1879: Getting Into the Spirit of Things
In which we discuss the spiritual aspects of the game world, both in terms of theology and the disembodied or nonembodied, and yes, there is a difference.
One of the great changes that comes about in the game world as a result of the return of magic is a definitive answer to many of the questions and speculations of religion, spiritualism, and practitioners of the occult. Yes, prayer does in fact have power, at least for about ten percent of the priesthood and faithful. Yes, there are in fact spirits and elementals and suchlike wandering about and making their homes among the mortal population, as well as the souls of the departed (or something claiming to be such and knowing an awful lot about the person’s life), with no clear explanation as to why they’re still hanging about. Proof of an existence after death, or something that looks enough like it to be fairly convincing, and proof of the power of faith have led paradoxically to a crisis of faith for many. As Douglas Adams said, what’s the use of staying up all night debating about whether there is or is not a God if this machine calls you in the morning with his phone number? While some in our game world have flocked to their house of worship of choice, others have fled the same, both finding that proof, again referring to Adams, denies faith, and without faith, God is nothing. They seek answers, and look either toward or away from what has previously been a source of answers, but now?
Well. We’re perhaps getting a little deep in the philosophical quagmire here. Let us slog back toward shore a bit and consider the difference cited above, between the disembodied and the nonbodied. Some spirits once had mortal existence, physical form, or so they claim. They lived among us, or before us, and for whatever reason, when their strutting and fretting upon this stage came to an end, they did not shuffle off this mortal coil, unto whatever destination might or might not await them, but rather hung about, like the distant uncle who came for a weekend and is still there six months later, part of the family, yes, but not exactly belonging where he is, and a bit in the way. These are the disembodied, the restless dead, the ancestral spirits, whatever your particular Lodge wants to call them, and goodness knows there’s plenty of names being called in this particular case. Calling them up is just a matter of knowing the number to dial, or name to call as it were, although a link to the spirit does make it easier. Physical links, such as blood, are the most powerful, or best attuned, which is why it’s easier to summon your own ancestors – you’ve got an entire body full of blood to resonate as a link. Not everyone hangs about, though, and then there’s that pesky reincarnation thing that some spirits appear to go through, and so you’re just as likely to get no answer at all or an engaged tone as you are the soul of Great Uncle Silas. Mechanically, we went a bit aside from the concept of Ally Spirits, and created the category of Ancestral Spirits for 1879. They work a bit differently, mostly in the summoning and in what they may know, and it’s left as a matter of debate both in and out of the fiction as to whether they really are the souls of the dear departed or something putting on rather a clever act for unknown and possibly inscrutable reasons.
The nonbodied are much more clear as to their nature, both mechanically / out of game and philosophically / in-game. They were never people, human or Boojum or Saurid or what have you. Their origins lie in the depths of the astral plane, or under the doorstep, for they’re just as like to be strange visitors from out of the vasty deep as they are domovoi keeping watch over the house and those who live within it. What they want, and why they’re hanging about a level so far down in the energetic scale that it has physicality, varies wildly from one to the next. Some have a purpose, or state a purpose, or at the very least demonstrate such, by their actions, their claimed domains, what they protect and what they destroy. Others pop up at a summons, eager to do some menial task or other in return for a taste of mana, and there’s the question of whether one is feeding an astral entity its necessary sustenance, or providing an opium-eater with a pipe full of temporary bliss. Possibly both, possibly even in the same spirit, given how little we really understand about them. It’s only been a few years, after all, since the reality of these entities was proven beyond any doubt, and all the speculative writing and folklore and sacred texts of the past three thousand years may or may not be useful at all, as we’re still sorting out the wheat from the chaff as it were, figuring out what of the documentation handed down unto the current generation is reliable and what would serve better as fire lighters. Mechanically, these entities are referred to as Ally Spirits, but one would be best served by remembering that allies still have their own agendas, and may or may not be as reliable as one might hope. A tasked spirit is bound by the letter of the command, but may interpret it in strange and annoying ways. Beware of figures of speech, and stick to the literal and concrete when bargaining with a summoned entity.
Elementals lie somewhere further down the scale, energetically speaking, than Ancestral and Ally Spirits, manifestations of natural – physical – forces or concepts or phenomena. Most Westerners (that’s you, all those of European origin or descent) deal with the four classical elements handed down from the Mediterranean civilizations, being fire, air, earth, and water. Many systems include a fifth element, although what specifically that is varies considerably. Wood tends to get preference in northern Europe, while some attribute Metal as an element to the Chinese and Japanese, although saddling Japan with the Greek classical system and shoehorning in a fifth element to make it seem a bit more exotic smacks of colonialism, if not outright racism, now, doesn’t it? We’ll get round to examining Japanese magic within its own context later on, but let’s confine ourselves to the established boundaries of the British Empire for now. Elemental spirits, or just elementals, require a bit of their element to manifest through, so one must strike a match if one wants to conjure a fire elemental. They’re generally summoned for specific purposes, tasks ready to hand as it were, such as burning down a wall that provides more protection to the foe than one finds convenient, or extinguishing a blaze one’s enemy has set in the process of attacking. The concept of the artillery duel may find some degree of resonance here.
Having all these entities running around loose, or being at the beck and call of those with the proper training and ability like a house-servant brought with a tug of the bell-pull, does make rather a large difference in the daily affairs of the world. Water elementals make the job of a fire brigade ever so much easier, acting as a self deploying hose and pump. On the other side of the coin, there’s been a few people smothered to death in London recently, in locked rooms or when it’s easily proven they were alone, and all of them had a reputation for damaging the quality of the air and water. It’s almost as if the air itself is taking vengeance, and the fact that Scotland Yard’s Arcane Crimes Division is investigating does lend credence to the rumor that there’s magic, and possibly some sort of toxic entity, involved.
Good or ill? Ancestors or frauds? Protectors or destroyers? What exactly are these entities, except all of the foregoing …