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Hermetic Magic

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Hermeticism is a real-world philosophical, religious, and magical tradition ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus, claimed to be the human incarnation of both the Egyptian god Thoth and the Greek god Hermes, a Coptic Egyptian Gnostic who founded the theological and philosophical base of western alchemy. One of the oldest, most continuous, and pervasive of Western magical traditions, it also widely influenced early scientific thought as late as such greats as devoted alchemist Sir Isaac Newton. Alchemy in particular can be almost synonymous with Hermetic traditions and depictions of European, Armenian, and Islamic alchemy will usually represent these as being the same as a comparatively easy way to have Shown Their Work.

The origin of the phrase "as above, so below", the tradition makes extensive use of Sympathetic Magic, often in more abstract ways. It is thus heavily reliant on either visual/material symbolism or even spoken forms. Other important core elements are seeking to understand Astrology, Alchemy as previously mentioned, and Theurgy. For some of the more common imagery check out a Rider-Waite set of Tarot cards. This makes Hermeticism often a long drawn-out affair with lots of potentially flashy elements (or in other words, a very rich source of mystical imagery with at least some grounding in real beliefs).

These days, Hermetic magic is perhaps used more in anime than in Western works, typically either to provide a comparatively exotic European flair to contrast with local mysticism... or just because it looks cool, while in the West magic is often simplified to just a basic spell and effect with maybe one line of chanting and a circle of candles. This may be because talking about magic in too much detail might incite the Moral Guardians to launch a Witch Hunt accusing you of Satanism, or just because Western media is more likely to be live-action. It being a pain in the butt to depict those fancy geometric designs when you can't just recycle animation and not end up with a Special Effect Failure. That said, Hermeticism has been around long enough to influence almost every aspect of Western magic, or at least share it with others such as the use of pentagrams.

Expect to see The Seal of Solomon, the Kabbalah, Tarot cards, and the Enochian alphabet in works featuring Hermetic magic (the Paracelsian Alphabet of the Magi, less known by name, is nevertheless also likely to make an appearance).

A Sub-Trope of Ritual Magic. See also Alchemy Is Magic, Instant Runes, Magic Is Mental, and Fantastic Science. Not to be confused with Sealing Magic.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • The "divine magic" used by the goddesses in Ah! My Goddess. Lampshaded in one episode, part of the reason spell names are recited is to warn folks that the Goddesses are casting it. In fact, outside of the more complex spells that require multiple casters and/or spell circles, they can cast most things instantly.
  • Spellcasting in Slayers is somewhere between Hermetic and Vancian models. The basic combat spellcasting is based on Vancian-type spells, but many mages use longer Hermetic rituals with magic circles and stuff (most often these are used for summoning demons and enchanting items). Furthered when a zoom-out reveals that the entire city of Seyruun is built in the shape of a gigantic magic circle — made so in order to weaken any black magic used within the city's walls.
  • Sorcery in Sorcerer Hunters, Record of Lodoss War and Rune Soldier Louie.
  • Alchemy in Fullmetal Alchemist requires a circle for any transmutation to occur. The formula within said circle defines how the gathered energy is channeled. Even when Edward Elric and others transmute by clapping their hands, it's explained that the requisite circle is represented by the ring formed by the alchemist's arms when they 'clap'. The big sign that Hoenheim and Father are truly abnormal is the fact that they don't even need to do that.
  • Chikage's sorcery and Tarot-reading in Sister Princess.
  • Much of Yu-Gi-Oh! (primarily the first series) deals with ancient Egyptian magic. During the Doma arc, Dartz, the Big Bad for that part of the series, uses a unicursal hexagram called the "Seal of Orichalcos", which is seen inside a circle with the Enochian alphabet spelling "Oreichalkos" twice in the border. Unfortunately, in the Japanese version of the anime, the runes on the Orichalcos cards do not translate into actual words (a subverted Bilingual Bonus).
  • In Hellsing the symbols on Alucards glove, the recurring invocation to Hermes, and a couple other points indicate is in use. This is never explained in any depth nor is any true user depicted explicitly.
  • Trinity Blood uses the gloves as well, but sharing a fairly high number of visual cues with Hellsing mentioned above.
  • Cardcaptor Sakura's titular character has a magic seal that materializes whenever she uses her Clow (and later Sakura) Cards. Note that the creator of the cards, Clow Reed, was not Japanese but half-Chinese, half-English. Part of his unusual power came from having access to both Chinese Taoist and English Tarot magic.
  • X/1999 utilizes a lot of European mystical symbolism, including Tarot and Qabbalah, but four of the seven protagonists derive their powers from traditional Japanese sources, including practical Buddhist magic, Shinto deities, and Taoism-based onmyoujitsu.
  • The magic system in Lyrical Nanoha, whose spells are always accompanied by Instant Runes, and whose really impressive spells either get really big magic circles or multiple ones, with the occasional long chant.
  • Addie and Honami from Rental Magica both use this kind of magic, with Addie utilizing Goetia and Honami using some Celtic magic that evokes the descriptions given by Pliny the Elder.
  • Clef, Zagato, and Ascot use this form of magic in Magic Knight Rayearth. For Clef and Ascot, all magic that has them summoning creatures uses some sort of circular pattern.

    Comic Books 
  • Promethea is in essence what would happen if Wonder Woman decided to devote her comic book to an explanation of Western magical traditions, including Hermetic Magic and Kabbalah. It's written by Alan Moore, a real-life practitioner, so it's to be expected

  • Harmony Theory: As a pegasus, Star Fall has no horn and so casts spells by drawing magic circles on spell paper.

  • Loyal Enemies: Magic can do almost anything, from teleportation to creating castles out of thin air, but most of the complex things require hours upon hours of meticulous planning. Veres sums it up once:
    Shelena: (referring to the villains' giant castle) So, how long did it take them to build that whopper?
    Veres: My guess is three hours. And a couple years of theoretical calculations.
  • The Dresden Files: Thaumathurgy (ritual magic) follows most rules of Hermetic Magic: it requires a magic circle and some rituals and ingredients to work, and must usually be set up with a little planning. Thaumathurgy is described as the "scalpel" of magic in comparison to the "hammer" of Evocation, which is just calling up an element to produce a quick, crude (but instant) effect on the fly.
  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy: Demon-summoning is extremely complicated, primarily involving magical circles and knowing the name of the demon, but also knowing dozens of other languages, candles, incenses, not leaving the circle until you are sure the demon won't hurt you, and knowing how to play various music instruments well, among other things. And that's just the basics, as demon summoning just becomes more complex from there.
    • Note that, in this universe, anyone can theoretically do magic; the main reason there's a separation between magicians and Muggles is because, in order to learn magic, you basically have to pass a test as a child saying you have genius intelligence, 'cause otherwise you'll probably blow yourself up.
    • You also basically have to be a cold, Manipulative Bastard to stop someone else blowing you up.
  • Discworld: Parodied: magic doesn't work like this, but wizards often act as though it does because it looks impressive. The Rite of Ashk-Ente is the classic example: it can be cast by a single powerful wizard with three bits of wood and a fresh egg, but if you don't have eight archmages chanting at the corners of an octagram filled with occult paraphenalia, you aren't doing it properly.
  • Harry Potter: Some elements of the setting's magic are hermetic. The most notable instance is probably the resurrection of Voldemort in Goblet of Fire, which consists of a complex ritual involving a series of symbolic sacrifices. There's also an "Ancient Runes" class taught at Hogwarts which presumably relates to this form of magic, but the subject matter is never actually depicted in either the novels or their film adaptations.
  • Cthulhu Mythos: Spells and summonings involve exhaustive research, intricate methods, rare materials (some of alien origin), specifics dates of preparation and some innate abilities that few people have. The complexity and obscurity of these procedures gives them an occultist and alchemist feel, as well as explaining why the Great Old Ones are so unknown to the public (in-universe, of course). In fact, in this universe, magic is not presented as a separate issue from science, but more as an special form of it. Mixing sci-fi with occultism is one of the most characteristic elements of Lovecraftian literature and the Weird Science genre in general.
  • Master of the Five Magics by Lyndon Hardy has, oddly enough, five different schools of magic, all of which are hermetic to some extent. Alchemy and magic (yes, "magic" is one of the five branches of magic) are both entirely based on following rituals, often very highly detailed and complex ones. The other three are less ritual-based, but still usually require a fair amount of planning and props. However, one of the themes of the book, and especially its sequels, is that these rules may actually be rather less strict than most people believe.
  • The Kingkiller Chronicle Kvothe snobbily cracks a joke about Hermetic Magic while performing Sympathetic Magic, shouting "As above, so below!" as he calls a lightning bolt down. The only other character who even might understand the joke within a hundred miles of him is his target. Of the four kinds of magic that Arcanists learn — Sympathy, Sygaldry, Alchemy, and Naming — two are largely Hermetic; the runic Sygaldry of permanently enchanting objects and Alchemy.
  • The Traitor Son Cycle calls its Functional Magic hermeticism and utilizes some of the principles, most notably like-to-like and extensive use of geometry. This being said, it's augmented by Vancian Magic to some extent to make it more useful for combat.
  • The Wheel of Time is a possible subversion; channellers have specific motions they must make to weave a spell, but some particularly learned channellers suspect that the motions only matter personally to the channeller, and that whatever gestures they learned as spellcasting aids are what they personally are stuck with.
  • Mouse (2017): June teaches Mouse to do magic that involves drawing out complicated sigils on pieces of paper and using his mind and energy to activate them.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Forgotten Realms has Eltabbar, a city in Thay "some say named after a demon". It was planned as a huge magical diagram (much like Seyruun in Slayers) sealing Eltab. This was rather precarious, in that if someone draws a really good map of the city, it leaks the seal's power and when it gets destroyed, the seal holding the fiend is weakened a little more. So the Red Wizards had to outlaw mapping of the city under the pretext of security — and did the same with the rest of their land when they're at it.
    • Thieves' World d20 supplements from Green Ronin use Ritual magic as an alternative — usually the spell's casting time raises by an order of magnitude or so, but so does its duration and gathering enough of mana quickly obviously is less of a problem. Different classes have different affinity to these approaches: mages prefer spellcasting, priests ritual casting, witches balance them, and Godsworn advance only in ritual magic.
    • Though previously a bastion of the Vancian system, has changed to include a large chunk of Hermetic magic in 4th edition with the Rituals system.
    • Then there is Fifth Edition's Ritual Casting system, which you gain access to from either a number of class features or the 'Ritual Caster' feat. With it, you can cast spells without expending a spell slot or without even having spell slots, in the first place, with the downsides of a greatly decreased spell list and having to tack on an extra ten minutes to the spell's casting time. This type of casting is explicitly meant for pure utility spells like identify or tiny hut.
  • Ars Magica literally uses Hermetic Magic— in this case, a unified magic theory created by a master magus named Bonisagus, whose apprentice Trianoma founded the Order of Hermes. Somewhat different from the trope's definition, as Kabbalah and similar traditions are not included in Bonisagus' theory, but still includes rituals, time-consuming spellcasting and the like.
    • Mage: The Ascension, which is in part descended from Ars Magica, features the Order of Hermes as well, as one of the Traditions of magedom.
    • Similarly, Vampire: The Masquerade has the Tremere clan, who used to be House Tremere from Ars Magica until they realized that magic was fading, and with it, the immortality they'd purchased through alchemy. So, they corraled a bunch of vampires, forced them to Embrace, and got a new kind of immortality. They practice potent blood sorcery, but it's ultimately a bastardized version of the magic they practiced while alive. And if that wasn't enough, most of vampire kind views them as utter dicks because one of the first things they did after their formation was to ensure the destruction of one of the most decent clans in all of history, and the Order of Hermes's general philosophy for dealing with "the betrayers" is to Kill It with Fire. Ironically, Tremere was trying to legitimize his clan with the destruction of the Salubri; he thought if he could diablerize Saulot and claim his power, he could get a foothold in vampiric society. However, Tremere's entire life can be summed up with "It half-worked"...
    • In Mage: the Ascension's Continuity Reboot, Mage: The Awakening, Tremere liches are an evil Legacy of mages that extended their lifespan by stealing souls. Same family, though. Turns out in nWoD, mixing your supernatural types is a bad idea, more so than before, when it was just Special Snowflake Syndrome bait.
  • GURPS Thaumatology spends several pages listing all the Hermetic decans along with discussions of how they might be invoked, as did its predecessor, GURPS Cabal
  • The Hermetic tradition is one of the main traditions of magic in Shadowrun, which affects how the character has learned magic, his philosophical outlook towards magic, and how he performs rituals and spirit contracts. Hermetic mages are opposed to shamans (the other major tradition), with the two having a Technician Versus Performer sort of relationship towards magic. Hermeticism, with its focus on scientific and rational view of magic, research and secular learning, is the technician. In the flavor of the game, this all comes down to philosophical differences, and mages' usage of magic comes down to how they interpret magic and their influences (the latest edition rather famously noted that a mage's usage of magic can even be influenced by their childhood cartoons). In the mechanics, when you're out on the street throwing spells on the fly, the only major difference between a hermetic mage and a shaman is how they resist Drain.

    Video Games 
  • The Star Ocean games have Heraldry/Symbology/Runology, which involves etching symbols, on nearby surfaces or on the caster themselves, which can then be used to create spells. It is revealed in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time that the symbols are in fact parts of programming code for the virtual universe the characters live in, and allow them to warp reality. It Makes Sense in Context. One should also note that it still works when the main character uses his (and his love interest's and cousin's) literal gamebreaking code to open a portal to the 4th dimension, that is, the real world, where they are part of a video game.
  • High Magic in Lusternia is hermetic. It's basically a very well-researched ode to Qabbalah - each spell references an aspect of the Sephirot. It's diametrically opposed to the more illogical, intuitive branch known as Low Magic.
  • Where other Real-Time Strategy games have buildings and other structures, GrimGrimoire has Lillet inscribing various magic circles from which she summons demons, ghosts, and other units to overwhelm her enemy with. In general RTS have hints of it if they have a middle age theme and require certain buildings to cast advanced spells.
  • The Tales Series is full of them, especially Tales of the Abyss.
  • Naturally, the Hermetic Society in Crusader Kings II is all about this. It's not clear if they're achieving anything — only the Potion of Eudaiomnia, able to clear a person of stress and depression, seems especially fantastic — but the bonuses for their ritual are quite real, whatever their cause.

    Virtual Reality 
  • In The Wizards for the Oculus Quest, the player makes one of six simple gestures to summon magical weapons or a shield, or directly deal damage.
  • In Barrier Mage for the Web, the player draws one of six alchemical symbols to to burn, protect, or detect & drive off fantastic creatures.
  • Waltz of the Wizard on the Oculus Quest has "Air Drawing", but (like Tilt Brush) what you paint has no effect

    Visual Novels 
  • In Fate/stay night there are many rituals, the most important of which being summoning a Servant (needing various ingredients and a specific formula) and the Holy Grail War (the battle between the seven Servants, until their souls fill the system and allow to summon an all-powerful wish-granting machine. At least in theory).
  • Umineko: When They Cry. Seals of Solomon show up everywhere.

    Web Original 
  • The 'mindslave' spell Hekate uses in the Whateley Universe story "Christmas Elves". For that matter, humans with the time and inclination can learn and practice this style of magic without necessarily requiring innate superpowers in this universe; Wizard-class mutants just have a natural knack (and may, at higher levels, be able to work more comic-book style spontaneous magic as well).
  • Adylheim has low magic which fits this trope to a tee, although the precise mechanics of casting are generally skipped over.
  • Hanna Is Not a Boy's Name features the titular character, Hanna, who casts spells by writing runes with a magic marker.

    Western Animation 
  • In Gargoyles, human magic requires intensive study, even if the actual incantation is only a simple phrase. However, once the requisite spell and gestures are memorized you're usually good to go unless you need ingredients. Magic of the Third Race, however, averts this entirely. They just speak a little rhyme and they're good.

    Real Life 
  • There are a number of groups still practicing Hermeticism, despite many occultists going over to the less intense/time consuming Chaos Magic and Wicca-influenced stuff. Aleister Crowley, the Ordo Templi Orientis, and the Rosicrucians fall under this umbrella; two out of the three are still around, and the third was kind of just one guy, so you can excuse him for not living forever.

Notable exceptions:

    Anime and Manga 
  • Inuyasha is chock-full of traditional Japanese magic (and monsters). Also Rumiko Takahashi's earlier Urusei Yatsura, despite being nominally science fiction.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Fate/stay night and Fate/Zero, the two Caster-class Servants: Fate/Zero's Caster has a magic book that allows him to summon small monsters without the ritual usually necessary (bigger monsters, like Chtulhu — yes, he summoned it too — still need a ritual), while Fate/stay night's Caster is so good as a mage that she can spam spells that would require long rituals, like her trademark Rain of Light (a normal mage would need a magic circle, a ten-count aria and a full minute, or thirty seconds if the mage's very good, to cast a single beam of light. She needs a single word to fire thousands of them). She can do this by speaking Divine Words, which modern humans are physically incapable of pronouncing.

    Real Life 
  • It should be noted that in the classical ("Solomonic") Western Esoteric tradition from which many of these examples (directly or not) derive from, there generally wasn't an expectation that the ritual alone could cause the spell to work; rather, practitioners believed that the ritual would summon a spirit that the magician would then order about.