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I'm kind of asking two questions here. One question is about hope and the other is about spiritual beliefs.

I like to keep my world grounded in reality. For some reason, I feel like this is super easy to do with mutant-like superpowers. When it comes to magic I struggle.

For example, mutant powers are genetic based. So by default hope and spiritual beliefs are eliminated or at least limited because it doesn't matter how much you try or believe in yourself, you can never be a mutant. Mutants in my world are born not taught. When it comes to spiritual beliefs, yeah, you can view mutant powers as spiritual gifts, but keep in mind that you can also view an athlete's talents as spiritual gifts too.

I feel like magic existing would give too much room for those both.

You can learn magic. Therefore, everyone has hope that they can do magic one day.

My problem with hope is that it comes off as plot armor or main character syndrome. I feel like I would be enabling a lot of cliches and tropes when it comes to hope. (Cough, cough. The power of friendship.)

Honestly, I don't know how big a role spiritual beliefs would play in this topic. Maybe the fact that magic is learned not genetic. Maybe it would be easier for people to view magic through a spiritual lens since magic is learned, therefore making it harder for skeptics to debunk spiritual beliefs associated with magic.

In my world magic is one of those classic "it's not really magic, it's just science that is indistinguishable from magic" type of magic systems. My magic system is inspired by alchemy, chemistry, quantum mechanics, and cosmic energy.

In conclusion, my main question here is: Does the nature of traditional magic make it hard to limit hope or spirituality in a story?

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    I don't know why you don't want hope or spirituality, but you're the author. If you don't want people to hope they can get better, don't write them hoping that. If the spiritual system in your world is small and spindly and not connected to the magic system, that's what you write and that's what we read. Jun 4 at 15:21
  • It's not that I don't want hope. I just don't want there to be too much room for hope if that makes sense. Jun 4 at 18:13
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    In your world, is magic skill or mutant status a defining factor in social status? For example, in our world, not everyone is an Olympic athlete or has a hope of being one, and this is perfectly fine with society.
    – Alexander
    Jun 5 at 3:18
  • Magic is a skill. Yes Jun 5 at 14:58
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    It seems that by "hope" you mean hope of becoming a magic user. Just because alchemy, chemistry, etc. can be learned, it doesn't mean that everyone will be able to learn it enough to use it. How many people have a hard time with high school chemistry? Also, often when there is such a particular skill set, the knowledge is not freely available. You need a teacher and no teacher is likely to take everyone who walks in looking to learn. There is a lot of work to gain the knowledge and that also sets apart those who have it from everyday folks. Jun 6 at 19:54

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There are many ways that magic can work in a story (as far as I know there are no ways for it to work in the real world). In some stories magic is only available to those born with some special ability, much like those "mutant superpowers" mentioned in the question. In others, anyone can learn to work magic with time, practice, and instruction. In some it is a combination of innate talent and work, rather like painting in the real world.

In my world magic is one of those classic "it's not really magic, it's just science that is indistinguishable from magic" type of magic systems.

This suggests that anyone can learn to use it, but some people will be better or quicker than others, and significant effort may be needed to learn to use it well. This is not so very different from technology today, or indeed many skills and arts today.

Some people have hope of one sort or another while surrounded by technology. Others do not. Some have spiritual beliefs, and others do not. I see no reasons why this would need to be any different in a world with "Clarke's-law" magic. People with the ability to access such magic might feel lots of hope, or might feel their entire world to be hopeless; they might or might not have some sort of spiritual beliefs. I don't see how the existence of such "magic" requires or prevents either of those things.

As the writer, you control how the characters feel and act.

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Yes and no. Spiritual beliefs are fundamentally about what a character has faith in but cannot prove. Whether or not a character's beliefs in a higher power or other spiritual phenomena make sense depend entirely on how extensive the observable supernatural phenomena are.

As an example, a lot of human spiritual beliefs revolve around what happens after death. "Typical" atheists believe you go in a hole in the ground, Buddhists believe in reincarnation, Christians believe in a final judgement, and Muslims also believe in a final judgement but in addition have a very strict rule that God says the dead are never allowed to set foot on Earth again. Ever.

All of these depend on faith in something we cannot prove, since we can't rigorously test what happens at the moment of death (Does consciousness disperse? Where does it go?) Now imagine a world where you had some definitive proof of life after death, like ghosts, the undead, or necromancy. This blows holes in all four belief systems outlined above. Atheists have to deal with real evidence that there is life after death, buddhists have evidence there is no reincarnation because the minute they died they should have been spinning on Mr. Bones' wild ride of samsara, Christians have to deal with the idea that someone can overrule God's final judgement and yank a soul out of heaven or hell, and Muslims have to deal with the dead walking around, which are an affront to Allah's decrees and Islamic theology very specifically states nothing can exist on this Earth unless God wills it.

I actually had this problem with a character who was a Buddhist despite knowing firsthand some form of afterlife existed and I was like...yeah, how does that work?

When a character gains that objective knowledge, that faith becomes replaced by fact and not believing in something you objectively know becomes a bit silly. A character can deny it (e.g., believing the undead are "not the real person"), but on some level that's cope.

The way you get around this is you keep some aspects of your cosmology subjective. The character has powers but has no total idea of how the world's cosmology works, leaving lots of room for their faith to inform where they think their powers come from and where they get their beliefs as to why they do what they do.

With your system because it's genetic you have more leeway. People tend to bend religious beliefs around physical events. For example look at all the theological arguments surrounding the Holocaust and Black Death, and it's even been suggested the Black Death was a factor in the later Protestant Reformation because it planted the seed in the public's mind that the Catholic Church couldn't do anything about real crises of flesh and spirit. If you have superpowered people popping up through history, individual and broader scale philosophies will gradually bend to accomodate the difference. Just so long as there's no way to objectively prove say, superpowers are a "gift from God/curse from the devil" or some other value-loaded origin that would lead to a societal stigma.

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