Sympathetic Magic

Get hold of something like someone's nail clipping and you've got 'em under your control. That's real old magic. Dawn of time stuff.
Mustrum Ridcully, Hogfather

In order to perform magic on an individual, you need to (or will have a much easier time if you) have a part of them. This may be a physical piece (hair, nail clippings), a possession, photograph, or just a unique description of the subject. One of the most common spells that requires such an ingredient is the ever-popular Love Potion.

Compare I Know Your True Name, where the thing you need is (surprise!) the subject's name. See also Reality Changing Miniature, where a representation of the subject is used to affect the original. Subtrope of Eye of Newt.


Anime And Manga
  • In Soul Eater, Tezca Tlipoca can track anyone whose soul he reflects in his mirror.
  • In Cardcaptor Sakura, Syaoran has a technique to locate someone, but he requires some item of theirs to do so. This becomes a problem when he and Sakura are searching for Tomoyo, who is still in the classroom after the rooms were switched around by Eriol.
  • In Naruto, one of the requirements of performing Edo Tensei is the would-be-resurrected's DNA.

  • In Queen Of All Oni, this is a type of magic. Jade and her servants are Genre Savvy about it, and they are proven Properly Paranoid when the Evil Sorcerer Lung uses a bit of Jade's hair from before they started to capture her.
    • Hiruzen's Casting a Shadow powers allow him to do something like Sympathetic Magic, any attack he makes that connects with his enemy's shadow is reflected on their physical form, thus allowing him to take down opponents without ever directly touching them.

Film - Live Action
  • In Drag Me to Hell, after being denied an extension on her mortgage by loan officer Christine Brown, the gypsy Sylvia Ganush rips a button from Christine's coat, using it to put a curse on her that will, well... honestly, just look at the title.

  • In The Immortals quartet by Tamora Pierce, Numair finds Daine using a "focus" made out of a lock of her hair.
  • In the Evie Scelan series, Evie gets her hair chopped off so that the Bright Brotherhood can use magic on her.
  • Terry Pratchett's Hogfather uses this in the extreme. The Tooth Fairy originally began gathering teeth from human children to prevent them from being used for sympathetic magic. However, as they were all gathered in one place, it made them a perfect target for an assassin who intended to use said magic to make the children of Discworld stop believing in the Hogfather in order to kill him... It's a long story.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's Magic, Inc., that kind of magic (along with every other kind ever) is mentioned when the protagonist is warned to guard his hair and nail clippings, etc. As I said, every other kind of magic is also either mentioned or implied to also work.
    • In the Operation Chaos novels (which are a Homage to Magic, Inc.) it is the same, all kinds of magic work.
  • DNA (and/or RNA) in science fiction stories works as Sympathetic Magic.
  • The two Principles of Thaumaturgy (the first magic) in Lyndon Hardy's Master of the Five Magics are:
    1. The Principle of Sympathy: Like produces like.
    2. The Principle of Contagion: Once together, always together.
  • Gaining a part of a person allows you to use magic on them from a distance (or simply find them) in The Dresden Files. The latter application is something that Harry specialises in, allowing him to find people and objects in short order. However, it can be extremely dangerous. When Harry gets knocked down and attacked in the first book, he's mostly concerned about the fact that the assailant took a clipping of his hair. In a later book, after a brawl, Harry's relieved when Charity Carpenter knows to burn all the gauze and bandages with his blood on them. That said, if the connection between what is taken and the person is broken, such as taking a person's hair but then he shave what remained of the hair off his head, the hair taken won't lead back to him.
  • The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco, one of the characters attempts to use sympathetic magic to solve The Longitude Problem.
  • In Orson Scott Card's The Tales of Alvin Maker series, Peggy, the torch who watches over Alvin uses his birthing caul (the amniotic sac from his birth) to use magics to protect him as a child.
  • One of the main forms of magic practiced in The Kingkiller Chronicle, along with naming. The physical properties of sympathy are well defined, following the Laws of Correspondence, Consanguinity, and Conservation. The more similar two materials are, the stronger the link between them; two objects that were once one object have a stronger link; and energy is neither created nor destroyed in the sympathetic process. The result is that even if you had a person's hair, you'd still have to have rigidly-trained focus and a great deal of energy to do anything to them.
  • In Harry Potter, Polyjuice Potion allows the drinker to transform into somebody else, if they happen to have a strand of hair or some such from that person to brew into the potion.
  • In Jim C. Hines' The Snow Queen's Shadow we find out that it's common practice for nobles in Allesandria to completely shave their heads every day and burn the hair. Since Allesandria is rumoured to be the birthplace of human magic, and every noble there learns to use magic before they've got a firm grasp on the alphabet, it's a reasonable precaution.
  • One of the two primary forms of magic in the Harold Shea series. Harold, a well-educated man from our world, is familiar with the concept, but is surprised to find that it actually works in the alternate dimensions he begins exploring.
  • In The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman, the Consistorial Court uses some of Lyra's hair to create a bomb just for her.
  • In one of the Lord Darcy stories, Master Sean tells of a magician who was using Sympathetic Magic on some rat droppings to make a potion to get rid of rats. Unfortunately, a drop of his sweat also fell into the potion.
  • Pact has several varieties of this:
    • If a practitioner has something that belongs to someone else, be that a lock of hair or a possession, they can see the "connection" between the person and the item and follow it back to them.
    • Rose Thorburn, the Distaff Counterpart to the protagonist, is trapped inside of a mirror world. Items that manifest in the mirror world are intrinsically linked to the real world, and can be used for Sympathetic Magic-and further, the mirror world can be twisted to make almost anything appear there, so long as it's reflected in a mirror.

Live-Action TV
  • In the Monsters episode "Hostile Takeover", the rather slimy Corrupt Corporate Executive Villain Protagonist is concerned that his use of voodoo magic to get a leg up on his business rivals has made him the target of a demon named Obeah. Unnerved by the repeated hauntings of the voodoo priestess he partnered up with (who turned out to be one of The Undead all along), he invites the night janitor into his office for a drink. The janitor happens to be an expert on the occult and tries to comfort his boss. The janitor explains that 1) "demons only go after bad people" (see Villain Protagonist above), 2) "you have to invite them in for a good time, kind of like how you invited me in for a drink", and 3) "they need a piece of you" (the man had earlier donated some blood for a voodoo ritual). Meaning the first and third conditions had already been met. Since the janitor was actually Obeah in disguise, so was the second one.
  • The episode "Catspaw" in Star Trek: The Original Series.
  • In the Supernatural episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part One" (S02, Ep21), Andy needs something that Dean has touched in order to mentally contact him.
  • Legend of the Seeker: Sebastian's magic maps in "Bounty" work this way-they can track an object using part of it, or if a person, an item belonging to them, ground up in the ink used to print it. In "Bound", the maternity spell Nicci casts on Kahlan uses a strand of her hair, retrieved from her brush by a crow in Nicci's control.

Tabletop Games
  • Mage: The Awakening has a series of modifiers for using magic at a distance, ranging from "you barely know the person or location" (damn near impossible) to "you know the person/location well, and have a personal belonging/a piece of them" (relatively easy). The two most significant modifiers to sympathetic magic are a person's belongings (or for locations, something from there) and their true name.
  • In Unknown Armies rituals and Tilts (sort of a makeshift ritual) usually require something from the person you are trying to affect. (For bonus points it's good to have their name too)
  • Ritual Magic in Shadowrun can be performed via personal belongings in lieu of being able to see the target. The more closely related to the target the item is, the more likely the spell is to hit. As a result, Runners hate to leave anything behind.
    • It should also be noted that not only is Ritual Magic more powerful than regular magic (thanks to the multiple casters), but any spell can be cast via ritual magic as long as all the casters know it. If you're lucky, you might just get a Detection spell cast on you. If you're unlucky, you might be the target of a "Slay [Metatype]" spell. If you're really unlucky, then you'll become the focal point of a Force 20 Powerball. If your GM uses Ritual Magic to cast Orgy on you, then you've got a whole 'nother series of issues going on that I don't want to deal with on a family site.

Video Games

Web Comics
  • In Cucumber Quest, Elite Mook Rosemaster can control flowers. Doesn't sound all that threatening, but she can even control symbolic flowers, as in people who are named after flowering plants. By having a flower which corresponds to a person's name, she can mind control them, leading to a kingdom-wide Mass Hypnosis.

Western Animation
  • In The Simpsons episode "Praiseland", the eponymous family are helping Ned clean out the things that remind him of his late wife Maude; Bart takes Rod's first tooth to use in magic.