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Interesting Magic Systems

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Lock, Feb 28, 2013.

  1. ProjectZ

    ProjectZ Dreamer

    My idea for a magic system is based around natural disposition to a certain element. Fire water earth and air. When born into this world depending on your race and the what month you were born in your natural magic changes. Much like with our own world, there are 12 months 2 months for each element. Each element can be categorized into two kinds, positive and negative they do not affect what could be done with an element only combinations of elements.

    A person could be born with elemental combinations outside their own racial tendencies. For example if someone who is naturally gifted with negative fire and is born on a month with positive earth they will have. Both at their disposal. However if it was negative earth they will only have fire. And if the same person were to be born on a minth of positive fire they will be extremely gifted with the element.

    There also 2 unelemental months and 2 months of energy when born on a person will have more vitality to manipulate the elements with. The 2 unelemntal months do not have any effect on magic.

    Training is needed to use magic effectively. Magic is used by drawing from the spiritual realm the energy and then conjuring either is physical form or enchanting ones self or an object with its properties. A great deal of concentration is needed for this. Masters of their element spend less time finding the energies from around them to use them.

    Depending on climate the abundance of an elements energy will be affected. Water will be most prominent around oceans lakes or rivers or on raining days. While fire will be most prominent when the sun is high as well as in deserts while less prominent on rainy days. Earth energies will always be prominent but since it's physical form is much heavier drawing on the energies to create earth is also heavier on the caster. Air is also in abundance but like earth a wind user has a draw back where an extremely strong wind will not be controlled. Creating a need for moderation.

    Drawing energies however is damagin to the world. And if not used in moderation can have side effects on ecosystems. Magic and life on this world share the same energy save for the mortal races of man. An ecosystem is controlled by a nexus where an abundance of energies are being collected naturally. This nexus gives birth to a guardian which inturn creates according to their will mountains or forests and rivers by connecting energies from around it and from those far away like from an ocean or under ground deposits of water. They help disbalance the mans harmful use of the worlds energies.

    The nexus is usually home to the guardians heart, a crystal formation of pure energy, very valuable in this world and a ready supply of the purist energy. Most of the times singular sometimes with more energies trapped within. Men will often time steal them if they can to use as destructive weapons in warfare.

    A guardian could be see as a lesser land god. They creative life in their own territory and once a creature and it's mate ate created they procreate on their own. In the beginning there were but two of a species. As time based there is no need to create more of a species. Land guardians take on the form of beasts, but they can also take the form of man depending on a choice made in their rise in power.

    A gaurdian can be made in two ways, one the land itself makes it. And two a creature absorbs enough energy and eventually out powers the old guardian (though rare) or it replaces an absant guardian. Beast are born with the ability to speak, but have forgotten it since ancient times. When they grow in power so too do they remember speech. And in their rise they go under a a transformation one that takes time to undergo. And depended on the beasts experience with men some chose a human like form. They two can call upon the energies and borrow them to conjur like man can.

    There is much more to this idea but i fell like I have rambled on long enough lol.
  2. ahgar

    ahgar Acolyte

    still working on my magic system..
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I'm not sure if my magic system is interesting, but it's different from most and it is integral to my world. Put simply, magic has a history.

    In Altearth, history diverged in the Late Roman Empire, when magic and monsters invaded. Some kinds of monsters have their own magic systems. At least one race had magic then lost it. Among humans, the early practitioners scarcely understood their own powers. Magic worked sometimes and not other times. Early scholarship held that magic was idiosyncratic and individual.

    By the Second Dark Age, systems of understanding had developed. People began to recognize underlying principles, including factors such as time of year, time of day (eventually understood as astrological factors), place, materials involved, weather, etc. Even so, the practice of magic was tricky and volatile and the dangerous stuff tended to get institutionalized into orders of magicians.

    By the late Middle Age, magic had become highly formalized and regulated. Then came a series of cultural shocks that resulted in the entire system getting turned inside out. The culmination of this was the Scientific Revolution, which in Altearth means a scientific approach to the practice and understanding of magic. Eventually, scientists worked out the elemental factors that made magic possible (phlogiston and aether) and a kind of steampunk period ensued that ended only with the Great War. In modern times, there developed a deep divide between the Sciences and the Arts, with the latter being the term for the medieval style of magic.

    So, with about 2000 years of history to work with, and multiple races (I've given the history only of the human practice of magic; elvish magic, for example, would have its own history), I've got a huge range of ways in which to present the use of magic in the context of a given story. I like having this flexibility. Each time a write a story, another piece of the entire mosaic takes form and color.
  4. Hainted

    Hainted Sage

    I built a magic system around Stick-Bombs(the chains, and stuff that people build and set off made out of popsicle sticks, or tongue depressors) Not very powerful, but interesting to write.
  5. Scribble

    Scribble Archmage

    One system in my WIP I have code-named Runix.

    The essential idea is that thoughts are physical and as such can affect the rest of reality. They form patterns of electrical current, and ideas stored in the brain are not ethereal things but the stuff of which all matter is formed - energy.

    The manipulation of certain symbols in mindspace can create flows of energy. The language is a blend of mathematics and runes that "represent" patterns and flows of energy. Essentially, with supreme concentration, and by weaving complex patterns in the mind you can modify reality. In fact, the universe is written with this very language, which we understand through physics, but in that form it is merely descriptive - you can predict, you can understand, but without tools you cannot manipulate. By adding that symbolic dimension, the mind can alter reality.

    Runix as the "operating system" of reality has a hacker connotation, by reference to "Unix". The practitioners who stumble onto it have a hacker-like, anarchistic bent, so it mirrors the kind of "hack the world" spirit.

    The Architect (a mysterious personage) used Runix to create The World Machine, and none of the people afterwards understood fully that language, they use the Machine as your grandma might use her Mac to go on Facebook, but has no power to change it or understand how it works behind the scenes.

    Something like that!
    Last edited: May 28, 2014
    Zero Angel likes this.
  6. Bangladeath

    Bangladeath Acolyte

    Magic seems to be the most interesting when it is used subtly. When magic seems like it is not out of the grasp of the reader then it makes the world seem closer to reality. For example; psychics, wargs, and masters of body and mind brought on by years of meditation. When magic isn't over the top the reader will have an easier time relating. :)
  7. Zero Angel

    Zero Angel Auror

    That's super cool.

    Reminds me a bit of "Ah! My Goddess!" In that, Heaven is a huge supercomputer and the goddesses speak in a "machine code" when they perform magic.
  8. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

    I have a Magic style that is very supernatural, and it contrasts greatly with the Magic systems that most other Fantasy writers have in their worlds.

    One of the things that surprised me a lot when I joined Mythic Scribes was precisely this: Most people prefer to portray Magic as a force of very limited power, full of costs and sacrifices of all kinds. That happens (I believe) because you prefer to have non-magical main characters and heroes, and also this helps the readers to identify themselves easier with the characters.

    In my systems, Magic is defined as a force that does not belong to nature. Instead of working according to the laws of the universe it simply crushes the rules and does what it wants anyway, so I think of it as a truly supernatural force or maybe a type of Weird Magic.

    If you are a Mage, it means that you are above nature and the rules of the universe mean nothing to you.

    This gives my Mages levels of power that make them more like monsters and less like magic users, nightmarish entities that non-magic forces stand no chance against. They still have some limitations here and there, but in general it's a seriously powerful style of Magic.
  9. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    At risk of sounding stupid, what do you do with these characters? Do you pit them against each other, or do you make them a looming menace, or what?
  10. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

    Feo, you are right: In my worlds these Mages have a tendency to threaten and fight each other.

    My first Fantasy trilogy opens with the story about two Mage cities that are in war with each other, a war that had lasted over three hundred years and caused terrible suffering to both sides. The Queen from one of the cities and the Princess from the other are friends in secret, so the first novel is about how they manage to finally stop the hostilities.

    The Mages also represent a considerable threat to non-magical people in all of my worlds, not because they want to conquer the people but because sometimes there is collateral damage caused by the Magical events.

    I think that the biggest difference between my stories and the stories of many other Fantasy writers, is that my stories are all about Magic while the non-magic is downgraded to the background.
  11. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    This may sound more sci-fi than magical, but here goes...

    My current WIP requires certain characters to travel vast distances in a short amount of time. One way I could tackle this problem is by invoking wormholes, which are basically tunnels that connect different areas of space-time. They might come in handy as portals to different parts of my world without having to invoke magic or other supernatural elements.
  12. Nagash

    Nagash Sage

    Well, mine is quite confusing and I'm not sure how to phrase it appropriately, but i'll give it a shot :)

    In my WIP, stars are bodies radiating such an astronomical amount of energy that they have supernatural and often random impacts on the universe surrounding them (i.e. consuming nearby planets, twisting the space-continuum). It is also believed that being the recipient of so much power gave them, over time, some sort of a conscience, or at least a will of their own, eventually making them "almighty architects of time and space". The world i focus on, Zael, was actually a dying star a few billion years ago, that was salvaged in extremis and through great efforts by its fellow stellar bodies, and converted in some sort of uber-planet. By uber-planet, one must understand that it differs from a regular planet in its very nature. Zael is a dormant star, with at its heart, a tremendous amount of energy, whose influence on terrestrial life is unquestionable. When it was rescued from death - and implosion - the neighboring stars tried to harness all this colossal amount of energy (here called 'mana') by channeling it through some kind of abstract floating dimension called "spirit-link", and sometime referred to as "Nayal" by mortals. This spirit-link must be considered like some kind of thoughtless yet all powerful entity which linked the star's mind, essence and will to the newly born planet. The spirit link was instrumental in creating an atmosphere, solid ground, vast oceans, and ultimately life and all earthly things. In many ways, it focused the well of mana Zael represented, making it a more efficient and self-aware than the other stars . Zael became a planet with a superior mind, overruling all things that sprouted from its womb, through the spirit link. Every single form of life (soul) was connected to this vast entity, building an insanely huge - and invisible - network. The fact that mortals were a part of this spirit link through which colossal amounts of mana flowed, gave them the potential to use it and abuse it. In the first ages of the world, accessing to the spirit-link was fairly easy for it flowed freely through everyone - beings with a capacity for introspection could actually feel this mana burning in their veins, and learn to manipulate it. Many of the first mortals (Svarts) became abled mana-wielders, using this energy to overrule natural rules of space, time and general physics - some could travel thousands of miles in a few seconds, dematerialize, or even, for the greatest of them all, transfer their conscience in the spirit-link and achieve spiritual immortality. Some however, toyed too recklessly with these monstrous powers, and were simply destroyed by this overwhelming energy. At this point, mana roamed freely throughout the world, and mortals had achieved unthinkable prowess through its use - merely anybody could become a fairly decent magi with little effort.

    Concurrently to "soul magic", there was another, rather untamable energy, called elemental magic. Juste like any other force on Zael, elemental magic originated from the spirit link, but was created for a solely "destructive purpose", and had been entrusted to supernatural and almighty entities called primordial Gods, which remained vassals to the spirit of the planet. These Primordial Gods (four of them as you probably guessed) had battled each other for ages, forging the planet in the process. Should Natural order be overcame by power-hungry mortals (which became very probable with the almighty Svarts twisting the flows of mana), the Primordial Gods were also a "safety switch" charged with the duty of wiping out the surface of Zael. These Primordial Gods, along with their power, lived in essence within the spirit-link, in a concealed dimension called "elementary plan". This plan was originally inaccessible to mortal, but the frontiers faded with time, allowing some powerful magic wielders to borrow elemental energy from the Primordial Gods.

    Here is the structure of the spirit link of Zael :

    Void - Elementary Plan - Flux - Concrete

    Spirit Link
    ==============================> ​

    We mentioned the Elementary plan already; the Concrete is basically the material world where rules of physics apply but can be broken through the use of magic. The Flux is a transcending plan with no sense of time, space or matter, which mortals can actually use to drain flows of mana or move through space. When mortals use soul magic, they are taking it away from the Flux. Some actually transferred their conscience in the Flux, in order to achieve spiritual immortality. Finally, the Void is the origin of all energy, by opposition to the Concrete which represents the receiving end of said energy. Mortals cannot access such a plan without being destroyed, for the energy is untamed by the spirit link. Those who tried simply and utterly vanished.

    Over the course of history, the accessibility to the flux shifted from being open to anyone, to tightly closed. Following the great conflict between the Svarts (and other great entities which planed to vanquish the living spirit of Zael) and the spirit of the planet, which used its elemental minions to wage war, the spirit linked was overflowed, and the Svarts were eradicated. Subsequently, access to the Flux and the further plans was blocked. During this period, no magic whatsoever could be used by mortals - furthermore, no intelligent race started to develop until millions of years later, when mana accidentally stared to leak again towards the Concrete. Some speculate that the seal had been weakened by the Secondary Gods, the rebellious sons of the great spirit, who still wished to overthrow the ruling conscience of the planet. Thus, magic came back gradually in the world, albeit much weaker than it originally was; but just enough to spark a new conflict between the earth and skies. Moreover, the seal of the elementary plan ultimately weakened, allowing some mortals to borrow the powers of fire, water, earth and wind, at the expense of the still loyal Primordial Gods.

    One last important note is the existence of "pious magic" (borrowed from D&D); Gods (Primordial and Second) can directly lend power to their devotees. In this specific case, faith is the instrument of power.

    My depiction of magic is an allegory of power; once the weak minded mortals got a taste of it, they just can't get enough. Ultimately, magic deeply corrupts the mind, and eventually the body of those who wield it. It can be used to achieve truly wondrous things, but most will systematically abuse it for their own personal gain, and escape their fear, notably that of Death.
  13. Logos&Eidos

    Logos&Eidos Sage

    I've got at least three magic systems for my WIP.

    The first is a form of divine magic, however it is inspired by the Avatars from Unknown Armies rather than the common portrayal of divine magic. The Gods numinous power radiates from their home in the Exalted Plane(the closest place to the cosmic-axis) through out all the lower planes.
    People either through natural attunement or through devotion/faith can tap into the Numen of a God or Gods. As a result the Numen-channeling person manifest a number of abilities. First is luck,which is particularly strong when they are acting alignment with their god. Second, is an intuitive grasp of all things under that god's purview. Third is Excellence, this is the most overt of the gifts. This enables a person to achieve feats of skill that ranging from exceptional to physical impossible in the case of those with the strongest connection the Numen.

    The second form of magic is called the Inner Way which is split into to paths Psyche and Somata. The mind and body have tremendous capabilities, which only a dedicated few ever truly realizes. The Inner way is my settings home for psychic/ki powers. And to give an in universe justification for the Badass Normal who all to often cross the line into superhuman in all but name.

    The third form of magic. Which I'm calling Sorcery. is an omnipresent force, which practitioners perceive as a great web composed of silvery metallic threads that play a fractal melody. Those either through birth or training(which is extremely rare)
    can manipulate the threads of the web-sorciere to effect the parts of the world that the threads resonate.
  14. Scribble

    Scribble Archmage

    The latest Writing Excuses podcast talks about magic systems - Sanderson recommends fewer, more deeply thought out systems, as opposed to having "30 magic systems". They talk about balancing, realism, etc...

    Sometimes Howard drives me nuts with his long-winded and nearly pointless segues, but I do enjoy hearing the writing thoughts of Mary Robinette Kowal and Sanderson.

    Writing Excuses 9.21: Sanderson’s 3rd Law » Writing Excuses
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2014
  15. Lvl20wizard

    Lvl20wizard Sage

    I am currently working on a magic system which bases itself on altering the codes that are embedded in the natural world.

    The world is built on the notion that it is a logical world created by sentient beings, one were there is an endlessly large web of meanings and strings of physical laws. However, these codes are said only to be accessable by the Gods, but humans have been smart enough to bend the universal laws and essentially make the world perceive a few chosen as Gods.

    These guys are mages.

    They're both able to see the web of meanings and alter these codes to create magical effects. Unfortunately, these guys tend to become swiftly decrepid mentally and physically, as it is taxing for the body to drink "the blood of the Gods" and unhealthy for the mind to see the meaning of life on a regular basis.

    Some may think Matrix. I certaintly do. And I think it's pretty cool :D
  16. Jesse Booth

    Jesse Booth Scribe

    The way i see it, all systems of magic are just man-made concepts of division within magic, and as such they should have some interlocking aspects. For example, spells can be used in conjunction with each other to create some rather startling and potent side effects (don't cast waterbreathing and a firebolt at the same time, whatever you do. it tends to cause severe burns to the lungs.).

    Some schools of magic would appeal more strongly to different personality types, to the point that your worldview and inner workings effect how effective you can be with certain schools. For example, a brutal warlord who bends the primal forces of fire and lightning to his will would have difficulty casting all but the most rudimentary healing spells, no matter how much he has studied up on theory and application of these spells, because he simply lacks the ability to understand the value of life.
  17. hunter830

    hunter830 Dreamer

    While I'm not sure my current project qualifies as fantasy perse, my side project does and I just so happen to have finished brainstorming a magic system for that side project. Here goes nothing:

    Magic is derived from a malicious sentient darkness called The Molte; humans are the walking talking organic prisons for a subdued and dormant Molte, all humans are born with a little piece of this darkness in themselves. A would be magic user draws on this darkness like a power source and twists it into one form or another eventually falling into one of four schools, Light, Elemental, Temporal, and Shadow. The catch is that the use of magic itself is corruptive and depending on the skill of the user and the school of magic being used there is a sort of 'critical-mass' that is reached in terms of spell usage where the user begins to feel the effects of the corruption in a downward spiral known as Nocturn.

    The Nocturn is generally recognized as a rough four step decent into corruption that begins if a magic user continues to practice magic beyond his/her minds capabilities. The first step is of the mind, when Nocturn is reached a user will begin to entertain increasingly violent thoughts that lead to more and more sociopathic to downright psychopathic thoughts. This first stage is the point that every single novice mage is taught to recognize, and immediately cease all use of magic before entering a prolonged meditation (either immediately after or shortly after it's reached) to revitilize his/her mind. The second stage is of the body, the violent thoughts get more and more frequent and the user's corruptive decent is manifested on the user's body in the form of flowing black blots on the surface of the skin. The third is of the soul, by this point the magic user begins to loose control of his/her own mastery of magic and shadow spells in their raw malicious form begin to creep into the mage's repertoire of spell. The final stage and the point of no return manifests itself in the murder of an innocent life, once a mage reaches this stage there is no turning back.

    Light Magic is the single most difficult school to study, even more to master. It requires the mage to not only draw upon his or her own darkness but to twist it into it's polar opposite, the light. Practitioners of this school spend their lives honing their abilities; falling into one of two categories, self and other, Light users are primarily healers though some have been recorded as finding the ability to vastly extend their own lives. Despite the generally benevolent nature of Light Magic even this school is not immune to Nocturn though it's users are generally the masters of avoiding the dangers of magic corruption.

    Elemental Magic falls squarely in the center in terms of difficulty, drawing on the taint in themselves the users grant themselves the ability to manipulate the elements around them, from fire to water, earth to electricity masters of Elemental magic are a sight to behold on the battlefield; most magic end up practicing either Elemental or Temporal Magic

    Temporal Magic, along with Elemental, is of intermediate difficulty to learn and master. Really a combination of two schools that function in conjunction most users choose a combination of Temporal and Spatial magic to supplement their own martial skills. Temporal magic revolves around slowing down time in small pockets around the user, usually used in battle to give the user a vast advantage against their enemies. While Spatial refers to various forms of teleportation. Temporal Magic is home to many aspiring battle magi and as such most hon not only their skills in magic but weaponry as well.

    Shadow is the fourth and final school of magic, and is explicitly forbidden. The easiest to use and master it is also the most destructive and corruptive. Users of this school embrace Nocturn, they feed the Molte inside themselves growing more in power as they use the school until such a time as their own existence becomes corruptive to everything around them. Focusing on any horrors the user can concoct Shadow Magic focuses on one solitary aspect, death. Anyone caught willingly using shadow magic is imprisoned and killed.

    This is my first real stab at fantasy so any feedback is welcome.
  18. Canz

    Canz Dreamer

    I didn't read all the post, so don't know if it's been mentioned: Brandon Sanderson creates one of the best and most worked out and logically correct magic systems I've read, ever. An amazing book, by the way.

    Allomancy - Mistborn Wiki
  19. chrispenycate

    chrispenycate Sage

    Here's one I did earlier? I happened to have had these musings in my computer, and they might be of use to someone…

    A short treatise on symbolic magic.

    An analysis of traditional terrestrial magic systems

    First let it be clear that those who used such systems would never have viewed them the way I do. Magic was something you did; you followed the instructions, and you got the results. Or more likely you didn't in which case the instructions were evidently insufficiently clear, or you hadn't followed them closely enough. Still, there was a kind of fuzzy logic involved.

    Don't expect any conservation laws on a lesser scale than cosmic balance. When a prince is transformed into a frog, nobody worries about where the extra mass has gone, and when he's changed back he's still in princely attire (otherwise he might be any old peasant) and generally neat and clean despite his residence in the swamp.

    Similarly, don't go looking for sources of energy, or anchor points for the forces involved; if a six-inch high humanoid can pick up a horse by one leg, he just can; the energy involved in an action will be available.

    I am going to categorise magic into four groups, accepting that these will overlap and interfere:

    #1 Animate magics, where living, presumably sapient, beings have the necessary capabilities and are persuaded to act on behalf of he who requires the act accomplished.

    #2 Object magic, where an inanimate object is imbued with the relevant characteristics.

    #3 Sympathetic or symbolic magic, generally quite limited in scope, and split into two subsections
    Similarity, where the symbolic object shares some characteristic with the object it is intended to influence (a painted image, a smell or a sound) and
    Contagion, where the controlling object has been in contact with, or, even better, part of the hopefully controlled object.

    #4 Personal or will magic. Not reliant on any outside influence. Rare in traditional situations, comes more into its own during the renaissance.

    I could include illusion magic, in which nothing material actually changes, but as long as you can convince people that it has, this doesn't matter. This kind of magic is in general use today, particularly by politicians, and works as well as it ever did; quite well, in reality.

    We've already got overlaps. The animate beings might be controlled by objects, decorated with symbols to help focus the will. But breaking things into individual parts which can be examined separately is a very human technique for solving problems (apart from that of "how do I put this back together?").

    Most religious magic is animate, persuading beings whose powers are different from our own to do things. Means of persuasion vary from "I'll stop hurting you if you swear to do exactly what I say" (the standard technique for minor demons) to "I'll be your devoted slave, do anything you might demand if you – help me get revenge? Get me out of this situation?"

    Whichever case we consider it is assumed that the entity controls more power than a human, as well as different. Some of them are not over intelligent, or inherently honest, and can be tricked, some are sufficiently specialised that they can be forced, while still others can be traded with, or threatened with heavenly retribution, but they are all equipped with abilities not shared by humans or they wouldn't be worth dealing with.

    If a number of them show distinctly sexual tendencies, it's probably because, before being demoted, they were minor deities, and for many of these godlets fertility is a sideline which has never entirely left them.

    Djinni are older than Islam (Solomon already had a contract with them) and, unlike the Christian angels or demons, seem to be theologically neutral, while powerful enough to absent-mindedly destroy any inept or unwary user. And animistic religions have hundreds of thousands of entities, each with its own rules for propitiation, sacrifices and rituals, and its own speciality task, be this benevolent or otherwise; worse than learning the family trees of t of European nobility.

    Any number of fair folk followed the peasants off the land into the cities. When the industrial revolution started turning they changed their jobs, just as the blacksmiths recycled themselves into garage mechanics. When the first biplanes wobbled into the sky, gremlins, direct descendants of the Kobolds and Tommyknockers in the mines and personifications of Murphy's law, were aboard, thrilled by the ride, and are now solidly ensconced in our ubiquitous computers, with no threat of extinction in the immediate future.

    Ceremonies for propitiating these entities, or bullying them into obedience, were fairly obviously adapted from techniques used on different caste humans. Presents (frequently involving blood, symbolic of life force – if these beings have got this far without, unless they are natural predators on humanity, why should this be so attractive to them?), threats, treaties, calling in favours; it would seem possible that

    All elemental magic, as far as I can tell, is carried out by animate equivalents of the relevant element.
    It is far easier to imagine communication with a sylph or afreet than with an actual air mass required to create a tempest, or a sandstorm; and imagination is primordial in functioning magic. Physics, too, or – just about anything, I suppose. You have to be able to visualise a result before
    Objects can be magical either by origin, or the magic can be worked in by a craftsman. Sometimes these objects are places, sometimes temporary (as in a shooting star, or a one use charm that you have to destroy to get the benefit) Sometimes they can be found ready for use (jewels and crystals are particularly sought after, but even stones with holes through them, or clover with an excessive number of leaves are on the list)
    Some may be inhabited by spirits, which moves them essentially into the “animate” group, or are powered by similarity (fertility dolls, mandrake root) or contagion (saints’ relics, unicorn horns) but enough are magic in their own right to deserve a separate section.

    Talismans and weapons are the favourite repositories of power, as hunting and war are activities where skill gives way to luck often enough that good magic is essential (as, for that matter, do nautical matters, but without such a collection of charms. Perhaps they lack space to carry them, or perhaps the ship itself is considered their charm) but just about every domestic device on the planet has found itself ensorcelled at one time or another.

    These objects, lacking in intelligence to understand complex commands, tend to be fairly specialised, frequently unifunctional.They also tend to stick to the function the objects they resemble cover; thus, a magic loom tends to weave cloth, not catch fish. Apart from the obvious warfare, healing and fertility functions, there are a few transport devices (seven league boots, magic carpets, broomsticks), some clothing (tarnkapen, I remember a wolfskin belt that transformed its wearer) spying or divination devices (lots of mirrors, and bowls to be filled with clear spring water, certainly*; but also dowsing rods and pendulums).

    Objects attracting benign magic, or luck, (though that rabbit's foot wasn't all that lucky for its original owner, was it) or protecting against malign (perhaps I should should put a wrought-iron horseshoe over my CPU?) still pervade our less rational society, despite centuries of proof that no human magic is effective against the perversity of the inanimate. Spirit catchers divert passing nightmares, things hang in car windscreens to prevent accidents, good luck charms join the mobiles over babies' cots; it is not tomorrow that we'll give up our dreams of objects that can control the world, even after reliable, testable objects already exist (after all, technology never entirely lives down its origins in superstition and wish fulfilment, down to the tendency to to exactly what it says instead of what we meant).

    Contagion: Any two things that have once been in contact retain a psychic affinity. The closer and more maintained this contact, the stronger the affinity; and something which was once part of something else , like hair, toenails or especially blood, symbolising life, has an even stronger link.

    Obviously, a number of the most important magics can’t use this technique; weather magic, for one, with general fertility magic and most hunting magic, but it does get used in a wide range of search functions (psychic bloodhound,), curses and pre-DNA family detection (magic sword can only be wielded by true descendent of royal blood).

    Similarity: The map is equivalent to the territory; the map can in some ways influence the territory. If something resembles something else in some characteristic, either coincidentally in the case say of mandrake root, or deliberately, as in a sculpture or painting, have some sort of influence over the object resembled. A carefully executed painting of an antelope will help your hunting, driving pins through a voodoo doll of your enemy will give him cramps or indigestion. Waving a pendulum over a representation of the land will allow the discovery of things hidden, without making the effort to actually go there.

    Diet influences things, too. A warrior should not eat hedgehog before going to war, as the beast is defensive, and sensibly rolls itself into a ball, not behaviour you want from a warrior – presumably, while he’s snacking on heart of wolf, or lion, the common soldiers are eating mutton, or lemming stew, so they’ll all charge in the same direction without thinking. And at home his family may not slaughter a male animal without risking dire consequences for their lord. Must be difficult for a long campaign in dairy country; I wonder if gelding the calves does anything towards ensuring the husband’s fidelity*?

    To be continued.
  20. chrispenycate

    chrispenycate Sage


    Pure symbolic: Words don’t look like the things they symbolise.. Except in rare onomatopoeic examples, they don’t sound like them, and have never been in contact with them. And yet the ‘true name’ of something is frequently a source of power over it, and a means of manipulation. (when summoning demons it is essential to know their names, both to convince them to appear, and control them when there)

    There are other powerful non direct symbols; a coat of arms or flag, a king’s crown, throne or sceptre (though there might be some contagion involved), the king himself as a symbol of the land, and numerological relationships I have never got into. But the word is the ultimate way in which we manipulate symbols, so it becomes the ultimate way in which symbols modify reality. In pre literate society rhyme and rhythm tied the words into unvarying relationships, so memory did not mutate them down the generations. A sorcerer might be able to modify reality with a gesture, but gag him and he’s lost half of his impressiveness. If the language is archaic, or, better still, a leftover from a tribe that no longer exists (doesn’t say much for the power of their magic that they were wiped out to the last conquered slave, does it?) so much the better – comprehension is no part of the process.

    Church Latin was long the lingua franca of mages, just as it was of the European intelligencia, but if you could intone pre-Ptolemaic Egyptian incantations status points were automatically added (of course, in Hampshire there might be a certain lack of entities or artefacts that would understand the language, but it was nevertheless impressive, which is half the battle.)

    Military commanders have long since learnt that “I think it might be a good idea if we rushed up to those castle walls, accepting the casualties we will suffer, and slaughter the defenders, don’t you, lads?” is not the optimal formula for victory, and command voice combined with unshakeable confidence are considered essential in magic as well. Even if telling the Red Sea “Just move apart a bit please, we were in a hurry and I forgot the ferry boats” might work just as well, and be considerably more polite towards something that had had quite a few millennia to get comfortable, too, it just doesn’t impress the unwashed masses the same way. Never let the supernatural suspect you have the slightest lack of confidence in your abilities. This might seem strange advice for a being you are beseeching to remove an infestation of potato eelworm, but seems to be the rule.

    Gestures. Magic passes, hand signals and the like are not confined to dealing with deaf demons. Really big entities might have difficulties hearing what you’re saying, unless you scream at them, which is undignified (the fact that you’re shouting in an obscure Assyrian dialect while they originated in Newport Pagnell doesn’t have any influence on the situation, surely. Words of power don’t wear out with time). Theatrics are essential to audience participation, and though the master might be able to get his intentions over with a raised eyebrow and a twitch of his little finger, a full dance troupe backing him is so much more satisfying.

    It will probably never be known how much of the development of theatre and dance was bound up with magic and ritual, but it’s clear that there were strong ties.

    Music, too; anyone who can’t feel the magic field thrown up by a good musical performance is tone deaf. Is the music itself symbolic of universal harmony or somesuch, or is it merely intensifying the emotions of those who are there? The dance, though, is riddled with metaphor, and the costumes and props frequently reinforce these. Take a rain dance*; the smoke symbolising clouds, drums and rattles simulating thunder and the sound of the drops hitting the ground, the dancers frequently emulating the actions of animals or birds in the wet, all combined to explain to the forces of nature what they should be doing, what they’ve got wrong.

    Personal power, will (or wish) magic.
    Magic which relies on one’s own personal reserves, with no external aid, is not popular for heavy duty tasks. Most children learn pretty early on that wishing that something were so is unlikely to give any major results unless it is backed up by some supplementary force (often involving adults, and tantrums). It can still have a range of uses in information retrieval – scrying at a distance, predicting the future, reconstructing the past, dowsing – and some medical functions. A lot of healing can be done without resorting to amulets or angels, and the patient’s and healer’s faith in his abilities frequently makes a difference to the progress of the disease, even in the cynical scientific present. Some necromancy (spiritualism) depends far more on the ability of the medium than any of the props involved (of course spiritualism is magic, just as all major religions contain vestiges of magic left over from more credulous days; the very insistence that holy books can contain no flaw, no error of copy or translation, is a reflection of the symbolic value of the word over the object, the name over the substance).

    The adept is frequently seen as overwhelming the will of others, human or animal, with his stronger, trained mind, or cursing people with no more than the power of his hatred. He doesn’t often succeed in chopping down trees with it, or striking dead appreciable numbers of enemy combatants*; for that he brings in supernatural aid.

    Potions, poisons, transmutation and psychedelics have largely dropped out of magic and into science. Nevertheless, if you're into historical magic they, like dowsing, are definitely part of it. In fact, the blacksmith turning rocks into metal, then transforming the crude chunks into tools, weapons and other useful objects was frequently seen as a magic worker. Most modern sciences, and no few technologies, see magics as distant (and slightly embarrassing) ancestors; alchemy might have had some precepts which seem a little strange today, but it contained the roots of analytic technique. I suppose all magic has an element of explaining the inexplicable, before philosophy comes along to make it properly incomprehensible again; when Stonehenge was being erected the guys who understood levers were probably considered powerful mages, adepts in some arcane knowledge – although, thinking about it, that's how most of the uninitiate view engineers nowadays.

    The magician whose faith can move mountains is not truly human, though narrative suggests he will have human vulnerabilities. He is in fact classed with the other animate power sources, as your observer knows these are not standard human attributes, a minor deification.

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