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The astral realm is the place where magic in our world originates from. Beings called witches can access that magical power for their own purposes through the use of spells and rituals. The amount of power they wield depends partly on their own abilities, but also on the amount of magic within the vicinity. In most locations, the level of mana is fairly limited, but there are certain areas in which the mana content is dramatically higher. Places of power are sites in which the veil between the mortal and astral realms are weakest, allowing for the most powerful magic to be performed. For centuries, witch covens have gathered here to perform various rituals at certain times of the year. The power of a spell can increase tenfold in these areas, increasing its effectiveness and likelihood of success. Due to human nature, it would be likely that these covens would do battle with each other to control these hotspots. Wars would be fought to secure dominance over these areas and deprive their rivals of access to weaken them further. The strongest covens would naturally win out and take these resources for themselves. The obvious solution to this would be to form an independent council made up of all covens who would be stewards of these sites.

Covens would send individual representatives elected by them to sit on this board to serve as equal members to other representatives, as well as fund the organization with the resources it needs to do its job They would serve as caretakers of these sites to ensure all covens are respected and are able to utilize them, and make decisions that are independent of any individual coven's interests. The problem with this scenario is that the council would only be as powerful as the covens who fund it would allow it to be. Power will always win in the game of politics, and the ones who control the gold makes the rules. The most powerful covens who supply the majority of resources will ultimately control this independent council, with the strongest of those supporters calling the shots over what decisions are made. Those who don't abide by it will suffer consequences, such as tariffs, embargoes, and the like. This leads to the very same problem that the council was originally meant to solve, defeating the purpose of the entire venture. This risks a superpower coven emerging who would control all these places of high mana themselves.

How can I ensure that places with high mana content remain as egalitarian as possible with no single coven dominating them?

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  • $\begingroup$ What exactly covens can control? Access? In what way do they control? Also, are there any special conditions that need to be fulfilled in order to use a Place of Power? I think that a solution to your problem cannot rely on covens and their goodwill. It would be more believable if this solution had something to do with the properties of the Places of Power. For example, if only people fated with the place can enter, controlling access becomes less attractive. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Feb 18, 2022 at 17:38

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Places of Power are Holy

In the past, wars have been fought over places of power. The blood spilled in such wars (even when not actually spilled at the place of power) has poisoned the power of certain places, so that magical works done there are powerful, but turn to harm the intentions of those working the magic.

From terrible experience, the covens have learned that fighting over, or dominating, the places of power, always turns out badly. Now such places (those not already profaned and corrupted) are honored as holy, and while many go on pilgrimages to work important workings there, it's considered taboo to fight over the places, or to use them too often.

Covens will form leagues to wage war on anyone who does not respect the holiness of the sites. (And these kinds of wars have not, so far, been known to result in corrupting a holy site.)

Diminishing Returns

(Alternate approach) There's a different flavor to the magic of each coven. And each Place of Power has a limit to how much it will magnify and support the power of any one sort of magic. So one coven may dominate a place of power, but it will (for them) soon be scarcely better than an ordinary location. If they're sparing about their use of their magic there, it's not too bad (the places recover over time), but there's a natural limit to how useful any spot is for a single coven.

In time, covens have largely concluded that it's not worth the effort to try to keep such places all to themselves, since there's little advantage to not sharing. Sure, they could dominate one or two places, and get a minimal benefit while denying power to other covens. But everyone gets more total magical boost if everyone shares all the locations.

These may even come to be considered neutral ground for otherwise unfriendly covens.

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I think there are several aspects that could influence how egalitarian the control of places of power is: (1) how powerful these are, (2) how many there are, (3) how many covens and how powerful they are.

Compare it with other natural resources

I'd had this kind of question in the past for settings and stories, and the approach I took is to take a look at how real-life scarce and valuable resources are handled.

My conclusion was that, although you could have some places of power being egalitarian and sort of "idyllic" in the way they are managed and shared, you will definitely end up with places of power dominated by a single coven or limited group of covens/individuals. You may well end up with places of power controlled by a single individual within a coven, because that's the nature of power as you well said.

How powerful are places of power?

The greater the edge they offer, the more coveted they will be. This means that if having a place of power is the equivalent of having nukes, then you'd have two kinds of covens, the ones with places of power, and the ones without. These first covens would try to get some semblance of balance, as they could destroy each other easily. And this could lead to negotiation, agreements and some sort of participation for the less powerful covens (the non-holders).

If places of power are not particularly powerful, it may be inconvenient for a coven to spend the resources to take over certain places of power. It may also lead to covens not being that eager to take over, which in turn could lead to more cooperation and sharing.

Depending on how scarce places of power are, it would also affect the above: the less places of power there are, the more covens will want to get them.

How many covens are there? What is their influence?

I think that the more covens you have, the more pressure there would be for those who hold places of power to share their control. The sheer number of people wanting a piece might be a deterrent to a "totalitarian" control of the place of power.

If covens are few and expansive, then I'd think most places of power would be controlled by one of these mega-covens. It would act on their interest to work out ways of collaborating (i.e., I am from coven A visiting coven B's place of power so I can make use of it as witches from coven A will want/expect the same treatment when they come to coven B's places of power).

If too much animosity exists between these covens, or if their differences are irreconciliable, then you could well end up with a "Cold War" scenario. If only a few mega-covens exist, then they would hold places of power and fight for the frontier or strategic ones. If many covens exist, they may have alliances or accords. This second option would also allow sharing/visiting for non-owner covens/witches.

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Idea 1: Common Enemy

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A powerful and influential group of witches will become complacent and fight amongst themselves for power. To prevent this you should make your witches less powerful.

Better yet give them a common enemy to unite against. And for witches there is no better enemy than the establishment.

Witches are feared and hated by the common folk and persecuted by the establishment. Hundreds of witches are drowned, crucified, and/or burned alive each year. The number triples if you include suspected witches and witch sympathizers.

The witches are too busy hiding and fighting the establishment to compete amongst themselves. Their shared enemy creates a feeling of solidarity among witches in separate clans on opposite sides of the country who have never met in person.

There are still arguments over tactics and over any shared finite resource. But the arguments center around how to best use the Place of Power for the common good, rather than fighting over individual access.

Idea 2: Witches are Nice to Each Other

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You don't get very far as a Witch without being an emotionally sensitive and sympathetic person. This is the difference between Witchcraft and Sorcery.

Sympathetic people have the skill to unconsciously adapt their emotional state to blend in with their surroundings. it turns out the skill is similar to modulating your internal mana so it can resonate with the ambient mana in the area.

This is a recurring theme in Global Witchcraft. There are many Prophecies about the Witch Messiah reincarnating to save us all. In fact many of these prophecies have already come to pass. The problem is that when the Witch Messiah finally appeared she was too powerful -- and too sympathetic -- to make any use of her powers at all. She viewed the entire planet as her extended family and did not wish to harm either the covens or the establishment.

For us mere mortals, the result is that every Senior Witch views all witches in the country as family members and does not play favourites. This leads to a Witch's Council full of nice people who are sympathetic to each others' needs. They do not do infighting.

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Your witches lose control in the most powerful zones

Magic is an innately egalitarian enterprise. The mind directly produces tangible, valuable goods and services, and these can usually be made and marketed rather informally. In ordinary regions is very hard for a group (well-meaning or not) to monopolize the market and take a cut.

This would seem to break down if one group could hold a zone of power, but there's a problem: absolute power corrupts absolutely. Scintillations of arcane force diffuse into the body and spirit, and the witch who remains there becomes ever more prone to lose control. You meant to turn someone into a toad and instead you have a basilisk running around, or your fingers turn into pollywogs.

The result is that the most politically powerful witches stay in low-magic regions nearly all the time, practicing their strength and finesse to make the best of weak resources. They have a chance for the contaminating magics in their flesh to slowly dissipate. Only when things get hot do they all pull out the broomstick and head for the ley nexus nearby. Otherwise, each spends only a brief rotation in the power zones representing his or her cabal, practicing their knowledge of greater magics by means of running through a long shopping list of urgent incantation requests from fellow members before retreating, with some relief, back to the mundane world.

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The places of power are artificial

While there are natural fluctuations in the levels of background magic, the real places of power are generated by the actions of the witches. Maintaining them requires the cooperative actions of large numbers of witches on a regular basis. If they do not perform the regular maintenance the place of power will fade into background.

New places of power can be created, but again they need to cooperate, the price of cooperation is access.

A coven will have a natural size. Traditionally 3, the maiden, the mother, and the other one*. We could also make reference to Dunbar's number as an upper limit as we normally would round here. In this case, the natural number would range from the the number required to generate and maintain a place of power to just over the number required to generate and maintain two places of power. As soon as a second place of power can be generated, the group will be moving towards a schism.

Caveat: Prevention of superpowers is impossible once populations reach critical mass.

*Granny Weatherwax

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Compatibility due to astral realm influence

In the same way that the high mana areas are related to the astral realm, so is the soul/spirit/lifeforce of the witch. That way only witches better attuned to a specific place of power can use it better than any other common place.

However that doesn't stop other covens to do their best to secure and restrict access to places they can't use as it is a strategic area. Just like in geopolitical wars. But a single witch who manages to bypass security and is attuned to the place can create havoc among the former occupants.

Even if previously dominated by the stronger coven, once taken back the attuned defenders have a way better chance of keeping it.

If a coven is made of only same attunement witches the problem remains as they will probably claim that place of power to them. It works if the story starts with big brother coven dominating all places of power and slowly losing them to takeovers by covens with witches attuned correctly.

OR

If a coven is made of different attunement witches, there will be internal fights and the ones right for that place will have a better chance at winning because of the mana they can use.

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