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Laws of Magic

An authentic and believable world has to make sense in terms of the natural laws we know. It must also seem as if magic (mancery) really exists, and both author and readers have to know what can and can’t happen in this world. Here are the general rules of magic that apply in my Three Worlds fantasy novels.

Book 1 of the long-awaited sequel to The View from the Mirror. Out May 17, 2016.
Book 1 of the long-awaited sequel to The View from the Mirror quartet
  • Magic is a rare natural ability (the gift) but without study, training and self-discipline little can come of it.
  • Magic requires power. It can either be drawn from within the user, which is limiting and exhausting, or from an enchanted device or object if the mancer has one and knows how (which can be dangerous). In my later books, from Geomancer on, power can also be drawn from a natural source (the field around a node) which makes far more power available but greatly increases the danger. There may be other sources of power.
  • Magic use is normally facilitated by devices such as a staff, wand (rod, sceptre, caduceus), ring, amulet, crystal, jewel, book or other enchanted object. Most magic users (mancers) require such a device to work magic, though great mancers may not. People without the gift can’t use such devices, and gifted people without training can only use them poorly. In many cases, the mancer must also win the allegiance of the device’s persona or spirit before using it effectively.
  • Specific spells may be cast via the above devices or by using magical objects such as a spell scroll or inscribed rune, an elixir or potion or scent potion, a weapon or armour, tools, jewellery, bones etc. Occasionally, ungifted people may be able to trigger the contained spell in a magical object (e.g. by carrying the weapon, wearing the armour or giving someone the potion or cursed item). In most cases, however, the magical gift, plus knowledge, training and willpower are all required to trigger the spell. Additionally, the mancer may be required to win the allegiance of the enchanted object’s persona, if it has one, before using it effectively.
  • Rare places, natural or built, can enhance magic (or certain kinds of magic) done there. For instance, some places may be particularly suited to the working of dark magic; other places may facilitate the creation of portals. The converse is also true: some places may weaken magic done there, or increase the risk of a spell going badly wrong.
  • A mancer’s inner power can be used up. Novices may exhaust their power after casting one or two simple spells, and not even the greatest mancers can cast powerful spells (eg in battle) for hour after hour. Once all of a mancer’s available power has been used, he/she can do no more magic without resting/sleeping to replenish the inner power.
  • Enchanted devices and objects can be drained of power. Once all of the power in a mancer’s enchanted device or object has been used, he/she can do more magic until the device or object has been recharged. Some magical objects cannot be recharged; others will be destroyed when all the contained power has been used. Even if the mancer has an unlimited supply of enchanted devices, he/she cannot keep casting spells for hours because channelling such a great flow of power will exhaust even the most experienced mancer (or worse).
  • The effectiveness of a spell depends on the person using it. People have different abilities, attitudes, passions, beliefs and prejudices, strengths and weaknesses and taboos, all of which will influence the kinds of magic they are drawn to, and how effectively they can use it. Just as in our world some people can’t do maths, and others can’t sing in tune, some mancers can only work certain kinds of spells. Some mancers (not necessarily bad people) are attracted to the dark side, others repulsed by it.
  • Magic is shaped by the person using it. Every individual will work a spell differently and some spells will actually look different (e.g., a shapeshifters’).
  • All magic has limitations. All spells have weak points.
    • Every spell can be blocked or reversed, if the defender has the experience, knowledge and power.
    • Magic is an art, not a science, and contains an element of randomness. Sometimes spells cast perfectly will fail, rebound, or go wrong.
    • Spells cast imperfectly, or by mancers who lack the knowledge or control, are likely to go disastrously wrong (see next point).
  • Magic always has a cost to the user – and it can be high.
    • Using magic generally causes aftersickness – pain, nausea, migraines etc. – and sometimes it can be so debilitating that the mancer cannot defend himself or herself. Aftersickness is worst for novices, but can also badly affect experienced mancers if they are using a powerful or unfamiliar spell.
    • Occasionally, uncontrolled use of the Great Spells can result in insanity or death.
    • If too much power is drawn, or the mancer loses control working one of the Great Spells, the result can be a gruesome death (e.g., by anthracism (burning from the inside out), or bodily explosion).
  • Magic can’t violate the fundamental laws of nature, e.g.
    • Conservation of matter – you can’t turn an elephant into a mouse (without shedding most of its mass) or vice versa (without a source of the right mass);
    • Conservation of energy – magical power can’t be created or destroyed, only transformed. If a Great Spell goes wrong, or a mighty magical object is corrupted, it is liable to create magical pollution or toxic magical waste. In such deadly places, plants, animals and even stone and earth can take on strange and dangerous forms, and power flows wildly and uncontrollably, perverting everything it touches.
  • You can’t make something out of nothing. Objects (e.g. money, food) created solely by magic will neither sustain or last long.
  • Magic has no morality. It’s neither good nor evil, though some kinds of magic are mainly used for dark purposes by bad people.
  • Magic is just a tool. It can’t solve problems by itself.
  • There are various kinds of magic. These are the main ones:
    • Psychic – empathy; mental attack – mind control, reading, changing or deleting memories; mental defence – blocking the reading of thoughts and memories; clairvoyant magics such as sendings, seeings, hearings and linking; read an object, telekinesis;
    • Healing – healing potions and balms, healing spells;
    • Control of animals – may also use charm and illusion;
    • Shapeshifting – were-creatures who can’t control it and shifters who can (mostly);
    • Divination – seeing the future, reading the past. Gaining insight to a question through signs, symbols, the stars, omens, crystal balls, reading cards, pools and mirrors etc;
    • Illusion – also mesmerism, bewitchment and charming, and invisibility and revelation;
    • Elemental magic – controlling earth, air, fire, water and ether. Blasts of light or fire, explosions. Animating inert objects/also disintegration. Weather magic;
    • Transfiguration – changing objects from one form to another;
    • Transportation – normal flight/creation of portals/teleportation of objects and people;
    • Chymical – alchemy, potions, scent potions;
    • Herbology – use of magical plants. Also related to alchemy, healing and potions;
    • Artificing and smithcraft – working with metal, stone and other materials. Geomancy;
    • Astronomy – related to divination etc.
    • Mathemancy – laws of numbers, magical patterns;
    • Necromancy – Talking to, raising, animating and controlling the dead. Also summoning of spirits or demons, exorcism, conjuration (summoning creatures or objects);
    • Dark magic – generally for bad purposes, sometimes for self-defence (hexes, curses, jinxes, also necromancy, dark potions and scent potions, and destructive or corrupting spells).

Further reading

Isaac Bonewits, Authentic Thaumaturgy, 2nd Ed,