Encyclopaedia Arcana #57: Normals and Magic (Part Three)

Normals are not a homogenous mass, and while they share the trait of being unable to perceive magic (well, mostly) they vary in just about every other way.  It’s worth looking briefly at some of the more obvious subcategories of how normals behave towards the magical.

As a very rough approximation, normals can be categorised along two axes:  how skeptical or credulous they are, and their degree of sensitivity or insensitivity to magic.

Insensitive, Skeptical

These are the normals that mages tend to think of when they use the word ‘normal’ – or to be more accurate, they’re the closest match to the stereotype that mages have of them.  The popular conception is of the rationalist, skeptical normal, who believes in science and positivism and is scornful of anything mystical or fantastic.

The stereotype is a little inaccurate.  While some normals do match this reputation, the skeptical rationalists are in reality a very definite minority, though an influential one.  They tend to be from the ‘deep end’ of the normal pool, making them even more difficult than usual to convince of anything magical, and they’re the main reason that the Council has so little trouble maintaining the secrecy of magic.

Since false reports of magic and other supernatural occurrences vastly outnumber true ones, this means that when skeptical normals dismiss claims of magic, they’re right far more often than they’re wrong (which further reinforces their own beliefs in turn).

Insensitive, Neutral

The majority of normals fall somewhere in the middle of the skepticism axis.  They’re unlikely to believe in magic, but they’re not ideologically committed to disproving its existence either.  People like this tend to have room in their worldview for supernatural things of some kind – they might not actively believe in them, but they’re usually willing to entertain the possibility that there might be something there.

However, there’s a big difference between entertaining a possibility and taking it seriously.  A normal might read a story about fire mages controlling heat and flame and not automatically disbelieve it, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to have any effect on how they act in everyday life.  If their house catches fire, they’re not going to go looking for a fire mage, they’re going to call the fire service.  Likewise, if they do happen to see something magical, they’re easily convinced by a mundane explanation.  It’s possible to make these kinds of normal half-believe in magic, at least temporarily, but it generally doesn’t stick.

Insensitive, Widely Credulous

Not all normals are skeptical and rational.  Some are the exact opposite.

In any society there are a certain fraction of people who believe in stuff that is, for want of a better word, questionable – astrology as a predictor of daily life, ghosts and hauntings, memories of past lives, witchcraft, and many, many others.  Sometimes these beliefs have something to them, but as a general rule the conviction with which they’re held is completely unrelated to the likelihood of their being true.  Credulous normals believe a lot of things, and they’re usually keen to share them.

Mages tend to avoid widely credulous normals.  While they’re more likely to believe in magic, it’s not because they’re perceptive, it’s just because they have really low standards.  They usually make a bad impression on anyone who doesn’t share the same traits, and mages dislike being lumped in with the con-men, quacks, and frauds that cater to these people.  On top of that, it’s quite possible for a normal to have this mindset and yet still have the same aversion to magic as the skeptics – which means that they’ll believe absolutely every paranormal explanation out there except the one that’s actually true.  Most mages find this intensely irritating.

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One Response to Encyclopaedia Arcana #57: Normals and Magic (Part Three)

  1. Nepene says:

    Fun article. On this subject.

    Insensitive, Widely Credulous- How I imagine it going…

    • Approach #6: Repeated Eyewitness Evidence

    Mage: “That’s three fireballs, two flame blades, and I just used a blowtorch on my hand. Do you believe me yet?”
    Normal: “Yes, I believe you. You can throw fireballs…”
    Mage: “Thank you, I’m glad I finally convinced you, this was getting really frustrating, you just wouldn’t believe…”
    Normal: “…And I think you need to stop. D&D isn’t a game. It’s an obsession. I don’t like what it’s doing to you.”
    Mage: “… What?”
    Normal: “I was always worried this would happened. Chick warned me. I know you got your powers through your dark rituals in your D&D games. I know that’s why you spend so many evenings away when you should be with me.”
    Mage:” “… No er, the power’s natural and nothing…”
    Normal: “Don’t worry. I found someone who can help you. I took out an ad in the papers and he agreed to come for a very reasonable fee. Merrin!”
    Man in priestly attire walks in, holding a large silver crucifix. Throws chilli pepper in Mage’s face.
    Fraudster: “The power of Christ compels you!”
    • Approach #7: Loss Of Temper