What Is A Witcher? A Lore Guide For Netflix Viewers
Witchers, to put it plainly, are monster hunters for hire. But they’re not some kind of knockoff bounty hunter, nor are they elite warriors with their own political notions. Technically speaking, they’re not even human anymore.
As children, witchers are subjected to violent mutations in order to enhance their speed, strength, and sensory perception. As a result, they also benefit from — or in some cases are cursed with — abnormally long lifespans.
There’s a lot to understand when it comes to the concept of a witcher. Given the astronomical success of Netflix’s Witcher series — which is currently filming Season 2 — and CD Projekt Red’s Witcher games — which are coming to PS5 and Xbox Series X — a lot of people want to know what makes Geralt of Rivia in particular such a special character. But there’s more to witchers than Geralt of Rivia, and there’s more to the world of The Witcher than the witchers we see.
How did they become this way, you might ask. More importantly, why did they become this way? What does their day-to-day life look like, and how do people treat them when they wander into a town in the middle of nowhere?
If you’re curious about the answers to any of these questions, you’re in luck, because we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide of everything you need to know about what a witcher actually is.
The Trials of the Grasses
The Trials of the Grasses are the first step in converting an ordinary child into a witcher. However, it’s important to note that they will rarely work unless there’s something already extraordinary about the child in question — essentially, these Trials are based on consuming alchemical ingredients that can be deadly to anyone who isn’t strong enough to digest them. If the Trials go well, the child subjected to them will become faster, stronger, and gain enhanced senses rivalling those of a hawk’s sight or a bat’s hearing.
If they go poorly, the child will likely die. And most of the time — approximately seven times out of ten — that’s exactly what happens.
Creating a witcher goes something like this:
- Get child
- Force child to eat toxic concoction
- Child (hopefully) survives
It’s worth noting that part of what makes Geralt of Rivia so significant is that he demonstrated an almost unbelievable tolerance for the Grasses. In fact, his white hair is a direct result of being subjected to extra experiments, which gives him his extraordinary strength, even for a witcher.
Although most witchers are subjected to the same Trials and are therefore relatively similar to one another, there are a variety of different witcher schools dotted across The Continent.
This all began with the Order of Witchers, a secret organization of magical knights created by mages to aid the monarchy. However, the mages were dissatisfied with their results, and started to call the mutated knights “witchers.” Shortly thereafter, many of these witchers broke away from the institution in order to form their own schools — the School of the Wolf, the School of the Cat, the School of the Bear, and more.
Each witcher school teaches its pupils differently. Those who hail from the School of the Bear, for example, are usually burly types wielding absurdly heavy weapons — those who played The Witcher 2 or The Witcher 3 will recognize Letho as a practitioner of this particular discipline.
Geralt of Rivia is from the School of the Wolf, which is known for producing witchers who are reliable and professional — something his character clearly reflects.
Obviously every Witcher school is headquartered somewhere, and Kaer Morhen is home to the ancient keep inhabited by the School of the Wolf. Geralt of Rivia often spends his winters here with his master, Vesemir, and his friends, such as Lambert, Eskel, and Coen.
Well, calling Lambert a “friend” might be a bit of a stretch, given that Geralt’s favourite limerick is, “Lambert, Lambert, what a prick.” Secretly, though, they’re best buds.
Kaer Morhen, itself is presided over by Vesemir, is located in the far north of the harsh Kaedweni mountains. However, Kaer Morhen was attacked back when Vesemir was a young witcher, and many of its inhabitants died. The recipes for the Trials of the Grasses were also destroyed, meaning that no more witchers could be produced, causing Geralt and his friends to become a species on the verge of extinction.
So what makes our iconic hero Geralt of Rivia so special? Portrayed by Henry Cavill in the Netflix series, Geralt is a witcher who claims to stay on The Path at all costs, meaning that he treads a neutral ground with no concern for the matters of men or politics — all he needs to do is take on contracts and get paid.
This, you’ll soon learn, is a big fat lie. As Jaskier says in the Netflix series, “Yes, yes, yes, you never get involved — except you actually do, all of the time.”
While Geralt is exceptional for having underwent extra mutations, and is one of the last remaining witchers in Kaer Morhen — as well as being the most prodigiously talented, with only Vesemir rivalling him in wisdom and Eskel in combat — what truly separates him from other witchers has nothing to do with being a witcher. In fact, that’s literally what distinguishes him from the others — that he has a side of him that is so far detached from the common misconceptions informing people’s opinions of witchers. He actually changes people’s minds about what these extraordinary people are truly like.
So while we can talk about the Trials of the Grasses, Witcher schools, Kaer Morhen, Vesemir, and all of the monsters who roam the vast expanses of The Continent, The Witcher series as a whole is Geralt’s story for a reason. It’s because it focuses on the human aspects of being a witcher as opposed to the witchered aspects of being a human. As a result, knowing all about what exactly a witcher is will definitely help you to understand the series — but it’s only when you truly invest in Geralt’s plight, in his relationships with Yennefer, Ciri, Jaskier (known as Dandelion in the books and games), and more that you begin to understand what the series is about, and it’s as much about what it means to not be a witcher as it is about anything else.
The Conjunction of the Spheres
The Conjunction of the Spheres is the phenomenon that originally set all of this in place. Approximately 1,500 years prior to the events of the novels, a strange cataclysm filled the Earth with creatures from other realms, which is where many of The Witcher’s monsters originally came from.
As well as introducing monsters to the world, though, the Conjunction of the Spheres is the reason that magic exists and can be harnessed by sorcerers, sorceresses, and witchers. Other magical disciplines exist, too — for example, in The Witcher 3 we meet an oneiromancer, who can predict a person’s future by studying their dreams.
Without the Conjunction of the Spheres, The Continent would not be the wildly dangerous place it is, teeming with all kinds of monsters and miscreants. At the same time, the Conjunction is the reason for magic, which is in turn the reason for some of the world’s most spectacular accomplishments.
Witchers tread the line between both, having access to basic magic while being tasked with exterminating the monsters who threaten society. But it’s this balance that sets them aside from everyone else — they understand that not all monsters are evil, and not all evil is monstrous. As demonstrated in the Netflix series, the sylvan known as Torque looks like a devil, but is a sentient, empathetic, and benevolent creature. Meanwhile, the people who have put a bounty on his head are violent and ignorant — the thing is, only a witcher, perfectly in tune with both aspects of the Conjunction, is able to tell the difference.
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