Our Mages Are Different
How can someone become a mage - heredity? Scholarship? Chance?
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Formerly "Mages Are Like X."

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How does someone become a mage? Why should someone have the power to alter reality? Obviously, mages use magic — but how does one gain access to magic? Look no further - this page will detail them.

Note that these analogies could be mixed: for instance, it is possible that the innate ability to wield magic is based on bloodline (as with the mage race), but that to develop this innate ability, the mage must use ancient lore (as with the scholarly mage). Also note that this is about how the mage acquires power, not the source of that power: i.e., whether magic is drawn from nature, from the elements, from other planes, from the spirit world, or whatever. It is also possible that there are multiple kinds of mages in one setting; when one of them is supposedly rare or unusual in universe, see Wrong Context Magic.

Despite the name, this can sometimes apply to Differently Powered Individual as well; see also How To Give A Character Superpowers.

    Mages are like... 

Mages are like Artists

Artist-like mages gain their ability based on creativity and imagination. As with being a great artist, being a great mage may require practice and technical skill to some extent, but a sense of artistic creativity is vital. These mages may have their heads on a cloud as a result of their wild imagination. Associated trope: Imagination-Based Superpower, Art Attacker

Mages are like Athletes

The ability of the athlete-like mage to wield magic is based on years of intensive, exhaustive training. In Asian works, may sometimes overlap with the Monks subtype. Associated trope: Charles Atlas Superpower, Full-Contact Magic, Ki Manipulation, Kung-Fu Wizard

Mages are like Gods

In this variant, a mage is not a human being. The mage may take on the appearance of a human, but the actual nature of the mage is divine, whether demonic or angelic. May overlap with the Theurgist subtype if these gods can allow their followers to use a portion of their power.

Mages are like Lottery Winners

Mages get their ability to wield magic completely at random. Nothing but chance determines who is likely to wield magic. Associated trope: Randomly Gifted

Mages are like Monks

Mages' most notable feature is their mental discipline and force of will — abilities that might be cultivated through meditation. It seems likely that in worlds where reality responds to sufficiently intense strength of will, these mages might be likely. Associated trope: Enlightenment Superpowers

Mages are like Mutants

Magic is acquired by being exposed to some kind of substance/energy. It may or may not cause any adverse effects to the mage's body. It may also overlap with the race subtype if the mutation is passed down to offspring. This one is often the most common way to turn a non-mage to become a mage. Associated trope: Super Serum, Touched by Vorlons, Upgrade Artifact

Mages are like Naturalists

Here, one can become mage by getting closer to nature. How exactly that is may vary, and overlap with other means: Maybe you're close with a mystical entity pertaining to nature that entrusts you with the power of nature (Cultist), maybe you study hard about nature (Scholar), maybe you find deeper meaning in how nature works and thus become enlightened (Monks). They're not just limited to those, however; e.g being kind and friendly to nature may make them help you in return, or there's an unseen force of nature (often, but not always, confined to a place) that you can manipulate by different means. Associated trope: In Harmony with Nature, Background Magic Field, Sentient Cosmic Force

Mages are like a Race

The ability to do magic is passed from parents to children. It may skip generations, or crop up unexpectedly on occasion, but it is ultimately based on inheritance. When mages are like this, they'll tend to make an isolated community of themselves, but not always. Associated trope: Witch Species, Superpowerful Genetics

Mages are like Scholars

Mages of this kind are studious and resourceful. They know dead languages and ancient history to a huge extent. You can find a classicist-like mage to poring through dusty tomes of forgotten lore in a huge library. Expect them to come with Ancient Artifacts. Alternately, or in addition, they're likely to not only understand magic, but to have an understanding of the natural world itself — understanding things like chemistry and physics, as well as the attendant tools to formulate such laws, such as advanced mathematics. Associated trope: Sufficiently Analyzed Magic, Magic Is Mental

Mages are like Theurgists

Theurgists here refers to 2 things: "cultists" and "priests". They share similar underlying premise: They draw their powers from a "higher source". The split was codified by Dungeons & Dragons as a means to distinguish normal wizards or warlocks from monks or priests.
  • Cult mages (or warlocks) draw their powers through worship, or contract, with an evil or dark entity. Oftentimes the magic used here tend to be nasty/destructive, and may have unwanted side effects to the user.
  • Clerics (or priests) draw their powers through the verse's God, or a similarly divine being, through worship or contract (like cultists). Magic that they used will tend to be supportive or healing, but sometimes may include Holy Hand Grenade.

Ironically, the original Magi were priestlike, and they did follow a dualistic faith with a God of Evil, but they considered themselves followers of the good god. In some cases, they may even be able to summon said entities themselves to help. Associated trope: Religion is Magic, Deal with the Devil, Bargain with Heaven, Wild Magicnote 

See also Functional Magic for "Our Magic Is Different". Compare Magicians Are Wizards (when stage magicians are lumped together with actual magic users).


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime And Manga 
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, understanding chemistry and laws of physics seems to be the only requirement for using alchemy.
  • Magicians in A Certain Magical Index are scholars, they gain their powers from learning ancient knowledge but they align themselves with religions so they overlap with priests.
  • In the Lyrical Nanoha franchise, the mages are somewhere between Lottery Winners and Athletes: magical abilities are pretty random (a child of two Muggles can grow up to be a powerful mage, and vice versa), but becoming a qualified mage (not to mention a combat mage) requires years of extensive physical and magical training and continuous workouts to keep yourself in shape. Extensive training and innate magical power are depicted largely interchangeable.
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Puella Magis are formed by a contract with Kyubey, in that they're given magical powers (and a wish) and in return you have to fight Witches (Eldritch Abominations of the verse).
  • In One Piece, it's closer to superpowers, but Devil Fruits can turn any of its eaters into "mutant" superbeings. Also, as the power of the fruit is limited only by the user's creativity, fruit users are also akin to artists.
    • For Haki (basically force of will), anyone can get access to and learn it by training (athletes), but it's a rarity for someone to have a special form of Haki named King's Disposition (lottery winners). Nevertheless, if you happen to have it, it too can be trained.
  • Ninjutsu in Naruto are mostly studied and trained. Some, however, have abilities that are inherited (called "Kekkei Genkai"). Aburame clan, in particular, also made a deal with certain mystical bugs that will help the clan whenever needed, in exchange for said bugs to live in their bodies.
    • Practitioners of Senjutsu (sage techniques) are basically Naturalists, mixed with Monks in that they can access nature energy and then use it to turn one's chakra into a stronger form by becoming close to nature; this is done primarily via meditation (i.e being perfectly still).
    • The First Hokage also have an unique kind of DNA that allows fast regeneration and control of plant life, and said DNA sample is used on some people as a source of power (mutants); i.e Danzo, Zetsu and Madara.
  • Magic in Fairy Tail is totally mundane and accessible to anyone, but it requires training, making them a mix between Athletes and Scholars.
  • In Hunter Hunter, everyone has an aura that can be used to achieve supernatural effects by learning Nen. Using basic Nen techniques requires extensive physical training (Athletes) and, since controlling the aura requires a strong will, meditation (Monks). Furthermore, Nen allows everyone to create unique abilities in different categories. You can achieve any effect you want as long as you place restrictions, but the more an ability suits your personality, the stronger it will be,(Artists). Also, people with innate Nen abilities and people who belong to the Specialist Nen category are Lottery Winners.

    Comic Books 

    Film 
  • In Star Wars, the Jedi seem to be a combination of Monks, Naturalists and a race: They are already born sensitive to the Force, but need to develop their connection in order to gain special abilities. The Sith also do the same, but by different means.

    Literature 
  • In Lord of the Rings, wizards such as Gandalf are like gods: Gandalf is a Maia (as is Sauron), not a human.
  • In Harry Potter, the ability to use magic is hereditary and how pure someone's bloodline is seems to be a big deal for some wizards. It is however possible for magic to manifest in a non-wizard child (so called muggle-born). The reverse is also true; the so-called "squib" are Muggle Born of Mages.
  • In Mistborn mages literally are aristocrats — the noble families are noble because there's a chance an allomancer will be born in their bloodline, while it should be impossible for the slave race of skaa.
  • In The Bible, in Exodus 7, both Aaron and the Egyptian "sorcerers and magicians" are capable to transforming rods into snakes (although Aaron's snake is more powerful). The popular explanation for Egyptian sorcerers' apparent ability to perform miracles is that they were demon-worshippers, while Aaron's magic, of course, comes from God.
  • In The Dresden Files, mages are generally a race; while anyone can use rudimentary magic with the proper training, the amount of raw power they're able to bring to bear seems to be inborn. Additionally, wizards have much longer lifespans than regular humans.
  • In War Breaker mages are scholars; every person has a Breath from birth, but you need a lot of Breaths to do anything significant. Basically, everyone is born with 1 Mana Point, but Breaths can be transferred between people. Magic is treated like a science, where mages are still trying to figure out all the rules to make a successfull spell, why certain spells cost more Breath than others, and, given how scarce they are, the way to use Breaths more efficiently.
  • The Deryni in the works of Katherine Kurtz are a combination of categories:
    • The raw ability is inherited.
    • The use of the powers must be taught, and through practice a certain level of physical endurance must be built up ("Athletes").
    • Each actual use of the powers entails a deep concentration bordering on self-hypnosis, a concentration which must also be learned ("Monks").
    • The Haldanes (and possibly other humans) have dormant abilities that are activated by rituals or other overt actions involving psychic power ("Mutants").
    • Thanks to persecutions and efforts to escape the same, some people turn out to have the powers seemingly at random ("Lottery Winners").
  • Sorcerers in the Belgariad are a mix of Lottery Winner and Monk — the potential for sorcery is present in every human, but unless you're being guided in some way you'll probably never unlock your potential (without vaporizing yourself). Once the power is released that first time, it's probably closer to Monk, since everything you do is by force of will.
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: Magicians are scholars. Before Mr. Norrell emerged on the scene, most magicians were theoretical, researching spells in older books, but never doing them. Mr. Norrell does the spells, but he has to rely on his study of older works to do it.
  • In The Sword of Truth, magical gift is sometimes inherited from one's ancestors (less and less common ever since a major magical disruption 3,000 years ago), and sometimes, it seems, pops on its own (there used to be a time when nearly everyone was a wizard, so there isn't much difference). However, it is possible for a wizard to take an apprentice without a gift, and teach him to use magic, with the process probably using some magical procedures. The wizards trained that way are, apparently, considerably less capable.
  • Inheritance Cycle:
    • Racial: Dragons naturally have massive amounts of magical energy, which their Riders can then draw upon. Elves also have a lot of magic naturally, but their approach is more like Artists or Scientists.
    • Cultists: Sorcerers summon and bind spirits for energy, but that has the risk of the spirits possessing them and creating a Shade.
  • In The Stormlight Archive, Surgebinders are a strange sort of priest-like mage. They gain power by wholeheartedly embracing the First Ideal of the Radiants and one of the ten other ideals, thus forging a bond with a sprennote  and gaining a Shardblade and power over two of the ten forces of nature.
  • In The Dragon Knight, magickians are priests. Their (entirely defensive) magic is awarded to them by a Celestial Bureaucracy called the Accounting Office, as payment for their work foiling the eternal threat of the Dark Powers. Sorcerers, meanwhile, are magickians' Evil Counterparts; their entirely offensive magic is powered by their service to the Dark Powers.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • The magic performed by the Red Priests of R'hllor veer close to the Cultist category, as its implied their considerable power comes from allegiance to the Red God. Some, though, such as the shadowbinder Melisandre, come with their own abilities of varying origin.
    • Skinchangers are more random, as it's mentioned that only one person in a thousand is born as one. There's also slight hereditary there somewhere, as having the blood of the First Men allegedly makes it more likely to become on. The series' six Stark siblings, for instance, are all skinchangers.
    • The Alchemist's Guild in King's Landing are likely scholars, as while their practice is rooted in science, they draw upon plenty of ancient knowledge.
  • In the Land of Oz real magic seems to be the result of study more than biology. When the Wizard from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz comes back to Oz in a later book, Glinda teaches him "real" magic to replace his stage magic. He becomes one of only three people in all of Oz legally allowed to practice magic. note 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Divine spellcasters, particularly clerics and paladins, gain their abilities through allegiance to supernatural forces. This is usually a deity, although archfiends can grant spells in some settings, and other setting such as Greyhawk follow Clap Your Hands If You Believe by allowing them to give their allegiance to a non-personified force such as Order. Divine spellcasters can also lose their powers by acting contrary to their oaths.
  • Ironclaw:
    • Scholars: Elementalists, Green and Purple mages, and especially Thaumaturgists learn magic through intensive study, while Most Clerics of S'Allumer aren't actually channeling the divine so much as using their own power to cast spells recorded in the holy scriptures centuries ago. The possible exception is the Sacerdotal prayers in the oldest, untranslated, editions.
    • Cultists: Druids and Blessed Priestesses of Lutara make pacts with nature spirits to cast their spells, while Necromancers enslave the restless dead to wield immense power. However some Druid spells, all Blessed weapon spells, and every single Necromantic spell carries a risk of the spirits breaking free and doing other stuff when three sixes are rolled.

    Video Games 
  • In Final Fantasy VI, Magicite makes "mutant" mages, eventually granting Esper's spells to the person that holds it for a given time. Technically, the original Espers were created in a similar way, as they used to be normal people that were altered by being caught in a crossfire between The Warring Triad.
  • In Elsword, Aisha's three job branches turn her into different kinds of mages:
    • Elemental Master has her study and train hard to master elemental magic; a mix of athlete and scholar.
    • Void Princess is her a contract with a demon to access dark magic; a cultist mage.
    • Dimension Witch uses magical artifacts and enchanted stones that are the source of her space and time magic; a mutant, with some touches of scholar (she studies on how she can apply said magic).
  • Fire Emblem: Mages are like scholars. Most games describe tomes as simply a weapon type that you would train to use in an academic setting rather than a physical one. Anyone could use magic as much as anyone could use a sword. Further the tomes are often in ancient tongues or sources of other arcane wisdom, and the most powerful mages are typically scholars or Really 700 Years Old so they have had time to learn more about magic. Though some people have natural aptitude for using magic well, it's also incredibly rare to meet someone who can use magic innately without the use of books, staves or other tools.
  • The Elder Scrolls: Here, mages are athletes, in that mages gain their abilities through lots of practice.
  • Minecraft mods
    • Thaumcraft 4 thaumaturges are scholars, researching the techniques for making magic wands, tools, devices and minions, which they craft using collected magical energy and the refined essence of items.
  • Cepters from Culdcept are a variant of scholars. Their powers come from cards that are pages of the Book of Creation, which are found scattered throughout the world (or, of course, in the hands of other Cepters).
  • In Final Fantasy VIII the Sorceresses are like a Race, being genetically compatible women who inherit the ability to use magic when a fellow sorceress passes her powers upon death. Other humans can use a lesser form of magic called Para Magic which can be used by anyone by a process of controlling energy or by Junctioning a Guardian Force making their abilities closer to mutants.

    Visual Novels 
  • In the Nasuverse, mages are commonly hereditary. Most magi families pass their magic circuits from generation to generation, and in the case of having more than one child, is not uncommon for them to either send them to other houses or keep them out of the loop.
  • In Dragon Age, mages are like a race, although the inheritance seems to be fairly unpredictable. Also, mages are kept isolated by force in most societies due to the fact that they are prone to getting possessed by demons.

    Web Comics 
  • In Code Name: Hunter, magic requires strong "essence" (willpower, faith, conviction, etc). However, even among those with strong essence, only a rare few actually get magical talent, apparently at random.
    • Of note, mages are powered by the aggregate essence of their entire culture, so a nation full of happy, productive, empowered citizens (like most first-world countries) has much more magical potential than a nation of downtrodden peasants like Astoria.
  • El Goonish Shive is a mixed case: "The most common form of magic in EGS is powered by spiritual energy from the spell caster. This energy can be innate, or obtained and/or enhanced via training. Power alone isn't enough to cast spells. One must train in a specific fashion to obtain access to their spells, or have the power awakened within them by being that are capable of such things."

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender / The Legend of Korra: Benders are a mix of Racial, Athletes, and Monks: Bending abilities are hereditary, and for example Aang's (Airbender) and Katara's (Waterbender) children, Tenzin, Kya, and Bumi, are an Airbender, a Waterbender, and a non-bender respectively. On the other hand, since Benders control the elements with physical movements, one's prowess in magic is also determined by the skill of one's master and the amount of basic form training. Lastly, to fully utilize the power of the elements, one needs to understand their philosophical nature (controlling earth can be difficult for someone who lacks determination, whereas wind requires certain flexibility and calmness of mind).
    • The Avatar (who can bend all four elements) is a special case in that he/she also has traces of Theurgist and Lottery Winner in him/her: The Avatar's power comes from the spirit of light, Raava, that inhabits his/her body, and the Avatar has all the knowledge and power of the previous generations of Avatars in his/her hands. Who gets to weild this power is chosen by Raava alone, so from the point of view of humans this is completely random.


    THESE NEED MORE CONTEXT AND/OR REWRITING, AND I DUNNO HOW 
  • Disc World Ponder Stibbons is the only scientist. Most Wizards are classicists doing University protocol. They are monkish precisely because Wizardry is heretitable.
Witchcraft is not hereditary, none of Nanny's innumerable brood have Powers and nobody thinks this is unusual.
  • In Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Sorcerers are hereditary.
    • Wizards are scholarly.
    • Warlocks gain their power from pacts with (usually sinister) forces.
  • Magic as art seems to be one of the varieties used by Tolkien, especially for Elven and Dwarven magic.
  • Final Fantasy VIII has magic users either needing to join with a guardian to be able to use any type of magic (sounds like mutants but not sure), there are also a few sorceresses but how their magic works is pretty vague.
  • What about Mages Are Like Artists? Magical ability is the result of creativity and imagination, although it may sometimes also require discipline and training (just as real artistic ability does). Christopher Stasheff's Wizard in Rhyme series has components of this. Magic in Peter Pan often seems to depend on imagination and belief. Also, this is at least the subtext to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
  • Dragon Age is a weird case of Mages are like aristocrats in that it tends to run in families and Mages are like lottery winners in that it crops up seemingly randomly.

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