One of the elements of the Shine Cycle, my series of novels-in-progress (and novels-in-preparation), that makes it distinctly a fantasy series is what I call “applied metaphysics.”
In most fantasy this is simply called “magic,” “sorcery,” or some such term; in science fiction it would most likely be called “psi.” But all the (human) people in the world of the Shine Cycle come, by ancestry or migration, originally from our world, and as a Christian I believe that magic, sorcery, witchcraft, wizardry, divination, and probably some other terms I can’t remember are forbidden.
Many authors writing Christian fantasy (or, more specifically, fantasy about Christian characters) have gotten around this by, in essence, saying, “Different world, different rules.” Excellent examples include Randall Garrett’s stories about Lord Darcy and Christopher Stasheff’s Her Majesty’s Wizard (which has the basic premise of a world that is as medieval Catholics thought the world was). And I can also imagine someone writing a compelling story a la Potok’s My Name Is Asher Lev. But none of those alternatives fit the story I feel called to tell.
The view of the matter I’m going with is that “sorcery,” “witchcraft,” “wizardry,” “magic,” and other similar words are technical terms for forbidden forms of what I’m calling “applied metaphysics.” Specifically, they are forbidden either because they derive their power from some forbidden source (basically, anyone but God), or because they work coercively—or, to summarize both categories, they are attempts to get around our utter dependence on God. The only two forms of “applied metaphysics” that are not forbidden are miracles (which are generally not human-directed anyway) and what I usually call “the Power.” Those who exercise this power are called “mages.”
How this works varies from mage to mage, but in general the Power is mostly a matter of persuading, and metaphysically assisting, the universe to do things, or be, a particular way. Most “power” is simply credibility (as a divine ambassador), or perhaps “political capital,” and as such is more dependent on faith, holiness, and righteousness than on education, charisma, even intelligence, or any of the other traits that would otherwise be crucial. (Not that intelligence or education is by any means unimportant.) In contrast to the forbidden forms, the Power makes a mage even more obviously dependent on God for day-to-day work than someone in any other occupation; God sends the rain on the unjust as well as the just, and gives breath to the atheist as well as to the devout Christian, but, as the heroine of one of my novels discovers (in the background events summarized in the book’s prologue), a mage who decides to stop listening to the Holy Spirit on a subject will be unable to work.
One of the near-constants of applied metaphysics in my fiction is that doing something metaphysically is often, perhaps usually, harder and more expensive than the “mundane” way of doing it; if it isn’t, that usually means there’s a far cheaper and easier method that hasn’t been discovered yet. On the other hand, metaphysical workings can often be more effective and lasting (and needing less maintenance) than the alternative. This creates, or at least reinforces, a trade-off: “cheap, easy, or effective: choose at most one.”
I’ll write more about this in some later essay. But for now: thoughts?