The beginnings of a system of magic

This is based partly on what I've come up with over the past year or so, and partly on a conversation I had with anathelen tonight over dinner.


Magic seems to function much as electricity or magnetism, only with different effects. As with electricity, is more or less present in everything.

Needs to be tied to something physical—usually through symbols: tattoos, etchings, etc. Certain types of matter hold a magical “charge” better than others—spells cast on living things set easily, but are much more temperamental than those set on stone or metal or other inert matter. Magic that isn’t channeled through something else is extremely dangerous, much like lightening. It must be handled with care, like most of what you’d find in a chemistry lab.

Everyone has more or less the capacity to perform magic—just as anyone can sing or do chemistry—but not everyone has the aptitude or interest.

While most spells are used simply for sort of enhancing ordinary physical traits—paint spelled so it won’t peel, strengthening of building materials, spells to regulate certain functions of the human body—there are some things which circumvent entirely physics. Wards are basically invisible fences that let in/out only certain people, and are used in place of security systems. Wendecker wings are completely non-physical, spending most of the time as nothing more than tattooed wings on a person’s back. They’re triggered by free fall through a certain distance, and run off of the person’s energy (I’m not sure whether magical or physical)—so they can be used only sparingly, or else very bad things will happen.

As might be expected, this sort of spell has many possible side-effects and the potential of going *very* wrong if done incorrectly.

Chemistry is much closer to a systematized version of alchemy.

There might be magic storms, which would either move very quickly or very slowly, and do things like give rocks the appearance of life—stuff like vampire fields, perhaps.

(I haven’t figured out yet how the presence and usage of magic would affect the development of technology, or how exactly magic might have first been discovered and harnessed.)


Please feel free to give suggestions, ask for clarifications, or tell me to stop being silly and go do my homework.
  • Acoustics: Mozart's Requiem
Is there magical engineering? I ask because I'm taking intro to engineering.
I would think so, although I'm not really sure of the mechanics of it. That is, I've got a pretty good handle on how magic is used, but not much of an idea of what's involved in getting it to work the way that's wanted.

Something which will sort itself out at some point, I'm sure.
I think magic would have been discovered like most scientific discoveries, through observation then experimentation. Maybe even discovered by accident.

In terms of technological developement, I can see technology developing as it would in a world without magic, but with magic it is enhanced such as with the examples you gave (spells to keep paint from peeling). It's also possible that some types of magic don't work well with certain types of technology (maybe cars, or computers, for example) so magic had no influence on them.

Anyways, those are my thoughts. And it's not silly. I've got a story that's a modern day fantasy taking place in a world where magic coexists with technology and have been nitpicking the ways it's possible. And loving it. It's just so much fun figuring out how to make magic work for different stories.
I like the idea that some things simply aren't really affected by magic/don't work well with magic - I've been trying to come up with an excuse for no television, and that might do it. Although there needs to be computers of some sort, given how necessary they are in Atlantis.

It is an awful lot of fun, trying to sort everything out in a way that's believable.
Magic could have a negative affect on radio waves. Perhaps there's a subtle difference between what puts an image on a TV and what makes a computer run that magic doesn't agree with. Or, computers being more complex, has a larger resistance toward magic than television.
I'm really curious to try and figure out how spells are performed - how words or gestures or apparatus could create a spell. I'm also especially interested in how intent affects magic, as it seems like human intent could possibly be one thing that seperates magic from electrisity.

In the Potter books Harry reads the "levicorpus" spell and says it without knowing what its purpose is, and Ron is dragged into the air by his ankle. Clearly, somehow, the word "levicorpus" was tied to the action of putting someone in the ar, and the mere thought of the spell could affect something even if you don't have any intent. Should magic work this way?

Is magic nothing more than a natural phenomenon, completely measureable by math and controllable by science, or can the passions of the human mind affect magic in a way that makes it more difficult to measure, like trying to measure love or hatred?
This is what I'm struggling with the most, I think. I'm beginning to think that it works something like conductivity - things that are alive conduct magic more easily, or are affected by it, or something. So a rock is really hard to affect/charge, but once the magic's in there, it's going to stay for a long time and not really bleed out into the surroundings.

The reason humans can use magic is that they have will and intent - animals can't really direct magic, because they don't think, can't harness it. But all living things can serve as a channel of sorts. Various people are better or worse 'channels', and so are apparently more or less powerful w/magic.

But you have to be careful, because just as wires overheat if too much electricity goes through them for too long, a person can get sort of 'burned out' if they overextend themselves - I think I made mention of that at some point in C&S.

Symbols are the tools used to sort of direct and buffer magic in objects, because if you simply throw magic around, it's like throwing lightening or random chemicals or nuclear waste - just asking for random, really bad things to happen.

So intent is more important than the things used to control the magic, but not by much. A spell is a combination of intent and the form/symbol/thing used to bind the magic to the physical world. I don't think it's as tied into speech as in HP - language is more of a human convention, and the magic we're talking about is more natural and elemental than that. A given symbol/combo of symbols/something like that will always have the same result. The potency of the spell/thing would be affected by the conductivity of the person casting it and their skill at regulating the flow of magic.

Or something like that. I dunno. The more I think about it, the more confused I get. Just like with electricity, so I suppose that's a good sign . . . ?
So, as a consequence of this, magic can't be produced by machinery - it requires a human. But once magic is tied to an object, it can be manipulated (to some extent) by anything/anyone.

...This is a lot more fun than writing my lab report.
But the thing about symbols is that they're also a human convention.

I don't think magic can be treated as a complete science. I believe there's a spiritual side to it as well. A lot of stories have magic as an energy within all living things, as part of their spirit, thus getting into things like an objects true name (the first name given to that object or the name of its spirit or something).

The symbols could have something to do with that - a written form of a things true-name. Or magic could be like a computer, needing the right input, the symbols being that input either created over time or a part of some divine langauge.

Anyways, just some ideas to use if you want. It does get complicated the deeper you go.
I don't think magic can be treated as a complete science. I believe there's a spiritual side to it as well.

There's the possibility (well, probability) that I'll have to head in that direction, but I really don't want to. I've been reading a lot of papers from when electricity and magnetism were first being seriously investigated, and that's a huge influence on all this - seeing the process of sussing out what the heck is going on. We're so used to just using electricity that I think it's easy for use to forget how really baffling it was (is).

The symbols could have something to do with that - a written form of a things true-name.

This sounds a lot like what goes on in the world of Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea. Which is pretty cool, but I'm thinking more along the lines of the charter marks used in Garth Nix's Abhorsen series. There the symbols are completely separate from language, and are instead attached to actions. (I think that's right.)
Sort of like the difference between words and numbers? So you would have language, math and magic-binding symbols. Interesting.
I don't think magic can be treated as a complete science. I believe there's a spiritual side to it as well.

That's a really good quuestion and probably one that would be talked about a lot in the history of magic as a science, whether or not it truly is a science. It reminds me of the study of music - can feeling truly be left out of music? There seems to be something ultimately unmeasurable about music, and the debate about whether or not there is something similar in magic would be a good argument within this fic. I myself would prefer to keep magic as a science, if only so that this type of magic would stand out from other representations of magic, though the inclusion of human will does make magic something harder to measure.
Exactly. That's what I was trying (very badly) to say. Thanks for putting it so much better. ^_^