Gaze no more in the bitter glass
The demons, with their subtle guile,
Lift up before us when they pass,
Or only gaze a little while;
For there a fatal image grows
That the stormy night receives,
Roots half hidden under snows,
Broken boughs and blackened leaves.
For all things turn to barrenness
In the dim glass the demons hold,
The glass of outer weariness,
Made when God slept in times of old.
There, through the broken branches, go
The ravens of unresting thought;
Flying, crying, to and fro,
Cruel claw and hungry throat,
Or else they stand and sniff the wind,
And shake their ragged wings; alas!
Thy tender eyes grow all unkind:
Gaze no more in the bitter glass.
– Yeats, from “The Two Trees”
I recommend Lorenna McKennitt’s musical version of this poem.
Acedia is a sin of spiritual sloth. It is a listlessness, considered particularly troubling to those outside society (hermits, monks magi?), that is similar to depression. According to Hans Christian Andersen, it is caused by contamination by the parts of a shattered, magical mirror.
You must attend to the commencement of this story, for when we get to the end we shall know more than we do now about a very wicked hobgoblin; he was one of the very worst, for he was a real demon. One day, when he was in a merry mood, he made a looking-glass which had the power of making everything good or beautiful that was reflected in it almost shrink to nothing, while everything that was worthless and bad looked increased in size and worse than ever. The most lovely landscapes appeared like boiled spinach, and the people became hideous, and looked as if they stood on their heads and had no bodies. Their countenances were so distorted that no one could recognize them, and even one freckle on the face appeared to spread over the whole of the nose and mouth. The demon said this was very amusing. When a good or pious thought passed through the mind of any one it was misrepresented in the glass; and then how the demon laughed at his cunning invention. All who went to the demon’s school—for he kept a school—talked everywhere of the wonders they had seen, and declared that people could now, for the first time, see what the world and mankind were really like. They carried the glass about everywhere, till at last there was not a land nor a people who had not been looked at through this distorted mirror. They wanted even to fly with it up to heaven to see the angels, but the higher they flew the more slippery the glass became, and they could scarcely hold it, till at last it slipped from their hands, fell to the earth, and was broken into millions of pieces. But now the looking-glass caused more unhappiness than ever, for some of the fragments were not so large as a grain of sand, and they flew about the world into every country. When one of these tiny atoms flew into a person’s eye, it stuck there unknown to him, and from that moment he saw everything through a distorted medium, or could see only the worst side of what he looked at, for even the smallest fragment retained the same power which had belonged to the whole mirror. Some few persons even got a fragment of the looking-glass in their hearts, and this was very terrible, for their hearts became cold like a lump of ice. A few of the pieces were so large that they could be used as window-panes; it would have been a sad thing to look at our friends through them. Other pieces were made into spectacles; this was dreadful for those who wore them, for they could see nothing either rightly or justly. At all this the wicked demon laughed till his sides shook—it tickled him so to see the mischief he had done. There were still a number of these little fragments of glass floating about in the air, and now you shall hear what happened with one of them.
from “The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen”
No further quotation is required, in brief, a grain of the glass catches in the eye of a boy. He becomes so cold-hearted that the Snow Queen, a potent faerie claims him. The girl next door, who loves the boy, goes on a quest, awakens the True Love Virtue, and the boy regains the ability to cry, which washes out the grain of glass, saving him. They return to their lives, marry and are happy.
In my first few attempts to convert this to Ars Magica, I wanted to design the demon, or the snow queen, or a horde of tiny contagious demons, but I don’t think any of that is necessary. I think the grains are a new sort of Infernal vis, which I’ll term vis malevola.
Vis malevola has few sources, but can apparently be widely scattered. It acts as vis infesta (see Realms of Power : the Infernal, p. 38) with the following additional qualities:
A person under the effect of a piece of vis malevola
* gains the Personality trait: Acedia +1.
* gains 1 Experience in the Acedia Personality trait each time the character makes a Personality trait roll, or player choice, that supports the acedic mindset.
* cannot see happy or good things. This is represented as a penalty equal to the Acedia trait on all Personality trait rolls that oppose acedia.
If the piece of vis malevola is removed, the Acedia trait ceases to increase, and can be decreased via opposed rolls, much as other traits. Alternatively, it can be removed entirely by the aid of the Divine. Those suffering from mystical acedia, however, often cannot see the point in seeking Divine assistance, as they are unable to see the good in, or use of, anything. In the original story the boy is saved by True Love, which is an emendation of the Divine.
As a great lover of faerie stories, I’m struck by the question of how much the Snow Queen knows. She’s on the side of the angels here, at least in the sense that C.S. Lewis, in his younger and less empathetic years, would have classified her as delivering the chisel strokes of God, which hurt us so much, but bring us to perfection. Is she a highly cognizant faerie forcing the victims of the plague to embrace True Love? Is she utterly incognizant, and merely adapted to her role by the environmental pressure of the vis malevola? Is she a tainted faerie that collects a tiend of souls for Hell?
If the mirror maker still has students and servants, what do they think of her meddling? What will they do, and how can she fight back? What horrors has the mirror maker created since?