Moly
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Basic Information

According to Greek mythology, the herb Moly was said to be a rare but powerful plant with the ability to protect the user from hostile magic. Homer depicts the herb as white flowered and black rooted and dangerous for mortals to pick - Odysseus received his sprig from the hand of the god Hermes before going up against the sorceress Circe.

In myth, this herb was sprung from the blood of a fallen giant and grew on a specific island.

Apparently there is a plant called "snowdrop", with a white flower and black roots, that has long been used in alternative/herbal medicine in the Ural Mountains to alleviate polio paralysis. It has been studied since 1951, and has been found to contain chemicals that can counter-act hallucinogens and poisons that effect acetylcholine in the brain, and is now used to treat alzheimers as well. Some propose this may actually be the Moly of ancient myth, or closely related to actual plant that was Moly (and which may have gone extinct through careless husbandry and over-use, as happened to Silphium). If so, it's possible there was a coded myth aspect to the old tales, laying out antidote and medicine information in the stories as a way to preserve or spread knowledge.

Sources

Bibliography
2. Video: TED-Ed video about the actual pharmacology of the Oddyssey - discusses how snowdrop might be Moly, and also talks about other plants Circe likely used against Odysseus.

Game and Story Use

  • Used in a game, you will need to work out how it resists magic and why it dangerous to pick.
    • As per the "other" wiki article, one of the authorities suggests that the "difficulty in pulling up the plant" is due to the "peculiar powers claimed by magicians" - perhaps picking it releases a burst of anti-magic energy that is particularly harmful to magic users (but perhaps still dangerous to other mortals as well) and thereafter it falls to radiating an anti-magic field that declines as the plant withers.
    • Obviously an uncontrolled anti-magic field makes this very much the tool of the mundane party - any wizard in the group is likely to have his style seriously cramped by this stuff.
    • A less powerful version of moly might simply be an ingredient in workings or preparations which resist magic.
    • Moly might also be a useful component of wards.
    • The how is also important - does it only screen out hostile magic or does it blanket everything? Does it work on its own or give a bonus to your inherent resistance? A lot of this may depend on how magic and magic resistance work in setting.
    • Following Homer's suggestion that it was dangerous for mortals but not the immortal gods to pick moly, it may be that it doesn't work on "divine magic" … if that's a separate thing in your system … and so any form of theurgy is exempt.
  • More mundane interpretation (again, as per the wiki) attributes Circe's power to delusions caused by anticholinergic poisoning and suggests that the moly might have been snowdrop, which contains a natural anticholinesterase which would serve as an antidote. The fact that anticholinesterases are toxic in their own right may be the "danger" in picking them.
    • For a low-magic campaign, you could replace all the sorcery and supernatural elements of the myths with alchemy and pharmacy knowledge. Magical attacks that ensorcell, hypnotize, compel, or even transform might all be the application of hallucinogenic compounds. Moly/Snowdrop is the antidote that stabilizes brain function and provides defense against these sorts of attacks. Other attack spells are probably just poison in such a campaign, and magic weapons are either poisoned or just high-quality alloys refined by alchemical process.
  • If the herb has as limited a habitat as is suggested, whatever protects it from plucking had best be damned powerful to stop it becoming extinct.
  • If not limited in habitat, expect it to be widely planted - again, assuming that there is a safe technique for picking it (consider mandrake) … and indeed planting it in the first place.
  • A question: do the anti-magic properties manifest before picking? If so, a moly garden could be an ideal place to avoid magical attack or even surveillance.
    • Going back to the wards above, when building a permanent anti-magic ward around a building, planting moly in key places might be very useful.
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