Witches are people capable of creating change in the physical world by generating special sound frequencies with her or his voice through what they call "Work." Most are female, but a male minority exists as well.
In prehistory, witches were the first humans to learn to speak and developed Menishe and taught other humans how to speak. This is part of the reason why their abilities are vocal in nature.
Witches were persecuted around the world by the church, the Camarilla, and others until Sarah Alder signed the Salem Accords with the Massachusetts Bay Militia on February 19, 1692, guaranteeing an end to the persecution in exchange for conscripting every witch born in their territories to the military. This agreement was carried over into the United States law, and the effective date of the Salem Witch Trials' end was on October 12th of the same year. Other countries quickly followed and created witch armies to contend with the United States.
When the first witch military was formed, an immediate priority had been to find more witches. Alder discovered many powerful witches among enslaved African Americans, and they soon comprised the majority of her early ranks. They continued to rise in power, with some lineages, including the Bellweather matriline, becoming elite among witches.
In 1761 Germany, 611 witches, including children, were dragged from their homes and burned alive.
Over the 300 years since General Alder signed the Salem Accord, countries across the world rounded up witches and created similar armies to keep up with the United States.
In present day, witch generals from 12 countries comprised a military council headquartered at The Hague in the Netherlands. Among the countries represented are the United States, Great Britain, India, Russia, Japan, and Cambodia.
Characteristics and Abilities
Witches are born with an extra set of vocal chords in their throats and five mallea in their ears (civilians have only one malleus bone). These enable them to perform "Work" which can create many different vast arrays of change to the world around them. They can also mutter incantations very quietly in an unknown language to perform work and draw sigils on objects for a variety of effects. Witches who are rendered mute cannot access their powers.
Different countries use their abilities in a variety of ways; India focuses on gestures instead of the vocal-based practices used among American witches.
Witches display a witch's mark somewhere on their body. The sigil-shaped mark is dark and matte at birth but becomes shiny after the witch loses their virginity. The shape of a witch's mark is hereditary; witches of the same lineage bear practically identical marks. Descendants of a witch with a civilian may have faded marks, betraying their mixed-witch heritage. Having civilian heritage does not necessarily dampen a witch's powers; Raelle is a powerful witch despite having a civilian father.
During pregnancy, witches are more powerful than they are alone. There is a way to accelerate the pregnancy and make it virtually pain-free.
Sexual energy is a particularly strong fuel among witches; even arousal alone can increase a witch's powers. A witch's energies are particularly powerful during sex and for a period of time after climax. Even witches who are not engaged in sexual acts can draw upon the increased power emanating from their peers' coital energies, as demonstrated when the Necros harnessed the energies from the Beltane orgy to open a Death Current, a feat not typically possible without an energy spike like that of the festival.
The witch population in the United States is matriarchal with family and community structures centered around witch women. Female witches are more numerous and believed to be more powerful than their male counterparts, at least among American witches. In contrast, male witches typically occupy a supportive role within American witch society. The men of witch society raise children, craft items for female witches to use in combat, and train to flirt and romance female witches. Although male individuals can be born with the power of a witch and can pass on traits such as strength of workings or work affinities, they are not able to pass witchhood itself to their genetic offspring. The female genetic inheritance of the power is known as the "matriline."
In lieu of clapping, witches show enthusiasm and support by rapidly stomping their feet on the ground to mimic the sound of thunder. In more serious situations like a war council, this is replaced with a similar rapid drumming of the hands on the table.
Due to the Salem Accords in the United States and similar laws in other countries, there is a tangible military influence in the culture of many mainstream witch cultures around the world. Many witches are raised to be highly patriotic.
Witches in the United States military are conscripted at the age of 18. When they arrive at their forts for basic training, they are segregated by gender and trained in different ways. Witch women are trained for combat since female witches are believed to be more powerful and numerable than their male peers. Male witches used to serve with their female counterparts but their combat service has become very limited due to declining birth rates.
Additionally, witches are generally not allowed to use their work outside of military purposes. This rule applies to witches on furlough, as well as those below eighteen who have yet to be called to Fort Salem. This rule might only apply to the use of military work, as Abigail Bellweather, Raelle Collar, and Tally Craven used non-combative works before being called.
Witches may be exempt from conscription in rare extenuating circumstances, such as when a matriline is deemed "unduly depleted." When a witch is granted dispensation, they may or may not say the words of their oath when they receive the call on Conscription Day, leaving the choice of enlisting up to them.
Female witches typically lead the witch armies of their countries. The witch generals of Japan, Russia, and at least one other country are men; their positions of power may suggest that the matriarchal culture is more relaxed in other countries.
The Imperative is a witch organization in the United States that oversees the continuance of matrilines and the witch population as a whole, often working with families to suggest matches that maximize the power of the next generation of witches. It operates outside the military and does not answer to the witch general although its members maintain a similar militaristic attitude and presence. The Imperative is led by the Imperatrix.
Female witches wear military uniforms in dark colors - black, gray, and navy - with bright red accents. Different uniforms have been shown for physical training, daily professional use, combat, and formal events.
Male witches wear uniforms of khaki and beige for formal events. Their daily attires appear more relaxed than their female counterparts’ clothing; the male witches shown taking care of fosterlings and those who arrived at Fort Salem during Beltane wore modest but modern civilian clothing in shades of khaki, beige, and white. Engaged male witches wear light blue sashes with their formal uniforms.
War College makes an exception to this gendered rule - male instructors and students at War College wear the darker uniforms of their women counterparts for most of their military-related activities such as War College classes, missions, and public appearances. At more formal events like upper class dinners and public trials, they return to their earth-toned uniforms.
Most witches in the United States believe in a monotheistic faith with a singular goddess. Some witches like Raelle are familiar with a syncretic "Christo-pagan" faith that involves using Christian bible passages to perform certain work. This is discouraged due to the church being an ancient enemy of witches and because it involves transferring injuries.
American witches are expected to marry other witches to continue their matrilines for purposes of continuing their families as well as supplying the military with a steady population of witch soldiers. In the United States, Witches are matched to their prospective spouses by military matrimonialists and The Imperative. like These couplings are expected to be faithful to one another for five years but are then free to leave the marriage and/or seek new partners without stigma.
Certain subcultures such as High Atlantic witch families have complex family structures typically revolving around one matriarch, her husbands, and her children sired by them. The husbands may collectively sire the child through "a delicate process" if their wife chooses to do so and they raise the children together as one family unit.
Immediately after pregnancy, female witches go back to their military duties. The male witches go to live with their fathers due a crisis in birth rates.
Young orphaned witches are called fosterlings; some fosterlings are raised by male witches and women at Fort Salem.
Marriages between a civilian (non-witch) and a witch is highly unconventional. A witch who has such a relationship is deemed to have "crossed lines" with a civilian. An outcross refers to both the relationship between a witch an a civilian as well as the witches born of such a relationship.
The annual ritual of Beltane is a sacred fertility tradition among witches where powerful sexual energies are nurtured and released. Fort Salem conducts a festival during Beltane that starts with witches performing a dance to determine their partners for the ritual and culminating in a ritual orgy.
Samhain is a hallowed day for witches that is the predecessor of the civilian holidays of All Hallow's Eve and Halloween. Certain witch families observe it by lighting a candle to honor the dead. On Fort Salem, the cadets perform a ceremony near midnight where they protect pyres from the ghosts of a slain witch battalion. If they are able to defend their pyres from the attacks until the twelve strike of the clock at midnight, they earn the privilege of summoning one dead witch for the as long as a ritual candle they light maintains its flame. When this ritual is performed on hallowed grounds such as Fort Salem, witch ghosts cannot resist being summoned. The summoning will fail if the witch is still alive.
A witch's debut is an important day for the young woman. A Cavalier is selected via astrology and foretelling from available male peers to accompany the debutante. The Cavalier is meant to dance with the debutante first at the ceremony; for a guest to dance with a Cavalier before he can dance with his debutante is considered an act of power and disrespect.
The town of Salem (and presumably many communities across the United States) holds an annual Pageant that commemorates the day General Alder signed the Salem Accords. The town sets up fairs where different witch-related wares are sold; they also stage reenactments of the events that lead to the Salem Accords.
Witch Communities and Sub-Cultures
High Atlantic Witches
The High Atlantic community of witches are wealthy witch elites in the United States. As the name implies, this community is spread across the northeastern states bordering the Atlantic ocean such as Maryland and New York. They likely settled in this region due to its geographical proximity to power in the United States with Washington DC at the southern tip and Fort Salem in the northern section of the region.
High Atlantic witch families have complex family units revolving around one matriarch, her husbands (the average number of husbands a High Atlantic witch has is three), and her children sired by them. Their wealth and power comes from their matrilines' long, decorated histories of service in the US military.
High Atlantic families tend to be more meticulous in their choices of spouses compared to other communities, working more closely with military matrimonialists and The Imperative to make their choice. They use traits such as strength of witch work and temperament in assessing suitors. People outside the community can be put off by this practice; Adil (from the Tarim) have likened the practice and its associated mindset with horse breeding. Civilians who bear anti-witch sentiment may deride female witches as promiscuous due to this practice.
Due to its relative autonomy to the federal government and its history with General Alder, people in the Chippewa Cession can be very vocal of their critiques of General Alder. Witches and civilians seem to mingle more freely in the region. At least some witches there practice a Christo-pagan faith as opposed to the predominant Goddess-oriented faith held by witches in the rest of the United States.
Matrifocal Communities & Other Conscientious Objectors
Some conscientious objector witches established matrifocal (i.e. all-women) compounds like the one in Northern California where May Craven raised her daughter Tally Craven. Tally's community sold homegrown heirloom avocados and handmade crafts like knitted clothing and pottery. Other witches perceive them as sheltered, emotional, overly spiritual, unpatriotic, and pacifistic - not unlike how hippies of the real world are perceived. Children from these communities are also known to be eager to please and guileless.
Other families of conscientious objector witches and draft dodgers like Porter's family practice a more nomadic lifestyle, staying with different families and never staying too long in one place or another.
While the witch population is generally well-tracked as a necessity to maintain the Army's numbers, there is an unknown number of outcross witches descended from draft dodgers and witch-civilian intermarriages living in general society. Often times, these individuals are unaware that they are witches.
Relations with Non-Witches
Due to the militarization of witch culture and populations from the Salem Accord, many witches often refer to non-witches as "civilians." Separately, General Alder referred to the non-witch units of the army as "conventional forces."
Non-witches have varying perceptions of witches. Many respect and fawn over witches they come across, readily thanking adult witches for their sacrifices even when the witch has yet to serve in the military. Others are disdainful of witches; they fear the witches' power and are likely to blame the population as a whole for the actions of the Spree.
There are witches that have similarly retained the animosity with non-witches from the times of the witch hunts, believing that such hatred and cruelty never truly go away. Some of these witches like Scylla Ramshorn end up joining the Spree, who view the conscription of witches as slavery and commit terror attacks against civilians to achieve their goals.
In the series, the matriarchal culture of the witch community has positively impacted the state of women in different countries. An enchanted painting at Memorial Hall of the Battle of Juárez during the Second Mexican War at the turn of the 19th century (occurring decades earlier in their timeline compared to the real world) showed a Mexican non-witch army unit as at least half-comprised of women. Women made up at least half of the guards at the council meeting General Alder attended at The Hague. The United States elected President Kelly Wade, an African American woman, as its 45th and current head of state.