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The power of belief and how to counter it

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Valena, Jan 10, 2021.

  1. Valena

    Valena Acolyte

    Imagine a world that is shaped by the wishes and believes of those inhabiting it. For example, let's assume there never was a moon. But for some reason the idea came up and the media backed it, so people started to believe there actually was a moon. The combined believe of thousands of people then 'magically' created a moon where none had been before and now the moon is real.
    It's probably not the best example for the moon would be outside the world, but you get my meaning (I hope).

    Now imagine a society not very different from our own with its fake news, conspiracy theories and existential fear in general. The majority of people does not believe in magic. Of course not. But they believe in the small things: a coin in a wishing well, to avoid black cats, throwing salt over your shoulder after spilling some, charms, etc. These things are not magic, not really.
    Still, if such subconscious ideas exist and enough people share them, then they might be enough to create a handful of actual sorcerers. And if these sorcerers are in turn convinced that they have magic, magic itself is suddenly real.

    So, based on the idea above, let's fast-foward a bit. The world is mostly like ours, perhaps technically a little more advanced. Sorcerers are real. Their power draws from their belief in themself and the (subconscious) fear of others around them.
    How would you fight them?
  2. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

    Who would we be in this world, what would be our resources and why exactly should we fight these mages? A radical world government with cameras around every corner ensuring no one is hesitant about opening umbrellas inside or crossing roads when black cats are near might do the trick, but that seems a tad excessive.
  3. Valena

    Valena Acolyte

    I'm thinking more like today. You would not get arrested for crossing roads when a black cat is near by. The public would anyway not really accept that there is such a thing as magic. It's different to acknowledge that sth. weird is happening or has happened and to all out embrace the possibility that this huge explosion was magic instead of, say, a secret military operation. Especially since openly embracing magic would only strengthen those who wield it. The more people are convinced sb. is capable of sth., the stronger that sb. would be.

    It would probably be more like an underground-thing. Whispers, rumors and stuff yet nothing official. More like black ops hunting mages in secret. But what would such a team look like?
    Is the mage stronger if people are closer? Do robots and drones render a mage basically powerless 'cause they cannot believe or be frightened about the mage's powers? What about sceptics? Can you train a soldier to actively deny magic?
  4. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Sage

    How much do the sorcerers believe in themselves? In Harry Potter, the belief is that you NEED a wand to do magic, and those wands need unicorn, phoenix, or dragon parts in it to be the "source" of the magic. So, if you drive those species to extinction, then there's no way for wizards to do magic anymore. Or you can kill/imprison all the wand makers. If your sorcerers need special components or things about the planet to do their magic, change those things. Drop EMPs to disrupt the leylines, napalm the sacred forests etc.

    You could also do some sort of mass mind-control program on the populace. This could be "fluroide in the water" or "5G towers" or "microchips in vaccines" or whatever.
  5. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

    Fight magic with magic, of course ;)

    Hard to imagine a world where there were magic users, and people continue to believe it not possible. I think more likely, the world would become filled with sorcerers.
  6. Eduardo Letavia

    Eduardo Letavia Troubadour

    Reflecting about it, I find that this belief-based magic could pose a few problems to work properly:
    • Humans and animals don't have a hive-mind shared experience of reality. Every individual has it's own skewed perception of it, which implies that any sorcery could end being quite unpredictable for any viable use.
    • Animals don't believe in anything, as far as we know. I could just hide behind a horse to take cover from a sorcerer attack.
    • How you can become a sorcerer if no one around you believes in such thing?
    • Would two different sorcerers agree on how the magic is manifested in reality? Probably not. They would be forced to lengthy explanations to make the other believe in their own magic. I don't see this very practical.
      • This also applies to the potential disciples or believers supporting any sorcerer. First they should undergo training just to be able to believe in their sorcerer's magic. And worse, they should believe in the exact same way the sorcerer and the others do for all the spells. This would imply quite an astounding level of mental coordination; it could work among telepaths, but surely not with normal people.
    • A one-on-one sorcerers battle would be pretty boring, since by just not believing in the rival's magic they could cancel each other out in a very harmless and effortless way. I mean, you can throw me a fireball, but if I don't believe in it I won't see it at all, even if you're screaming the spell.
    Now, I think you could use the belief, or will, as a tuner. Your sorcerers can tap into some sort of energy, but to achieve greater effects, they require that nearby people project their will on it, by believing in it. It would like being able to connect with other energy sources tuned to the right frequency so they fit the spell in use. This way, the nearby believers become channels of tuned energy for a concrete spell that they can see already in action. Remember, seein' is believin'!
  7. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Inkling

    I think there's two ways to fight.

    Either you start believing in yourself, giving you access to what you need.

    Or, the other option is to make your opponent start to doubt himself.
  8. Valena

    Valena Acolyte

    wow, so much to think about - that's great!
    The general idea about "belief" as a power is by the way inspired by Pratchett's Small Gods.

    Starting with Eduardo's comment: Unpredictable magic - absolutely. Especially its strength and range would vary dramatically.
    So, if they tap into some sort of energy or magic vibe that simply exists in this world, then the experience would be rather consistent, no? Even so, if you use a verbal component, we would probably all imagine about the same thing if sb. shouts "FIREBALL!" at us.
    About hiding behind a cow - sure you can take cover, but would that dispel the magic? If the efficiency of magic depends on the user's and the victim's belief/will, then they would probably both overpower the cow.
    If seein' is believin': 1. the sorcerer must be able to initiate the spell by himself, right? Otherwise there is nothing to see. 2. range and strength depend on how many nearby believers support him, right? Could you then actively try to block nearby believers?

    Chasejxyz: I was thinking mass media as a mind-control program. Not in an Orwellian sense, but in form of dementi and the like:
    "It was unbelievable, that guy threw a ball of fire from his fingertips!"
    "Yeah, well, no. It was a terrorist attack and you're in shock. But congrats, you're alive. Here, take some tranquilisers. Channel X out."

    Would merge with pmmg's comment. I, too, think it would lead to more and stronger sorcerers as soon as the world acknowledged the existence of magic. All the more reason to eradicate them early on.
  9. Eduardo Letavia

    Eduardo Letavia Troubadour

    ValenaValena ! Don't you dare to understimate the power of cows' sheer indiference! Worse, animals see in a different (and usually reduced) spectrum of light, so they won't even perceive a spell the same way humans could. An extra complication is the language barrier itself: what good is to try to reinforce the belief in your magic if the potential believers cannot understand you? Just imagine a sorcerer trying to use their magic in a foreing country! They would be forced not only to learn their spells in different languages, the spells should be interpreted in ways that make sense within the potential believers' culture.

    Overall, I think it will be easier for you to use beliefs as what I hinted you in my previous reply: just as some sort or tuner or enhacer (like a filter or dial applied by the brain to the magical energy), so magic itself can manifest in reality without depending on something as abstract as beliefs are. This way you can play with the idea of mass manipulation in order to enhance certain magical spells, while keeping open in a believable way the possibility of resistance by other sorcerers who, while strong in magic, they must work to convince people to enhance their own sorcery. This I think could give you very interesting dramatic possibilities, playing with characters loyalties and such.
  10. Valena

    Valena Acolyte

    Oh, I shall never again doubt the mighty indifference of an ungulate!

    But I see what you're aiming at and I'll think it through. This really is rubber duck development for me. Thanks a lot for the comments!
  11. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    I would say disbelief could be just as powerful a force as belief... naysayers would be unaffected by spells because according to their own "beliefs" magic is impossible, doesn't exist... that renders spells directed at them worthless.
  12. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    Might be kind of late to the discussion but I’m doing a similar thing in my book: belief-based magic in a more modern setting with a borderline dystopian totalitarian state (though magic is common in my setting) so maybe I can give some insight.

    The entirety of my book’s main plot is two wizards trying to outdo each other. My hero draws his power from his ego (more or less) so my villain counters it by hitting him financially and disrupting his career. With the hero’s financial security and social status threatened, his ego takes a hit which weakens his magic. So the hero counters by sowing some distrust in the villain’s social circle, even bringing the villain’s family into the mix. That’s a blow to the villain’s belief in himself.
    They both also get the other to believe that there’s a conspiracy against them with the mob being after the hero and the police being after the villain.
    So, it’s less about altering the magic fight itself (in fact, the two characters never directly battle one another in the story) but instead about setting the stage for the other’s failure through their own faults (hero’s ego and recklessness, villain’s distrust and paranoia). It makes the battle more of a psychological cat-and-mouse game. The big tension in the story is that the hero doesn’t know the villain’s ultimate scheme though he knows where he is/lives and has some idea as to his resources while the villain knows the hero’s ultimate goal but he doesn’t know where he is or what resources he has.

    I guess another point to make is that the totalitarian government controls things on a macro level but the characters have plenty of room to move around on a micro level with both of them being involved in subcultures, outcasts and the criminal underbelly of the setting. So another dimension of the story is the two of them operating under the government’s radar.
  13. Don Coyote

    Don Coyote Scribe

    Paint it red, it will make it go faster.

    So, someone started saying "Global warming" and as more people started believing this, the world gets hotter. But, other people didn't believe this rumor and started to counter global warming. As a result, the world's weather grew more chaotic. As a result, the Global Warming faction started changing their belief to "Climate Change" causing further chaos in the weather patterns.

    Since only crazy people believe in conspiracies, they have to find another reason behind the cause climate change. The farts of indifferent cows. It's a mistake to underestimate the power of indifferent cows. If we we can get rid of cows and their stinking indifference, we believe it will end climate change. However, the people who believe in none of this, prevent the belief of others from fixing the problem. This is further complicated by the belief of crazy people it's all a conspiracy. Why is it only crazy people who believe conspiracy theories? Because of the belief that only crazy people believe in conspiracies.

    Valena, I am poking fun at your idea- not to put it down- but because it's too wonderfully fun to resist going there. I can see how to use your plot device, but I'm not sure how to explain it. So, I used it to tie the indifference of cows to climate change. I suppose it's the indifference of cows that's used in chemtrails spewed by aircraft in flyover state airspace.

    The Deep State (which exists because people believe it does) knows that the power of belief shapes the world. They use beliefs to manipulate events. However, there is the law of unintended consequences, which exists because- well, you know. Kinda like karma.
  14. Valena

    Valena Acolyte

    It's fine, it's fine :D

    I think I know how to use it, but not how to explain it. That why I was throwing the bone - basically to see what you guys do with it and which loopholes, or traps, or snares come up with for me to dodge.

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