Ink on paper drawing of abstract letter-like shapes. Some of them look a bit like Hebrew letters.

Can we imagine magic that isn’t all about words?

A long list of some other possibilities

by AK Krajewska

Magic comes from secret words, usually spoken but sometimes written down. Sometimes you also have to be a special person. That’s how it is in most fiction nowadays. And when I say nowadays, I probably mean at least the last 100 years.

You can see the trope handled well, like in Ursula K. Le Guin’s, A Wizard of Earthsea

“It is no secret. All power is one in source and end, I think. Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man's hand and the wisdom in a tree's root: they all arise together. My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name.”

And you can see it done less well in something like the Harry Potter series, with all the fuss about saying the right word with intention. If you’re online enough, a meme gif of Hermione Granger saying “It’s Wing-gar-dium Levi-o-sa” has probably sprung into your mind unbidden already.

Pharos illuminans. Symbols and words recalling the 4=7 initiation of the Golden Dawn along with abstract ink decorations, some of which look a bit like Hebrew letters. At the top of the image are the words: pharos illuminans. At the bottom of the image are the words: make yourself as far as possible an ornament

A combination of words and some innate power in the magician is a literate and individualistic society’s most obvious view of magic. But where else might magical power come from? Well, I made a list of some preliminary ideas and, no joke, if you’re writing some magical fiction, maybe try some of these out. I’d really like to see some new sources of magic in my fictional magic users. I’m not saying go all Brandon Sanderson on it and write a whole roleplaying rulebook about your magical system, but consider, try it on, what would it feel like if in your world magic came from something like this: