7
$\begingroup$

I am writing a fantasy series about witches. It's set in a high fantasy world. To get magic powers in this fantasy world, a girl has to voluntarily transform into a magical being.

The magic in this world has a huge variety of different possible applications, depending on the witch's personal strengths and training. Basic powers enable witches to fly, to get animal familiars, to heal other people by magic, to turn their enemies into animals, to cast fireballs and lightening bolts, limited mind control and much more besides. The harder spells do have an energy cost, so a witch must rest and get her energy back after doing something impressive by magic. Stronger magic include powers of prophecy, teleportation and necromancy.

I am trying to come up with a price for magic that is large enough that most women would never become witches but small enough so that that a heroine or anti-heroine might pay the price if driven to desperation. I have considered irreversible disfigurement as a cost, but I now think it is too small a price because it doesn't actually stop a witch from leading a normal life in this pre-industrial fantasy society. She could still become a traditional wife despite being disfigured. So I have been thinking about a price that combines severe disfigurement and becoming barren as well. I am thinking of disfigurement that includes her skin going green and her features being seriously distorted and also complete and incurable sterility. Does that penalty seem severe enough to guarantee that only a minority of women would even consider being a witch?

$\endgroup$
10
  • 12
    $\begingroup$ $150,000 in non-dischargeable student debt, and a dearth of entry-level well-paying sorceress positions. Might be easier if they could just sell their souls. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Apr 20 at 14:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ We answer single clearly focused questions, one per post. Unfortunately you've asked several - all of which come down to a matter of opinion and writer's choice. It might be worth re-reading the part of the help center which talks about how to ask a good question for further pointers. $\endgroup$ Apr 20 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ This seems like a very subjective question. Perhaps in your world there is no price to be paid. Perhaps in your world the price is their eternal soul. Perhaps in your world the price is loosing a happy childhood memory. The price can be whatever you want it to be. Please also keep in mind that we have a strict one question per post rule and your final paragraph asks 5 separate entirely subjective questions. Subjective questions are not a good fit for this site and are likely to be closed. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Apr 20 at 15:08
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, I have had a look at the help section and amended my post accordingly. The question is what is the minimum price for magic would deter a majority of women from becoming witches? $\endgroup$ Apr 20 at 15:18
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Looks like the question will be closed. It would go down better if you phrased it like "Being a witch has AAA benefits (already covered). I want a price that is large enough that most women don't become witches but small enough so that XXX doesn't happen. I have considered disfigurement but I think it is too big/small a price because YYY in the context of society ZZZ." $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Apr 20 at 15:37

14 Answers 14

12
$\begingroup$

There's no set price. Everybody is different, and what would be a terrible sacrifice for me might be trivial for you. But the price can never be trivial. Finding what your price is is the first step in becoming a witch.

To pay your true price you must find something fundamental in your soul, and sever it. That loss is what breaks open the crack that magic flows through. Maybe it's your home, your youth, or your only child. Maybe it's something in your body - give up your hands, your voice, your looks. Maybe it's the ability to ever love and be loved. The point is, if it's something you're reasonably willing to part with, it won't work. It has to be a thing that cuts.

Most people refuse to even think about it - even the act of merciless self-appraisal that you need in order to discover your price is too harrowing for most. But desperate circumstances can burn the layers of comfortable self-deception away from people, until the choice look inescapable, which is why more witches are made in difficult times.

$\endgroup$
6
  • $\begingroup$ I am considering a combination of different penalties and one of them could be your idea. I was thinking in the case of the heroine I had already created, one of the penalties could be being cursed to do something that goes against her morals. That would pose the question how obvious the penalty should be beforehand. If she were warned that she would be cursed to do something heinous one day, she might suppose she could avert it. One idea I had would be if she inadvertently r@ped the hero while he was under magical mind control. A villain would have a different curse placed on her. $\endgroup$ Apr 22 at 20:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Since no one knows the price in advance, you would need to be very careful to drop hints to the reader for each individual witch. Otherwise you run the risk of a a "create witch" button that creates witches on demand wherever the plot demands. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Apr 23 at 11:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Daron yes exactly - you shouldn’t need to tell the reader “this is a terrible price”, the reader should know enough about your character already to recognise this. E.g. in the first few chapters, introduce the heroine’s family and make it clear that they are very close and she loves them very much. To gain her powers, she has to make them forget that she ever existed, or let them believe that she has committed some unforgivable betrayal, or, if you’re going for over-the-top dark, kill them (not recommended - it makes her too unlikable to the reader). $\endgroup$
    – Ottie
    Apr 23 at 14:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Ottie Yes, I agree. How about if she accidentally r@ped the hero though? I mean if she didn't realise what she was doing at the time? Sort of like that contentious theme in Wonder Woman 1984, but with the heroine not doing it with knowledge of what is happening? $\endgroup$ Apr 23 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Emeraldminer I'd say that something you do inadvertently would not qualify - it's making the choice that counts. Using a past act as your price is also a bit iffy as it opens the door to "trauma recycling" - I did this thing I feel guilty about, I wonder if I can use it for free magical powers? But ultimately it's your story and it's up to you to design the ritual/event in which the price is paid and the rules it abides by. $\endgroup$
    – Ottie
    Apr 23 at 16:45
20
$\begingroup$

Desperate people do all kinds of desperate things. They join convents and give up on having children. They are cruel to other people and kill other people. Desperate people suffer and endure however they can.

But the desperate people want to still be themselves. That is what they are fighting for.

The witches lose their minds.

Losing your mind means giving up on being you. Witches babble and curse and cackle. They talk to things that no-one sees. Are those things real? They make mud pies and then eat them. They are compelled to rhyme. Is that the magic? They dance in the rain. They count every hole in the sieve because they must. They turn into animals, or maybe they act like the animal. They are scary to watch and even scarier to imagine being.

Then when your protagonist takes the plunge and becomes a witch, she gets to experience that. And you get to convey to your readers what her world has become.

$\endgroup$
4
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ A mental cost is a very heavy cost indeed. This could come in many forms. A form of amnesia that gets progressively worse the more you use magic. A form of schizophrenia, or maybe you are seeing beings from between worlds? Hell, you could be using the powers of some kind of monster/demon/fairy, only to slowly have your thought patterns, norms, and values, changed to align more with those of the being whose powers you channel. Seeing someone go mad slowly, or become the thing they tried to oppose is a good motivator to not try. No matter how alluring the powers are. $\endgroup$
    – vinzzz001
    Apr 21 at 13:41
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I like this answer because there is always the possibility the witch has simply gone mad. Or perhaps they are seeing into the fey realm? Or perhaps they have seen into the fey realm and looking at that too long makes you mad. Loads of room for discussion. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Apr 21 at 16:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Daron I have discussed this topic with different women before. One said that her beauty was so important to her, that she would take magical amnesia sooner than her skin turning green (or anything else that tarnished her beauty). That's why I'm now thinking Ottie is right and the price should always vary. $\endgroup$ Apr 23 at 8:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Emeraldminer I think this answer is more than just anmesia. Perhaps some of those women would change their minds if they saw an insane witch first hand. In any case Ottie's answer will by definition do the job of making witches rare. But of course you still want SOME witches, and you need to be very careful in the storytelling that the price makes sense to the reader. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Apr 23 at 11:49
4
$\begingroup$

"Lady Problems"

Since you are talking about witches and witches are women, it is thematic that the price has something to do with womanhood. For example:

  • Infertility

  • Extreme fertility (my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard)

  • Extreme Libido (and they're like it's better than yours)

  • Desire to eat children

  • Requirement to eat Children

  • Requirement to birth and then eat your own children.

  • Requirement that your milkshake brings all the boys to the yard and then you mate with the boys and then eat them and then later birth their children and then gobble up the children too.

Any of these things damage your ability to be a traditional woman. So most women don't become witches. Only those that are outcasts or otherwise dissatisfied with their place in society as women will pay the price.

Edit: One subversion of normal tropes is that disfigurement is not a result of becoming a Witch. In fact becoming a Witch makes you more alluring to men. And most women too. Witches are like catnip to those guys. The disfigurement is done voluntarily to prevent all the boys coming to the yard and rubbing their genitals all over on your front window.

Edit: Infertility on its own might be a benefit to some women since they can have sex every day without getting pregnant. For example a prostitute or a woman who ascends the power ladder by forging sexual alliances. Though such a woman would necessarily live outside of "traditional" society. Perhaps this is a good storytelling device, to show her transition from normal women, to sexually active women, and all the way to hag living in a hut in the swamp.

$\endgroup$
13
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Emeraldminer Perhaps the disfigurement is just the first stage of becoming a witch and infertility happens later. Or maybe the other way around. After all infertility is easier to hide. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Apr 20 at 15:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Emeraldminer Or perhaps disfigurement is not part of becoming a Witch. The problem is Witches are like catnip to men, and the disfigurement is done voluntarily to prevent all the boys coming to the yard. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Apr 20 at 15:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Personally, I've always liked infertility as a price for magic (in men or women) as giving up the ability to have your own children reduces your long-term influence on the future significantly (children have a high "butterfly impact coefficient"). In 'ye olde times', the ability to have children would also have severe social consequences by itself because, if it's known, your marriage value has just tanked completely. Also enables all sorts of storytelling moments where magical people steal children because they can't have any. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Apr 20 at 16:23
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Goodies when my brother was little my auntie liked to say "Oooh he so cute, I could just gobble him up!" None of my uncles said the same thing. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Apr 20 at 17:32
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I check several items on your list (not telling you which) and got no magical powers to show for it, downvote (j/k). More seriously, not terribly keen on the "traditional woman" aspect - you're mixing cultural-specific taboos (promiscuity) and biological traits (fertility), and neither of them are really female-specific except in the sense of the stereotypes that a) being sexual is an undesirable trait for a woman and b) having children is a more central aspect of a woman's life than a man's (as @Dragongeek rightly mentions, infertility could cut both ways). $\endgroup$
    – Ottie
    Apr 21 at 12:37
4
$\begingroup$

No, your penalty will not realistically result in a small minority of women considering becoming a witch. It is however a common trope in science fiction and fantasy, and many writers put it in their stories thinking that this would be the realistic result.

The idea that magic conferring infertility will deter almost all women from magic is premised on the idea that almost all women innately want children. This isn't true, and remains not-true across a broad variety of real and extrapolated fictional cultural contexts.

Women have children for a broad variety of reasons, but two major ones are "innate desire" and "desire for social power in society." Most cultures across human history (at least most whose cultural history survived to the modern day) were/are patriarchial and expect women to bear children in order to access any significant degree of social power.

Introduce magic, and suddenly there's a different route to social power. (Similar to wealth in many real world societies, but even more effective.) If you can fly, heal the sick, and transform people into animals, you are both precious to your allies and very dangerous to your enemies. That gives you power, no need for children if you don't have any inherent desire to raise them. Many women will consider it, and a fair number will go through with it.

This is counterintuitive to many writers because, living in one such patriarchal society, the idea that women bear children as a matter of course is socially reinforced. "Infertility" sounds like a steep penalty for women, but for many women it would be a neutral side effect, or even a positive one.

Your question is yes/no, so I won't go too deep into alternative suggestions, but you might consider prices that make people think twice in the real world and extrapolate to similar prices you can create with the artistic license of magic.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ The penalties in my original post include disfigurement as well as infertility, but yes, I am thinking that even combined they are insufficient. With the disfigurement question, I really do need more female perspectives. $\endgroup$ Apr 23 at 7:46
3
$\begingroup$

Sacrificing and Innocent Human Life

Throughout human society, there have been handfuls of people who consider this an acceptable practice, but in most societies it's not only abhorred by individuals, but by society as a whole. Not only does becoming a witch itself come with a price that most people would not be willing to pay, but one would never able to enjoy thier power in the public eye, because being seen casting a spell is equivalent to publicly confessing to murder.

If you want to take it a step further and tie it more into the female experience, you could require her to sacrifice her own child. Now not only do you know a witch is a murderer, but it was filicide to boot.

So to become a witch means to become a thing hated and hunted by everyone around you. Only in very desperate times or through some very extreme cultish indoctrination would you see this choice being made with any regularity.

$\endgroup$
4
  • $\begingroup$ And then ramp it up by giving them effective immortality by moving their soul into the body of their child when they start getting old, as per Mercedes Lackey's Jinx High (shamelessly copied by Joss Whedon in one of the first season episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) $\endgroup$ Apr 22 at 2:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I fear a drawback that involves irredeemable evil would be less of a drawback than you might hope. You will end up with a world where good people will almost never become witches while bad people will slam dunk their children into the incinerator and record it for tiktok. If being a witch gives you meaningful amounts of power, you would create hell on earth. $\endgroup$
    – Hene
    Apr 22 at 11:47
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Hene is exactly right. This penalty would be unthinkable for a herione, but all too easy for a villain. $\endgroup$ Apr 22 at 20:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Hene You are assuming the human race is made up of equal numbers of people who are and are not willing to sacrifice thier own children for power. If 1 in 100 are willing to do this for power, then they make enemies of the other 99. You then present those other 99 with a trolly problem: save thier own child and let everyone else suffer, or sacrifice thier child so that they have the power to oppose the evil one... the trolly problem has no universally accepted morally right answer; so, one could heroically sacrifice the one they love to save 98 strangers. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Apr 22 at 21:02
2
$\begingroup$

Q: "Basic powers enable witches to fly, to get animal familiars, to heal other people by magic, to turn their enemies into animals, to cast fireballs and lightening bolts, limited mind control and much more besides. The harder spells do have an energy cost, so a witch must rest and get her energy back"

Q: "I am thinking of disfigurement that includes her skin going green and her features being seriously distorted and also complete and incurable sterility. Does that penalty seem severe enough to guarantee that only a minority of women would even consider being a witch?"

Q: "Is this price of magic severe enough to deter most women"

You won't have to turn them green.. There's already an answer in your opening. Because your question is science-based, I'll avoid imposing artificial punishments (by whom?) and put your energy issue up front.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that "in all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves the system, the potential energy of the state will always be less than that of the initial state."

.. and magic often violates this law, or.. it seems to.. actually, your witch pays with her own well being,

Witches pay for the energy of magic, die of exhaustion

Your witches are impressive, and popular in society. They look glorious when they use their magic, they produce spectacular shows, they turn villains into animals.. they can heal people.. in her life time, the witch will meet lots of fans and grateful folks. People will listen, they prophetize. Thing is, witches cannot be thanked after their good deeds, because they are speechless of fatigue, right after any magic happens. The witch brings her magic ceremony.. it works.. people applaud.. and then, the witch will close her eyes and turn herself into hibernation. There isn't much of a private, or social life.

Brain fatigue

She will die young, for lack of energy. There is no way to eat enough to compensate, because the energy is of another world and drained from the brain. Even powerful witches are known to fall to the ground after doing magic. Some witches even end in a big poof and disappear, after doing something big, like a prophecy.

What's science based about all this ? It's all in the energy, which has to be preserved.. any magic would violate the law of thermodynamics, the witch has to compensate for that. And during life, it gets worse. To maintain their celebrity, witches will attempt to do wild things. The backlash will hit them.

Being a witch requires strength and a special mindset.

You need some intelligence, to learn to be a witch. But lots of intelligent women will be very reluctant, they can foresee the energy drain issue. A witch life is actually the life of a modern artist on drugs, dying early at 29.. of exhaustion. Nevertheless, there are women who want to heal people, women who want to be world famous and do wonders, or be prophets. They are very motivated, they will sacrifice themselves, to become a witch.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

I think it could work if you wanted, but I would make it even more extreme.

Ideas:

  1. The cost will not affect only the witch in question. Perhaps she has to sacrifice or kill a member of her family or a loved one. Not sure why you would need to, but this is just an idea. This would not only create conflict within the character, but it would also deter most people, ensuring that there is no going back.
  2. In addition to the deterrents you mentioned, you could have the person, upon becoming a witch, lose all past memories, including the recollection of their family, friends, and even their own name! Such a harsh price would be sure to keep most people from becoming a witch.
  3. This would be a situational consideration, one that might not be applicable. Perhaps witches are frowned upon by your world's culture and are even exiled from their homeland. Being banished from your home and cast out by your family would ensure that most people would not become a witch.
  4. Once every full moon (or whenever you want it), the witch has to pay a cost--if they don't, they will die. You could be very imaginative with this one. Perhaps the witch has to perform a certain ritual that disfigures her more and more, or maybe it involves spells that slowly, over the course of years and years, make her lose her mind. This could work in a variety of circumstances. It also ensures that pressure is placed continuously against that character, making tension in the book. Will she be able to keep herself alive? Does she want to keep herself alive?
$\endgroup$
1
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Hello! (3) and (4) are absolutely wonderful suggestions and I had already considered similar ideas. (2) is so harsh that it is on the brink of being too harsh. However, regarding (1) I think that this is too much of a price for a heroine to pay. The question was what price a heroine would be willing to pay. (1) is something that only an anti-heroine or a villain would consider. The only way a heroine could accept a curse where she has to do something heinous is if she didn't know about this cost beforehand. I'm thinking now that a hidden cost could be temporary brief fits of madness... $\endgroup$ Apr 21 at 17:06
2
$\begingroup$

Cost of magic? If you have your magic coming from the casters life-force it could introduce a very interesting dynamic; many wouldn't trade the days / weeks / years a spell will take off your life for it, and it's not just a "you will die sooner", but it takes an immediate affect, a witch can be seen to visibly age whilst performing a higher order, complex spell.

Thus magic is not wielded without intent and thrown around with abandon, it is used in limited ways, when important, because the cost is dire.

I think this helps contain world building, as those with great power aren't just left to run wild, there must be limits for your antagonist otherwise why not just fireball / transmute in to a toad / teleport at the slightest inconvenience and similarly your protagonist doesn't want to be a mary sue who can just pull a spell out of their ass at a drop of a (witches) hat to overcome any obstacle.

Do you trek through treacherous territory for a week or lose two years in a teleport your entire party?

An interesting divide could be added for white hat and black hat witches, magic costs life essence, but, not necessarily your life essence, an evil witch would see no qualm in taking the life of others to be able to cast large spells (afterall, that's why they kidnap children, those with the most power to give) whereas white hats would only use their own (or lesser animals, if you're going to need an eye of newt, might as well use the whole lizard..), the evil witches are still constrained by access to the people / animals to draw from and there's a time to drain / perform the spell which would make it moot if you need to get out of dodge sharpish, again to prevent writing yourself in to a hole, but could open interesting dynmaics.

And again, the thought of taking others lives, if a little, would be enough to put many off, just think how many vegans and vegetarians you know..

Personally I would try and avoid anything with connotations on appearance (equating a womans value to her appearance) or fertility, as these are quite strong topics, especially now, so something outside the two would be more palatable to more readers imo.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Something a lot more simple. Age. After all learning all the spells and the rules behind the magic would require a lot of time, if you cut short magically the learning time you can use a similar amount of time as the currency to pay back.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Once someone starts feeling the price of magic, it's failed to deter that someone from being a witch.

The thing about deterrence is that severity often isn't the core reason it'll work; what works, primarily, is the belief that they will suffer the deterrence.

So you'll need a few details:

1.) Being able to witness the price being paid by the witch in person.

2.) Having the witch in question verify that, no, there really is no way around it - they've tried to get around the price, and it didn't work. And so have others, multiple times, multiple ways.

Without 1.), until someone actually becomes a witch, they may not believe it's a price that actually comes into effect, and without 2.) - you're going to get people who recognize 1.), but think they can loophole their way around it (i.e. casting "Cure Severe disfigurement" or "Cure infertility" on themselves once getting cursed. Whether or not that would work in your setting isn't important - someone will try it to get around a deterrence.).

With that in mind, here are some considerations that may work:

1.) Becoming a witch forces you to become the target of cat-calling of anyone you explicitly do not enjoy the measures of cat-calling of.

Rather than necessarily wanting that behavior from themselves out of libido, you can make it that the people who are attracted to a witch to resort to cat-calling be the lowest of the lowest people - like the heaviest drunks, or the really annoying people in the village who just won't give up. How this works would just be magically binding of sorts, but would explain why your witches may decide to just leave villages and towns entirely, and seek isolation. If they do perform magical healing for others, they need to be reached out to, and they intentionally screen out who it is, and charge an appropriate fee to suffer the results of that.

Or alternatively, these people just cause a ruckus, or routinely draw bad luck and bad situations to the witch in question.

Though a lot of people might consider that circumstantial, and again, we have the issue of ways around it, since it does leave open ways to get away from that. If you're not fond of social bonds, this is probably just fine, and therefore not a deterrent.

2.) Becoming a witch leads to a summoning of a predator-like demonic force constantly chasing the witch whether they go, on the hunt of killing them, that's visible to others around them, but invulnerable, or perpetually respawning.

Going the Dahaka-like (Spoiler warning past the first 6 minutes for Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, but it gets the point across)-like [Beyond six minutes leads to spoilers for Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, but first 6 minutes should be perfectly fine to get the idea across] approach here will sort of require someone to have actually become a witch before, since in the series where the Dahaka appears, it only appears after someone has used the Sands of Time to significantly change time, but it'll set the idea that yeah - becoming a witch is not an ends to a means, it's a means to an end.

The reason for that? As soon as you become a witch, perhaps with some limitations, you're basically the mouse in a game of cat and mouse with a very dangerous being who's job is to set things right, by any means possible. It'll chase you through a city, a countryside, and may be temporarily held at bay so that you can actually use the magic you command. A lot of their magic will be used creating ways to escape, and hide, and it's not at all subtle. Anyone who helps harbor a witch temporarily learns exactly why they're cursed, and why they wouldn't want to be a witch, or anyone else, to undergo that curse.

The main caveat here is you'll need actual witches to exist to give people an understanding of why witch-hood is something they should avoid doing, unless they're willing to bear this deterrence - and that ways to circumvent these deterrents have been tried - and failed.

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ Exactly right - for the penalties to be obvious, there definitely have to already be witches at large in the world. My young heroine in this world was actually apprenticed to a witch so she knew a witch beforehand. One reason I think my current penalties are inadequate is that she is a very kind person and sees having magic as an opportunity to help people, so would sacrifice her beauty and even her fertility to be able to do that. The deterrent needs to be something that is a big deal to any girl or woman considering becoming a witch... $\endgroup$ Apr 23 at 7:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Emeraldminer: My point is more that a loss of fertility is, at fastest, around a nine-month period to verify. And becomes a non-deterrent once people discover menopause is a thing. As soon as someone is around 45-55 years of age, even infertility won't stop most people from becoming a witch if they wanted to. $\endgroup$ Apr 23 at 21:47
1
$\begingroup$

Powerful magic can be offset by requiring the caster to bring their own energy, i.e. exhaustion that might lead to death. Or it might be offset by the weight of responsibility, because as you know great power begets great responsibility. But that's not quite your question. Your question is why would women willingly turn down such great power? And I'd like to challenge that:

Why should there be a price to pay?

Your problem, as I understand it, is that half of humanity suddenly becoming super powerful is a very different setting from what you're trying to achieve, where magic is much more confidential. And the cause of your problem is that your mechanic for achieving magic is self-determination. That's a dangerous mix.

Typically, in fantasy becoming a wizard is usually a function of how you're born. It's genetics or it's divine, or it's generally something that bears no explanation. Some people are magic, some aren't, and you can set the rate arbitrarily and don't have to justify it. The reader just accepts that is it what it is.

That points to two potential solutions:


Pivot your mechanic.

Maybe it's conventional, but "you're magic because you happen to be born that way" works.

You could tweak that by adding an element of having to willingly listen to your inner magic in order to unlock your powers. Simply put, some people are magic, and some aren't, or they don't know they are, or they don't fundamentally believe they are.

Here's one example: Luke Skywalker having to willingly turn off the targeting computer and take a leap of faith. He is a great pilot because he's strong with the Force, but he can't materialise that power until he starts believing in it.

Here's another example: Neo having to willingly believe that there is more to the world than what he can perceive, and swallow that pill. The Thomas Anderson of the begining of the movie wouldn't be able to stop bullets because he doesn't believe that's possible.

It's taking that leap of faith that makes them powerful. It's not very original, but you know what they say about reinventing the wheel: don't.


Pivot your setting.

Maybe most of the women of your world are just magic and quite powerfully so, and it's going to be a radically different world. That opens a lot of great themes, and also incredibly complex themes, of gender roles, gender power dynamics, and so forth. Easy stuff.


But why though?

This is where I'll develop why it might be very undesirable to set such a price. And I want to be clear: this isn't an indictment on you, or anybody in particular.

I believe that witch mythology exists on a very slippery slope. Putting together power, beauty and fertility has the potential to devolve very easily into something incredibly sexist. Take a traditional witch representation: powerful, independent, knowledgeable, ugly, older, uses her sexuality, unmarried, hates children, some shade of evil. Now let's look at the reverse: good, motherly, married, chaste, young, beautiful, uneducated, dependent, weak. A society that produces that myth tells us what its vision of the ideal woman is.

What I'm trying to communicate here is that how you characterise your witches, how you frame them in your society, and how you frame that society in your story, it is going to reflect on you, the author. It is <current_year> after all, your story/setting doesn't exist in a vacuum.

With all that said, what you are looking to establish here is what is more important than power for womankind. And we're talking about the power to pursue their own aspirations, or to emanticipate themselves, or to burn society to the ground and rebuild it in their image. If you oppose that to "leading a normal life in this pre-industrial fantasy society", motherhood, or beauty, that's the slippery slope I mentioned earlier.

And to be perfectly honest, unless your pre-industrial society is a perfect equalitarian paradise, I can't think of a good reason to not just pay the price.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

A certain very successful animé (Naruto) has a set of extreme powers that a character can obtain at a cost. I won't describe those powers, but the cost is following a certain process. For most people who are able to achieve it, the process is:

  1. Kill your best friend
  2. Rip their eyeballs out
  3. Rip your own eyeballs out
  4. Insert your dead best friend's eyeballs into your own eye sockets.

Only once you have transplanted eyes like that, you gain the powers of a god.

Imagine that a woman has to do that in order to become a witch. Being desperate is one thing, but being I-will-rip-both-our-eyes-and-transplant-yours-into-mine desperate is something rare.

If you want to be original, replace the organs involved. Maybe the heart, for example.

P.s.: before any fan comes here to say I'm wrong, I am aware that that's not the actual truth of the process. Yet this is how it is described at one point, and is how at least two characters achieved it.

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ That is a penalty that a true heroine would never pay, but any villain would consider. It would ensure that only villains can become witches. $\endgroup$ Apr 23 at 7:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Emeraldminer that's a very western view of this. In the show I referenced, some of the guys doing it were heroes. $\endgroup$ Apr 23 at 10:28
0
$\begingroup$

Depends on what your culture values. In a preindustrial society I would say infertile. All preindustrial society values children and the more the better and in prindustral society woman primary role is that of mother. This would cut her off from marriage as no one would marry someone they knew couldn't have children.

If not infertile then maybe she has to kill one of her children. Most women now days would be reluctant and I think more so in a preindustrial society but it might vary.

Alternative perhaps she has to break some serious religious or social taboo. Preindustrial societies were more collectivist then ours so breaking with social norms was a bigger deal.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

A cost that affects womanhood is a good cost in a setting where women are expected to be traditional wives and mothers. Becoming a witch thus means social isolation and religious excommunication.

However, no amount of social punishment would outweigh the ability to cast lightning bolts and mind control people. With these powers, you basically rule your corner of the world, and social isolation or loss of motherhood are not meaningful costs for the kind of people who would aspire to learn how to set a town on fire with their mind.

Keeping with the medieval grimdark theme, a meaningful drawback would be eternal damnation. As in, hell is real, Satan owns your soul and you will be tortured for eternity. Only the truly selfless would sacrifice themselves in this way, while evil people wouldn't see it as worth the cost.

Alternatively, you could tone down the upsides. Healing and claivoyance are inherently social and good hearted powers, so social isolation is actually a real drawback that makes them not worth it in most cases. You can heal people, but they would rather die instead because they think you are consorting with demons. You can see the future, and know you will be burned at the stake but have no power to stop it. Without the ability to throw around fireballs and turn the world into a toybox for your amusement, becoming a witch would be bittersweet at best.

$\endgroup$

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .