Witches

Pardon the dust. This site is still under construction.

Whether they're the sangomas of Africa, the brujas of South America, Roma shuvanis, or the wisewomen of European folklore, Witches have been around since the dawn of time. Like their Sorcerer brethren, they possess an innate ability to manipulate magical energies in the universe through the casting of spells and preparation of charms and potions. Traditionally, their magic has been defensive in nature — including a wide arsenal of healing spells and protective charms. Often, they are expert herbalists and well-versed in the ways of the natural world.

Witches come from a variety of socio-economic and religious backgrounds. While a Witch may choose to practice Wicca, being Wiccan does not make one a Witch1. Most Witches are middle-class, some are poor, but it's rare for witches to be upper-class, thanks to their enmity with Sorcerers.

Stereotypes suggest that many Witches find themselves drawn to healing or teaching professions, but this isn't universally the case. After all, being born a Witch doesn't determine a woman's personality or interests any more than being born English, African, or Chinese does. Indeed, some Witches love and nurture their magical talents the same way they might love and nurture their non-magical talents. Others shun them — whether because of cultural pressures or because they're simply not interested, doesn't matter.

Characteristic Abilities & Their Shortcomings

Regardless, all Witches share certain racial characteristics that mark them as what they are surely as their physical bodies mark them as female. These are:

Magic Sense
Witches can sense the use of magic — or that magic has been used recently — in their immediate environment. Frequently, this manifests as a niggling little feeling at the base of their skull, a tingle down their spine, or just some gut instinct that tells them something's up. It's not a specific information dump, however. It's more of a general sensation that provides very little detail about the sort of magic at play.

That said, an experienced Witch can often — but not always — differentiate between light magic and dark magic, and between Witch magic, Sorcerer magic, and Other magic2. If a Witch has had a lot of experience with a specific form of Other magic, she may potentially be able to hazard a guess about it, too, but this requires extensive contact with that sort of magic and brings with it a whole host of other knowledge as well3.

Note: If a Witch has had no contact with Sorcerer magic, she will not be able to come right out and say, "Oh, that's Sorcerer magic." Instead, she is more likely to say something like, "It feels like it could be Witch magic… but something feels wrong about it. I just don't know."4
Identifying Eye
For reasons unknown5, Witches have the ability to discover a man is a Sorcerer by looking him in the eye. The only way this works is through direct eye-contact; she and the Sorcerer must meet each other's gaze. Seeing him from a distance won't do it. Neither will looking at any other part of his face — or anywhere else on his body for that matter.

This only applies to identifying Sorcerers. She cannot identify other Witches this way, or any other sort of Magi or Thaumaturge. Nor can she identify any of the other Races this way.

Note: Whenever a Witch identifies a Sorcerer in this manner, she also automatically reveals herself as a Witch to that same Sorcerer, since Sorcerers possess the same ability — only they identify Witches via eye-contact, instead.
Spell-Casting
Witches possess the ability to cast magical spells, thereby manipulating their environment in ways science can't quite explain6. They can also create magical spells for themselves, but this is not a spontaneous activity. Rather, it requires a certain amount of experimentation, trial and error, and it must build on those spells the Witch already knows.

For Witches, spell-magic requires the recitation of words in a specific pattern7, and often includes some sort of gesture, in order to focus the will and the mind to manipulate magical energy sufficiently to bring about the desired effect. Many Witches ultimately learn to forego gestures; none of them can ever forego the verbal component8, even if it's nothing more than a nearly — but not entirely! — silent whisper. Because of this, the easiest way to incapacitate a Witch and keep her from using her power is to gag her and bind her hands.

Spells may be written and recited in any language. Most Witch spells are written (and thus recited) in Ancient Hebrew, Ancient Greek, Latin, or Aramaic. There are some few translations of these ancient spells into modern languages, but, for the most part, they've been handed down Mother-to-Daughter in their ancient forms, in tact9.

It's possible for a Witch to "hold" a spell for a brief period of time (no more than a handful of minutes). She does this by reciting all but the last word of the spell, thus leaving it temporarily incomplete. When she wants to actually cast it, she speaks the last word, thus completing it and releasing its energy. She cannot, however, interrupt the spell with other speech — so it's not like she can trade fancy quips with an adversary while she's prepping a spell. Further, if she takes too long to complete it, it fizzles, all of its potential energy drained away by the delay.

Most spells require line-of-sight to work and are otherwise limited in terms of distance10. The exception to those are certain communication spells, or instances where the Witch is dealing with an unseen environment she knows exceptionally well11. Consequently, the best way to really incapacitate a Witch, without rendering her unconscious, is to gag her, bind her hands, and blindfold her12.

See The Nature of Witch Magic -- Common Spells for more information.
Potion & Charm Making
At their most basic, potions and charms are little more than physically stored spells13. The advantage they have is that they can a) store spell energy for an almost indefinite period of time and b) pack a whole lot more punch than most spells a Witch might cast on-the-fly.

Tradition teaches that the creation of potions and charms requires certain arcane (if often simple) rituals, using special or ceremonial tools — athames14, cauldrons, casting circles, altars, and the like. As with the creation of spells, however, tradition tends to ignore the fact that the earliest Witches used whatever tools and workspaces they had at hand. Thus, while most Witches do, in fact, use tools and spaces they've specifically set aside for magical work, it's not essential (which some Witches have discovered when in a pinch).

The materials used in potions and charms can range from everyday, readily-available items to obscure, hard-to-find treasures15. As difficult as obtaining some of the rarer components can be, the real trick with the creation of potions and charms is that the Witch must be both familiar with and able to cast the spells required. And it's not unusual for the spells involved in the creation of such items to be different than those used in regular spell-casting16.

Nevertheless, a lot of it has to do with focus and preparation. While simple draughts or common charms may only take an hour or two to complete, many of the more complex or more powerful ones can take days, even weeks to complete17.

See The Nature of Witch Magic -- Common Potions & Charms for more information.

The Nature of Witch Magic

The perception of Witches as healers and herbalists comes out of their tradition of healing and defensive magic18. In fact, Witch magic grew out of their need for that sort of protection, since human magic is generally practical in nature, designed to aid the spell-caster in dangerous or difficult situations19. Often hunted and constantly harassed by Sorcerers and their agents throughout their history, a Witch's survival was greatly dependent on her ability to evade her pursuers, hide or conceal herself from their searches, and to heal her injuries — or those of her companions — once she had escaped. So, it only stands to reason that those are the spells she would pass on to her daughters.

The thing is, no Witch emerges from the womb able to automatically cast any spell placed before her. Most Witches don't start manifesting magic until they hit puberty, though some have been known to start manifesting as young as 7 or 8 years old. Typically, though, a young Witch first displays her aptitude for magic between the ages of 10 and 1220. Regardless, whether she is self-taught or instructed by an elder able to give her direction, she has to take the time to learn how to use her magic21. Thus, Witch spells are tiered, designed like building blocks such that mastery of the basic spells allows for mastery of the related intermediate spells, allows for mastery of the related advanced spells22. If a Witch hasn't mastered the early spells in a spell-chain she simply cannot do the later spells.

Common Spells

The following is a brief selection of common Witch spells. It's certainly not exhaustive, by any means. There are literally hundreds of unrecorded variations on these examples as well as countless other spells with other effects entirely. But, this should give a general idea of the way spells work and what sorts of spells Witches have found the most advantageous over the centuries.

Spell Level Description

Common Potions & Charms

The following is a brief selection of common Witch potions and charms. It's certainly not exhaustive, by any means. There are literally hundreds of unrecorded variations on these examples as well as countless other such items with other effects entirely. But, this should give a general idea of the way potions and charms work and what sorts of them Witches have found the most advantageous over the centuries.

Potion/Charm Level Description

Witches and the Use of Sorcery

The fact that Witches and Sorcerers are effectively two halves of the same race means that Witches can, in fact, cast Sorcerer spells or work other forms of Sorcery. However, they simply cannot use it with the same facility as their Sorcerer brethren.

A Witch that casts a Sorcerer spell can only ever cast it at about 80% of the strength that an equally skilled, equally powerful Sorcerer can use it. Of course, the same may be said of Sorcerers attempting to cast Witch magic. They can only cast it at about 80% of the strength of an equally skilled, equally powerful Witch.

That does not, however, automatically mean that a Witch's casting of a Sorcerer spell will be weaker than a Sorcerer's casting of the same spell, since it very much depends on the skill and innate power of the Sorcerer. If he is weaker or less-experienced than the Witch, her casting may well be stronger than his… and vice versa.

Note, however, that it is extremely difficult for a Witch to get her hands on anything that might teach her Sorcery. Not only do Sorcerers guard their secrets as jealously as Witches guard their own, but they have a much broader, wealthier network that's able to obtain and keep those secrets far more easily than that of their poor, disconnected sisters. So the chances of any Witch having a wide array of Sorcery at her fingertips is highly unlikely23.

Further, Witches need to have mastered the simpler spells in the Sorcery spell-chain in much the same way they must master the simple spells in their own spell-chains before being able to perform the more advanced magic. If a Witch has in her personal spell repertoire of Witch magic a series of spells that are somewhat analogous to the Sorcery spell-chain required to learn to cast a more-advanced Sorcerer spell, she may be able to successfully cast that spell at a somewhat more reduced capacity than normal (i.e. at about 60-70% of an equally-matched Sorcerer, rather than the usual 80%), without having learned all the Sorcerer building-block spells first… which, for many Witches, is better than nothing.

The Coven vs. The Solitary Practitioner

The practice of Witchcraft is as varied as the Witches that practise it. However, there are two major forms seen — that of the Coven, and that of the Solitary Practitioner. Covens are usually, though not always, organized along family lines. Solitary Practitioners, however, are, unsurprisingly, much more independent.

Covens

Unlike a Sorcerer's Dynasty, Covens aren't wide, all-encompassing organizations dedicated to dominating others. Traditionally, they're quite small, focused on mutual defence and protection.

Most typically, Covens are related generations of women — Grandmothers, Mothers, Daughters, with assorted Aunts and Cousins thrown in for good measure where available. In such cases, the size of the Coven is usually limited. It's rare for most familial Covens to consist of more than six or eight Witches, but it really does depend on the family. Certainly, given the trend to decreasing birthrates in most western cultures, the size of familial Covens has been decreasing. But, there are always exceptions.

Too, on occasion, groups of unrelated Witches will band together into Covens. Often, these sorts of Covens are the remnants of familial Covens that have amalgamated for whatever reason. Given the fact that it is highly unusual for a Witch to reveal herself to anyone outside of her own family, such Covens are rare.

Contrary to popular myth, Covens do not have a set size limit. They're not bound to a specific mystical number (multiples of 3, 7, or 13 are the usual numbers bandied about) or configuration. While certain spells and rituals that are based on Thaumaturgic convention, rather than strictly Witch magic, may sometimes require such structures for successful casting, the Coven itself isn't bound by such artificial limits.

Coven Structure

Just like everything else connected with Witches, the structure of the Coven is highly individual. Size, age, and Coven history, not to mention the natures of its members, have a lot of influence on just how the Coven works. However, as always, there are definite trends. Most often, Covens are led by the most senior or most skilful Witch of the circle24. Many Covens, especially larger ones, also have rankings for their members commensurate with the spell levels the Witch has achieved — generally something along the lines of Novice, Adept, and Mistress, though the actual labels will vary with the Coven.

Occasionally, particularly large Covens (generally more than 9 or 10 members), will create other positions within their structure — Teachers for instructing Novices and younger Witches, Lorekeepers25 for guarding the Coven's library and collection of artefacts, Arbiters26 for settling disputes, and Guardians27 who are responsible for maintaining the physical and spiritual defence of the Coven when the other members are distracted by study, ritual, or other demands.

Solitary Practice

Not every Witch has the advantage or even the choice of belonging to a Coven. While some choose to practise their craft independently, just as many have simply never found others with whom they are comfortable practising. Some very few have even found themselves cast out of their Covens for various reasons. Whether they've lost their Coven through misfortune, or never had one to begin with, they're more-or-less left to muddle through on their own.

This doesn't necessarily leave them any less skilled than their Coven counterparts, but it often means they have to work a whole lot harder to find the resources to expand their knowledge. The spell-book libraries owned by most Covens have been collected and handed down over generations. Some solitary practitioners have the advantage of collections handed down from their Mothers and Grandmothers. Just as many, however, have to cobble their own together from scratch, which usually means collecting spells one-by-one through occult artefact dealers or other antiquarians — which can sometimes be a very dangerous proposition for both the dealer and the buyer.

As a result, Solitary Practitioners tend to be highly dedicated to their craft and develop remarkably strong research and authentication skills, not to mention more than a passing familiarity with ancient or obscure languages. They also tend to be more jills-of-all-trades than specialists, since, without other Witches to support them, they require a wider range of skills to survive on their own.

Busting the Myths

There are things Witches simply can't do, things that are little more than exaggerated myth or legend born of fanciful imagination, mistaken identity, or outright propaganda. They can't raise the dead; that's the province of Necromancers. They don't ride brooms or use familiars. They can't fly — though there are spells that permit forms of levitation over short distances.

They don't typically summon demons or other spirits — that's typically more a Sorcerer's purview, though there are dark magic practising Witches who are exceptions to that rule. They also can't transform people into animals or other such things. At most, they can enhance a person's natural senses, strengths, or abilities for short whiles, but nothing permanent28.


Footnotes

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License