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An athame is a magical item that is created to reflect and direct psychic energy. To create this tool, one cannot simply enchant ordinary weapons to give them magical properties. Rather, these items must be built from the ground up, through special materials, ingredients, and rituals. The process can take months or even years to complete, but result in an item reflects the emotions of the user. Athame can take various forms, such as knives and swords and other weapons, or mundane items like a chalice or a book. As the athame absorbs the pshyic energies of its wielder through constant use, it grows more powerful. Through this symbiotic relationship, a great and noble hero can produce a powerful weapon imbued with his positive energies, such as Excalibur. Likewise, a notoriously evil warmonger can create a negatively charged item with evil properties that is geared toward causing pain and suffering.

Even though athame reflects the psychic energies of its user, an item wielded by an evil character always maintains its stain of corruption. The negative energy that the item absorbs cannot be changed to a positive state. It retains its evil properties even when being wielded by a noble character. In fact, the item can begin to corrupt that character's nobility, turning him darker until he begins to reflect the negative energy the item imbues. This attribute doesn't work in reverse. An evil character who uses a weapon previously owned by a hero will not take on heroic qualities and reflect the positive energy of that weapon. Instead, that weapon becomes corrupted, and its declining state into a darker version of itself cannot be reversed.

It would be easy to say that negative energies are stronger than positive ones, but this is stupid. Powerful emotions exist on both sides of the spectrum, and can lead to characters who feel them strongly. There is no difference in commitment between a Hitler or a Mother Theresa. Why would this transfer of energy only occur in one direction?

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    $\begingroup$ Whilst this question has been flagged as opinion-based, I'm pretty sure it can have a substantive answer, so I'm voting to leave open. (From review) $\endgroup$ Feb 23 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ Actually it’s pretty easy to make the case that negative “energies” are stronger than positive ones. Being good is hard and takes a lot of effort. Being evil is easy, just put yourself first and treat others as valueless. $\endgroup$ Feb 24 at 17:07
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Good works CAN cleanse a stained item, BUT...

From an abstract perspective, a tainted item can be made less tainted by being used for noble ends, just like a holy item can be corrupted by being used for wicked ends. However, because a tainted item corrupts the user, the user will (usually) behave in a less and less righteous way, ending the "cleansing" effect of the item long before a significant impact has been made on the item.

In theory, if enough consecutive Saintly Mother Theresa's were to each use the Corrupted Chalice of Malice for good ends, and each Mother Theresa stopped before she was sufficiently corrupted to start doing bad, eventually the Corrupted Chalice of Malice might be cleansed. But you're going to hurt a lot of Mother Theresas in the process.

Then why doesn't a holy item redeem a villain? Why doesn't Excalibur purify your Alexander the Bloody Conqueror and make him into Alexander the Glorious Guardian? Maybe it does cleanse him, a little. But, again, the dynamic is such that corruption sets into the item long before Alexander is redeemed, and the positive influence is thus diluted and eventually reversed.

Remember, a glass of pure water mixed with a glass of filthy water gives you two glasses of dirty water - except in this case, when both your glasses (the user and the item) are filthy, they both grow filthier and filthier.


Caution: if this is the way magic works in your world, there will likely be people who, with good reason, suggest that magic is basically evil (or at least magical items are). While not precisely the truth, it strikes near enough to it; nearly every ancient, powerful item will be stained with corruption, because at least one user will have used it for bad ends. And if you once begin to do evil while you have any item of power, you're likely to be dragged down by the item's "evil inertia" into wickedness. Unless there's a counterweight (greater power for pure items, evil settles out of unused items even as the power remains, etc), this system over time gives greater power to those who are selfish or corrupt than those who act for righteous ends, because the world will collect powerful corrupt artifacts, and non-corrupt artifacts will tend to be corrupted.

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe holy items cleanse themselves over time (forget the bad deeds), or shrines/temples have an aura of goodness that (very very slowly) purifies any and everything in their vincinity $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Feb 24 at 10:00
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    $\begingroup$ Precisely this. It only takes a drip of venom to poison a barrel of wine. $\endgroup$
    – Egor Hans
    Feb 25 at 10:36
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I think an interesting approach to take is the view of entropy. In physics, entropy is the amount of disorder or randomness in a system. A chaotic and random state is seen as the natural state, while a highly ordered system requires a lot of energy and effort to create. Despite this energy and effort, though, entropy always increases over time, with only more energy and more effort able to reverse the ordered system's deterioration.

I imagine the corruption of objects as you describe to be similar to this. Evil is generally viewed as the morally wrong yet easy way out. If you need the information, it's easier to torture it out of them than painstakingly interrogate them. If you need to get from point A to point B quickly but have no transportation, it's easier to steal a horse then try to convince the owner that your need for it is great enough for them to just give the horse to you.

In this sense, the natural state of being is evil. In other words, one might say that the "natural state of man" is savage or morally inept, and only through intense effort and energy can we build and maintain a society based on laws and morals.

Therefore, it makes sense that magic items as you describe would tend to devolve into evil or dark states naturally, and even immense effort to make them good would only do so temporarily. There is always a "pressure" or movement from order to disorder, from light to dark, from low entropy to high entropy, and from good to evil.

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  • $\begingroup$ This ties in nicely to L.Dutch's answer. Once you break the seal on something (or just break something) entropy ensures that there's no way to return to that specific state - at best you can get close. $\endgroup$
    – Bobson
    Feb 24 at 2:10
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"Good" and "evil" are merely human labels; psychic energy is just psychic energy.

A simplistic definition of "being good" requires adhering to certain rules (no killing unnecessarily, no stealing, no torture, etc.) even when it would be more convenient or pleasurable to do so. Wielding an "evil" weapon exposes the mind of the wielder, through its psychic energy, to the past mental states of the original wielder that made the weapon "evil" and there's no way for a mind to unsee things, which is what makes this process one-way. This repeated exposure gradually acclimatizes them to the idea that breaking these rules (initially for a good cause, of course) is an acceptable shortcut. They might, for example, torture a bad person to get information to save others out of expediency where they wouldn't before. This gradual wearing away of the societally ingrained mental rules against doing things that are evil turns the user of the weapon to evil and further reinforces the "evil" psychic energy of the weapon.

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Going to the negative states breaks the seal of positiveness of the items. There is no turning back.

It's like when you buy an action figure or another collectible item, and just cutting open the sealed package kills its values on the market of collectible (no matter if you actually used it or not). A seal is a seal, once it's broken is no longer intact.

Those on the positive state rely on the seal to channel their energy in the right direction, which otherwise would flow also toward the negative state.

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Items are fundamentally jerks.

It sounds harsh but it is true. Magic swords find it humorous to trip their users. Magic books revel in causing paper cuts. Magic shotputs want to be dropped onto groins. Stuff is just mean and bad because god made it that way.

If you magic something up and force goodness into its pores it really is against the nature of the thing - kind of like a nice cuddly cat. You really need to mess up the whole catness of the beast to make it sweet - you breed in flat faces and kibble hunger, etc. Magic items are the same way. It is possible with great effort but it goes against nature and it is a big lift to make anything good.

But turn a cat loose into the wild and cuddliness and flat face notwithstanding it will turn into a bitey jerk cat in no time and that is that. Even if you catch it and bring back cat treats and pillows it is going to be a bitey cat for a long while. The same with magic stuff. If you give any of it a chance to be bad that is in accord with the natural entropy of the world and once bad, bad it stays. That is why just about every object (magic or otherwise) you find in the world should be considered to be bad by default. Be suspicious of your things. Always cut away from you. Shotput safety at all times.

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It's because "user" is a loose concept when it comes to magic items. A magic sword does passively gain power from its wielder but it also gathers power from anyone it is used to kill or hurt. This power is almost always negative as there are very few people who enjoy being stabbed. In the case of holy and good aligned items there are techniques and enchantments that aid in cleansing these energies before they enter the item but these are things the wielder must actively do to keep the stain of negative emotions out of the weapon. When someone who doesn't care how good their sword is, or someone who isn't properly trained uses a holy sword it allows negative energies to enter the item and begins to slowly change its nature.

This tends to lead over time to most magic weapons being tainted with negative energies over time as eventually over the centuries it gets used by some one without the proper training. However this also tends the other way with items that are helpful like a jar that produces infinite water for a town, or a bandage that removes pain tending towards good energy as everyone likes it and is happy those items exist

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"Good" and "evil" are not equivalent in nature. A man who murders one is a murderer. Perhaps a man who lies once is not yet a liar, but certainly a man who tells a lie once out of every ten things is a liar.

Evil is a flaw in a good thing. As with a crack in a pail, little of it needs to be damaged to make the whole thing a problem if useful at all.

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Good and Evil aren't counterparts

Many people speculated that good items should redeem evil users, or good users should redeem evil items... but the scholars in psychomechanics have determined that this idea is based on a flawed conception of what is good and what is evil.

Where popular expectation is that good is positive and evil is negative psychic energy, it's more accurate to think of the distinction as being one of extent, rather than sign. Good is restrained, cautious, and thoughtful, and Evil is the result of not abiding by that cautious nature.

Hence the phrase "too much of a good thing" - emotions that are "negative" are just as valuable to good people as "positive" ones are. A healthy amount of sadness, of anger, or fear are important, and are to be valued equally with happiness. Righteous fury is carefully-wielded, and bravery arises from carefully-controlled fear. A healthy level of envy can drive a person to greatness.

However, extreme sadness, extreme anger, extreme fear, extreme envy, even extreme happiness can lead to destructive behaviour.

What makes a person, or an item, evil isn't the emotional energy itself. It's the healthy boundaries that are attached to the energy. An evil person draws more energy from the item than is healthy, and the item becomes adapted to this extremeness. A person wielding an evil item is encouraged to push the boundaries, until they break entirely.

A good person wielding an evil item is still feeding it the same psychic energies, but the item lacks the boundaries that define the goodness of the energies. An evil person wielding a good item is feeding those same energies, too... but they're flooding it with the energy.

Much study has been done by scholars on whether items influenced by evil can be restored, whether the boundaries can be rebuilt - but the jury is still out. It has been shown that those people with the strongest boundaries can withstand the corrupting effect of an evil item for much longer than most, but the temptation to allow the energies to intensify beyond one's boundaries is always there, and each time you relax your boundaries, it becomes easier to relax them further.

There are rumours of a few individuals who have successfully rehabilitated an evil item - in all of the stories, it's implied that these people had to effectively train the item, rather than simply using it. But no serious scholar has been able to verify such stories.

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