Magic in the World of Amahara
Shinto is a belief system centered around the concept of animism - that every describable aspect of the world, from seasons and weather down to the finest movements of clockwork are managed by a vast pantheon of gods and spirits. It is the national religion of Amahara and its clerics are the shrine maidens (miko) whose calling it is to mediate the interaction between the human realm and the spirit realm in a lawful and mutually respectful manner. Although translated into Francian and Imperial as a single word, there are in fact numerous sects of Shinto and varieties of shrine maiden, both orthodox and unorthodox. Depending on historic period and region, a shrine maiden may be expected to fill any or all the traditional duties of witch, shaman, wisewoman, healer, oracle, priestess or minister of ceremonies.
The line between the mundane and the magical can be blurry in the world of Amahara. Any shrine maiden can learn martial arts and may become seemingly capable of minor superhuman feats. However, only a subset of shrine maidens are blatantly magical practitioners and this population is divided into a numerous sects and specialties. Some, for example, may specialise in dealing with forest spirits, others with the ebb and flow of water and related deities, and still others will be the common generalists in their archetypical red-and-white habit. While Shinto magic is flexible and powerful, miko generally have difficulty using it to directly address unanticipated situations.
A shrine maiden versed in invokation may summon or interact with gods and spirits who may be asked to do any number of things or lend their powers temporarily to mortals. The performance of this most archtypical of Shinto magic is just that – a performance. Gods and spirits are difficult to understand at the best of times but they must nevertheless be attracted and their attention maintained. Grace, elegance, flawless execution, etiquette, cool-headedness, as well as physical beauty (which can occasionally differ from the human definition) are important attributes.
The process begins with an elaborate ritual, dance or some other traditional method of attracting spiritual attention and then some action that aids the spirit in his/her/its duty and/or some appeal for assistance. The emphasis is on objects, emblems, physical and artistic rituals, or representations such as music, dance or fetishes. Notably, written scriptures are an import originally from the Middle Kingdom that arrived along with Buddhism. Although it began gaining acceptance early in the Sengoku period, Amaharan gods are still "wilder" than their Middle Kingdom counterparts and even the greatest Shinto workings can be accomplished without literacy. Although dogmatically a matter of secondary importance, offerings of one sort or another remain an indispensible part of Shinto. Much as they would like to portray other sorts of Shamanism as an evil other, Shinto has never completely cut ties to its bloody, sacrifice-based ancestor.
One important distinction from other forms of magic is that the miko has relatively little personal power inherent to herself – the spirit does all the heavy lifting and the ways to compel them against their nature are very limited. The effectiveness of Shinto rituals, while potentially dramatic, therefore require the cooperation of the spirits. This can be more difficult to achieve in areas outside of Amahara until shrines have been set up, the local gods properly accomodated, and people are taught to worship them appropriately. It also requires the shrine maiden to remain in good standing with the spirit realm. Different spirits have different standards, including some with truly demanding strictures on morality. Since spirits do depend on human rituals as well, relatively few demand behaviour that is truly repulsive and fewer yet enjoy being manipulated by insincere clerics, meaning miko so inclined need to be very good at what they do in order to retain their powers.
Seals and Sealing
Onmyodo, the way of Yin and Yang, is derived from the Tao of the Middle Kingdom combined with Shinto and some esoteric parts of Buddhism. Unlike shrine maidens, onmyoji are not clerics of a religion, but practitioners of an art regulated by a guild held by a single hereditary clan. Nevertheless, the powers of Onmyodo does overlap somewhat with that of Shinto as both arts recognise the existence of the spirit world. The difference lies in the attitude of the contact - an onmyoji does not really treat spirits as partners in some social contract, but as another sort of phenomenon that can be understood and manipulated. As a result, while shrine maidens must work with nature, an onmyoji may, with care, defy it.
Onmyodo rituals, like their Shinto counterparts, use rituals, emblems, and representations as their main components, but trade away a miko's song and dance for grids, lines and carefully prepared charts on all kinds of natural cycles. It is broadly compatible with Tao, its parent from the Middle Kingdom, though Taoist sects there would consider the Amaharan variant an unorthodox bastardization. Because Onmyodo is merely a branch of "Tao", it may not be capable of the full breadth of feats that could be ascribed to it in the Middle Kingdom. Many historic onmyoji are recorded to have travelled to the Middle Kingdom in order to train their skills. The most common stat for working Onmyodo is Intelligence.
The main source of magic and occult arts in the orient is the Middle Kingdom, with the numerous smaller nations around it acquiring branches and variations therefrom.
Taoism is the Middle Kingdom ancestor of Onmyodo, dating to at least the 7th century BC. It has evolved and divided into numerous sects over the course of centuries, of which Onmyodo could be considered a branch or family of branches. Compared to onmyoji, Taoist daoshi are capable of a much greater spectrum of effects, though it is thought that no one individual could possibly master the arts of every extant sect. The spiritual branch of Middle Kingdom Taoism emphasizes interaction almost entirely with the deceased, and the bureaucratic gods in their highly ordered perception of Heaven.
Besides the Middle Kingdom, Taoism has generally achieved a good spread to other parts of Lotus Asia and practically every nation in the region has its own local offshoot of Taoism.
Middle Kingdom Martial Arts
Martial arts reached their highest peak in the Middle Kingdom, where it mixed freely with other philosophies such as Taoism or Buddhism or else came with their own philosophical studies. They equate to occidental Sorcery as a path to personal power, though it is concentrated in the person rather than in great works of magic as is popular in the west.
The dominant practitioners of magic in the west are clerics of the Catholic Church, which has aimed for a religious monopoly on magic since early in its existence.
The Catholic Church
The Catholic Church describes as sorcery any magic not derived from their One God, but among its practitioners, Sorcery more specifically describes an occidental family of symbology-based magical practices founded in the ancient era along with (so they say) the development of written language and the alphabet. Although the most powerful mages have at times been European, the art was born in what is now the Jasmine Middle East and transmitted to Europe gradually from 1500 BC onwards. Following the Council of Shaimal, the Catholic Church began increasingly persecuting sorcerors, a battle in the shadows that contributed to the Rose Europe's Dark Ages. With the rise of Islam, the practice of sorcery once again centered on the Jasmine Middle East.