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This post is an improved version of a previous post, which lacked sufficient specificity. I apologize again for the ambiguous wording, as well as for any rules I had violated in posting that question.

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 is guaranteed to hold up its end of the bargain. 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, physical or mental, 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. These kinds of spirits have a single, fundamental instinct that can allow shamans to predict how to deal with them. For example, storms are fundamentally destructive, so a storm spirit bound in a pact would likely demand payment that has to do with violence, such as a blood sacrifice. I have a culture that regularly makes effigies of themselves to leave outside during blizzards, so that the blizzard can still destroy something, and thus act according to its basic nature, in exchange for leaving the people alone.
  • 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. This ability is commonly used to scout out an unfamiliar area, to send messages over long distances, or to protect one's kinsmen while they migrate through the open wilderness.
  • 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.
  • Binding: A shaman can bind a free-moving spirit to a certain place or object. A spirit can explicitly agree to be bound to a place, or the shaman can bind the spirit by trickery or force. A common practical application of this ability is to bind a spirit to a dwelling or camp in order to protect the inhabitants. While bound to an object, a spirit can communicate with anyone who touches the object, whether or not they are a shaman.

An additional note that I forgot to mention in my first post: shamanism has led to the creation of a proto-writing system using different combinations of abstract symbols commonly found in real-world cave art: lines, dots, circles, zigzags, et cetera. These symbols are used by shamans to seal a pact with a spirit as well as bind a spirit, and are used by all people to make tattoos that show group identity and status.

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 development of agriculture (plant and animal) in a Stone Age world?

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  • $\begingroup$ Is this simply a more narrowed-down version of your other question? $\endgroup$
    – Joachim
    Apr 14 at 8:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Joachim Yes, the last post received some negative feedback so I made a new and improved version. $\endgroup$ Apr 14 at 11:59
  • $\begingroup$ My previous answer still applies. You need to decide how harsh is the price. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Apr 15 at 11:44

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One big consideration would be whether the plants themselves are bargained with, or there is, say, a spirit of wheat. A spirit of wheat would probably be easier to deal with, but if a shaman can negotiated larger grains, more concentrated ripening times, etc, and offer the preservation and planting of seeds, along with protection from animals and good weather, agriculture would be a lot easier. If you deal with plants directly it may be necessary to not kill the plant to eat it, unless it's near the end of its life. If the shaman can heal plant diseases, that's even better.

Domestic animals are basically the same.

This allows the formation of settlements. They can use the shamanism to find good locations and ensure disasters do not befall them.

Healing allows the diseases that concentrated living induces be cured.

Those are the big factors. They will also affect the social structures, since obviously shamans are necessary.

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  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking that sustainability would be the most important factor in any kind of agriculture. Practices like forest gardening, silvopasture, composting, and crop rotation would be fundamental for these farmers. Maybe agriculture would be integrated into the villages and proto-cities with things like green roofs and urban gardens. $\endgroup$ Apr 14 at 17:01
  • $\begingroup$ Even if you don't petition a particular harvest spirit for direct aid (perhaps only in emergencies like saving the harvest from an early frost), you could still ask for what they require to grow properly in which case the Shamanistic request and the payment are one and the same. A shaman needs the good harvest and the plants require more nutrients! $\endgroup$
    – IT Alex
    Apr 14 at 19:38
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Healing: If this also worked on the spirits of the plants, it could be used to cure blights and other diseases. If not, it doesn't seem as immediately useful, though I suppose it could be used to keep workers in the fields longer in times of need by healing their exhaustion and/or injuries occurring during the work.

Reading omens: Knowledge of when and where to plant and when to harvest to avoid something that cannot be prevented by other means.

Elementalism: Avoiding disasters is the most obvious, but could also be used to generally create better conditions by improving things like weather (e.g.: negotiating with heat or cold to last longer but be less intense, creating better long-term conditions)

Animal shapeshifting: This would allow for a couple of things helpful to agriculture. One, it would allow the shaman to assume forms that would let them protect crops from other animals (e.g.: become a mantis to kill pests). Two, it would allow the shaman to assume a form that would let them gather things that might otherwise be missed, using heightened senses and/or delicate manipulations.

Ancestral evocation: Improve and refine farming techniques over time more easily, since there is less chance of lost knowledge.

Binding: Lets them use spirits to protect crops from predators/enemies, and possibly even negotiate with the land itself for more favorable conditions.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding.SE! Paragraphs should be separated using line breaks, not indentation, as intending them causes them to be interpreted as code instead. $\endgroup$
    – F1Krazy
    Apr 14 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ Did I do that initially? Apologies if I did, but I did not intend to, and I'm not seeing them now (though I realize you may have edited them out). $\endgroup$
    – Ccompanion
    Apr 14 at 15:13
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What is the Price?

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These spirits have the power to provide loads of food. They can change the weather to make loads of food for hunting and gathering. If the price for this service is small then urban centres never form. People remain nomadic since there is no need to settle and start farming.

If the price is too high they never make use of the spirits anyway. No one will use the ritual to double the berry harvest that year if it also demands the sacrifice of half their children born that year. In that case people settle and proceed as though there are no spirits.

In between is the case where people do not use the spirits until they settle. Being settled means they can now afford to pay the price. Perhaps a yard of linen fabric to be burned alive? So the towns can now invoke the spirits in a way the nomads never could.

This speeds up technological development in some areas but also slows it down in others by replacing tech with spirit magic. By how much? Well it depends on the price.

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Stone Age But A Blip

Agriculture would develop early, like 100 times earlier than in our universe (1 million bc compared to 10 thousand bc), may be 10 thousand times early i.e. just take a century to develop.

As a result your people would have no concept of Stone Age. They would remember their past as beginning from agriculture.

Much High Carrying Capacity

With some practise very easily within a century perfect food yield will be achieved that is sustainable. Think carrying capacity 10 times that of modern day bangladesh.

Selective Agriculture

Agriculture would be selective. Not in the sense of growing just a few species of say rice from among more than 10 thousand available, because of danger of putting all eggs in one basket. Agriculture will be selective in terms of like taking grass side vs trees in their hundreds of millions of years on-going war.

Grass would be single-minded in eradicating trees, and vice versa. Unlike our universe where humans basically fired in all directions they could, had both pastures and orchards. Your people simply cannot do that. Or they can but not in same tribe. It could be that one tribe take grass side and one trees side. There are ofcourse many other conflicting species. The two tribes ofcourse cannot be on friendly terms with each other.

Sea Farming

Your people will be able to farm fish directly in sea because of direct communication with them. All coasts, not just sea coasts have plant growing land not very deep from surface. Perhaps your shamans can communicate with plants there as well.

Movie Like Numerous Candles In All Homes

With ability to directly communicate with both the flowers-growing plants and honey bees you will have no shortage of honey and wax. Your people as a result will be late sleepers.

Semi-Ready Wood and Bamboos

Trees and bamboos can be made to grow in shapes and sizes suitable for furniture making.

No Sour Fruits

There would only be sweet fruits. Your people having never experienced sourness there wouldnt develop myriad of fruit farming techniques we have developed.

There Would Perhaps Be No Wild Animals

With probably all animals basically domesticable your agriculture would likely be totalitarian. There would be no concept of leaving unused land as habitat for animals we do not need.

Low Diversity In Animals

Your people will simply get rid of species of animals they have no apparent use of. Bears, zebras, giraffes all gone.

Farmers Probably Dont Have To Rise Early For Milking Cows

With direct communication with lactating animals some solution can be find that change milk coming time from 4 am in morning to more manageable 8 am.

Is It Your People Who Are Farming Or Is It Cats Farming Them

Direct communication with cats will be ... dangerous. They are excellent manipulators. Who knows what other geniuses we may find among animals, birds or even insects?

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