The magic system is known as shamanism, and is centered around entering trance states to communicate with spirits and make pacts with them. My world is an animist setting, so things like humans, animals, plants, stones, rivers, and even human dwellings are considered "alive/animate". The ability to practice shamanism is not limited to humans (or Neanderthals for that matter); highly intelligent social mammals such as mammoths, wolves, cave lions, and whales are also capable of using magic.

When a shaman makes a pact, the spirit will always demand some kind of tribute in return for its help. Tribute can be a material offering, an immaterial offering such as prayer, a task to be performed, or simply a favor to be requested later. If the shaman agrees to pay the tribute, the spirit will virtually always follow through with its promise. Breaking tribute always results in negative consequences: physical/mental illness, poor hunting, natural disasters, even stillbirths and miscarriages (if a vengeful spirit decides to possess a pregnant woman).

The actual things a shaman can do with their magic are:

  • Healing: All illnesses and injuries are caused by damage to one or more of a person's three souls. By guiding a deformed soul back into proper alignment, restoring a stolen soul, or banishing a possessing spirit, the shaman can kick-start the natural healing process.
  • Reading omens: Shamans can train to recognize hints left by spirits to signal important events that have already happened, are happening now, or may possibly happen in the future. A shaman can also seek out omens by performing divinatory rituals, such as throwing bones or reading entrails. As the future is not concrete, the shaman can only predict different "futures" that are most likely to happen.
  • Elementalism: A shaman can "talk to" the spirit of something in nature to ask it to do something. An example would be asking the spirit of a frozen river to melt the ice, or asking the spirit of a mountain to cause an avalanche.
  • Animal shapeshifting: To take on an animal's form, a shaman must rhythmically imitate its sounds and/or movements until trance is achieved. The animal's skin may be worn as a cloak to ease the transformation.
  • Ancestral evocation: A shaman can lead the spirits of the dead into the physical world from the afterlife and ask for advice, insight, or for access to the spirit's memories. This is frequently used for community-wide recounting of oral history.

Shamanic power is not an innate, hereditary trait. Theoretically, anyone could become a shaman, if they are willing to endure a dangerous initiation ritual and then train for years to master their abilities.

So, with all these things in mind, how do you think this magic system would affect the technological development of a Stone Age world? *By "technological development, I'm referring specifically to the development of urban centers. I have a few ideas myself, but I want to hear other people's perspectives too.

*Edited for clarity and specificity, my apologies for ambiguous wording.

  • $\begingroup$ Technological development is a very broad subject. There's over 5000 years between start of the Bronze age and now. Given how there were many different paths of development within stone age cultures across the world. How do you expect us to be able to provide meaningful answers to this broad a question? Can you edit this to ask something more specific? Is there a particular technology you're interested in? In general we discourage open ended discussion prompt style question like this. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Apr 12 at 20:48
  • $\begingroup$ How powerful healing/reading omens/elementalism can be? Can a mortally wounded person be healed, events like earthquakes and tsunamis reliably predicted and rain called on as needed basis? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Apr 12 at 22:33
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with previous commenters. This question is both too broad as well as lacking specific details. There is no clear indication of what a best answer might include, and even if such indication were added, the general information provided in the question isn't sufficient to guide a meaningful answer. I recommend providing more specific details both in the nature and function of the magic system, as well as the specific area of advancement you are looking at affecting. $\endgroup$
    – Harthag
    Apr 12 at 22:58
  • $\begingroup$ This is further indicated by the fact that both of the answers so far effectively start with the word "Depends...". When multiple answers start this way, it's a good indication that your question needs cleanup. $\endgroup$
    – Harthag
    Apr 12 at 23:02
  • $\begingroup$ Arguably, this is historical. Depending on your point of view, sure, the spirits and their favors were imaginary... but the rituals and offerings were already there. I suggest that things would develop as they did in the real world, save maybe people are even occasionally more fortunate than they were in ours and the folk tales of heroes maybe more absurd in their claims. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Apr 13 at 0:44

4 Answers 4


Depends on the Price

How much of technology gets replaced by magic will depend on the cost of the magic. For example why would we ever invent agriculture if we could just ask the spirits for bountiful hunting and gathering every year?

The reason is the price might be too high. If the cost is a single animal to be offered to the spirits then it's a no-brainer. In that case people never settle or form a civilisation.

If the cost is half of the first-born children born that year to be sacrificed then it is also a no-brainer. In that case civilization progresses as normal.

The point is you can decide for yourself how different you want magic to make the world, by modulating the cost of the spells.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It looks like you're saying that the question is underspecified, (which I agree with) In general when people ask open ended questions it's better to close them to encourage people to ask more specific and less subjective questions in the future. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Apr 12 at 20:50
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings I also voted to close. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Apr 13 at 19:48

It depends, can spirits cause harm in other instances than broken pact ?

Shamanism could change humanity's worldview rather drastically, but knowledge that everything is more or less alive and sentient doesn't mean humans would respect the nature more, yes it is more likely but not the only option.

It all comes down to what spirits perceive as harm and/or do they have self-preservation instinct ? For example, if mountains consider mining in them as a danger to their existence and can conjure avalanche or cave-in, then i don't think civilization would progress very far, but if they are fine with mining or just aren't able to perceive it as dangerous, then civilization would progress normally.

This applies to everything that progress is based upon, do rivers consider digging irrigation systems as harmful ? Yes ? Agriculture is crippled. Do animals have capacity to consider domestication as dangerous ? Yes ? The wild boar you just closed in a pen, prayed to a river to cripple your agriculture. So there's that.

If realty is a bit more lax then i can see humans creating big settlements, maybe even cities that have minimal effect on environment, if possible from wood, stones and eventually bricks, if not than maybe by weaving trees into shapes like some kind of elves. This method of creating "infrastructure" is possible but rather time-consuming. And rest of their needs can be fulfilled by shamanism, especially medical care and food. But this leads to increase in population and bigger need for resources and depending on if it can be met, further grow or stabilization.

If you want to precisely know how far will humans progress you need to come up with the extent that nature is willing to be modified to. Also cost of pacts, but it was mentioned in Daron's answer so i won't dwell on that. Hope i helped

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is very helpful, thank you for answering. I can definitely see sustainability becoming a big issue in what humans are “allowed” by the spirits to do. Maybe sustainable methods of farming (like forest gardening) and herding (like silvopasture) would become the norm, and people would subject to strict seasonal taboos on hunting, gathering, and fishing to allow the species to replenish. This has given me a lot of ideas, thank you! $\endgroup$ Apr 13 at 14:54

Shamans did and do all of those things!

  • Shamans as healers persist to this day in our world. The persistence of shamanistic healing is evidence that people perceive value in the ministrations of the shaman. This is super easy to find. Faith healing is a fine example.
  • Shamans of all sorts read omens and tell fortunes and there remains a robust market for these sort of psychic services to this day.
  • Shamans who dance for rain or conjure weather or invoke spirits for good harvests are also still alive and well.
  • Shamans who clothe themselves in animal regalia and simulate the movements of animals are also alive and well. Dragon dancing is a descendant of this.
  • Shamanic communication with the dead is going strong. Seances are this. Whoopi Goldberg in the movie Ghost was one of these. Ouija boards are this, if you have one, and you are a shaman.

Your shamanic powers are all the real powers shamans had and have. We wound up with the world we have. Maybe you will assert your shamans are better at it. Maybe we would wind up with a better world.

But don't assert that your shamans are real and our world's shamans are fake! Did you see the part where shamans persist to this day? No reason to piss them off.

  • $\begingroup$ It's a fair point. To stone-age man, the shamans they interacted with were absolutely real and had meaningful effects on their world (at least to the perception of those around them). $\endgroup$
    – Ruadhan
    Apr 14 at 10:31

It will slow down technological advancement.

The big difference between your proposed world and ours, is that there is evidence of animism. As a consequence, this will seriously slow down — if not halt — many or all advancements relying on physical processes, since most of these processes are likely highly traumatizing for all materials involved.
All forms of agriculture would be like contemporary intensive animal farming, mining could be likened to disembowelling, &c.
If pacts demand tribute, these activities will surely cause a lot of negative yield, of debt. How will communities balance the scales? Will this even be possible?

This will also dramatically change ethics, values, norms, and laws, since everything will be a living, conscious thing with specific rights.


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