Dragon Age, a video game (and later, comic book) series developed by BioWare, has quite a lot of dragons in it, unsurprisingly. At this point I may have lost you. What, you might wonder, can be gleaned from studying a fantasy series that would be at all helpful for real world magic and spiritual practices? Quite a lot, it turns out. Here, I’ll lay out several instances of magic and spirits appearing in the DA franchise across multiple games, and what I think we can learn from examining them.
- Magic is largely viewed with suspicion and treated with hostility: Much as in our own world, magic is blamed for a myriad of evils within the Dragon Age franchise, with mages (much like women in Christianity) being held to be ultimately responsible for sin, corruption, and any harm the supreme deity allows to befall humanity. Within Dragon Age, most magic users are rounded up from a young age, denied access to their families, and forced to live in Circles, kept locked up unless they are needed as living tools by those in power. However, even as the Circles can be a prison, they can also be places where mages are surrounded by others like them and can pursue knowledge of their arts. Much of what was once known was lost, and within their Circles they can attempt to once again learn hidden truths and reestablish lines of knowledge. While imprisonment would certainly be a terrible fate, I’m not alone in wishing there were established, physical places to be surrounded by my peers to pursue our crafts.
- Cole, a spirit made physical: Though he is quite and can easily become a background companion that doesn’t get pulled into the party as often, Cole from DA: Inquisition is easily one of the more complex and fascinating of characters. Unlike a true possession, Cole’s desire to help was so strong that he actually manifested a body of his own in order to better interact with the world. This is not so different from many of our real world myths and stories about gods and spirits taking physical form to interact with us (albeit usually temporarily, just as Cole’s own decision might not be permanent). Unlike someone who has always possessed a physical body, however, Cole is often unsure of social niceties and why people behave the way that they do. This is very useful to see acted out, as it can remind us that what we think is common sense and what we might expect of a spirit is not what might come naturally to them. For this reason, we could all benefit by taking time to clearly explain ourselves (and perhaps provide some background) when we are interacting with spirits, especially ones that have never been human.
- The Avvar tribe: While much of the Dragon Age (Thedas) world considers possession by spirits to be an abomination, the Avvar tribe consider it a solemn honor to have a spirit agree to dwell within a young mage to act as a tutor. The spirit is one of many that are intimately connected with the tribe (usually spirits that have served as mentors and minor gods, if not actual ancestors, for many generators) and agrees to possess the young child and work closely with them to develop their gifts, stepping in as necessary to prevent the mage from hurting themselves or others. When the child comes into their powers, the spirit removes themselves, returning to peaceful semi-existence in order to continue watching over their people from the spirit world. Many cultures and spiritual practices have a form of this today (sometimes called “riding”), and if long term practices and bonds could be formed with spirits to regularly undertake this, I wonder how much knowledge could be gained and shared on both sides.
- Spirits: While there can be the tendency to think of all spirits as simply another type of ghost and thus, at one point, human, spirits in truth (and in Dragon Age) are generally more apt to be collections of energies that exist in a state of semi-existence or else a form of personality that is almost entirely unrecognizable to people. They can dwell in and emanate from nature, and if “killed”, will return to that same energy. If impressed upon enough by a strong personality, or if they take a liking to you, the spirit may meld itself into a personality that would best suit that need. Many spirits forget that they were ever anything else, in fact. When studying these fictitious spirits, then, we might look at how we interact with spirits in our own world, and attempt to puzzle out their source and what might be happening to them when we interact with them. Are we making them play the role of something that they are not in order to further our own magics? Are we harming them in this way?
There is much to be gained from studying world building in a fictitious setting such as Dragon Age and using it as a philosophical prompt to examine our own world, especially as so much of fiction is, itself, influenced by real things.
[Written by Ashley Nicole Hunter.]