From a future work by Sergei Didier
In history class we learn about Ben Franklin. Bon vivant, man of letters and science, inquiring mind.
They don’t tell you that he was also one of the most influential Talents of his time. Or that he is credited — blamed, by some — for the formation of the first Mages’ Council in America.1 (The work-journal of John Ebeneezer, from the private collection of Wren Valere. Note in margin of bell lightning lecture from March 1994. Seconded in discussion with Council members, unverified.)1Knowing this, one looks at the experiments he performed with weather, including the creation of a lightning rod to draw down electricity in order to experiment on it,2 and the now legendary kite-and-key story, with a slightly different eye. (The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. Edited by Leonard W. Labaree. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962. Letter from Benjamin Franklin to Peter Collinson dated September 1753.)2
Before his work (and similar experiments being done in France and elsewhere during the same time period), any understanding of what lightning was — and any possible connection to electricity — was minimal, at best. The long-held religious interpretations were that lightning was the wrath of (a) god coming down upon the sinning or unworthy. In fact, science, that rational study, was uncertain about the origins and structure of electricity itself: although a fascination with it dates back to the ancient Greeks, any kind of detailed observation had of necessity been confined to the results rather than a quantifiable, scientific breakdown of its origin or cause.
In 1746, that changes drastically, when an object known as a Leyden Jar (so named for the University of Leyden, where its creator, Pieter van Musschenbroek, studied) became all the craze in Europe, for its ability to collect static electricity in a glass jar, and use it to create shocks in those who touched it. The connection between this lightning in a bottle and the lightning which appeared in the sky with similar but much more impressive results was obvious. But how to test any theories on such a powerful force of nature?
One of the popular scientific theories at the time was that electricity formed out of two opposing forces — that those forces “fought,” and out of that fighting created energy. Franklin’s experiment proved — to the public world — that electricity instead was comprised of a “common element.” However, in private notes taken by his son and student, who was also present during the experiments, Franklin comments on the “second electricised element” encountered during correct atmospheric conditions, and which could be felt only within his body, and not register in any of the apparatus he had set up for measurement.
That element, the son’s notes continued, sent such a surge of Power through his body “as was to make him feel rejoiced with the Power as was our gift and our joy, and Empowered to do as he might wish, without thought of the cost.” His work thus confirmed what some magic-users had long-suspected: that the ability within them was woken not by spells or sacrifices, but through the infusion of a positive charge into receptive cells within their body that transform current into power.
More, his work confirmed the nature of that charge, and how one might intentionally channel it.
However, because of the secretive and close-mouthed nature of Talents, arising from the waves of persecution they had endured over the generations, this information was at first not widely disseminated. Instead, it was passed, as was much of their knowledge, from mentor to student, one transference at a time.
Fortunately, Franklin’s indoctrination as a Talent was not enough to hold back his admiration for the democratic ideal, and – after a rather strident argument with his son and several other Talents in the community — he decided to offer his knowledge to the Talented community as a whole, leading to a radical change in how magic – now called current — was viewed and used.
(from “Benjamin Franklin: Genius, Talent and Troublemaker” from A Handbook for Working with Talents, 1st edition, by Sergei Didier. dymk press, 2012)
— © 2004 by Laura Anne Gilman