Encyclopaedia Arcana #59: Normals and Magic (Part Five)

The final part of this series will look at the ways in which a normal’s attitudes towards magic can change.

The Shallows and the Depths

Most apprentices (and more mages than should really be the case) view the categories of normal and sensitive as fixed and unchanging, like whether you’re born with blue or brown eyes.  The reality is more complicated – like most distinctions in magic, the categories of normal and sensitive are continuous ones.  There’s no clear point at which a normal stops being a normal and starts being a sensitive, just a gradual shift.

Imagine a swimming pool.  The deep end is very deep, so much so that you’re very unlikely to ever reach the bottom, while the shallow end is only a few inches.  Since the deep end has so much more volume, it contains a lot more water, although most of that water is hidden beneath the surface.  By comparison, the shallow end contains very little.  The shallow end of the pool is the sensitives, and the deeps are the normals.

Normals from the deep end are the ones who are completely unable to perceive magic.  Sensitives from the shallow end are the ones who can sense magic just fine, and are going to perceive it regardless of whether anyone shows it to them or not.  Then you have all the people in between, who aren’t one extreme or the other.  The interesting question is:  can you move around in the pool?

The short answer is “yes, but”.  It can happen, but there are forces that work against it.

Open Your Eyes

The most common way in which normals move towards the more “magic-y” end of the pool is by gradual exposure.  The more time a normal spends around magical effects, adepts and mages, and the accessories of magic, the more they tend to absorb the associated way of looking at the world.  Even just hanging around with those who can perceive magic, such as sensitives, can have an effect.  A normal who does this isn’t going to suddenly start casting spells, but they can slowly learn to perceive some of what sensitives do.

This, however, assumes that they want to perceive what sensitives do.  The simple fact is that in the vast majority of cases, if a normal doesn’t want to become more sensitive, no-one’s going to make them.  Learning to sense magic (and developing the ability once you have it) takes time and effort, generally for no very obvious reward.  It doesn’t help that most normals tend to find sensitives and adepts weird at best and actively disturbing at worst.

Another thing to consider is numbers.  Adepts are rare, and mages are rarer still.  Statistically, most normals are not going to grow up sharing any kind of close relationship with anyone able to use magic, even if adepts and mages were equally distributed throughout the population and equally likely to hang out with normals as they are with each other (which they’re not).  With no-one to act as a pointer towards the magical world, there’s little likelihood that a normal without a connection to it is going to get one.  As they age they become more set in their ways, and correspondingly less likely to seek out something new.

Shock Treatment

Every now and again a mage or adept will (for one reason or another) want to explain the magical facts of life to a normal.  As mentioned above, the best way to do this is gradually and incrementally, over months or years.  In practice, relatively few mages are likely to have a sufficient supply of time and motivation to do this.  For those in a hurry or less inclined to diplomacy, there’s always the direct approach.

The direct approach has the merit of being fast.  If applied with sufficient vigour, it’s also quite effective at getting a normal’s attention.  The downside is that introducing said normal to the magical world in this manner tends to have negative psychological consequences.  Most normals will react to visible spellcasting with disbelief – breaking through that disbelief usually requires extreme measures, enough to push said normal all the way through “disbelief” and out the other side into “unrestrained panic”.  When the panic wears off, the normal is as likely to pass the whole thing off as a hallucination or mental breakdown as anything else.

If the mage persists, it’s possible that they’ll forcibly relocate the normal into a “shallower” category.  However, it’s just as likely that the normal will respond with fear, hostility, or both.  Such reactions may be entirely justified – even aside from the obvious reasons to be scared of magic-users, a normal who does make the radical mental shift to come to believe in magic is likely to have trouble readjusting to their ordinary life afterwards.  In many cases they really are better off not knowing.

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