One of the central conceits of the world I am next trying to build is that all forms of magic are considered divine. There are theological differences among the cultures as to how the Divines created magic, or what purpose it is supposed to serve, but everyone agrees that the Divines created magic, and that the use and practice of magic is impossible without the Divine influence.

How would these cultures

  1. be different from "traditional" fantasy cultures (J. R. R. Tolkien's books, etc.)?
  2. be different from existing religious cultures in the real world?
  • $\begingroup$ It's unclear that Tolkien magic is not divine, especially if you read the other works beyond LOTR. $\endgroup$ Mar 17, 2015 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ I do not really get your Divines: are they just a form of civilisation that has disappeared and that had god-like power? Or are they really gods and for some reason everyone agree that they exist? $\endgroup$ Mar 17, 2015 at 17:15
  • $\begingroup$ @SerbanTanasa Fair enough. I'm talking explicitly, unambiguously divine though. $\endgroup$
    – sillyputty
    Mar 17, 2015 at 17:24
  • $\begingroup$ @skysurf3000, The latter. There are justifications for why people know these gods exist, but unless you think that is pertinent to the question I won't bore you. $\endgroup$
    – sillyputty
    Mar 17, 2015 at 17:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think your question may need to specify a specific aspect of the cultures to review. As it stands this question is very very broad. Changing the question to say "In x universe (use tolkein if you like) this aspect of culture was like ______, given these changes (your world specifics) how would these (if related), or this be different?" $\endgroup$
    – James
    Mar 17, 2015 at 20:24

3 Answers 3


One major potential difference in both points is that some cultures may not be religious, at least in a common sense.

Assuming from the details in your question that there is no regular direct contact with the Divine, it is natural that some people would doubt their presense. Some people could take a Deist view of things: that the Divine created magic, and magic draws on their power, but they don't actually involve themselves in the world. Others could take a related scientific, not-quite-agnostic stance: if we don't have contact with the Divine, and they are not observable, then we can't really know anything about them, and we should base our actions on things we can know. These people may accept "Divine influence" as the cause or source of magic, but they would consider magic on its own and not be particularly concerned with any form of theology or worship.

Please don't misunderstand me—I'm not dismissing religion, or saying that this is the "correct" way for people to act. However, I think it is natural for some people to respond this way—but by no means all. If the Divine do act in the world at all, then there would be people who have interacted with them or witnessed their actions. Even if they don't, some people would probably claim to have had Divine experiences anyway. So there would be religions built on these experiences or claims.

Exactly how they would be different from existing religious cultures depends on how the magic works, mechanically. If there is any organized compenent necessary to magic, like a ritual, then that would become central to that culture. If there are no rituals, no incantations, and it is more a matter of will, focus, and intention, then the religion might look more animist or pantheistic, and meditation would be important.

Of course, this all assumes that the Divine beings are not frequently showing up in the world, performing heroic deeds or impregnating princesses. If you borrow a page from the late, great, Terry Pratchett, and create a world where the gods have a habit of going around breaking atheists' windows, then things would be different.

  • $\begingroup$ Great that you covered all of the basis, definitely going to consider the "deist" approach from people who just see the gods as makers and not active participants in existence. Also, always a +1 for Pratchett. $\endgroup$
    – sillyputty
    Mar 17, 2015 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think anyone would openly say they didn't exist.....but rather something like: Fred-"Hey, you are now my slave" Sam-"What? Who gave you that power?" Fred-"Ummmm........the Gods! $\endgroup$ Mar 17, 2015 at 18:16

Ancient Magic is Often "Divine"

In reality, magic appears to have been mostly associated with divinities and divine powers. It was not until more recently in the history of Humanity (and western culture) that we think of doing magic without divine influence. This means your people would have a similar attitude as the ancient world had towards magic.

For instance, Voodoo appears to be reliant upon relations with spirits to perform magic. One can call these relationships "divine" and therefore this is "divine magic." This is true for most (if not all) ancient cultures; the practitioners of magic were those who are close to spirits or gods, and this relationship allowed them to perform magic.

The wikipedia article on Magic in the Greco-Roman World has some interesting insight into the difference between "arcane" and "divine" magics. The arcane, according to this discussion, involves tricking gods or spirits, instead of supplication to those spirits or gods. D&D players would generally label all of these magic-users as "divine," as the actual source of the magic comes from divine sources. (More on D&D later!)

Astrologers and other fortune-tellers may be the closest thing we have to ancient magic users who do not need direct connections with divinity to perform their work. Of course, astrologers would read the stars, and it would be much less about exercising power as simply being trained to read those. The same argument could be applied to many types of fortune-telling; that it isn't magic, but simply being well versed in drawing conclusions from natural processes.

Vs. Other "Traditional" Magic Systems?

First off, Gandalf is more like a demi-angel, so the magic he uses is therefore divine. Sauron's magics would also be seen as divine, although divine in the sense of "above mortal power," as he is on the same level of "divinity" as Gandalf. The magic, or sorcery, of the elves seems to be not divine, but may be seen as divine gifts. Your culture of magic use may be seen as more religious than in Tolkien's Middle Earth, but could easily have a similar setup. It depends on how codified and formal your religions are.

Even Merlin, from the tales of Arthurian Legend, supposedly has some divine blood in him. In some renditions, he was born from a succubus and a mortal man, with the succubus part of his heritage giving him magic. While this is could be seen as a basis for "individuals casting magic without divine help," the fact that a succubus was involved could make his magic fall into the "divine" magic camp. Once again, your magic system would be different than the magic seen in Arthurian Legends, because this divine influence is well established.

The advent of D&D may have helped cement the idea that you can use magic without the need of divine help. Once again, this may be due to figures like Merlin or astrologers, who may or may not have had an explanation for their magic. Obviously, such a notion in this world your making is an impossibility, but perhaps one that people wish for. You may want to consider borrowing cultural elements from divine casters in D&D. Divine casters often acknowledge or at least nod to their patron deities.

  • $\begingroup$ Funny you should mention it, I'm actually making this universe for a D&D campaign, so I want to distinguish it from the classic D&D "Arcane vs Divine" casters as much as possible! =) $\endgroup$
    – sillyputty
    Mar 17, 2015 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ @sillyputty I've actually asked a question related to this on RPG.SE: "Origin of Arcane Magic" $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Mar 17, 2015 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ Saw your conversation with SevenSidedDie. Keep me updated please? $\endgroup$
    – sillyputty
    Mar 17, 2015 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ @sillyputty it's been asked here : scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/84114/origin-of-arcane-magic $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Mar 17, 2015 at 23:55
  • $\begingroup$ I'm sorry I didn't see this earlier. That Wikipedia article is dreadful--inaccurate on much of the theory it reports, and grossly skewed as to what it chooses to report. I'll work on a reply for the scifi SE question and perhaps that may help reframe this question here. $\endgroup$
    – CAgrippa
    Apr 17, 2015 at 20:09

I find that the socio-religious implications of magic too often get overlooked in fiction. If your average priest can perform miracles, that's a rather striking blow to atheistic scientific thinking.

In a society where resurrection is regularly acheivable, for instance, people might use that as a tool to explore the afterlife, which might debunk certain religious viewpoints. Those religions would be forced to suppress magical exploration of faith (if they are politically powerful enough to do so) or change the affected faith structures.

Conversely, if EVERYONE can perform those miracles, as magic is merely a tool provided by divine entities accessible to all, then over time it will become "old hat," depending on the strength and limitations of that magic. This might mean that, over time, people forget/ignore the implications magic has on their religious beliefs.

If this was a product of multiple Divines, that poses a challenge to all modern monotheistic religions. Otherwise, I don't expect many modern religions to change their tune vis a vis the others...


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