Encyclopaedia Arcana #3: Types of Magic

Mages usually categorise each other in one of three ways.  The first is by affiliation – whether they’re Dark, Light, or independent.  The second is how trained and experienced they are – apprentice, master, or somewhere in between.  Finally they categorise other mages according to what their magic can do – a fire mage, an ice mage, and so on.  These categories of magic are referred to as types.

Magic Types

The simplest way to understand the types of magic that mages use is as little boxes with spells in them.  If you’re a fire mage you get sorted into the box marked ‘fire’, and you get to use fire spells.  This is how most new adepts and apprentices see things.

Over time they start to notice that this model doesn’t quite fit.  For a start, different mages can use different sets of spells:  one fire mage may be able to use a spell that another fire mage can’t.  Another issue is ‘hybrid’ mages.  In the elemental family there are air mages, and there are lightning mages.  But some air mages can use lightning, and some lightning mages can fly.  Some people deal with this by calling mages who have some traits of both ‘storm mages’ – but then storm mages have different abilities, too.

In fact every mage is different.  Since magic is personality, every mage’s abilities are unique, determined by their inner self.  No two mages have exactly the same abilities, any more than any two people have exactly the same natures.

Continuous, Not Discrete

In mathematics there’s a concept called discrete and continuous.  Discrete things are individual units that can be counted, like people or houses or trees.  Continuous things aren’t individual units and can’t be counted, like a distance or a time.  Discrete things can’t be divided any further – half a tree isn’t a tree, and half a person isn’t a person.  But a continuous thing can be divided any way you want.  The width of your computer screen is continuous – you could say that it’s 12 inches, or twelve 1-inch lengths, or one 11-inch length plus two 0.5-inch lengths, or 30.48 centimetres, and none of those is the ‘right’ way to measure it.

The types of magic are continuous, not discrete.  There’s no point at which someone stops being an air mage and starts being a lightning mage – there’s just a big fuzzy in-between area where they’re not exactly one or the other, a bit like the question of when it stops being ‘afternoon’ and starts being ‘evening’.

In practice it’s even more complicated than that, because mages differ in so many ways.  So an air mage might have the ability to use lightning, but only in stormy conditions;  on the other hand, they might be able to fly in clear weather just fine.  Then they might be poor at gate magic, only able to transport themselves, but unusually good at creating light;  however they can’t use hardened air although they can call up storms . . .

Trying to sum all that up would be a nightmare, even if mages were in the habit of telling each other exactly what their magic can do, which they’re not.  So the descriptions that get used are simple ones like ‘air mage’, ‘fire mage’, and so on.  The difference is that experienced mages know how vague these descriptions are and don’t make the mistake of assuming that two ‘fire mages’ will have the same abilities.

That said, the types of magic do have some traits in common.  Future Encyclopaedia entries will look at them in more detail, starting with divination magic.

Hybrid Mages

One of the questions in the FAQ of Entry #1 was whether there was such a thing as ‘hybrid’ mages, and now that you’ve read this you should be able to guess the answer.  It’s true that there are mages who have some of the abilities from two or more magic types, but it’s also true that they aren’t really ‘hybrids’.  A storm mage doesn’t see himself as being part air mage and part lightning mage:  to him, the ways in which he can use air and lightning are two aspects of the same thing.  From his point of view, it’s air and lightning mages who are the ‘hybrids’ – and from his point of view, he’s right.

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