Elder Scrolls Lore » Discussions

On Magic: Magicka, Nirn, and You

  • July 28, 2013

    Now that we understand what magic and magicka are, it is time to examine how magic manifests itself within Mundus and, more specifically, how it manifests on Nirn. As stated in the last article, magicka is pure energy. It cannot be created nor destroyed and it possesses no limits to what it can do. Given that statement, there are limits to what Nirn is able to produce using magicka and what individuals can manage to manipulate, and whether or not they can do so in the first place. Additionally, mortals have been fascinated with magicka since the beginning of existence and are naturally drawn to places where this energy collects. We often see great monuments erected over sites of magicka “pools”, though this reason if frequently forgotten over the ages.

    Magicka in living things.

    Magicka is a natural source of energy for all life on Nirn. In fact, I would argue that it is a necessary component for life to exist as many Aedra infused their energy into the making of the known universe. Without magicka, the universe would likely be dead and lifeless. Therefore, it goes to reason that magicka exists in all living things, and all living things have the potential to wield magicka in the form of magic.

    While some creatures, like common wolves and bears, appear to possess no ability to use magic, others, like ice wraiths, are entirely composed of it. Such distinctions may have to do with what is necessary for survival. Considering Nirn's wildlife from the theory of natural selection, some creatures may have evolved away from magic use when such was no longer necessary for survival. Wolves may have once begun as creatures that used magic to run faster, but when they encounter prey that did not necessitate such, those anomalies unable to use the magicka in their bodies prospered. Other creatures, on the other hand, have retained, or gained, magical abilities due to the environments they inhabit. Ice wraiths, for example, dwell in climates so frigid that very little, if any, sustenance can be found for the majority of the year. Without any physical sustenance, ice wraiths may have shifted to an entirely magical existence so they might feed off the magicka in the air and snow. This may explain why we see ice wraiths clustered around human monuments that were likely built upon places where magicka gathers.

    More interestingly, though, is the existence of magicka in sentient beings. For the purposes of this discussion, we will restrict this to the common races of Nirn. All men, mer, and beastfolk are born with a finite pool of magicka in them. And, yes, the pool is finite, “even the best mage has a finite reserve of magicka; none born yet have been graces with Magnus' infinite reserves of power” [The Apprentice's Assistant]. This magicka, when used, recovers overtime, though the speed of recovery and the size of the recovery pool is dependent on a number of factors.

    One's magicka pool can be extended through the use of enchanted items, though it's possible that this extension merely allows them to fully access their reserves as a master mage likely does not need such items to augment their power. It can also be increased due to genetic traits. Altmer, for example, are known for having larger magicka reserves than other races. This is likely due to their close relation to the progenitors of all mer: the Aldmer. However, to reiterate, all mortals have magicka in them and access to that reserve. It is generally a matter of knowing how. Some are born with an innate ability to manipulate their own magicka to perform feats of magic, while others are unable to do so or have great difficulty doing so.

    Thus, the easiest way to understand how magical ability works is to look at it in the same way athletic ability operates. Everyone is born with the ability to move in some manner, though only a few will grow to become marathon runners. The same goes true for magic. Everyone has access to their own magicka reserves and many know how to manipulate in some manner, but few are able to easily do so. Even fewer grow to become adept or even master mages. However, where athletics make use of the body's physical attributes, magic makes use of one's mental attributes. To create magic requires the use of the mind to perceive one's magicka reserve and transform it into a functional spell. Sometimes, this spell is held within the body, like a spell used to boost one's stamina or heal oneself in dire situations. Other times, the spell is released outside of the body. The latter is what many term magic, though magic is, by definition, merely the use of magicka to form something other than itself.

    Generally, this is how magic operates: the will of the caster is focused upon their internal magicka reserves, and their reserves will use their own energy to form that magicka into a spell based on the will of the caster. Incantations and words only serve to focus the caster's will and make it easier. Therefore, with sufficient discipline, anyone could learn to cast magic; their effectiveness would merely be determined partly by genetics, but more so by a level of mental self-awareness required to cast magic in the first place. That said, it is likely probable that anyone can cast magic without training if they are placed in life-threatening circumstances. The drive to survive could activate instinctual abilities previously unknown to the individual.

    So it can be said that magicka, and by extension magic, are natural processes in the world. T exists in everyone and can be used by anyone with varying degrees of success and power.

    Magicka on Nirn and Mundus

    However, given that magicka is a primary force in Mundus, logic suggests that if magicka is in living things, it is also in non-living things. This is most undoubtedly the case. All across Nirn, magicka flows, pools, and eddies; and while its movements are largely undocumented, evidence does support the existence of locations where magicka may gather on Nirn. Typically, these places do not go unnoticed. Monuments and shrines are build on and around these places, even naturally occurring features, like mountains, are mentioned prominently in historical events as well as myths.

    To begin, consider a few known events in Nirn's geological history: at first, Mundus did not exist and when it was conceived, it was merely a thought forged by Lorkhan. At the time of Mundus' actual creation, a selection of primarily Anuic spirits surrendered their ephemeral existence to form a solid mass. [The Monomyth]This was Mundus, and within Mundus lay Nirn, the central focus of all creation. It was the Great Project for some; the Great Prison for others. [Varieties of Faith in the Empire] Nevertheless, the sheer amount of energy, magicka, that poured into creation meant the entirety of creation was saturated with it. Coupling this notion with the escape of Magnus and the Magna-Ge to create holes in the fabric of existence, mean that Mundus possesses a constant tide of magicka that flows into and out of Aetherius. By extension, this also meant Nirn was saturated with magicka—it is in the very soil, even in the very atoms and particles of the planet.

    Considering the multiple geological changes throughout Nirn's history (the eruptions of Red Mountain, the sinking of Yokuda, the Great Collapse of Winterhold), magicka on Nirn is not distributed equally and is likely concentrated in such prominent geological features. Whether these events are related to magicka shifts remains unknown. Regardless, around each of these pooling places of magicka, one inevitable finds signs of mortal civilization. Humans, mer, beasts, they are all drawn to magicka like moths to a flame.

    Two of the most noticeable, natural gathering places for magicka are Red Mountain in Morrowind and the Throat of the World in Skyrim. Both are locations of cataclysmic events and dragon breaks. [Events of Skyrim, The History of Raven RockThe Battle of Red Mountain] Both are prominent features in the local culture's psyche; with ferocious battles between Chimer and Dwemer occurring on Red Mountain, and the pinnacle of the great Dragon Wars, leading up to the defeat of Alduin and sundering of time and space, on the Throat of the World. Additionally, the walking tree city of Falinesti is a bizarre amalgamation of plant and magical forces, neither remaining sentient like the Hist, nor still and drowsing as any other tree might remain. Many other, smaller, locations support gatherings of magicka, including the places where spriggans may gather, where wispmothers come to life, where all manner of strange magically-bound beings manifest and inhabit.

    That said, the list is not exhaustive. Most major natural pools are buried or covered by ruins and cities. The most primitive of these are the magic stones. All across Tamriel, monoliths and megaliths dot the landscape in memory of cosmological events, the primary of which are the birthsigns. In Cyrodiil, they are called Birthstones, Reman Stones, Sidri-Ashak Stones, and Hestra Stones. The Nords of Skyrim called theirs the Standing Stones, while the remaining stones across Tamriel are simply referred to as Mundus Stones.

    In most cases, touching one of these stones grants their power to those whose birthsign they represent or at particular times of year. However, some beings are able to access any and all stones at any time, existing as the “special few able to choose any stone to rewrite [their] fate” whose “fate was not seal at birth by the stars overhead”. [Watcher of Stones] That these stones correlate to, and grant, the powers of their representative birthsigns suggests the positioning of these stones is paramount, and their locations may reveal and alignment with their respective constellations at certain times of the day or of the year. Form this alignment, the stones perhaps receive the magicka flowing out of those constellations from Aetherius, though how the powers are imparted upon the activator and how the stones know to whom to grant their powers is a bit of a mystery.

    While most stones grant powers based on one's birthsign or specific cosmological event, like the moons in the sky or the sun, the stone crafted by the Skaal on Solstheim are a different matter. Instead of relating back to solely constellations or lunar bodies, All-Maker Stones, as they are called, are related to the basic necessities and aspects f life: the sun, trees, animals, water, earth, and wind. It is said that should these stones be deactivated, the island itself will fall into disrepair. We see this best in The Story of Aevar Stone-Singer as spoken by the Greedy Man, “You of the Skaal have grown fat and lazy. I have stolen the gifts of your All-Maker. I have stolen the Ocean, so you will forever know thirst. I have stolen the Lands and the Trees and the Sun, so your crops will wither and die. I have stolen the Beasts, so you will go hungry. And I have stolen the Winds, so you will live without the Spirit of the All-Maker.” While this is a myth in its own right, history does show that the stones are certainly key to maintaining prosperity for the Skaal. When Miraak emerged from Apocrypha in 4E 201 to enslave the inhabitants of the island, the stones were corrupted. The moment this happened, the magicka shield protecting the Skaal village from invasion began to fail. [Events of Dragonborn] Perhaps it is these stones that serve as sources of magical energy for he Skaal, channeling their own internal magic out into the island itself, protecting it from forces that would otherwise destroy the island.

    This is not the first time magicka pools have been harnessed into some kind of protective or useful source of energy. The Ayleid were masters of magic, able to transform meteoric iron and glass into wells and stones respectively. The materials uses are said to have come from Aetherius itself, falling to Nirn and containing inherent magical properties able to generate powerful enchantments when crafted.[Magic in the Sky]. Welkynd and Varla stones formed from meteoric glass are able to store vast amount of magical energy that can be applied to both living and non-living subjects.

    Yet, it is the wells built by the Ayleids that are the most valuable assets left by their civilization. Wells, when accessed, could boost a person's magicka reserves significantly, while also restoring those reserves. Magic from the Sky reveals further confirmations about the locations of wells and their relations to magicka pools: “[Ayleid wells] are not associated with any known Ayleid cities or settlements. It is presumed that, in some manner, they harvest magical power from starlight. It is also suggested, without evidence or support, that they are located at the meeting points of ancient lines of magical power.”

    While the concept of “lines of magical power” is generally unfounded, the location and nature of Ayleid wells provides further evidence of such magical structures, and even great cities and shrines, are located on the sites of gathering points of magicka. The Imperial City, the penultimate symbol of the civilized world and seat of the Empire, is possibly built over a deep magicka pool. That the Amulet of Kings, a seal against Oblivion portals on Tamriel, is housed here, at the very center of the continent suggests greater magical assistance beyond the amulet itself. Perhaps the White-Gold Tower, originally a temple to the Aldmeri ancestors of the Ayleids, is a conduit to the gods. [Events of Oblivion] Considering the Aedric and Daedric activity centered around the tower itself, the amount of magicka to be harnessed in the area is surely staggering. In High Rock, we also bear witness to the Direnni Tower, once the meeting place of the Aedra in their effort to construct Nirn. [Before the Ages of Man]

    Out in the wilderness, away from the prying eyes of non-believers lie the shrines to the Daedric Princes. These shrines act as vessels for the Princes to inhabit so they may speak to their worshipers, since the Princes themselves are generally either unable or not permitted to directly appear on Nirn. Quite often, any attempts to do so is met with severe retaliation by one of the Divines or Aedra. [Events of Oblivion]However, to manifest even part of oneself into a world that does not readily accept that presence takes tremendous energy. Therefore, it is possible that even Daedric Shrines are located over pools of magicka, so that the transition between planes might be made easier.

    All of these locations were never randomly chosen by mortals. Whether mortals have an ability to sense these magickal pools remains to be seen, but that they are often located in probable magicka sites certainly suggests this is true.

    *     *     *

    Now we know how magicka manifests in mortals, creatures, and the world at large. We have seen how it collects around civilizations, or rather, how civilizations collect around it. Additionally, we know that magicka is in everyone regardless of their magical talents, and that anyone can wield magic with training.

    Please stay tuned for our next segment, where we delve into magic and it's relation to historical events.

  • Member
    July 28, 2013
    So... Magicka is like mediclorians?
  • July 28, 2013

    Of course.  And I'm afraid you don't have enough to become a true Jedi...

  • Member
    July 28, 2013
    Oh well, Sith are cooler, they have Revan
  • July 29, 2013

    If Mundus is the Matrix, Magicka is the Code...

  • July 30, 2013

    Very thought provoking article, Kyrielle!  I really never considered that some beings, made of magic, would primarily subsist on magic.  Brilliant theory!

    So I am thinking about atronachs...sometimes we randomly encounter fire or frost or storm atronachs...would you also think that there is some sort of extra magicka pooled in those places, combined with perhaps some sort of weakness in the barrier to Oblivion to make such an appearance possible?  I always feel like those creatures just took a wrong turn in Oblivion and find themselves in Nirn...frustrated that they cannot return so they bide their time randomly hurling fireballs everywhere, as in the fire atronachs case.

    I would be curious if someone could put together a map of all the magical locations on Nirn and then zoom out.  Instead of lines of power (wey lines so to speak) I wonder if they would look more like constellations, emphasizing the Ayleid worship and harvest of light magic.  That would be too much forethought by a designer, I am sure, just a weird little theory of mine.  Excellent article and one I will still be thinking about for awhile!

  • Member
    July 31, 2013

    Revan was also a Jedi silly.