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All living things possess a form of spiritual energy called reishi. This energy is used by humans to fuel their magical spells, but is also necessary for life to continue. There is a ritual that removes the reishi from an individual through a human sacrifice. The reishi is drawn from the body and transferred to special containers made to store spirit energy, while the victim's soul passes on.

In some socities, this ritual is reserved for ciminals, slaves or people captured in war. In others, it is a voluntary honor to give your life in order for your energy to be put to future use, and families of the victim are held in high esteem or receive some compensation. My problem with this system is that it can be taken advantage of by the higher standing society members who are likely to promote this to the destitute. People who are looking to get out of debt or poor folks who want to secure stability for their families would look to this as a final solution. Ultimately, it would devolve similarly to indulgences, and seen as a get out of jail free card and remove any integrity of the practice?

Human sacrifice should be an act of honor and not of desperation. I want to design a way that prevents this from being marketed to the disadvantaged, but keeps it as a limited, voluntary honor that regular citizens use. How can I accomplish this?

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    $\begingroup$ What is the problem of a "get out of jail" card, even if it could be used as such? Somebody gets sentenced and then they volunteer to be sacrificed. I fail to see that as a big loophole. Somebody in a debt would likely still have a family which would be responsible for said debt. Otherwise they wouldn't be loaned money in the first place - what happens if the person just dies, even if not a sacrifice, with nobody to shoulder the burden? $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Jan 14 at 12:01
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    $\begingroup$ I am not sure I understand what your goal is here. Are you looking for changes to your described system to prevent people from voluntarily sacrificing themselves? If yes, why not change your system to include some rules to 'the harvesting'? It feels to me that this is too straight forward a thought and so there must be anoyher issue you are looking at, hence I voyed as Unclear. $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Jan 14 at 12:11
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    $\begingroup$ @dot_Sp0T same here. I'm not sure what the problem here is that needs to be solved. Even volunteering to "get out of jail" seems pretty normal and can work for an interesting society. If that's undesirable for whatever reason, as a world builder you can just go "but the sacrifices must be free men" or whatever other qualification to disallow that and work that into the story. Either the gods don't agree, or somebody else, or the society decided to go with that. Whatever - anything can be justified. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Jan 14 at 12:15
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexandreAubrey yes that would be correct? $\endgroup$ – Incognito Jan 14 at 16:59
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    $\begingroup$ You gotta be pretty hard up to try and sell one of your kidneys. And if you're that hard up, likely you're somewhere you won't survive the operation - or get paid. Failure is always an option. I don't see people arriving in droves to donate or sell kidneys. Then again I live in a 1st world country. Anytime you want to wholly destroy my suspension of disbelief, make something that's valuable have no black market. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Jan 15 at 5:12

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Your description of mana usage looks a lot like organ donation.

Organ donation is a very sensitive topic in the real world. People are very touchy about their flesh even after they'll never need it anymore. Some find the prospect of giving or receiving gross. Some have religious views that see it as a grave sin. Some think that allowing it freely would create a flesh market where people would be murdered for their transplantables. BEcause of this, public opinion causes it to be heavily regulated everywhere.

Due to the above, there is always a shortage of reusable human flesh. Which (pretend to be surprised now) leads to the existence of black markets. Depending on where you are, a kidney goes for anywhere between a few hundred dollars to a couple hundred thousand.

Since mana is as intimate a thing as flesh in your world, just run the same beliefs, tastes and regulations and you get a similar effect.

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    $\begingroup$ The question asks about a spiritual essence here called "reishi". "Mana" is, of course, a Polynesian concept about a source for magic. This is despite it's being appropriated and abused conceptually by mere fantasy writers. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jan 14 at 12:30
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    $\begingroup$ @a4android wow, I never actually thought about the origin of the term "mana". I vaguely associated it with "manna" - the food God gave to the people. So, sort of like sustenance. I didn't really think of it that much... At any rate - "mana" being abused conceptually is not a singular occurence - lots of terms are - "necromancy" is about using the dead for divination, "pyromancy" is about using fire for divination. So, magicians studying those should be seers at best, not controlling the element. Yet, nowadays they don't - language evolves and changes like that. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Jan 14 at 12:37
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    $\begingroup$ As you already touched on religious and or thinking it's gross it's worth noting that in some places (Switzerland for example) for someone to be a valid organ donor he needs to be alive during the procedure. So basically, if you want to donate your organs in these places, you know exactly when you'll die and that it won't be natural. Which a lot don't want $\endgroup$ – MindSwipe Jan 14 at 12:43
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    $\begingroup$ @a4android half of the current English vocbulary is made of abused stuff from other languages. Did you know that orca means a kind of (non-marine) demon and that they were supposed to be called whale killers instead of killer whales? $\endgroup$ – Renan Jan 14 at 13:02
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    $\begingroup$ @KamilDrakari, this answers shows a real-life equivalent, and that it has no obvious solution. $\endgroup$ – Arturo Torres Sánchez Jan 14 at 19:05
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The Mesoamerican ballgame was played by the Mayans in pre-Columbian Mexico and Central America, and ended in human sacrifice.

Last year, when I was visiting a site containing an ancient ballcourt, the guide, a Mayan himself, told us that the team captain would be decapitated at the end of the game. He then explained that it was the captain of the winning team that received this honour.

Perhaps you could create a similar mechanism. It doesn't have to be a physical sport, but does need to be highly competitive.

Achieving the "honour" will require a lot of dedication and hard work for someone to acquire the skills and to work their way to the top. Anyone capable of this would almost certainly be just as capable of working their way out of destitution by other means, so the people involved really would have a choice and not see it as the only way out.

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    $\begingroup$ As an added concept: the skills and training required to get good at the game may also be seen to "refine" or "enhance" the reishi in some way - so the winning team are considered the best quality of sacrifice. (Whether or not it actually does is secondary...) $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Jan 14 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ If you kill off your best to please the gods you end up without your best people. This seem counter productive for any society that wants to progress. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Jan 15 at 11:02
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    $\begingroup$ @T.Sar That is probably why they sacrificed the captain of their sportsteam and not, say, their head scientist or highest general. $\endgroup$ – J_F_B_M Jan 15 at 11:39
  • $\begingroup$ @J_F_B_M Put it in the context of the answer: "Achieving the "honour" will require a lot of dedication and hard work for someone to acquire the skills and to work their way to the top.". It may have worked for the mayans, but if you implement it in a more generic way you may have problems. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Jan 15 at 12:28
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    $\begingroup$ @T.Sar, consider what the Golgafrincham did in "The Hitchhiker's Guide". To help them escape their doomed planet, three ships were built, one full of workers, one full of thinkers, and one full of hairdressers, telephone sanitizers, lawyers, etc. Once that third ship had been launched, they decided the other people didn't really need to leave the planet after all. Oh well. There are many ways of defining "best" and "reward". And if you think that's funny, realize that the ship of losers landed on Earth, and they became our ancestors. hitchhikers.fandom.com/wiki/Golgafrincham $\endgroup$ – Ray Butterworth Jan 15 at 14:26
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The quantity and quality of the Reishi produced by each individual is directly related to their achievements in life.

A victorious commander will surely have more and better Reishi than a deserter, so the commander will be either be offered as sacrifice from his part or from the enemy, if captured.

Also for criminals, achieving excellence in the field results in the production of more and better Reishi.

In all cases, the less successful a person is, the less attractive is the produced Reishi, directly impacting the outcome of the rituals where the Reishi is used.

Being picked as sacrifice is a mark of success, think of it like the equivalent of a Nobel prize.

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    $\begingroup$ That's close to how the Aztec sacrifices operated. Or at least some of them - a lot of slaves would be sacrificed (I imagine they wouldn't have "reishi" in fictional terms) but some were selected because they were supposedly favoured by the gods - strong, beautiful, and healthy (high "reishi" content). $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Jan 14 at 12:06
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    $\begingroup$ To add to this: It doesn't necessarily have to be true that better people produce better reishi, it just has to be the case that buyers of reishi think so. There could be a purity culture about it. In our world people used to think a doctor's hands were always clean because of his status in society (despite their hands actually being unclean from touching sick people and never washing them). In this world people could believe that destitute people have unclean reishi (despite their reishi actually being the same as anyone else's). $\endgroup$ – Jared K Jan 14 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ Hmmm, it has the drawback that an extremely old person on the verge of death could be a prime victim, while that doesn't exactly heighten the drama. $\endgroup$ – elliot svensson Jan 14 at 23:08
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Do you think You're the best?
Do you feel you only deserve the best food, finest women, man, heck even alligators?
Does your taste in music, art and conversation is hard to match?
Well then, maybe You're the one to try our tailored to your specific needs Magic Removal Life System. Come on down and we will check FOR FREE is you are good enough for us. Our Magic system is not some mere magic removal. We guarantee your rebirth as a new-born of gender of your choosing in two weeks after your MAGIC PARTY. Why grow old? Why wait for sickness to get you? If you have enough honour points we may consider you in our Celebration that takes place one once a year.

Why use and wait for regular removal system to call you. Be the Captain of your life, take your next life in your hands. Plan what's best for YOU.

Sell the procedure as good enough only or the best with the prize that can't be matched. You don't have enough follower in "magixgram" or followers on "MY Tube"? You are not good enough. Grow old and sick while those better than you will play in their new bodies.

actual new bodies not included, soul transfer is procedure with high risk, newborn people don't speak and they don't remember their previous life. don't ask your doctor of family for consultation, they will only drag you away from this idea because they envy you, you good looking, lucky bastard you

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    $\begingroup$ Or give victims a year (month?) of free luxurious well-being in a special place, before the sacrifice. Bored with life? Here, try our once-in-a-lifetime experience! $\endgroup$ – RudolfJelin Jan 15 at 11:43
  • $\begingroup$ @RudolfL.Jelínek From how OP worded it I assumed he want prevent people who just want to use the system for their own gain and have a kinds good looking gatekeeping. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Jan 15 at 11:57
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, what I meant was rather like adding it to your idea. Anyways, you're right about the non-personal profit thing. Still a good idea for another time though. $\endgroup$ – RudolfJelin Jan 15 at 12:14
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Make it a hard ritual to perform

What you don't want is for this ritual to be banal, so all you need is for it to be a difficult thing to accomplish.

Here's a list of simple things that could make this ritual costly and or time consuming:

  • It needs a few very powerful mages to be present (like the very elders of the village/kingdom in question);
  • Exotic materials (very rare stuff) must be used;
  • Specific time dates (eclipses, moon phases, planet alignment, etc);
  • True compliance - meaning the person can't be forced to do it (IMO, giving your life to get out of debt is not valid. One must want this almost as a dream come true);

You can elaborate even better reasons than these. But the point is that the sheer amout of time and resources needed make it so that you can't really do this all the time.

If every single time counts big time, there will be anticipation for such a ritual and great interest from the general population. And that's how you build tradition, honor, etc.

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Put a practical limit on the number of times someone can be the recipient.

That will mean that even the greediest creditor is not practically able to consistently oppress the destitute. While it could occasionally happen, it is a limited practice in the long run. Those with higher Reishi are going to be preferential targets for this, and they're not likely to be those bumping along the bottom of society unable to pay their debts. On the other hand, if you lend money to a chief and he can't pay his debts...

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I want to design a way that... keeps it as a limited, voluntary honor that regular citizens use. How can I accomplish this?

The donors must be willing.
They have to do something to indicate their willingness/agreement as part of the ritual or the ritual fails.

People who are looking to get out of debt or poor folks who want to secure stability for their families would look to this as a final solution.

Let society prevent this, not rules.
Allow it to happen - there are always people who are rule breakers / evil, you world is more believable if you allow it - more 'false' feeling if you prevent it.

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What kind of world and magic is it?

The practitioners need not market it toward the disadvantaged at all. Social pressure may create a harsh reality on its own, just at it does in the real world. However, this harshness may not be endorsed or encouraged by the magicians themselves. Perhaps they believe all sacrifices are purely voluntary, or perhaps they suspect otherwise but continue regardless.

If you can write about a world where this harshness exists, it can add some poignancy to your work. If you do not want to do this, then you must nip the harshness in the bud. But how?

They cope with the harsh reality just as we do. If there is an incentive to pressure poor, sick, and disabled people to volunteer, then it is reasonable for the organization performing the rituals to verify the willingness of each volunteer. They could have moral or political reasons for doing so. The verification could involve standard interrogation techniques, or it could involve magic.

Reality simply does not work that way. The ritual may require a willing participant; coercion or emotional turmoil will cause it to fail. Whether the magicians know in advance that it will fail is also up to you. If they cannot tell for sure, then it may be in their best interests to weed out not-so-willing volunteers---especially if the ritual is costly in any way: personal effort, monetary cost, politics, etc.

It is blasphemous. Donating reishi is more than an honor. It is an act that touches upon the divine. Maybe in truth, or maybe only in the minds of the faithful. Regardless of whether it is truly a divine rite, there is a strong taboo against sullying the practice---especially with selfish motives.

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Make it like military service

In many cultures people willingly sacrifice themselves (or put their lives on the line) as an honor and duty to serving their country. While to many joining the military is a way to seek a better station or circumstances in life, many also join for duty and honor.

If folks need to donate their reishi for a war or for an end to a drought or some other shared goal, even the wealthy or powerful or famous can feel this desire to sacrifice for the greater good, think Pat Tillman.

In some societies the rulers were almost required to join the military, think England, in order to show that they weren't above doing what they asked of their countrymen.

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Virtuous victims provide more reishi.

This is measured objectively (somehow) at the time of transfer, and accounts for that final act of self-sacrifice as well as everything else.

Economically, a desperate person would judge that they don't have a lot to add by their self-sacrifice and would be deterred. A great person would add to his or her honor by bestowing this great gift, and would not feel compelled due on account of his or her wealth and status.

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    $\begingroup$ Note of caution: I suspect that if reishi is very important to your plot, that it may become a big deal whether the reishi system really is fair... and that may end up driving your drama all the way to the end, or else capsizing it. $\endgroup$ – elliot svensson Jan 14 at 21:12
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People can sell blood and organs, but it's not allowed in the United States for exactly the reasons you mention - the poor will be obligated to do so, and the especially desperate (read: addicted) individuals may be more prone to diseases like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, etc. Since there's no 100% effective test, it's easier to remove the financial incentive and have the act be purely altruistic on the part of the donor.

This could give a few interesting options:

  1. "Contaminated" reishi - this could corrupt/alter the effect of the magic. This could be, like HIV/AIDS, a driving factor to better screen the donors.
  2. Continue to offer payment, and develop the black market you foresee, and/or
  3. Cite the contaminated reishi as an event that happened in the past, that explains the current screening methods/rites/rituals, and that may explain an outcast sect, a particular aspect or region of the world, the current political situation, etc.

And to be clear, I mean "corrupting" a spell as in altering the desired outcome, which doesn't necessarily need to mean evil (though it could). A corrupted rain spell could do anything from rain saltwater (which would ruin farmland for generations) to a flood (which would ruin the current crop) to snow instead of rain, or change the target location or size. Maybe it introduces some feedback effect - maybe the person casting a rain spell begins to drown (pulmonary edema), or they just get wet, or something similar.

But, to your question - How can I frame human sacrifice as an honor without marketing it to the disadvantaged? - Again, eliminate the financial incentive, then it becomes a purely altruistic act, like organ and blood donation.

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Surround it with ritual. Ritual is capable of setting, and rationalising/normalising almost any arbitrary "rule".

In this case, those performing the ritual want to involve powerful people, which gives their religion power too. So they market it or restrict it to those who have wealth/power, or those who have donated generously to the religion (built temples, paid into their treasury, etc). Likewise a wealthy powerful person knows this is a way to gain fame and renown as a benefactor, long after they die, instead of just being buried, for example their names are constantly read by priests in an ongoing recital.

So it can't devolve to the lower ranks, because these ideas long ago became set in stone.

Nobody with any say has the slightest desire to see donation "diluted" by allowing poor or ordinary street people to donate - the priests want to maintain power and wealth by making it motivating for the rich and powerful, and the rich and powerful certainly don't want millions of ordinary people able to donate, and diluting their historical memory/legacy. (Although they don't think of it in those terms, it's just how it is). So it doesn't happen.

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Wounded Resihi is ineffectual

An oppressed, cowered, turmoiled, or otherwise physically or mentally wounded individual has wounded Reishi. The wounds manifest differently and significantly hamper the effectiveness of the Reishi. Not only that, the wounds reduce the length of time for which the Reishi remains effective. Also unskilled, untalented individuals contain much less Reishi than a skilled, and talented individual.

Any markets for wounded Reishi would as a consequence be literal meat grinders as the Reishi would need to be produced in large quantities, continuously. No population of humans could survive that sort of de-population. Particularly if the math works out that some 10000+ wounded individuals to 1 successful individual. That does not mean that some elements of society wouldn't try if the price of Reishi was sufficiently high/restrictive, but it would have to be very high.

The problem though is that now there are 10000+ people looking to make a quick return by literally killing the most successful people in the country. That's not going to be a fun blood bath, particularly as the people developing that technology are by definition successful individuals, even if not on the level of Olympic games athletes.

Limit the Magic

Only a handful of spells can be cast within a certain amount of time. They conflict with each other when performed too closely vigorously destroying any results, or making things worse. As such only so much Reishi needs to be collected in a given year.

Also as only so much needs to be collected, and the benefits of this magic are relatively universal society desires the most powerful Reishi to be used in their working. This Reishi is only found in individuals of truly God-like achievement.

Perpetual Magic

Alternately, Reishi is perpetual. When the spell is cast the Reishi continually works at the task like a Golem. It would be an honour to sacrifice oneself to contribute one's eternal essence to works of prestige and utility, because in a sense it becomes that persons legacy. Obviously the best Reishi can produce the most magnificant works only, where as mediocre Reishi must be pooled to achieve similar feats. Thus great individuals would be more willing as their legacy is clearer, while the more mundane would not (but still might occasionally) as their legacies are less clear.

Situational modifiers

The manner in which the Reishi is harvested affects the outcome of the magic.

  • Harvested just after skillful achievement the Reishi is invigourated.
  • Harvested from an individual truly believing in the spell to be worked aligns it to the goal.
  • Harvested from a truly well-composed individual makes the Reishi easier to work allowing more focus to be applied to the spells outcome.
  • Harvested from a healthy and whole individual allows the Reishi to be stored for much longer periods of time, perhaps decades/centuries.
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    $\begingroup$ To get around the issue of people going after those with good Reishis, you could easily require that the sacrifice be done willingly, and that any coercion is as bad as a wounded Reichi, if not worse. $\endgroup$ – Jarred Allen Jan 16 at 4:43
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    $\begingroup$ @jarredAllen perhaps but people who shoulder that kind of responsibility can usually be talked into anything because generally speaking they are doing it for their loved ones, or have a genuine belief in a cause. Still a good point, at least pitchforks will not been seen. $\endgroup$ – Kain0_0 Jan 16 at 7:11
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Pay reishi in a different currency and require different accounting for it. The real world analogy is food stamps. Cash you can spend on anything, but reishi must be spent on limited needs of the family, and have government accounting. The person who receives food stamps can then go to the govt to get real cash.

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Willingness is more rewarded for effect and for victim.

The ritual to extract Reishi is NOT THE SAME for willing and unwilling people.

  • The Ritual using willing "victims" is generating more Reishi than the one used on prisoners and unwilling persons, but can only be performed on willing persons

  • This Ritual is ensuring that the souls are sent to Heaven (or the equivalent). Willing victims are rewarded in the afterlife (reincarnation, no-reincarnation, heaven etc....)

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It is what people do at the end of life.

There are lots of examples of persons who choose a dignified exit of their own volition. The movie Soylent Green has a very memorable example*. One example I like is from Burroughs The Gods of Mars.

http://barsoom.wikia.com/wiki/River_Iss

River Iss The sole remaining river upon Mars, for ages green and red Martians upon their thousandth year of life would take a pilgrimage to the River Iss, they would travel down to the river to what they believed was the afterlife.

So too in your world. Persons choose the rite when their time is up. What a fine way to die - finish with dignity and have your energies empower your descendants.

* what, young Worldbuilder? You have not watched Soylent Green? You have never even heard of it? Remedy this situation at the soonest occasion!

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  1. Accepting reishi is a shock to the system, your wealthy wouldn't abuse it because their bodies would crumble if they did
  2. In order for it to be an act of honor, it would have to be an honorable act, and a real sacrifice. A criminal who will be executed shortly isn't sacrificing much. It would be looked down upon in such situations. There would also be a societal "taint" and/or taboo in accepting any reishi obtained in such a fashion. It should look visibly different as well so that if anyone received it, it would be common knowledge... tainting their auras, making their spells look visually different. Tell tale signs, et cet
  3. Less worthy sacrifices would produce lesser reishi. It simply wouldn't be worth it. It would be too much work to extract it, and not much of a yield. Also, if a ritual had a financial (or other) cost to perform to extract the reishi, the net benefit to the one obtaining it would be negligible, or worse, have a real cost to them.
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