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Mutually Exclusive Magic
"Since Light and Shadow cannot coexist, possessors of Shadow Magic must first give it up before learning this [Light] magic."

In a fantasy setting, where magic is abundant, a commonly seen rule is that no one can master multiple or opposing schools of magic— One can either learn divine or unholy magic, but not both.

The reasons for this may vary. It may be that the teachers of either school don't particularly get along very well, it may be that the talent for any given type of magic is an inherited trait, perhaps some of the mystical energy a mage uses is left in them and the two energies react to each other in a negative way(negating eachother, therefore weakening the mage, or perhaps actually damaging them in some way), or it may simply be that all you used to learn one type contradicts what's used to learn the other, and most people just can't get over that hump. In some settings, this extends to all forms of Functional Magic: Hermetic Magic, Psychic Powers, Ki-powered Supernatural Martial Arts, etcetera.

Depending on the series, it may still be possible to learn multiple schools, so long as they don't oppose each other— One can learn Fire and Wind magic together, but not Fire and Water.

Breaking this forced division is the source of the power of a Yin-Yang Bomb. The Red Mage averts this restriction. Compare Wrong Context Magic.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • Bleach has Hollow and Soul Reaper powers. Technically, they're supposed to be polar opposite types of abilities (although Hollow powers don't receive as much explanation), but certain characters have gotten around these limitations. The Arrancar are Hollows with Soul Reaper abilities, while the Vizard are Soul Reapers with Hollow powers.
    • A better example would be Quincy vs. Soul Reaper abilities; Soul Reapers use their own spirit energy and can focus it with a magic sword. Quincies use the free floating energy in the world, and can focus it with a magic trinket.
  • Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple has Sei and Dou ki. Each describes the fundamental trait in a person's fighting style; basically whether they fight with their head or with their heart respectively. They can be mixed, it just causes horrible internal damage and fun stuff like your eyes possibly rupturing. Borderline example as they both basically do the same thing anyway.
  • In Mahou Sensei Negima!, Ki and magical power are opposite, and trying to use both at once usually ends with Stuff Blowing Up. However, Negi himself gets around this by using magical power as a substitute for Ki in his martial arts techniques while still using it to power his spells as well. Additionally, there's a special technique which synthesizes Ki and magic, but it's notoriously difficult and only three characters are known to have ever done it, ever.
    • Learning the dark magic of Magia Erebia renders a mage unable to wield light magic. Word of God says that the Magia Erebia can still arm and load light spells, though.
  • Esper powers and magic in A Certain Magical Index. If an esper uses magic, his enhancements get in the way and cause massive hemorrhaging. Magic is said to have been designed for people who weren't born with esper abilities. One esper in the series is able to use magic anyway because his esper ability happens to be a mild Healing Factor.
  • Tsukihime / Fate/stay night have magic and powers from Gaia counteracting each other. Humans are cut off from Gaia specifically because of their development of Magic Circuits. Arcueid uses her Marble Phantasm to create even more powerful effects than magic can, but is highly dependent on her surroundings and is also limited to effects that can happen in nature. You simply can't use both systems. However, the Church's divine powers do work with magic and are partially based on it.
  • Clow in Cardcaptor Sakura was able to combine Chinese and Western magic, which were previously thought to be incompatible.

    Fan Fiction 

    Literature 
  • The entire plot of Master of the Five Magics by Lyndon Hardy is a subversion of this trope. No one in the world believes that anyone can learn more than one type of magic, but Alodar not only learns the basics of all five, he manages to combine them. However, it's played straight in the sequel, The Secret of the Sixth Magic: the "sixth" magic is an entirely different order of ability by which the wielder can manipulate magic itself, and anybody with an aptitude for it will fail at any of the ordinary magics.
  • A similar thing happens to Pug/Milamber over the course of the many Riftwar Cycle books. Having studied, at first unsuccessfully, under a practictioner of 'lesser' magic, he finds it much easier with 'greater' magic, but later is able to use both, as well as elven magic and more, saying that in fact magic is just magic, and the only limitations lie with the user. That is, most people find they can only go down one path, but some can handle more.
  • In John C. Wright's Chronicles of Chaos, the types of magic run on immiscible paradigms. To even understand how another person's magic work, you would have to think the same way, which would stop you thinking your way, and so you would lose your paradigm's magic.
  • The Old Kingdom series has Charter Magic and Free Magic. Charter Magic is the more organized and academic sort of magic - a mostly rune-and-spell based system that draws on the Charter, the cosmic document that provides order to the universe. Magical creatures found in nature, anything to do with the Dead, and certain human sorcerers use Free Magic, a much more chaotic and destructive power that while not necessarily evil is always extremely dangerous. The only person who practices both is the Abhorsen, who uses necromancy (a normally Free Magic based power) coupled with the Charter to combat dangerous Free Magic creatures and the undead.
  • Since Chrestomanci has the job of overseeing all forms of magic use, his training requires that he learn about all of them, and preferably how to do them. However, candidates for the post are chosen for their strong natural talents as an Enchanter, and they find it extremely difficult if not impossible to perform magic in a way not natural to them. This is mostly because Enchanter magic shortcuts past most of the annoying parts, so when trying to do magic in another way an Enchanter is forced to take unnecessary steps.
  • In the Apprentice Adept series, though magic is derived from a single source - Phazite - there are many mutually exclusive ways to invoke that magic: Protagonist Stile (The Blue Adept) utilizes rhyming spells and music, Adept Yellow uses potions, Red uses amulets and talismans, White uses runes and sigils, etc. The only exception is if someone is using the Book Of Magic, which gives even non-humans Adept-level power in ALL the disciplines.
    • More specifically, the Book consists of spells simultaneously utilizing multiple forms of power invocation, organized to efficiently maximize its user's potential capabilities with as little perusal time as possible. While its spells are superior to Adept-style equivalents, and are inclusive enough to make its user a match for one, the Book also isn't up to teaching Adept-level skill in any specific magical form.
  • In The Wheel of Time series, magic is powered by the One Power, which has male and female halves. Male and female magic-users can accomplish the same things, but more often than not by different methods. For example, the best way for a man to put out a fire is to take the heat from the fire directly but the best way for a woman to do it is to use air or water to snuff it or quench it.
    • The differences are really interesting in that men generally are nearer to a scientific handling of the problem, while women take a more "esoteric" route: Dousing a fire is done by separating heat and fuel, men simply do that while women take the roundabout way. Making portals: women induce a "sameness" in two different places, men take the plane the two different places are on, fold it, so they lie on top of each other, and punch through (basically an einstein-rosen bridge, also known as a wormhole).
    • Ultimately, the truth is inverted, as male and female channelers can link to give one person control of both the male and female versions of the power. Doing so has the combinatorial effect of a Yin-Yang Bomb.
  • Averted and played straight in the The Night Angel Trilogy. Kylar thinks this is true racially, as people from one country use only healing magic. Durzo explains that hundreds of years ago, those very same healers gave up Black Magic after using it for ungodly powerful things. As a result, the problem is no one will teach them how to use Black Magic in their own country, not that they can't use it. It's played staright with the existence of Male and Female specific abilities (with uncommon exceptions) and the Vir. But you don't want to know about the Vir.
  • The Saga of Recluce has order magic and chaos magic, and almost always a mage will only practice one or the other. This is because most mages channel magical energy through their bodies, and some of the energy from each spell stays behind in the body; if a mage casts a order spell and then a chaos spell, the residual order energy will react in a painful (or lethal) manner with the new chaos energy. Mages who learn how to channel energy without the energy passing through their bodies can use both types of magic, but knowledge of how to do this is rare, since both order mages and chaos mages tend to be dogmatic about their type of magic being the best.
  • In Valentin Ivashchenko's Warrior and Mage, learning the ways of the divine magic effectively prohibits the priest from learning arcane magic; non-human species don't possess divine magic. Arcane mages are born with certain affinities, referred to by color. While mages can exhibit multiple colors, e.g. red + dark blue = fire-lightning mage, there were no known black (necromancy) + anything mages.
  • As a recurring motif of modern Russian-spoken fantasy, the volhvy (Slavic pagan druids) were limited to spells and abilities of their respective deity. In settings with advancing monotheism adopting the "old way" (paganism) and adopting the "new way" (White God, Savior, Light God, various other Crystal Dragon Jesus ideas) are also mutually exclusive.
  • Vadim Panov's Secret City series of novels has 2 fundamentally different types of magic. The first is using a Source, as used by the Great Houses and the Houses of Asur, Chel and Tat'. White Ladies, human Churches, Masan clans, Hyperboreans, the Kitano School, Geomancers and uninitiated humans are different, since they don't have dedicated Sources. Galla's Heresy is closer to the first type, since it is a type of Anti-Magic with a Source. The distinction isn't absolute, since artifacts and golems can be mostly used by anybody.
  • In V. Zykov's Way Home series, the magics of dragons, reptarkhs (sentient anthropomorphic reptile species) and reptohorses (sentient reptiloid centaur species) are mutually exclusive, but can be combined with modern magic. Empowerment of an individual by draconic, reptarkh and reptohorse sources has been lethal with a single exception.
  • In V. Zykov's Conclave of the Immortals the Mass Super-Empowering Event hitting the small city of Sosnovsk produces several types of powers in humans. The known powers of the Skinwalkers (combat shapeshifting), Dreamwalkers (interaction with minds and spirits), Tamers (animal communication and control) are mutually exclusive and apparently exclude the powers of priests and the powers of various other magical species.
  • In The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, it's completely possible to learn all four types of magic, but only the Chosen Ones can use two at once; and, once they've learned the traditional four, they are the only ones who can learn the fifth type: Aether.
  • Averted in the Mistborn trilogy. An Allomancer burns metals to fuel superhuman abilities, a Feruchemist stores his own abilities in metals and uses them later, but it's entirely possible to inherit both.
    • This is actually played quite interestingly in-universe; Feruchemical powers are native to the Terris people, and Allomancy is native to the Imperial nobility. The Lord Ruler went to great lengths to keep these groups from intermingling so that the magic stayed mutually exclusive because he was a full Twinborn- in other words, he had all Allomantic and Feruchemical powers and didn't want to risk someone else like him arising. Later on, in The Alloy of Law, bloodlines from the world's various racial and political groups has started getting a lot more intermingled, so Twinborn who have one Allomantic and Feruchemical power each are rare, but hardly unheard of.
  • Played straight in The Legends of Ethshar series. The primary restriction on magic-users is that the source of each type is different. Theurgists pray to gods; demonologist bargain with demons; sorcerers manipulate talismans; wizards manipulate reagents; witches manipulate their own magic; warlocks manipulate a foreign magic. Learning how to use even one school can take a lifetime so very few have the ability or interest to try and study another school.
    • It has been noted that many warlocks were originally users of other magics, but either lost the ability or interest to use their original magic during the Night of Madness.
  • In The Obsidian Trilogy, the highly ritualized High Magick of the City of Armethalieh is opposed to the Wild Magic practiced elsewhere. Despite what the High Mages think, it's revealed that High Magick grew out of a specialty of Wild Magic designed for warfare, and while they're too different for someone to be good at both, mages of each discipline can work together.
  • In Skulduggery Pleasant, mages can be either Elementals or Adepts but not both, and once you decide you're pretty much stuck with it as while it's possible to switch disciplines it's very difficult. The title character Skulduggery Pleasant happens to be one of the incrediblely rare few who can use both Necromancy (an Adept discipline) and Elemental magics.
  • According to Word of God, in The Dresden Files you can't have Summer and Winter magic. Theoretically, you can, but it's like having matter and anti-matter. Presumably, similar things would happen if you tried Soulfire and Hellfire.

     Tabletop Gaming 
  • Specialist wizards in Dungeons & Dragons cannot learn spells from their "opposition schools" (which were either fixed or chosen by the player, depending on edition). However, most mages can learn any spell; they just don't get the bonuses that specialists do.
    • While not fully incompatible, in the classic versions magical creatures and magic-users are less likely to discover psionic talents, while psonically powered creatures tend to be resistant to magic and have hard time studying it.
    • Forgotten Realms after Karsus's Folly has Weave and Shadow Weave split as two independent power sources, controlled by warring goddesses. One can't use both and when magic from both in raw form collides, it causes large-scale unpleasantness such as planar rifts. Also, Phaerimm magic and Sharn magic are so non-standard and incompatible that their spells interact violently, changing the landscape.
    • In Dragonlance magic comes from the trio of moon gods, and while it's not technically incompatible, the leading wizardly organization enforces the split into three Orders.
    • Due to game mechanics (mainly ability scores and class levels) it's difficult to master multiple types of magic. There are prestige classes that help avert the trope, but only a few combinations come anywhere near being optimal.
    • Dark Sun averted this trope in the 2nd Edition version. You cannot become an epic level spellcaster unless you're also psychic, because you need psionics to fortify your mind to call upon such magical power. This requirement is even plot-relevant sometimes.
    • In the Pathfinder rules (which are a continuation of 3.5 D&D), specialist mages can learn spells from their chosen "forbidden schools", but preparing a forbidden spell takes up two spell slots.
      • The Thassilonian Specialist, however, goes back to 3.5 type and loses access to spells from their two "forbidden schools" permanently.
  • In Shadowrun you could be a hermetic mage or a shaman but not both, because their mindsets were so different. As more magical traditions were introduced, they all (as far as I can remember) followed this rule. In later editions you could mix the physical adept (magical martial artist) with spellcasting, though.
  • Thaumaturges from the New World of Darkness supplement ''Second Sight' can only practice one magical tradition at a time. Changing is possible, but you forget all your previous spells doing so, even if the tradition you move to has an equivalent.
  • In Exalted, Sorcery and Necromancy are opposed, being based on manipulating Creation's living Essence and the Underworld's entropic Essence respectively, and any given Exalt type will have a higher affinity for one or the other, having access to spells one circle lower for their tier in the case of their lower affinity.
    • Infernals of both types (Green Sun Princes and Akuma) are unable to learn sorcery in the standard sense (that is, as normal Exalts of their type). Instead, their sorcery is channeled through initiation charms specific to each Yozi, which has limits and enhancements on the types of magic they can perform.
    • Alchemicals are unable to use either sorcery or necromancy, but instead have access to another kind of magic called Pattern Weaving, which only they can use. It is possible for them to access sorcery and necromancy, but only by using Voidtech and sacrificing their knowledge of Pattern Weaving.
    • For Celestial and Infernal Exalted, it is possible to cast both sorcery and necromancy spells, even if it is not at equal strength. They are truly mutually exclusive for enlightened mortals, God-blooded and Terrestrial Exalted, who can learn either sorcery or necromancy, but never both. For enlightened mortals, which one they learn is a matter of choice, for God-blooded and Terrestrials, it is determined by birth.
    • The Deal with the Devil process of becoming an akuma consists of infusing the magic of the Yozis into the recipient. It fails automatically on Abyssals and Alchemicals, who are already infused with the magic of different Primordial-level entities and are thus unable to add Yozi Charms to their sets.
  • In several Palladium tabletop RPGs, but most explicitly in Beyond the Supernatural, psychic powers require the permanent expenditure of magic energy to develop. As a result, psychics have little magic energy left over for casting spells...unless they're Mystics, who can use both.
  • A general rule in Unknown Armies. Becoming an adept requires an insane devotion or obsession with a concept or school of thought, and that sort of focus can never be divided. Becoming an avatar requires that a character follow the specific mindset of an archetype, almost all of which are mutually contradictory. Very rare individuals can juggle both avatar and adept obsessions, or multiple weaker adept obsessions, but the results tend to be so far off the crazy charts that they're closer to forces of nature than characters.
  • In Aberrant and Trinity, the same genetic predisposition gives rise to Novas and Psions, but the energies involved interfere with each other. Not only can an individual use only one type of power, but a Nova and Psion in close proximity will actually interfere with each other's powers.
  • In Age of Aquarius, magic schools are based on sets of belief, and that's why you have a hard time trying to combine belief in Goetic demons, for example, and Viking gods to mix Hermetic and Runic magic. It's possible to believe in an All Myths Are True world in this setting, but it will result in a really weak form of Post Modern Magic.
  • The Warhammer universe has magic powered by the 8 Winds of Magic. It's not impossible to use spells powered by different (or even multiple) Winds, but unless you're an elf, or some form of Chosen One, Bad Things tend to happen. Intriguingly, Rainbow Wizardsnote  tend to have serious trouble learning and casting spells from the Lore/Wind in opposition to their own, while Highnote  and Dark Wizardsnote  don't have this problem, no matter which Lore they originally learnt.
  • In the Savage Worlds: 50 Fathoms campaign setting, mastering more than one element gives you spellcrafting penalties as the elemental spirits governing your magic conflict with each other. Until you've mastered all four, at which point the spirits are in balance and stop fighting.
  • Anima has several paths of Magic (with Low Magic Paths being based on standard Elemental Magic like Fire and Light, and High Magic Paths being more metaphysical concepts like Life, Essence, and even Necromancy), and a mage can learn several paths. However, trying to learn an opposed Path to one you already know doubles the costs of advancing in BOTH Paths. Necromancy, as a perversion of magic, is opposed to every other path.

     Video Games 
  • In SaGa Frontier, One can master Light OR Shadow magic, Arcane OR Rune, Time OR Space, Realm OR Mystic, and Mind OR Evil. The one exception is Blue, who gains his twin brother's magic after the Wizard Duel between them. If you buy magic in an opposing school, you'll forget all the spells you knew.
    • This has been a staple since the Romancing SaGa Trilogy: you can only learn only half the magic spells. In Romancing SaGa 2, however, you can combine specific elements if they are not opposite to each other to create new and more powerful spells.
  • In the storyline of the Warcraft universe, Priests cannot use both Holy and Shadow spells, but this is averted in World of Warcraft due to game mechanics. Priests in the game still can't use them both well at the same time, since they'll need to specialize.
    • Shadow Priests that are in Shadowform can't cast Holy spells at all, they force you out of Shadowform. There's no restriction for the healing specs to cast Shadow spells though.
    • Most Warrior abilities require a certain stance to use, meaning that while they can use abilities more in tune with their other specializations, they would have to switch to use it, which prevents them from using the abilities most vital to their role until they switch back.
  • In Master of Magic you cannot learn spells from both the Life and Death magic schools. All the others can be combined, (and these two can be combined with any of the other three schools) but not these two.
  • Unreal Tournament has a mod/gametype called U 4 E Fortress. One of the classes in this mod is the Wizard, which unlike the other classes can level up and gain spells from eight different schools (think Constant Warriors Linear Wizards). When the Wizard first learns a spell from a school, a selection of other schools becomes Lost Forever. However, some servers allow all spell schools after a certain level.
  • Many Final Fantasy games that have job classes normally have classes that are only able to use one magic type, such as black mages and white mages using Black and White Magic, respectively. This gets muddled, however, in games like Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Final Fantasy XI that allow you to use secondary abilites from a class you've previously worked on. It should be noted, of course, that games like Final Fantasy XII throw all this out the window and give everyone the potential to learn anything, certain attacks aside.
  • In Age of Wonders your leader can choose only non-antagonistic magic spheres.
    • In Age of Wonders 2, you can either choose all of them, giving your a random selection that often ends up game-breakingly good or bad, or a single sphere. Notably, no matter which you choose, you can still buy/find/receive any spell. Also, Common sphere spells always can be researched and Secret sphere never.
    • In Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic, you can either pick a single school or massively gimp yourself by taking multiple schools, ensuring that you never get any powerful spells.
  • Starcraft: Protoss have the high templar ("light") and the dark templar, separated for hundreds of years before the start of the game. One of the main heroes eventually learns to use both types of power and use it to defeat the Big Bad (the first one, anyway). It's insinuated that only an extremely exceptional individual is able to pull this off. There are at least two recorded individuals who did so, but both died shortly afterwards (Adun burned himself out, Tassadar crashed his ship into the Overmind in a Heroic Sacrifice).
  • Variation in Knights of the Old Republic. Jedi can use Sith powers, and vice-versa, but suffer a penalty to the spell cost (and likewise a bonus to more properly aligned force powers). They're not completely exclusive, just more costly.
  • Meridian 59, the first "3-D" MMORPG, allowed you to master only one type of magic at a time. You could become somewhat decent at another one. But mastering another type meant you became less powerful in the other.
  • In Mabinogi, the Dark Knight transformation is incompatible with the Paladin transformation. However, there is also a story-reason for this as well as magical incompatibility: the choice one makes to become a Dark Knight would make one unable to access the Paladin transformation anyway.
  • In Jade Empire, you must choose between Fortune's Favorite and Golden Star, and Ice Shards and Dire Flame in Act I, but can buy the other later. In Act II, however, you can get Stone Immortal if you are far enough on the Open Palm end of the spectrum and Tempest if you are far enough on the Closed Fist, and have no opportunity to get the other.
  • In Suikoden Tactics, mages have an inherent element (Water, Lightning, Earth, Wind, Fire) and these elements are arranged in a ring where each one is strong to the one preceding it and weak to the one after it. Mages cannot use magic of the element that their inherent element is weak to.
  • In Might and Magic VII, learning Light and Dark Magic is mutually exclusive under the 'teachers don't get along' rule (even the basic teachers refuses to teach you how to use the school unless you align with their path. Since that is a mutually exlusive choice...). VIII has it be mutually exlusive by having the classes that can learn them be specialists in one or the other (the Clerics are — potentially disloyal, but still — members of the Church of the Sun, a religion associated with Light Magic, while Sorcerors are replaced with Necromancers — who focus on Dark Magic since that's the school involving raising the dead as undead to serve you). The game that introduced them (VI), however, makes clear that there is nothing inherently mutually exclusive about them, and indeed if you are eligible to learn one you can learn the other as well there (mastering both takes a great deal of effort, but that is because the Master teachers demand that your party has a really good or a really bad reputation, respectively).
  • in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, it's the reason that our hero can defeat The Juggernaut in a fistfight. Normally, the Juggernaut is impervious to physical harm, however, he ends up coming into contact with a magical tablet fragment that interferes with his normal source of power, the Ruby of Cyttorak.
  • Most Fire Emblem games don't have any classes that can learn both light and dark magic, and only exalted classes can cast any two between light, dark, and anima.
  • In RuneScape, there are three different spellbooks: the ancient spellbook has offensive magic, the lunar spellbook has skill-related spells, and the normal spellbook has a mixture of both. It is only possible to use one magic from one spellbook at a time. However, players can switch between spellbooks at certain fixed places.
  • Averted in some Dragon Quest games where the Job System lets you keep magic learned in one job when switching, allowing for some stupidly powerful parties (imagine four examples of The Berserker fully healing himself whenever he feels like it).

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, the ability to bend one of the four elements (water, fire, earth, and air) is mutually exclusive. Mixed-heritage people take after one side or the other (or possibly neither). The one exception to this rule is the Avatar, who is able (and required) to master all four elements. Even then, there's a spiritual or philosophical divide between the techniques used for each element - Aang was raised an airbender, which is all about flowing with the surroundings, and had trouble with the stubborn assertiveness that earthbending required. In contrast, Korra is brash and hotheaded and has serious problems grasping airbending due to its go-with-the-flow philosophy being so opposed to her own temperament.
    • And then there are the more specialized forms of bending (metal for earthbenders, lighting for firebenders, blood for waterbenders, with no such power revealed for airbenders as of yet), which seem to be exclusive to the regular benders, with the Avatar never displaying such powers. Though Aang does learn Lightning Redirect. Korra later learns Metalbending.
    • The mutual exclusiveness is enforced by the sequel series, when we find out about the origins of Bending. It was originally a power bestowed by Lion Turtles, but a human physically could not use more than one power at the same time. The first Avatar got around the limitation by gaining the help of an extremely powerful (if weakened) spirit, eventually merging with it. That is not to say that studying other disciplines is pointless, as you can gain tremendous insight into how Bending works and come up with new techniques. Iroh developed Lightning Redirect by observing Water Benders.
  • In Teen Titans when Larry breaks his finger that lets him rewrite the rules of reality, Raven says she can't use her magic to heal it since combining their two powers could create an Earth-Shattering Kaboom.
  • Mixing different schools of magic in Aladdin is highly dangerous. This was frequently used, besides his diminished power, to keep Genie from being able to fix things too easily.
    • Also referred to in Gargoyles, usually preventing a 'quick fix' and forcing a thinking solution.


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