On the efficacy of cold magic, with an aside to cold mages and their antipathy to technology.
By Habibah ibnah Alhamrai, natural philosopher and lecturer at the University of Expedition
It is well known that the great mage Houses are anathema to the technologies developed and developing in the Amerikes, especially those so abundantly useful in Expedition and other areas where the technologies have been employed. One might assume that the cause of this antipathy might be that much of these technologies are the handiwork of the Trolls, and that the mage have, in general, an inborn hatred or even natural dislike for their species. One would be totally mistaken.
The mages do not care about the Trolls except that they create and perpetrate many new technologies that the mages find repulsive, or rather that they find unuseable and from which they are repulsed. Part of this is undoubtedly physical, but some may be psychological in the sheer inescapability of their being cold mages. A common example of this physical repulsion can be seen in nearly any locale where gas light has been installed and is currently enhancing the environs of most normal citizens. We know that gas light is produced in lamps designed specifically to allow small amounts of gas to expand inside the globe and ignite and burn, thereby providing light and a bit of heat. The heat in this case is useless as the globes are high above the street, but the light, because of that height, shines down upon the ground and illuminates the surrounding area.
But watch a carriage carrying a cold mage through the streets and it is easy to see the problem. As the carriage approaches the light, the light dims. When the carriage is beneath the lamp, the light is nearly invisible. And when the carriage passes, only then does the light begin to brighten and eventually burn to its natural state.
It is widely known that cold mage houses are heated by an indirect method originally invented and employed by the Romans. It might be thought that they use this old style through some propensity toward ancient knowledge. That thought would be wrong. While it is unclear if the cold mages themselves would actually suffer much from the coldness, their spouses and children are not possessed of their abilities and certainly will. Therefore, cold mage manors must be heated in some way. This indirect method, though in some ways less efficient than direct heating by stove or fireplace, is nonetheless the only method available in an abode where cold mages reside. These Roman heat pipes are just that, pipes beneath the floors of the rooms that carry hot water or air. The heat source must be located somewhere away from the main house so that the cold magic cannot reach it, as not only will a cold mage put out a fire in near proximity, but it will also be impossible to relight the fire until the cold mage has departed. Generally, the mage houses place the fire building up hill from the house at a spring location so that water can be heated and then flow naturally down to the manor house itself. As far as can be understood, cold mages have had difficulty with fire for their entire existence, but, since little is known about the early days of the cold mages, little can be said as to how they adapted to their difficulties and adopted the Roman methods.
On the essence of cold magic, its spontaneous generation and use.
Cold magic is not an old ability. It did not exist during the height of the Roman hegemony. During that time, while various magics undoubtedly existed, cold magic did not. It is only due to the Salt Plague that cold magic could come into existence. One need not repeat here the history of the salt plague or the ghouls that emerged and destroyed entire civilizations. Nor the subsequent migrations and resettlements. The history may be read in any one of many treatises, but a simple explanation may be found in the workman-like discourse found in “Concerning the Mande Peoples of Western Africa Who Were Forced by Necessity to Abandon Their Homeland and Settle in Europe Just South of the Ice Shelf,” by Catharine Hassi Barahal of the famous Hassi Barahal Kena’ani lineage.
Let it be said that one fortuitous result of the plague, or rather the migration caused by the plague, is that the Mande from Africa met the Celtic druids of the north. Obviously, not all Mande were equal in either wealth or magic. The wealthy of the Mande married into the princely Celtic houses of the north, while those possessing magic found the Celtic druids to be of a kind, joined together with their societies and their houses. The combination led to the emergence of strong mages who had the ability to wield the power of the ice. This merging of two disparate elements formed the mage Houses.
However, not all or every merging of Mande with Celt produced or to this day produce cold mages and not all cold mages are equal. Because cold magic does not show up at birth, and because all joining does not produce a cold mage, the current mages have taken to occasionally plowing somewhat far from home and only reaping the outcome if it seems favorable. At this point, the lineages of the Celtic druids and the Mande run throughout many of the villages and towns within their realms so where a cold mage will appear is unknown. The biology of this phenomenon is undoubtedly fascinating but is not yet understood.
It is widely known that scholars believe that magic could be explicated on scientific principle if only those who handle magic were not so secretive. It is my thesis that much of cold magic can be explicated using only the principles of natural history and the sciences without the aid of the mages. In fact, help from the mages would probably serve only to further confuse.
For example, it is widely held by the mages and others that the source of cold magic is in the spirit world. That the source of the vast energies available to the mages is somewhere hidden in that world. The path to that energy may be in the spirit world, but the source of the power is the ice that covers the entire northern portion of our planet and on whose edge we settle. It is doubtful that if the Celtic druids had been the ones forced from their homes to settle in the Mande area of Africa that cold mages would today exist. Perhaps in that environ, the essence and control of fire magic might have become dominant. However, the vagaries of the gods forced the Mande to the north to sit on the edge of the source of their great power.
“The history of the world begins in ice, and it will end in ice.”
The Celtic bards and Mande djeliw of the north say this, but they do not know how correct they are. The Romans may have believed the world began in fire, but now, ice rules, as do the cold mages. The power of cold is extraordinary. Anyone in the proximity of a cold mage releasing his power will attest to this. Area wide storms of wind, ice and snow rain down upon those in the path of a cold mage’s ire. Liquid freezes and solid objects become so cold they brittlize and shatter. Through the spirit world and into the ice the mages reach, releasing the power. The ice is the ultimate source.
This is why one of the few things that a powerful cold mage fears is the Wild Hunt. The Wild Hunt will identify mages who overstep their bonds, who use their power too much, too often or too impulsively, and sweep down and remove that mage from the mix. We can not know the machination of those in the Wild Hunt nor the rest of their ilk, but they monitor and punish not just simple mortals, but the cold mages, for those of the Wild Hunt own the ice.
While I can not explain to you how the mages channel their power from the ice, nor whether that power is limited or limitless, I can explain their use of that power and why they themselves have a repulsion to fire and technology. We all know how fire can change metals in the forge or pottery in the kiln, but cold can do the same if wielded by a skilled mage. Take glass for example. For most of us, a broken pane of glass can only be repaired by remelting and pouring a new pane, but a cold mage can take those shards and knit them into a whole. How can this be done with cold rather than heat? We know that glass is amorphous, if the two edges are held together, the mage can make the components at the edges move and intertwine thereby fusing them together with intense cold. In this case, there are no crystals to reunite or layers to re-adhere. Just as the masses of ice on the glaciers move, melt and reform under the great mass of the ice, so a mage’s touch can cold press the glass into reforming.
One does not often see a mage re-forming glass, but one does see the effects of a mage’s presence on fire and technology. The principles of fire are well understood, but a short explanation is appropriate here. In general, heat, from a fire, friction of rubbing, concentrated sunlight or striking of flint on steel warms the material to be burned, and when the temperature rises sufficiently for the substance to become gaseous, the material ignites. The material remains lit and burns because the fire of burning itself provides more gaseous fuel for the fire. An easy example to see is a candle. An ember transferred from the fireplace ignites the wick which burns rapidly until it approaches the wax. The wax melts, moves up the wick, evaporates and ignites and the process continues until there is no wax left.
When mages enter areas where there is fire of any kind, the intense cold presence around them sucks all the warmth from the area. The flame can no longer consume the material, be it wood, candle wax or gas, because the heat is drawn into the mage and the fire dies. Fires cannot be lit in the presence of a mage because the cold aura prevents any of the materials from igniting. Even if a spark from flint can be created, the materials will not burn.
The effect of this sucking of energy on a fireplace fire or candle are transient and while the mages dislike them, they are merely annoying. The presence of large furnaces, like the ones created in Expedition to run the boilers that power the factories, contain much more energy, and while the mages have a similar effect on a factory as they do on a candle, the great heat absorbed by the mages is no longer simply annoying, but can begin to eat into their very essence. This, I believe, is why the mage Houses are so opposed to the new technologies. They fear first, that the presence of so much technology producing so much heat will interfere with their magic, but they fear foremost that the technology will become all pervasive and interfere with their well being, melting them and eroding them from inside.
@ A’ndrea Messer 2010
Science writer A’ndrea Messer wrote this piece “in the style of” an early 19th century paper or lecture. The character Habibah ibnah Alhamrai appears in Cold Fire.
A’ndrea and her colleagues at the Research Communications unit of The Pennsylvania State University have a blog: Research Matters.
I loved this monograph, Kate. You hit the tone and style of the period pretty well, I thought, and this proves (as if there were any doubts), that you’ve thought about the problems and consequences of cold magic in your universe.
While I have some sympathy for the “magic as chaos” philosophy that N.K. Jemisin prefers, deep down in my heart, I like magic with rules, rigor, consequences and costs.
I knew A’ndrea’s monograph would appeal to you! 😉