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Elemental magic: Yea or nay?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Nimue, Dec 17, 2014.

  1. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Using the four elements as the basis for a system of magic has, obviously, been done many times before. Do y'all think it's possible to inject new life into this concept, or is it all beating a dead horse? This could be a good place to discuss elemental magic in general, but I'd like to specifically ask after the magic in the current world I'm working with.

    There are five domains, rather than four, as follows: sigil of the Greenwood, sigil of the Waters, sigil of Stone, sigil of Wind, sigil of the Sun and Moon. (Essentially, plants/forest, water, earth, air, and fire.) Each of these domains is tapped into through enchanted instruments (wand, chalice, knife, harp, fire-striker, etc etc). Now, the magic of these does not actually involve manipulating the element, casting about water or fire, but rather powers arranged around certain qualities. For wood, transformation or transmutation of matter; for water, purification or harmony of spirit; for stone, protection or harmony of matter; for wind, command or transformation of spirit; for fire, destruction or transcendence. The exact limits and powers of working in each domain is still something I'm muddling through as the story requires it, but suffice to say that to do anything really extraordinary you need to work with multiple domains and instruments and, preferably, multiple spellcasters, which is why great magic is done through gatherings of witches (and the occasional warlock. Or druid.)

    Does that description make any sense at all...?
     
  2. Philster401

    Philster401 Maester

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    Yes it does, it's way better of an explanation than I could give of my stories magics, which are also elemental, but I have 11 elements/kingdoms.
     
  3. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    What are the elements you're using, if you don't mind sharing? It's interesting to me what people add, or take out. I was always bothered (in a general way) by the lumping together of living things and rocks under earth, so the Wood/Stone split seemed fairly intuitive to me, but there's so many different ways of looking at it.
     
  4. Philster401

    Philster401 Maester

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    Water, earth, wind, fire, light, dark, lightning, ice, forest/nature, chaos, and the last one might not be an element I haven't decided is knight/blacksmith/order. But there are also a few magics that don't fall under an element like space and time magic
     
  5. Khama

    Khama Scribe

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    I do like your description, and I would say that depending how you do your Elemental magic it isn't beating a dead horse. I feel there is quite that can still be done with it. Just gotta find the unique portions of the concept.

    I know for me, when it comes to the actual elements, I am doing Air, Water, Earth, Fire, Metal, Lightning, Molten Lava/Rock, Sand, and Ice.
     
  6. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

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    I use something similar for my principal WIP, though like Philster, I expanded it further. Mine is like the force in many ways, coming from the different aspect of the world and of the sky above (lunar, solar etc.) and can be manipulated either using an aspect of the energy, water to slow things down, wind to speed things up etc... or straight up blast someone with a pillar of molten energy summoned up from beneath their feet. It all depends on the creativity of the mage and what energy they have to work with in a given location; the energies in a desert would be different from those found in a forest or under water.

    The ones I use are:

    Air (air)
    Divine (deity)
    Energy (naturally occurring electromagnetism)
    Lunar (moons)
    Molten (underground/volcanoes/fires)
    Nature (plants)
    Psyche (mind)
    Shadow (dark places, absence of light)
    Solar (sun)
    Spirit (living creatures)
    Stone (rocks/ the ground)
    Water (bodies of water/water in the air in humid environments)

    Using this, I can tell what it would take to have a certain effect. A healing for example would use Spirit, Water and Energy. The "mage" uses their own life force for spirit (or that of the person being healed, or animal, familiar etc.) water because the body is composed mostly of water and energy, because it binds things together. Psyche might be involved too if the healer is trying to cure some mental disorder or disease.

    One "power" I use in the novel are ice missiles. (I refuse to use a fireball or lightning bolt etc.) They use energy, water and air. The "wizard" (I never use the term in my work) compresses water into tiny cube(s) and they streak toward the target. If they connect, they lodge into the skin (or deeper) and then he releases the energy, causing them to explode from the inside out. They can grievously maim someone or possibly kill them. :p

    There are others, but I think you may get the point. An elemental system; depending how it is set up can be very versatile and leave you wide open for creativity. :)
     
    Philster401 likes this.
  7. Logos&Eidos

    Logos&Eidos Sage

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    For me elementalism is one of the very first ideas that I had for a magic system, I mean back beffore I even knew that world-building and magic-systems were things.

    There are six elements each has an exo and esoteric components, the esoteric is more difficult to grasp.
    Every person whether the practice the art or not has elemental affinities, rarely will a person posses more than one strong affinity. the stronger the affinity the easier an element is to use.


    Fire: properly called radiance, also known as the three brothers for fire light and lightning are all aspects of it.
    It's esoteric manifests are sublimation and purification.

    Earth: holds metal as an aspect. it's esoteric manifestations are gravity/mass controll and fortitude.

    Air: it's esoteric manifestations are inertia and friction control, as well as force projection.

    Water: it's esoteric manifestation is entropy control.

    Wood: it's esoteric manifestation is control over life force.

    Spirit/ Void: it's esoteric manifestation are the ability to translate matter into a spiritual state, and transcend distance through the creation of portals.


    What's more the elements can be combined, esoteric water and esoteric wood enable shape shifting.
    Esoteric-wood and Water let a mage drain the moister from their unfortunate victims body. Esoteric-wood is necessary to access a living system,from a metaphysical stand point the water in a body is a part of a system and not an separate element.
     
  8. Tom

    Tom Istar

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    Nice elements, Nimue! I had an elemental magic system, but I dropped it a while ago because I couldn't find a way to make it original (as you evidently have). Now my magic is slightly controllable chaos that can do nearly anything, so long as you can imagine it.

    I like the air of Celtic druidism you've given your system. It's very refreshing--a lot of people give their elemental systems a Classical feel, since it was thought up by the Greeks and expanded upon by the Romans and Medieval scholars. Your approach is really unique. I also like the qualities associated with the elements. I'd never thought of wood being connected to transformation, but now that I think about it it does make sense.

    One thing--can you explain what a sigil is, and how it works?
     
  9. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    I flirted with elemental magic for a long, long while before giving it up in favor of what I have now - essentially amplified psionic ability with a few extra's and quirks thrown in. Closest I have to any sort of elemental magic would be pyro-kinetics, and its pretty limited.
     
  10. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    I do like the idea of using the elements more to symbolize kinds of power. (Literal "bending" matter itself works too, but it's done so often and it leaves out all the less tangible spells; what element is an illusion under?)

    I've toyed with matching the four elements to four principles I often use in magic and writing in general:

    earth= strength (power, healing, physical changes)
    water= knowledge (divination, communication, illusion)
    air= movement
    fire= persuasion
     
  11. Hainted

    Hainted Sage

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    I have 8 elements in my world, but magic isn't tied to them exclusively. For me the Elements or rather Elementals can possess certain individuals and grant them an array of abilities based around that element. It's fun to try and figure out new ways to tie the elements to different effects so Fire could be used to increase the spiciness of food or Plant used to sober someone up because of the hops. For my elements I went with

    Earth Water Air Fire Plant Animal Metal Void
     
  12. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Celtic thought is definitely one of my inspirations. I had thought about going with an Earth, Sea, and Sky division, which I think is now part of the ancient history of my world--at the origin of witchcraft, there might have been only three domains. This system is influenced by human thought and craft, and not truly dependent on absolute properties, as Greek ideas would have it. It's humans who have carved the world into five domains, created instruments that channel them, and taught witches and warlocks to cast magic this way.

    The fact that the Fey have followed this division in their "kingdoms", and are ruled by Lords and Ladies of Forest, River, Mountain, Wind, and Flame, speaks to how dependent the Fey are on human magic and human passion...

    Heh, you have kind of caught me out here, because the only reason I'm using the word sigil is because I like it. xD I generally refer to them as domains of magic, but the idea of a sigil would be used in a scholarly setting, as representation in a text, diagram, or etched onto an instrument. A sigil represents the essence of the element, and an art might be performed "under the sigil of the Greenwood". No, I don't have any idea what these sigils would look like, heh. They might vary quite a bit from depiction to depiction, as they don't, themselves, have any magical properties. They're only notation.

    I like the radiance concept, and I definitely agree with the usage of wood for life. An alternate conceptual pairing for my system I had written down was for wood, life; for water, peace; for stone, death; for wind, change; and for fire, passion. That's still part of the arrangement, there's a lot of qualities to the domains. Gotta love symmetry.

    I also had divination tied to water in my system, but I decided to remove specific powers from the elemental definitions for the reason that anything can be arrived at in different ways--scrying in water, yes, but also by casting stones or augury from the growth of a tree or the innards of an animal. Perhaps using water creates a more flexible vision, while stone tells you something narrower but more certain. I feel like tying individual powers to certain elements could work really well, though, I kind of just wanted to keep my narrative options open.
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2014
    Tom likes this.
  13. Tom

    Tom Istar

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    I knew sigil was a synonym for symbol, especially magical symbols, and I thought that was probably the angle you were going for. I like how you've taken that idea and made it your own.

    I too like Celtic thought (as you've most likely figured out by now), and I filled out my magic system with some rituals and ideas from druidism. Also some Viking beliefs, such as casting rune stones to read the future. What are some practices and rituals in your magic system?
     
  14. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    I haven't put too much thought into rituals yet because, as the story begins, witchcraft is very much out of favor and the protagonist is alone and without a Circle that could perform them. Rituals would be more common among the druids of the wildmen, but she wouldn't be familiar with them. As with the Celts, the heavenly bodies are important, because the phase of the moon and the positions of the stars affect the strength of magic in the world (hardly original, I know). Any rituals of witchcraft would be for specific magical purposes: protective wards, drawing life into the land, summoning the Fey, calling down curses.

    At any rate, I'm glad the answer to this question seems to be "yea," it makes me feel better about hanging on to that old chestnut. ^_^
     
  15. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    I used the four elements but not the classic ones. I use the modern ones: time, space, energy and matter
    And then like three other types

    Anyways, about your system, have you thought about the history of these schools? At first, I assumed they were one large discipline that were divided into five classification but it seems like the five schools may have developed independently from one another.
     
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2014
  16. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Wow, so are your elements manipulated directly? That would result in some pretty powerful mages! Is this in a modern setting, as well?

    Not sure if you're talking about my system, but no, it's all one discipline, that of witchcraft. It's possible for a witch to have affinities or antipathies towards different sigils, but generally they have at least a passing familiarity with all of them. The history of the art would be interesting, though, and it's something I haven't really delved into. The nature of instruments and what is thought possible (or moral) would definitely have changed over the centuries.
     
  17. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    Yes

    Not really

    If you don't need to look into its history, then don't. What you got going now seems good. As long as you know who uses/used this magic, you're good.
     
  18. Logos&Eidos

    Logos&Eidos Sage

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    Your system is far more ritualistic than mine. The formal name and classification the element of Fire begin Radiance is reference to real world science;heat,light and electricity are all just different frequencies of electromagnetism also called radiant energy.The only element that gives many conceptual trouble is aether/void, separating it in exoteric and esoteric in a satisfactory manor has proven difficult.
     
  19. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    I say Yea! Because I use elementalism and don't want to be a hypocrite.

    Okay, so for me, I use element as a "sphere" of magic.

    I guess it looks something like this, though it's been so long I don't remember what my chart looks like (for the purposes of my world, my magic "influences" most elements. As in, you can feed a fire at lower levels bu mages who can "create" true fire are very rare and elementalism itself isn't a widely studied skill. There simply isn't any money to be made except as a court wizard or an entertainer. Some folks still go that route, though, but finding a teacher to get past "student" level can take longer than the learning):


    1. Elemental Magic
      1. Student: minor tricks, a few effective talents like lighting a wick
        1. First Tier: has thorough control over things like water flow, a bonfire's flame, can create "flame" that doesn't burn, mostly show and can stun upon impact. Can affect wind patterns and use wind to some effect, but nothing like "flying" or in a destructive way. Wind control is a rare skill, many mages begin with fire and stop progressing.
        2. Second Tier: as lessons progress, mages learn about true fire (rather than light). Also, the world's elements
        3. Third Tier: very few mages ever reach the third tier in element sphere. Simply, there aren't teachers and self-experimentation takes many years to produce results. As tomes are discovered, some secrets are unlocked of the lost ancient arts of magic, allowing a few to reach this level of elemental control, which includes weather control, but who could ever find one of them to ask for tutelage?
    2. Enchantment:
      1. Student: a student may have a master and learn privately, or s/he may learn in a school. Enchantment is a wider study of magic and mostly focuses on the forces of the world and how to control one's own magical energy.
        1. First Tier: "casters" can enchant small items and do limited effects with them. Many become charlatans on the "black market' and con people.
        2. Second Tier: 'wizards" can perform stronger enchantments, still with limited goals.
        3. Third Tier: "mages" can not only enchant powerful items, but their knowledge is deep, many studying the old ways and deviating from council sanctioned spells, delving into the dark arts and "blood magic" like one of my MC's grandfathers.

    There are also other schools like life, that has three strengths like enchanting. First tier may heal basic wounds and third tier may even be able to perform a resurrection, but these skills are limited to temple healers mostly and their magic is thought to come from their god directly. A few special people have done miraculous things though, perhaps because their faith is so strong, more likely because they descend from strong wizards of antiquity whose knowledge has been lost to time.

    Every positive has a negative. Where some can heal, others can harm. and all magic can be used for good intents or evil ones. Magic is gray and its only personal desire that determines whether a wizard sticks with the council or goes rogue. The council has no enforcement over those who learn in cults, from demons, or from evil humans who seek to destroy.

    In short, my magic system relies heavily on element and "spheres" with very few people crossing into multiple "spheres". A few of my more talented main characters (as the series progressed) became such and crossed into life and element or whatever. The series began when magic was a dying art, thought inherently evil by those without it and in power. But the series covers three hundred years and in the end, magic is more commonplace, but still relatively low power level compared to other fantasy worlds where it features prominently into the world.
     
  20. Tantalumbismuth

    Tantalumbismuth Dreamer

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    I love elemental magic systems. I use one in my world. every living thing has elemental energy, Earth, Fire, Air, or Water. You're born with an element, and you use that energy to manipulate the energy of the world to do magic. there is also minor 'elements', Order, Chaos, Arcane, Divine, Life, Death, Chakra, Psionic. Which are ways you learn to channel your birth element into a specialized kind of magic.
     
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