Encyclopaedia Arcana #32: Magesight

The ability to see and analyse magic is one of the distinctive abilities of mages.  Although any sensitive can detect the presence of magic, when people refer to “magesight” they mean something more.

Seeing is Believing

All sensitives, adepts, and mages have at least a rudimentary ability to sense magic.  Many theorists believe that the ability to sense magic is the primary distinguishing factor between normals and the magically capable:  if you can’t tell that something exists, it’s hard to learn how to use it.

For most sensitives, adepts, and mages, the ability to sense magic begins at an early age.  They can perceive and take in a wider spectrum of information than normals:  mundane sensory impressions are mixed with something more.  Magical sensitivity is essentially a sixth sense, and learning how to interpret the information can be confusing, as it doesn’t naturally match up to any of the normal five.  In their early years, most children with magical talent sense magic in terms of emotion:  to them a place or a person or a time will feel strangely aggressive, or thoughtful, or wild.  Most adults will dismiss these stories as no more than children’s fancies, but to the more perceptive such accounts can provide an early indication of magical talent.

Most sensitives never learn exactly what it is they’re sensing:  they’re vaguely aware that they’re different, but they don’t know why.  For some, however, there’s a breakthrough, and at some point – usually in their childhood or early teens – they come to understand that what they’re perceiving isn’t just a feeling but real.  Once they’ve understood this, they can begin to specifically develop the ability.

Sight and Sense

Sensitivity to magic is a necessary condition for magesight, but it’s not a sufficient one.  Magesight gives vastly more information than the abilities of a sensitive – a sensitive can tell whether something is magical, but a mage can tell how it’s magical, along with the structure of the spells that created it, what type of magic it employs, and how it works.

Magesight isn’t just a talent – it’s a learned skill that requires practice.  In a lot of ways magesight is the foundation for all other spells, and a mage who can’t use magesight is like a writer who can’t read.  Apprentice mages spend an enormous amount of time developing their magesight, because it’s one of the best ways to learn other spells.  The better their skill with magesight, the more effectively they can analyse other mages’ spells and reproduce them.

Despite its name, magesight doesn’t have to involve sight:  it’s an entirely new sense, separate from the other five.  There does seem to be a natural tendency for mages to interpret the information visually – humans are vision-oriented creatures, and sight is their primary sense – but there are cases of mages who learn to perceive magic in an entirely different way, “hearing” or “smelling” it instead.  In all cases, since magesight isn’t actually dependent on the attached sense, it doesn’t have to obey the same rules.  Mages can “see” magic through solid objects, or “hear” it through barriers that block sound, though doing so is noticeably more difficult.

Through Distant Eyes

To a mage using magesight, the world looks like a very different place.  They see reality in the same way that we do, but the magical signatures of everything before them are overlaid upon their vision, providing an extra layer of information.  The exact visual representation depends on the mage, but the most common is to perceive magical energy as translucent light, its colour matching to the magic’s visual display.   The depth of detail is limited only by the mage’s proficiency:  more sensitive mages have to learn to limit their magesight to avoid being overwhelmed with more information than their minds can process.

A competent mage using their magesight can learn an enormous amount from watching a spell.  All mages have a distinctive style of spellcraft, and magesight reveals this:  a mage with a good memory can easily tell if a spell has been created by a mage he’s witnessed casting before, and he can make a good guess at its function and its weaknesses.  However, a mage who’s really good with magesight can go further.  Magic is shaped by its creator’s personality;  in a very real way, a spell is a reflection of its creator’s inner self, and studying it can give insights not only into the structure of the magic but also into the person who created it.  This, more than anything else, is the reason mages are careful about making use of their magic – knowledge is power, and you never know who might be watching.

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One Response to Encyclopaedia Arcana #32: Magesight

  1. Shiara says:

    Reading the books you almost get the impression that magesight is something a mage consciously turns on to look at something of interest. The above description makes it clear that it’s always on, always conveying that information, and the mage would just focus on that layer of perception more when studying a spell or ward.