A brief history of Arcane Arts

Codex Inversus
8 min readApr 3, 2023

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Ancient Magic and the Collapse. ancestral time — I century B.A.

Magic was the name for all the powers of the Divinities, the begins the Demiurge appointed to oversee the Creation.

Divinities had a different and more powerful type of Life Force than the mortals: a “godly spark”. Gods could also tap into the otherwordly realms for mana. The various planes (hells, heavens, elemental realms, etc.) were like pages in a book, occupying some of the same space but being shifted in another spatial dimension: Divinities could move and interact with this other spatial dimension, making their realms always near them.

Mana is the “raw material” for magical effects that are then “ignited” by the spark, similar to how magic works today.

But before the collapse, Mana wasn’t flowing freely in the material world, and Divinities could channel it selectively from the other planes of existence: this meant that different mana threads didn’t “interfere” with each other, making their behavior more predictable. Divinities had an unimaginable degree of control over mana exerted with minuscule effort.

The “Godly Spark” could then “realize” the mana in full, making effects that were permanent or indefinitely self-replicating.

Some Divinites, the Devils most of all, gifted selected mortals the ability to channel mana. This was one of the points of contention between Devils and Angels and one of the reasons for the Cosmic War.

With the Collapse, all the otherwordly realms ended up on the world becoming the mana field. There are debates if the outer planes were made of mana or if they have their mana field that merged, but the result is the same.

Archaic Magic. I century BA. — II century AA

During the Cosmic War, Divinities had already started to adapt to the new “mystical landscape”: without some of the planes and with mana jumbled together in the field, they could not harness and manipulate it with just their wills. They discovered some ways to entangle and disentangle the mana to create the desired effects: gestures, sounds, an object of specific shape or materials, etc.

After the Cosmic War, there was the Accord and peace. The divinities, dying due to unclear reasons linked to the Collapse, taught all they knew to the mortals.

These teachings are the base of Divine Magic.

All the different divinities bequeathed spells and the basic concepts of spellcasting in books, collectively known as the Axiomatic Codexes.

These different books have vast overlaps that constitute the common foundation of magic, but what differs became the seed of the various magical traditions.

Divine Magic focuses on the incantation’s execution to obtain consistent and reliable results. Divine spells can (and most of the times are) “blind cast”: there is no need to visualize the mana field or even know it exists, repeating the instruction perfectly it’s what is needed.

In parallel with the building of the founding canons of magic, some individuals started to instinctually “feel” the mana field. People with “an eye for magic” could perceive beyond their normal senses, often in the shape of synesthetic impressions. One could smell hatred, hear a body crying of illness, view shades of the dead, taste the diamond inside a rock, etc. They were not able to cast a spell but they understood that materials, movements, and shapes, “moved what was beyond” helping them understand more of the situation.

This phenomenon became known as proto-druidism, a tentative but entirely human approach to magic.

Early Classical Period II-IV century

Magic, as it’s known today, was born out of the meeting of proto-druidism and divine magic. More and more clerics sought out ways to modify the spells given by the Divinities: they concluded that focusing on the motion and shapes of the mana field was the path to pursue.

Protodruids were progressively annexed into the various churches and their insight on mana perception enriched the scholarly research.

The Divinities taught how to perceive the mana field but as a distinct activity: seeing mana required a spell in itself. The people gifted with the “feeling for the mana” showed it could be something done alongside casting spells.

Arcane researchers learned to better perceive mana and decide to focus on only a specific sense: sight. Viewing mana as threads that bend and entangle had the advantage to be more easily quantifiable and communicable: it’s easier to draw a shape than describe a smell.

Another key factor is that proto-druidism focused on nature, after all, nature was starting to use magic: the study of spellcasting animals was a key element in the development of the arcane studies.

There are many early schools of magic founded in this period but many went extinct or were absorbed into other, more modern ones. One of these early schools, still in part surviving is the Evokers of the Holy Infernal Empire. Born in Erebus, these wizards are famous for their direct and powerful force effects (and wearing only capes and furs, with nothing underneath).

The various school of magic started to split, each concentrating on different approaches and priorities.

One was the sensory focus:

  • Druids, in line with their predecessors, kept a multisensorial approach, relying heavily on touch, smell, and taste to perceive mana;
  • Bard focused on earing;
  • Wizards focused on sight;
  • Clerics were downplayed in the casting process but used for studying and research.

Another factor that generated different schools of magic was the importance given to specific tools.

While words (or better said the sound of the word) and gestures were a staple of spell casting, other elements were useful as well. Since mana threads were all interconnected one could concentrate on just a tool to better comprehend the cascade of feedback.

Alchemy focuses on materials: the right concoction could bend mana as an elaborate litany.

Glyphs, Runes, Sigils, Seals, and Magic Circles are all ways of manipulating mana through shapes, with less attention on where they are written.

Dances and martial styles are a way to use the position in the space as a tool to cast magic.

Thoughts can bend the mana field but besides the tritons of the peninsula, very few focus on pure mental casting. To cast with just your mind, you need incredible concentration to be able to visualize sequences of hypercomplex mandalas in perfect detail. It’s probably the style of magic that more resemble, at least for the uninitiated, the feats of divinity, with wizards able to just glare at something to make it turn to dust.

Uxali magic started similarly but took quickly its own route due to the conflict with the Matras. The Matras, or construct people, are basically living magical objects and the dwarves and gnomes took them as inspiration for their creation, making complex mechanisms the tools of their spell casting.

Classical Period V-VII century

Let’s focus a bit on the Holy Infernal Empire.

As style and school of magic proliferated, they became more and more peculiar and idiosyncratic, making interdisciplinary communication almost impossible. Magic grew esoteric not only for the commoner but for other wizards as well. Wizards became loners, passing their knowledge in master-pupil “dynasties”. The trust in wizards and magic plummeted, as they seemed beyond accountability.

There was then an institutional impulse to bring back wizards to the fold. The Magic Academies were then born as a way to “keep an eye” on wizards and to foster a common “arcane science”.

Magic was then cataloged by the effect desired instead of the method used, as a way to make different approaches talk and work toward common goals.

The classical school of magic is:

  • Evocation (calling raw forces and materials)
  • Conjuring (obtaining objects through creation or transportation)
  • Abjuration (defense and anti-magic)
  • Illusionism (tricking the senses)
  • Enchantment (manipulating the mind)
  • Transmutation (changing the shape of creatures or objects)
  • Necromancy (manipulating the dying and the dead).

The model academy spread, with differences and cultural adaptations, all over the world, and so the classical schools’ division, is still widely used to this day.

Late Classical Period VII-IX century

Magic is unreliable not only because it sometimes fails to deliver the expected results, but because it can also dramatically backfire.

The VII century, the century of the plague, saw different epidemics, some of which originated from experiments gone wrong (notably the transparent sickness which turned arms and legs into glass). This caused wizards to lose a lot of the trust they gained through the academies.

While it was mainly a problem in the Axam continent and in the Infernal Empire and Angelic Unison in particular, there was a general chilling towards magic around the world.

Wizards then focused not on efficacy but on efficiency, trying to make magic something to be trusted.

This caused a shift in research, putting the study of mana itself at the forefront.

While widely known, the different kinds of mana, often called “colors”, were seen as aspects of mana. Now it was to switch the perspective, with them analyzing the building blocks.

Red mana is connected to substance, as in matter and energy… the “what”.

Yellow mana is connected to form, shapes, configurations… the “how”.

Cyan mana is connected to spatiality, the manipulation of space and objects in space.

Green mana is the one governing vitality, it reacts and can influence Life Force itself.

Magenta mana is the one that responds and affects the mind and thoughts.

Indigo mana is the elusive color that reacts only with other mana and is the key to divination and complex spells.

The Infernal Empire was at the forefront of arcane studies, spearheading this innovative approach. the other nation that most contributed to the study in the field was the dwarves: dwarven artificers, especially the more theoretical-minded women, started to create constructs that were not trying to mimic physical body is but minds. The first thinking cubes would become crucial in the development of modern magic.

Modern period X century

The new “mana first” approach proved successful and magic became more reliable. The trial by fire was the III Axam war, with both the Empire and the Unison deploying spellcasters on the battlefield.

Impressed by the successes during the conflict, investment in magic grew. The empire, once again, was the vanguard.

One fruitful branch of research was a return to nature: with wizards studying spell-casting animals, particularly insects, through the new paradigms.

Another line of inquiry was the relics: for centuries the relics of the divinities were considered too sacred to be the subject of studies. But after the mother of the current prince-elector of Erebus used the hand of Azazel in war, some restrictions were lifted: religious dogmas had to be bent to allow the harnessing of such great power. The study of the hand of Azazel and its sentient and all-consuming black fire was the base for the creation of one of the most frightening modern spells, the golden fire, able to burn magic and melt reality.

Dwarves are focusing on geometry and mathematics, using the thinking cube to unlock the principles of the mana knots as a base for magic.

The actual quest of arcane scholars is to understand the principle regulating the interaction between mana and itself and reality: once understood why doing x leads to y and not just cataloging interaction a truly magic science will emerge.

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Codex Inversus

A world-building project. Art and stories from a fantasy world. All illustrations are mine: collages and rework of other art. https://linktr.ee/Codex_Inversus