On Magic

On Magic

An overview of arcane power

Scholars have been trying to understand the nature of magic for millennia. I doubt you will find the solution on the surface of your desk.
— A teacher to a sleepy student
  In some countries across Etrea, magic is a part of every day life. In others, magic is rare, hidden, or even punishable by death. Despite differences in usage, aesthetics, and beliefs, all magic is the same; it comes from the same source. The man who performs elaborate rituals to make a corpse dance uses the same power as the woman who speaks a word to light a candle.  

What is magic?

  Magic is the manipulation of matter through the application of energy, which requires the use of a specialised organ known as the altus. Whilst the ability to convert energy in this way is often subconscious, the act of using magic itself generally requires some sort of intention.
  Not every person on Etrea is able to use magic, and many do not even believe that it exists. In humans, for example, magical talent has an established occurrence of less than one percent. The late Kaienese scholar, Magnus Woolery, however, hypothesised that all members of all sapient species would be able to use magic if they were correctly trained. He believed the incidence of magic often cited by scholars is actually the percentage of those who have innate talent. Further research has yet to be undertaken to establish the truth of the matter.   The energy used to create magic can be taken from the self, or from the environment, with each method having both their advantages and disadvantages.  

The Altus

  The ability to use magic is contained in an organ known as the altus, which is located at the base of the skull just under the brain. It is present in all sapient species, though, notably, dragons possess two side by side. On extremely rare occasions, a person can be born lacking an altus, which prevents the development of magical ability.   Autopsies show that people who use magic regularly have more connections between the altus and the brain; in the autopsy of one prolific magic user, it was found that the altus and the brain had become impossible to separate.     Hormones during pregnancy suppress the energy-converting function of the altus. Many cultures in which magic is common place use the inability to use it as an early indicator of pregnancy, even if they do not understand why it happens.
Eat this. You'll feel better.
— A helpful medic
  Using energy from the self is safer and much more commonplace, as this method is easier to control and to judge when too much energy has been expended. One of the most common sources of this is the energy gained from digesting food, especially those rich in carbohydrates. The sugars absorbed into the bloodstream can be directed to the altus as needed. It is, of course, possible to overuse this energy, but the biological warning signs are blatant enough that even novices can recognise them. Fatigue is the first sign, followed by a dull ache at the back of the head. This is followed by hunger that slowly becomes more acute and harder to ignore. If these signs are disregarded, the continued use of magic will lead to a loss of consciousness or, for more intensive magic, death.  
Taking energy from the environment feels easier, but it also takes a measure of energy from the self to control. The most common sources of environmental energy are kinetic and thermal, though there are plenty of other examples. Some people can channel the energy produced by plants via photosynthesis, or even from other living creatures. Due to it feeling less taxing, the inexperienced often find themselves exhausted - or dead - before they are aware something is wrong. Channeling the kinetic energy of the ocean, for example, may feel exhilirating, but history and legend are littered with stories of those who have tried to tame the tides - and lost.   A fundamental law of magic is that something cannot be created from nothing; the components already need to be present in the environment for the magic to work. For example, one can create a pool of water by siphoning the moisture out of air, but this would not work in an arid climate. Fire, likewise, needs oxygen to survive; it is harder to magic a flame in damp or stale air. This does not stop people from trying, of course. Whole disciplines of magic - or, as they are often known, sciences - have been developed in an attempt to break the rules, the most widespread of which is called alchemy.
  The greatest restriction on magic is a person's belief about how it works. For example, Seruic people believe that magic is elemental, and that each person can control only one element. The power of this belief means that this is generally true, as the mind blocks the person from being successful at other forms of magic. To work beyond these cultural limitations and belief takes a lot of time and work, if it even occurs to a person to try at all.   The only exception to this rule is shapeshifting, which is actually restricted to only two of the four sapient species - dragons and shapeshifters. Unlike other magic, shapeshifting utilises specialised cells throughout the body in tandem with the altus to allow the transformation of the wielder's form.

Cover image: by NoName_13


Please Login in order to comment!
4 Aug, 2023 22:16

Sounds like Magnus Woolery should have been headed more.

Kriltch, arcanities not included.
4 Aug, 2023 23:10

Indeed. Not respected in his lifetime. :(   Thanks for reading <3

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
5 Aug, 2023 00:05

I really like this concept of magic, the way they source and channel it, and the fact you can only go so far as your mind allows you, which gives a loooot of interesting ideas to play with :D

5 Aug, 2023 00:10

Thank you! I wanted something that would let me explore a variety of different approaches to magic whilst still making sense. <3

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
5 Aug, 2023 00:11

I love how magic works in Etrea and I can't wait to read more of it in your articles and prose.   Also, that firar quote is perfect. I felt like *I* had been caught napping.

Lead Author of Vazdimet.
Necromancy is a Wholesome Science.
5 Aug, 2023 00:20

Hehehe, thank you so much <3

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
5 Aug, 2023 06:43

Really good read, I like the idea of the Altus, also gives some good inspiration for my world :)

5 Aug, 2023 12:42

Thank you :D <3

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
6 Aug, 2023 03:47

I always enjoy technical scientific magic explanations and this fit that just fine, even if the mechanisms are largely unclear. I like the anatomic and psychological connections and reasons as well as cultural aspects. As usual with your articles - a fun read!

6 Aug, 2023 11:51

Thank you so much <3 I would like to refine the mechanisms at some point, but I think a lot more research and brainpower is required for that. :)

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
8 Aug, 2023 03:20

Fascinating, and very well thought out. This might be my favourite approach to magic systems, where there is an underlying structure but it's deeper and more complex than most people realize, and it's broad enough to still offer an enormous range of narrative choices.

8 Aug, 2023 13:23

Thank you! I'm looking forward to developing differing ways of doing things around the world <3

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
8 Aug, 2023 18:49

I love your magic system! The stuff about the Altus, and especially on how pregnancy hormones suppress its function, is fascinating :O Are there other times when it might be affected in a similar way, like puberty or something?

8 Aug, 2023 19:53

Oo, that's an intriguing idea. I will have to think about that. Perhaps it makes it a little more unpredictable and that's why some cultures might think magic shows itself in adolescence. :thinking:

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
10 Aug, 2023 14:12

Fantastic article! I love your magic and that opening quote is excellent xD

Journals of Yesteryear
You're invited to explore my new world!
10 Aug, 2023 14:51

Thanks, TJ <3 <3

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
17 Aug, 2023 00:21

I notice several general concepts of magic that I've seen in other places, and I like how you wove them all together. I also like the idea of the altus. If dragons have two, are they able to do more magic? Or magic that others can't? My favorite detail is the one about the Seruic people. It's like the Saphir-Wharf hypothesis, but with magic.

Check out Natural Magic : a coming of age fantasy novel, because life is hard enough when you're fourteen, even without saving the world. Or listen to it in podcast form .
17 Aug, 2023 10:11

Dragons are able to do more powerful magic through their two altus, and it comes more naturally to them. They still have to be careful not to push too far, but there is more leeway for them.   Thank you so much <3 Yes, the Saphir-Whorf hypothesis is part of my inspiration for how magic works in Etrea and I'm glad you picked up on that. That's always fascinated me. :D

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
Sage eccbooks
E. Christopher Clark
19 Aug, 2023 13:28

Ooh, this was a fun way to start my pleasure reading for August. I've been busy judging the prompt I was sponsoring, and then with vacation, so I'm only now (on the nineteenth) getting to reading all the stuff on my Reading List.   Anyway, I love the details about the altus most of all in this article full of interesting things about culture and biology and the nature of magic. Well done!

Check out my progress on WorldEmber 2023
19 Aug, 2023 21:43

Thank you so much, Chris! :) It's been an article I've been meaning to write for ages so I'm so glad to get it done. <3

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
29 Aug, 2023 17:49

An interesting take on magic, mixing it with science. I'm thinking of doing a similar article on magic as a whole in the Tread of Darkness, so this was a great article to look at! Nice work!

Lilliana Casper   I don't comment much, but I love reading your articles! Please check out my worlds, Jerde and Tread of Darkness.
31 Aug, 2023 00:32

Thank you so much! :) I look forward to reading your article in the future! :)

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
Powered by World Anvil