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Rynn is not flashy at all. In fact, you would be forgiven to think she's a bit of an introvert. Sure, the people in the town are strangely reluctant to talk to you about her, but you are a newcomer, and after a few drinks tongues eventually loosen up.

Children do seem to get better when they're sick after eating her oatmeal cookies, you are told, but others quickly add that that might be simply because they believe they would. And she did ask for a local brewer's help moving some furniture the very morning his fermentation vat blew up half his house. And there was that time when she happened to be fishing on the lake just as two reckless boys swam too far, got trapped in the weeds and would have probably drowned if not for her. Oh, and the curious incident with the thieves who not only returned her purse but also made a large donation to the orphanage. And ... actually, there's a surprisingly large number of such events and coincidences. Silence descends upon the bar, as people gradually make excuses to go away.

You suddenly have a strange, absolute, gut-certainty that if someone were to throw a stone at her head while she was turned away she'd just happen to bend down to tighten her shoelaces at that exact moment. Or perhaps she'd trip over a root. You briefly wonder: Is Rynn a witch? That thought is quickly replaced by another: Nah, you're just being paranoid. You put your beer down, shake your head and head out.


Assume you have someone performing public magic in such a way that it's virtually indistinguishable from luck, or coincidence. Just how much magic can one get away with? I'm thinking specifically:

  • Telekinesis (moving small and not so small objects without appearing to exercise any direct influence)
  • Divination (seeing across future scenarios and actively guiding the future towards a preferred outcome)
  • Headology (read Terry Pratchett - getting inside people's heads, aka Charms and Illusions)
  • Evocation (manipulating energy, such as weather, fire, electricity etc)

How should a mage act to make her less likely to be detected? What kind of beliefs in society would help most with remaining undetected?

Later Note: See also this follow-up question.

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    $\begingroup$ I love the way you set up your questions! $\endgroup$ – Aaru Mar 26 '15 at 2:24
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    $\begingroup$ There's a lot of background information that will influence the answers to your question(s). This includes things like whether people know about magic existing in this world, what technology they have access to and how the predominant religions are set up. $\endgroup$ – Jasper Mar 26 '15 at 10:50
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    $\begingroup$ This is really three questions in one and each could be answered with a very lengthy response. Further, as people address each aspect of the question you may find it difficult to select one as "accepted" if one had a great answer for the first question, and another had a great answer for the second question. Consider splitting broad questions like this into multiple questions in the future. $\endgroup$ – Adam Davis Mar 26 '15 at 11:48
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    $\begingroup$ More questions ought to have the phrase "read Terry Pratchett" in them. +1. $\endgroup$ – IchabodE Mar 26 '15 at 21:48
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    $\begingroup$ Rynn's life reminds me of the Piers Anthony character Bink, who was magically protected his whole life, but he never knew it until he was directly attacked and it became obvious. Are you assuming that Rynn knows about her powers? $\endgroup$ – Jeremy Nottingham Mar 27 '15 at 11:33

17 Answers 17

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Beautiful Question Prep!

Subtle, beneficial magic, wrapped in a shy and unassertive package, unobtrusively making life better for those that she cares for... Rynn falls so far from the witch stereotype that I doubt anyone would ever make the connection. They might think she was charmed, that angels watched over her and kept her from harm. She would be the town's lucky penny, their precious secret. In time, as her life sailed smoothly past the jagged rocks the harass and befuddle everyone else, she would come to be known as wise. Quiet little Rynn, who never speaks up or pushes people around, would have a mighty authority among the townsfolk and few would stand their ground on any issue when she politely took the other side.

...but that is in her future. The younger, apparently innocent and undeniably blessed young lady is the character you have today, and she is a wonderful starting place for all kinds of stories.

How far could she push it without scaring her friends? I don't think there is any limit, as long she was generous with the town-folk and never blatantly hurts anyone, she will continue to be seen as, at her worst, harmless.

More important than the scale of the magic she casts would be the indirectness with which she casts it. She would always want to make it look like things just happen around her; not that she makes things happen. Hurricanes change paths despite what the weather man predicts, sparing the town and surrounding farms. Rain always falls in their valley no matter how bad a drought the rest of the country is dealing with. None of the town-folks ever locks their keys in their cars... every time they think they've done it, they always find that one of the doors isn't locked. The local locksmith has closed up shop and moved to another town.

I am tempted to say that placing your story in an enlightened, scientific age such as today would greatly enhance your character's ability to hide her talents. In this modern world, she could literally conjure dragons right in front of us and we would still be looking for where the mirrors are hidden as the winged ones ate us. Still, since you've introduced this character as cherished by her friends, with shyness and humility to further conceal her power. With those attributes, I think she could live anywhen and nobody would ever mistake her for what she truly is.

This is a beautiful character which should be a blast to work into some of your writing. Good luck with her!

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    $\begingroup$ Pretty good, but... Rain always falls in their valley no matter how bad a drought the rest of the country is dealing with. That sounds like a good way to attract suspicion and jealousy from the the rest of the country. And after a few drinks tongues eventually loosen up, and then outsiders start to find out about Rynn... $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Mar 26 '15 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ Captured her exactly! $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Mar 30 '15 at 1:19
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Telekinesis is a tough one. Humans are quite good at calculating trajectories, and unless the magician does something that could be interpreted as the chance interaction of a gust of wind or a lucky/unlucky bounce, altering the trajectory of an object would be noticed. That's something that some CGI movies struggle with.

Divination is an easy one, as long as the magician can make things look like a coincidence. Not being in harm's way is a good one, but a careful magician might allow themselves to take small amounts of harm so as to deflect attention from the fact that they're not taking serious damage.

Headology can be tricky. It can be pretty obvious, or quite subtle. If a magician restricts themselves to the possible, it could only be detected if two witnesses to an event have significantly different recollections of an event. Making someone remember a giant purple elephant in their cupboard would be pretty obvious.

As with the example story, a magician who acts to make their magic look as if there were just a whole lot of coincidences and luck happening to them, as well as ensuring that other people around them were also lucky, such magic could be discounted for quite some time, and given that the "luck" seems to rub off on bystanders, others would be reluctant to act against the magician for fear of losing their luck.

Obviously, if such a magician's enemies started suffering misfortunes out of any reasonable resemblance to the normal variances of chance, people might get suspicious. However, if the magician simply altered other people's opinion of their enemies in a subtle way, reducing society's levels of popularity and respect, and increasing annoyance with their foe, the magician could see to it that their enemies were run out of town or lynched, and the townsfolk would hardly notice, and would probably think that it was their own idea. After all, "Joe always was a pain in the ass, and it's not fair to say he only tormented Rynn when he made everyone's life miserable."

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    $\begingroup$ Two witnesses having significantly different memories of an event happens all the time. Human memory is very fallible and quite unreliable even under good circumstances. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Mar 26 '15 at 18:08
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    $\begingroup$ Your definition of Headology seems a bit off from the official one. It's basically a different word for psychology, so all you are doing is talking to someone and because of what you say you make them form certain opinions or idea's. You can't make someone remember something unless you can get them to agree on a fundamental level that what you're saying is what happened. Unless you can convince them the purple elephant was there they won't remember it that way. Source: wiki.lspace.org/mediawiki/Headology $\endgroup$ – Cronax Mar 27 '15 at 12:33
  • $\begingroup$ Really wanted to accept this one as well! $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Mar 30 '15 at 1:20
  • $\begingroup$ @pluckedkiwi Ah, good ol' false memories, more recently seen in the "Mandela Effect". $\endgroup$ – Bob Feb 10 '16 at 6:44
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Telekinesis

You can affect objects already moving in complex patterns. People would be a good example, a person slipping or tumbling for no detectable reason is weird, but would easily and naturally overlooked if something large falls where they would be if they had not slipped.

Discontinuities are also good targets. Even if an object has a predictable trajectory you can't mess without it looking unnatural, it can still bounce weird when it hits a wall or ground without it being a major issue.

Objects can also be messed with when nobody is looking at them. Objects above or behind people present can be made fall down as a distraction and it will look natural enough. An attack looks more unnatural as the "odds" of accidentally hitting someone are longer and people pay more attention to events with concrete consequences, but if you time it to coincide with something that could trigger the fall such as slamming a heavy door or something heavy falling, you can get away with it.

You can also mess with equipment. Fuses are supposed to trip occasionally, so if you can use the telekinesis to cause a fuse to turn out the lights, you can get away with that easy enough. Likewise if nobody actually has a reason to know which position some switch is, you can flip it even if that has some consequence later.

And you can use telekinesis for set up. As an example instead of making somebody slip, you can, while nobody is looking, make something slippery spread itself over the surface people will move over later. You can telekinetically open a lock just before somebody else tries to open the door. You can make a door somebody is trying to force open break easier than it really would have. You can even make an object several people are trying to move move easier because everyone will assume others are doing a more. And even if it is only one person is trying to move it when he is not really paying attention because of some emergency. Which covers most times you'd want to use telekinesis anyway.

You can also use telekinesis to avoid something. To make people not slip on a slippery surface. To make people not lose their balance on a narrow ledge. To make a door somedy is trying to break not break...

Divination

The basic issue is really that nobody knows how this could work. Mostly this depends on how much advance warning you get. If only few seconds it is impossible to hide, if few hours or more nobody will never even notice you interfered to prevent something that never happened. For example, you could simply spend time with the boys so they never swim too far or go fishing with some other person who takes attention away from you when saving the boys. You can use your telekinesis to make minor repairs on things that would fail. To open a clogged safety valve of a fermetation vat, or to make a leak that lets out the pressure safely and forces replacing the vat.

Headology

You can mess with how people remember the events, right? Even without magic it is fairly easy to convince people that your idea was their idea. People take credit for ideas they like naturally without any urging. With magic to read people and make yourself less memorable there shouldn't be any real issue. Real world mystics and diviners can do some pretty impressive feats without a shred of magic simply by taking advantage of how people think. This is probably what Pratchett was referring with "headology", really.

Evocation

You can make things colder or hotter or cause electric surges to disable equipment without too much problems.

Making things colder might for example slow down some process or make something more fragile. It would also be a good attack against people and animals when outside in a cold weather. It feels fairly natural and even a small drop will seriously sap your energy level as body will use as much energy as it can to prevent hypothermia. Hypothermia can also keep people alive longer in the right circumstances.

Increasing temperature can also be an effective attack in warm environments for similar reasons. Temperature can be useful in opening stuck locks or doors. And being able to increase heat can be a life saver for people vulnerable to hypothermia.

If you can cause large temperature changes in small areas you can unstuck almost anything and probably even disinfect wounds.

Electric surges have obvious value in an age filled with electric devices. And electronics is vulnerable to even quite small surges if accurately targeted.

Anonymity

In large cities people can do quite a lot while remaining part of an anonymous background. As in example, your vulnerability is in people making connections between events that in separation are harmless. As long as you leave no paper trail when meddling this will be unlikely in a large city, if individual interventions are not noticeable enough to be mentioned to others with complete descriptions of that nice person who did not tell her name.

Fade in the background

If somebody or something else is taking peoples attention people will not even remember you were present. If you can act from distance and mess with peoples minds this will be easy.

You can manipulate people to take the necessary actions and grab the attention. Make somebody else go fishing on that lake without even saying a word simply by tweaking the discussion they have with someone else. Make everyone forget you were there by having people skip mentioning you when first telling the story to their friends or the police.

Make no patterns

Do not repeat the same action until there is a statistical anomaly. Do not spread your name around in context of interventions. Vary your appearance enough to avoid creating an urban legend of a woman with red shoes or green hair or whatever. In a large city where people do not really know you these will be a big help.

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    $\begingroup$ Wow, choosing a winning answer will be hard. Lots of high-quality answers! $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Mar 28 '15 at 1:45
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The thing that trips you up here is what's called bias.

Specifically: Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias basically means that if someone says out loud "She's a witch!" then they will see a load of evidence to support this theory. The events where her powers were manifest will stand out.

It's actually very hard to avoid too - we have plenty of real world examples of witch trials where enough 'evidence' was secured to convict, despite such evidence only being allegation and confessions under torture.

So I think what she would need to do is be extremely careful to act at a distance, and try and decouple the chain of events. People will notice her involvement in fortunate outcomes. This may be ok, they'll assume she's lucky, but they will notice 'something special'.

We get winning streaks on a daily basis that look 'lucky' but are merely the result of humans being really bad at handling 'random'.

So what would be needed is action at a distance and plausible deniability. Avoiding being present at fortunate events. Sabotaging things in advanced - maybe the brewer is called out of town at short notice because a family member is unwell (poisoned), and that's nothing to do with her...

Healing done slowly and subtly - maybe outcomes are better overall, but anyone who makes a 'surprising' recovery will be treated with suspicion. This may, at extremes, mean letting someone die. But perhaps not - maybe it's possible to heal them slowly, and hiding the fact that naturally they would have died.

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People Will Talk

Even without any evidence at all, people will attribute positive (or negative) events to magic - even in a world where magic doesn't exist. A lot of positive events will undoubtedly cast suspicion. When something happens that is statistically unlikely, people are more likely to assume that the 'winner' was cheating. Hiding would mean not being associated with any suspicious events.

Life in a Glass House

Now, as long as everything always goes great, a witch would probably be safe. People wouldn't want to push their luck, so as long as everything was always good. Of course... it's almost impossible for everything to always go right. Sometimes, even magic can't cure a disease, or stop an accident, and when someone gets hurt, there will be no more safety net. It's probably already gone - that brewer may have kept his life, but he lost his livelihood. If the townsfolk are already talking, it's only a matter of time before the torches and pitchforks come out.

So what now?

To keep her abilities hidden, Rynn needs to become a con artist. She needs to practice the art of redirection, of covering her true intentions with something that looks plausible. The townsfolk have associated all those events with her because she was there. What Rynn needs to do is:

  • Stay away. If at all possible, don't be present. A thousand magical events in a thousand different situations (like a log magically floating out to the two drowning boys) are harder to put together than a thousand magical events with a single point of similarity. So, Rynn needs to stay out of sight as much as possible. If she were "out of town" while something happened, all the better.
  • Redirect. A lot of trouble can be avoided by simply not being there; however, instead of it being Rynn herself making sure no one is there, she needs to get someone else to do it. Perhaps the brewer gets message from the bank demanding a meeting, or his wife gets a bad cold so he's late to work; either way, there is no suspicion thrown on Rynn.
  • Don't get greedy. It's easy to want the best in every situation, but "the best" also stands out like a sore thumb. Instead of ducking when a rock it thrown, Rynn should let it glance off her shoulder. Instead of the thieves returning her purse, they just 'accidentally' lose it, and someone else returns it to her (at which point she cries about the missing money, even if there wasn't any). Bad things keep happening, just not as bad as they could have been.
  • Have a reason. Sure, Rynn's cookies cure kids; why wouldn't they? She puts some healing herbs from Farmer Brown's north pasture in them. Everyone knows those herbs cure anything. Instead of magically getting better, the kids get better because of Science!... even if it isn't science.
  • Be friendly. It's one thing to accuse a stranger or an acquaintance, but it's another to accuse a close friend. The more friends Rynn has, the more potential allies she gains; down at the pub, when two men start talking about "that strange woman," her next door neighbor can casually chime in, diffusing the situation.
  • Ask favors. This actually has two benefits; first, a witch can do everything for herself, so someone asking for help probably isn't a witch. And second, asking someone for a favor actually causes them to trust you more.

Specifics

All of this is, in the end, Headology. The more Headology, the better, in fact. If Rynn keeps tabs on the townspeople, and diffuses tension before it can build, she will stay safe.

Telekinesis can be helpful for tiny nudges, but she shouldn't do anything obvious with it: untie a shoelace, but don't lift a boulder in the air. In fact, it would be better to use telekinesis to stop things from happening; no one notices when a rock doesn't roll down a hill.

Divination is the key to staying out of trouble, too; the longer she can see into the future, the better off she'll be. She could even test several methods of helping people before she actually tries them.

Evocation, on the other hand, would be dangerous, because it's highly visible, and almost impossible to pass off as a natural event. No newt-transfigurations or lightning bolts here! That's a sure-fire way to get your trial after your hanging.

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  • $\begingroup$ Very thorough answer! $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Mar 28 '15 at 1:09
  • $\begingroup$ "no one notices when a rock doesn't roll down a hill". Yes stopping things happening which no one was expecting anyway is almost perfectly hidden. $\endgroup$ – trichoplax Mar 28 '15 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ Telekinesis would be most effective at the start of an action--before a ball leaves someone's hands, for example. Then the trajectory need not change. That requires constant divination. An alternative is to make sure people notice and just correctly avoid any dangers. Kid drowning? Make sure he notices the strong undercurrent and doesn't go swimming. Rock being thrown? Make sure the thrower's shoe and breath makes enough of a sound to draw attention, and that the targeted person correctly predicts how to dodge it. And so on. $\endgroup$ – Kimball Robinson Dec 1 '15 at 20:07
  • $\begingroup$ Humans tend not to connect events separated by time, or when there is an easier explanation. She simply needs to avoid being around when the miracles occur, and there needs to be another explanation. Perhaps several other explanations. $\endgroup$ – Kimball Robinson Dec 1 '15 at 20:08
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Rather than answer all the questions posed I'm going to focus on one aspect of this question:

How should a mage act to make him less likely to be detected?

They will have to let some bad things happen. Both to themselves, and to others. There are some actions they could take but even when people aren't magic, it only takes one or two coincidences for people to connect dots that may or may not be there, and call it witchcraft. Consider the Salem Witch Trials. No magic, and yet once someone claimed that their neighbor was a witch then others were willing to come forth to testify against them, having seen anomalies.

Humans are exceptional at noticing oddities, coincidences, correlations, etc.

Further, I don't think this is something they could do as a child and get away with it - in their youthful enthusiasm they would undoubtedly be discovered. Either the magic has to come very gradually once they gain enough understanding of the world to protect themselves, or they have to be trained by someone who knows their magic, or it has to be subconscious such that they aren't even aware that they are doing it, but still limited to avoid detection.

Lastly, you couldn't call "entire town trance" subtle, and outsiders would quickly notice something wrong, so I don't think this would apply to your question. But it's worth some consideration if your location is particularly secluded.

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    $\begingroup$ "She turned me into a newt!!!" $\endgroup$ – user4239 Mar 26 '15 at 13:48
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    $\begingroup$ @DVK "It's a fair cop." $\endgroup$ – Adam Davis Mar 26 '15 at 13:50
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This is long, because I have had a great deal of fun exploring magic from an information theory perspective. There's a separator half way through for those who just want to read how Rynn should behave.

I would approach this from a key observation: others will observe the effects of Rynn's magic. If they don't, it makes for very poor magic. Something should happen. While it may seem like the secret to subtle magic is to make as "small" of a change as possible, a more precise wording is helpful: the secret to subtle magic is to do things in a way which is easily explained by The Unknown or to encourage others to not search for an explanation in the first place.

In science, The Unknown is modeled as random variables. However, The Unknown takes on many forms in other approaches to making sense of the world. The Norse might call it Loki's mischief. I've heard it called the devil's handiwork before. Whatever you call it, it represents that of the world which you did not measure, thus cannot predict its effects.

This approach is particularly convenient for modeling such subtle magic because it lends itself to an easy study using information theory. Assume we all have some information about the world. As we interact with it, we learn more. We also forget things which are of lower value (consider: the third letter of this paragraph is an 'i,' but you didn't think it was important enough to remember that, did you?)

To elicit a subtle magic effect is akin to being able to see the world in a different way. Consider the subtle magic of a teenager fixing their grandparent's computer. The way the grandparents view the world is valuable in many ways, but in the particular case of computers, their worldview is highly ineffective at solving problems. The teenager, having grown up with computers, can easily see the root causes of computer related problems and find solutions. From the grandparents' point of view, what the teenager does is indistinguishable from a subtle magic. They simply cannot see enough information to explain why the teenager's approach yields success when theirs fails. All they can do is keep his or her number on speed dial and thank the stars that they don't have to solve these problems on their own.

Such a world view can be viewed as a body of information itself. The worldview is made up of many assumptions and patterns that have been useful in the past for understanding the world with as little effort as possible. Being information, it can be shared. This is where our teenager's plight differs from Rynn's. While the teenager would certainly love it if their grandparents figured out how to work a computer, Rynn has a vested interest in not letting them do so. If everyone could see the world the way she does, then they could predict her abilities in advance and effectively nullify them. She needs to keep this worldview secret. This leads to what I would call the first rule of keeping magic:

Magic must not "leak" information about how it approaches the world, or it becomes commonplace, just as the magic of flight is now a daily commute for many.

So how do we avoid leaks. There are two fundamental techniques I can identify:

  • Don't emit any information.
  • "Whiten" the leaked information to make it appear more like The Unknown before emitting it.
  • Gather information that others do not know, and obscure the leaked information with it.

The first solution is easy. If you don't emit any information about your worldview, you are safe. However, this is very difficult in the face of science. Science is very good at collecting multiple datapoints and mining them for data. The one escape: do magic only once. In many magic systems we see the concept of someone getting to do a "miracle," but often they can only do one. The idea is that each person has something that makes them "them." Nobody else has it. If you are willing to give it up, you can do tremendous magic. However, afterwards, everyone knows that little bit that makes you "you." With that information, they can identify how you did the magic, and it ceases to become magic. However, in the case of miracles, the effect is already done. It occurred too fast to prevent the first time; all the world can do is prevent it from happening again.

The next two solutions both involve "whitening" the information to make it harder to discern from The Unknown. This process is easily seen in modern computer cryptography. Two individuals with a shared secret can communicate using an encryption which others cannot penetrate (such as AES). One way this can be applied to magic is if a founder of a magic school can split the magic into two parts which functions similar to public key cryptography. The founder breaks the magic into a public and private part. The public part is the one which does all of the work of magic, but it can only do it with the help of the private part. The private part contains the secret keys to the art shared only between those in the school of magic and the source of the magic itself (perhaps the universe). When "casting a spell," the inner part allows for an interaction with the source of magic which appears to be noise unless you have the secret key. The source then provides you the power needed to complete the spell using the public part of the magic.

This pattern shows up in secret societies. When a magical group has secret rituals, they form the backbone of that inner "private" key. If you could observe those rituals, you could dismantle their power. They keep them secret. However, you see the outer "public" key, which is the powerful magics they wield (such as the ability to cause rain to fall).

Of course this has two fundamental ways to fall apart. The first is obvious: if the secret rituals are exposed, so is the root of their power (akin to Sampson of the Bible having his hair cut). The second is more subtle: your power is only protected by how effectively your secret rituals actually guard your abilities. Consider the ENIGMA, which had the magical ability to protect German U-Boat movements until mathematicians in England figured out exploits to uncover the secret keys. Secrets get broken all the time.

The final solution in my list is to acquire information which is not known by anyone else, and use it to "whiten" the magical information. This has a dark side and a light side. The dark side is visible in many magic systems: the ability to take information by force. Sacrifices and blood thaumaturgy are examples of using something which has never been exposed to anyone else and using that to whiten the magic.

Before going onto the light side, I'd point out the middle ground you will find between them: chance. If your magic works if a coin flip is "heads" and fails if the coin flip is "tails," then it leaks 50% as much information with each usage.

The light side is to use only information which is given freely. Secrets, promises, locks of hair: these are often given as "payment" for magic. These contain enough information to obscure the magic from the world, making it appear Unknown.

The lightest of the light side is to use only information which is forgotten or left behind. Most people forget how many steps they took from the cab to the front door, or whether they turned the doorknob clockwise or counterclockwise to enter. This is enough to "whiten" very strong magic, so long as nobody ever catches on to how you're doing it.


So let's get to Rynn. How does Rynn remain undetected. Of all of the methods of obscuring magic, the only one which is reliably undetectable is to collect that which is forgotten. However, we run into a bit of an issue: nothing is ever truly forgotten. Someone may forget their hat, only to remember it and come back later. If she were to rely on such forgotten things, she would eventually be trapped.

There is one pattern that is demonstrably undetectable. Many interactions are not fully observable. Push on someone and it's hard to tell if they're just really light for their size, or if they helped you by moving with you instead of resisting. Shake someone's hand, and it is hard to tell if you are enthusiastic to meet them, or if they are enthusiastic to meet you; both cause the handshake to pump up and down the same. In these situations, each party only observes at most half of the information in total. The other half is free to be used for whitening.

Now eventually someone will catch on. After all, you only get lucky so many times. Someone will eventually figure out what Rynn is doing if she's not careful. She needs a second layer of defense - one which your description captured perfectly. She needs people to want to believe she's just lucky. Accordingly, she needs to seek out win-win situations, where she benefits and the other party benefits. Hence the curious tendency for people to just get better around her. This would result in a tendency for people to begin to migrate towards her instinctively.

Eventually people do realize there's something special about her, but if they are comfortable enough with that level of specialness, they wont pry. (Interestingly enough, this is a strong in-character corollary to Sanderson's First Law of Magic, "The ability for an author to use magic to resolve conflict is directly proportional to how much the reader understands it.")

Now for actions. These are the interesting part. Consider that an ill-worded answer to a sharply phrased question could reveal a little of her magic. Too many such answers could box her in, forcing her to reveal more than she wants to. She would have a strong tendency to avoid giving answers to sharp questions - ideally by misdirecting away from them, but she would resort to vague answers if needed. Her actions would be similarly vague. If people are naturally attracted to her, she would need to be able to move agilely to avoid being smothered by them (physically and socially).

The rest of society can help. Attitudes such as "do what you will, may it harm none" would allow much more room for Rynn to do extraordinary things without bothering people. Scientific thought would be the most difficult attitude for her to cope with. Scientists would constantly be trying to fix the variables she needs to whiten her magic. One strong sign of this would be people asking for repeat performances of previous magic (to which she would never do exactly the same thing twice. Each magic would be independent to the circumstances). A fear of The Unknown could result in a violent confrontation with Rynn, for her power depends on the ability to blend in with The Unknown. If it, itself, is hated, then blending in is much less useful.

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Your background evokes a society full of superstitious folk, who would suspect magic even when it isn't there. So I think no matter what Rynn did, people in that town would believe she was a witch, even if they had no evidence, and in fact, probably even if she wasn't. They would want to protect her, to turn a blind eye, because she is kind and helpful, so she could actually get away with an awful lot - so long as it didn't harm people, or make it seem like she could read their thoughts or control their actions.

Now, I was thinking into this kind of society, bound to suspect magic even from non-magical healings, you could introduce a character who explains everything with science. Someone who shows how the tricks are done (in fact, does those tricks themselves), and defrauds imposters. Someone with a Sherlock Holmes ability to read people, a medical background, an interest in mechanics, and a good head on their shoulders in times of great pressure. Working together like Penn and Teller, Everyone would be looking at the showy magician while Rynn was quietly doing the magic. Occasionally the magician "explains how it was done".

In this situation - you could get away with EVERYTHING.

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    $\begingroup$ The more they believed in her, the greater the temptation to think that bad things that she could not avert were intentional acts on her part. Thus the witch label comes again. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Mar 26 '15 at 17:53
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    $\begingroup$ That's why I think it is important for her to acquire a foil. Suspicion will happen no matter what otherwise. If not a foil, a powerful protector. $\endgroup$ – Kristy Mar 28 '15 at 4:01
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If you wanted a magic that was indistinguishable from luck but consistently in your favour, I think the magical ability you would need would be to see alternate outcomes of an event and to pick which outcome occurs. If you were to subscribe to the many-worlds theory this would be a matter of picking out which world you are in following any specific event.

This is quite an interesting idea as a form of magic, guiding the world towards the outcomes you desire by nudging the causal chain of events that would otherwise fall out randomly. Perhaps there is a certain maximum probability beyond which someone with this ability would not be able to reach.

It also opens the door for a certain irony in your storytelling- the ability to forsee the consequences of events in the short term might well lead to unforeseen consequences in the longer term and there would probably be greater risks with affecting causality more strongly, all kinds of butterfly effect style chaotic outcomes emerge on the cards.

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The same way they audit casinos to ensure that the games are as-specified (I wouldn't call them fair). Adding up day to day events is fraught with bias. You need to pair events with those occuring to other people, and choose things that you can obtain clear results for, rather than fuzzy subjective judgements.

Given that, statistics are well understood and used in science for that purpose. Seven sigmas is the standard for discovering the Higgs Boson, as opposed to coincedences and random jitter.


But, by whatever means would be possible for normal, phenomena, her talent would work to prevent being discovered. If you were going to be suspicious, she would just happen to avoid you or you would start to miss seeing the events.

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I love the idea that magic itself has a mysterious cognizance. That the protection afforded is not specifically controlled by the conjurer/subject, but by some other unknown force. Piers Anthony used that concept once: a character had the magical quality of silent protection; to protect itself, the ability prevented detection by others, through no action by the character. The character didn't even realize the quality existed for most of the novel.

So, using the OP's example, Rynn would act to tie her shoelaces right then. Not because she knew the rock was coming, but because she just happened to notice and the timing was perfect. So I suppose that's a form of Evocation, but with a twist?

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One interesting way to think of the magic would be the ability to sense and manipulate luck itself, with the caveat that she can't create luck, just transfer it. That would both explain the need to keep it subtle and why she can't just eliminate all traces.

Perhaps without Rynn's intervention the fermentation vat accident would have severely burned the brewer, but done little damage to his property. She traded off the good luck of avoiding injury with the bad luck of extensive property damage. She doesn't stop the boys from going swimming in the first place, because that would require an unacceptable expenditure of bad luck somewhere else. The orphanage donation may have been made possible by the naturally-accumulated bad luck of the orphans. The sick children accidentally got caught in some crossfire of a luck transfer, so Rynn corrected it when she was able. The cookies had nothing to do with the magic, but were made by way of apology.

The climax of the story could involve some spectacular feat of magic that everyone agrees is necessary, but comes at great cost.

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  • $\begingroup$ Very interesting! $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Mar 28 '15 at 1:07
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If magic/witchcraft was real, then Rynn's brand of magic would be much closer to the truth than Harry Potter, or any witchcraft in popular culture.

Is she really a witch, or just some crafty old lady? If someone snuck up behind her and threw a rock, did she know they were there the whole time and anticipate the rock being thrown, or did she really have magical powers?

Maybe she really did cast a spell on the cookies to magically make the children feel better, or perhaps she used herbs or some other natural ingredients which made their little tummies feel better instead.

The bottom line is that there should be some kind of scientific explanation for her actions. This explanation might not be immediately obvious at first, but might make sense with an explanation at a later date.

In the Middle Ages educated intelligent people needed to stay away from the limelight or risk being executed or jailed. Religious dogma ruled far and wide, and intelligent people were persecuted by the church for heresy and witchcraft for simply knowing too much, or going against the norms of that culture.

Throughout Europe during those times, much of the ancient knowledge was lost. It would take centuries to undo the damage done during this period. Countless books were burned, and scientific research came close to a standstill. Change was not embraced, and not much changed technologically during that period.

Rynn could be a modern day throwback to the idea that there were still intelligent people in the Middle Ages, but they more or less kept to themselves for fear of persecution. She could live in an area in the Bible Belt that is very resistant to change, and she would rather keep to herself then deal with the locals. To keep people away, she could have built a reputation for being a witch. This could be a combination of strange happenings which are true and others which are made up stories to keep the people confused. She will always try to keep at least a few steps ahead of everyone else to keep this going as much as possible.

Or.. perhaps she really is a witch after all. The choice is yours.

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belated answer, consider adding a scapegoat. Something else that is 'lucky' and not Rynn.

Have someone find something one day that is unique and convince everyone that it is lucky. Get them to believe that as long as they take care of the object good luck will happen, that they need to value it.

When something bad happens to the object temporarily make lots of minor, nothing too harmful, bad luck happen around town. The sort of annoyances that stick out in our head but don't really do any long term harm. Then help everyone to do something to make 'right' whatever was done wrong so they can get their good luck back.

This way people will associate the good luck with the object, not Rynn. Their own confirmation bias will ensure everything gets credit to the object. Now anyone who does have a tendency to think twice about their good fortune knows who's to blame and doesn't look for a second candidate.

After awhile, once everyone has firmly decided the object is special, Rynn can claim to be helping to take care of it, and in so doing explain any good luck that happens near her is just the object acting through her to do bring good fortune.

This is a general overview, there are lots of similar approaches to the same idea; the key thing is to give an alternate suggestion for the course of their good luck. She still needs to work indirectly, but she can get some additional leeway. The biggest way to make this work is to every now and then have something take away the luck if something happens to the object; but in a way where the townsfolk can easily fix the problem, so that there is a quick cause-effect relationship to confirm their belief the object causes the luck.

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Dilution is the solution to pollution.

Rynn does the magic stuff. She does lots and lots of other stuff too. She is active in city politics and in her church. She is a relentless volunteer and organizer. She attends rallies and protests. She coordinates public art. She advocates for her community at the state and sometimes even national level.

She is not a loudmouth but she is everywhere - a fixture of the city. So when the kids feel better after eating her oatmeal cookies that is diluted out by the kid who got bit by a dog after eating her oatmeal cookies, or the kid who got picked up by the cops for shoplifting after eating her oatmeal cookies. It is no surprise that she helped those kids at the lake; it is not uncommon to see her there with her friends picking up the park or even going for a swim.

Her magical deeds are diluted out in a sea of ordinary and even extraordinary deeds. It is possible that all her deeds are leavened with subtle magic. People chalk it up to her green eyes.

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I would offer a two-pronged answer:

1: How many uncanny apparent coincidences could a character get away with?

2: Even or especially if she has unearthly charisma, she's in a danger zone; people at extremes of privilege can experience Wagon, Blackbird, Saab effects.

The beginning of blackbird effects, unlike the story is told, begin well, well, well before people say, "This has to be supernatural!"

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There are a lot of very good and complete answers and I don't want to write a wall of text just to repeat what others have already said.

Some have mentioned the need to divert (on a long enough time frame) attention away from her in regards to all the lucky events happening around her and the village. Obviously she doesn't want to stop being a witch (stop using magic) just to protect herself from bias and lack of understanding. But if she were to realize the danger of it, I think it would be fairly easy for her to cast the reason for the town's luck onto pretty much anything she wants. (An old tree in the village square was saved after some controversy and following the decision to keep it, an abnormal amount of luck occurred all over the place, etc..)

Symbols hold great strength. And while the children might still whisper in corners that she does magic and all that, adults will easily dismiss them because the village is lucky because of [Insert event or Symbol, Statue etc..], not the sweet girl/woman who is so shy and caring. (How dare you accuse her of such a thing - nothing wrong with a magic fountain though.)

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