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A common motif in folklore is that magical beings and forces are repelled by cold iron. Since heating iron to a certain degree can cause it to lose its magnetic properties, I'm looking for a way to link this concept with ferromagnetism, i.e. ferromagnetic materials of any kind can be used to repel, disrupt, or neutralize magical energies, with iron merely being the most commonly known.

How might this work in a contemporary setting where there exists a branch of physics geared toward the study of magic? Is there any kind of natural precedent for it?

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  • $\begingroup$ "Cold iron" or "cold steel" does not refer to actual cold (as in intentionally chilled) metal, it refers to the fact that the blade feels cold when it stabs through you. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM May 7 '16 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM While you are correct I think the question is asking about magnetism repelling magic rather than about temperature of the metals. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon May 7 '16 at 15:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Bellerephon - probably, but that's why I just wrote it as a comment, not a whole big answer about why the question doesn't makes sense, etc. I never heard a folkloric story about cold iron repelling demons, so I thought there might be some misunderstanding over the "cold steel" expression. But that doesn't invalidate the question in any way. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM May 7 '16 at 15:15
  • $\begingroup$ I believe the expression "cold iron" actually refers to native meteoric iron which is worked cold (vs. iron from ore, which comes out of the furnace hot). (It's also metallurgically different, as meteoric iron minerals are FeNi alloys.) $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay May 7 '16 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM Cold iron is pretty common in folk lore. $\endgroup$ – T.J.L. May 9 '16 at 18:46
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To my understanding, the magnetic properties in iron and other materials rely more on

  1. The crystal structure in the material being aligned in a certain way. Cooling your heated iron inside a magnetic field will align it to the field and retain that alignment once cooled (hence making it a permanent magnet). Or as in your example, break a previously strong alignment if the new magnetic field in which it cools is comparably weak, i.e. the earth's magnetic field. (Stroking an object repeatedly with a permanent magnet might also tend to align crystals, although the final effect will be much weaker.) Also, striking an object (with e.g. a hammer) can also weaken an alignment of the crystal structure.
  2. Some materials conduct magnetic field lines better than other materials (e.g. laminated transformer core vs. air), even if not especially aligned.

Of course, not all iron-containing materials are equal. In the old folklore days one might have had much less choice between different alloys, but these days a lot of advances have been made in the metallurgy science.

Manipulating objects (that have at least some iron content, e.g. nails) via controlling magnetic fields (perhaps induced via strong electrical currents in the brain) must seem like magic (google levitating magnets). These could conceivably be deflected via other ferromagnetic objects... I wonder if nerve tissue would really be able to withstand such quite powerful electrical surges... Maybe only certain people having such a very rare genetic trait, which may be passed on to offspring.

Such an explanation would severely limit the kinds of "magic" possible, much less than what one reads about in fantasy novels. Then again, the folklore of old may have tended to exaggerate especially after some generations of oral transmission.

Seems you are venturing into Magneto territory.

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Here are a few options. There are probably more that I have missed.

  1. Electricity is a form of energy and is also closely related to magnetism. Magic could be related to electricity in some way, they may be the same force or magic may be stored as electricity in the wizards body. This would allow iron to weaken a magician by potentially conducting away magic before it can be used. Electricity also creates a magnetic field around it. This magnetic field could be crucial to magic in some way. A large amount of iron nearby will disrupt the magnetic field and reduce/eliminate the magics effects.

  2. Magic may be controlled by the brains electromagnetic field which would be affected by nearby iron.

  3. Magic requires a higher concentration of iron in the blood than normal people have. A magnet causes the blood to be pulled towards the magnet causing the magician to pass out due to the slowing of the blood flow.

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  • $\begingroup$ #3 isn't particularly likely. The average person has only about 4 grams of iron in their body, spread out across all their hemoglobin and stored in various tissues. Even if magic-users have 100x the iron in their bodies (far more than any human could survive), any magnet powerful enough to meaningfully affect blood flow would be much more dangerous to the wielder than to their enemies because it would be strongly attracting every ferromagnetic object in the general vicinity. $\endgroup$ – emo bob May 7 '16 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ @emobob Yeah, you are probably right. Then again these people have magic, there could be some way around these problems. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon May 7 '16 at 15:56

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