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In my story, magic is powered by souls collected from dead people. The specifics are pretty complex, but in general, a soul is quite a large source of power for magic and will last casual day-to-day users (who would use magic around the house) about six months.

How would people not affiliated with some “magician’s guild” have a consistent and reliable access to souls? Around 50% of the population has the ability to cast basic spells, so there will be high demand.

(Using animal souls is a possible idea, but I’d rather not take that route.)

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    $\begingroup$ If you're only using human souls then a single soul has to last a household user half a lifetime's normal usage. Otherwise you're not going to generate enough souls, right now they don't even last as long as it takes to make a new one. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jun 27 at 12:40
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    $\begingroup$ Depends. Do souls decay? How are they harvested? If old, "unused" souls from before magic was widely practiced are still around, they're essentially a fossile fuel. Still not sustainable, though. $\endgroup$ – Ruther Rendommeleigh Jun 27 at 12:48
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    $\begingroup$ Not enough info. You need to explain the process of taking a soul in your world in order that people can work out e.g. whether it can be done clandestinely or can even if the "victim" would know such a thing happened. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Jun 27 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ a Phádraig: Essentially, you'r query is "how do I kidnap someone" (because that's what soul stealing actually is). This question, while heading in a terribly fascinating direction, is too broad. Please take a look at the tour and help center so you can get a better idea how to compose a good focussed query hereabouts! Am voting to leave closed for the time being, in the hopes you won't run away from this forum and will work to improve your query! $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jun 28 at 2:37
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Filicide

and then some, probably closer to genocide.

You've set up some hardcore necromancy here in terms of the sheer number of recently deceased persons required just for a normal person to maintain access to their magic.

A soul lasts 6 months for a normal user, it takes 9 months to make a new soul. Given the existence of the magicians guilds there's the implied existence of high drain magic users.

Even if a woman kept herself continuously pregnant all her fertile life, she'd still only have access to magic 2/3 of the time for half her lifespan, and 50% of the population has access to magic.

Given that any legitimately acquired souls are going to be in the control of the wealthy and powerful guilds, the average person is only going to have access to souls by going out there and getting fresh ones from "the wild" as it were.

There will be seas of blood.

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They don't...

Considering the relative scarcity of souls (if 50% of the population use magic and a soul lasts half a year, that's one year of magic per capita for "simple household use"), souls would quickly become a restricted, state controlled resource to be used primarily in research, warfare, public infrastructure and important government functions. Researchers could probably apply for one the way they apply for, say, grants or particle collider time in our world, and there might be ways for the super rich to buy a handful off a less-well-off nation, but the general population would not have access to this power source.

...unless there's a secondary source

Magic in

Full Metal Alchemist (the first anime, if I recall correctly)

was fueled by souls harvested from a parallel dimension. A single portal wouldn't solve your fuel issue, but alleviate the pressure somewhat. If you have access to several parallel worlds, you should be okay.

Another possibilty might be harvesting souls from people that died a long time ago, before magic was commonplace. Souls would be cheap for a while but eventually run out, which, if your world's population growth is anything like ours, will happen much earlier that the general population might assume.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for comparing it to real world scarce resources, but I think that given the possibility of soul-acquisition through criminal activity (murder), the real world parallel might look closer to street drug trade than it does to government grant acquisition. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Jun 27 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Henry Taylor - I suppose that depends on how involved the harvesting process is. And even in the case that it's easy, with a human life per unit, we're looking at the price equivalent of cocaine bricks or crates of firearms, not weed baggies. Heh, buying surplus soviet soul supplies sounds like a fun story hook. $\endgroup$ – Ruther Rendommeleigh Jun 27 at 13:24
  • $\begingroup$ You mentioned FMA 2003 (Yes it was that one though I think it was suffering instead of souls if I remember correctly), but why not go for FMA Brotherhood too? In that version, it definitely is souls that can power "magic" and they are used in many different ways including the times were Ed spoiler uses parts of his own soul spoiler. That would not help you much and might even be illegal since it reduces the government's usage of your soul but it sure is an option for a "last contingent" kind of situation. $\endgroup$ – hajef Jun 27 at 17:22
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This depends on an enormous number of factors related to how your society functions and when exactly a soul is created.

If life begins at conception then there are ample souls floating around as that is extremely common compared to just the number of pregnancies much less births. With souls being valuable contraception will be a foolish waste while it would be prudent for women to conceive as often as possible. If conception is enough then each fertile woman will likely produce a few a year.

If it actually takes a viable pregnancy, then each affluent (magic user) household needs a few slave women (non-magic capable) to each generate a new soul once a year. Once the pregnancy has produced a soul, harvest it. If this happens at 'quickening', then late-term abortion (safest route - no need to take the risk of childbirth itself); if the soul isn't created until birth, then sacrifice the newborn. This makes souls a sustainable resource for the cost of maintaining 2 or 3 slave women - the third allows for a little insurance and eventual replacements when fertility falls.

You may think such brooding slaves are abhorrent, but such sentiments will quickly see your magic-deprived society fall to the magically powerful empires.

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Just use slaves, and make them breed like rabbits

Of course, the morality of doing such a thing is in question however, any individual could have a completely self sustaining source of souls if they were to use two fertile female slaves to produce children at the rate of one child per year per slave. The children would then be killed for their souls.

The problems with this strategy are:

  1. Having slaves (possibly morally objectionable to you)
  2. Killing children (though there's nothing to say that you couldn't keep them alive till adulthood, but that'd take more resources)
  3. You're either going to be complicit in the rape of your slaves, or forcing them into a type of prostitution. Watch "The Handmaid's Tale" for more exposition into what I'm talking about.

Please note that I do not personally promote any of the actions listed above, however, this question is about fictional worldbuilding, and this answer speaks to what might be a good story. As far as I know, there is nothing unethical about having people in a fictional story do unethical things. In fact I think you would find very few stories where all the characters behave 100% ethically.

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  • $\begingroup$ Reducing the dignity of a person should denigrate the value of their soul. Why would we need a soul if we did not need free will? $\endgroup$ – AdamO Jun 27 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ @AdamO Please clarify your comment. Is it your opinion that slaves do not have or need free will? Is it your opinion that the value of someone's soul is tied to the dignity with which they have lived? Are you also saying that this devaluing of the souls happens at birth. I'm very confused with your comment. $\endgroup$ – Mathaddict Jun 27 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ On the contrary. By enslaving someone, you make them less human. Yes, the value of a soul is tied to the dignity of their life, both in terms of how others affected its condition as well as how you chose to live it. Being a slave master denigrates the soul too: it is not the natural order of humans to own or be owned by each other. At birth, the soul has a collective thrust which can carry the sins of the father (original sin) or be divinely intervened (grace, immaculate conception). I'm not discrediting the idea, but adding that it's an "off label" use w/ mixed results. $\endgroup$ – AdamO Jun 27 at 19:43
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    $\begingroup$ @AdamO I'm not sure all of that philosophy is implied in the original post, nor that it would matter in his magic system what the quality of the soul is if it is only being used as a magical source of energy. $\endgroup$ – Mathaddict Jun 27 at 19:46
  • $\begingroup$ Very little was implied by the original post, except that at a minimum people have souls. Except a "soul" has no intrinsic meaning, at least not within the benign OP. So myself or anyone else would only naturally consider the other writings on what a soul is. If there's any departure there, the OP should clarify. $\endgroup$ – AdamO Jun 27 at 20:55
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Contracts would be the way to go. It becomes a basic consumable. Probably something along the lines of a person signing a contract with a soul collector, where their soul is given over to them for an amount of currency. Part of the magics of the contract, is the soul is automatically transferred to the collector upon the sellers death. The seller on the other hand, can then either get the currency when signing the contract, or get a greater amount upon their death transferred to any next of kin.

Souls are then sold by the soul collector to whomever has be money to pay for it. It essentially becomes a sort of bank, where your soul is the collateral.

This will of course only really make sence in a world without an afterlife, or at least no mayor believe in it. (essentially you would need a world where people believe their soul isn't hurt, or damaged and no discomfort is experienced when used as a fuel source.

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    $\begingroup$ If an otherwise immortal (or long-lasting) soul is destroyed by beiing used as magic source, i doubt that anybody would be willing to sign theirs away - unless persuaded that their souls would suffer eternally in hell or some such. $\endgroup$ – Klaus Æ. Mogensen Jun 27 at 13:11
  • $\begingroup$ There would be some, willing to sign it off for others benefit. Though you are right, and that's precisely why i stated it needs to be common belief that it is not a detriment to them. $\endgroup$ – Michael Mortensen Jun 28 at 11:22
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A whole lot depends on what souls are and what the populace feels about them.

Obviously, if there is some kind of eternal afterlife, people would not want to sign their souls away unless they can look forward to eternal suffering, nor is it likely that it will be considered at all ethical to harvest souls from a good afterlife. It may be that people who are certain of eternal damnation (or some such) would be willing to do so, but since souls only last 6 months, a typical household will use up hundreds over a lifetime. There would hence have to be far more people willing to give up their souls than there are people alive.

An alternative is to use damned souls from past criminals and sinners; however, since there (arguably) are more people living today than there has been the last several thousand years, the supply will still likely run out fairly quickly (even if it is considered okay to harvest long-deceased 'good' souls).

Hence, no matter how you go about it, there will not be a supply of human souls large enough for the average citizen to use for power. Soul power will of necessity be limited to a small elite, who might not worry about leaving any soul supplies for future generations. (Sounds familiar, doesn't it?)

If animals souls are good enough, I imagine that their souls will be harvested when they are slaughtered for food. A cow soul might be good for several month's supply, while a chicken soul is only good for a few days, etc.

The gruesome variant, where only human souls are useful, is to treat the vast majority of the population as alright for soul harvesting. Maybe they are suckered or forced into contracts from birth, or they may be a slave race of some kind that is considered less than human - not unlike how many southern US states had a majority of black slaves before the Civil War. Harvested souls could then be auctioned off or simply sold in grocecy stores the way cooking gas used to be.

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Brain-dead people's souls can be collected, and they also keep on "producing" a low-energy soul.

Let's think of a soul as if it was a liquid. Everyone of us, at every moment of our life, has one liter of soul. This soul cannot be harvested during life because our vital force keeps our soul within our body with very strong ties. When a person dies, these ties are suddenly cut and it becomes possible to collect the soul.

However, if a person is brain-dead or in another critical health state, the ties with their soul are loosened enough for the soul to be collected, but not enough for the body to not feel the urge to replenish the liter of soul if some milliliters of it have leaked. Of course, since it's an extremely weakened body, the refill will be slow, so the output will be, let's say, 200 millisouls per six months and not a whole liter of soul as if it was collected from a dead body. The huge pro of it is that it becomes a renewable source of magic.

Now you have a healthcare system that's very eager to keep everyone physically alive in some sort of huge soul-collecting hospital ward. You'd have to have a lot of space for this kind of structure, but since brain-dead people can be kept in that state for a very long time, you'd never have a magic shortage again. Who knows, maybe you can even purchase some brain-dead people to refill your household's day-to-day magic need...

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You didn't specify tech level, so you could probably have your wizards buy souls online.

This is a thing in our world. In 2007 a man tried to sell his soul on eBay:

A Los Angeles man is selling his soul in an eBay auction for $1 million to raise money for Christmas presents. He said selling at eBay is better than letting the Devil have his soul.

The seller told his buyers in the auction that he has no money for Christmas, and all he has left to sell is his soul. He said he is willing to let go of that for $1 million. According to Sky News who has seen the auction, the soul will apparently be shipped in a glass jar along with a document showing the transfer of ownership.

He said he is not using his soul lately and selling at eBay is a better option than letting the Devil have it.

The seller from LA added, according to Sky.com: "Keep it for yourself, or give it to someone you know who needs one. Who knows what it may be capable of?"

Not long after that eBay changed its policy to explicitly forbid users from selling their souls (somewhere along the EULA you've already transfered ownership to eBay anyway). But who knows, maybe you can buy them with manacoin in the astral web.

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Factory Farming with Women and Industrialised Childmurder

Souls in your world are like milk, eggs and meat in ours. Highly desired products which can humanely and at a high quality only be provided in a small quantity. Thus humanely and high quality go out of the window to satisfy the thirst of the many consumers. The living conditions of the women will be akin to cattle in factory farms.

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Basics

On that note there are two factors we need to consider about this, firstly how old a baby needs to be to have a soul and how functional a woman has to be to successfully bear a child meant for the butchers block.

enter image description here

While I'm unwilling to get into the debate if life and a soul is created at conception, it seem to be a lazy handwave one could use to circumvent the issue. Yet looking at the picture above the head of the fetus looks developed enough for me to contain a soul between 4 and 6 months. If this were to be the case it would be great news, since forced late abortion could cut the cost for the farmer or pimp by 30 to 60% compared to regular childbirth, which wpuld be great for the consumers of souls, too since it would make the prices even lower.

The secound point isn't really about the functionality of the child production mechanism in a woman under different conditions, it is rather about the most economic way to keep them in the stable. Fully comatose women can get pregnant and birth functioning children but keeping them alive in a coma sounds like it requires more resources to keep them alive than just leaving the active, so it won't be a consumer friendly and thus unpopular method. Yet keeping fully functional women in the stables will cost a lot, too due to the security and conditioning required to kerp the peace. Thus I suggest that a few female babies with disierable traits are used to breed a more compliment herd of lifestock and that those breeding women are made mentally disabled by a surgical procedure (bashing them over the head with a crowbar might suffice). A trait which would be highly desirable would be an extremely early onset of ovulation. Acvording to this article this may happen at an azge of eight months and the girl in question gave birth at 5. This promises huge cuts in breeding cist compared to the usual 11 to 12 year growth time.

An interesting spinn on this could be a the production of higher value souls, whose mothers lived better lives than the factory farm lifestock. Maybe baby corpes freely produced by poor women for their financial survival or even self-produced via a The Handmaids Tale private prostitutes could be the soul equivalent of free-range farming and organic food.

Moral Considerations

If your worlds societies are like ours there are none, except from a few naive activists.

This might sound harsh, but looking at the history of slavery, child labor, sex trafficking, factory farming and society's general acceptance/unwillingness to give up commodities for the betterment of third world citizens living standards/practiced ignorance of these horrible conditions shows that this what the market and the culture of consume which have developed in every industrialised and in certain ways in pre industrial societies lead to if the profit incentive is strong enough.

Disclaimer

I don't believe that such a stance as I suggested your society will have towards women and children is in any way right or good. I just started extrapolating situations similar to your question and things turned dark and uncomfortably real.

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