A young female witch in a study with a glowing magical book

One of the things I like the most about fiction is how it allows us to play with new ideas, and understand things in new ways. Recently I have begun reading The Stormlight Archive series by the very talented Brian Sanderson.

It is a rich and detailed world, and what I like about Sanderson as an author is that he tends to use systems of hard magic. Hard magic in a fictional setting means it has defined rules and boundaries. It’s not like so many fantasy novels where magic can do anything. There are limits, and those limits can be defined by things like what material resources you have available. Instead of being able to conjure and apparate, your magic might be limited to forces that push or pull. The cleverness is then how the characters use those limited sets of magic.

The Stormlight Archive is interesting because of the Spirits, in this series called Spren, and their nature. They exist in another dimension, and have limited access to ours. What makes the Spren interesting is that in their dimension, they are beings of pure concepts. Concepts like fire, storms, and objects like chairs and trees. In our world, we make a tree into a table. But in the world of the Spren, there is a little bubble of the concept of a tree, and it takes a long time for humans interacting with that table, for the bubble to become the concept of a table.

Complicated and abstract right? It gets better. Some of the concept beings, the Spren, are not just of material things, they can also be beings of ideas like honor, fear, bravery or pain. Moreso there is interaction between these dimensions, sometimes consciously and sometimes not. So for example when a human feels fear, fearspren bubble up around their feet. When wind blows, windspren dance on the currents. Those with certain talents can move their mind to the other dimension, and by talking the concept of a stone to become the concept of bread, in this world the stone becomes bread. Some, with other talents, might be able to convince the Spren to come here and help them with special strength and ability, calling on the Spren of Honor to empower them.

By now you might be asking, that’s nice Jim, but why are you telling us this? Because believe it or not, this has application in your magic and ritual as well. While we as humans might have a hard magic system of limitations, preventing us from Harry Potter style magic, we don’t need to make our magic HARD.

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