[SOM] The School Sourcebook: Diversity
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at eyrie.org
Sat Jun 12 11:29:14 PDT 2021
The School Information File
copyright 2021 by Dave Van Domelen
"Okay, so I've been noticing a diversity issue here, Grant. Oh, I don't
mean the students...there's a few missing demographics, but at this student
body size, proportional representation would be one student for some of these
groups. Easy to randomly miss those. I mean in the magical training
curriculum. That Secret History class makes it pretty clear that there's a
lot of magical traditions, so why aren't they represented in the TRAINING
"Lingering cultural imperialism, basically. And it's actually why some
of those missing demographics are missing..." Grant replied.
[Note: This idea almost immediately made itself clear to me as something
that a Drabble couldn't cover adequately, but at the same time it's too much
of an infodump to try to work into a longer story. So, as a compromise, I
used (without trying to fit into 100 words) a short bit of dialogue that had
kicked around in my head as an intro to another info file.]
Before The School
Magical girls are rare. The age range covered by The School draws from
a population of 20 million or so girls, and yet only has around 150
students. Not quite "one in a million," but close. And while girls still
go unnoticed, it's not a bad estimate to say that in a community of under
100,000 you're unlikely to have more than one Magical Girl of school age.
(The trait doesn't strongly run in families as near as anyone can tell, and
is pretty randomly distributed in modern times.)
As a result, in any situation where it's not easy to exchange
information over large distances, efforts tend to be fairly local. A coven
here, a temple tradition there. Compounding the problem is that while
Wizards are almost uniformly literate and highly educated due to the nature
of their path to power, magical girls are no more educated or interconnected
than typical girls of their society. Wizards could communicate via long
established traditions of academic correspondence, could take advantage of
their predecessors tomes of knowledge, even form small schools here and there
throughout history. But magical girl lore was almost entirely oral and
society made it more difficult for them to even find out that they weren't
alone. The deck was stacked against preservation of magical girl
traditions, and they tended to get lost in mundane accounts of magic.
That is not to say that there were never concentrations of magical
girls, but they rarely outlasted their founding generation or left a
significant legacy for later magical girls. For instance, Dynastic China saw
several small secret schools for magical girls, but they depended on
stability to hide their nature. In times of turmoil, they split up or were
even outed and attacked. There are even rumors that one group of magical
girls hid as palace eunuchs in the Qin era, but no substantial evidence
remains in the historical record, and they certainly left no legacy for later
magical girls to follow.
Once conditions made it possible for The School to be established, it
was still necessary for someone to take the leap of faith that such an
institution would be worth the risk. Especially since the 1700s were pretty
patriarchal in most of the world, and you had to get men to care about the
plight of women. Powerful "Witches" might have had a strong influence behind
the scenes, but they needed at least a few men to play the part of
figureheads. Fortunately, they did convince several Wizards that a school
for those with inherited magic was worthwhile, and the rest is (secret)
With The School in place and proving the concept, being the first also
meant setting the standards for those that followed. Even without cultural
imperialism, most of the later schools around the world would have copied at
least some elements of The School's curriculum.
Of course, timing is everything. If you look at mundane education in
the 1700s and 1800s, a "modern" education meant a European style education.
Colonies were forced to adopt the system of their colonizers, if only to let
their peoples compete on something close to an even footing. And later on,
uncolonized nations wishing to modernize had only a selection of European
(and American) models to follow.
As other regional schools for magical girls were established, they
followed the spirit of the times, and copied The School with only minor
adaptations for cultural differences. Even in the 21st Century, the biggest
differences among the major schools have to do with the mundane curriculum
(which has to match the host area's reasonably well), not the magical
Myth of the True Magi
Merely copying The School wouldn't have locked out cultural diversity if
The School hadn't done so on its own, of course. As with many such efforts,
it started with the best of intentions and a massive dose of privilege.
As The School really got going in the late 1800s, they decided to try to
recreate the original magical tradition, the path of the so-called True
Magi. This effort was parallel to and somewhat influenced by occult revival
movements such as Theosophy. They saw many of the older myths as being
corrupted retellings of what little knowledge remained of the world before
the fall of magic. The plan was to use what little was known in an attempt
to reconstruct what had gone before...why reinvent the wheel when you can
rediscover it instead?
Unfortunately, the idea of being heirs to the tradition of a single True
Magi society was as attractive as the more racist ideas of the occult
revival, and the researchers started from the assumption of a unified single
pre-fall magical culture, despite a lack of evidence one way or another.
Starting from that conclusion, evidence was gathered in an attempt to distill
the True Magi ways from a combination of folklore and the unreliable
testimony of those who claimed to have survived since before the fall.
Elements that fit the model, such as color attunement, became part of the
canon. Other elements, including a lot of "primitive superstitions," were
rejected as being later corruptions or outright errors. While there was very
little overt racism involved, privilege was almost never checked, and the
True Magi culture had an awful lot in common with idealizations of then-
current (White) American and European culture.
By the early 20th Century, the True Magi theory of magical instruction
had taken firm hold at The School and its imitators. No "serious" school for
magical girls taught or even mentioned systems that had not been accepted
into the True Magi model. Most wizards and magical girls turned up their
noses at magical traditions that didn't fit their ideas of Real Magic. Any
that could be shown to work were explained away as doing so by accident (much
like Mark Gray's equations were determined to not really be Words of Power).
The magic, if you have it, is real. But there's the Proper way to train in
its use, and then there's everything else.
Just as mundane society is starting to recognize and value cultural
diversity, magical society is slowly admitting that there's no evidence of an
ancient monoculture for magic, and it's more likely that the pre-fall society
had multiple traditions. One factor that has gotten even the most hidebound
academic Wizards to change their minds is the argument that a diverse
pre-fall culture would better explain the contradictions in surviving
records. If they didn't all agree on a single way before the fall, why
should they agree afterwards? The self-proclaimed survivors of the age are
still considered unreliable sources, but it is accepted now that they're not
necessarily lying about how they think magic works.
On the other hand, The School's curriculum has WORKED for the last
century. It is effective. Students learn to control and hide their powers,
and if there's the occasional failure...no system is perfect. The supporting
curriculum, such as the Secret History of Magic, is being adjusted to
de-emphasize the True Magi elements, but the actual training has yet to
The larger schools are trying to find a way to change their main magical
curriculum to better match their local cultures, but institutional inertia
does tend to slow this down a bit. The major school in sub-Saharan Africa is
making the most progress in this regard, as part of a general de-colonizing
move. However, it is also the newest and smallest of the major schools, so
it has less institutional inertia to overcome.
One thing The School and its peers have been trying as an interim
measure is the establishment of small "branch campus" study groups, either
creating them from scratch or reaching out to previously independent groups.
Since these smaller schools lack the resources of the large schools, they
rely more on hiding in plain sight and staying small, often being openly
dedicated to "new age" or "indigenous religion" magic studies. But among
their talentless mundane students will hide a core of magical girls, who
attend mundane schools or engage in homeschooling during the day and study
real magic after school and on weekends.
Because of the difficulty in hiding novices from scrying, students at
these schools often start out at The School or one of its peers, then
transfer into a specialty school after Secunda or even Tertia. Students
intent on such a transfer but not yet ready for it may take special
instruction outside of the major school's grounds once or twice a week, or
the instructors come to the school, depending on the nature of the magical
tradition and the people involved. The advances in wearable cloaking charms
do make these schools more feasible, but trusting small children to not lose
something is rarely a good long term plan.
Some of the "missing demographics" Mark Gray noticed are because those
students are studying at a branch school.
One branch school that draws students from The School is the North
American Tribal Magic School, or just "Tribal School." While there is no
single "North American Indigenous Magical Tradition," the Tribal School
focuses on spirtual pathways originating in the multitude of indigenous
cultures in North America. Its enrollment rarely exceeds single digits, with
as many different traditions as there are students, but there's also more
instructors than students...preserving cultural identity is considered
important enough to justify the resources. They make heavy use of
teleportation magic and encourage students to make bonds with their ancestral
lands, when such lands remain reasonably un-desecrated. Officially, all of
the students are being homeschooled for their mundane education, with
Another example is the ongoing attempt to revive Shinto magical
practices in Japan, with magical girls becoming temple maidens, or mikos. A
handful of temples in modern Japan are genuinely concecrated and their
magical auras serve to hide any temple maidens in training from detection.
Warding amulets for use outside temple grounds are made in the form of
traditional charms that the girls must wear when attending mundane school.
There are only a handful of miko magical girls to date, as the lifestyle is
seen as rather old-fashioned and it's difficult to get preteen girls
interested in it. More commonly, Japan's equivalent of Advanced Squads may
include a group of mikos working outside the grounds of their main school at
There are currently attempts to found a branch school for Vodun/Vodou/
Voodoo and related fusion traditions, but they're still negotiating
affiliations and whether it should be one branch school or two.
Still, despite these movements, the majority of young magical girls
continue to be trained in a twraked version of the True Magi path from the
1920s. Attempts at teaching magical girls in diverse traditions have not all
been successful, and while none of the branch schools has failed badly enough
to cause concern, they're still very much on probation in the minds of the
For more about The School, my take on magical girls, see:
More information about the racc