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Organizations for wizards, mages and other magic users

Discussion in 'World Building' started by WooHooMan, Dec 28, 2019.

  1. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    So, I've been thinking: how do magic users organize themselves or how are they organized by others?

    In a setting where using magic (by whatever definition of magic you want to use) is a skill to learn or an ability to use, would it then be necessary for magic users to organize themselves in some kind of system or organization to pass-on knowledge of magic or possibly a system to keep magic users from causing problems for the greater society? I find schools for magic and secret society of magic users to be fairly common. I've even seen religions that seem to stack their administration with magic users. In any case, these groups seem to have some set of rules on how to use magic which they then enforce onto society.

    Basically, what I'm asking is what kind of magic using factions do you have in your settings? Alternatively, what do you think is a logical or interesting way for magic users to be organized?
     
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  2. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    Maybe it's my background, but I see Magic as a far more organic and far less organised. I don't see the need for a large organisation and a formal structure. I tend to write magic as something that is passed on like any skill. A wannabe Mage would pick or be picked by an experienced Mage and learn from them, just like the would Blacksmithing or Coopering. Maybe just one or working with several. There might be an unofficial pecking order for those in the know but it isn't a structural.
     
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  3. Momonkiir

    Momonkiir Acolyte

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    I think magic is more of an "each to his own" in my projects. an example is my current project one of my major characters loves to use and experiment with magic because he wants to use it to entertain, however the ruling body and society as a whole tend to think of magic as tools and weapons. so while he messes around in alleyways and basements to make his magic more flashy everyone else uses it to cover their daily necessities. because of this, the schools for teaching both utility and military magic have vastly different ways of understanding how magic works to how my character does. there's also the fact that one of the requirements to enter the main policing force in this region requires people to be able to resist a certain level of magic power so that they can properly deal with magic threats which is something I don't see much of in fantasy worlds.
     
  4. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Maester

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    How much tolerance society has for magic would play a role. If magicians are revered, organizations and institutions would be likely to develop, and magic might well be co-opted and controlled by government and/or religion. If they are hated, secretive teaching from master to apprentice would seem more likely. I suspect most societies would lie somewhere on a continuum between these two extremes. It would also depend on how advanced the society might be, of course. Hunter-gatherers are not going to get beyond the tribal shaman and his/her acolyte.
     
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  5. Sir Kenneth

    Sir Kenneth Acolyte

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    In my setting (loosely based on late iron age to early medieval Denmark) I've gone for treating magic users as pre industrial rural communities might treat a local "clever" man or woman. Kind of like informal village shamans with no formal organisation and them just training whatever local kid who appears to have a knack for that sort of thing.
     
  6. Momonkiir

    Momonkiir Acolyte

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    I was in a bit of a rush when I wrote this so i thought I should clarify. In my project, magic is a parallel to science in many ways. the government has heavy influence on how its taught to students, people are expected to be able to learn the same way and those who excel are put on a pedestal by much of society. one of the main differences is that magic research is heavily regulated by the ruling class so that it's only used by those with what they determine to be the correct knowledge. one of these ways is to, much like real life again, make people study and test for licenses to use certain types and levels of magic. so a small hobby farmer can use weak growth magic on their personal crops, while a large farming company can hire high power and high volume mages to increase efficiency and quality of their farms and a military mage can use growth magic to halt enemy advances. A real world parallel is like driving licences. everyone can get a drivers licence, but just because you can drive a car doesn't mean you can drive a semi-truck in a convoy or a tank through a war zone, you need to be properly trained.

    I find that magic is a great way to explore real world phenomena, so I find it best to shape the way magic is taught and how it's regulated depending on it's use in the story. Is it compared to something in daily life? is it used to explore something no one really thinks about? is it just there as part of the world? these are the main questions I use to help me shape both my magic systems and how they're implemented into society. I think a great example is the web comic "A Returners Magic Should Be Special" because it uses magic to comment on how the wealthy are often given priority over the poor, even if the poor are far more skilled than the wealthy. while the magic system is well formed and has clear rules, the way it's regulated shows the disparity of the rich and the poor when it comes to enforcement.

    In my work I try to make magic a parallel to something in the real world. so in one of my old projects I compared it to drugs, some people could use it without any major side effects while others got hooked on it and became reliant on it. in that project magic was taught - much like how drugs are given out in real world - either by professionals who could shape their teaching to what you needed, or by people around you who wanted to show you a thing or two about this cool new thing that everyone was doing. In either situation there could be positive or negative side effects.

    so TLDR the way I regulate magic depends on the story and how magic fits in to both the story and the world.
     
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  7. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Maester

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    I've actually been roughing out an idea for a story not set in my main universe where magic is seen not as science but as art, and the magicians' academy is very much like an art school. The premise is that everyone has magical ability, just as everyone can draw stick figures, but some are more talented than others and need to learn the nuts and bolts (or brushes and paints) of their craft. In such a setting there would be 'academicians' and those who rebel against their rules and restrictions (think the art world in 19th Century France, maybe). Official recognition would go a long way to further ones career.

    Having a degree in Art History, I guess it was to be expected I would do something like this eventually. ;)
     
  8. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Do it the simple old fashioned way then. Have a wizard sit on the steps four times a week teaching a few things to anyone who comes up to them. Then when someone is particularly interested and shows promise, boom, apprenticeship. Throw in some travel to meet with others, some big meetings, some lonely hermits who've stopped teaching and locked themselves in their tower, and you're on track.
     
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Magic and its practice develops over time in Altearth; my website has brief essays on the major developments. But I'll give you a short description of how things are working at the time of my WIP. There's a range, a variety.

    At one end, we have the local hedge witch type, the wise woman or man who might be a natural talent, but might just be a good herbalist. These are people who live by other means, like farming, but who do this sort of thing on the side. A village is too poor to support a mage full-time.

    But a local secular lord might be able to support a mage, and these might be itinerant across his realm, traveling to respond to specific issues. He gets these from a Tower, which is sort of a magical analog to a monastery. In earlier centuries, secular lords found it in their interest to be able to have a wizard available or even in direct employ. It was beyond their means to create and maintain a school, so they simply endowed a wizard with land and a building (a Tower might be any sort of architecture), providing to the wizard both income and residence. In turn, the lord had the right to name the head of the Tower and to expect to be able to draw on its abilities. Greater lords, of course, have court wizards.

    That's one system. It varies greatly according to local culture, and the quality of the magicians likewise varies greatly. A second system also developed, somewhat later. It was based in cities. There, the citizens themselves finance Schools. These tend to specialize, but they also evolve over time. The bigger cities have multiple Schools and some interesting internal rivalries, for these days a city might grant a license to a School originally founded elsewhere. Sometimes kings and other great lords will recruit from Schools, but normally they prefer their wizards to be home-grown. Better control.

    Then there's the Conlegium, which began as a league of organizations--some Towers, some Schools--with the goal of gaining a degree of independence from secular control. (Secular in Altearth means non-magical). This reform movement (so they position themselves) grew into great power and now operates as an international power in its own right.

    Finally, there are outliers and outlaws. Tricksters, bandits who have a mage, that sort of thing. As with all such people, they are alternately romanticized, hidden, defended, and vilified, feared, and hounded.

    So, that's the basic sketch. That's humans only. There are whole other things to be said about magic among dwarves, gnomes, elves, orcs, and trolls.
     
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  10. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    I don’t know if this is completely true. Take a look at organized crime: by definition, society doesn’t tolerate them yet they are often far-reaching and pretty damn organized with some aspect of a distinct culture, particularly with Italian mafias and Japanese yakuza.
    I bring this up because the magical society in my story is partially based on the mafia in terms of structure/organization. Only partially though since magic isn’t outlawed or even really looked down on in my setting. Other inspirations include American gun culture, youth subcultures and local music scenes/communities.

    I’m not looking to hear about how magic works in a setting or how the greater society views magic in detail. I want to know about the relationship between magic users, their “culture/society” and how they pass on knowledge between each other.
    In your setting, it seems like magic users are a form of specialized laborers. So would there be anything equivalencies to a guild or union (presumably state-sponsored) or do the schools you only briefly mentioned have any particular culture or distinct structure attached to them?
     
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  11. Momonkiir

    Momonkiir Acolyte

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    Yes. Basically, magic in my project has a mix of school and science culture. Most mages are attached to either a magic school or a licensed organization and they tend to interact based on their fields of research and how it affects both society and magic as a whole. I'm currently trying to make my mages more like scientists from the real world, they're fueled by curiosity and want to make more and better discoveries - but the state limits them on what they can study to what might be "ethical". Fore example, we don't test to see if we can bring humans back to life because most of society agrees that it is in some way disrespectful to essentially "play god" but that doesn't mean that people don't want to try it out. so I have a kind of state-run AAAS or ICSU that works to advance magic while making sure it doesn't get used to harm innocents and play god.
     
  12. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

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    It depends on how a person learns magic. There's two categories a magic system can fall under. You either just sort of know what you need to do or it's a skill and needs to be taught.

    If it's the first then there will be very little in the way of organization. I think the wheel of time system sort of follows this. Yes, there's a school there. But I'm not completely sure what kind of teaching they really do, other then "this is how you make sure you don't blow yourself up". Most of the time, the main characters intuitively figure out how they need to do something. They have a flash of inspiration and just know how it works. There's no real world counterpart to this. But it's magic, so why not.

    If magic is a skill and you need to practice then you will most likely see teachers in some form. And pretty much all forms you can think of have been done with different skills in human history. There's tutors, schools, universities, guilds, religious organizations, companies freely sharing information and discoveries but also good old trial and error. Anything and everything has been tried throughout history.

    From human history, often the society which has the teaching part organized best comes out on top. The Italians of Florence had the teaching part figured out pretty nicely when they kicked off their renaissance art golden age. The companies freely sharing knowledge and people tutoring helped establish silicon valley as the tech hub it is today.
     
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  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    There are actually a number of ways to teach, and education is something different from training. For example, there's what happens during an apprenticeship. That's different from, say, a grammar school. Which is different from the learning done in graduate school.

    I'm sometimes amused by fantasy schools because they're almost always modeled on 19thc or even 20thc schools. Mass education like that only came around in the late 18thc and only took final form after compulsory mass education in the mid-to-late 19thc. The medieval model was tutoring. Around the 12thc we get a new model, the lecture, which grew out of cathedral schools and then universities. The grammar schools of the more advanced cities were more like training--how to write. They're called grammar schools for a reason.

    Anyway, in this as in other areas, there's quite a variety to draw upon, most of it neglected by writers. I sort of get it. It's not only easier to draw on familiar (modern) models, it's also easier for the reader to grasp. It takes more work for author and reader to understand the world of, say, 12thc Salerno or 13thc Paris. Or 15thc Rostock.
     
  14. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    As for magic and society at large, I think this is a fascinating question. I'm still working on it for Altearth, but a comment by WooHoo Man caught my eye.

    >Take a look at organized crime: by definition, society doesn’t tolerate them yet they are often far-reaching and pretty damn organized with some aspect of a distinct culture, particularly with Italian mafias and Japanese yakuza.

    This level of organization, whether legal or criminal, really depends on advanced transportation and communication. These things didn't exist in the Middle Ages. So it's going to depend on the tech level of your world. The closest I can come to "organized crime" in the MA would be the mercenary companies of the 14thc and 15thc. One of the most successful was the Catalan Company, which wound up ruling part of Greece (long story). But by then, they were gaining lands and acquiring titles, so they were on their way to becoming local nobility more than criminals. They were becoming the society rather than operating within or outside society. Sure criminals were organized at a very local level.

    Magic, of course, can make up for a lack of tech.
     
  15. R.H. Smith

    R.H. Smith Minstrel

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    I see here a lot of people are going with the Magic is an everyday thing and governance should be placed/used along the lines of a Fraternity or like-minded people. Now we all know that this is easier said than done in the real world (yes, yes, we are writing fiction, i know) but the reader can only infer that they (magic-users) are all goodly and kind-hearted. On that note I like to write using magic is the God particle. It's something so destructive and powerful and creative. Let's look at it this way...if magic is learned via classes, tutoring, being an apprentice to someone that already knows magic, how is magic different, unique, special? Anyone can do it. If that's the case, then by all means scholars of like minds will converge and democratically elect a leader to guide them in getting even more powerful. But, again, if you're like me where magic can basically reshape the world, fear would be the number one reason to curb, if not shape, control, direct how magic is used, disseminated, taught. We're playing God here people. societies rules can kiss my ass in my worlds, much like they greatly shape some other things. In the end, what will give the reader that ultimate rush in reading your words? Something that bucks convention in a unique way to create a magic scenario where it's all or nothing, or (don't get me wrong I'm not bashing here) a wizarding world like Harry Potter with magic influencing governments and such?

    P.S. Apologies for all those three worded adjectives across the post...just practicing!
     
  16. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I think there's more room for nuance. In Altearth, dwarves can work with stone and metal. What they can do specifically is peculiar to this or that clan, and each clan both keeps its own secrets and respects those of others. A human can't do what a dwarf can, nor can an elf. It is similar with gnomes.

    Among humans, magic is so variable it's extremely difficult to teach, at least until people begin to understand some of the basic principles underlying it. So, for a long time, magic was a bit like playing with unlabeled chemicals and someone swaps bottles every night. No superpowers here, or at least when it happens it's not reliably reproducible.

    If magic is world-shaping, then I just don't know what to do with it as an author. Not bashing here, either. I just can't find stories when every character is a deus and there are machinas all over the place for them to jump out of. That said, I think some SF writers have managed it with super-tech and still able to tell a good story. So it's not impossible, just impossible for me.
     
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  17. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    This is all interesting and all but the objective of this thread is that I want to hear about other people’s magic casting communities, not to brainstorm what they could be doing with them. All these questions you’re proposing are probably better asked elsewhere.

    If you believe you’re doing something unique with you magician communities, I’d love to hear about them.
     
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  18. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I thought I had given a relevant reply. Now I'm curious why you think what I described isn't a description of magic-casting communities and how they relate to the general society. Not looking to argue; I'm genuinely curious how I missed the mark, because I find the original question interesting, too.
     
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  19. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    I was referencing the post above you, slip.knox. Sorry about that.

    Since you two have really short, concise answers; I’ll throw out a follow-up question for you (and this is kind of a question for everyone else too, I guess):
    Why would an experienced wizard want an apprentice? If it is really the equivalent of a real-world trade, I’m expecting that the master would be looking to get some monetary compensation for their teaching but I feel like if that were the case there would be some manner of industry for magic teaching. If there’s a supply of teachers willing to offer their services and potential students with a demand to learn, doesn’t that make a business?

    And to Devor, specifically: have you considered what the wizards would meet about when they do meet or how the wizards even would know of each others’ existence?
    Or was your post less of what you do and more you illustrating the old school way of doing it? If that’s the case, when do the world builders here ever just default to the old school way of doing things? It seems like building upon and playing with conventions and cliches is the bread and butter of this forum.
     
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2019
  20. I have multiple kinds of magical factions. In one setting I have a nation of primarily magical people set in a far distant earth. They have an uneasy truce with the remaining non-magical world. But they only became a unified country after a terrible global conflict that wound up bringing the world to the brink of destruction due to biological and magical WMDs.

    In another, you have a quasi-governmental organization much like the HP series's ministry of magic. Which, BTW, is a bit of dystopian nightmare IMO. The ministry is whack. The reason for this is your classic urban fantasy reason, magic is scary and nonmagic hate it and guns can outshoot magic on the large scale.

    In yet another, I have two magical communities, one of thieves (which has religious implications) and another that protects the world from a crazy demon guy.

    The consistent theme in all of these, is that they all sprang up as a reaction to the needs of either the magical community or the community at large. And that's how most organizations come about. A group or subgroup have a need, people come together to fill the need, new needs = new groups or an expansion of the group's original purpose.

    So, my first step is to ask what is my magic, what are its people's needs, and to ask whether or not it is hidden or open. Those get the general skeleton of what the group is, how dispersed it is, and how it functions.
     
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