Hey, Mythcreants, I’m planning a new story, and I’d like to know if it falls into the “oppressed mages” trope or not.

Here’s the situation. A powerful empire has recently conquered a small tribe on its border. Both groups practice necromancy as their main form of magic, but they have different rules and taboos. For the empire, animating dead flesh is totally acceptable, but summoning a dead person’s spirit is forbidden in most circumstances. For the tribe, calling on a dead person’s spirit is normal and an important part of their rituals, but animating dead flesh is a big no-no.

I’m imagining that the empire persecutes the tribe, particularly the tribes mages, because they practice what the empire considers to be forbidden magic. This is also at least partly a religious matter, as the magic of both groups is strongly tied to their beliefs, and the imperial religion would very much like to convert the tribe.

Does this count as oppressed mages, and is there anything else I should be careful of?


Hey Anon, great to hear from you!

From what you told me, this does not at all sound like an oppressed mages premise. The defining feature of oppressed mages is that people are persecuted specifically for having magic, usually by those without magic.

That doesn’t seem to be what’s happening here. Instead, you have a political conflict where a powerful empire has conquered a less powerful group and is now forcing their beliefs on that group. The imperials go after the conquered leaders not because they hate magic, but because they know the leaders have the greatest capacity to resist.   

This sort of thing is all too common in history. Christian missionaries would often target non-Christian priests not because Christians hated religious leaders, but because it was easier to convert people if their leaders were taken out of the picture.

Also, can I just say this sounds like a super cool premise for a story? I am really into this dynamic between one group that animates the flesh while shunning the spirit and another group that does the opposite. Fantastic theming there.

One thing to consider, if you haven’t already: what underlying conflict is driving this fight over magical beliefs? Since religion is the clear parallel, this is good to keep in mind. Historically, religion was almost always a cover for conflicts over more tangible resources, even if the people involved were totally sincere in their faith.

For example, most soldiers in the First Crusade absolutely believed they were reclaiming the Holy Land for Christ. When they said “deus vult,” they meant it. However, the crusade was only launched in the first place because powerful people saw something to gain. The Byzantine Empire saw a chance to retake lost territory. The Pope saw a chance to reduce conflict between Christian states (by reducing the supply of armed men) and to legitimize himself. European lords, especially the Normans, saw a chance to carve out new kingdoms for themselves.

In your story, the conflict could be a lot simpler. The empire might just want the land of this other group, for economic or strategic value, and assimilating them into the imperial religion is an important step in that process. That’s just one possibility, but it’s good to have in the back of your mind, whatever you come up with.

As for other problematic content, nothing you’ve told me is bringing up any red flags. One thing to keep in mind is that readers are very likely to think that summoning a person’s spirit or consciousness should require consent, while opinions will be split over the use of a person’s body after death. The spirit is clearly “alive” for lack of a better term, forcing it to do things would be a major jerk move. Meanwhile, whether a person retains rights to their corpse after death is a lot more divisive.

However, it sounds like the persecuted group does get consent when they work with spirits, or at least they’re supposed to, so that’s probably not going to be a problem.

Good luck with your story, it sounds awesome!

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