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The Laws of Magic

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When people go around using magic at random in fiction, certain laws are employed to explain how such magic works. This is particularly true of Functional Magic. It is not, however, true of Psychic Powers, and Ley Line magic, Theurgy, Force Magic, Alchemy, and Wild Magic may operate on different rules. Some constants, such as the law of Association, may still be true though (a person with Psychic Powers may be able to sense someone due to common traits).

These aren't the laws of the real universe; those are covered by science. Rather, these are quirks of human psychology. Magic that works by these laws will seem plausible enough (to a human audience) in a fictional work, and real-world human superstitions tend to take one of these forms.

This is not totally confined to fiction however, as some forensic rules also use these. For example, the Law of Association comes under Locard's Theory, and anyone with a phone book prior to the age of cellphones would be using the Law of Names to look up someone's name and number.

Related to Functional Magic and Magic A Is Magic A. See also Theory of Narrative Causality. Contrast with Scientifically Understandable Sorcery where magic follows the laws of the real universe except using an energy source and methods that fall outside science.

Not to be confused with the book series The Laws Of Magic, despite the story using many of the below.

The Laws

Most of these have been ripped wholly from this site, which in turn took them from Isaac Bonewits'note  book Real Magic. Bonewits in turn took the Laws of Similarity and Contagion from James George Frazer's The Golden Bough.

  • The Law of Knowledge: With understanding comes control and power. (This law is responsible for things like Awesome by Analysis).
    • Law of Self-Knowledge: One who does not know himself, having never tested himself or his limitations does not know what he can do. And the reverse is also true. (This law is responsible for things like Literal Split Personality, where other sides of self that are previously unknown come to light dramatically)
  • The Law of Names: Related to both the Law of Knowledge and the Law of Association. The law simply states that by knowing the true and complete name of a phenomenon or entity gives you complete control over it (This law is responsible for things like I Know Your True Name).
    • Law of Words of Power: Knowing the name of a phenomenon allows you to summon it. (This law is responsible for things like Calling Your Attacks, and why it is a bad idea to Speak of the Devil).
      • Law of Attraction: Merely the act of thinking a lot about what you expect (desire or fear) will summon that thing. (from modern spiritualism)
  • Law of Association: This law is the most commonly and frequently used of all the laws of magic. This states things react upon each other by their connection with each other (see Locard's Theory above).
    • Law of Similarity: Like things produce like things, or that an effect resembles its cause (in other words, the Butterfly of Doom and numerous other cause-and-effect tropes).
    • Law of Contagion: This law states that things which have once been in contact with each other continue to act on each other at a distance even after physical contact has been severed. The Voodoo Doll (when powered by the victim's hair or blood) is the most famous application of this law, but there are many, many more examples.
    • Law of Synecdoche (from the Lord Darcy series) "the part is equivalent to the whole". An example would be using someone's hair to cast a spell on them. Often seen as a sub-part of the Law of Contagion.
      • Law of Identification (Imitation): Where one entity assumes the characteristics of another. The more the first entity knows about the second the better the imitation. Seen as a combination of Contagion and Similarity. (From which we get the Doppelgänger trope)
    • Law of Relevance: added to the Law of Contagion in the Lord Darcy series. The effectiveness of the connection created by the Law of Contagion depends upon the relevance of the contact. For example, if only one person has ever worn an old pair of shoes, it's easy to use the shoes magically to identify that person, because that person is very relevant to those shoes - the wear suffered by those shoes is substantial and caused by a single pair of feet. However, identifying the last person to use, say, a house pair of bowling shoes is difficult or impossible, because that person has no special relevance to those shoes, as hundreds of different feet have caused the wear within the shoes. Also, a pair of shoes that have barely been used has no special relevance to the wearer, as there is no wear on the shoes yet.
  • Law of Opposites: The synthesis on two opposing or conflicting ideas or pieces of data will produce a new, third idea that will not be a compromise of the original two (Yin-Yang Bomb and Fusion Dance are examples).
    • Law of Polarity: anything can be separated into two opposite parts with each part having its own essence (Black-and-White Morality from Grey-and-Gray Morality for instance).
    • Law of Balance: One's energy or power level must be kept on an even keel, too much or too little will kill oneself (Heroic RRoD is a good example).
  • Law of Infinite Data: There always new information for one to learn. The sources of knowledge are limitless if one wishes to tap them. (Great Big Library of Everything or Cyberspace is a good source of infinite data)
  • Law of Finite Senses: One's senses are finite. They are limited to the amount of information which one can absorb and process at any given time (This trope is responsible for You Cannot Grasp the True Form).
  • Law of Infinite Universes: Each person sees his universe or world a different way; therefore, no two people have identical views of the world. (Alternate Universe is the most obvious trope example, though this is from a universal rather than personal perspective).
    • Law of Pragmatism: If it works, it's true (From this we get things like Combat Pragmatist).
    • Law of True Falsehoods: If it's a paradox, the paradox is probably true (Logic Bomb is the most obvious example).


  • According to Jewish tradition, the Name of God (which is commonly written as YHWH, but there's supposedly a much longer version of this name only used by the Jewish high priest) is forbidden to be said, despite being being said liberally throughout The Bible. This is definitely part of the Law of Names, and is likely due to fear of misuse or simply turning the name of God into a mundane word.
  • The Dresden Files: The title character uses the Law of Contagion as a basic crime-solving technique.
    • He used the Law Of Infinite Data to send Ivy a message on one occasion. The Law of Names is also frequently used or mentioned in the series.
  • Ironically, these laws in regard to Functional Magic are largely averted in fantasy due to a combination of the fact that the full list of laws is somewhat obscure, with the exception of the Law Of Knowledge (basically in order to use magic someone has to know enough to use it), the Law of Names (in works where I Know Your True Name is in play), the Law of Words of Power, and the Law of Balance (mainly just used because otherwise people cast spells one right after another with no fatigue or anything).
    • Even the Law of Knowledge is sometimes ignored, in cases where the person doesn't know he has magic powers uses them without meaning to. Like Harry Potter shrinking the horrible sweater, or teleporting away from the bullies, or freeing the snake.
  • Terry Brooks' Shannara series frequently uses Law of Balance. Basically, the idea is that magic used up takes its toll on the body, and using more than the body has (well, it produces Shadowen).
  • Every fantasy setting created by Harry Turtledove uses two fundamental laws of magic, the Law of Similarity (two similar-looking things have a magical link) and the Law of Contagion (two things that have touched have a magical link). Examples include Videssos and the Darkness Series—in the latter, research mages discover a new fundamental connection between the two laws, which allows them to create a Fantastic Nuke.

Alternative Title(s): Law Of Contagion