded. “Yep. As opposed to a glamour—which actually is a use of Essence.”
Dolores continued, “How beings use Essence is a way to classify and understand them.”
Elves, Gods, and Demons
The tea got freshened. I took a bathroom break. Then we got back to our discussion.
“When we were writing Sorrows Master,” I started off, “I gave them the definition of god just as you told me. Now, people ask Alex all the time, ‘god of what?’ and he usually answers, ‘Second firedog to the left on the hearth’, or, ‘God of 100 Temple Avenue.’”
Carol laughed. “Typical Alex. He’s trying to rip people away from the usual mythological notions, of course. And being self-effacing as usual.”
“Only god I’ve ever heard of that doesn’t suffer from pride,” I agreed. “Alex should be the god of silliness.” We let that thought soak in a moment, and Carol giggled. Me, I felt a poke, the sensation of gold eyes opening somewhere as Alex felt himself being talked about.
“Sometimes gods would champion things,” Dolores said, picking up her teacup and saucer again. “I was sometimes called a nymph because of my fondness for a specific place. And of course, Sorrows is burrowed into that Swiss mountain, these millennia past.” She sipped. “Somehow I can’t see Alex championing firedogs. Lolcats, perhaps.” She looked at me over the rim of her cup. She’d heard that bit earlier. Oops.
“Why aren’t there more gods now?” I had to ask, because I know that you, dear reader, want to know.
“Who says there aren’t gods now?” Dolores’s smile grew mischievous. “Besides me.”
Carol rolled her eyes.
“Alright,” Dolores sighed. “My sisters are all dead. Well, Sophia, not so much. But the other five, they were killed in the Great War, millennia ago. Which was fought over Essence.” Her humor faded away into the melancholy which had first brought her the title of Lady of Sorrows. We don’t see that a lot these days, but Dolores tells us that she was very much the Lady of Sorrows until her smith and Alex’s primary male ancestor, Gotth, showed up about five thousand years back.
Carol sat forward. She loves this academic stuff. “This gets us into Elves versus demons and all that.”
“Yes it does,” Dolores agreed. “So here’s the short version. About ten thousand years ago or so—we didn’t have the same calendar, of course, and I didn’t keep track, myself—about ten thousand years ago, Earth began to become very Essence-poor.”
She continued: “My belief is that it goes in cycles, like ice ages. It may actually coincide with them, for that matter, but I’m not that old. Anyway. When the humanoid beings, whose image I have lived in for time out of mind, came about, the world had more free Essence. The early humanoid beings, there was more than one sort of them at that time. They were three, but closely related. They could intermingle blood for the most part, so I suppose that means they were of the same species. Well, as time went on, they began to fall into three primary groups, with regards to use of Essence. The oldest group, which consolidated into the Aaldar, or Elves, gathered theirs by ‘grazing.’ They absorbed it from their environment. This meant that they needed large territories of living wilderness to exist as the free Essence became increasingly bound into the Earth itself. They absorbed the extra given off by live plants and animals.
“Now, the second and better adapted sister-race, they became carnivorous. They adapted to gather Essence by taking it from other beings. There were a lot of ways to do this, of course. Some were fatal to the living, some were not. These humanoids became the racausa, or Rakshasa.
“Some of the smaller sapient beings, who were more made of Essence than flesh, they are what we know as lesser fae of various sorts. They are not actually human at all, but they like us.”
“Entertainment value, I guess,” I said.
“True. That’s why I like humans, too,” Dolores smiled. “Anyway. The lesser fae tended to stick with the greater Fae, the Aaldar, and their close cousins. A few went the way of the Rakshasa, but not too many.
“So eventually, we have the Aaldar trying to edge the Rakshasa out of their territories as Essence became very scarce. We, the seven goddesses (and yes, there were others, but not in our territories of Europe and North Africa) had married Aaldari husbands, who were our sword-bearers.”
“That’s what my grandpa, Ariolas Maharasen, is,” Carol said for the record. “He’s the Master of Wisdom, and his grandmother and wife and goddess was Mahara Sofia.”
“Thanks,” I said. (Guys, you’ll be seeing Ariolas and Carol in Book Three.) “And Ariolas is an Elven mage.”
“Yep. More history?”
“Some, as the afternoon draws on,” Dolores said, sitting back. “And the third branch of the human tree were your ancestors. The normal humans you have today. They adapted to a very Essence-poor environment, living with little. They have short and relatively powerless lives, by comparison with their older cousins. Their society copes with this by making them more of a group being, more socially bound. They are more like the Rakshasa, which is why we get along with Meri and Gil and the others so well.”
“But the Rakshasa of Hindu mythology are mostly man-eating monsters,” Carol said, also for the record.
“And now you know why humans think that. Some do eat humans. But take Meri: his people dislike the way human personality tastes in their essence. They like a more pure sort, and prefer to get it from animals and plants, even. There are many peoples within their kind that are the same. This is why, when they found the Dragon Gates, they went to the Otherwhere, which was Essence-rich. They were able to return here easily, but they made their home away from Earth after that.
“The problems really began when the Aaldar were so pressed for sustenance that they decided to move through the Dragon Gates into the Otherwhere—and found the original territory there taken. The Great War began. When it ended, the Rakshasa moved further, via other Gates, and the Aaldar, their numbers nearly depleted, settled in the Otherwhere. They have trouble here, normally. Ariolas, he’s an exception, for reasons we shouldn’t cover now. The half-Elven, like Morgan McTiernan, Ian’s mother, and your father, Carol, they can manage here. They don’t do much magick without conjuring, however.”
And…we’ll leave this here for the time being.
Next time: Conjurors