A soul is a complicated magical structure associated with life and sapience. Though the structure and certain functions of souls are well-understood, its exact relationship with sapience is still unclear. This article will cover both what is known and what is not known in some detail
Where Souls are Found
Souls can be found in several different places, but the most obvious is their association with sapient beings. With occasional exceptions, every sapient being has a soul of their own. The criteria for what qualifies as a sapient being is fairly broad; according to the leading theory in Atlantis, the key criteria is whether the being is capable of learning (as distinct from memorization), though there are disputes over what other criteria are required to attain a soul.
In addition to the obvious sapient beings, each celestial body has the potential to have a soul. Exactly how they meet the criteria is less clear (most researchers do not try to argue that planets are capable of learning); perhaps they qualify under a separate set of criteria. In the Sol system, all the classical planets plus Earth itself are known to have a soul; the others are far enough out that the possibility has yet to be investigated.
It’s even possible under certain circumstances for ordinary objects to attain a soul. This is mainly prevalent in Japan, and seems to occur when the object has been consistently cherished for more than a hundred years. Few examples of this phenomenon (called tsukumogami in Japan) are known outside the East Asia, and it’s not all that common even there.
Finally, there exist a small number of disembodied souls. Some of these are just regular souls which once had a body but for some reason did not move on when they lost it. However, a few of them, known as the Great Powers, have power greatly eclipsing that of any mortal. While it is difficult to pin down the exact number of Great Powers, most estimates put it at either six or seven.
Broadly speaking, a soul can be divided into three distinct parts: the heart, a collection of nodes (also called chakras), and the aura.
The soul starts out as just a small blob assigned to a being the start of life1, but quickly (over the course of a few days) grows the structure of a full soul.
The heart of the soul, often called the soulheart to distinguish it from the physical heart, is a naturally-occurring Well of magical power with elastic properties – merely drawing power from the soulheart will ever so slightly expand its capacity, a property not shared by any known artificial Wells2.
Broad power channels known as heartlines connect the soulheart with its own keynodes. Heartlines can also connect the hearts of unrelated souls, which is the first step in a process known as soulmelding. Links between specific nodes of unrelated souls are also possible.
The Node Network
Every soul has a network of nodes, each of which corresponds to a specific point on the being’s body. A small number of these nodes are keynodes, which are connected to the heart by the heartlines.
Each of the keynodes is the source of one or more leylines which extend outward from the node in both directions, travelling in a straight line while trying to pass through as many other nodes as possible. Note however that the definition of a straight line is dependent on the entity in possession of the soul; for example, a planet’s leylines confirm to great circle arcs, while a human’s conform to the angles of the body, bending at the knee or elbow.
Sometimes, two or more leylines will cross at the same node. Such a node is called a nexus; since it takes in power from multiple leylines, it has more power at its disposal. A keynode is only a nexus if at least one leyline crosses it – being the origin of multiple leylines does not qualify it as a nexus.
Occasionally, especially in flexible beings, a node can become misaligned and stop receiving power from the leylines. Though this has no significant effects for regular people, in mages it can lead to strange misfires when casting or, in extreme cases, an inability to draw power from their soul at all (preventing any spellcasting unless they have alternate sources of power, such as leeching).
The aura is the outermost part of the soul, consisting of magic that leaks out from the leylines to form a sort of cloud surrounding the person. Normally, the aura is pretty faint. A novice mage tends to leak more magic, leading to a denser aura, but once they become skilled enough to draw that magic back into the heart, their aura becomes almost nonexistent. The aura can to some degree serve as a storage place for excess power that cannot fit in the heart, for example as a result of magical leeching, though even the aura has a limit on how much power will fit within it. Magical power leaking out from the aura is no longer under the control of any mind and may cause unpredictable effects.
Some souls have additional Wells attached to them, in a sort of orbit. These are called stub nodes, to distinguish them from the true nodes. The most common type of stub node is a Gift node, which is a rigid Well containing the power of the Gift granted to that person, generally through inheritance from a parent. Other types of magic may also be found in stub nodes, typically elemental, craft, or affinity magics. Occasionally even antimagic stub nodes are found. It is extremely rare for a soul to have more than one stub node.
If a mage draws too deeply from their stub-node, beyond the point that the Well is able to sustain, the node collapses as the mage drains the magic from its supporting structure. The remnants of the stub node will then collapse upon the soulheart, forming a “hard” shell that makes it difficult to tap into the heart’s power, as well as interfering with the regular flow of power from the heart. This is a condition known as burnout. Burnout can be a traumatic experience, and some mages die from the shock, but those who survive will find they can no longer wield magic. The only known way to get through the shell of a collapsed stub node is to carefully leech away at it.
Any mage can tap directly into the power of the soulheart to power their magic, but those with a stubnode usually find it easier to tap the stubnode instead of the heart. This often allows more control, as well.
Even mages without a stub node can experience burn-out, but this is an even more traumatic experience - the survival rate is essentially nil (though it’s not impossible). Burning out the soulheart causes the entire soul to collapse, after which any remnants vanish the same as if the person had died.
If someone survives burn-out of the soulheart, it is equivalent to having been born without a soul in the first place. It means they cannot channel power in any form other than leeching from the environment.
The term “link” in soul magic refers to any kind of link between nodes of different souls. Some such links form naturally over time in response to emotions; others are forged by magical spells, rituals, or contracts. The fae commonly use links to form contracts with humans. Some common links include:
- A druid or priest(ess) link, which connects the crown node of a human (or equivalent for another species) to one of the keynodes of a celestial body. On Earth, the term “druid” is used for those who have a link with the Earth, while “priest” or “priestess” is a term applied to those with a link to other celestial bodies. Note that the terms “priest” and “priestess” do not imply this kind of link unless accompanied by a specification of the body linked to (eg a “moon priestess” or a “sun priest”).
- The spirit link connects a human’s root node to the spirit’s crown node. (A spirit is an astral projection of a qalinor, and as such has a soul of its own with a very similar structure to a human’s.)
- Bonds of love and friendship typically manifest as a heart to heart link.
- A love potion typically forges a weak sacral to sacral link.
- A familiar bond is usually a soul link, but the nodes involved can vary. If the master has near-total control over the familiar, that’s the slavery link of brow to root. Though it may sound bad, in fact this is the only way to bind an insect as a familiar (indeed, insects only have two nodes, the root and the crown). It’s also sometimes used for mammalian, avian, or reptilian familiars. While it can be used for intelligent familiars, you would have to trick them into accepting the terms. For intelligent familiars, a brow to solar link is more common; this is also more beneficial to the master, as it allows them to use some of the familiar’s power directly.
- The marker link, which allows you to keep track of an individual’s movements, is a brow to base link.
- Twins are sometimes born with a brow to brow link that allows them to communicate without words to some extent.
A meld (or soulmeld) is different from a link. Rather than building a bridge or connection between the souls, it brings them together to intermingle. The soulmeld is the favoured weapon of the kakodaimon, which uses it to absorb souls and gain power. Since fae have “larger” souls than humans, the kakodaimon’s soul dominates and subsumes the human’s soul, allowing the kakodaimon to mostly retain its own personality after the merger. If two humans were to soulmeld, the result would be a new entity with some personality traits from both sides but often expressed in different ways.
A complete soulmeld such as devils use is almost impossible to reverse. It’s possible to take the melded soul and split it back up into two separate souls, but the difficulty lies in determining which parts belong to which soul. Normally, an attempt to do this would produce two entities different from the original two, with some of their personality traits shuffled. However, if you have two or more people who know one of the original melded people very well, this can be used to produce an effective heuristic for splitting the soul up with high accuracy. It’s still not perfect, but usually you will end up with two entities that are more or less recognizable as the original melded people.
When two people meld their souls, that does not necessarily mean that the entire soul structure of both people is combined into a single structured soul, though this is certainly possible. More often, what happens is that just the hearts are merged into one, and then a special node replaces the heart in one (or both) of the two souls, connected to the real heart by a heartline. This subsidiary pseudo-heart is sometimes called a heartnode or soulnode; another term for it is a branch-heart.
While complete soulmelds are almost impossible to reverse, with some care it’s possible to produce a partial soulmeld with a sort of barrier preventing the souls from actually mixing. Where a complete meld is like mixing milk and coffee, the partial node is more like mixing oil and water – it’s filling up a single container, but it’s not truly mixing together. The thicker the barrier, the less likely the souls are to get mixed up, but this also lessens the effect of the meld. Partial soulmelds can be classified into five levels:
- The participants in the meld share any touch-based sensations as if they were on their own body. This includes pain, pressure, and heat.
- The participants in the meld share all physical sensations, including touch but also sight, taste, smell, and hearing. Any participant will see the vision of all participants simultaneously, which may make it difficult to navigate if you are unused to the sensation.
- In addition to physical sensations, the participants in the meld will share psychic sensations such as second sight, telepathy, or intuitions.
- In addition to all sensations, the participants will feel each other’s base emotions as if they were there own. This includes fear, lust, or pleasure.
- Participants in the meld share all sensations and emotions, including anger, happiness, and so forth. At this point, if the meld is kept active for too long, individual identity can start to fade. If this happens, there is a chance that the meld-barrier will rupture and the meld will become complete.
Though modern mages essentially take the soul’s structure for granted, conway sages and some of the oldest trees of life still remember a time before they were structured – when the soul was little more than a formless blob of magic that would attach itself to sapient beings. According to these sages, the structured soul was designed by a mysterious race known as the tlalfarans, who granted it to all beings in a massive spell that brought down their entire civilization. No trace of said civilization has ever been found, so some of the younger races are understandably skeptical, yet the conway sages are adamant that it is the truth.
This moment depends on the type of being, and can even vary from individual to individual. For animals which give birth to live young, it’s around the moment of birth. For animals that lay eggs, it’s around the moment of hatching. For plants, it’s around the moment the seeds starts to sprout. For species that reproduce asexually by budding or similar mechanisms, it’s around the moment the bud finishes separating from the parent. For electronic entities it can vary quite a bit more, but typically coincides with the system being booted up; however, especially for entities designed by another sapient race, it may not happen at first boot. ↩
Here I specifically mean artificial Wells that are not also the hearts of souls, for artificial souls have been successfully crafted. ↩