Magic needing specific persons as regards age or sex

minnow at minnow at
Sat Mar 6 13:41:23 EST 2004

Ika wrote:

>ObDWJ: um... there's an odd mixture in her books of gender
>division/complementarity on the magical level - I'm thinking of the 'male'
>and 'female' magics in Black Maria and The Merlin Conspiracy - with a
>total disregard for traditional gender characteristics on the level of the
>characters (lots of femmey boys and tomboy girls. I suppose Witch Week has
>the biggest division between boys and girls, maybe because of the
>boarding-school milieu).

Which are the femmey boys?  And how does that get defined/shown?  Ditto
tomboy girls?  I have always thought of DWJ's people as just people, rather
than worrying too much about which of the eight sexes they are, so I simply
haven't noticed.

I have a very strong suspicion that DWJ doesn't pay all that much attention
to people's wishful thinking about how they would *like* things to be in
magic, and takes the facts of the matter into account, whether these are
about age or about sex or about timing.  When you are choosing to treat of
for instance magic that was set up to happen once every seven years and
only involve individuals who have lived for eleven years at that time, it
is not a lot of use for the fifteen- or five-year-olds at that date to
whinge about "it's not fair, I can't be in this ritual, it ought to be
changed to be more inclusive", because in the context of the set-up you
have chosen to write, it simply won't work if they happen to be the wrong
age.  Stuff that is Lammas or Beltane oriented is likely not to work at
Samhain or Imbolc: you just have to wait until the right time of year comes
round (as in *Witch Week*, when the date is important).  Similarly if
within a book the system of magic for a ritual calls for one person to be a
male and one a female, it won't work if two male or two female people try
to do it, or if the female insists on playing the male role and vice versa,
and for the author to make it work in spite of the rules within the book
would be both cheating and unconvincing.  Women who are mothers trying to
take the part of the Maiden, or fourteen-year-old virgins trying to play
the Crone, or women who have been sterilised of their own free will before
bearing a child wanting to be the Mother, why would that be expected to
work, if what one is dealing with is traditional magic?  A woman cannot be
a traditional Priest of Mithras, nor can a man be a Priestess of the
Goddess, in certain systems, and sex-magick on Crowley lines requires
specifically same-sex bondings only for particular effects, not a general
sexual free-for-all (though with Crowley that's sometimes surprising...)

There are simple facts, just as in any other field: someone three foot tall
is not going to be able to reach an eight foot high shelf without standing
on a chair, someone who is twenty stone simply will not fit through a
window a slim five-year-old just barely squeezes through, and so forth.
Repining about it won't change the facts; if you're female, you need to
choose a female ritual to achieve the effect you want, if male, a male one,
and if all the rituals for the particular effect desired require one person
of each sex then you just have to find someone to be the other side of the
coin, because coins with one side only aren't legal tender in the magical

There are lots of magical things that are sex-neutral, in which any of the
parts in a ritual can be taken by someone of either sex, and there are some
individuals who are sufficiently neuter (usually in the sense of being more
than either sex rather than being less, for which there isn't a decent word
in the language) to be able to take either a male or a female role in a
ritual that requires specific-sex participants, but mostly it is just more
*sensible* to stick to the ways that have been shown to work, rather than
risk the whole thing falling apart because the ritual has been changed.

It seems likely that DWJ is aware of this.  The plant-lore lady in *The
Merlin Conspiracy* is described as "a wizard and a priestess and a healer",
and "wizard" is usually a male title; she was looking not for a person but
for a particular sort of brain to whom she could pass on her knowledge, and
I get no sense that it matters a jot to her what sex the person attached to
the brain is.  In *Black Maria* she makes it very clear that the trouble
has come about because what is meant to be complementary magic has been
split, so that only one half of it is being done, and the same in *A Sudden
Wild Magic*.  In *The Merlin Conspiracy* the family-woman-old-magic family
have a set of parameters for their working that *work* (albeit through the
use of slaves, whom DWJ causes to be set free and quite right too!) so why
would they risk messing up their entire Way by trying to see if it worked
as well with the sex they have always been told can't do that particular
sort of magic?

At the same time, why shouldn't DWJ depict people who are diverse, like
people in Real Life (OMT), and not particularly inclined to be only a
girly-girl or only a manly-man or whatever else?

If you're the author, you can, as I think DWJ does on occasion, suggest
that the characters may benefit by looking away from their culture's
traditional magic (within the book) and trying to work out new ways to do
things, or correct ways in which the traditional magic has been in some
manner subverted or perverted or otherwise messed up (Thornladies of
various sorts and Hereditary Covens get shaken up here and there), but
unless you have a framework around which and outside which the characters
are learning to work, they'd have no reason to be looking for New things to
experiment with.  The magic in a created world has to be consistent, or it
just becomes like the maddening way that the Superman comics were in the
1960s: for every new threat, a new super-power.

Minnow (who's been doing a lot of thinking about magic this week for
several reasons...)

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