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This question already has an answer here:

The two systems of magic in this world are ritual and arcane magic. Ritual magic is slow and complex, needing multiple components (herbs, ritual circles, herbs, potions, etc) and requires chanting. A spell can take minutes to hours to perform. It is used in many ways that effect society, including healing, transmutation, summoning, and enchanting items to create magitech. Arcane magic is performed much quicker, taking only a few seconds with a short incantation. It is limited to attack and defense (throwing fireballs, creating full body sheilds, etc). It is fast and powerful, but dangerous. The use can harm or even kill himself in the process, and it is difficult to control and wield.

What would be a good reason why these forms of magic are performed differently?

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marked as duplicate by Vylix, L.Dutch, Amadeus, adaliabooks, sphennings Sep 4 '17 at 23:27

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • $\begingroup$ Note that even though it's not a complete duplicate, the answer on that question can be applied to your question: different sources, different risk, different method. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Sep 4 '17 at 17:27
  • $\begingroup$ Because.It's.Magic! $\endgroup$ – Bob Jarvis Sep 4 '17 at 21:12
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Ritual magic is essentially formulaic, with the magic being derived largely from the ingredients and the rituals of preparation. It is very similar to following a recipe and generally unaffected by the temperament of the practitioner at the time, although it may be affected by the quality of the ingredients and the precision of the ritual. It is relatively easy to learn and control.

Arcane magic derives from the control of personal power and is very subject to the emotional, physical and mental abilities of those wielding it. It requires a spiritual discipline to properly control it and this can be influenced by many different factors. In particular, typically, it is used for purposes of defence and attack where the practitioner is most likely to be unsettled by the circumstances, even though discipline is most important to wield this magic most effectively. It requires aptitude and much training to become proficient.

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Many of the answers we see here drive to the same answer. There's good reason for this: there is a physical equivalent for the 2 magic systems you seek in modern day science and technology. We indeed have our rituals and our arcane, though they come with different terminology.

Our "ritual magic" is forged by the rules of equilibrium thermodynamics. If you learned about thermodynamics in school, this is likely the version you learned. The idea is simple: everything wants to progress towards its lowest energy state. If you can adjust the chemicals and the apparatus such that the lowest energy state is the state you want, all you have to do is maintain that environment, and wait. As an example, consider the production of single-crystal silicon wafers which form the body of every integrated circuit you see. In the normal world, silicon is polycrystaline, meaning its made up of a bunch of silicon crystals all mashed together. However, if we can heat this silicon up past its melting point, then cool it just below its freezing point and introduce a single cooled silicon crystal near the top, thermodynamics will cause the bath to slowly crystalize onto this one seed crystal, creating a massive single crystal of silicon. This crystal is then diced into wafers, and the rest is history!

The key to this "ritual" approach is the presence of clearly defined steps, along with enough time in each step to ensure completion. In the above example, we first heated the silicon and gave it enough time to melt. If we heat it a little too long, that's fine, but we have to make sure we give it enough time. Then we let it cool. It can cool too long, that's fine, but we have to make sure it cools slow enough that the only crystal that forms is the one from the seed crystal. If you look in manufacturing, you can see countless processes which have multiple step. In between each step, the product is well defined and unchanging.

We leverage this for quality control. Because the product which goes between each stage of one of these processes is very well defined, we can model how small errors in each step can change the final product. We can introduce stabilizing steps which erase those small errors. We have a great deal of control, but it takes time. Every step has to be completed. If you get impatient, you can have a partial product that isn't quite what you wanted. That can be disastrous down the line.

The other approach to construction divines its power from non-equilibrium thermodynamics. We rarely learn about this kind of thermodynamics in school because, frankly, it's hard. In non-equilibrium thermodynamics, new steps start while the material is still changing from the previous steps. One must constantly be aware of what is going on inside the product, and adapt the steps to match.

My favorite example of this is glassblowing. Glassblowing is beautiful because it never stops, from the moment the glass is collected to the moment it enters the cooling kiln. If you watch a glass blower, they never let the glass stop moving. And you can watch them adjust their process as they go. Often the decorative designs one sees in glasswork stem from the glass doing something unexpected during working, and the glassworker had to work around it, turning this unexpected into something beautiful. We also see this in the art of blacksmithy, especially the advanced blacksmiths like those who produced Samurai swords. Their product is constantly changing as the carbon in the blade burns and the crystalline structure of the steel shifts.

In these two extremes, we see the heart of your magic system. The ritual side focuses on purity and taking the time to guarantee a complex outcome. The arcane side focuses on moving at the speed of the environment, and encourages adaptation.

Interestingly enough, once one becomes good at one approach, one tries to bridge the gap towards the other. Modern forging techniques are becoming more and more continuous, with more sensors to help adapt to the constantly changing environment. Modern glasswork prides itself on the ability to make a consistent product every time for sale, regardless of the environment that one produced in. Thus they can truly be seen as one continuum, if it were not for the very difficult point in the middle which is hard from both points of view.

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You could use a somewhat modified version of the D&D explanation:

All magic is ritual magic. Some rituals are designed to be left partially completed, in order to be finished with a few words and/or gestures.

In combat, you don't have the ~10 minutes it takes to perform the magic missile ritual. So you execute 90% of the magic missile ritual the day before, then leave it hanging - with the target(s) undesignated. Once you designate the target and dump power into it, the ritual completes and the missile fires off.

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Hmm ... Some thoughts...

Gaia vs Nietzsche

Could be that ritual magic is tied to the land and its spirits. The rituals are the method by which one contacts one's local spirits, makes friends with them, and begs them to help. All action is actually done by the spirits, and the practitioner's job is to soothe, mollify, and bargain with them.

Arcane magic is ... different. Its practitioners have figured out how to see and influence the energy which makes up the world. Their power comes from 'bending' that energy via sheer force of will. Turns out that while spirits can seamlessly work with this energy, human brains can only 'hook up' to it when in the grip of powerful emotions, of which rage is the one which resonates best. This is why their magic is mostly blowing things up. They understand the weave of energy enough to destroy, but not enough to create.

Different Sources

There are actually two sources of magic. One is gentle, slow magic coming from the auras of living things. It takes time and focus to gather it up and coax it to flow where you want it.

The other source is ... sunlight! The Sun is not a flaming ball of gas (as if!). It is an angry God, which hammers the world with its fury. Some men have learned how to seize the sunlight and bend it into weapons. Light bouncing off the moon is cruel and steely, and can be bent into defenses.

There are other possibilities, but let's start with these.

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Two immediate options come to mind.

Styles of Control

Arcane magic is quick, but relatively dirty. This requires a large punch of power that is deftly and rather quickly formed into something like a fireball. Doing anything complex with this is basically impossible and may result in the caster getting fried himself.

Ritual magic, on the other hand, allows for both precision and higher levels of direction. It can take minutes to years depending on the scope of what you're doing, but the ritual allows for both safeguards and direction of energy which is simply not possible with Arcane magic.

I like this option because someone who is good at one, could potentially know the basics of the other. People would probably specialize on one side or the other, but I see no reason why someone with the equivalent of a Doctorate in magic could handle some of both. A genius could be proficient in both.

Different Magic Sources

Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series comes to mind. In his series, men have access to saidin and women have access to saidar. These sources of magic are fundamentally different. As such, it's often said that a woman cannot teach a man to channel and vice versa.

The differences go as far as to be conceptually different. When traveling (think teleporting) a woman uses saidar to make the two places the same. Men, however, use saidin to bore a hole in the fabric of reality itself. Men trying to use a woman's technique, or a woman trying to use a man's, will result in disaster.

This gives you a more complete divide and would help establish different camps within a world.

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Style derives from approach

Magic is powerful and dangerous. Intrinsically, it is a force beyond the ken and remit of lowly humans -- that's why you're able to accomplish such "magical" things with it.

Ritual magic attempts to tame this powerful force through the rituals. All the chanting and herbs and mystic circles are ways to control magical power and direct it toward productive ends.

For example, if you wanted to light up your room, you could set off a nuclear bomb in it. That would work, but would destroy your room (and everything from miles around). However, if you took that nuclear bomb and put it in a pressure vessel, surround it by moderator and control rods and safety staff, then channel the power of the nuclear reaction through boiling water and turbines and generators and miles of electrical wires (that is, make a nuclear reactor), you can safely light up your room by flipping a switch.

That's ritual magic. All the accoutrements of ritual magic are the pressure vessels and turbines and control rods in the nuclear reactor. They control and direct the phenomenal cosmic power of magic into something that's safe to use, and as routine as flipping a switch.

Arcane Magic But sometimes you want a nuclear bomb. Arcane magic bypasses the control and direction of ritual magic and has the magician try to bleed off some of the raw magical power directly. There's still some control systems in place, as no one could directly handle the full extent of raw magic, but they're more "intuitive" and will-based. This allows arcane magic to be faster than ritual magic, but at the expense of being much, much more dangerous. No one would use arcane magic for anything that doesn't require rapid access (i.e. battle spells).

Also, because people using arcane magic tend to blow themselves (and by-standers) up, it's rather difficult to come up with new arcane magic spells. In order to use arcane magic you have to develop a good intuitive sense of the control needed. For existing spells, there's established mental exercises which allow you to practice in a "safe" context (like "wax-on/wax-off" in Karate Kid) before risking your life actually using magic. That's hard to do with new spells, as you're likely to blow yourself up before you can figure out what sort of control you need.

Contrast that with ritual magic, where learning the spells is learning the philosophy behind magical control. (e.g. when is lavender used instead of rosemary in the incense or how a binding circle drawn one way influences the magic versus a binding circle drawn the other way.) So new spells can be safely plotted out on paper well before you risk yourself to cast them. (Though, of course, a large number of magicians will likely learn their needed spells by rote, rather than actually learning magical theory, as magical theory is rather complex and specialized.)

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  • $\begingroup$ Ah, looks like we both had the same core idea. (I read the answers before posting, but I guess you posted while I was composing mine.) I like the nuclear reactor analogy. $\endgroup$ – aschepler Sep 4 '17 at 21:54
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The Ritual vs Normal Magic.

Before going on with the actual answer I must admit I'm making several assumptions here based on what little information is provided. I know very little of the way magic functions in your setting, how powerful it is and how powerful rituals are compared to normal magic.

Normal magic.

This magic is cast quickly, a single chant and a quick release of energy, though no persistent effects except for the physical ramifications of energy redistribution through the spell. This could be explained by something akin to a weave (from either wheel of time or dungeons and dragons) that can be woven to do its master's bidding but only briefly before unraveling again to return to the status quo.

The ritual.

Extrapolating from the assumption above, some situations call for a weaving that can be sustain one way or another, this is where the ritual comes in. Hours upon hours of chanting and channeling the right kinds of energy through the right conduits at the right times makes for a more durable weaving, one that doesn't unravel in the blink of an eye, thus permitting persisting effects.

I'm sure there might be countless other reasons as to why magic might behave the way it does, but this is my two cents on the matter.

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David Eddings Belgariad and Malloreon series explore multiple modes of "magic", although only the use of rituals to control demons was actually called Magic. The disciples of Bel used "the will and the word", a combination of knowledge of the physical sciences with telekinetics, the gods operate in yet another mode, effectively rewriting some natural laws in a manner that is undetectable to other modalities, and finally the universal Principals can use any of these modalities, plus a few that are only hinted at.

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Magic is dangerous. Either use has the potential to go terribly wrong, but in different ways.

An arcane caster simply has the ability to tap into raw magic and let a brief blast of it out into the world, in a crudely shaped form. A fiery blast. A hardening of the air. A dazzling display of lights. But it's difficult to control exactly where the blast manifests, and the effect is brief. An arcane caster who foolishly attempts to create an especially large or strong effect, or to sustain it for too long, risks getting enveloped in their own spell, or possibly releasing some unshaped wild magic. Both are usually deadly.

Rituals use the same source of magic, but their many precise steps serve two main purposes: First and most important, to control the flow of magic into the material world. This is a bit like putting a clamp on a fully-pressurized fire hose until just a trickle of water drips out. Many of the more powerful rituals actually contain more safety measures against sudden bursts of magic than really should be necessary. Secondly, the ritual needs to coax the magical forces into a specific form, which can finally result in effects much more intricate than any arcane magic can approach. The gradual collection of a larger total amount of magic also enables ritual effects to cover a larger area and last longer.

Not that most ritual magic practitioners understand much of that at all. Most of them simply follow the exact instructions which have been handed down now over many generations. And all through the ritual lore they need to memorize before attempting a ritual are warnings, not to deviate from these steps or experiment with substitutions. Many of the warnings are vague, but some tell of villages destroyed and land unfarmable for years. One summoning ritual mentions something unclear about an abomination that destroyed kingdoms and still slumbers. A few geniuses can begin to see the patterns when comparing the various known rituals, but do they dare do anything with that knowledge?

Presumably there once were some extremely simple rituals which were sort of in a middle ground and would do nothing but increase the focus or safety of an arcane blast. But nobody actually seems to know of incantations like that. Maybe in the distant past as rituals became more sophisticated, only the most useful ones were handed down to later generations? Maybe some ruler of the past successfully administrated a "purge" of all ritual magics except the most useful ones, to try to eliminate unwise experiments?

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