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As is well known, in the middle ages, and before that, people could do magic. However, we know that in today's time, magic simply doesn't work.

However let's assume that this is not because magic never worked, but because for some reason magic stopped working. Ideally not in a single event, but gradually, by getting weaker until it ultimately faded away.

Of course this assumption raises the question: What caused magic to go away? And why in our modern times, and not already in medieval times?

So my question is: What would be plausible explanation for the disappearance of magic?

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    $\begingroup$ I think this depends a lot on how magic worked in the first place. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Mar 17 '15 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ Why not just "Science"? $\endgroup$ – imallett Mar 18 '15 at 8:28
  • $\begingroup$ In some books magic is weakened by the presence of iron - this means that with increased technical progress and hence increased occurrence of iron in the vicinity of people, magic becomes more difficult to perform. Going to places which are untouched by technically advanced people allows to perform more powerful magic. This also explains why indigenous tribes have easier access to magic, while magic becomes practically unavailable in Europe starting with the middle ages. $\endgroup$ – oliver Mar 18 '15 at 9:45
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Here are some options.

Depletion of Mana: Magical energy is a non-renewable resource. It simply ran out.

Ebb of Mana: The presence of magical energy in the world rises and falls in a cycle. During the modern era, magic is ebbing (in that there is insufficient magical power to fuel a spell). Perhaps in the future, it will return.

Science kills magic: Magic operates on faith and belief, and stops working if people question it/do not believe in it. With the rise of Science and the Socratic Method, magic was too closely examined, and petered out.

Extermination of Magical Creatures: Perhaps Dragons, Gryphons, and the like are the source of magic. They were hunted to extinction in the middle ages, and their death took magic with them.

Magic is Sealed: Magic was deemed too dangerous to be allowed to exist, and so in a massively powerful ritual, magic was sealed away from the world.

Knowledge is Lost: This one is less realistic...but perhaps magic is not something you can learn from a book or scroll, it has to be taught to you by a living person. Something happened (maybe a war) that pushed the magic-using population to extinction and while their knowledge is preserved...it cannot be replicated.

Abandonment by the gods: Perhaps divine beings powered magic. Humanity pissed them off. So they left, taking magic away with them.

I'll stop here, but I could easily keep going.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Magic is Sealed" doesn't fit very well with magic fading out, but for pushing magic-using population to extinction, I can immediately think of a possible reason: Witch hunts! However I don't quite like the idea that it's just lost knowledge, $\endgroup$ – celtschk Mar 17 '15 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ And that's why I just dumped a pile of ideas. That way you can pick and choose from options. I have plenty more ideas, they all just depend on how magic works in the first place. "Arrival of an Astral disease that burned out humanity's ability to use magic." and so on.... $\endgroup$ – guildsbounty Mar 17 '15 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ @celtschk Unless we combine some. For example, the seal might just be a cork that turns magic from a renewable resource to a limited resource, instead of blocking all magic immediately $\endgroup$ – Izkata Mar 18 '15 at 3:36
  • $\begingroup$ I like the "Magic is Sealed" idea in combination with the "Knowledge is Lost" idea. Suppose there is a form of arcane magic that turned some magi into god-like beings (create lizard army aka dinosaurs, mass meteorite, construct mountain ranges). Suppose one particular magus was practicing a new spell that caused all human beings to forget who they were (by accident).. end of magic, end of civilization.. we all go back to being cavemen (hence the beginning of what we now know). $\endgroup$ – Neil Mar 18 '15 at 8:41
  • $\begingroup$ "Science kills magic" - something like this? $\endgroup$ – Angew Nov 23 '18 at 8:07
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I would suggest a mechanism "stolen" from Terry Prachett's Discworld (based upon his treatment of religion):

Magic operates via faith. As fewer people practiced magic and instead turned to technology, fewer people believed magic even existed, which weakened the ability of those that remained to perform magic. Eventually, even those magicians were dismissed as merely using slight of hand, and eventually all magic ceased entirely since everyone "knew" magic didn't exist.

This is distinct from science "killing" magic, in that a scientific examination would show that magic does, in fact, work. It's just dependent on the general publics ability to believe in it - psychic energy, I guess, is a good parallel.

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  • $\begingroup$ The problem is, if magic actually worked when things were starting out, science would never have started disproving it in the first place. There's no reason for the two to conflict if magic actually works. $\endgroup$ – Saidoro Mar 17 '15 at 22:06
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    $\begingroup$ No one mentioned disproving magic. Just that people started using technology instead of magic, which made magic less potent and useful, so fewer people used it, so it became weaker, etc. $\endgroup$ – Isaac Kotlicky Mar 17 '15 at 22:42
  • $\begingroup$ But what if technology started to be built on top of magic while people still believed in it? $\endgroup$ – Arturo Torres Sánchez Mar 18 '15 at 6:18
  • $\begingroup$ @arturotorressanchez If you read "Small Gods," the concern wasn't whether people "worshipped" a religion, but the strength of their actual, genuine faith, for which there were dwindling numbers of people that fulfilled that roll. Modern example: due to the rise of ubiquitous computers, people handwrite less, and calligraphy is becoming a rare art. What if calligraphy was the key to magic? It's dwindling base of genuine, dedicated "writers" (not just "people who can write") means it becomes less powerful and therefore less useful. $\endgroup$ – Isaac Kotlicky Mar 18 '15 at 8:56
  • $\begingroup$ I was about giving the same answer... $\endgroup$ – EvilFonti Mar 18 '15 at 9:04
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We collapsed the magic wave functions.

The rise of science brought the fall of magic.

The increasingly fine resolution of scientific observation has collapsed the possibility field that magic worked in. Science introduced the observer. While it used to be possible to have a macro scale cat which was both alive and dead, once scientifically observed, this possibility was removed from the world. Its possibility field was collapsed.

As science was able to observe more and more of the world the ability of magic decreased. Eventually magic was a very small thing. Wizards could only cast cantrips compared to the wizards of an age before. The invention of the microscope was a fatal blow to the little remaining magic in the world.

Magic still exists today, but science has chased it into the quantum scale.

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We stopped calling it magic.

“Magic's just science that we don't understand yet.” ― Arthur C. Clarke

Thousands of years ago gunpowder, levers, and chemistry were literally magical. Now that we understand them, we just call them something else.

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Population Density

Suppose that magic naturally distributes itself [somewhat] evenly over the global population. It clusters here and there, but is tugged at by every conscious mind.

The end of magic could plausibly just be the end of magical feats that are significant enough to be noticed by people. While magic is still present today, it's just too dilute to become manifest.

Justification

There's a constant amount of magic present in the world. Due to extraordinary population growth, magic has been spread wafer thin; first away from the general population to individuals with increased magic-concentrating ability (eg. shamans, wizards, significant religious characters, etc).

Then, with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, modern medicine, and massively decreased infant mortality rates, the population has exploded out past a point where magic concentrates enough to be observable.

Even if the total amount of magic in the world is growing, as long as it's growing at a slower rate than the population, it'll still end up becoming weaker, then finally unobservable at some point in time.

As a worldbuilder, you can choose that point in time wherever the heck is convenient for your plot.

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    $\begingroup$ This could make things interesting. What if a bad guy wanted to kill most of the world's population so he could get the magic back? $\endgroup$ – Mary ML Mar 19 '15 at 2:38
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In a book by H. L. Oldie "Magiosi" (Russian: Г. Л. Олди, "Маг в законе"), the essence of magic knowledge is passed from a master to a student by a special ritual. Unfortunately, this procedure is not ideal, so some of the knowledge is lost every time. Mages in the book remember older times when their colleagues could easily do things they now think of as impossible.

It is implied in the book that originally the knowledge was passed via normal study, so the power of mages grew as they discovered new spells and perfected them. But then a great mage invented this ritual that allowed one to imprint magic knowledge even on a lazy and worthless student, and it quickly became widespread, because no-one really cared about a small amount of information loss.

It is interesting how the proposed way out of this in the book is basically a metaphor for agamogenesis versus genetic recombination.

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Half-life

Magic could be a form of natural radiation; certain people are capable of absorbing it and using it to power spells. Like all radiation it decreases over time, at first leaving only the most receptive able to absorb and use it, eventually being too weak for anyone to use.

Could it ever come back? That depends on the mechanism you choose for having generated the radiation in the first place. If it was just naturally present, then no it can probably never return. If, however, it "arrived" on, say, a meteorite carrying an exotic substance then yes, there is always a chance to bring it back to any level you require.

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Who said magic is dead? It is only hidden by <insert favorite conspiracy here> when they convinced Gutenberg to build a consistent height font, which makes it impossible to read magic. Spells printed in tomes where the baseline of the font is allowed to vary and resonate with the universe work just fine.

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Hyperbole. Magic is still diffusing up from the nether regions at the same rate, but constant use of the word "awesome" by our inflated population fritters it away with no perceptible effects.

The Moon, of course, still has bags of untapped surface magical potential but the shocking consequences of that fateful "One small step for a man, one giant leap for Mankind." inevitably killed off the NASA manned programme as soon as American politicians could bring themselves to credit the real source of all their problems.

Russian magicians had more credibility (Remember Lysenkoism?) and were much more decisive - they had to be.Their programme was cancelled at once - not for them the option of trying to rewrite history with "one small step for Man..." there is no indefinite article in Russian for them to remove. Anyway, Armstrong and the Moon both knew what he really said, so the conjuration of Feminism was irrevocable.

Still, America is ever hopeful - hence project Orion and hence all its shilly-shallying - the words of the first footer on Mars must be chosen with scrupulous care if Jean is to be put back in her bottle.

And we should all be especially grateful to British mages, too, that the potent words "the Beagle has landed." were never to be uttered.

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