Follow TV Tropes


Old Magic

Go To

Old Magic is a system of Functional Magic that has been mostly or entirely replaced by a newer system of magic, which might be refined from it or completely unrelated. This paradigm may be enforced by a Ban on Magic of the older kind. There are various reasons the old system may have fallen out of favor:

  • Its secrets were kept by only a few, and are now mostly lost.
  • Its use depends on having a connection with unpleasant or unsavory gods, especially The Old Gods who nobody wants to have relations with anymore.
  • It has an extra cost compared to new magic, such as blood or souls.
  • It depends on special sources of energy that are now mostly depleted.
  • It's unpredictable or unreliable, possibly a form of Wild Magic.
  • It's associated with a group (ethnic, religious, gender, etc.) that is subject to prejudice by the current cultural authority, and is thus suppressed.
  • It simply doesn't work as well, though because Older Is Better in fantasy, this justification is rare.

Another take on Old Magic is that it's exceedingly simple, to the point that just about anyone can use it if they have basic knowledge. However, this also means that it's very easy to anticipate and counteract, so it's seldom actually useful in conflict.

Because of the Chekhov's Gun principle, once Old Magic is mentioned in a setting it's bound to come into play at some point. Maybe the villain uses it because they are too desperate or sociopathic to care about the costs. Maybe the heroes use it because it's the only thing that can solve their specific problem, and they just have to deal with the extra problems it causes. Or maybe there's an Archaeological Arms Race underway to find the secrets of this old magic so that it can be rediscovered and exploited.

Because of the link to antiquity, Old Magic is often associated with Precursors. It might be dependent on a forgotten Language of Magic or a Primordial Tongue, and it might work on different rules than the magic system everyone knows, making it a form of Wrong Context Magic.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Black Clover, the Heart Kingdom, being a country rich in nature, uses magic attributes found in nature (water, lightning, plant, etc.) and natural mana as runes to empower their spells. The Clover Kingdom abandoned the protection of natural mana long ago as the country became more technologically advanced. The country lost the techniques of natural mana rune arrays and, in turn, developed more eccentric magic attributes like chain, spatial, and steel that their Old Magic counterparts did not have.
  • In Fairy Tail, "Lost Magic" refers to ancient forms of magic that have been almost entirely lost to the modern day, making users exceedingly rare. Lost Magic, such as Natsu's Fire Dragon Slayer Magic tends to be extremely powerful relative to the typical forms used by the average wizard, and are often only learned from incredibly old tomes or practitioners (i.e. dragons).
  • In Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, magic was practiced by races like the elves more than a thousand years before the gods descended to the Lower World. It's still practiced in the present day by the elves and certain magic schools like the ones in Altena, but even the strongest of these spells tends to be vastly inferior in destructive power to magic granted by falna or a grimoire.
  • Magi: Labyrinth of Magic: most of the magic in the world is performed by magicians and Djinns by using the Rukh composing the elements of nature, combining them with formulae to achieve their effects. However, after the magic-intensive Magnostadt arc, other types of older, far more rare magics have shown up, including Alchemy (shown by the Magi Yunan) and Solomon's magic, which allows him to pretty much manipulate and twist the laws of physics itself. Aladdin later masters both magics.
  • Zig-Zagged in the Lyrical Nanoha series. In the first season, every mage uses a tradition of magic later dubbed the "Midchilda System", after the current central hub of the magic-using worlds. However, season two introduces characters wielding the much older "Belkan System", once used throughout the Belkan Empire, Abusive Precursors of the current magic civilization. While not inherently more powerful than the Midchildan System, the Belkan one is much more geared towards combat, making its users a major threat. However, in the ten-year Time Skip before the next season, Midchildan combat mages reverse-engineer Belkan magic and fuse the two systems into the so-called "Modern Belkan System", which becomes the most common form of Belkan-style magic in the multiverse, while the Old Belkan system more or less dies out again.
  • In Outlaw Star, old magic has all but vanished from the universe, with most of what's left stored in Caster shells for later use. The Space Pirates use Tao magic instead.
  • Overlord (2012): The Dwarf Craftsman arc sees Ainz go to the dwarf lands looking for runesmiths. However, rune magic has been more or less abandoned by the dwarves, as enchanting items with tiered magic is far more efficient and requires less training (although rune magic doesn't involve material costs). Ainz revives the art of making runic items thanks to having a few cheap runic items with him, inviting dwarf craftsmen to work in Carne. He also orders his demonic minions to fake a weakness to runic weapons so as to increase demand for them.

  • In Black Trillium, specifically in Julian May's sequel timeline, the magic of the eponymous Trillium artifacts is older than even the Neglectful Precursors. In the final installment, a bad guy attempts to use his own, incredible old magic to kill Princess Kadya, wielder of one of said artifacts, only to be killed by the blowback, having admittedly forgotten that Older Is Better in the setting and that one of the artifacts' basic powers is protecting their wielder's life.
  • The Discworld:
    • In The Colour of Magic, the dryad Druellae calls her magic "Not your weasel-faced tame magic, but root-and-branch magic, the old magic. Wild magic." Rincewind remembers just enough magical theory to understand what she's doing (which, ironically, is a magitek Faraday disc), and that UU strictly forbids it.
    • Sourcery, in the novel of that title, is an older form of magic that turns out to have been effectively suppressed (mostly by preventing wizards from having children, because an eighth son of an eighth son is always a wizard, and if he has an eighth son, they'll be a sourcerer); this was necessary because sourcery is self-reinforcing; the cost of using it is the growing danger of destroying the world.
    • Sympathetic Magic is considered "so old it hardly counts as magic anymore", and every witch and wizard knows well the importance of destroying hair and nail clippings so that they can't be misused. Likewise, the Tooth Fairy collects the teeth of children specifically so that they can't be used for such magic. Unfortunately, in Hogfather this only makes the Tooth Fairy's castle a major target for someone wishing to control all the world's children at once.
  • Dragaera: Elder Sorcery, which uses pure Chaos for power, was outlawed as soon as the Dragaeran Empire was founded. All Dragaerans can perform a safer form of sorcery through their psychic link to the Imperial Orb, whereas Elder Sorcery has a nasty habit of going haywire and dissolving the sorcerer and their surroundings.
  • Harry Potter: Harry being imbued with protection by Lily's Heroic Sacrifice is referred to by Dumbledore and Voldemort as "old magic", apparently predating the spells-and-potions type magic that is currently widespread. When Voldemort uses more old magic to resurrect himself, he incorporates Harry's blood so that he'll gain Lily's protection for himself. In so doing, he inadvertently gives Harry an extra layer of protection against himself.
  • In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Aslan is resurrected by the "old magic" on the Stone Table where he is sacrificed, because he was innocent, a rule the White Witch seems to have forgotten. Who placed this magic and why are never explained, though in The Magician's Nephew we see that Aslan personally created Narnia, so he would naturally know about such magic and may have put it there himself specifically for this occasion.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, the practice of making magic rings was once common, but stopped when it was discovered that Sauron had made a Master Ring that controlled the rest. Since then, most have been destroyed or lost, save for the nine rings that empower the Ringwraiths, and the three Elven rings that were made without Sauron's knowledge and that he can't directly influence.
  • Alan Garner's The Moon of Gomrath deals with the leakage of Faerie back into the real modern world (The '60s Britain). The Wizard Cadellin is a Guardian of the High Magic and speaks, in a somewhat sniffy and condescending way, about the wild untamed Old Magic being a thing for women and witches, and that it's a damn good thing this was tamed and shut off from the world. He is not best pleased that Susan gave it a doorway to return when she lit wendfire on Gomrath Eve.
  • Old Kingdom: The original form of magic is Free Magic, the manipulation of raw power. Given its corrosive effect on the bodies and minds of its users, the Bright Shiners created the Charter to filter magic through a safer system of runes, and Free Magic was outlawed.
  • Star Wars Legends: Sith sorcery and alchemy is something of a downplayed example as, while many of its secrets have been lost in the millennia before the Rule of Two, it often gets rediscovered by Sith lords who go raiding the old Sith temples for an edge on their competition.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Shakespeare Code", the Carrionites are aliens who use word-based "science" which is basically magic by any other name. The Doctor is able to use its principles against them, banishing one temporarily by announcing their name.
    The Doctor: The power of a name. That's old magic.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Ars Magica: Bonisagus codified a unified theory of magic when he founded the Order of Hermes, which became the standard for magical instruction in the Western world. However, his research overlooked many older traditions, including various hedge magics, Norse rune magic, Canaanite Necromancy, and even the lost language of Adam, which are less versatile but can accomplish results that Hermetic theory thinks impossible.
  • Warhammer Fantasy:
    • Runic Magic is an extremely ancient art practiced solely by the dwarves, and even they have only a few who've mastered it. Part of it is because many were lost in the destruction of the dwarf empire, another because they only pass down knowledge orally, but also because dwarves are very long-lived and dubious of the skill of anyone who hasn't been a runesmith for at least hundreds of years.
    • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition: Among humans, the Old Faith is a nature-based religion with Druidic magic that predates both the Colleges of Wizardry and the pantheons of the Old World. Later editions drop these mechanics and describe the Old Faith as having been subsumed into the cults of various nature gods.

    Video Games 
  • Dark Souls: The Demon Firesage is described by its Soul item description as the last practitioner of the old fire magic arts before the Chaos Flame transformed him into a demon. Unlike every other fire-based creature in the game, he does Magic damage instead of Fire. This is because his fire is treated as a Spell, whereas most fire-base magic is connected to the First Flame in a relatively new art called Pyromancy.
  • Final Fantasy XIV: The lore of Final Fantasy XIV is divided into perpetual cycles of prosperity (known as "Astral Eras"), followed by apocalyptic cataclysms that lead to sharp decline (known as "Umbral Eras"). Many of these cycles were thus dominated by different forms of magic.
    • In the original "Astral" era, there was the society of the Ancients, also known as the Amaurotines or, as modern people know them, "Ascians". Their magical abilities and technology were on a level that no one has even approached since. By all accounts, they were a wise and benevolent race of scholars whose innate magical abilities were so strong that each one was a minor Reality Warper. They were able to will concepts and ideas into being, with stronger or more complex concepts and ideas usually requiring an assembly of their best and brightest to research and refine. Ultimately, they were destroyed by their own fears and negative feelings brought to life; the fear that their great civilization would one day fall actually led to the creation of a cataclysm that unwove the laws of physics and caused horrifying monstrosities to come to life.
    • Modern humanoid races began to learn magic in the Second Umbral Era. Magic in this period of time was heavily based on prayer, which led to the rise of theocracies as the major powers, leading into the Second Astral Era. It's later hinted that these prayers were basically weaker versions of the magics the Ancients were capable of. The difference being that while the Ancients had so much magical power that they were capable of sustaining their summoned ideas on their own, the weaker mortal races that followed after relied upon strong external sources of aether to do the same.
    • In the Third Astral Era, the Allagan Empire was formed utilizing extremely powerful Magitek and magical power that came to dominate most of the world. To this day, most of the secrets of their magic and how it worked has been lost.
    • In the Fifth Astral Era, three magocratic societies arose: Nym, Mhach and Amdapor, who used White Magic, Black Magic and Arcane (Scholar) magic respectively. These societies went to war with one another, leading into a conflict known as the War of the Magi that inevitably caused a great flood and destroyed civilization in the Sixth Umbral Era. Centuries later, most of the secrets and capabilities of the White, Black and Scholar mages have been lost, with most people eager to keep it that way. Red Mages, in fact, were created based on the idea of keeping Black and White magic balanced.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Fate/stay night, Caster is able to wield spells from the Age of Gods that vastly outstrip the raw firepower of modern day magecraft. Due to possessing the ability to use Divine Words lost to humans in the present, she can perform incredible feats with a single word when it would take entire teams of modern-day magi chanting for several minutes to do the same.
  • Two variations show up in Dies Irae. First is Rusalka who uses a much older type of magic compared to the Die Ewigkeit that everyone else uses. While this magic is stated to have been much more common in ancient times, it is near extinct now. And then there is the man who taught her magic, Mercurius, who on top of the magic he taught Rusalka also uses a type of magic that is so inconceivably ancient that he is the only one who uses it. This is cause it is a type of magic from the prior universe that he is originally from and as he is now the current ruling God, meaning he taps into a source of magic that is even more ancient than that, allowing him to warp the fabric of reality to his whims and is the source of all magic. And the reason this magic is so rare now is due to him nearing the end of his life.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
  • In The Owl House, the indigenous demons and witches of the Boiling Isles evolved a gland on their heart that allows its inhabitants to cast spells on command. However, it is implied that witches were originally able to draw power from the Isles itself in the form of glyphs found in the environment called "Wild Magic", something that Luz discovers and learns how to harness.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power:
    • The language of the First Ones hasn't been spoken in a thousand years, but Adora is able to read it without having learned it. The magic sword that allows her to transform into She-Ra, as well as other First Ones "technology," is also this.
    • It turns out the First Ones actually used their technology to weaponize the even older magic of Etheria. They also altered the She Ra line, containing their power within a sword so the First Ones could control them. Their tampering also weakened all the magic in Etheria, which becomes a major plot point in season 5.
  • In The Dragon Prince, most humans can only use magic by drawing from a magically-charged object. Viren and his daughter Claudia figure out how to take magic from living magical creatures, albeit at terrible costs to themselves (and to the creatures.) Later, Prince Callum figures out another, less harmful way of using magic, by learning to comprehend arcana on an instinctive level, tapping into an even older magic than even Viren and Claudia's.