A few days back I posted the Quantum Theory of Ghosts, written by the fictional Prof. Max Bruin, PhD. Max is a character in my Phasmaturge stories, a close friend of Jeremy, the ghost wizard (which is what a Phasmaturge is, if you were wondering). Max is a mad scientist of the highest order, a modern day Victor Frankenstein with a bit of Albert Einstein thrown in for fun. Jeremy, on the other hand, is an old-school conjurer. He goes along with his friend’s weird explanations mostly because he knows Max is harmless and sometimes even comes up with good ideas. At one point, Max asked Jeremy to sit down and, in his own way, write up an explanation for how magic works. Below is that work, the Esoteric Theory of Magic, which Max has been working on polishing into a real “scientific” theory. Enjoy.
The Esoteric Theory of Magic
What is Magic?
To paraphrase George Lucas, Magic is an energy field that surrounds all living things. It’s created by life and is the raw source of consciousness. Like any form of energy, it can be tapped to perform a variety of functions. However, unlike, say, electricity, Magic has a will of its own, and can be unpredictable at times.
Because Magic is chaotic, those who would use it have to be careful that the Magic doesn’t overwhelm them. The human body can conduct electricity safely, but if you’re not careful, the amperage will go to high and you’ll be killed. Magic is similar; draw on too much too fast and it will burn you to a crisp.
Also like electricity, Magic requires some means of insulation to keep it from running rampant through a wizard. This is where the concept of spells and enchantments comes from. Magic also requires will to shape and control, just as electricity requires wires and transistors to be of any real use. Randomly calling upon Magic would be little different than holding up a metal rod in a lightning storm.
Talismans: Spell, Hex, Staff and Wand
As mentioned above, Magic requires some sort of insulation for the wizard using it or it’ll just go wherever it wishes. It doesn’t “ground out”, it simply forms chaotic patterns if not bound into a certain “shape” via a wizard’s will and use of talismans.
The most common form of talisman is the spell, a simple shaping of words that helps insulate the wizard’s will from the raw magic. The words don’t really matter – it’s the intent of the words. Unfortunately, the more common the word, the more mundane, the less useful it is. Like thin plastic insulation on a wire, if too much juice is pumped through, the power can jump right through. This is why most spells are written in languages not normally used in conversation. Latin is a classic, of course, but wizards can create spells in other ancient tongues or even make up words that have meaning to them. Some wizards even use Harry Potter spells! So long as it helps form the image of what the magus wants and is not common enough to leak the power through to the rest of their thoughts, the spell will function just fine.
Another common talisman is the wizard’s staff or wand. These are just focusing tools, like the words of a spell, but because they are actual physical objects, they provide a more stable conduit for the Magic to pass through. Much like the words of a spell, the more uncommon the device, the better it is at focusing Magic. A plain wooden staff will not be as effective as a staff carved with runes, topped with a crystal and festooned with charms. In fact, finding an old wizard who does use a simple staff means you’re probably in the presence of a master who can shape his will without such props.
Wands are just like the staff, just smaller and easier to carry, and since they can be highly decorated, wizards will often create different wands for different effects. A wand of fireballs, for example, might be made of magnesium, etched with fire runes, and capped with a ruby. Such a wand could be used to conjure a blizzard, but doing so would be much harder since the talisman is not attuned to the effect, sort of like using the wrong kind of wire or circuitry to make electricity work.
Magic circles are a special sort of talisman. They can be invested with power and used to protect anyone inside, or trap something within their walls. They work more like a battery, storing a charge and releasing it over time. Circles are one of the most basic of Magical constructs and possibly the most useful, as they can also be infused with various effects, such as a circle of relaxation, or a circle truth that forces anyone within it to speak honestly.
Magic in Practice
The act of casting a spell or hex is a tapping of the Magic. The more power that’s needed for the effect, the more draining it will be on the caster. Wizards are limited not just by their imaginations, but by their strength of will and endurance. Like receiving a powerful electric shock, casting a spell can leave a wizard exhausted or in pain. If the talismans used in the spell are not sufficient, Magical energy can spill over, harming the wizard or those around him. Working with Magic is not dissimilar to playing with live power lines. It’s something only a trained professional who knows what they are doing should attempt.
Dabblers in the Art are like children poking at an electrical outlet with a fork. They can easily get themselves killed and may burn the whole house down around them. True wizards are trained in one of the Arts:
- Thaumaturgy – magic invoking the four elements
- Oculaturgy – illusions and mental effects
- Hematurgy – healing and blood magic
- Chronoturgy – time magic, very unpredictable
- Phasmaturgy – ghost magic, not to be confused with necromancy
There are plenty of sub-schools of each of the above, and most wizards specialize in one school while learning the basics of all. All wizards thus trained are beholden to the Panmagos Quorum, or the All-Wizards Council, if you prefer. The PQ is the highest authority among wizards, and they do their best to police the dabblers so they don’t cause too much trouble.
The Rules of Magic
With Magic such an unlimited source of power, it may seem odd that wizards must follow rules. However, the rules, enforced by the PQ and generally agreed upon by all wizards, are in place for a valid reason. Those who would break the rules, who seek to rebel, would expose wizards to the world and likely cause the end of human Magic. The rules are in place to keep the wizards safe, not to hold them back.
These are the Rules of Magic, passed down for millennia:
- Kill not with Magic.
- Force thy Will on none save thyself.
- Turn no spell upon thy master, save to defend thy own life.
- Aid those in Magic who know not the Arts.
- Steal not from thy fellow Wizards
- Obey the Will of the Magic, should it come to ye.
The first one is kind of self-evident. Don’t use Magic, the product of life, to snuff out a life. There’s no self-defense caveat either, but the rule specifically means using pure Magic to kill. Making a tree fall on someone is allowed, but blasting them with an eldritch bolt is not. Note that non-humans are exempt; a wizard may use Magic with impunity on creatures not of the Mortal Realm.
The last rule is somewhat strange, but it means that if the Will of Magic itself ever possesses a wizard, which has actually been known to happen, the wizard should merely allow the Magic to do what it will. It’s not unlike the concept of allowing the Holy Spirit to enter ones body, if any wizard actually believed in God.
Those who break the rules are severely punished by the PQ. That is not to say that the PQ created the laws or is technically responsible for enforcing them, but the council has always served that function since its formation.
Talent and Study
The one important thing about Magic is that anyone can learn to use it. It is not the purview of a chosen few, but conversely there are not many who ever do learn to tap the energy source. Most people do work a bit of Magic, whether they know it or not; most often it’s passed off as luck or coincidence. However, with training anyone could learn to be a wizard.
Magic, though, is like music; some people have a natural talent for it. You can sit anyone in front of a piano and they can, eventually, learn to play, but only the truly talented will ever go on to write their own cantatas. Magic is similar, but imagine that there are only a handful of pianos in the world. Because it’s rare for a wizard to find a talented new student, Magic remains the domain of those who would dedicate their lives to the Art, and dabblers are highly discouraged.
There are very good reasons that those with talent should be trained if they are found. Most importantly, Magic can become an addiction. While not truly physically addictive, it can be very difficult to resist the desire to use Magic to gather more and more personal power or wealth. It is for this reason that elder wizards obey the rule to train those they come upon with the talent, to help prevent Magical disasters.
Magic is, like any other source of power, a temptation. Wizards are often tempted to use greater and greater amounts of Magic until eventually it overwhelms them and burns them out, or worse, turns them into a Wraith. Wraiths are like Magic vampires, draining the life essence out of living things around them. Most wizards learn to temper their desire for greater power with the danger inherent in using more raw energy.
True masters learn to control Magic with subtlety and grace, using Magic’s own natural currents to perform what they want. They are able to perform near miracles without harnessing a tenth of the power a lesser trained wizard would use. This is the great truth of Magic; the more one learns about it, the less they require of it to make their will a reality.
In the end, all that matters is skill and desire.