Magic Series—Types & Varieties

One thing I’ve been considering with worldbuilding, specifically regarding magic, is the various broad types or varieties of magic. I’ve been primarily thinking in a historical perspective, but to some degree purely fictitious as well. The following is off the top of my head, so is clearly not a comprehensive collection by any means. It is simply my attempt to categorize or classify different types of magic sources in fairly broad terms.

 I will try to avoid certain words commonly associated with magic—ex. sorcery, witchcraft, wizardry—because they are very imprecise and are often used both interchangeably and for a variety of different magics.

 Ad Hoc

My general terminology for magics that use rituals made up on the spot. In these cases, often the rituals are never the same twice as they are based on what the mage feels is right at the time. Terry Pratchett’s witches are a good fiction example, particularly the witches as depicted in the Aching books.

 Alchemy

Historically, alchemy is a mix of mysticism, natural philosophy, and early scientific testing. For these purposes, I include any magic that gets its power from mixing ingredients to produce elixirs—whether potions, pills, or unguents—or chemistry, metallurgy, or related magical products. This can take the form of the laboratory (whether “traditional” magic lab or modern), the herbalist working in a hut or open fire, or the brewer/vintner mixing special ingredients into beers and wines to make magic drinks.

 Astrology

Historically, the study of the stars and planets to determine the future and predict the fates of individuals. Usually found the same way in fiction. One of the most famous astrologers in history was Dr. John Dee of England; and the practice was banned in England during Elizabeth I’s reign due to the succession question, predicting the queen’s death was a capital offense.

 Blood Magic

Quite possibly one of the earliest forms of magic in history, blood and magic have been associated for millennia. According to some, blood can provide energy to fuel spells; to others, it can be used to control the person it came from. To many cultures it was believed to be one of the most potent forms of magic.

 Chi (or Ki)

The power of chi is the foundation of all wuxia stories and movies. This internal energy is, in the stories, most often harnessed through martial practice. Control of the body coming from martial arts leads to control of the mind and the inner energy. This is most famously channeled to great physical feats—strength, leaps, even a form of flight—or healing.

 Divine

In some cases, the source of magic is the gods. Divine magic often relies on maintaining the deity’s or deities’ mandates and goodwill. Falling out of favor with the divine leads to removal of magical power. Some uses limit divine magic to healing, other uses restrict the mage to spells associated with the god’s areas of influence.

 Elemental

According to many traditions, there is magic inherent in the elements. Traditionally these are air, earth, fire, and water in the west and Hinduism; earth, fire, metal, water, wood in much of Asia. Often a sample of the element is necessary to invoke the magic, but not always.

 Gem Magic

Based on the idea that gemstones possess magical potential, this category of magic draws power and spells from the stones. Each stone is held to have different properties and associations that it can be used for, ex. amethysts as protection from poison. Often, I refer to this group as lithomancy. It appears regularly in history in many cultures as well as in fiction, MZB’s Darkover books have a variation, for instance.

 Hermetic

I use the term hermetic here both in reference to its use in history (the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn) and because of a background with White Wolf’s Mage: the Ascension. This type of magic emphasizes ritual, specifically exact, repeated ritual. In a way, I suppose it is akin to alchemy in that it is relatively scientific with the idea that performing the same ritual, speaking the same words, moving the same way will produce the same magical result every time. It’s the opposite of Ad Hoc magic in its exactitude. Often it involves the “Laws of Magic” idea, ex. Law of Contagion, Law of Similarity, etc.

 Kabbalistic

Magic for fans of spreadsheets and flow charts. The Kabbalistic view of magic involves potentially hundreds of variables including the position of stars, the sun, phase of the moon, locations of metaphysical planes, associations of magical materials with said planes or the subject or the caster, proper words, and proper ritual. There’s a very good systematization of this magic in the old third edition GURPS Cabal book, spreadsheets not included.

Ley Line

Magic that draws on ley lines, which I sometimes refer to as geomancy, for power. This is, obviously, a fairly common magic view in history and the modern world as it still has adherents. Power is drawn from the lines, and greater power from nodes (the places where lines cross; the more lines, the more power). Some believe ley lines are an element of dowsing, among a variety of other things. A variation is used by Robert Asprin in the M.Y.T.H. Inc. series.

 Psychic

Psychic magic draws on internal, mental energy to fuel magic. We commonly associate this with divination, fortune telling, clairvoyance, telekinesis, psychometry, precognition, scrying, and related abilities. As we can tell in many places, psychic magic appears often in history and the modern world, psychics and mentalists were a dime a dozen at one time and are still moderately popular for entertainment purposes.

 Sex Magic

Alongside blood magic, sex magic is perhaps one of the oldest in the world. Associations of sex and magic go back millennia and can be found in Tantric beliefs (famously) as well as Mesopotamian beliefs and branches of Taoism, Paganism, and Buddhism at the very least. Even some more esoteric branches of Christianity, particularly Gnostic Christianity, have embraced the concept. In modern fiction, it is often used to fuel other spells, initiate scrying and divination, or create magical bonds between individuals.

 Sigil (or Word) Magic

Another very old magic, the idea that words and symbols have magical powers is ancient. We have records of spells and curses from ancient Greece and Rome, for instance, that are still extant and symbols in Celtic sites that seem to have magical purpose along with Norse and Saxon rune magic. Perhaps the four most common uses are varieties of blessings, curses, protection, and reading the future. I also include tattoo magic, inscribing magical sigils/words on the body, in this broad category.

 Spirit (or Ghost) Magic

Magic that involves natural spirits or spirits of the dead would fall into this category. I include both necromancy—attempts to contact, acquire information from, and protection from the dead—and shamanism—attempts to call upon natural spirits to bless, curse, or heal—in this group. Modern conceptions of necromancy—raising the dead, creating undead hordes—would also be included. Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy is a great fictional example of this magic, as is Book 11 of the Odyssey in which Odysseus calls upon the spirits of the dead for information.

 Tree Magic

In the Western world, tree magic is most closely associated with the Celts. They held the view that various kinds of trees, and other plants (ex. ivy), held magical properties. Use of the specific plant could bring about magical effects associated with the plant(s) involved, much like gem magic using plants instead. The Celts also used symbols that represented the trees in some cases. I have seen some things that associate tree magic with the Romany as well, but I haven’t been able to confirm this as yet.

Edit (8 July 2016)
Forgot Music Magic, but thinking it could be considered an effect or variation on Ad Hoc or Hermetic, depending on how it is used.

Magic Series—Mythic, Legendary, Historical, Folkloric

After thinking a bit, I’ve decided to do a five part (at this time) series of posts regarding different aspects and thoughts on magic. In part, this was inspired by recently reading Qiguang Zhao’s work on dragons and partially because I’ve been looking for a fairly comprehensive source on types or varieties of magic and haven’t been able to find what I’m looking for. So, I’ll create one.

 In Zhao’s A Study of Dragons, East and West, he divided Eastern dragons into four categories, including mythic, legendary, and folkloric. This got me thinking about a similar breakdown for magic.

 For this post, I’ll classify approaches to magic as: mythological (including theological), legendary, historical, folkloric, and fictive (e.g. modern fiction).

 Mythological

Most mythological and theological magic is about divinities. That is, the magic originates with divine beings. Given that myths themselves are focused on divine beings, this makes a certain sense. Zeus brings his siblings back from being eaten by slaying his father, hurls lightning bolts, and changes his form as desired—into a bull, sunshine, the appearance of a mortal. Odin gives up his eye to learn the runes and their related magic. Freyr oversees the seiðr, often healing magic. Monkey King changes size and form, cloudwalks, and a whole host of other powers. Christ changes water to wine, walks on water, and self-resurrects. Most of the Greek & Roman gods change the forms of mortals, ex. Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

 Included here are the magic devices, usually loaned to mortals. These almost always originate with the gods. Hephestus creates most of the magic items used by the other gods, demigods, and mortals of Greek myth. All the great magic devices in Celtic culture are owned by the gods.

 This can also include the monstrous magic, such as Medusa and the Chinese demons.

 Legendary

In the legends, magic is most often used as plot devices. I’m thinking of Merlin and the Arthurian legends in general here, mostly because of my own background of knowledge. Often, legendary magic is considered negative or evil when used as spells—ex. Morgaine or Spenser’s Archimago. However, it becomes positive when it appears as devices and other items that help the hero—ex. Excalibur, Yvain’s ring of invisibility (Chretien de Troyes). But, there are exceptions to both, such as Merlin and Sigurd, whose ring is cursed to bring about his downfall but who is also magically able to understand the speech of animals (after accidentally eating dragon blood).

 Historical

I think in many ways the historical perspective is more focused on practicality. This is a classification I use for how people in the past believed magic worked. Included here are alchemists, astrologers, werewolves, and witches. This is the creation of elixirs, including the elixir of life, rune magic, and shapeshifting. It is the magic of potions to cure afflictions, curses against one’s enemies, blessings upon one’s children or herds, protections from malign magics (ex. horseshoes), and human to animal shape-changing. It is the realm of Celtic ogham (tree associated) magic and entrail reading divination, Chinese I-Ching and Feng Shui and spirit magic, Roman written magics (ex. curses, of which many are extant), Greek divinations and oracles, and Aztec blood sacrifice and nahuatl shape-shifting.

 Folkloric

This is the magic of fairy tale and folklore. It often works in a fashion similar to historical and also often comes from witches or supernatural non-human creatures (ex. goblins, fae, brownies). This magic typically violates the laws of reality, relates to the acquisition of wealth (which may vanish in the sun), and deceive. This magic is most concerned with the physics and rules of the story, in fact it does follow a certain logic and conform to certain rules—Rumpelstiltskin’s binding magical deal, the Law of Threes, the trade of a good deed for a wish. This is the magic of Jack’s gold egg laying goose and magic harp. This is the magic of Rapunzel’s witch.

 Fictive/Modern

In modern fantasy, magic tends to be systematic. Orson Scott Card, for instance, even goes so far as to state that the most important part of fantasy worldbuilding is understanding the laws, the rules, the system of magic. Many magic systems used in modern fiction are based on myth, legend, history, or folklore, or all of them. Generally, though, they are translated through the lens of the scientific era that classifies, systematizes, and attempts to understand the underlying rules. J.K. Rowling—with her focus on wands, gestures, and magic words—is a good example in which certain forms are required and all spells are classified into certain categories, at least for educational purposes. Steven Brust does this, differently, as well in that Dragaera has sorcery (manipulation of chaos energy, amorphia, though the Orb), witchcraft (a form of psychic energy), and psychics. Jim Butcher pulls this form, applied to a variety of legendary (fae courts), mythic, and historic (wizards) forms of magic.

Tower’s World: Magic

For the Tower world, I decided to play with some, continually evolving, ideas about magic.  Initially, I decided to divide magics into “low” and “high” categories.  Low magic would be slower to use and less powerful, although not generally as effective and wide ranging.  On the other hand high magic would be significantly stronger and faster to use, although somewhat more difficult to learn.

 

For low magics, I decided on three: waerlomancy, witchcraft, and wizardry.

 

  • Waerlomancy involves communing with spirits of various sorts, whether forcing them to act on the mage’s behalf or convincing them to do so. Most practitioners are referred to as warlocks, although those who specialize in dealings with spirits of the dead are necromancers.

 

  • Witchcraft involves rituals and various materials, from herbs to pieces of hair, bits of string to birds eggs. All witchcraft rituals are ad hoc, that is they are created on the spot based on intuition.  The same is true of the materials used—a witch gathers and employs whatever materials seem appropriate at the time.

 

  • Wizardry is the opposite of witchcraft. It also involves rituals and materials, but it is rigid and proscribed versus witchcraft’s seemingly random nature.  Wizards follow painstakingly researched and formulaic rituals with precise ingredients and motions.  In many ways, wizards see magic as a science, compared to witches who see it as an art.

 

Obviously, these three, as the basic magics, heavily influence how individuals interact with and understand magic in the world.  So, all mages learn one of these three basic, low, magics.  Which one often depends on the faction they are raised in, as each faction has preferred magics.

 

The high magics were originally conceived of as individual specialties.  Before I started putting together the first typed versions, though, I decided that each of the six high magics would have its own purpose.  These purposes broke down into three categories: basics, item creation, and power generation.

 

  • Sorcery (Basic) became the versatile, and gateway, high magic. It is the one that all who study high magic in the modern fictive world learn.  From that foundation, they can choose to learn other high magics.  So, sorcery contains all the fundamental elements, theory, and understanding of high magic.  However, sorcery cannot be used to create long term magic items (although it can potentially create one-use items).
  • Alchemy (Item) is fairly traditional, based on medieval and early modern European conceptions. That is, the alchemist mixes myriad ingredients in a sort of magical chemistry to create elixirs (potions, pills, and unguents) that possess special powers.  Most study this magic in order to create basic items.  This can take the form of the herbalist (witches) or the chemist (wizard) as well.
  • Lithomancy (Item) is the magic of gemstones, and it primarily used to create magic items. Practitioners study gem cutting, gem powers, and some trade/craft skills to incorporate gemstones into various items.  Gems can be used individually, without being in objects, but this is relatively rare in the modern world.
  • Cryptomancy (Item), also called rune lore or glyph lore (my preferred), is the magic of symbols and words. It requires significant study and knowledge of languages and cultures.  Most who study it primarily focus on creating items—etched, painted, carved, written, or otherwise visibly part of the item—though the words and symbols can be used independently of other objects.  An obscure side branch of cryptomancy is yantromancy, the use of symbols on living beings, via tattooing.  The principle is the same, only the subject changes.
  • Blood Magic (Power) requires the sacrifice of blood some some living being to quickly generate potentially phenomenal amounts of magical energy. Most mages do not require such levels of energy and recover power naturally, but blood mages can gather a great deal of energy for major workings.  Obviously, the source matters—a rat isn’t as potent as a human; and rumors of especially potent sources such as dragon blood or the blood of royal lines, abound.
  • Coitomancy (Power) is, in short, sex magic, used to provide power for spells from other magics. For instance, coitomancy could be used to reinforce a sorcerous ward around a building.  In this fictive world, it requires two people to work and quality matters more than quantity (a sort of tantric principle).  There are rumors that some partners are more efficacious than others, based on species or other factors, as well.

After some further development and consideration of hidden species, I started thinking about hidden or lost magics.  To that end, I decided that the last two high magics (blood magic and coitomancy) were the oldest high magics and were at one time much more versatile than they are in the modern fictive world.  That knowledge, of course, was lost millennia ago, soon after the non-human species were driven to extinction.  At which point, other high magics were developed and rarified, or expanded, in various ways—to alchemy/cryptomancy/lithomancy and eventually to sorcery.

Magic Revisited: Symbol vs. Tool

Lately, I’ve been working on several projects including posting things here. These include:

 Company Earth/Section 15—An urban fantasy worldbuild and story (about 2400 words, middle of chapter 2)

Kingshaven—An urban fantasy piece (about 2730 words, starting chapter 2)

Great Covenant—An urban fantasy worldbuild

Eight Cities—A fantasy worldbuild connected to the Great Covenant Earth

Kindred Spirit—A fantasy worldbuild and story (about 13,250 words, starting chapter 8)

The Tower—An urban fantasy worldbuild and story (about 1900 word scene)

 I list these here mostly because I’ve been looking up a lot, and thinking, about magic again lately. These six settings all use magic differently to one degree or another. Some are more different than others, whether at a fundamental level or a more superficial level.

 Symbolic Magic versus Magic as a Tool

I’ve come across a variety of blogs and writer (sadly didn’t save any of them) who argue that all magic must have a cost, whether in terms of fatigue or something more significant (life?). Others have suggested that magic should symbolize something, or be a character unto itself.

 An alternate view, and one I prefer, is the idea that magic is simply a tool. In this set up, magic is ultimately no different than a hammer or sword, regardless of how one actually performs the magic. I suppose one reason I like it is that there is still significant room for variation and playing with the idea, and at the same time there is no inherent moral or other symbolic element. And it can still have a cost.

 Rowling presents a good example of this method in which magic, while an important element of her world, is little more than a tool and has a cost, albeit a minor one, in the form of learning time, and sometimes fatigue (or more, as shown in Deathly Hallows with Voldemort’s blood sacrifice protection and the horcruxes).

 High Magic versus Low Magic

As I’ve been working on the settings above, I’ve become interested in this idea. In short, the concept is that there are two (or more) layers of magic: low and high. These can have internal layers as well. So, low magic would be simple, basic magics; the hedge magic or hedge witch idea. It could be roughly equivalent to a secondary school education or an apprentice in a trade. On the other hand, high magics would be advanced, potentially superior (and more costly) magics. They are special, powerful, and require extra training. Perhaps only a certain percentage of the magical community undertakes the necessary education, roughly equivalent to modern grad school or a master in a trade.

 I like this concept because it brings in the idea of abilities and knowledge hidden (because of danger, power, or some other reason) from the majority of mages. In a way it is also somewhat realistic, in that the master or grad degree holder has a higher degree of knowledge and information, or tricks, than the apprentice or high school graduate.

 Old Magics versus New Magics

Another concept I’ve been playing with is old versus new magics, or different ages for different magics. In my own thinking, this has mostly been an evolutionary track, but it could also take the form of lost magics or a host of other possibilities. And the different magics could exist concurrently in the modern era.

 Older magic could be taken as more raw in terms of power or involving less control. Alternatively, the old magics could be potentially more precise and stronger (in a form of declining magical arts). Meanwhile, new magics could be more precise, though perhaps weaker and/or more specialized. Trudi Canavan plays with this idea to a certain extent with her Black Magician trilogy (lost, powerful magic). Esther Friesner works with evolved, rarefied modern magic in Split Heirs. Steven Brust also plays with the concept in the Dragaera books with the differences between raw, powerful, uncontrolled Elder Sorcery and modern sorcery. Ilona Andrews does as well with the Kate Daniels series, through the title character and her father’s family.

 Raw Power versus Skill/Control

I’ve also been thinking about differentiating raw power from control. An individual may have a phenomenal amount of potential power, but little to no control (at least initially); such as the Skywalker clan, supposedly. On the other hand, someone could have great skill and knowledge, but very little raw power. Canavan suggests this possibility throughout her series as well.

 Power Generation versus Spellcasting

If energy is being used by the magician, there is also the question of how power is generated, acquired, or replenished. Some work with ambient absorption, a sort of unconscious recharge based on rest and time (Canavan uses this as do others). Others involve active rituals and even sacrifice (also appears in Canavan, via bloodletting).

 Sometimes, there are magics that exist solely to provide energy and power for the caster—blood sacrifice, organ consumption, draining magic items, tantric magic—while other magics are involved in actual spellcasting, e.g. creating effects with that power. This is something I’ve been playing with to an extent as well. Allyson James’s Stormwalker series seems to use this idea to some extent, ex. sex magic appears to be used solely for the purpose of powering other magics, whether already in place or cast during the act (ref. Stormwalker in which Janet and Mick reinforce her wards on the hotel).

 Enchanting versus Enchantment

There is also an interesting, not really confusion but multiple uses of the term enchantment. Traditionally, enchantment refers to mind affecting magics. Since at least the early days of D&D, enchantment can also refer to the creation of magically imbued items, e.g. enchanted items. I think much of the issue here comes from the real lack of definitive usage of terminology, both historically and in modern usage. This is true, in its own way, of virtually all terminology related to magic—e.g. sorcery, wizardry, magic, witchcraft, necromancy—that are, in some cases, used interchangeably, or for multiple things.

 To clarify this, some have referred to the creation of magic items as “artifice”. However, that term also refers to trickery, cunning, and deception. Recently, I’ve been favoring “crafting”, as in “He carried several Crafted items” or “She was a master of Crafting” versus enchantment (for mind affecting magics).

 Props versus No Props

Some writers, bloggers, and readers believe that all magic should involve complication. This can include the use of rituals, special words, or other devices that make it showy for the story—Rowling’s use of wands, for instance. Others, less commonly, prefer to employ sheer willpower for magic, with little to no “showiness” (Canavan). Some mix a variety of things—Brust, for whom most Dragaeran sorcery requires a simple thought, but witchcraft requires ritual, and advanced sorcery sometimes requires materials, psychic abilities work . . . differently.

 Props certainly limit the usage of magic, but whether props are effective or needed varies widely by world and writer.

Merlyn Dee’s Origin of Magics: Evolution of Magic

While working on my Aethoth worldbuild (secondary world fantasy), I’ve recently been considering, and decided to implement, the idea of evolving magic.

We commonly see a variety of magic systems at play in a setting, ex. Tolkien (wizard magic v. elf magic v. dwarf magic), Brust (sorcery v. witchcraft), or Pratchett (wizard v. witch). We also regularly see a decline of magic, ex. Tolkien (the fading of elf magic and withdraw of the wizards) or Pratchett (sourcery -> wizardry). The best I’ve seen of what I’m getting at with evolved magic, though, is Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series, in which magic is constantly changing and adapting to a post-apocalyptic Earth. To some degree, the Dragonlance (5th Age?) approach might be akin to what I’m thinking as well, but I’m not really familiar with it.

For Aethoth, I’m thinking that an old race (the aiser) used a rune-based magic millennia ago. This was later adapted by one of the older human nations into sigils—stylized forms of the runes—that no longer connected with the aiser language. Then in the modern world there are three magics—sorcery (blood and/or spirit magic), witchcraft (ritual and/or focus), and wizardry (visualization and willpower)—that all come from the sigil-rune roots adapted to a new era and changes in the nature of magic.

This may tie into the concept of magic as a living entity. As such, magic would adapt over time, changing to better survive within its environment. The old throwbacks still exist and work, perhaps even thrive, in certain niches areas (ex. sharks and crocodiles), but the new versions have better evolved for other, more common, niches too and are therefore much more common.

Technological Development or Lack Thereof

One of the most common complaints, or observations, about non-urban fantasy is that the genre is stuck in medieval technology. In part, I think this technology choice comes from the genre’s roots in medieval romances (Arthurian and others). It may also be the same impetus that draws people to ren faires, the SCA, and various LARP groups. That said, there’s certainly nothing wrong with upgrading the tech level of a fantasy world. Do you want secondary world Elves and Dwarves with muskets and airships? Go for it. But, there are also good reasons for technological development to be stunted.

Magic is the most obvious one. Some authors argue that magic and technology cannot co-exist, that they are inimical to each other. A great example is Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series, where magic actively shuts down and tears apart the physical signs of technology. Alternately, there’s a good argument to be made for the presence of magic halting technological development. If magic is present and can be used to perform certain common tasks (such as transporting water or grinding flour) cheap or easily, then why develop aqueducts or windmills?

Disasters can also explain stunted tech development. Some sort of apocalyptic event, whether natural or magical, can set back or completely reset the development clock. The effects that apply in post-apocalypse literature, film, and TV can be applied to fantasy too.

For those worlds with multiple sentient species, racial mindset can also be a factor. A common trope with long loved or immortal species is the idea that they are slow to change. They may also be adverse to innovation. Whether Elves or Vampires, a long lived species could be so hidebound that their technological development is stunted. Depending on their population and influence, this could be a racial weakness or it could be imposed on other races.

Socio-political factors can also slow technological advancement. Two of the strongest elements here are religion and the upper class. Both have a vested interest in controlling technology and technological development. We need only look at writing technology in our own history to see this. For centuries, arguably even longer, only the priests, who’d developed writing, were literate. They controlled the technology of writing, which meant they wielded great power and earned riches by hiring our their services to the rest of society. Likewise, the development of the printing press was held back in both China and Europe. In the former case, the nobles purposely stunted development through laws that kept movable type from being invented. In Europe’s case, both the Church and nobles did what they could to limit printing presses, often in the name of combating heresy.

How Did He Do That? (Magic Systems)

There are dozens, scores, thousands of different magic systems in fiction and history.  The latter, of course, vary by time, culture, and views of magic.

I recently read someone arguing that culture determines the magic system.  This is true, to the extent of historical Earth magic systems because they were/are all based on how a given culture or subculture views the world and magic itself.  However, the assertion fails, I think, when it is applied to fictional worlds where magic really works.  Or perhaps that depends on how we define the phrase “magic system”: do we mean how magic works or how a culture limits and trains the wielders of magic?

The latter is clearly influenced by culture.  This definition of magic system involves the artificial limits that a society places on what magicians are allowed to do or learn.  It includes the laws enacted regarding the use of magic and its practitioners, usually to control those who possess an ability that the rest of society cannot understand.  This definition also covers how one learns magic—self-study, apprenticeship, formal school, or whatnot.  If magic is illegal, for instance, self-study and secret apprenticeship are the most likely means of learning.  If magic is legal, but the non-magical government wishes to control it, then government controlled master-apprentice relationships or formal schools create a means of limiting magic.  In the latter case, by regulating instructors and what it is that instructors can teach (we see an excellent example of this in J.K. Rowling’s HP and the Order of the Phoenix when Cornelius Fudge appoints Umbridge to Hogwarts as the government’s “inquisitor” and person on the inside).

However, if we use magic system to mean how magic works, which is the definition I typically use, then cultural influence is not an issue.  Rather, in this definition magic influences and determines society.  Why?  Because this definition refers to the immutable, natural laws of magic.  It treats magic like gravity, magnetism, and other natural forces.  It determines where magic comes from.  It explains where the energy to produce magic originates.  If energy is necessary and expended, it explains how energy is tapped, used, and recovered (even if the effect is natural fatigue).  The magic system determines whether the magician is physically, psychologically, emotionally, other otherwise drained from the act of casting spells.  This definition reveals who is capable of learning and using magic (anyone who studies or only those with genetic talent, for instance).  It governs the rules and natural laws of magic, e.g. what magic is and is not capable of.  This definition also involves what acts are necessary to use magic—ex. force of will, rituals, hand gestures, words of power, sacrifices (of wealth, will, blood, self, etc.), and/or focus items (wands, staves, rings, amulets, etc.).

Examples

Michael Scott, Thirteen Hallows—Ritual or powerful artifacts necessary, blood sacrifice and sex can enhance raw power, it seems that anyone can learn but those with talent have an edge, learned by self-study

J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter series)—Wands and gestures are necessary, words of power are used initially, energy seems to come from outside the caster but concentration creates fatigue, only those with genetic talent can learn then talent comes into play, learned in schools, Dark Arts forbidden by society; multiple magics exist and follow different rules (Wizard magic, House Elf magic, Goblin magic, Centaur divination)

J.R.R. Tolkien (LotR)—A staff appears to be necessary, magic is only granted to five Wizards and, to some extent, one line of Men, words of power appear to be necessary, magic use by Wizards leaves a personal signature, cannot be learned; multiple magics exist with their own rules (Wizard magic, Elf magic, Dwarven magic [doors, forging], Ent magic, Sauron’s magic, Numenorean magic [Men])

Robert Asprin (MYTH series)—Anyone who studies can apparently learn, only takes study and force of will (visualization of effect), powered by natural magic field but can recharge by tapping ley lines, worlds without ley lines make magic difficult or impossible, both apprenticeship and schools are possible depending on the world

Fritz Leiber (Lanhkmar series)—Anyone can learn, but magic comes at a great cost that ultimately affects the magician’s appearance, magicians are secretive and feared (at least one is clearly based on Baba Yaga), magicians take on apprentices

Rick Riordan (Kane Chronicles)—Magic requires the bloodline of pharaohs, also requires the crook and flail, forbidden magic (merging with the gods) exists, usage drains the caster, words of power can be used (but are dangerous), learned by situational mix of apprenticeship and school, certain Egyptian artifacts allow transportation magic around the world