Tuesday, January 24, 2017


"Belief is Power" - Common Bruixeria Saying

"Router, am I researching literal fucking witchcraft?" - Cynical Thomas, Firewall Scanner

Suspicion, rumor, belief. Transhumans pride themselves on being rational and skeptical, but human nature has a fundamental predisposition to mystery and vagary. Humans fear what they don't understand, but are intrigued by the idea that they can learn more. To some, this is nothing, just a fact of how people act - but others seek to use this as the basis for power, to manipulate others and gain resources or respect. This has historical basis in practices of mystery cults or other groups who isolate knowledge to their membership alone.

The origins of the "bruixeria" appear to be from urban legends shared over drinks by the Jovian Diplomatic Corps. Astrosociologists and Anthropologists do agree that the origin of the style appears to be from a counterculture group inside the Jovian Republic - however hard facts about that group and their practices are limited as they appear to operate off the Mesh or networks and mostly via word of mouth, which aids in superstition and reduces government intervention (as some of their activities may be considered terrorism or sedition by the Republic). The term "bruixeria" comes from the old Catalan word for witchcraft, which has strong local mythology which is associated with opposition or activities on traditional Catholic holidays. How the term became widespread is unknown, but the meme has gone through the mesh and is now the common appellation for these groups.

Groups of "bruixeria" are usually called covens or circles, and are localized. They exist in a specific hab, or neighborhood, and on specific darknets on the Mesh. Nobody openly claims to be a bruixeria, anybody who "advertises" is quickly ostracized or disowned. This leads to the one key unifying value which seems to be common to all circles - the idea of the "Legend" or "Story". In general each bruixeria circle performs actions or deeds which resembles many traditional depictions of "witchcraft". Some effects are placebo or otherwise psychological, some are sleight- of-hand or parlor tricks and some are unexplained. But, much like classic stage magicians, a bruix never reveals their secrets. How they do things is a complete "mystery" and must be taken as part of their "art". They do not admit they are witches, they do not acknowledge witchcraft is "real", they simply act and let the Legend do the rest of the work. Journos have attempted interviews and exposes, and have come up with limited effects - mostly talking to cultural experts, "alleged" witches and some clients - and those who dig too deep often suffer mysterious accidents. A common saying is that "bruixeria find you, you do not find them". Even if one meets one directly, they rarely say "I am a witch", but will talk around the subject, let the "client" suppose on their own, and let their actions speak for them.

Operations, rituals and services performed/offered by Bruixeria differ from coven to coven. In religious cultures, depending on their disposition a bruix is a folk healer or teacher - others see them as dangerous subversives working in a contract with evil. When they appear, some witches include the classic pointy hat, often complemented by distracting low necklines and high skirts - others dress in antiquated puritanical fashion, or in exaggerated "witch doctor" costumes, or traditional ethnic gear. In Ceres and Extropia, Bruixeria agents are noted for appearing to be dressed for business, comporting themselves as the "lawyers of hell". In general, however, two classes of activities are noted by investigators. Many in terms of cultural comparison call this "black" or "white", with the traditional "blackhat" or "whitehat" terms used to differentiate sometimes. "Greyhat" is occasionally used to classify a witch who performs either type of service.

"White" witches practice positive rituals or mysteries. They perform many things which fall under the aspect of traditional medicine. They create herbal remedies, pray or "magic" away injury and diagnose with no visible tools. In habs large enough to have weather systems, a witch is said to be able to drive off or bring rain - and even in small habs their rituals can locate or even fix mechanical problems. They perform snake charming or handling as a performance to show their powers. They perform traditional soothsaying and fortune-telling, sensing one's aura or troubles or detecting lies. They can perform "dowsing" to sense valuable resources such as in an asteroid, or in the soil of a planetary body. They may also perform ritual prostitution for a number of purposes. "Black" witches are the other side of things. They can curse or hex people and objects to suffer misfortune and failure. They are said to poison or bring disease, and can steal a person's secrets. They can communicate with and spy via animals - particularly cats or amphibians. Or they might "summon" or create servitors or familiars to do their bidding. They can bewitch a person to do their bidding, or kill with a touch. Other various local legends and rumors persist. Some do perform actions in exchange for goods and services, or nebulous "favors" which were the precursor to the Reputation economy. Others simply appear where "needed" to officer services, adding to the Legend.

In-depth analysis of Bruixeria activities generally reach the same conclusion - though many organizations, communities and governments dismiss them outright as "primitive superstition" or "chicanery and quackery". The general consensus is that bruixeria groups are "hackers" in the classical definition. Services they render and information they gain is done via legitimate means, but is couched between technical skills and social engineering. While some succeed just because the people they interact with believe in their powers, couching things in mystical terms also tends to make more skeptical and "enlightened" people dismiss their activities outright and not look closer. Healing is done via actual herbal medicines, therapeutic techniques and subtle inclusion of medical nanos. Illness or poison is accomplished the same way, using many traditional poisons. Damage or repair to devices or accidents can be arranged by subverting networks or applying cautious physical sabotage. Spying via animals is easy if an animal has been covertly equipped to be a biodrone. Simple training can allow one to detect classical tells or signs of somebody's problems, as can mesh research. Implants can cover a multitude of actions which those who lack them cannot identify, such as "bewitching" via Hither or Enhanced Pheromones, or being able to see a person naked while clothed via T-Rays when the subject lacks their own mods to detect them. To Firewall, it is possible some bruixes are Asyncs, and thus their psi powers are the source of unexplained phenomena, which defy even the traditional scientific understanding of transhumanity. Their use of spirituality, mysticism and non-standard religion allows them to operate in ways or places which they wouldn't otherwise, and excuse activities which might otherwise be suspect.

Membership in bruixeria varies. Some are members of an obvious counterculture. Others seem to be keeping alive certain traditions and histories in a new context. Others use the secrecy and mysticism as a source of empowerment, or creating new opportunity. Others are just classical personalities who favor altruism or seek to harm others. Small criminal outfits may incorporate aspects of the bruixeria "Legend" to cover their activities or enhance their reputation. Some legitimate specialists might adopt the styling as a marketing move or a form of cultural roleplay. While "witch" has connotations of women in many traditions, there appears to be no enforcement that men or women may be bruixeria, though some covens may enforce a feminine appearance as part of their mystique. Recruitment runs a gamut too, though the general conclusion is that cannot officially "choose" to be a bruixeria, they must be selected and taught by somebody already initiated and who has graduated to show some level of mastery of their craft. In reality though, a new coven may be started by the uninitiated who claim the mythology, being part of the "Legend". Other than the general attitude on secrecy, there seems to be very little enforcement or quality control on the concept. Bruixeria have no formal networking, but the "initiated" generally can find and figure out one another, and seem to practice a form of "professional courtesy". In many communities who are made of refugees or cultural pockets with strong beliefs, bruixeria are as real as anything - though only the most isolated and devoutly religious perform "witch hunts". In more technological societies, those who have much cultural baggage, more intense integration of technology or who generally purport themselves to be rational or scientific, bruixeria are not acknowledged but may be accepted as a simple performance art or lifestyle choice. Skepticism reduces "business", but the fact that they often accomplish concrete actions despite their apparent smoke-and-mirrors may keep "demand" up.

Firewall has few concerns about Bruixeria as a whole, but may have concerns about specific cells. As noted above, possibility of Async activity is real. Given the culture of secrecy and mysticism, it might be possible for exsurgents or other TITAN agents to operate among them, working on sinister goals of their own and using the spirituality as a cover. Charlatans might also utilize TITAN or alien tech to further their mystical appearance. Others in Firewall have concerns about the regression inherent in this style of operating, with isolation of institutional knowledge and a mystical air to cloak what is actually occurring - and worry about widespread of this practice (which as of yet seems unlikely). Stability-minded agents also note some of these circles are little more than dressed up criminal syndicates or counter-cultural terrorist orgs. While their reach may be small, conventional crime always can present a localized risk the conspiracy does not need. And, while remote, there is always the non-zero possibility that one of these groups has or could acquire hitherto unknown knowledge or technology and integrate it into their practices. Their secretive nature means that isolating and studying such breakthroughs would be difficult, which worries certain projects and case files. This is generally considered to be an extreme outlier case, however.

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