Welcome to Cloudsville. If you're new, don't forget to sign up and say hi in the Introduction forum.

The mechanics of magic

Go down

The mechanics of magic

Post by WovenTales on Wed Feb 27, 2013 5:48 pm

Hopefully this it the right forum for it. Anyway, I'm wondering what people's headcanons are on the nature of magic, and what you think of mine. It originally started as just an effort to say that earth ponies aren't as useless as they seem, but then forked out of control. Three thousand words out of control. I don't blame anyone who's less than interested in reading something this ridiculously long. And, yes, responses can be shorter.

As a side note, the first four paragraphs—and to a lesser extent, the fifth and the last—are actually all that was planned and carefully thought out. Everything else just seemed to naturally fall into place almost as quickly as it popped into my head.

Collapsed for length:
Let's start with the not uncommon assumption that there are three types of magic featured in the show, and for convenience's sake, name them after the ponies that wield them: earth pony magic, pegasus magic, and unicorn magic. The last is impossible to refute, and small cues in the show (including references to "unicorn powers" in both the intro and the pageant, implying the need to distinguish the magic of unicorns from something else) and Faust's own plans support this tripartite distinction. Besides, using just about any other assumption would put me at an immediate disadvantage when trying to argue for powerful earth ponies.

So, first let's describe "magic." Unicorn powers. The stereotypical wizardly force. Well, that's actually the gist of it. It's what almost all of the stories give their (human) wizards, enchanters, sorcerers, and whatever other synonyms they decide to use. You imagine something, say a few words, wave a wand, and magic appears. If you're powerful or clever enough, there's usually a good chance that you can do almost anything with it, even if you have to skirt the edges a bit. (Can't fly or levitate objects? Then harden the air below them!) It's obvious, visible, and what we know, but it's not the only thing we've written about.

Faerie and elven magic is also rather common, though certainly not nearly as widespread as that of wizards. It works on something external (often natural), making plants grow into the perfect forms for a treetop city or taming wild creatures to serve some uncommon role. It's hidden: an elf might talk softly to whatever they're enchanting, but they aren't going to be waving a wand or flinging flashes of light around. However, like that of unicorns, it usually has a certain agency to it, where the wielder is causing something they want to happen. Looking at the weather factory, I'd say this describes pegasus magic rather nicely, if we restrict it to the sky—Fluttershy is an exception, tying in with a few points I'll introduce later. There's no glowing auras about pegasi as they move clouds around. Their magic works on something besides themselves, while a unicorn will channel her magic through herself, even when the goal is on the other side of the room.

And now we get to earth ponies. They don't seem to do anything, and this leads many people to forget Faust's assertion that they have their own magic. But what can we see if we look harder? Pinkie Pie has her Pinkie Sense. Granny Smith makes amazing Zap Apple Jam, and Apple Fritter makes the best darn apple fritters you've ever tasted. Applejack can kick a tree once and make all the apples fall neatly into three buckets. I'd argue that this is how earth pony magic expresses itself: passively, through the pony's everyday work. Still doesn't help with the underpowered aspect, though, does it? I've been pulling analogues to help visualize the ponies' powers, and in doing so invoke them, almost, to show what they can do beyond simple explanation, but there's not really that much in the Western mythos for earth ponies; the closest I can come up with is the stereotypical native culture, at one with the land. Granny Smith's pre-cooking rituals are not simply superstitions that may or may not improve the jam, they're actually rituals to endow the jars, the jam, and the process with her own magic. Applejack does it even less consciously, but such precision bucking wouldn't be possible for a pony of any other race. The Pinkie Sense is the exaggeration of an extra sense I'd say most earth ponies have, which allows them to feel the world around them in more detail than anypony else, and maybe even extends to being aware of the flows of the various magics.

So how do these all interact? Well, we have two external forces calling on ambient magic—"environmental"—and one more internally channeled—let's call it "volatile." One passive and two active. It's easy to visualize this as a triangle, with each type of magic at one point, along with the corresponding race. It also seems like the active-passive division is the stronger; while the environmental-volatile distinction still definitely exists, it is easier to identify with the other side. Essentially what this means is that a pegasus (active/environmental) is able to imagine themselves in the viewpoint of both other races, but will find that of the unicorn (active/volatile) more familiar, while a unicorn could see a pegasus's perspective on the world, but will find that of the earth pony (passive/environmental) almost impossibly different. The reverse may be a bit easier simply due to the visibility of the volatile magic, but give an earth pony a horn and access to unicorn powers and I'm willing to bet she'll have just as little idea about how to use them.

Of course, there is plenty of interplay between the forces. A more passively-inclined pegasus will express some of their powers in a manner reminiscent of those of an earth pony (Fluttershy, anyone?), while one with a closer connection to the volatile power will be able to use it to act on themselves—the smoke, rainbow, and lightning trails of the Wonderbolts, Rainbow Dash, and Lightning Dust are a likely example of this (and wasn't there one scene where a pegasus was creating small arcs of electricity around their hooves?). Pinkie is outrageously magical—not only is her Pinkie Sense amazingly clear and accurate, but some of her fourth-wall- and physics-breaking is probably due to extreme levels of earth pony magic. Keep in mind, though, that not every pony is as powerful as every other. The main six certainly all have very strong magic, even if they aren't all in the exact corners, but ponies like Davenport (the Quill and Sofa salespony) and, yes, Derpy, are probably no higher than average.

See that admission up there that we don't really have anything comparable to an earth pony to use as an example? I'd say this is because we model our stories after ourselves and our worldview, and that we're the closest to unicorns. A mixture of all three, certainly, but we as a species start out closer to them, and our culture just pushes us even further into that corner. We are definitely active. We value getting things done, and we devote most of our skills to furthering either ourselves or our group and develop those skills most helpful in our situation for that purpose. Volatile is more an observation of our culture rather than our species, but we usually value self-improvement over that of a larger group, or, to put it another way, improvement of the group by bettering ourselves—if someone has the choice of taking a higher position in a company or giving it to someone else, all factors being the same and ignoring anything like preferring the field to the desk, they'll very likely choose the promotion for themself. Now, this is much more evidenced in our personalities than it is in that of ponies; an earth pony is not any more likely than a unicorn to be lazy and a unicorn isn't automatically more selfish. Unfortunately, while ponies' views of themselves and the world are strongly influenced by both their culture and their magic, we don't have any equivalent for the latter, so I needed to solely use our culture and the resulting personality instead of looking at any layer above that.

So what does this mean? We're like the unicorn in that we, inherently, are unable to completely understand an earth pony's mind. Because of this, we only imagine a portion of how they see the world, and miss almost all effects their magic has on it. In doing so, we can't understand their full power and thus relegate them to the role of weakest of ponies. Were it the other way around—if we shared the perspective of an earth pony—we would likely consider the unicorns' magic as a nice crutch, but not enough help in understanding and being part of the world around us to make them more powerful than the pegasi.

The next two paragraphs and the single line figured themselves out (with just about no forethought) as I was trying to get to sleep one night, along with the third-level mapping of the quadrants farther down. This was, of course, accompanied by (mental) maniacal laughter.

We now have a two-axis system, but with only three corners. What has happened to the fourth, passive/volatile? Something not consciously controlled, but which is channeled through the pony? Emotions. The crystal ponies. Not only is their kingdom maintained through happiness and hope, but they have some level of magical tie to the emotions of Equestria as a whole. Think remarkably effective diplomats or Pinkie's Smile song. Not only that, but the status as a distinct race would explain their seemingly universal earth pony-like bodies. (Unless some unicorn or pegasus body forms snuck into Games Ponies Play. I can't remember it well enough.) They're the fourth race, and their crystal makeup, while obviously connected with the crystal heart, is their magical channel and their distinguishing feature. The main six didn't stay crystal when they left the Empire because they aren't crystal ponies (the effect was similar to a more refined version of Rarity's wings), and the crystal ponies in Canterlot keep that form because of the reverse. So why were no crystal ponies born outside the empire since Sombra's reign? This ties perfectly into my pre-existing (but...I guess I can't call it long after writing this thing) headcanon on pony reproduction, but it basically boils down to "The types of magic—and mainly the strongest of them—surrounding a developing foal determine that foal's race and magical proclivities. Sombra weakened the entire field of crystal pony magic when he corrupted it. Every other magic was much stronger."

But honestly, the first thing that came to mind when I thought of emotions were the changelings. They would definitely fit the word, if being slightly more active in their practice than the type would imply. So, what if they do tap into crystal—or emotion—magic? Well, our understanding of them in particular doesn't change, but what about the other corners? Why wouldn't there be other things matching those? Zebras could easily slide alongside the earth ponies, from what we've seen of Zecora—just compare her potionmaking to Granny Smith's jam. Griffons are obviously using some sort of magic to stand on clouds, so though that may be a weak basis for classification, I'm going to give them pegasus magic. That leaves unicorns, and they don't seem to match with any other species. Draconequi may potentially be the closest, but they seem to tap into something less refined.

I'll finish exploring that soon, but just wanted to point out that the corruption of emotion magic has some interesting implications regarding the current appearance of the changelings.

Let's back up a bit and look at how each type of magic interacts with the various quadrants. Is pegasus magic always going to be active/volatile? Is everything that works with the passive/environmental quadrant going to be manipulating the magic of earth ponies? I'd point to emotion magic as being the best way to examine this. Let's start with Sombra and Cadence—both manipulating that form of magic in similar ways, even if for opposite purposes. Both of them work the normally passive magic in active manners. Cadence, as an alicorn—and the Crystal Princess, at that—has an innate tie to the magic and so is able to manipulate it more like a unicorn would without twisting it too badly. Sombra was not only trying to corrupt the magic, he also doesn't have the same connection Cadence does—no matter how dexterous he became in it, it would still be like trying to hang a picture with a sledgehammer.

All right, magic can be twisted. So what? That doesn't have nearly the implications it would if there was some natural example. Well, I'd like to pull up the changelings again. They run on emotion magic and definitely seem to have strong passive features, as is standard with the type. However, they manipulate it in a very active manner. "Cadence's" horn glows several times throughout the two-parter, as though she was truly focusing her magic like a unicorn, and the more standard effects show themselves as a very striking green fire. And besides, we never actually see how the emotional feeding works, we just assume it resembles passive magic. I'd say that changelings are the perfect example of the flexibility of magic, when it's not forced. They run the passive/volatile magic in a perfectly active/volatile manner.

So what does this mean for the others of this level? Well, we never actually saw Gilda do anything beyond stand on the clouds, so saying that griffons could have a passive/environmental expression of the active/environmental pegasus magic doesn't seem too far-fetched. Zebras appear to be the opposite—while Granny Smith's preparations resembled a less technical version of something Zecora might do, the zebra herself seems to have a much more focused recipe than the earth pony; the rituals are a part of the magic rather than simply a means of calling on it. The active/environmental slot actually seems like a better fit, even more so than switching the changelings over. This also means that I need to be looking for a passive/volatile analogue to unicorns. And much in the same way that the other non-pony races tend to stay a bit closer to their magic's home quadrant, it will likely be a bit more active than the crystal ponies. I'd argue that we need to be looking at the dragons. Sure they don't seem to have much outward expression of their magic, but the show has implied several times that gems are tied to that of unicorns, and dragons are certainly associated with gemstones. Likewise, their fire is either going to need some complicated biological source or a magical explanation, and we've seen that it retains at least one magical property. Besides, they'd be in a passive quadrant; even with a volatile magic, they aren't going to be showing off too many tricks.

Well, if there are four non-pony races matching the points, what else could be associated with the same array of properties? Coincidentally, we just so happen to have gotten a fourth alicorn. Mapping them onto the magical field would create a nice division and balance between everypony involved, along with the more sentimental benefit of giving each individual type a figurehead. So if we do this, Twilight and Cadence obviously get unicorn and emotion magic, respectively, leaving pegasus and earth pony magic for Celestia and Luna. Simply considering the races, I'd be more inclined to put Celestia with the earth ponies (strongly tied to the land and farming) and Luna with the pegasi (the sky, kind of, and she's flying a lot more in Luna Eclipsed than Celestia ever did), but when we consider the qualities of each, things get really interesting. Earth pony magic is passive and environmental. Celestia has delegated the protection of Equestria to Twilight so often that it's become a bit of a joke—in other words, raising Twilight and working her magic through the unicorn rather than manipulating it directly. Pegasus magic is active and volatile (I promise I came up with the term before associating it with the former Nightmare Moon, or even dragonfire), and Luna already seems to share more of our desire for a personal presence and a deliberate effect on the outcome—especially visible throughout that same episode—despite how little she's appeared. And, yes, I remember that I said looking at personalities was a poor method, but with their four magics being mixed for so long, it's what we need to fall back to. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!

To begin closing up, it seems like magic naturally migrates along the active-passive continuum, contrary to the perceptual bridge between volatile and environmental. Most of our exceptions to the traditional pony quadrants also follow the magical trend, with Pinkie Pie often reaching active usage in her fourth-wall breaking and Twilight's relatively easy use of Sombra's corrupted emotion magic—and actually that corruption in the first place. This is certainly not an absolute, though, as shown by the (perceived) alignment of the pegasi's trails, whatever form they take, and Rarity's manipulation of the weather (which also brings into question if she was still even using unicorn magic), and more generally her technique of giving her dresses their own, perhaps figurative rather than literal, magic.

What does this mean for those ponies who break the boundaries? Well, with few exceptions, (Fluttershy may have a natural secondary affinity for earth pony magic, for example, or if Rarity did indeed switch to manipulating pegasus magic directly), they seem to stay within their own race's standard field. It's not like they're picking up an entirely different set of tools. Those that stay around the same spot between active and passive probably don't notice too much. It might not always objectively appear the most efficient way to do it when compared to other quadrants, but it's still just using something familiar in a manner that's only slightly not what's it's designed for. Those pegasi who want to leave a trail would just feel like they're calling the magic on themselves rather than on a passing cloud. Ponies moving along the active-passive line would face a greater mental shift, but still not completely leave their standard quadrant's mentality. Granny Smith doesn't recognize that her rituals are a manner of (somewhat) more active magic, she just thinks that the jars need a stern talking-to, or that zap apples enjoy pink polka-dots. Likewise, Pinkie would just see her ways around the fourth wall like normal paths that nopony else notices in the non-physical world of powerful earth ponies. Keep in mind, though, that due to the easier slide of magic between active and passive expression, the "greater mental shift" would actually be more common than the changed usage between volatile and environmental.
avatar
WovenTales
Earth Pony

Posts : 101
Brohoof! : 18
Join date : 2012-05-13

Back to top Go down

Re: The mechanics of magic

Post by jacky2734 on Wed Feb 27, 2013 10:07 pm

Uhm, can we get a TL:DR of that?

On the note of how magic works, I have a theories.

Are you ready, because it is mind blowing.

Spoiler:
A wizard did it. Trollestia Luna
avatar
jacky2734
Alicorn

Posts : 4272
Brohoof! : 36
Join date : 2012-05-09
Location : Colorado, USA

Character List:
Name: Kage/Searing Willow
Sex: male/male
Species: Gryphon/Deer

Back to top Go down

Re: The mechanics of magic

Post by WovenTales on Wed Feb 27, 2013 10:49 pm

jacky2734 wrote:Uhm, can we get a TL:DR of that?
Oh, yeah. That would be helpful. Sorry!

There are four types of magic, corresponding to the four types of ponies (unicorn, pegasus, earth, and crystal (in the sense of emotion); see the second through fourth paragraphs and the first one after the small text for a description of each) and distributed among the corners of two axes: internal and "flashy" to external and much less noticeable and one resembling the active/passive split from many video games' skill systems. A second level of non-pony beings also makes use of the same types of magic (dragons, griffons, zebras, and changelings, respectively), but in slightly different ways than ponies. Finally, each of the Princesses is also tied most strongly to one of the types: in order, Twilight, Luna, Celestia, and Cadence. There was also quite a bit of looking at the psychology of it all, but that's complicated enough even with knowing the details behind it all.

Well, it's shorter, at least. I wrote most of the original as both an explanation and an exploration, often when I was half-asleep, so it's probably more complicated than it needs to be. Still not overly compressible (the TL;DR misses a lot of the nuances and even quite a number of semi-major points), but probably wouldn't be too hurt by a trimming.

On the note of how magic works, I have a theories.

Are you ready, because it is mind blowing.

Spoiler:
A wizard did it. Trollestia Luna
And quite a wizard, too! Surely she must be at least as powerful as Discord himself, were he able to focus on a single course of action for longer than a second. But to create all of Equestria in such exacting detail, down to the very nature of magic, would require a goddess beyond even the Princesses!
avatar
WovenTales
Earth Pony

Posts : 101
Brohoof! : 18
Join date : 2012-05-13

Back to top Go down

Re: The mechanics of magic

Post by Sponsored content


Sponsored content


Back to top Go down

Back to top

- Similar topics

 
Permissions in this forum:
You cannot reply to topics in this forum