Most Varushkans regard magic as a useful tool to protect people, but one that can also be dangerous. Supernatural evil is rife in Varushka, and magic is often the only counter to the workings of sovereigns, many of whom possess potent occult power themselves. Magic is rarely free however – and Varushkans understand that magical power often involves some sort of sacrifice. Magic is neither good nor evil – the same power that lets a magician bless crops and protect against monsters allows them to spread sickness or kill their enemies. As such magicians are treated with wary respect by sensible Varushkans.
A lot of Varushkan ritual magic revolves around sacrifice. This may involve a literal sacrifice when performing rituals that involve casting valuable items into a fire, or be more symbolic in nature involving shedding of a small amount of a ritualist's blood. There is a strong tradition of bargaining and payment in Varushkan magic that recognises that nothing comes without a price.
Varushkan volhov are occult problem solvers who make a study of supernatural powers to better understand and defend against them. They work to unravel curses and defend their allies from monsters, but they also lay curses on those who they think deserve or will learn from them. They aspire to wield magic with an even hand, maintaining an internal balance between positive and harmful magic.
Volhov often specialise in two particular branches of magic. They are interested in magic that wards against and binds supernatural forces for obvious reasons, and volhov who master this particular type of spellcraft are often interested in the Eternals. These entities are dangerous, but several of them seem to have a particular interest in Varushka and they can be bargained with by clever volhov. Further, some volhov actually make contact with sovereigns, either arranging deals that protect their community or working magic to keep the sovereign quiescent.
They also make a study of divination – especially if they are also wise ones. The ability to predict danger or uncover secrets serves them well as advisors, and is often key to uncovering the weakness of an enemy. Volhov know that uncovering a secret is not enough, that they need to find a practical way to use their knowledge to resolve their problems. The volhov embrace practicality and teach that not every problem can be solved with magic – that it sometimes creates more problems than it resolves.
Some volhov are itinerants, travelling the roads between settlements in the company of a warden fellowship or Navarr striding, or trusting their wisdom and magic to protect them when they journey by themselves. This willingness to travel alone adds to their mystique, and there are many stories of cunning volhov encountering and overcoming sovereigns, often staying as their guests for a short time while the sovereign tries to trap them into breaking a stricture and freeing the creature, or dooming themselves.
Volhov have a reputation for being meddlers that is not undeserved. They do not live apart from the other inhabitants of Varushka, and actively involve themselves in the lives of those around them, offering advice or interfering to improve any situation that catches their fancy. A volhov boyar is rare but not unknown; some use magic to empower their schlacta, or hire schlacta who possess practical magical talents of their own. Some volhov boyars have a bleak reputation for making deals with Eternals and sovereigns that protect their people but leave the people of other valleys prey to monstrous depredations.
Volhov are usually aided by a younger apprentice who learns when and how to wield magic. It is common for volhov to possess lineage, and they often prefer to take apprentices who have the touch of “the other” about them, in the knowledge that it makes it easier for them to deal with some Eternals. Volhov tend to dress in dark coloured robes made of hard-wearing fabric and are rarely without their staves. They commonly cover their heads with hoods or hats, and volhov are often described in stories as “shadow faced” as a reference both to their headgear and their mysterious nature. This simple uniform announces their profession to others, and warns them to be respectful.
Magic commonly forms a basis for cooperation in Varushka with skilled practitioners from different vales coming together to form a cabal to work powerful rituals. Cabals vary greatly in their unity and purpose and members may include wise ones, volhov and even wardens. The loosest cabals are little more than ritual teams where individuals whose primary concern is the vale in which they live come together for a time to further their own interests but more unified cabals often have an identity and a purpose of their own.
No two cabals are alike; some make their existence known while others prefer to operate unnoticed. Some occupy ancient fortifications and employ schlacta to protect them and keep unwanted intruders away, while members of others prefer the comforts and community of life in a vale. Some welcome any who would be a member, others invite only the most powerful to join them. The cabals of Varushka rarely challenge the power of the boyars, precious few have the time or the inclination to take on the defense of a vale and its populace, but they are influential and most boyars tread carefully around those who can wield magic. Some cabals favour the philosophy of the volhov, and tend to meddle in the politics of the vales and the nation, while those that favour wise ones tend to serve as a haven for wisdom and assistance when a hard winter brings difficult times.
The most powerful cabals have existed for centuries and often have an agenda of their own; many can trace their roots back to groups of Ushkan magician-mystics known as "bargainers" who specialised in negotiating with the sovereigns in the days before the appearance of the Vard. In the centuries since, as in all areas of Varushkan life, there has been an extensive merging of Ushka and Vard traditions to create something very different to the original small covens.