Hey Mythcreants, I have an oppressed mages question for you. You’ve correctly mentioned that real victims of witch hunts didn’t have any supernatural powers to defend themselves, but it was often believed that they did by those conducting the hunt, be they state officials, clergy, or angry mobs. While there were many factors at play, religious beliefs often held that witchcraft was real and aligned with demonic forces, particularly in Europe and Colonial America. 

Given that, could real mages be forced to operate in secret because of religious zeal against witchcraft? The mages here would be few in number and have powers minor enough not to make them invulnerable against mundane humans. 


Hey Anon, thanks for writing in! 

What you’re describing is a classic oppressed-mage scenario, and to understand the issue with it, we have to zoom out a bit. By default, it’s easy to imagine a situation where we take real witch hunts and then give the Salem 25 some minor magical powers. Depending on what the powers are, that very well might not be enough to save them. 

This is where we have to take a step back and consider how the existence of these powers would affect the world of our story. Most importantly, the religious zeal against magic would not have formed in the first place if magic were real. Magic would have been incorporated into religious doctrine because, like any human organization, churches know better than to discard something so useful. 

Likewise, magical individuals would be able to use their powers to gain social and financial clout for their entire lives, not just the moment they’re accused of witchcraft. This advantage would build up over generations, the same way regular wealth does. Mages wouldn’t be the pariahs targeted by real witch hunts; they would be influential pillars of the community. 

Things might be different if you have a world where magic has only recently appeared. If there’s an existing prejudice against imagined magic, that could very well be turned against the newly awakened real mages as well. But this phase is also unlikely to last long. Just about every religion on Earth is happy to accept supernatural powers into its belief system so long as they’re presented properly, including medieval Christianity. 

Once the usefulness of magic was clear, it’s likely that church leaders would find ways to justify it as being a divine blessing of some sort, so they could make use of this new power for the church’s benefit. This is doubly true because it’s unlikely that any recently arrived magic would only appear in the social outcasts that usually get targeted by real witch hunts. Even if it somehow did, they would still be targets primarily because of their outcast status, not their supernatural powers.

If you want a fantasy story with similar aesthetics to a classic witch hunt, the best solution is for one group of mages to be hunting another. You could have one dominant form of magic, and anyone who practices a different form is considered heretical. This is both useful for explaining how mages can be hunted in the first place, since the hunters have their own powers, but it also keeps the broader social dynamics intact, as it avoids the inherent problem of the powerful being oppressed by those with less power. 

Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your writing! 

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