Do you know where you are right now?

A better question is: do you know how you know where you are right now?

What’s happening is that your body is providing haptic feedback to your brain. That is, you have a sensation of touch from your skin, and your joints are also sending signals to your brain, to tell your brain what configuration they are in. You are within that bundle of sensations.

Except if something’s gone wrong which is happening to me today. I woke up this morning with the distinct sensation that I was about two feet behind and one foot above where I physically am. This is due to a pre-existing psychological condition, or because of an inner ear infection.

While I was lying here on my side (not on my back because that gave me the sensation that I was inside mattress which is particularly uncomfortable psychologically) I thought about the tripartite nature of the individual in Ars Magica. In Ars Magica, the person is made out of three parts: the physical body, the soul, and the energy that runs the body under the soul’s direction. Animals don’t have souls, but they do have this other energy which is why it’s sometimes called the animal spirit. The animal spirit is the part of the self that becomes the ghost when the person dies.

So what I’m experiencing at the moment is, from an Ars Magica perspective, a mild out of body experience. That is: I’m experiencing my personhood being separated from my physical body, if only by the couple of feet. This is an unusual sensation. It’s quite fun actually. It’s been giving me some thoughts about how different things in Ars Magica work.

Spirits have to act through physical objects. All spiritual forces require physical objects: even God. This is why each the Sacraments has a physical object attached to it. You are reconciled with God through the Mass and that involves wine and bread. Actually in the medieval period, it’s just bread in many area, under the doctrine that the blood is within the body. Marriage rings are given and received. Water in baptism. Oil in ultimate unction. A physical object is necessary to carry the spiritual force.

Similarly when an elemental appears, it’s not made of magical energy. The body of the elemental is material fire, or earth, or water, or air. Spiritual energy animates it, but it needs a physical sheath to interact with the material world. It doesn’t have a soul but it has a a mystical spirit, which is taking the place of the animal spirit.

When an elemental emerges in the world it constructs of a body out of nearby elemental matter Demons do the same actually: demons don’t bring their bodies with them from Hell. They construct bodies for themselves out of the subtle moisture of the material world. The vis they leave behind – the physical remnant after they are defeated – can’t be something they’ve bought with them. It’s something material that they have tainted, or in the case of magical creatures that that have purified and bought closer to that Mystical Realm, by inhabiting it.  In a sense it’s the presence off the spirit that turns things into vis. Faeries do the same thing when the anchor themselves into a physical object.

At the moment I’m having trouble touching things in a sort of reflexive or automatic way. I bonked myself in the nose while trying to eat breakfast this morning because my sensation of the spoon’s location was somewhat above where the spoon actually was. Usually it’s fine so long as I’m getting strong feedback by pushing against objects, or when I can see my hands and feet. This is why I could use my phone but not touch type.

This is giving me some thoughts about when your characters are using magic to control objects at a distance. Are they getting haptic feedback? I don’t think you are, which must make it difficult to use some skills at a distance. If you are picking a lock, can you feel the tumblers move? (I realise in period we don’t have tumblers but it’s just an example.) When you’re picking pockets using a spell that allows you to touch things at a distance, can you feel the coins? I really don’t think you can. Perhaps you could through some sort of Mentem Requisite. What you’re doing is a direct imposition of will on the universe by controlling an airy spirit .Spell casting either controls, or create temporary, spirits. I don’t think the temporary spirits mind being temporary.

In Ars Magica ghosts have a final buiness which allows them to rest when complete. What does resting mean? Does the ghost go to Heaven with the soul? I don’t think it does. So that would mean that it just goes into the grave to decay with the body. In Chinese folklore that energy can sometimes cause the body to reanimate and become a vampire, or can animate nearby objects. On the Final Day, when the new Earth is made, people believe that the dead reincarnate. They are not pure souls in Heaven. In the medieval interpretation people come back from the dead in physical form, with perfected bodies. Even these bodies need to be controlled by the soul through the mechanism of the animal spirit, so the ghost must persist in the grave. It can’t be in Heaven because only the saints are in Heaven before the Judgement.

This explains why you can contact the ghosts of those who have not had Church burial. It’s still around.  This explains one of the odd things in the Ars Magica game about the use of Arcane Connections. Most types of arcane connection stop working after a time, however if you find the bone of a dead person it doesn’t really matter how long they’ve been dead: you can still call up the ghost. Bones don’t stop working in the way that, say, fingernails stop working. Ghosts are in some sense special. Ghosts are an eternal thing which are deliberately waiting until the end of time: They are designed by the Creator not to wear out. Necromancers rejoice! God has done you a solid!

Haptic feedback works differently in spells than using a VR gauntlet. Your character when controlling things to distance probably can’t feel the surface texture of those things for example. At the moment I’m technically having an out of body experience, so my judgement maybe slightly askew.

There is a cult of Criamon magi who have the ability to extricate themselves from the body, so that the spirit can run around and do things. It requires a physical body when it’s actually interacting with the world. This is called the phantasticum and is constructed out of ambient nearby matter. It happens to look like the body off the person, because that’s how the ghost imagines itself, however there are cases where it doesn’t look like that . One of the explanations of lycanthropes is that the ghost incarnates as the person’s. totemic animal.  At the moment I don’t feel like a totemic animal. My favourite animal is technically the frog: I’m not feeling particularly Kermit at this point, but may play my dulcimer.

So let’s summarise. Personhood has three parts in Ars Magica: the body, the spirit, and the soul. Personhood of mystical creatures lacks the soul, because the soul is an imprint specific to humans granted by God. Mystical creatures are a physical embodiments of animal spirits, which is  analogous to the human spirit. Even ghosts, when they’re interacting with the real world, take on a temporary physicality and by taking on a temporary physicality they draw in material substance. This matter is drawn closer to their Realm of Power, which remakes the substance and embeds vis in it. Spells which allow you to control things at a distance are done by puppeteering a mystic spirit. You likely don’t have haptic feedback, which prevents you using skills at a distance, even with things like Rego magic, although you may be able to work around that.


4 replies on “Ruminations on ghosts

  1. I think feedback would require a Intelligo requisite, rather than a Mentem requisite, don’t you?
    You’re collecting information, using senses at a distance, that’s usually Intelligo, not Mentem.


  2. Where is the thing about the bones being indefinite connections? Thinking they aren’t has been a bother to me, so I’d really like the reference.


    1. We discussed it when I was writing the Tremere necromancers: it’s a known early mistake that has to be grandfathered in, because too many of us have used it since.


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