Laws of Magic

Essentials of Christian Magic

Magic is the art and science of causing a change to occur in conformity with will. This change can occur 1) in the outer, manifest world; 2) in the magician's consciousness; and 3) most often in both, for changing one often changes the other. Magical change occurs in a way that is not currently understood by modern science because it works through the Unmanifest — through subtle manipulations of the invisible, spiritual realms. However, the workings of magic are subject to natural law. The effects of magic are sometimes clearly visible in the physical world and other times they are only apparent on a personal, spiritual level. The workings of magic are not limited by the constraints of time and space.
Chic Cicero and Sandra Tabatha Cicero The Essential Golden Dawn : An Introduction to High Magic

Basic Information

The Laws of Magic are the rules, power sources, expectations, philosophies, etc., that develop out of Functional Magic, or which are codified in a Magical Tradition. They define how magic works in your setting.

There's a few things you need to consider in regards to the Laws of Magic and their impact on your setting.

  • Do you want magic to be mysterious and ephemeral, or well-defined and reliable?
  • Is magic exceedingly rare, or surprisingly common?
    • Is it easy to pick up, or does it require a lifetime to master?
    • Is it hidden behind a masquerade, feared for it's wicked potential, or studied as a science?
  • To what extent does Ontological Inertia exist?
    • Is magic fading or enduring?
  • Is magic overpowering, or just another factor?
    • Is it instinctive to resist, or does that take special circumstances or training?
      • Is resistance voluntary or invariable (that is, can you deliberately not resist a spell)?
    • Can you counterspell?
  • What is the source of magic in your setting?
    • Is there but one style of magic, or do numerous Magical Traditions exist?

There is also the possibility of this term being used to refer to laws governing magic within the "wizarding community" (if such exists) and controlling what magic may and may not be performed. For benefit of Values Dissonance, this may not necessarily follow the line between "good" and "evil" magic anymore than mundane law can serve as a guide to morality.

Laws of Magic

Traditional "Laws of Magic"

These are some of the "laws" that real-world occult traditions have applied to the working of magic. They can be contentious and do not exist in all traditions, and this is an indicative rather than a definitive list:

  • The Law of Contagion: Once together, always together or The part of the thing is the whole of the thing: A part of something - like one of someone's possessions or a part of their body - can be used to work magic on it over a distance as though it were physically present. The more intimate the connection the better the link works so a discarded cigarette packet is little use, whilst a favorite shirt or piece of jewelry is better and part of someone is ideal.
  • The Law of Sympathy: Like attracts like or The image is the thing: Where a contagion isn't possible an image of the target may be used instead. The better the image, the better the link - and even better if the target has personally endorsed the image. Signed photos are really good for this. Combining sympathy and contagion is the basis of Poppet Magic.
  • The Law of Correspondence: Things look like what they are or as above, so below: This is the basis of astrological magic (that things correspond with their astrological profile) and can also be used to identify useful herbs and suchlike (if it looks right, or has the same astrological profile as your target, it probably helps). Something similar lies behind the (discredited) theology of the Doctrine of Signatures. It's a toss-up as to whether the use of a target's name in a working is Correspondence or Sympathy - depends who you ask.
  • The Law of Consent: No injury is done to the willing or this works a lot easier with your co-operation: Depending on who you ask, this is either about the idea that magic is said to have difficulty effecting those who do not believe in it and/or about the idea that it is possible to consciously resist magic and it is far easier to operate a working upon someone who consents to be targeted than someone who doesn't. The concept of the Humbug is said to take advantage of this.
  • Equivalent Exchange: Everything has a price: Magic conserves a given level of value (although one or both "parties" may have different ideas of how something is valued) and a given effect must be paid for with something of at least equal worth. Part of the fun of magic where this applies is making absolutely sure you understand what you are paying before you seal the deal. This also tends to lead to the Water Theory of Magic, which is to say - That which takes the path of least resistance. It is much easier to move stuff about rather than it is creating it. So, always be keenly aware of what have you. Where the price is far more than the benefit, you're probably entering monkey's paw territory.
  • Reciprocity (aka. "The Law of Triples"): Whatever you do by magic, for good or ill will be repaid to you threefold: Based on the idea that the universe is "karmic" and rewards or punishes the use of magic. Fervently believed by many people but mostly nothing more than wishful thinking by those who think that there is a difference between "white" and "black" magic. However, particularly when dealing with things like Shamanistic practice, maleficium and other "hostile" magics will put you into contact with the sort of spirits that enjoy that sort of thing, meaning they can find you and effect you much more easily and they are rarely the sort of spirits you want finding you and effecting you even without the encouragement of a hostile worker.
  • Reversal: Whatever magic does, magic can undo: Somewhat controversial, the idea that anything created by magic can be dispelled or otherwise undone by magic without needing to be physically destroyed. Conversely, this also allows there to be space for anything killed by magic to be brought back under the right conditions…
  • Distortion: Magic changes nothing … permanently: Even more controversial than the "Law" of Reversal, the idea that magic works by bending the universe out of shape but does not actually change it - sooner or later the world will snap back into its original shape. This is a good mechanism for causing no ontological inertia and explosive breakage of magical phenomena but does not fit with everyone's experience of magic.
  • The Law of Balance: In the end, everything balances out: Very much related to the laws of equivalent exchange and reciprocity, this idea suggests that magic cannot create or destroy anything, but must move it from place to place (or time to time) - so good fortune now must be repaid by bad fortune later, restoring life to someone means taking it from someone else … that sort of thing. Again, not fully attested to by any magical tradition but popular in various mythiea regardless. Known to modern cynics as "the Marxist theory of magic".
  • Backlash: If you don't know where it's pointed, it's pointed at you: Some traditions hold that once a magical working is started - especially a working of the harmful variety - it needs to go somewhere. There are likely to be ways and means of safely "earthing" an aborted working (if you can get them right and have the chance to do so), but more worrying still are those workings which miss their target and/or snap back because they are resisted or reflected. Death spells are especially notorious for rebounding on the caster if they fail to kill the target. Such traditions may well develop ways of passing the damage onto someone else - especially the clients of those casters performing this kind of sending for hire or reward. This is the sort of context in which you need to be absolutely sure of your targeting data before you start your attack.

Where the laws of magic are studied, codified and researched in a (pseudo)scientific manner "in-universe," this is generally called thaumatology. Whether this exists - indeed whether it is even possible - will depend a lot on the meta-game rules governing your life's setting.

Sources and Types of Magic

Here's a list of some possible interpretations or meta-views of magic:

  • Inherent Gift: Only those born of a certain blood have the gift of magic.
  • Theurgy: The magic is done entirely by spirits, often refered to as angels and gods, with whom the caster makes deals.
  • Rule Magic: Some underlying magical rule system is applied, as in manipulation by True Name or sympathetic symbolism.
  • Force Magic: Practitioners of magic tap into and control or weave together one or more magical forces.
  • Device Magic: Magic performed with some form of mystical device or relic.
  • Wild Magic: Magic that does what it wants, or just happens beyond control. In other words, non-functional magic.
  • Word of Power: Individual words containing the raw essence of magic.

In some settings, magic is a thing you learn, a topic you study. In others, it just comes naturally to those with a certain talent or bloodline. And in some, magic is just green rocks or handwavium. There is, of course, some room for overlap. A given setting may feature more than one type of magic, and there's even the possibility that each type could have it's own laws of magic.

"Magic", by contrast, in the Cthulhu Mythos appears to be nothing more than the Platonic Image of extremely advanced maths - this is hinted at in the original material and made explicit in the modern day Laundry novels by Charles Stross. Anything that does the right maths - even without meaning to - can do magic. Yes, this includes computers but it turns out you can also work magic with a chessboard. This can have some very unfortunate effects.

A further distinction - likely of very great interest to those creating magic systems - is between direct and indirect magic. Direct magic works, as might be expected, directly on a target individual - kills them, transmutes them or makes them fly, depending upon the magician's intended outcome; whilst. indirect magic works on objects (and possibly animals, depending upon how such things work). This is very interesting when it comes to magic resistance as, logically speaking, resistance will apply only to those spells cast against a person capable of resisting (that is, direct attacks) and not against indirect attacks.