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Sympathetic Magic

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"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 and Voodoo Doll, where a representation of the subject is used to affect the original. Subtrope of Eye of Newt.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Death Note, one of the rules or the titular book is that you need to know both a persons real name and their face in order for it to work.
  • 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.
  • Naruto:
    • One of the requirements of performing Edo Tensei is the would-be-resurrected's DNA.
    • Hidan's Blood Magic inflicts wounds made to his body (generally just an annoyance) on whoever's blood he's ingested.

    Fan Works 
  • Abraxas (Hrodvitnon): In this Godzilla MonsterVerse fanfiction, this trope is discussed by Ghidorah and a Bone Singer, in the Exposition Beam in Chapter 5. The Bone Singer comments that their culture believes claiming an enemy's head allows one to claim the enemy's soul.
  • 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.
  • Child of the Storm has this as the speciality of both Harry Dresden and John Constantine. In the latter case, it's unexpected, as Constantine is a Wanded Wizard (a fairly average one), and thaumaturgy is Wandless magic, and few Wanded Wizards have any kind of talent for wandless magic. It's also one of a number of similarities between the two that make Dresden very uneasy.
    • The Grey Court of Vampires are big on this, via drinking blood - if they drink the blood of a superhuman, it gives them a temporary boost. If they conduct a certain ritual, they can gain the additional abilities permanently, which forms the basis of the Bloody Hell arc in the sequel when Dracula tries to use the ritual to make him, and all other vampires he's sired, immune to daylight.
    • Also in the sequel, Thor tries to use this by hurling Mjolnir into the Red Room base as it teleports away. While it ends up in a region of the Nevernever that's too unstable to get a clear fix, it does eventually come in handy when the hammer, in Maddie's hands, ends up opening a portal back to Thor.
    • The villain of Clark and Harry's mini-arc, Doctor Robert Reynolds/Rudy Jones a.k.a. the Parasite, uses this (specifically a hair-clipping) to steadily siphon power off from Clark, with the only signs being that Clark has the symptoms of a cold when he really shouldn't. The subject is discussed in depth, with blood being noted as the best channel for immediate stuff, but hair being the best over time (blood dries out).
  • In A.A. Pessimal's Discworld saga Strandpiel, the Dungeon Dimension Things make a determined play to break into the world via a susceptible human. The human intermediary they choose to act as their agent is eight-year-old Ruth Smith-Rhodes-Stibbons, daughter of wizard Ponder. Ruth has just enough magic to make her interesting to the Things. She is also a gifted artist. The Things reason that a talented artist with a gift for drawing exactly what she sees can make them Real in the world when their likenesses circulate, to act on the imaginations of those who see them and thus to inculcate belief — and to give them a foothold in people's heads. Abducted to the Dungeon Dimensions, Ruth submits to becoming artist-in-residence to the Things and makes lots of drawings. But she is also the daughter of Assassin Johanna Smith-Rhodes. And takes after her mother, too. Ruth has an inhumation strategy planned all along. Paper burns. And she has a box of matches in her pocket. Once she has got their likenesses, she uses Sympathetic Magic against them..
  • With This Ring: As per canon, the Injustice League uses magical interference to make it difficult to find their location. Unlike canon, Paul has a piece of Teth Adom's bone, allowing Mr Zatara to successfully track down Black Adam, the current possessor of Teth Adom's divine gifts.

    Films — 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 result in her being Dragged Off to Hell as per the title. Christine spends the entire movie trying to come up with a way to avert this awful fate but ultimately fails.
  • From Beyond the Grave: In "An Act of Kindness", Mabel complains that someone in the street took her photo. Later, a gloved hand is seen cutting a lock of hair from her head while she is on the bus. It is later revealed that it is Emily who has been collecting personal items of Mabel's in order to work sympathetic magic against her.
  • Mirrors has a mirror demon that can kill people by possessing their reflections and making them do damage to themselves, which crosses over to their real bodies.
  • In Sheitan, Jeanne rips off a chunk of Bart's scalp (with hair attached) and gives it to Marie who pastes it on to the Creepy Doll she is making.

  • In The Immortals, 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.
  • Discworld:
    • 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 intends 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.
    • It's also mentioned in Hogfather that Wizards collect and burn loose hair and toenails to prevent Sympathetic Magic from happening. Sympathetic magic itself is described as "old magic", so old that it's not even proper magic any longer.
    • Played with in Witches Abroad, in which Voodoo is compared to mirror magic. Indeed, Granny reverses the effect of a Voodoo Doll to set it on fire when she plunged her arm into a burning torch.
      Mrs Googol: How did she do that?
      Nanny Ogg: She didn't. She let you do it.
  • In 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.
  • Magic by the Numbers: The two Principles of Thaumaturgy (the first magic) are:
    1. The Principle of Sympathy: Like produces like.
    2. The Principle of Contagion: Once together, always together.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • Gaining a part of a person allows you to use magic on them from a distance (or simply find them). 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 Small Favor, 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 shaves what remains of the hair off his head, the hair taken won't lead back to him.
    • As the series goes on, Harry becomes more creative in taking advantage of the connections between objects. For example, he learns how to make a listening device out of a can of Silly String, by spraying a bit of string on a door, then putting more of it in his ear. Since the two bits of string were part of the same liquid in the same can, Harry can use the connection to hear the vibrations picked up by the string on the door.
    • In one of the most extreme cases of this trope, Harry manages to create a Reality-Changing Miniature of the entirety of Chicago by carefully collecting pieces from various locations and incorporating them into their relative locations within a model of the city. The downside of this is a) he has to constantly update it, b) there's one hell of a lot of magic running through it (enough that if it went off, it would probably blow up his entire street), c) if he gets even one bit of it wrong, it'll probably blow his head off.
  • In The Island Of The Day Before by Umberto Eco, one of the characters attempts to use sympathetic magic to solve The Longitude Problem. "Weapon salve" supposedly established a link between the weapon and the victim: by stabbing a dog with a knife then thrusting the knife in a fire every day at noon, the dog would start whining in pain, giving the crew a means to tell the time.
  • In The Tales of Alvin Maker, 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.
  • The Princess Series: In 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.
  • His Dark Materials: In The Amber Spyglass, 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.
  • Dragon Jousters: Khefti-the-Fat is so worried about this that he makes his barber burn all the hair shaved from Khefti's head before Khefti leaves the barber shop.
  • In the Gentleman Bastard books, the Bondsmagi can use a person's blood or other body parts to track them down and make them more susceptible to other magic. In Republic of Thieves, a Bondsmage cures Locke of poison by adding his hair, blood, nail clippings, and breath to a wax effigy that "dies" on his behalf.
  • Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms: In One Good Knight, Adamant is magically compelled into the "evil dragon laying waste to the land" role because Solon has one of Adamant's lost scales.
  • Talion: Revenant: Sorcerers need something of a person to affect them with spells, like blood or hair.
  • This is one of many magical techniques in the Craft Sequence. In Ruin of Angels, a crime boss collects blood samples as collateral from people who are in his debt and uses sympathetic-magic-based torture to coerce them into paying.
  • The Enchanted Forest Chronicles' first book hinges on this principle, when wizards manage to tamper with a special stone used to select the king of the dragons by enchanting another stone from the same cave system. The protagonists manage to undo the effect by adding another, uncontaminated stone to the spell.
  • In The Kane Chronicles, there is a type of magic called Execration, which involved destroying a shabti, or figure, of someone to destroy the person themselves. It actually works on gods, though only to banish them deep into Duat, and the more powerful the target, the more it drains the caster. Michel uses it on Apophis to buy the Kane siblings some time. The siblings later learn of an even more powerful variant, called Shadow Execration, which uses the target's Sheut, or shadow. This variant is powerful enough to destroy gods permanently.
  • Heralds of Valdemar:
    • In Owlknight, Darian goes looking for his parents, who vanished ten years before, using two applications of sympathetic magic. He tracks down their campsite by using his own blood connection to them, and finds that Wild Magic transported them away in a Swap Teleportation. Left behind was his father's foot, sheared off by a Portal Cut, and he uses the bones to determine that his father is alive and get a general direction to start looking in.
    • Used for a bit of spycraft in Beyond. Duke Kordas Valdemar knows one of his lords is spying on him for the Emperor, and has tricked the lord into purchasing a fine desk which is bespelled to copy anything written on it into a drawer in Kordas's own desk, letting Kordas monitor the spy's dispatches. Kordas notes that carving his drawer and the spy's desk out of the same tree made the spellwork much easier.
  • Twelve Days: Thanks to quantum entanglement, people with sufficient Enlightenment Superpowers can kill others from across the world by ingesting some of their DNA, meditating on the victim, and then being killed.
  • Of Fire and Stars: Mare gets a Farspeaking connection to Dennaleia using a magic mirror by use of Dennaleia's stray hair so the Farspeaker can focus it.
  • Babel, or the Necessity of Violence:
    • The titular Mage Tower's Magitek security system admits anyone who's had a vial of their blood installed in a special control panel. When members are expelled, their vial is publicly shattered as they're tossed out.
    • Much of the region's Utility Magic isn't actually enchanted on-site, only set with silver bars that are sympathetically linked to control rods in Babel that generate the actual magic. In other words, whoever holds Babel can shut down the city's utilities at will.
  • This comes up a few times in the Silver John stories, most notably in "Vandy, Vandy" when a warlock attempts to attune a picture of John to him so that he can work evils on it. John throws a quarter at it, and much to the warlock's misfortune, the spell latches onto it and summons an embodiment of the myths surrounding George Washington.
  • The Magic Goes Away: In the short story "What Good is a Glass Dagger?", The Warlock laughs out loud on hearing that the wizard Wavyhill was known for carrying a sword. When asked what was so funny, he explained that no competent wizard would ever need a sword as a weapon — the only reason he would have one is as Sympathetic Magic to enhance his ahem 'sword'. Of course, it does mean that he has to bring the sword into bed with him when he wants to perform...
  • Swan's Braid & Other Tales of Terizan:
    • Terizan is careful to leave nothing that is connected with her behind in "The Lions of Al'Kazamir", as a wizard could use it for tracking her down otherwise.
    • She gets new equipment to steal from a wizard in "Sometimes, Just Because" as those which she's touched more often will have her "essence" which could be used for locating her.
  • The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: This is one of the more commonly encountered kinds of magic. It works by taking some bit of the target and using it as a conduit for casting curses, or making it into a clay model and using it to move the target about. The piece must be gotten back to break the magic; if the caster is using something non-physical, such as a name, this may be a problem.
  • Inkmistress: Asra's magical abilities can be lent to other people if they use a tincture that's made from her blood.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: In "The Christmas Invasion" the Sycorax, aliens who try to pass off their technology as magic, use a sample of human A+ blood sent up on a Mars probe to take control of everyone on Earth with A+ blood and threaten to make them throw themselves off cliffs unless half of humanity gives themselves up as slaves. It turns out to be a bluff as the Doctor hits the Big Red Button to make them jump and their survival instincts overpower the control.
  • 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 Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Catspaw" has advanced aliens take the appearance of human mystics, mounting their matter transmutation technology in what appear to be mystical implements. With said technology, they remotely affect the orbiting Enterprise using a scale model of the ship.
  • Supernatural
    • In the second season episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part One", Andy needs something that Dean has touched in order to mentally contact him.
    • In season five, the professional psychic Pamela needs something that Castiel has touched in order to get a "sneak peek" at him. The only thing available at that point is the burn mark on Dean's arm.
    • In season thirteen, opening a portal to an alternate universe requires a piece of hair from someone who has already been there as an ingredient to reach the right universe and not a wrong one.
  • 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.
  • In Grimm, Hexenbeast spells often involve this, most notably the shapeshifting spell, which requires the hair of the person the imbiber wants to change into. The Love Potion created by the Cupiditas in "Blind Love" also requires a hair from the person the Cupiditas wants their victim to have Single-Target Sexuality for.
  • The Terrible Interviewees Montage in Longitude ends with Sir Kenelm Digby (played by Stephen Fry) describing his idea for solving The Longitude Problem. He wounds dogs with a particular knife, intending to station one dog on each ship (along with a man whose job it is to keep the wound from healing), and then at noon each day plunges the same knife into a dish of irritant powder in Greenwich. The idea being, that this would transmit to the dogs at sea, and set them howling. Edmund Halley quickly ends the interview, looking like he's going to vomit.
  • In the horror anthology Ghosts, the episode "The Chemistry Teacher" is based around this trope. Philip is in love with the happily married Maddie, so he goes to a witch for a love spell, and she enchants Maddie's bracelet. When the spell works too well, Philip tries to break it by giving Maddie back the bracelet — but her jealous husband steals it and melts it down, causing Maddie to burn alive.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): This is used at the climax of "Jess-Belle". Billy-Ben manages to kill Jess-Belle (who has become a monster) by taking the dress she made for her wedding, putting it on a dummy, and stabbing the dress in the heart with Jess-Belle's silver pin.
  • Dark Winds: Ada uses the hair of victims to curse them with her magic.
  • Wild Cards (2024): In "Howl to Get Away Murder" as Cole and Max look into a murder within a small town, three suspects steal some clothing they have, then are caught burning it for a ritual to make them leave. They turn out to practice witchcraft together. None are guilty of the murder though.

  • "The Figurehead" by The Merry Wives Of Windsor is about a captain who makes a figurehead shaped like his wife to put on his ship. But every time the ship goes to sea and suffers damage, he comes home to find his wife has a similar injury. Finally the wife has had enough and jumps into the sea... not to drown herself but to sink the ship.

  • An episode of The Magnus Archives features Angela, an evil old woman who can arrange someone's death as long as she has an object taken from the victim — not a gift, it has to have been taken.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Ars Magica: Objects associated with a creature or location provide an "arcane connection" that can range from weak and short-lived (e.g.: shed skin) to powerful and indefinite (e.g.: a magus' Familiar), and are strengthened by elements like the target's name, signature, and likeness. Arcane connections are hugely valuable because they allow spells to be cast on the target from any distance and help to overcome Magic Resistance.
  • 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 can't be dealt with on a family site.
  • A few Dungeons & Dragons spells use this: having a person's possessions or a part of their body available makes it harder for them to resist magical surveillance and tracking or invading their dreams.
  • In Ironclaw a few thaumaturgic spells use "synecdoche" for tracking or scrying, or even to teleport to the larger self's location.

    Video Games 
  • Baldur's Gate II: Jaheira's personal quest involves dealing with an old enemy of hers who has put an unbreakable curse on her that slowly kills her. The only reason the spell works in the first place is that it uses a lock of Jaheira's hair as a focus (how Ployer got it is never revealed, though given his fondness for mercenaries he probably paid someone to steal it), and the spell breaks once Jaheira recovers it.
  • The Jackbox Party Pack: The Witch in "Monster Seeking Monster" steals a hair from each new player they date. When their identity is revealed, they get a bonus heart for each hair they have.
  • Monkey Island, which uses voodoo as stated above.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner - Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon, a Skill-order demon's ability to disguise Raidou as someone else requires a lock of the target's hair to work.
  • This Starry Midnight We Make: How Shingoh helps the Basin's magic reach and affect locations by focusing on someone highly connected to the location, with some of their hair, such as Nagare Toshika, schoolgirl who walks on Main Street, or Yi Xinghua who owns a Chinese Restaurant over the area being targeted.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Animation 
  • In the second Mystery Skulls video, "Freaking Out", the demon Shiromori uses some kind of residual energy from locations or objects to create magical flowers. These flowers represent a person and their petals can be used to track down that individual. When one of the flowers gets trampled, the person it represents seems to get a sudden sense of dread from it, though no physical harm seems to be done.

  • 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.

    Web Videos 
  • Brocéliande: The coven of witches suggest to the druids that they'd obtain a personal item from Merlin so that they'd cast a spell on him through it. Master de Kermoal points out they already have a spy at Merlin's lab, but it is so much in disarray that it's hard to find anything useful. Then the elves show a shark tooth they'd stolen from the lab.

    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.
  • In The Dragon Prince, a piece of the subject's hair or nails is required for a tracking spell.