World Building- Cultures and Relationship to Magic

Dragonlady

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So as I'm revising my wip i'm going to be doing some work revising and expanding the worldbuilding, and I've been thinking about something I don't think I've seen consciously explored before. Do different cultures and technologies in your world impact what can be achieved with magic? Do they need some sort of technology/skill/object etc to make use of magic, and do all cultures have equal access?

In the culture I've been working on, a type of dagger called a spirit knife is used to enhance and direct magic, but at some point that would have been invented. Prior to that point, other tools were perhaps less effective. Perhaps another culture in the same world has a different outlook, and different technologies, so they've achieved different things with their magic. Perhaps some still use relatively ineffective wooden wands, and perhaps this makes them vulnerable to attack/colonisation /exploitation by cultures with more sophisticated magic.

Do magic users in your world need anatomical knowledge in order to heal, for example, or engineering knowledge to create magical buildings, or not?

I'd love to hear how these thoughts relate to your own writing/worldbuilding, reading recommendations also welcome!
 
In my stuff, which I like to look at the differences (or similarities, as it were) between technology and magic.

Consider the cell phone: how many people that use cell phones can tell you how they work, from the radio signals to the hardware to the apps? Most people just take it for granted the amount of engineering, and therefore related specific knowledge and education and experience goes (or went) into developing cell phones.

Usually I incorporate magic not as a whole society thing, but more of a one-off for a select few with the right knowledge and practice. The general population in those societies is content in their ignorance of the existence of the magic or consideration of it as mythology, let alone the minutia of how it works.

Of course these ideas are still in some early draft and development phases and not really fleshed out, so thanks for the question and making me think about it!
 
In the magical systems I have cursory knowledge of, namely Western magic of the renaissance era and later, and modern Daoist magic, the systems are expressed as a science, assuming a detailed knowledge of various cosmological principles and natural phenomena.

For instance Cornelius Agrippa's Three Books on Occult Philosophy begin with an explanation of the elements and their correspondences and other such building blocks inherited from classical natural philosophy. Geometry, astrology, and other arts are likewise considered foundational. The magical or occult practices develop from a penetrating interpretation and integration of these "outer" principles.

Likewise a Daoist magician would study Yin-Yang and five phase philosophy, the system of the eight trigrams, etc. Generally a strict separation between "natural" and "supernatural" does not exist in these systems.

Of course I'm speaking here of the magic of the highly educated elites; there are also folk magic systems that are maybe less complex or less rigorous in their principles, but that nevertheless do have their own logic and principles that practitioners should adhere to. Christian folk magic systems like braucherei/powwow or hoodoo certainly expect a familiarity with the Bible, a working knowledge of theology, and overall piety on the part of practitioners, as well as knowledge of certain esoteric practices, herbalism, or extra-biblical grimoires (with the book of Psalms being considered a grimoire in itself). In these devotional theistic systems, of course, the practitioners hope that any gap or defect in their knowledge is filled by the grace of God and the appeal is made to God first and last and not any inherent power of the magician.

Certain popular health practices today, e.g. yoga and acupuncture, arise from principles that could be deemed magical while also requiring some detailed understanding of the human body and its functions (even if this understanding would not meet the criteria of modern science).
 
So as I'm revising my wip i'm going to be doing some work revising and expanding the worldbuilding, and I've been thinking about something I don't think I've seen consciously explored before. Do different cultures and technologies in your world impact what can be achieved with magic? Do they need some sort of technology/skill/object etc to make use of magic, and do all cultures have equal access?

In the culture I've been working on, a type of dagger called a spirit knife is used to enhance and direct magic, but at some point that would have been invented. Prior to that point, other tools were perhaps less effective. Perhaps another culture in the same world has a different outlook, and different technologies, so they've achieved different things with their magic. Perhaps some still use relatively ineffective wooden wands, and perhaps this makes them vulnerable to attack/colonisation /exploitation by cultures with more sophisticated magic.

Do magic users in your world need anatomical knowledge in order to heal, for example, or engineering knowledge to create magical buildings, or not?

I'd love to hear how these thoughts relate to your own writing/worldbuilding, reading recommendations also welcome!
I do think about that because I’m a follower of the author and youtuber Shadiversity. One of the things that he keeps saying in his videos is that magic would deeply affect worldbuilng. Maybe technology wouldn’t be as necessary, and people would have to cope with a completely different array of problems, like aging population or criminals that use magic. For instance, if food can be magically produced in a medieval setting, then people wouldn’t struggle so much and turn their attentions somewhere else. They may even become completely idle and useless, like it happens in Xuthal of the Dusk by Robert E. Howard. If dragons are a thing, and people know about them, then the cities would be fortified, they would have ballistas etc. The point is that magic often doesn’t change anything else in fictional worlds, and that’s a mistake and a waste of potential.

The video below would be especially useful:


 
In a role playing game I run.

Some of the magic is intricately connected to specific cultures, one needs to understand that culture (and language) to have access. Other magics are open to all.

Do magic users in your world need anatomical knowledge in order to heal, for example, or engineering knowledge to create magical buildings, or not?

One of the magics specifically requires specialized mundane knowledge to function. (like a medic or engineer)
 
I think I like the way Onward treats magic. It exists, but technology rules because it's easier.

I also like what Circle of Magic is doing. Magic is common enough that people can buy spells, but they're still startled when they see a mage doing magical stuff.

I admit that I'm just slapping together magic vs social implications with my own stories because I'm not sure how to handle it properly. In my fanfiction, having a magical race and a race where the ability to do magic is rare meant that the non-magical race is somewhat at our technology level. Magic can be used to knit bones back together and there are machines that can do that magic. There was a sorcerer who studied wizardry growing up. Wizardry is like basic alchemy in Fullmetal Alchemist, where a lot of the guidance to the magic is through diagrams and saying specific words. But when that guy who knows wizardry starts to learn about programming, he loves it. He could automate something that it takes a wizard to do.

In my current project, the guy probably isn't going to learn magic and I'm not going to have anyone explain how it actually works unless I can figure it out. It's still going to be a setting where technology is easier, even if that technology is doing something magical like peering into the future.
 
It sounds like an interesting idea that magic is advancing and evolving; the new state of the art is the spirit knife. In some many stories, magic either seems to be static or it seems to be dying out. I think that is a cool detail to add to your story.

I am at the very early stages of doing my first fantasy story; one with magic. I decided to put it in a modern day setting (I simply did not want to do a semi-medieval, feudal setting). This forced me into making my magical group small, secret society. I wanted their magic usage to be hidden from general knowledge, so wands were out and I settled on a form of telekinesis and a form of telepathy that might be a simpler form of telekinesis. I've chosen to keep the size of what can be manipulated very small, so that it feels like a reasonable energy demand. I can't see having someone mentally lift an automobile, for instance; more like operations at the grain of sand level. I'm still trying to decide on a decent plot to wrap around the whole thing.
 
I do think about that because I’m a follower of the author and youtuber Shadiversity. One of the things that he keeps saying in his videos is that magic would deeply affect worldbuilng. Maybe technology wouldn’t be as necessary, and people would have to cope with a completely different array of problems, like aging population or criminals that use magic. For instance, if food can be magically produced in a medieval setting, then people wouldn’t struggle so much and turn their attentions somewhere else. They may even become completely idle and useless, like it happens in Xuthal of the Dusk by Robert E. Howard. If dragons are a thing, and people know about them, then the cities would be fortified, they would have ballistas etc. The point is that magic often doesn’t change anything else in fictional worlds, and that’s a mistake and a waste of potential.

The video below would be especially useful:


that sounds fascinating, i'll have a look!
 
It sounds like an interesting idea that magic is advancing and evolving; the new state of the art is the spirit knife. In some many stories, magic either seems to be static or it seems to be dying out. I think that is a cool detail to add to your story.

I am at the very early stages of doing my first fantasy story; one with magic. I decided to put it in a modern day setting (I simply did not want to do a semi-medieval, feudal setting). This forced me into making my magical group small, secret society. I wanted their magic usage to be hidden from general knowledge, so wands were out and I settled on a form of telekinesis and a form of telepathy that might be a simpler form of telekinesis. I've chosen to keep the size of what can be manipulated very small, so that it feels like a reasonable energy demand. I can't see having someone mentally lift an automobile, for instance; more like operations at the grain of sand level. I'm still trying to decide on a decent plot to wrap around the whole thing.
@Wayne Mack even if magic is really easy to use and powerful, people still need to have the concept in their head of how they want to use it.
 
out of interest the 13th witch by Mark Hayden has some good nuggets in terms of the technology we use to manipulate magic.
 
You could posit that those with certain magical ability were naturally suited to learn certain techniques. The obvious example would be Dwarves as builders. They have magic power over building materials, which leads them to build in ways others cannot, or as cheaply or quickly, which in turn could lead them to be more knowledgeable about engineering. You could do the same for agriculture, electronics, weather control, or whatever.

I want to reiterate the point that the sharp division between magic and science is very modern. Exploring the fuzzy line can be great fun.
 

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