A Theory of Magic
- What is Magic?
- Magic as a force
- Magic as energy
- Magic as matter
- Magic in the Wizard
- What is a wizard’s magic?
- Where is a wizard’s magic?
- Magical Strength
- Magical Exhaustion
- Casting and Spells
- Components of Wizarding Magic
- Mental Components
- Magic as Intelligent
- Non-verbal and Non-focal magic
- Conclusion and credits
There is no simple answer to the question, what is magic? Many theories have been developed, usually treating magic as a kind of quasi energy-matter combination that can be quantified. We shall call these people Neo-Merlinists (NMs), in tribute to the large quantity of amateur literature in which Merlin appears to the famous wizard Harry Potter and explains magic in this way.
However, I would like to propose an alternative theory. This is not to say that one theory is right, and another is wrong, they are simply alternative theories, in the same way that Newton and Einstein’s theories are alternative theories, but both provide accurate predictions. For the sake of taxonomy, we shall call those who decide to follow this theory Taurists (sorry Yarrgh).
In this short essay, I hope to cover all questions related to the theory of magic, providing a comprehensive, coherent magic system that any witch or wizard can follow and use. As a theory, it will probably be quite different to what most are used to, and attempts to move away from the clichés of the wizarding world. It is also important to note that whenever I say wizards in this essay, I am of course referring to both wizards and witches. Happy reading.
What is Magic?
Magic is quite a mystery to even the most learned witches and wizards. It behaves in different ways at different times, and it is my belief that it is impossible to pin down the true nature of magic, partly as it is so beyond the logical way in which our minds work, and partly due to the fluid nature of magic. What we can do, however, is make models of how magic behaves, and these generally split up into three main categories: magic acting as a force, magic acting as energy, and magic acting as matter. Of course, magic is none of these things in reality, but it helps to picture it in this way. Perhaps by understanding these different aspects of magic, we can come to have a fuller understanding of magic as a whole.
There is one other magical model that is in existence: magic as a deity. However, due to a complete lack of evidence, this theory has fallen out of favour since the days of the wizard-emperor Julius Caesar, when wands were created and wizards gained a firmer control over their magic, and the idea of it being controlled by a deity seemed less likely.
Magic as a Force
This is possibly the analogy which comes closest to reality. Through modeling magic this way, magic is a force like the other forces of this universe (gravity, the electromagnetic force, the weak force, the strong force), governed by rules and laws. An example of such a law would be the law of Nullus Vita the law stating that no magic can bring the dead to life.
However, magic as a force would be slightly different to the other forces of the universe. Firstly, as a force it has total dominance over the others. It would be an unnatural law, meaning that the four physical laws of the universe control everything until the magical force intervenes, and when the magical force is removed, then the four forces regain their power. A simple example of this would be the levitation spell, Wingardium Leviosa. Imagine that you have a feather in front of you. This feather is currently being governed by the four physical laws of the universe. Now, when you cast a levitation spell on it, the magical force intervenes, subjugates the other forces, and makes the feather rise. When the spell is ended, and the magical force removed, then the four physical forces regain their dominance and the feather drops.
There is one other aspect that the magical force has that the physical forces do not. This is the following: that only those beings with a connection to this force may be aware of it, and able to manipulate it. All others (Muggles), though they may see magic performed, could never, even with all their instruments and science, measure or manipulate magic. The force itself appears to prevent it. This also may be the reason why electronics fail when in the presence of a strong action of the magical force (called a strong concentration, though this is misleading), as the very nature of the force itself is disabling them.
Magic as Energy
Another, less accurate, analogy is that of imagining magic to be a form of energy, like heat, or light, or electricity. It is true that magic does appear to act in this way from time to time, but as a whole it presents a few problems. The only real application of this model is in the casting of spells. Spells, once they have left the wizard, often act as if they are a form of energy. They can give off sound, light, heat, electricity, and a whole variety of other effects. Under the Muggle laws of the Conservation of Mass-Energy, energy cannot be destroyed, nor made, only transferred to different forms of energy, or mass. This law works well with this model of magic, as the superfluous effects of a spell (light, sound, heat and so on) can be explained as leakages of magical energy into other forms.
Of course, when modeling magic as a force we stated that magic is completely dominant over the other forces of the universe, and so the models of magic as a force are slightly in conflict with the models of magic as a form of energy. However, as these are simply models of reality, and not explanations of reality itself, this is acceptable, as different models are applicable in different situations. The model of magic as a force gives us an idea of magic overall, the model of magic as energy gives us some idea of how magic works once it has been formed into a spell construct.
Magic as Matter
This is the analogy which is the least accurate. Comparing magic to matter is a rather contradictory comparison, as magic has no substance. However, it is also possibly the most important model, as it deals with the very consistency of magic what it is made of and it is through understanding magic in this way that spells are created.
Until very recently indeed, the nature of magic itself has evaded magical researchers. However, recent studies in the Department of Mysteries have shed light on this most mysterious area, and the results have been most surprising. Put in a simple way, and without going too deeply into Muggle physics, matter is made up of tiny little balls of elementary particles – atoms. In the same way, if we picture magic as matter, it is made up of millions upon millions of elements. However, unlike matter, these elements of magic are not charged elementary particles, they are Runes. Magic appears to be made up of a series of Runic languages, written into the very fabric of the universe. Each language seems to correspond to a different set of magic: one for the Dark Arts, one for defensive magic, one for magic that changes the natural state of objects, and so on. Quite where these languages come from is not clear, however, we know that they exist, and using magic according to this model provides many accurate predictions of reality.
It is dangerous taking this model too far though. Magic is not like some big pot of liquid, with various glowing Runes floating around. Magic is abstract in the extreme, and has no substance. Though it is a helpful image, magic is not too much like matter, and we should not fool ourselves into thinking that magic is made up of runes, in the same way as matter is made up of atoms. The Runes are simply components of magic that are written into the laws and fabric of the universe: they have no physical manifestation, other than those that have been drawn by living beings.
Magic in the Wizard
A wizard is not just a Muggle with extras. The allele that makes one a wizard is recessive, but once active it codes for a set of proteins and enzymes to be produced which re-arrange the entirety of a wizards genome. Thus, though they look human, wizards are really a completely different species to Muggles, and magic is as much a part of a wizard as it is of House-Elves.
What is a Wizard’s Magic?
The changes that a wizard’s genome undergoes throughout their youth, starting at birth and ending at the age of seventeen (though most of the changes are done by the age of 11), enables the wizard to be connected with magic on a physical, mental and spirit level. At its most basic, a wizard’s magic is Authority: the ability to tell the force of magic what to do, and when to subjugate the other forces of the universe for the wizards benefit. Of course, this is not so simple as simply saying, “Do this!” and there are many aspects to a wizard’s power (see section 4). Accidental magic is a combination of a wizard’s unstable connection with magic, due to the incomplete nature of the bond, and mental pressure applied by emotional distress. Once past the age of seventeen, accidental magic is impossible, as the connection is complete.
A wizard’s magic and the changing of the genome also have several other effects. These are the traditional characteristics of a wizard: long life, resistance to all diseases (but for magical ones), increased speed and reflexes (if the wizard develops them), and the potential to become masters of their own minds. There are of course many other magical abilities, such as Metamorphmagi and Parselmouth, which can come about due to rare mutations of the magic allele.
Where is a Wizard’s Magic?
From reading the above sections, the answer to this question should be obvious, but I feel that it needs to be addressed, as this is one of the key points that separate the Neo-Merlinist and the Taurist. A Neo-Merlinist believes in a magical core: a kind of metaphysical place, outside of the physical plane, in which a wizards magic is centred and stored. A Taurist believes in no such thing. A Taurist sees magic as part of the very nature of a wizard’s being: a wizard could not live without it, and every part of a wizard’s body, mind and soul are infused with it. It has no centre and no store, for a Taurist does not see magic as a substance or type of energy that can be quantified.
Though many will no doubt cringe to hear it, not all wizards are created equal. There are obvious disparities of power between wizards, and this is perhaps one of the reasons why many people fall back on Neo-Merlinism: from these disparities, it would seem that magic can be quantified, as different wizards appear to have different amounts of it. I will attempt to remove this illusion.
It will be helpful here, to imagine a wizard’s magic like a voice. I have said earlier that a wizard’s magic is Authority, authority to command magic to do his bidding and bend the universe to his will. Now, just as different people’s voices are different volumes, a wizard’s magic can have different levels of Authority. The Authority itself is infinite and never ending: magic will never simply stop listening. However, if a wizard attempts a task that is beyond their level of authority, they will fail. This concept links in quite a lot with the subject of magical exhaustion, which will be dealt with shortly, so I shall dwell only briefly upon this idea. Simply put, it means that a wizard cannot, as the Neo-Merlinist would believe, run out of magic, as the Authority that a wizard has cannot run out.
Perhaps another analogy is necessary, just to make sure that the idea has been made clear. Imagine, for a moment, that a wizard’s magic is a liquid. Now, some wizards have Mercury, the densest liquid in existence, whereas others have water, which is really not very dense at all. The wizard with the Mercury has stronger magic, as it is denser. He has the same volume of magic (which is infinite), but the quality of that magic is of a higher level than others’. So it is that some wizards can be stronger than others, yet still all have infinite magic. I would not like you to take this analogy to seriously, as yet again I want to keep people away from the idea of magic as a substance, but it is a helpful picture, useful for illustration purposes.
Needless to say, the Taurist model of magical strength is far superior to the Neo-Merlinist view, as not a single wizard has ever run out of magic.
Magical exhaustion is a myth. I thought I would get that out of the way, before continuing, so that you know in what direction that we are heading. Magical exhaustion is a classically Neo-Merlinist idea, and is in complete discord with the Taurist theory. Under the Neo-Merlinist idea, a wizard has a set amount of magic, and if this runs out then the wizard is out of magic – exhausted – and has to wait for his magical reserves to recharge. As you can probably see, this has a very Muggle feel about it, and its success may lie in the popularity of Muggle Role Playing Games among its proponents.
Now, I can already hear you thinking in your minds, “If there is no magical exhaustion, what then limits a wizard?” And why do we see people apparently tired after, for example, a high-level duel? The Taurist theory has answers to both these questions, some of which have already been touched upon.
I shall deal first with the idea of limitations. Wizards quite obviously are limited, but it is not by the quantity of their magic, for this is infinite. No, as has been already said, a wizard is limited by the quality of his magic, by his level of Authority. So, though a wizard may perform any task within his level of Authority for an infinite amount of time (all other things being equal), he can never perform a task that is above his Authority. For example, a levitation charm is a spell that all wizards can perform: it is well within even the weakest wizard’s level of authority, and it can be performed again and again, indefinitely. Now, take instead a different spell: the Patronus Charm. Though much difficulty with this spell is encountered due to visualisation problems (in other words, the wizard’s happy memory is not strong enough), as a spell it also requires a medium level of authority: those wizards that have that authority can perform it as much as they like, once they have mastered the spell, whereas those with insufficient authority can never hope to cast it, no matter how much effort they put into it. In this way wizards are limited.
Wizards are also limited by a mental component, and it is this which creates the illusion of magical exhaustion after high-level magic usage. Simply put, the concentration required for high-level magic is rather large, and if a wizard attempts to keep casting high-level magic for an extended period of time, not only will he experience the strain of such concentration (in the form of headaches, and in extreme cases nosebleeds), but his concentration will also begin to slip. As mental concentration is an important part of spells, especially powerful ones, his magic will then begin to suffer, and it will appear as if his magic is running out. It is in fact just his mind. In the same way, a person who is going through emotional distress (for example, depression or mourning) will have lower concentration skills, and therefore their magic will suffer.
Casting and Spells
This is worth noting as it is another one of those topics which, at first sight, appears to back up the Neo-Merlinist theory of magic. When a wizard’s Authority is exercised, and manifests in the form of a spell, for the accurate prediction of spells and how they act, we must use the Taurist model of Magic as Energy. This is the only application of this model.
However, this still differs from the Neo-Merlinist idea. The Neo-Merlinist views a spell as a piece of the wizard’s magic that has flowed out of the body, as if it were a substance, and formed into a spell construct, then expelled through the wand. This is not how the Taurist views his magic. A spell is not a piece of magic that is spelled from the body, as a wizard’s magic is not a substance, nor something he possesses like his blood, but a property of his very being, that allows him to tap into the magical force of the universe. Thus a spell, though we must use the Magic as energy model for it, is not energy that has come from the wizard’s body: it is a bending of the universe by the force of magic, centred around the wizard’s focus.
Components of Wizarding Magic and Spells
Wizards have been in existence for approximately 60,000 years, when a mutation in human DNA created the magic allele. Quite how this is possible is not certain, as being a recessive allele, there needs to be a copy of it on each homologous chromosome for it to affect the phenotype of the organism, which couldn’t have occurred unless the first wizard’s parents both had mutated the magic allele: extremely unlikely. Nevertheless, it happened, and the wizarding race was born. The natural advantages of being magical (resistance to disease, long life, protective accidental magic in youth) ensured that the mutation spread quickly, though the fact that it is a recessive allele meant that it did not spread as quickly as it could have.
The earliest wizards of course had no idea about their magic – they did not even have language back then – and any magical phenomena were accidental. Progress did not come until the dawn of civilization, when wizards started to experiment with their magic and magical plants. Potions are perhaps the oldest of all magical disciplines.
Magic back then was unfocused and lacked precision: other than potions, the only type of magic that could be done was a form of Runic magic, in which a wizard would write out a Rune (one of the runes that are written into the fabric of magic), and the rune would give whatever it was drawn on magical properties, powered by the magic of the wizard that drew it.
The next leap of progress was made when a wizard in Rome created the wand, which allowed for greater complexity of magic, and the first spells were made. It is perhaps the wand that powered the Roman Empire’s quick expansion, and wherever they went the wizards brought wands, and so the revolution spread slowly around the world.
Now that we’ve had that quick history lesson, we can continue in our exploration of magical theory, looking through what exactly makes up spells.
The magical focus has a twofold purpose, one mental, and one magical. There are many possible types of focus, however, the most common is the wand, as it is easy to carry, flexible, and can make a variety of complex movements possible. It also has the simple advantage of being easy to point at things: a surprisingly key part of magic.
The first – less important – purpose of the wand is as a mental focus. Concentrating the mind on a specific point in space helps concentrate on a specific idea in the abstract: it is statistically proven that just holding a wand and staring at it improves visualisation skills, and stops the mind becoming distracted. This may sound trivial, but in complex magic such as human transfiguration this mental focus is essential, as the mind has to focus on many things at once.
The second, more important, purpose of the wand is so that wand movements can be made. These wand movements correspond to the Runes that are part of magic: in effect, you are drawing the applicable Rune, or part of a Rune, or a series of Runes, in the air when you are making a wand movement in a spell. This communicates your desire and Authority to the force of magic, which responds. Now, in modern magic many spells do not need a wand movement, and this is because of the development of the incantation, but in ancient cultures, such as the culture of ancient Greece, wizards did not use incantations at all (they did not know of their existence) and relied completely on complex (perhaps overly complex) wand movements.
The incantation is an alternative method by which a wizard may communicate his Authority to magic. However, speaking any old words in any old language will not do. Almost every language in the world has at least some roots in the Runic languages of magic, and some languages are more magical than others. Generally, the further back in time you go, the closer links to magic a language will have. It is a well-known fact that Latin is the most magical of languages, and this is the reason why most spells are in that tongue. But even within Latin, there are some words that have human origins, and some which have magical origins, so simply making a Latin sentence will not work as an incantation: an incantation must consist only of the words which have their roots back in magic, and often these words will be twisted from Latin further back towards their magical etymology.
With incantations, there appeared an alternative way of casting spells, other than wand movements, and so the two became mixed together: almost all spells now have an incantation, and all spells must be cast using a focus. This is because neither the full incantation, or the full wand movement is used, instead, a hybrid of the two is made, and a spell will not work without both incantation and wand used in combination. The only exceptions to this rule are those spells that were created before the practice of combining wand movements and incantations became widespread.
As well as the incantation and wand movement, many spells also have a mental component. This can take one of three forms: an emotional factor, a knowledge factor, or a visualisation factor.
Emotional-factor spells are obvious: they are spells that require a specific emotion to be cast. The Patronus Charm is an example of one of these: happiness is needed for the spell to be cast, and most wizards conjure this emotion through remembering a happy memory. The Cruciatus curse is also an example: sadistic pleasure in the pain of others is needed for that curse to be successful.
Knowledge-factor spells are less common, and are generally restricted to one branch of magic: Transfiguration. In these spells, the caster must have the knowledge of how the spell will work in order for it to be successful. This is why so much biology and theory is taught in Transfiguration: it is because without this knowledge, the magic does not know what to do, and so the spell will fail, even if the incantation and wand movement are perfect. A particular example of this would be the Animagus transformation, where the witch or wizard must know everything about the animal they are turning into for the change to work properly.
Visualisation-factor spells are the most common of the three, and visualisation is necessary in many Charms, and much of Transfiguration. For example, when transfiguring a chair into a desk, though a person may have the knowledge of how this works, the wand movement correct and incantation perfect, if they do not have in their mind a picture of the details of the desk, it will be very simplistic and have little detail. Another example of visualisation-factor spells is the Levitation Charm, where the caster will picture where they wand the object to levitate to, and the object will follow.
Magic as Intelligent
As has been mentioned, for many years it was believed by the wizarding world that magic was a sentient deity of some sort, and this belief was not totally unreasonable: sometimes, magic does appear to have a mind of its own. However, it is now quite obvious that this is not the case: the force of magic could perhaps be described as intelligent, in that it can interpret a wizard’s intentions, but it is not sentient.
A good example of this would be the use of the Impervious Charm. If this charm were to be used to repel water from your eyes as you were riding a broomstick in a rainy Quidditch match, then magic interprets your intention as you wanting to keep away rain from your eyes. If magic were stupid, and took everything literally, it would keep all moisture from your eyes, and they would dry out. This does not happen. Thus, we can divine that magic, though not sentient, is intelligent.
We have talked a lot of magic in relation to spells, but there are also other, rare, forms of magic that are not really spells: they have no incantation, and a wand. I shall call these types of magic, techniques, for this is how they are performed: the wizard goes through a certain thought process, rather than using a spell.
Examples of this are few, and perhaps the most commonly known is Apparition. Anyone who has had to endure the Ministry’s apparition instructors will know of the three Ds: destination, determination and deliberation. This is a perfect example of a technique. No spell is cast in apparition, it is simply a thought process, with some visualisation involved, and the magic does the rest. It could be said that the spinning on the spot takes the place of a wand movement in focusing the wizard’s deliberation, but this is a tenuous link, as no Rune is involved.
Another example would be the rare mind art of Occlumency, where the user becomes the master of their own mind, completely aware of what goes on within, and able to manipulate the inner workings of the mind according to his will. Again, this is no spell, and this time involves no visualisation: quite the opposite. Occlumency is a thought process, one which has to be kept up continuously.
Non-Focal and Non-Verbal Magic
The naming of these two magical phenomena are somewhat misnomers. Despite how they sound, non-verbal magic very much includes an incantation, and non-focal magic still involves a focus. The difference is that these, instead of being physical, occur in the mind.
Ever since the wand was first created, wizards attempted to replicate the beneficial effects of the wand without having to keep the physical presence of the wand, which they viewed as a crutch. Eventually, a solution was found, though it is one that only those of the highest mental calibre can perform (usually only those who have mastered Occlumency has enough mental power to perform non-focal magic). The solution was thus: instead of physically drawing the runes in the air with the wand, and instead of physically using the wand as a mental focus, the wizard would picture the wan doing these things in his mind. It was found that, though the whole process was mental, the Authority of the wizard would still be translated to the force of magic, and the spell would form.
There are however, limitations, even for those wizards who have enough mental focus to perform it. Any spell that manifests itself according to the laws of Magic as Energy will not work without a physical wand. That is to say, any spell that causes a physical effect, such as a jet or ball of light, will not work, as the wand is crucial for the direction of this magic. So, spells like the Summoning Charm, and the Levitation Charm, will work, whereas spells like a Stunning Hex will not.
In the same way, non-verbal magic works by the wizard not getting rid of the incantation completely, but by intoning the incantation mentally instead of verbally. This requires less concentration than non-focal, though only about ten per cent of all wizards master this ability. The concentration required for non-verbal, and non-focal magic combines is phenomenal, and sometimes whole generations can pass without anyone capable of this feat. There are no limitations to non-verbal magic.
Conclusion and Credits
Wow, that’s a long essay. I’ll slip out of character now. Thank you all for reading, I hope that you have enjoyed this essay, and that it has made you think a bit about how magic works in the Harry Potter world. I have tried to keep it interesting, and there are some parts of it that have no connection with canon (for example the little history bit) but much of it is a reasonable extrapolation of what we see in canon. I wrote this essay all myself, however, in the concepts some are completely Yarrgh’s which is why he is in the by-line. Basically, all the stuff about magic being made of Runes, and wand movements corresponding to those Runic languages is his, though in a brainstorming session with him I came up with the incantations part. Nevertheless, without him this essay never would have been made, so he gets lots of credit for it. Thanks again for reading, and I hope I did not bore you too much.