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I'm trying to come up with the label of an isolated location on a floating island where wizards go to practice magic in peace. I've already come up with the name, Skytower, but Skytower what? Is there a word for "sanctum" or "monastery" or "temple" but in an arcane/magical sense instead of a religious one?

Here are some facts about it that might help narrow down what I'm looking for:

  • It's about the size of a castle or a town district, so the word should encompass the entire campus and not be a word for just a single room like "orrery" or for something small like "shrine."
  • It's not really its own political entity and it's not focused at all on military purposes, so stuff like "citadel" or "fortress" aren't what I'm looking for.
  • It's a place where experienced wizards go to study magic, practice it together, craft magic items, and most of all, just isolate themselves from non-wizards. It's not quite an "academy" or "university" for that reason, though those words are probably the closest I've been able to come up with so far.
  • Most of the wizards don't live there long-term. They go there for a couple weeks at a time to work on spells or create magic items, or they go there for conferences and symposiums, so words like "city" or "township" don't work.
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  • $\begingroup$ Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Worldbuilding Meta, or in Worldbuilding Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Mar 5, 2023 at 3:57

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Nemeton

The modern idea of a sorcerer, wizard, or witch comes mainly from the Celtic tradition of druidism. Druids were religious and intellectual leaders who were reported to spend 20 years going off to thier holy places called Nemeta to study magic before returning as official druids (if they ever chose to return to normal society at all).

These nemeta were typically caves, sacred groves, or simple alters but in some cases they were actual physical buildings resembling a temple or a church, especially in the Early Medieval period when you saw a lot of intermingling of Celtic and Christian religions. While a nemeton is still considered a place of "religious" significance, the Celtic religion put a lot more emphasis on the role of personal magic and arcane knowledge than they did on relying on the gods to give them things; so, if you were to for example, have a setting where Religion = Power from god(s) and Magic = Power from self based off of Earth's actual history, then nemeton probably makes the most sense.

If your setting has Druids as a distinct class that are separate and very different than wizards, then this might not work... or it could lead to an extra interesting point in the history of your world where wizards and druids were once one in the same, but then branched into very different sects as civilization led many druids away from thier emphasis on nature. In this case Skytower Nemeton could be such an old "monastery of magic" that it still holds the title of nemeton from a time before magicians branched into different sects.

Sohmehee

Another tradition we can look to for the origins of "magic" as we now see it is the ancient Persians. The word Magic itself comes from the ancient Persian Magi who were a class of priests who were known to use illusions to fool congregations into believing they had supernatural powers. صومعه (pronounced "sohmehee") is literally the Persian word meaning monastery. While this word will be a lot harder for an English speaker to look up and understand its meaning and origins, the visual image of a Persian Magus with his library full of scrolls may be more in line with how you are picturing your monastery.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't want to sound rude, but I could not find the word nemeton except in Wikipedia and in the writings of some exalted Celtophiles. (Isn't it strikingly strange that a supposedly Celtic word declines as if it was a Greek 2nd declension neuter?) I could not find any ancient attestation; do you have a real example from a real ancient inscription or book? (And ṣawmaʽa is properly an Arabic word, itself borrowed from South Arabian; yes it was borrowed into modern Persian, but a more native Persian word is xânqâh /xɑːnˈqɑːh/. And why stop at Persian? What't wrong with a Sanskit maṭha?) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 4, 2023 at 5:39
  • $\begingroup$ There is an entry in Wiktionary in Proto-Celtic for nemetom. en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Reconstruction:Proto-Celtic/nemetom $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2023 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ That wikitionary link has a reference to a source that's online (which, itself, has references, good luck finding those online though). In general I always love the idea of recycling old words. Brings some "exotic" flavor without inventing something from scratch (I'm reading one now where they enjoy using archaic length measurements). $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Mar 5, 2023 at 0:41
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP This page ancienttexts.org/library/celtic/jce/nemeton.html mentions a few direct sources. It is of course important to understand when reading Latin inscriptions that the Romans very often called other people's gods by the same names as their own gods as it was their own religion to see all gods as the same gods by different names in different languages. So, the Nemeton of Mars may better be understood to have likely been belonging to the Celtic god, Neit, and later inscribed with Latin Text translating "Neit" to "Marti" (aka: Mars). $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Mar 6, 2023 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ That said, we don't see Latin inscriptions use the word Nemeton outside of the Celtic regions. A Roman holy place would generally be called a scrinium (shrine) or templum (temple) suggesting that Nemeton was a word taken directly from the native Celts. Unfortunately, the Celts wrote very little, especially about religious matters; so, most of what we know about Celtic religion comes almost entirely from Roman writings like these inscriptions. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Mar 6, 2023 at 15:30
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Skytower Arcanum

Building a magical monastery are you? Remember monasteries are built in remote places. Isolated places. Places with few distractions from worshiping God. Or learning spells in this case.

These monasteries are places far away from everything. Mysterious places known only to a few. Places full of secrets.

Is there a word for something mysterious and full of secrets? Oh yeah!

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Doubly good, for you since arcane has the genre-specific meaning of "to do with magic".

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There is no single term for that throughout history.

Keep in mind that the idea of magic as something fantastical that breaks the laws of physics comes from modern, fantastical literature. For many ancient magic practices, magic was how the universe worked, so we could also say it was their idea of what physics is.

Therefore, you could take one page from hermetic magic and one page from Philip Pullman and use the word Magisterium.

When people think of alchemy nowadays, they think of a fantasy version of a subset of hermetic knowledge, which was encoded by a man named Hermes Trimegistus. The "megistus" there means great, and is related somewhat to the latin word magister, which means "master" (as someone who is knowledgeable). From it comes the word magisterium, which is the office of a tutor or instructor, and is related to other words that have to do with teaching. When the word made its way to English to become "magistery", it also came with other meanings. From Merriam-Webster:

a principle of nature having transmuting or curative powers: PHILOSOPHERS' STONE

he that hath water turned to ashes, hath the Magistery, and the true Philosophers' stone
—James Howell

Then comes Philip Pullman, who wrote a fantasy novel series (His Dark Materials) where magic exists and atheists make sure that God doesn't exist by actually... No, not going to spoil that for you. Suffice to say that in this series there is an organization called the Magisterium, which oversees all things spiritual, scientifical and magical (though they try to oppress the latter, with little success).

Or, you know, you could take a page from J.K. Rowling and call it a School of Magic. Because that's what it is, regardless of what else people are doing while in there.

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The Skytower Institute of Magic is one of the multiverse's leading multidisciplinary basic research institutions in spell casting and magic item crafting. This peaceful retreat is located on a Skypiea class flying island just 9 leagues north of the Cliffs of Insanity. It was founded 3 centuries before the common era by the generalist wizard Gælhalee, "Because flying islands are cool".

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  • $\begingroup$ I hadn't noticed you already answered this before me.. +1 :) $\endgroup$
    – Joachim
    Mar 5, 2023 at 21:39
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Skytower Institute

An institute is an organisational body created for a certain purpose. They are often research organisations (research institutes) created to do research on specific topics, or can also be a professional body.
source

"The Skytower Institute was founded for the sole purpose of perpetuating the arcane knowledge, practices, and forgings of its proponents."

An 'institute' is a secular (or non-religious) organisational body that focuses on research. It says nothing about its size or scale, nor does it imply a political or military interest. It requires no (pre-existing) structures, but can be based in and/or increase with a growing town. Lastly, it allows for people to come and go, for carrying out project-based tasks, for doing extensive, long-term research, for agents to have permanent or temporary positions.

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When you go off to a distant location to study or work, isolated from distractions and other people, that place is often called a retreat. That word has no association with a particular use case, so the name Skytower Retreat would be equally valid as a religious monastery, an institute of magical study, or a fancy cabin in the mountains where government officials take foreign dignitaries to negotiate treaties.

The similar term hermitage emphasizes that this is a place set apart from the rest of the world. It's most commonly applied to a residence, though, so it might only be appropriate if this place was built out of what was once a large manor.

I'm a bit partial to the word adytum. Technically, it means "a sacred place that only a reserved few may enter". It originally referred to part of a Greek temple, but the description is generic and fits your magical academy perfectly. The word itself is fairly obscure and archaic, which makes it feel like a natural fit for something related to magic, and the definition has close parallels with other magic-related terms like arcane.

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  • $\begingroup$ "The word itself is fairly obscure and archaic" . . . except for those readers who are actually interested in the history of religions, and who will be quite surprised by the idea of a "public adytum". $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 4, 2023 at 6:51
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Use more than one word

Perhaps the best known of the examples in literature is Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Or in the "real world" Magic Institute of Excellence

If you use a word that your readers don't know, it is of limited value. Though Stephen R Donaldson might disagree as "His work is characterized by psychological complexity, conceptual abstractness, moral bleakness, and the use of an arcane vocabulary, and has attracted critical praise for its "imagination, vivid characterizations, and fast pace"


If you're a fan of Germanic languages, you can always jam multiple words together as a single world, e.g., Die Zauberflöte is the original German name for the Magic Flute opera. ZuaberSchule is a good translation for magic school. When I searched, ZuaberSchule is in actual use and even in the PONS German-English Online dictionary

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  • $\begingroup$ Tower of High Sorcery is already taken by Dragonlance. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Mar 4, 2023 at 22:05
  • $\begingroup$ +1 for ignoring the off-topic question and answering the implied on-topic question: What process can be used to name something? Thank you. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 5, 2023 at 0:11
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I don't believe that any such word already exists. Everyone uses words like "school" or "university." The few that don't do that call it an "institute" or, even worse, a "bureau" or "corps".

I suggest that you make something up. Pick a type of magic that best describes how magic works in your world, then make a portmanteau. For instance:

Wizardrogy Sorceridge Arcanidemy

The more your people use it, the more normal it will become.

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An option borrowed from kabalah is pardes or PaRDeS as the acronym is sometimes written in english

Peshat (פְּשָׁט‎) – "surface" ("straight") or the literal (direct) meaning.
Remez (רֶמֶז‎) – "hints" or the deep (allegoric: hidden or symbolic) meaning beyond just the literal sense. In the version of the New Zohar, Re'iah.
Derash (דְּרַשׁ‎) – from Hebrew darash: "inquire" ("seek") – the comparative (midrashic) meaning, as given through similar occurrences.
Sod (סוֹד‎) (pronounced with a long O as in 'lore') – "secret" ("mystery") or the esoteric/mystical meaning, as given through inspiration or revelation.

The word pardes in hebrew means grove or orchard, so the name pardes Skytower or skytower orchard could work pretty well, with the fruit referring to the knowledge cultivated. Additionally it lets you categorize your practitioners into tiers, from the relatively novice wizards of Peshat, to the deep-mystery experts of Sod

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The most common word would be a university, college or academy. Note that the word arcane which you use literally means "hidden or secret knowledge", and was used for mundane scholars in early Europe, to describe things which they studied and practiced. The concept of naturalism is modern - it has an ancient history but came to prominence as "opposite of magic" during the enlightenment. So in a medieval setting there would not be much distinction between learning magical knowledge and learning mundane knowledge - without the scientific method and a reasonably mature theory of physics there's not a clear distinction between the two. People would care more about the fact that it's a place where people are learning some uncommon (i.e. arcane) knowledge, so the places of study of magic would be called universities, colleges, schools and academies.

Following real historical tradition, I would expect a university to include several distinct areas of magic, or perhaps combine magical studies like conjuration and alchemy with mundane such as math, rhetoric and history. I would expect a college to house a group of peer or near-peer magicians who interact (whether through collaboration or competition) in their studies. A school or academy should have a clear distinction between a senior "teacher" class and a junior "student" class, with some students being destined for the former while others expect that upon graduation they would rejoin mainstream society with their skills and knowledge.

A laboratory, sanctum or tower invokes the sense of an individual wizard, or small group, working on some project with little concern for educating the future generation of magicians. It could also serve as a workshop or place of business for a wizard who provides services to the general population, similar to an architect's office or a blacksmith's shop.

Towers are preferred by political leaders, such as heads of magocracies, because it is a conveniently exotic counterpart to a mundane lord's keep or fortress, and is a bit like the Vatican palace. Witches like huts in wooded wilderness, often haunted.

A conclave, cloister, lodge or guildhouse is what you should use if you want to emphasize that the wizards try to isolate themselves from society, perhaps they even operate in secrecy like a cult. This is different from universities and academies trying to create an environment free of layperson riff-raff so that scholars could learn in peace. A university's doors are always open and it's no secret what they do. Much like a library, the point is not to keep people out but to maintain a specific environment. So long as people conform to that environment they are welcome. With a conclave or cloister, I would expect that outsiders would be explicitly kept out and/or kept in the dark and seen as undeserving of the secret knowledge. For small groups, "hermitage" might also work. However, in your case it sounds like the location acts as a place of learning with general admission, so these terms would seem inappropriate.

I wouldn't use something like "monastery". The point of monastery is for the monks within to quietly contemplate their faith, introspect, pray and minimize interactions with both the outside world and their fellows (many monasteries discourage chitchat and excessive socializing between brothers). This makes sense in a religious context, but for magical study it would be counterproductive, unless your setting's magic is very intuitive and based on ineffable inner strengths and wisdom which transcends words.

Everything else is a fancy neologism, because it's used much less often in popular fiction, so people won't respond to it as a widespread technical term. If you don't want to use any of the above, you might as well just invent whatever word you think sounds cool, without worrying if it has much precedent for use.

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