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Magic in this world is gender linked. Estrogen lets you focus and direct the power, while testosterone allows you to channel larger amounts. Shamanism is a field of study that calls upon the magic of the planet, and relegated mostly to witches. Rather than using their own natural energies which are finite, an individual uses the energy of nature and the world around them. This form of magic is unlimited and never runs out. The user doesn't control the magic directly as it is too massive and powerful, but rather guides it in a particular way as it flows through them. These rituals require hours to perform and months of preparation, such as gathering various materials and a period of ritual cleansing or fasting. Magic resulting from these rituals are not permanent, and last as long as the spell is being performed. An example would be a rain dance, or a spell altering a landscape for a particular amount of time.

Covens in this setting function similar to royal houses and operate as political entities. They are matriarchal and led by witches, with the top matriarch ruling over the family and extended or lesser clans connected to the main coven. Males can potentially reach high positions as well, but they have a handicap. Due to an ancient curse thousands of years ago, males cannot do magic naturally. Instead, they depend on a ritual they go through that a group of 12 other witches must conduct. These rituals require various components, incantations, and a period of six hours, as well as months of preparation and steps that all parties must perform. This includes a period of fasting, prayer, etc.

The resulting warlock trains in sorcery, a field of magic that involves using your own energy to create spells of destructive power. These effects are immediate and can have long lasting effects, such as a fireball or a lightning bolt. They are also much quicker to use, but also more dangerous to the user. Warlocks can be found in high positions of power, soldiers, or bodyguards for other witches. They are also used to add power to rituals, which is often needed to create stronger effects.

Covens need to create warlocks because shamanism is necessary to the continued function of society, and many spells cannot be performed without them. However, there are concerns that warlocks, being stronger in sorcery, can rise up to take control of a coven, or band together to create their own entity to rival other covens. While witches have the strength of numbers, their form of magic is slow and takes preparation while warlocks are more immediately powerful. What is the best way to prevent this from happening?

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Why don't nuns take over the Catholic Church? (In the US in 1965, there were 3 times the number of sisters as Priests...today it is a lot closer but still more women.) Why do women have so much less power in the most popular world religions?

Systematic brainwashing disguised as cultural indoctrination.

It's not a system that is easily dismantled by logic. And it works for all areas of life. Why are there fewer female scientists than male ones, even though all logic tells you girls are just as likely to have the skills for science as boys?

If your society has men in charge for everything else then the way you keep women in charge of witchcraft is to belittle any man who is involved. Make it "women's work" so only a few men even want to do it. That may backfire because even in "women's" fields, like nursing and ballet dancing, men can still do well and be respected, and may run some or even most of the institutions.

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    $\begingroup$ While a clever idea, I don't think men -- especially powerful, educated ones -- would get suckered by that plot. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Oct 8 '18 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ It works in our world on powerful educated women! With a few exceptions. Less so in the modern world but, if you look at gender ratios, it's still quite successful. Though seriously, yes, it couldn't be the only factor. It will help tremendously though. So either it's a matriarchal society overall or it's a patriarchal society where magic is seen as emasculating. $\endgroup$ – Cyn Oct 8 '18 at 14:46
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    $\begingroup$ "*It works in our world on powerful educated women! *" Powerful, educated women still don't have as much testosterone as men. OP is definitely in a quandary, needing high-testostereone men who don't want to be in charge. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Oct 8 '18 at 14:52
  • $\begingroup$ Testosterone isn't a factor in leadership or power or skill. Though many men like to think so (and it is part of the brainwashing I speak of). It is a factor in certain specific things and I will buy that it's necessary for Incognito's plot. $\endgroup$ – Cyn Oct 8 '18 at 14:58
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    $\begingroup$ The ability to "create spells of destructive power ... such as a fireball or a lightning bolt. They are also much quicker to use, but also more dangerous to the user" is "a low-paid under-valued job that no ambitious man will ever want"? You either know nothing about men, or aren't even trying. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Oct 8 '18 at 15:09
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Add more requirements.

Warlocks only have any powers at all if the warlock has been castrated before puberty. That way they cannot reproduce, and any power they get in life follows them to the grave.

Think of catholic priests who can't marry and have kids, ir the castrati, who can only sing if deballed at a young age.

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    $\begingroup$ Warlockery was specified to be testosterone driven... $\endgroup$ – Graham Kemp Oct 7 '18 at 3:45
  • $\begingroup$ @GrahamKemp everyone produces testosterone from the supra-renal glands. It's just that men produce extra from the balls too. $\endgroup$ – Renan Oct 7 '18 at 3:53
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A common pattern to solve these issues is that the user of the powerful destructive force has little control over the effects that result from it. They may be able to generate a bolt of lightning or a fireball, but from that point on they're basically not in control of it. The rest of the world is in control of it. That includes the laws of physics, and they rely on those laws to lead the fireball or lightning bolt towards their target.

It also includes the witches. They're part of the rest of the world too. If their spells take a long time to cast, it's also very reasonable to assume that their spells have long lasting nuanced effects.

Have much of the coven's spellcasting be in the form of "You may start it, but I'll finish it" kinds of spells. When the warlock launches a fireball, he gives up control of it, trusting in the laws of physics to finish the job of propagating it towards the witch. However, if the witch's magic is already in the process of gathering some control over the fireball, it may start to re-direct the fireball in a way that doesn't hurt the witch.

Of course, the smaller the protected volume, the easier such spells would be. Coven witches would learn how to provide just enough protection to keep themselves alive.

Skilled witches might manage their magic in a way that not only directs the harm of the fireball away from the witch, but uses that energy to further her own goals. This may be as trivially combative as turning the fireball around, or it may redirect the energy towards a positive goal. Perhaps the coven needs a great deal of energy to cast the spell to bless this year's harvest. The warlock was kind enough to gather that for her, so that she doens't have to gather it the old fashioned way during the spellcasting.

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Indoctrination.

Make part of the ritual (required or not) drilling the males from a young age in being subservient to the witches of the coven. Only the ‘best’ (least likely to try anything without direction) get to become warlocks.

In this manner you make sure the idea of ‘taking over’ doesn’t even enter the heads of the warlocks. They are there to follow orders. They might be high up in the social order and even be in positions of power over more junior witches, but any warlock will (by doctrine) will want to find a ‘more senior’ witch to follow. Bonus points if they will all turn on any warlock that dares to suggest insubordination.

Build something into the ceremony about ‘now you are a weapon, given the power to defend or attack those your coven dictates. As a weapon you cannot have a will, you must work the will of your Coven.’

Also neatly lets warlocks avoid any lingering moral concerns over killing, but only as long as they’re being controlled by a witch.

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  • $\begingroup$ But testosterone -- needed for the magic -- creates aggression, Rape Culture, etc. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Oct 8 '18 at 14:41
  • $\begingroup$ I’m fairly sure that if the testosterone-fuelled uber-rage of half the human race can be effectively kerbstomped by the threat of ‘upper management’ then half a lifetime of indoctrination can do a decent number on ‘em too. Being thinking apes and all I prefer to believe we’re not total slaves to our hormones, and part of the ‘you get to be a warlock’ would necessarily be showing the ability to exercise self control. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Oct 8 '18 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ Most men can be indoctrinated. But the "1%" wants to rise to the top. It reminds me of Seneca's alleged quote, "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful". Most believe, and some use. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Oct 8 '18 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn: and the 1% would either not pass screening to become a warlock or be viciously beaten back into position by a vast and powerful matriarchy supported by a slew of effectively brainwashed men and their perceptions of gender norms, requiring a long and sustained series of campaigns to establish Male rights in the coven and smash the eldritch ceiling, even then being dogged by persistent traces of the outmoded customs of their forebears. Hey now... Where have I heard this before... $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Oct 8 '18 at 16:10
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Good old economic self-interest.

Think of the coven as a business. The witches don't have what they need to keep it running on their own (at least, not with total efficiency). Neither do the warlocks. Therefore it's to their benefit to work together.

Specifically, from the point of view of the warlocks, what the witches offer is a way to turn their talents into a marketable good. Fire and lightning are all well and good, but there's a limited supply of people willing to pay you for them, without turning to crime or becoming a hired thug. But when they're working with witches they can change the weather, reshape the landscape - things people will pay them for.

Operating within the system as it stands - working for witches' covens, even though they don't have power in them - offers them steady work and a minimum of risk. They can't go off on their own because unless they intend to become mercenaries or bandits, a group of warlocks has no source of income. (Some no doubt will do so anyway, or turn their backs on their magic and go work some kind of normal job, but I would imagine they would be in the minority.) Likewise if they take over a coven, the witches still hold all the power because they're the ones who determine if things get done. A general strike by the witches would mean no money coming in.

It's also worth pointing out that, in this world, covens are major political entities. In a noble house, you don't just become heir by deciding to shoot all the other potential heirs. They're working within a political system, which means there are laws (presumably enforced by other covens) restricting what is and is not considered legitimate. Taking over a coven at lightning-point might simply mean that you have an example made of you by every other spellcaster for a hundred miles.

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Make being a warlock a losing proposition.

The fact that warlocks must use their own power drains them of 'life energy' (or whatever you fancy) and consequently the more they practise magic, the faster they die. Suddenly being a warlock is far less attractive and it's far harder for them abuse their 'superior strength'.

This will also give you the opportunity for some entertaining plotting amongst the warlocks as they try to work out how to overcome this handicap by forcing them to work together over long timeframes (generations) creating a secret society that can wield sufficient power for long enough to overthrow the covens.

Obviously the witches are fully aware of this (not very) secret society and enjoy seducing the young warlocks or inciting them to self-destruct in ill-advised displays of power.

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Make the Creator Goddess unambiguously say, "Women are in charge. I'll smite any man who tries to take over."

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Warlocks must be maintained.

The reason for the curse was to prevent men from being great magic users. The elaborate workaround and ritual by the 12 witches is able to short circuit the curse, but only temporarily. In a way it is like raising the dead - creating a creature which is against nature. A warlock is an unnatural occurrence in this world and immediately on being created, the magic in him begins to decay. Without regular maintenance and upkeep by the 12, the warlock will gradually revert to being just a man.

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