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  • Writer's pictureMartin Vine

The Shape of Magic: Part IV – Green Magic

Updated: Aug 3, 2018

Hodor - Game of Thrones, Season 7

It’s been two months since I published the first The Shape of Magic post, and we have only covered one of the two dominant categories featured in The Waking World trilogy. No more distractions. It’s time to complete the circle and look at the magic beyond the age of god magic.

The latter is detailed in previous instalments; the former is more ancient and mystery-shrouded by far. Preceding the coming of Aethelron, it is more complex, more subtle, and much more difficult to explain. In a previous instalment, I may have named it earth magic, but even that is misleading. We are talking about a split between animal and vegetable subcategories, so a more accurate one might be bio magic. Whatever your fancy, those incarnations known as Baumensighre (plant) and Wilden (animal) have little in common with the god-born Whisper magic that so dominates Hopsotch’s adventure.

Until the conduit appears.

If I were to describe the fate of Dellreigh’s Sylt as a game, then Choral magic would be the wildcard. It may well be described as a third category of magic entirely – separate to the others, but both receptive and complimentary in nature. Chosen by the Angels Five, only one Choral mage ever walks the lands of Sylt at any given time, and then, only at one of most dire need. It is significant that the Choral mage plays as pivotal a role in the backstory of The Waking World trilogy, as much as the main stage. The author introduces ‘the song without words’ as early as Chapter 1, hinting at a benign entity with the power to hold back the darkness. Its source is revealed much later, but you won’t have to be a master analyst to figure it out sooner. No such detective work is required for the backstory songstress. From Book III, Chapter 12 – Detours and Deceptions:

The blue-robe peeled back the cover of Greighspan’s tome and began flicking through the pages. “Fractures 22.2,” he said, stopping abruptly to stab an index finger down on the open page.
Bartrem raised a nervous hand till his fingertips brushed the jacket. His mouth had gone dry from tongue to tonsils.
“Today’s lesson will be of Dewbreck Stormsonne and the ice maiden he named Whintergheist.”

Pivotal to the outcome of the Second Blighted War, Whintergheist is referenced often, but we learn little of her personal backstory. What matters is her presence as slave to Dewbreck, who manipulated her ability to join new magic to old. Our contemporary Whintergheist presents no such danger.

Provided he (or she) does not fall into the wrong hands.

Old magic

Is it as potent, as dangerous, as volatile as the new? The short answer is no, but with the author holding a wildcard, who can say. For the sake of brevity, we’ll cover the green (plant) magic in this post, with a promise to queue the beasty stuff next.

I struggled to find examples of green magic in pop culture, at least, outside the world of Disney. One that springs to mind can be found within the fantasy card game, Magic: The Gathering. In Magic, the green (Land) decks are often distinguished by a particular strategy: as fast as possible, fill your battlefield with expendable Saprolings – low-cost plant creature tokens – to use as cannon fodder and cheap blocking. It might not seem a winning strategy, particularly against a faster deck. Until you play a card that amplifies their power. Those harmless little 1:1 sprouts you have all lined up are suddenly transformed into an army of triffid-like soldiers, bent on destruction. Good times.

No need to mulligan. An army of Saprolings is primed to do violence on my behalf.

The three-eyed raven

Courting controversy here, but is there a more tedious story arc in Game of Thrones than Bran’s? I’ve read all the books, and watched all seven seasons of the HBO series. It took a painful long while to figure out where George was going with all this three-eyed raven/old gods malarkey.

[Warning! Spoiler alert] So what reward for all that effort and sacrifice? What did poor old Hodor die for? As it turned out, to reach the cave of the three-eyed raven so Bran could replace the retiring Greenseer and join the root tangle of the great weirwood. It seems kinda stupid, pointless, and not what any would-be mage might aspire to.

Until we realise how powerful he is.

On the surface level, green magic does not sound sexy, but burrow down and you'll discover it can be a true game-changer. Bran’s continent spanning awareness provided evidence of Littlefinger’s crimes, unifying Winterfell under Sansa Stark. More importantly, he gave the first warning that the whitewalkers had breached the wall. The three-eyed raven can also cast his mind back through time, observing (and maybe even influencing) pivotal moments of Westerosi history. A handy guy to have around.

Life as a three-eyed raven. It's not for everyone.


In the Waking World trilogy, the green magic serves a similar function, and is based on the same underlying principle – a connecting magic that leverages the interwoven root systems of all plant life. Baumensighre are blessed with the ability to manipulate this biomass, opening up pathways in between. They can see without eyes, taste without smell. From Book III, Chapter 8 – The Cabin:

The green pathways had opened, and the highland forest had welcomed him like an old friend. Her creaking boughs spoke to him with the unfiltered truth of millennia passed. Not a thing that hopped, crawled, ran or flew escaped its observance.
He had seen it all through eyes of green and brown and a thousand shades in between, eyes that were ancient before Aethelron ever graced this plane.

Baumensighre mages can’t shoot fireballs from their fingertips, or summon mighty storms to terrorise their enemies. But they can direct allies when friends are in peril, and unite them into a single unit. Powerful stuff, but how does such a pathway open to begin with?

Wriggling into a comfortable position, he leaned backward till his shoulders met the cool earth. Staring straight up, he followed the path of the trunk skyward.
“Join us, love us, be us!” went the song of the sky-kissed leaves.
Splaying his fingers wide, he [name removed] pushed both hands into the soft earth by his side, crying out as the night owl to its mate. It took but a few blinks of the eye for the tangle of wiry roots to enwrap his splayed fingers.

Baumensighre drift toward professions in which their ancient gift plays a role. That may be herbalists, arborists, or even humble farmers. A select few delve deeper into the art, and explore the inner working of plants to create potent toxins and medicines. Some have an even greater role to play. The greatest of all are those known as Druhirrim – the Guardian folk mentioned in Book I’s opening verse.

Did you know that Saprolings are technically fungi? True story (©Wizards of the Coast).

One final hope…

The Guardian folk. Who were they? What was their secret? Why would practitioners of the old magic dedicate their lives to Aethelron and his gift? Don’t ask the children of Broken Meadow. In their minds, the Guardians have become twisted into something cursed and malevolent – the Shriven, as they are spoken of in hushed playground whispers. It is Bartrem who first raises the subject on the glide-boat journey across Lake Whispermere. From Book I, Chapter 22 – Black Wings:

Some said they were the ghosts of the Blighted who fell at the battle for Sanufell – now commonly referred to as the Scouring – which sealed the fate of the Delgardian Empire at the close of the Second Blighted War. Some said they still wandered the hinterlands and deep, dark woods beyond the western shore of Lake Whispermere; that they were forest wraiths who stole children and lay curses on trespassers.

Thankfully, Grandpa Rand is on hand to absolve the youngsters of such nonsense. He knows very well what the Shriven are, and what they are doing in their mountain retreat beyond the high lake. Included in his master plan is one who counts himself among the brethren. We do not have to wait too long for an introduction. From Book I, Chapter 28 – The Ancient Pact:

High above Lake Whispermere, on a grass-covered bank by a rope bridge spanning Saddleslip Gorge, a worried Sylt sat and waited for the dawn. His body was covered in a full-length velvet robe of dark green with a covering that concealed his face. It was the finest of garments.
Trimming the sleeves, base and hood was an inch-wide black satin strip embroidered with a pattern representing the leaves of the sacred dreigh willow. A light pack rested on the ground by his right hip, and in his hand was held a narrow cylinder made of waxed card with a wooden cap at one end. Running the length of the cylinder – between the brass buckles that secured each end of the leather shoulder strap – were numerous small puncture holes. He clutched it as if it were the most important thing in the world.

The Guardians of the golden brood were handed the responsibility for good reason, but you will need to reach the end of Book III for the big reveal (worth the wait). Much sooner, the reader learn that it does have one thing in common. For like the Whisper magic of the Absent God, Baumensighre is hereditary. The first of the Druhirrim introduced in Chapter 28 does not walk the stage alone. The blood runs deep, and blesses those of both high and lowly birth. Green magic can’t match the dramatic optics of the Whisper mages who dominate the stage.

Except when it does:

There was unmistakably something otherworldly to the artwork. If the birds and fish and cicadas suddenly sprang to life; if the leaves and limbs of the arching trees began to quiver and sway; if the flower blooms opened, raining pink and white petals upon the cobblestones, Ruenne would find the mural no more extraordinary.

The alleyway chalk mural to which Ruenne was detoured in Book III hints at greater wonders to come. Of course, a humble Second Lieutenant of the Cadet Corp cannot imagine that she is looking at anything beyond the work of an exceptionally talented street artist. And at this point, nor does the reader.

Until our wildcard comes into play, kindling the latent Baumensighre magic and amplifying it into something extraordinary. A little later, it is Maycombe who happens upon the mural. From Chapter 31 – Regrowth:

The chalk forms began to pulse and ripple as the organic magic flowed through from the other side. The wood reached out to him with flesh-like tendrils that entwined his forearms to the elbow. To the sound of leaves dancing in wind, Maycombe burrowed deep beneath the Dragon’s Back, where granite gave way to loam.

These are not Saprolings. These are Pikmin (another species of warmongering vegetable).

It’s getting weird and complicated, but we’ve still got a way to go with the unifying green magic that is Baumensighre. In order to tie all the loose threads, Book III takes you deep – into the earth; into the history of Dellreigh itself. By the final chapter it will become obvious it is not for gods alone to steer the destiny of civilisations. Help rarely arrives as or when expected – certainly not for Hopskotch Pestle or his ancestors dating back to the age of Empire. In its darkest days, Syltian folk looked heavenward for salvation. Perhaps they’d have been better served digging the soil beneath their feet.

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