The witches are an entirely matriarchal group ruled by a twelve witch panel known as the witches’ Council. They carefully guard sacred magical knowledge and serve the people of the Goddess, healing the sick, tending to the poor, and guarding the spiritual welfare of the country.
Witches self-select. Novices begin as early as nine, but fully two-thirds of novices do not move on to the second level of witches, which is to be an Apprentice. Witches must be celibate, and the hormonal demands of puberty take care of at least half the candidates. The rest must struggle against the demands of working in the magical planes known as the Plane and the Void, mental excursions which challenge even the strongest of Etsian young women.
Those who do desire to go on take the Apprentice Vows, and once this step is taken a young woman will eventually become a witch or will be executed by the witches’ Council. She serves as the handmaiden to an established witch, and when the appropriate time comes, the Apprentice is Sealed and becomes a full witch.
Novices have no true obligations outside of an association with a potential mentor. Apprentices must wear the costume of a witch, though she keeps her hair and builds herself a workshop behind her mentor’s cottage. She might, if she chooses or necessity demands, bring along a sister, maiden aunt, or widowed mother to act as servant to both her and the mentor witch.
Apprentices are encouraged to have ego, to journal their personal thoughts and feelings and within the confines of their workshop nourish a personal sense of self. In written communication Apprentice is always capitalized to emphasize the egotistical nature of the Apprentice, which is not considered an asset but a warning. Upon being Sealed an Apprentice becomes a witch: she suspends further use of her name and takes on the name associated with her working parish. Her hair is shaved prior to her Sealing ceremony, but because of the magic the ceremony imbues within her, it never grows back. She is now part of the magical collective, seeing all and hearing all within the magical world, unobstructed and without personal desires, living only to serve the Goddess and the people of Etsey and to nurture magic.
Apprentices and novices are also served by guides, elemental ghostlike forces which can take shadowy but largely insubstantial form. They are there to monitor the ego of the junior witches and pass on reports of their potential eligibility to the witch collective, since they are not yet fully joined. Guides may, at their discretion, cut off an Apprentice’s power to the Source of magic, which while does not render them powerless tends to make them overwhelmed by confusion and usually kills them. Failing this, the witches’ Council will eventually exterminate the Apprentice.