I want wizards in my setting to study magic, building libraries of arcane tomes and conducting zany experiments, but I don't want them to be able to share the benefits of their research because that gives them too great an incentive to work together.

I want them to be almost territorial, to compete constantly and rarely cooperate, covetous of magical power, yet unable to combine their powers. It's not that they're being obstinate, they simply can't teach what they've learned to each other.

I'm assuming they (or at least some of them) would teach if they could.

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    $\begingroup$ The words "Discworld" and "Unseen University" leap to mind. Study magic - check. Arcane Tomes and Library - check. Zany Experiments - oh yes. Territorial - yep. Rarely cooperate - practically the definition of Wizard in Discworld. Say a thank you to Mr. Pratchett when you're finished "researching". :-) $\endgroup$ – StephenG Mar 29 '18 at 5:05
  • $\begingroup$ Do you have a time period in mind? This becomes in non-issue is set far enough in hte past. $\endgroup$ – John Mar 29 '18 at 5:13
  • $\begingroup$ I have to agree with StevenG. The Unseen University is a satire of modern, internecine academic competition and the resulting politics. Just give your wizards competitive personalities and they'll be at each others' throats. $\endgroup$ – KernelOfChaos Mar 29 '18 at 5:30
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    $\begingroup$ How do you study literary criticism without it being a science? How do you study journalism without it being a science? How do you study music without it being a science? How do you study aesthetics without it being a science? How do you study cooking without it being a science? $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 29 '18 at 8:35
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    $\begingroup$ @dot_Sp0T Hmm. I don't think this is a duplicate. The OP here seems assume that if you can study it, there are rules. The ANSWER is non-objective magic, not the question, although the answers on that question would certainly be helpful to the OP. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Mar 29 '18 at 12:23

You have to treat it (magic) as an ART not a science.

A good example I can think of is jazz music. Back in the days when jazz was more popular, or even swing (around 1930's even to 1950's or beyond), some trumpet players would play with a cloth over their hand so that other musicians can't see how they are playing. The term is called "licks," the melodic lines they make when they are soloing. You could say those "licks" are something that make them stand out, their unique melodic lines. Jazz is all about standing out as an individual by playing the music uniquely as your own style. This approach to the music was so important at this time that people would not share their musical insights.

Nowadays, jazz is taught in universities, and I suppose you could say it's been broken down as a science. But before, it was more of a folk art, and no one really wrote on the subject.... it was just performed and executed on the spot at the performance, and yes, there was a bit of a territorial aspect because musicians wanted to stand out from one another and not sound the same.

My suggestion is to treat the magic in your world as a folk art. There must be some insentive for mages to not share their art. The best reason I can think of is that there is some kind of stakes invloved, perhaps jobs, or even fame, where mages do not feel comfortable sharing what they know due to the fact that they don't want to give up an opportunity.

EDIT: To clarify the point on "how do you study magic without it being a science".... again, let me stress the folk art aspect. There should be a scene of sorts in your world. Some incentive for mages to learn individually and on their own. They may try and copy each other, but for the most part, they have to learn on their own.

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    $\begingroup$ Even outside of jazz & other improvisational forms, music (and painting &c) is an art. There may be some science in the foundations, e.g. perspective drawing, but if it could all be reduced to science, anyone could compose like Bach, or paint like Dali. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 29 '18 at 5:06
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    $\begingroup$ So, by your logic, because the Russians originally doctored the photos of the Sputnik rockets to prevent them being copied, rocket science is really an art? Sciences are very often pursued in secret if they are considered important to security or commercial success. $\endgroup$ – Pete Kirkham Mar 29 '18 at 11:12
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    $\begingroup$ @PeteKirkham bumpy was taking an example from art to support a "magic as art" argument. The example is not a blanket statement that keeping secrets is unscientific or inherently artistic. Your attack on "his" logic is unfounded. $\endgroup$ – Asher Mar 29 '18 at 17:05

Make the source of magic itself limited. Only a few wizards can access it at any time. The more powerful your spell the more access to the source of power you have. Therefore, if you share your knowledge of your powerful spells this will restrict the amount of magical power you can wield.

This form of wizardry and magic assumes that the source of magic can be accessed anywhere at anytime. However, the amount of magic power that can be used is directly dependent on the power and effectiveness of the spells cast.

In which case, it follows logically wizards wouldn't want to share their arcane knowledge as this would be the equivalent of giving away their power.

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    $\begingroup$ I've got this great mental image of two wizards getting into a duel only to end up being nothing more than a couple of old men having a largely ineffectual fistfight because they've exhausted all the local magic. $\endgroup$ – Cognisant Mar 29 '18 at 5:39

You don't actually need a reason for them to keep it a secret.

This is a problem with your society, not your magic. Scientific knowledge has been hoarded in the past.

Guilds and master craftsmen used to go to great lengths to hide the secrets of their methods and techniques, sometimes because it was a national secret, important strategically, and sometimes just for plain old greed. We actually lost technology more than once because of this, things like roman concrete and greek fire.

Knowledge was often hoarded, almost by default, it is only recently that sharing knowledge became common. When being a scholar was expensive and restricted to only the most wealthy, knowledge was suppressed almost automatically just by how hard it was to gain access.


Method 1: Casting magic is in some way tied to your soul, physicality, or psyche. To cast magic it is more practical to alter your method of casting over time, because there are (meta)physical differences between casters. Like having two incredibly gifted musicians, one plays a guitar with only one hand, and the other plays it with their feet. They can rarely share anything helpful with one another, but both can play the same song. Or think of the meridian system in chinese medicine. Differences in birth could form different valves or merging in the channels your lifeforce flows through, forcing you to come up with different methods of activating your fire meridian for a fireball.

Or perhaps in order to cast magic, you have to be convinced it will work, as any doubt would interfere with the spell. Thus casters, while starting with a basic framework, over the years would have to make complicated systems within their minds to explain to themselves why their spell works, backed up with thousands of hours of practice on the fundamentals. Think how in the middle ages, two alchemists could have radically different ideas on how a potion will work with the same ingredient makeup even though they're both proto-chemists working off of fundamental rules that are easier to observe. Except in this world, the potions actually would have different effects.

Both of those have problems. Could you just use magic to change your meridian system, therefore bypassing it? If it only has to make sense in your head, couldn't someone with extreme confidence just have no rules and do whatever they want?

The problem all of this comes down to, though, is that in order to be unlearnable to other magicians because simply studying your rival Chadrick's lead-to-gold spell won't accomplish anything, that would mean that the books and experiments you want are kind of pointless as well to an extent. If you can't learn how to cast a spell through studying, it's hard to justify why any wizard would have study material.

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    $\begingroup$ Extending the analogy here - making magic is like making love. $\endgroup$ – Willk Mar 29 '18 at 13:01

If magic could be negated as easily as (say) a specific spell being performed backwards, then magicians would be highly motivated to keep their spells and incantations secret.

Sharing how to do a specific spell would mean that everyone to whom you show it (and everyone downstream who gets their hands on your spell) would instantly know how to cause it to have no effect. If your business is magic, then your stock in trade is the efficacy of your spells and this would effectively render that specific spell worthless.

This actually fulfills the zany experiment requirement too. Let's say (for example) that one of your spells has gotten out, or you've inherited (?) another magician's arcane library of spells and incantations.

Your problem is that you now need to update your spells so that they perform the same (or a better) function in a different way. To do that, you have to experiment with what you currently have by modifying it in different ways to see if you can replicate the effect using a different approach. This is likely to produce a large number of zany outcomes until you get close to what your objectives are in terms of spell design.

Ultimately, spells in this environment are only useful if they're secret. That means, no sharing with your brethren.


Perhaps twisting the very forces of the universe with your mind affects you. Using magic leads to feelings of paranoia and greed. The more you use it, the more the feelings grow.

Wizards take on apprentices to use the apprentice's power to add to their own but as the apprentice becomes more skilled (and paranoid) they either flee, kill their master or get sacrificed increasing the master's power.

Rival wizards are seen as a potential sacrifice as well as a threat so they would be very territorial but wouldn't attack unless they knew for certain they would win.


Easiest way to do this is to treat it like martial arts, which is the most relatable thing to magic in our own world.

If you read Miamoto Musashis 'The Book of Five rings' where he explains his mastery of swordsmanship and how to perfect it yourself you will often find that he cannot explain a concept with certainty. Closest he can come to is a feeling, an instinct that becomes part of you after endless repetition. He tries to compare it to other subjects but often fails because he just cannot describe an internal, intuitive knowledge so he says "it is easy to show this but difficult to describe".

In my opinion magic should be treated the same way. Something elusive, difficult to master and explain. Something that relies on repetition and intuition. Internal understanding.


You can study magic without it being a science because it is NOT science.

Arthur C. Clarke said "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Why did he say that?

He said it because advanced tech doesn't seem to follow the rules that we know. If we are ignorant of tech a TV SEEMS like magic.

And what's magic?

Magic is something that doesn't necessarily follow the laws of science and nature. Here's a bit from TV Tropes Magic vs. Science

Magic is often seen as the realm of mysticism and a violation of scientific laws. Science is often seen as the realm of materialism and technology.

Magic cheats at Physics: Magic and its users create localized areas where the physical laws operate differently from normal. This may be expressed as malfunctions to machines beyond a given technological threshold, altering the combustion point of atmosphere causes cars to fail and fireballs to form, or electromagnetic waves collapse within magical auras.

Magic is Mysterious: Magic follows no rules at all, therefore science will never be able to explain it. This scenario tends to work best with Wild Magic (the magic is released by the mage, but not controlled) and Theurgy (the divine being decides what spell is cast). The concept does not follow logically from magic gained from study, becoming an Informed Trait.

Magic is an Ideology: Magic and science get along just fine, but the magicians and scientists can't stand each other. Petty rivalry or hubris leads everyone on both sides to specialize in their field and completely ignore the other. This conflict can sometimes take a subtler form, where the magicians want to keep knowledge secret and the scientists want it shared with everyone; which side is more sympathetic tends to depend on whether the author (or readers/viewers) think there really are Things Man Was Not Meant To Know...

Now, you may have an idea that because magic follows its own rules, that studying it would lead to its own branch of science, because, after all, if there are provable rules, that's what it might become.

You've forgotten one key point of magic, one that gets left behind in swords and sorcery: Belief creates reality.

So while there might be rules that wizards all collectively agree on, when a wizard starts experimentation on his own and finds something that works, teaching it is nearly impossible. It's his PERSONAL belief and theory, one that he arrived at after years of study, and now, he can cast an illusionary dragon.

Could he teach that to another wizard? Unlikely. If there's an apprentice/wizard relationship, it helps to start you off (because you have faith in your mentor's abilities, you see what they can do, and decide that's reality if only you try hard enough).

But once you get into the higher levels of magic, once you unlock the mysteries, it becomes more personal to you. You have your own magic words, your own faith in yourself and the way the world works.

Since you're warping reality and going 'round the rules of science, you're going to be eccentric and idiosyncratic.

Having a young, easily impressed apprentice would likely be a boost to your powers (and confidence in them) but every wizard can only learn so much from their mentor. Eventually they learn that all the "rules" that the wizard taught them aren't actually law.

Once that happens they lose faith in their mentor, and likely will no longer be able to learn from them (maybe they still can, but at this point they'll know they can do something different).

The biggest secret never told is this: there actually are NO RULES. None. The ones wizards think exist do because they were passed down, or make fro an easy beginning framework. It's likely that was done for safety. So you might drill into an apprentice's head three basic laws, just to keep the world steady. By the time you find out that the three basic laws can be broken, by then you might understand why they are in place and how much damage it could do if they WERE broken, and that wizards will go after anyone that breaks them.


This question reminds me of a book in The Laundry Files series by Charles Stross, specifically The Rhesus Chart, which involves:

ancient vampires that take great efforts to perpetuate the myth that vampires don't exist in order to protect themselves. If two vampires were to find each other, they would immediately try to kill each other to protect their secrecy (if they could find the other, then ordinary humans might be able to).

A similar level of secrecy could be required by Wizards in your world, the general population fears magic so wizards go to great lengths to remain hidden and anonymous, lest they be accosted by angry mobs. In this world wizards would be outlaws that operate in secret and eliminate any other practitioners of magic that are unfortunate enough to cross their path. Apprentices are recruited to be used as a source of power as in Thorne's answer and any apprentice that lasts long enough without being killed or drained of all their power grows up enough to be able to overthrow their master and take their place.


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