top of page

The Disciplines of Magic

This is a system I use to categorize the various types of magic I find in the world. It certainly is not backed by some celestial authority or handed down from an archangel. It is simply a useful method to group types and methods of magical workings and, in doing so, understand them better. I hope you will find this useful, or at least interesting, perhaps even thought provoking.


  • The Principle of Sympathy: Like produces like.

  • The Principle of Contagion: Once together, always together.

The Art of Thaumaturgy consisted of applying the Principles to create a transitory effect. Thaumaturgy produces no lasting magical effects, but can be quite powerful, nonetheless. The Principle of Sympathy means that to create an effect, we must look for things in nature that resemble or produce that effect and use them. A feather can lessen weight, a bit of honey can sweeten, a splinter of iron can give strength, a bit of lodestone can produce guidance, etc. Most normal materials possess one or more characteristics that can be useful, and the more strongly they possess the characteristic, the more useful the material is in Thaumaturgy.

The Principle of Contagion states that if something is once part of or associated with another thing, it remains indelibly connected to it and can be used to influence that other. Naturally, an actual piece of the target is the best, but there are various degrees of sympathy, ranging from a part of the same item, to a part of the same construct, to a long-associated item, down to something that has been in the presence of the target once.

Each will work, which is one of the things that make Thaumaturgy the most general of the Arts. However, the energy required to link the target with the spell is greatly modified by the sympathetic connection available. If you wish to kill a man, for example, you will need much less energy if you have a piece of his hair. If you have only a picture of him, you may need several orders of magnitude more energy to kill him, and if you know only his name, several more. The very simplest thaumaturgical effect, involving the Principle of Sympathy alone, is to move a larger object by moving a small piece of it. This can be a parlor trick, if done with floating balls or scarves, or it can be an act of violent war, if done with a multi-ton boulder. The difference between the two spells lies only in the energy invested.

The energy for Thaumaturgy comes from the natural world. Many practitioners use fire, as it is commonly available and easy to obtain, but other forms of heat, lightning, lava, etc. can be used, depending on the amount required. Simple spells can even be performed using the heat from the caster’s own body, though it is not unknown for young Thaumaturges to exhaust themselves or more by overdoing this process.

This need for energy makes Thaumaturgy simultaneously the most powerful and the least powerful Art, and both the most and least complicated to use.

But without a prepared source of energy, the Thaumaturge is limited to what he can do with his body heat, and dare try only the very simplest of cantrips. Similarly, an Alchemist can simply drink a potion to gain an effect, but a Thaumaturge may need to take an hour to prepare a roaring fire to gain enough energy—or may take no time at all, if he has an existing forest fire to work with!

Given the simplicity of the basic principles of Thaumaturgy, why is it not used by everyone? The answer is twofold. First, there is a basic magical talent necessary. Few possess it, and fewer are trained to use it or channel the forces involved. The second qualification is the understanding of the methods needed to forge the spell link. Some say these are only a crutch to help the Thaumaturge concentrate while others claim they have intrinsic value, but they are necessary nonetheless. Naturally they (along with the practical knowledge of which materials work best for which properties) are passed from mentors to students and used to be guarded jealously, although now are far more out in the open.


  • The Doctrine of Signatures: The attributes without mirror the powers within.

The Art of Alchemy consists of combining the signatures of available materials to produce a finished product that creates the desired effects. Products of Alchemy tend to be potions, powders, or other transient items. They retain their potency and cannot produce lasting magical effects, but within those restrictions they can be powerful indeed. Oils can be made that improve the user’s senses or augment their magical power. Incenses can attract energies or spirits, shade an atmosphere toward a goal or call out to a deity. Ointments can protect the user from danger, at least for a while.

The basic alchemical operation is the creation of a potion. This requires a recipe, unless the user is of sufficient skill to create a recipe on his own—few Alchemists have the requisite skill. Recipes are recorded in the creator’s notebook and jealously guarded, often trapped and warded, but sometimes traded for others of similar worth.

Each recipe consists of a series of steps, with each step consisting of an ingredient to be added to the mixture and an incantation to be performed. The ingredients range from simple (coal dust, ground glass) to the sublime (powder diamond, organs from exotic beasts). The incantations are taken from a secret magical language, and can be used only by those with magical talent.

The more powerful the result of the recipe, the more steps and ingredients needed to produce it. Each step has a chance of failure based on the power of the effect or signature added, the materials used, and the other materials in the recipe. If a given step fails, the entire recipe fails and must be restarted. Thus, if a recipe has more than a few steps, even a low failure chance for each individual step will result in a fairly high overall failure rate. In addition, there are often many alternative sources of a given effect, so making a high-yield recipe is a very complicated matter, especially as the number of steps rises. Lastly, the results of Alchemy are often needed as ingredients for still-more powerful alchemical formulae.


  • The Maxim of Persistence: Perfection is eternal.

The Art of Magic is the art of perfect ritual. Through the flawless performance of often insanely complicated rituals, magical artifacts can be created that will, if not otherwise destroyed, last literally forever. Each magical ritual consists of a number of steps, each of which must be performed correctly, with a very small margin of error, for the ritual to succeed. A step in a magical ritual can be simple “ring a 3-inch gong made of brass hanging from a silver chain, using an iron hammer”, or complicated “Douse the nearly-completed sword in the blood of a virgin born on the night of the rising of the Great Comet, and raised for twenty-nine years on a diet of millet and honey, who is wearing an ermine robe trimmed by …. Etc.” (these are just examples for illustration rather than suggestions)

The more powerful the effect added to the spell by a given step, the more complicated, time-consuming, and expensive the step tends to be. Many steps involve more than one person, and might require precious metals, troupes of dancers, the position of the stars, and any number of esoteric conditions.

Each part of the ritual also requires an incantation by one or more trained magicians, perfectly pronounced or sung, in perfect timing and pitch. Needless to say, Magic is a performing art at its base, and few have both the magical talent and the ability to master the precision and art necessary to advance in the craft.

Due to the strictures of the craft, Magicians often tend to cluster into Orders. These Orders are usually very secretive and hidden, and will guard their secrets closely. The various steps of a magic ritual are often predicated on the numerological value of that step, usually filling in a section of a magic square (or other shape) in a set order.

Magicians also tend to be good customers of the Alchemists, as alchemical potions are common ingredients in magical rituals. In turn, Alchemists tend to purchase magical items that will reduce the arduous nature of the tasks required by their profession.


  • The Rule of Three: Thrice spoken, once fulfilled.

Sorcery is the control of one mind by another. It ranges from glamours and illusions to control and destruction, and is capable of producing effects that last as long as the mind of the victim exists. The sorcerer then focuses his talent and pronounces the spell three times, and the magic is made. Eye contact is often helpful to such a spell as it transmits the intent and power of the sorcerous chant directly to the recipient.

The length of the spell involved depends on the power of the desired effect, and can range from a few words to a lengthy speech. The Sorcerer must speak it correctly three times, and then spend a portion of energy to power the spell. Many use their own energy in this but that is not wise or needed.

There are five kinds of charms.

· Cantrip - a charm of prophecy or far-seeing

· Glamour - a charm of illusion

· Curse - a charm of fate

· Enchantment - a charm of dominance of one's will

· Ensorcellment - a charm of the transfer of consciousness from one animate object to another


  • Law of Ubiquity: Flame permeates all.

  • Law of Dichotomy: Dominance or submission.

The Art of Wizardry is a simple one, based on the summoning and control of demons. Demons are beings from another reality (not necessarily evil) who possess immense power when they are on our plane of existence. There are no complicated rituals, incantations, or formulae to memorize, but nevertheless Wizardry is the least practiced of the Five Magics, due to the dangers associated with it.

The Law of Ubiquity tells us that Flame permeates all. That is, that we can summon demons through fire. Small imps with minor abilities can sometimes spontaneously manifest through normal fires. Anything more powerful requires the active concentration and will of a Wizard. In addition, the more powerful the demon, the more exotic the fire necessary to provide it with a path to this world. Demons of slight power can be summoned through fires of wood or coal, with more advanced demons requiring exotic woods or liquids, or even stone or metals to be used as fuel for their fires. The burning of these normally incombustible materials is accomplished through an effort of will on the part of the Wizard.

The Law of Dichotomy says that the Wizard, having once summoned a demon, must either control it with his mind and will, or be controlled by it. There is no third path—one or the other must be controlled. Once control is established, the one controlled is bound for a length of time or for a task. The length of time can be long, but is inversely proportional to the power of the demon. Imps may be bound for years or decades. Greater demons and demonic princes may only be bound for single task, but are able to perform astounding magical feats as a single task.

As I said, this is a system that I use to classify types of magical workings, and they are often a blending of one or two types. An act of Alchemy might create an oil or incense to be used in a thaumaturgic or sorcerous working. A magic tool may be created to make an Alchemical process more likely to work. I’ve found few mages who work only one types of the Art.

Thanks for reading this post. Hopefully it was interesting and useful. I hope you’ll share your insights and opinions on this in the comments. And subscribe, if you’d like, to receive our monthly newsletter with additional articles and insights!

Blessed Be

Sterling Knight


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page