New York City 1979! Battery Park to the Met! From the Hudson to the East River! from the Sewers up to Citicorp Tower! Can you dig it?
Part 1: Foundations
Rationality has left the world with many casualties. The works of Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russel, and countless others have waged a war on silliness in this past century. Perhaps you might substitute ‘silliness’ other terms: magic, mysticism, etc. here. I rather like the term silliness for its opposition to rationality and “common sense”. History prefers “magic” though, which is fine with me. We’re all a part of history after all.
“It is inhuman, like every truly diabolic machine, and it kills any one whose spinal marrow isn’t conditioned to fit the movement of its wheels”Physicist Paul Ehrenfest, questioning the role of mathematics in physics.1
Suffice to say that up until fairly recently, the world has been a very silly, magical place. And though larger institutions might not have admitted it, the governments and empires and corporations of the past relied heavily of the services and assistance of the magical.
In antiquity, a country’s most powerful magic users took up roles on the front lines. In peacetime and wartime, to wreak change upon the world. Wizards, warlocks, Bruja, iyalorixá, and witches, and many others by many names held esteemed places in society and held great influence. But in the past centuries, magic’s effectiveness and acceptance have been in decline everywhere. Scholars of magic could not understand or explain why, and no theory conjured up by magicians held water. And then The War came.
The Great War – the first World War – pitted some of Europe’s greatest magic users against each other. With no exceptions, spellcasters, mages, witches, and warlocks on both sides saw the efficacy of their powers greatly diminished. Spells that would have terrorized armies or held people together hundreds of years ago had a fraction of their power. Meanwhile, the new technologies of death and the spread of disease laid waste to Europe. Desperate to stem the tide of war, both sides turned to the old magic of Animism. With blood and fire as their mediums, magic users bent the will of birds, beasts, and the wild creatures of the earth into the service of the Axis and the Allies. Hawks, pigeons, dogs, and horses all took on new and terrifying roles in the conflict.
It was in this dark setting that an old Welsh wizard, Dredmor, made a breakthrough discovery. Centuries old at the war’s outbreak, Dreadmor found himself pulled into yet another conflict, this time aligned with the Allied powers. He was assigned to operate as a surgeon in a French field hospital, behind the front lines. Ancient and irate and compassionate, Dredmor spent most of the war caring for the humans and animals injured by two terrible new inventions: mustard gas and grenades. Frustrated at his waning power, his despair only increased as the war dragged on. In nearly a thousand years of conflict and death, Dreadmor was beyond tired of humanity’s capacity to produce suffering.
Midway through the war, Dreadmor made a startling observation. He was visited by a soldier that had survived his care at the beginning of the war. Dreadmor – attuned to the magic of all creatures – saw the soldier’s innate magic had increased tenfold. The soldier was now a corporal, and his luck and good fortune had multiplied. Though the soldier had only one working lung, Dreadmor foresaw a long and happy life for the man.
Curious, Dreadmor began to hold all treated pigeons in the hospital, rather than releasing them to the care of the Signal Corps. Day by day, Dreadmor tracked the magical signature of these dumb animals, and discovered that after receiving care, their innate magic multiplied day by day! So much magic filled these creatures that some grew the greatest magical gift and curse of all – consciousness. Dreadmor found he could psychically communicate with these creatures, as easily as he might with other fellow magic users.
Armed with their incredible gifts, these pigeons went on to perform fantastical deeds in service of the Allies. They survived conditions and injuries that would kill other pigeons. They flew faster and further than their fellows. And they ultimately helped the allies to win the war.
But as the war progressed, the phenomenon of magical potency that Dreadmor had stumbled upon began to wane, just as his own magic had for the past few centuries. By 1916 The survivors of mustard gas only in doubled in magic potential, the shrapnel survivors only tripled in magical potential. By 1917, Dreadmor observed only incremental change in magical signatures. And by 1918, the war was over.
After Armistice, the magicians of all sides held council, as they had done since ages past. At council, Dreadmor presented his observations, and a hypothesis.
1. Technological advancements that cause an unprecedented physical harm to natural creatures cause irreparable damage to natural magic.
2. As Earth’s creatures are injured by new technologies, the earth pours magic into these creatures while it adapts to the new source of harm.
3. This exchange depletes Earth’s available magic and empowers the survivors. Over time, the Earth adapts and builds resistance so no magic is lost.Proceedings of the 108th High Wizarding War Council Senior Arch-chancellor Dreadmor (Dredusmo/Dratum/Etc.)
If Dredmor’s hypothesis shook the council, his call to action nearly tore it apart. He wished to harness this power to create weapons to fight technology, which he saw as the destroyer of magic. He considered it a balancing of the scales, and a sign from the Earth that the advance of technology had gone too far, and must be stopped.
His theory was reviewed and considered plausible, but ultimately rejected by the council. Disgusted, he vanished and wasn’t seen for decades.
Dreadmor surfaced years later in the twilight of the second world war. Magicians on both sides had taken the opportunity to study Dreadmor’s experiment. Magicians drew similar conclusions on his theories of conserved magic, and consensus shifted in support of his findings. But though magicians searched high and low throughout Europe, Dreadmor was nowhere to be found. Then, as the war in Europe wrapped up, news of a powerful new weapon surfaced. As well as news of a very large lizard.
Part 2, Coming Soon!
- Lunteren, Frans H. van, and Marijn J. Hollestelle. “Paul Ehrenfest and the Dilemmas of Modernity.” Isis 104, no. 3 (2013): 504–36. https://doi.org/10.1086/673271. ↩︎