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So in many worlds, magic is a source of power that magic users can draw upon and "do stuff with" - make elemental effects (fire, cold, lightning), heal wounds, shield from arrows, light rooms, etc. The amount of power they can draw upon and the skill with which they can turn it into useful stuff is like any other talent: they have some innate ability that is improved by practice/training/studying.

Given this form of magic, what if magic users couldn't turn that source off? The energy would need to go somewhere. How would magic users deal with this, even as babes or when sleeping?

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    $\begingroup$ The Dragon and the George series gets into this a little bit when the new wizard starts accidently casting spells because of the excess magic. Magic in that universe is kind of weird anyway, though. $\endgroup$ – Wesley Obenshain Sep 24 '14 at 3:14

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Assuming that a magic user is constantly drawing power and can't turn it off, there are several ways to deal with it.

Permanant storage is one I have heard of. Amulets of power, gemstones, or some other magical artifact can store power for future use.

Grounding is another option. Feed the magic into the earth or back into the magical source.

Finally, you could consiously dispell it. Magicians could be forced into frequent casting or burn up. They could have a pet project or personal habbit they work on with excess magic or be required to perform community service magic, like strengthing crops or improving the weather.

Also, hopefully magic wouldn't effect a person until puberty or you could passivly bleed off magic from children before they are old enough to do it themselves.

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  • $\begingroup$ Eragon is a good example of "Magic = energy" as an idea. In this case, Magic isn't constantly produced, it is simply converted from other types of energy: hence a person can die if they use more energy than they "have", or alternately they can slowly siphon off some of their own energy store it in a gemstone or similar. Think of it like going for a run: you create energy from the sugar/fat in your body, but if you don't need it you simply leave it in the stored state. $\endgroup$ – Jon Story Dec 9 '14 at 13:46
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    $\begingroup$ I like the idea of grounding the magic out and it seems like it makes the most realistic sense to enable even a newborn to get rid of the excess. All magic users simply have to use their magic or remain in bare skin contact with the ground to have it drain off. This way babies with magic aren't in any danger as they can simply sleep on bare earth. Works with non-dirt based grounding too; maybe all magi have to sleep touching live plants or something else. $\endgroup$ – Prof. Bear Mar 15 '16 at 18:04
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Most wizards usually need to 'collect' the energy consciously to one extent or another, often that is a large part of the study.

However, say the collection is automatic and unconscious, you have 3 alternatives that I see.

  1. it burns out the host, maybe kills their talent, maybe kills them.
  2. they are like a battery on a charger, when they are full to capacity they quite absorbing more power.
  3. When getting overloaded they discharge the energy in a magical display of some kind, in one way, shape, or form. Which could lead to some very interesting quirks in spell casters if they have a 'relief' valve that just randomly generates a magical effect. Maybe someones pants disappear or someone always coughs up a furball...
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  • $\begingroup$ I like the battery idea because it opens a lot of narrative opportunities - the levels at which a wizard soaks up magic is very slow but their storage capacity is high, so wizards need recharging time after casting significant magic or to avoid casting spells if they have something mighty planned. Also gives the possibility that magic could be shared and wizard teams could channel power into a single caster. $\endgroup$ – glenatron Oct 22 '14 at 11:36
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This seems simple enough. The wizard could constantly radiate the 'energy' in a form that doesn't interact much with matter, as a sort of aura. This would have to be fairly low level radiation, so as Vulcronos said permanent storage would be useful, and they would be easily visible to anything with magical means as a result of the aura (Of course, mere mortals are constantly radiating infrared and thus would be easily visible as well.)

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding! This is a good, commonsense post; I like it. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Oct 22 '14 at 1:36
  • $\begingroup$ It could be radiated on a perceptible level - maybe they give off light or start to hum a little. $\endgroup$ – glenatron Oct 22 '14 at 11:38
  • $\begingroup$ @glenatron I was thinking this aura would be a constant occurrence, except when casting or storing. Perhaps a very slight glow, so you wouldn't notice it as such except when in the dark or when it stopped, but it would still set the wizard apart from others for mundane people. $\endgroup$ – buzzy613 Oct 23 '14 at 16:23
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With the assumption that spellcasters must perform spells to relieve the potentially harmful buildup of magical power within their bodies, it is likely that anyone with magical ability who was not able to unconsciously bleed off excess power would have suffered some sort of calamity and would therefore be less likely to have contributed to the next generation's gene pool, hence most spellcasters should be able to unconsciously bleed excess energy relatively harmlessly.

Some possibilities include:

  • That spellcasters spontaneously cast spells when their magic power levels become too high. This could include effects that might in other worlds have been attributed to poltergeists.

  • That spellcasters can unconsciously maintain spells, for example levitating an object while asleep drains just enough accumulating magical power to keep levels constant.

  • That there may be spells that prevent accumulation of dangerously excessive magical energy.

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A good use of magical power that's not otherwise used could be a permanent self-protection shield that would be unconsciously supported. A side effect would be that if a magician exhausts his magical power for some spell, he would temporarily lose his magic protection and become as vulnerable as any other human.

Indeed, such a magic self-protection could also be used to identify magicians early on, when they themselves don't yet know that they have magical powers. It would show up by them not getting easily bruised.

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They could just cast some spells. And considering that levitating or moving things, casting fireballs, etc. is adding energy to stuff and all energy becomes heat sooner or later, they could just emit unused magic as heat. Having a body temperature of 37-40°C is not that good idea and rather unpleasant, so I guess they would prefer to just cast spells. So if they don't dissipate magic, they get sick. They could also emit light or radiation. :P Or turn magic (energy) into mass by producing few atoms of matter. Or turning oxygen in air into ozone... Possibilities are endless.

You could also get inspired by Sergei Lukyanenko and make the wizards have less magic than the world -> the magic flows to them like water to drains. The more powerful wizard, the less magic he produces and the faster he can drain magic from the world. Ultimate mage produces no magic at all.

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For a baby wizard that receives energy without knowing how to use or dispel it, I would (besides reading Asimov's Foundation and Earth where Solarians have a similar issue) imagine that they have innate means.

Such a baby (and consequently the adult wizard) would have also an innate knowledge of how to dispel that energy, as well as he knows how to breath or cry or suck. The baby would be able to dispose of that energy by some means that do not require conscious effort like making small magic effects around him, slowly learning to use it to get objectives like a bottle or cleaning his diaper.

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Assuming that "magic" is a form of energy the body of a wizard would use, and assuming this "use" of "magic" is a biological or biochemical process, well, couldn't the wizard just grow fat? I mean, basically it would mean more "magic" energy = more calories. Just to give the idea another spin. This could also be used the other way around: excessive use of magic would drain the wizard of energy, ie calories, starving him.

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  • $\begingroup$ For a series with a form of this, read The Soldiers Son Trilogy by Robin Hobbs. $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson Jun 3 '16 at 13:45
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I'm curious as to why you would believe that there is a constant flow of energy into them that must be dispelled. You said it yourself, first in the question and again in the explanation. "Magic is a source of energy that wizards have access to." "Magic is a source of power that magic users can draw upon."

It is my belief that magic is not a "source of power" so much as energy is a source of magical power. Everything in the universe has inherent energy. Matter, electromagnetic waves, radiation, everything around you is constantly oscillating.

Matter is held together by energy. Matter itself has a wavelength, albeit a very low one. When a magic user or wizard attempts to cast a spell, I believe he is making use of the energy that is around him, and transmuting it into useful abilities. This is why many people (for example, Wiccans) who make use of spells and magical powers often have many stones and crystals around them. Different materials have different energy levels, different frequencies, and are all useful for different things. Many materials are good for storing energy, so this can be a way for the wizard to gather energy and carry it with him. I do not believe there is any need to "bleed off" unused energy, I don't think it is even right to call it unused energy, but rather it is energy that has not yet been used. Energy that is acting in the way necessary to hold the universe together, until the witch or wizard wishes to make use of it.

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  • $\begingroup$ The premise of the question is there is a constant flow into a magic user. Your magic system may not work this way, but the nice thing about made up things is everyone gets their own version. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Dec 16 '15 at 19:02
  • $\begingroup$ Right - to follow up on Samuel, we can't access the inherent energy of matter, waves, etc to produce what we consider to be traditionally magical effects. The question is making the assumption that there is some other field/ubiquitous energy source which some people interact with to produce magical effects. The gotcha with this is that these people have to interact with this field at least somewhat all of the time - just like we have to interact with magnetic or gravitational fields. $\endgroup$ – Telastyn Dec 16 '15 at 19:11
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I would suggest an extensive use of charms, fetishes and other magic items.

Creating the items burns off some magic, but the items also continue to burn magic while worn.

A charm of fortune, or a ring of warmth, or an everclean nappy would all slowly siphon a bit of personal energy to maintain the effect.

This would also give a reason for the eccentric appearance of the more powerful wizards, who will have robes and hats covered in Runes and will be decked out in rings, necklaces, and other jewelry composed of gems, bones, feathers and precious metals.

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I recommend reading "A secret Atlas". In this book, magic can be accessed by mastering one's art (whether that is sword-fighting, organization, art, botanics,... anything really). One theme is that when fighters access magic in this way, not all the magic is actually used and is spread into the environment. This actually caused a big cataclysm in the world when an extensive war happened, changing the environment and everything.

Circles somehow protect against magic, so when two sufficiently skilled warriors fight, they do so inside a circle which keeps the magical energy inside (the same is done with the last wizard in existence, he is constantly kept in layers and layers of circles around where he lives).

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