Blood, Fire, and Magic
This has been by far the most difficult article I have written. Not in understanding the subject. That was fairly easy. Rather in how to make it understandable to the reader. For those who have experience with fantasy RPGs or novels, this might be much easier to grasp. For those without such experience it can become convoluted. So I will break it down into its individual elements to make it as comprehensible as possible.
The Nature of Magic in ASOIAF
What is magic? In GRRM's world magic can best be described as a force kind of like static electricity.
It exists everywhere, but it is primarily dormant. It has no effect on the world around it save when it builds up, like water in a reservoir. That image suits us very well.
The amount going in is usually small, but it builds with time because something, usually a damn, holds it in. It is then released when the damn is opened.
Now, magic is not 'created'. As in the real world, magical energy just like real energy is neither created nor destroyed. It is simply moved from place to place. The magic gathers in 'reservoirs' until it is released and the cycle repeats.
The reservoirs can be anything; people, objects, places, animals, anything. Certain things have a natural affinity to magic and this makes them more suitable as reservoirs.
I will get into this later.
How is Magic Gathered?
This is a more difficult question and lies at the heart of why many people do not understand the story. Magic energy cannot be manipulated the same way as real energy. It isn't a question of wires or batteries.
It can only be moved by mental energy. In other words the thought processes of living beings are what manipulates magic. Not necessarily intelligent beings. Or even human. Simply living minds which possess the capacity for thought.
The most powerful thought, at least as far as magic is concerned, is belief. Not belief in any specific entity. Just belief, for belief is the force that drives thought. Thus any deeply held religion, whether the Faith of the Seven, Red R'hllor, or even cat-headed Indross counts. Even a lack of 'belief' if it is held strongly enough. Anything that drives people's thoughts and emotions. And that is the key point. It is a belief which powers emotions. Any emotion, for if the belief is not strong enough to generate emotion than it will not be enough to move magical energy.
There is more to it than that of course and here is the rest of it. It isn't enough for just one person to 'believe'. Many, as in thousands if not millions, must believe. Only the collective belief of multitudes is strong enough to move magical energy. And it must be over time. An instant's belief won't do anything. Only a sustained belief over time will affect the magic of the world.
Let's take an example, and there is none better than the 'Curse of Harrenhal'. Harrenhal was just a castle when it was first built. But over time, as each owner met a grisly end, people began to believe it was cursed. In the most literal sense, this was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because thousands of people over centuries believed that Harrenhal was cursed it became cursed. The magic energy literally impregnated the very stones.
This brings up another equally important point. It is not possible to just 'disbelieve' in magic. ASOIAF is not a children's cartoon. You cannot 'believe' and instantly get magic powers. By the same token you cannot 'disbelieve' and end the effect. It took centuries of people believing there is a curse to create the curse and it would take an equal if not greater time period of disbelief to end it. Obviously, ending the curse would require universal disbelief and that is not likely to happen.
Power builds up over time. If all the magic feeding into it is cut off it will eventually bleed away. The key term is 'eventually'. As long as magic is concentrated within a reservoir it can be tapped into. As long as a sizable group believes in the reservoir magic will continue to feed into it. Is it possible to use up a reservoir? Theoretically yes, but we have no examples as yet.
How is Magic Stored?
Magic accumulates pretty much anywhere that is a focus of people's thoughts. Thus, pretty much anything can become the focus of magic. HOWEVER, it is a little more complicated. Certain things or people have a natural affinity for magic in that they absorb magic much as metal holds static electricity. This happens even if no one specific person thinks about the subject. This is where is gets complicated fast.
Imagine water flowing over a plain. The water gathers in channels as it moves downhill. If the water chances upon a hole it will fill in the hole as it goes past.
Magic on Planatos is always moving. As a result, the more it flows the more it will accumulate in places that have an affinity for it. In essence, what matters when it comes to magic being manifested on Planatos is the presence of things or people having an affinity for it.
For some this affinity is natural, as with the weirwood trees.
For others it requires an object or person to be the subject of other people's veneration or worship. For example: the character of Septum Moon.
Moon almost certainly possessed no magic powers or learning in magic. Nevertheless, he became the focus of veneration of thousands of followers. This veneration manifested itself in his fathering of countless children even upon barren women. His followers believed he could make barren women fertile, therefore he did. It may also have contributed to his phenomenal constitution which allowed him to live for some time after drinking a large quantity of poison and having his throat cut.
How Do You Know What has an Affinity?
This is the critical question. There is nothing in particular that marks a reservoir. Essentially anyone or anything could become a vessel for magic power. There are however certain persons or places where magic gathers more readily than others.
The Wall is an example of a place or object where magic naturally builds up.
Daenerys is a person who is the focus of magical energy.
Understand that just because a person is a reservoir for magical power does not mean they themselves can use that magic. But those who can are far more powerful than those who are not. I'll discuss this further below.
What makes a place or object the subject of magic focus requires a level of notoriety. Yes, they have to be famous, or infamous. It has to be known and talked about.
Possessing magic wards or glyphs helps.
People don't necessarily have to know where it is or even what it looks like. It just has to be the focus of people's thoughts and/or desires. It doesn't even have to be a specific item. Melisandre says repeatedly that there is power in King's Blood. What gives it power is the veneration people have for royalty. The identity of the king himself is irrelevant, save with certain exceptions which I will be going into.
The Wall is especially good as it itself is a creation made with magic. When it comes to people, those who have a special bloodline, such as the Targaryens, are more likely to become a focus.
How Do You Use Magic Assuming You Can Access It?
This is a totally separate question from where magic accumulates. Accessing magic, like accessing electricity, requires specific resources and/or training.
The person who uses magic doesn't necessarily need to be a focus of magic power in themselves. Anyone with the proper training can use magic. But nothing comes for free. The casting of any spell is a struggle. Even fairly simple and weak ones. A great deal of concentration is required and there is never any certainty that it will work. I believe that Melisandre and Mirri Mas Duur both make this clear - failure is always a possibility.
Here is where we hit the biggest hang-up in the whole story. And one of the most confusing aspects of magic on Planatos. There doesn't appear to be any variety in what kinds of magic exist, like how magic is dealt with in RPGs; cleric, wizard, warlock, ect.
There are limitations on how it can be used. Specific words or gestures don't appear to be necessary. What is, is that the 'spell' or ritual must match the purpose for which it is being cast. Spells involving fire must include fire. Magic involving life must involve life. Or death as the case may be. If the ritual or spell matches the purpose for which the magic is being used, even a totally untrained person, such as Dany, can cast a spell. This is what happened when she hatched her dragons.
When Daenerys held Drogo's funeral pyre she intentionally designed it to be a magic ceremony. This is more obvious in the show than in the books, but it is still noticeable. What she intended with this ceremony is still very much in question, though the idea that she knew or suspected it would result in the birth of the dragons is reasonable. The ceremony is not based on anything we can identify or recognize from any of the lore Martin has so far given us. To all appearances Dany made it up herself. Yet it worked.
The Power of Ritual
Ritual is central to the use of magic. Whether simple or complex, the act of ritual is how the user casts spells. The ritual serves the purpose of focusing the minds of the user and any witnesses to it. Focus is what separates a magic user from everyone else. Without that focus the user cannot generate the emotional and mental energy to direct the magic.
The power of the ritual or spell is directly connected to its complexity. In a very real sense how many people are involved, whether as participants or witnesses, directly correlates to how much magical energy is released. The more emotional involvement with the ritual the more power is harnessed.
With Dany's hatching of the dragons we see a direct correlation between the ritual and the outcome. Melisandre's ritual of burning the gods on Dragonstone is more dubious.
We know for a fact that Mel knows and can use magic. But the actual accomplishment of this particular ritual is not so clear. The only effect we see is the glamor on Stannis' sword. Such a small reward for so much effort makes no sense. For such an emotionally charged spell there had to have been some greater purpose. We must leave this unanswered until we get more information.
What may be involved is 'storage'. It is possible that when a user engages in a ritual, as Mel did on the beach of Dragonstone, the magic is not actually expended but stored. The user is using the ritual to release magic from its reservoir, in this case the isle of Dragonstone itself, and storing it within themselves. In other words, they are turning themselves into a reservoir.
A similar thing might have happened on the show with the burning of Shireen.
Mel may have believed that burning her would cause the weather to break, but in fact what happened was that the magic energy released was stored within her own body. She then used this energy, even without realizing it, when she resurrected Jon. It may very well happen this way in the books too, though it is likely that the details will be different.
The presence of spectators may or may not be necessary to cast a spell. But it does appear that having spectators, who are intrinsically part of the performance, increases the power of the ritual. The most powerful spells likely require an audience.
In order for ritual to work the user has to themselves focus. Random thoughts don't do it. Concentration is required. This is where training comes in. Just as with any skill, practice and proper technique is necessary for the user to correctly perform the ritual.
The most critical quality the user has to have is self-belief or self-confidence. If the user does not believe in their own ability to use magic it will not work no matter how well they perform the ritual. This is why Dany needed the dreams Quaithe sent her. Though some claim it was Bloodraven and others might believe it was R'hllor. But I don't believe that any gods exist on GRRM's world. Some might dispute this given the evidence we have with Thoros resurrecting Beric. But we only have Thoros' word on his crisis of faith. And it needs to be pointed out, just because someone questions their belief doesn't mean they disbelieve. Nor is vociferous advocacy proof of certainty. Belief, or lack thereof, is often subconscious.
How much the audience's attention is concentrated is debatable, but it does appear to be necessary. The ritual helps concentrate the audience's attention which moves the energy. This might be why Mel's burning of Shireen fails to work as she wanted. The audience's attention was focused on Melisandre and not on the storm which was the ostensible reason for the ceremony.
Focusing the Mind (addendum: 3/22/2021)
Thanks to Crowfood's Daughter for giving me the understanding to write this addition.
Focusing the mind to the point it allows one to actually use magic is the hardest part. Although technically anyone can become a magic-user, few have the mental disciple to do so.
Acquiring this disciple is no easy task. Buddist monks spend their lives learning it. It does not come naturally to most people.
There are several ways it can be instilled. Bloodraven constantly tells Bran to 'open your third eye'. This is Bloodraven trying to get Bran to focus on his inner self. His unconscious self. 'Opening the third eye' is the method of the greenseers to provide the mental focus to use magic.
Crowfood's Daughter mentioned in her video 'The Mazemakers of Lorath' of how the priests of Lorath would blindfold themselves and walk a maze. This too is a method of unlocking mental focus.
Perhaps the most mentioned method of all is becoming 'no-one'.
Yes, the Faceless Men really do use magic and not just in wearing other people's faces. In the book Fire and Blood we are told of the simultaneous deaths of the Rogare brothers on the same day. This was no coincidence. Magic was almost certainly used. And the Faceless Men must us it on many other occasions too because their hits always manage to look like accidents.
The constant effort the Kindly Man exhorts on Arya to become No-One is him trying to get her to focus, just as Bloodraven tells Bran to open his third eye. When they say to become no-one they don't mean surrendering their entire personality. That's literally impossible. This once again raises the question of just how much about Arya does the Kindly Man know. More than we think, I'm sure.
Daenerys too undergoes a similar kind of training, albeit through her visions. 'Become the dragon' is on par with 'open your third eye' and 'you must be no-one'. It is Quaithe's attempt to get Daenerys to focus just as Bran learns to do. Whether Arya and Daenerys will eventually learn is still an open question.
How does the nature of the focus effect the use of magic? The fame for want of a better word does affect how much magic a focus has. The better known, not necessarily better liked, something is the more magic it can accumulate. Is there a limit to how much magic a focus can contain? It is reasonable to think so, but we have yet to see one.
One taps into the reservoir through ceremony and ritual. The performer of the ritual does not need to know the reservoir personally if it is a person. Or be in physical contact with it. The user merely needs to know of the existence of the reservoir to tap into it. And I mean they have to know the person is a focus. Can an individual who is aware that they are a reservoir prevent someone from tapping into the power they contain? We don't know.
Magic users tap into whatever reservoirs they are conscious of regardless of location.
That being said, geographic proximity does have an effect. Mel admits being physically at the Wall increased her power. Quaithe mentions how a street magician now has the ability to cast real ladders of fire when before he could barely make a flame. The presence of the dragons in Qarth gave the magician the power. Understand, the dragons themselves are not the source of magic. They have become a reservoir of magic due to their fame. And let's not forget Dany herself is also a focus for magic.
It needs to be repeated; the user must be consciously aware of the fact that the reservoir exists. The user only taps into those reservoirs they know of even if there is one in much closer proximity. The user in essence acts as a conduit, funneling magic power from the reservoir to whatever the user is targeting.
Obviously, if a person is aware they are a focus that makes them far more powerful for they literally are the source for the magic they are using. This is likely why Euron is so determined to use Dany for his aims. Or more accurately, the entity using his body. Not only is she a major focus of magic, but when he carries out his plans of sacrificing her that switches the focus off of her and onto him. He thus becomes the greatest focus of magic on Planatos and fulfills his dream of becoming a god.
Maybe he isn't so mad after all.
Obviously, in a world with magic the world has to have objects and relics that also have magic.
Given the rules that have been discussed, how does this affect the existence of artifacts? Artifacts are different from locations like Harrenhal in that they are intentionally imbued with magic. The presence of glyphs or magic writing on the artifacts is not strictly necessary just as spells do not require specific words. Magic writing serves the same purpose that training does for the magic user, it helps to focus the emotions.
The effort to create such an artifact is therefore commensurate with how powerful the artifact itself becomes. The more powerful the artifact the more time and effort must be used in its creation. What matters it the amount of focus and attention the item receives. Something that is an afterthought is not going to possess much magic if any. The purpose of the creation ritual is to make the item a focus of magic. The magic it uses is therefore the magic put into it.
Just as with any other focus the item needs to be known in order for it to remain magical. In order for the artifact to work it has to obtain noteworthiness. If it doesn't the magic put into it will ultimately fade. Can an artifact be used as a focus for other uses of magic? There is nothing we know of to tell us otherwise.
By the same token, even an artifact that isn't deliberately created can still become imbued with magic. The Horn of Joramun is an example.
I seriously doubt any such horn was ever made. But it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a horn of some kind might nevertheless have become the focus of people's belief. It thus would have become a focus of power. Basically, because thousands of Wildlings over hundreds of generations believed there was a Horn of Joramun that created a Horn of Joramun. Whether that power would really be strong enough to destroy such a powerful monument as the Wall is extremely doubtful. That it might destroy a wall is very possible.
How does belief affect how an artifact works? It is reasonable to assume that belief, or lack thereof, could affect an artifact's power. The Dragonhorn undoubtedly has power. But does it truly have the power to control a dragon?
Euron clearly does not think so, otherwise he would not have given the Horn to his brother. Since Euron appears to understand magic better than anyone else, Mel and the Warlocks included, I think we can trust his judgement. We won't know for sure until WOW comes out. But is the Horn able to do anything else? It can surely be used as a source for magic. But the Horn's own power, assuming Euron was telling the truth and we have good reason to doubt it, is surely based on whatever magic was used in its creation. Whatever the true purpose of the Horn's creation is hidden in the writing on it and the only one who has demonstrated knowledge of how to read them, Moqorro, is certainly lying about them.
Wildfire itself is not magical nor does it absorb magic. That is not to say that magic might not be used in its creation. But wildfire is not an artifact and cannot fuel magic spells. Not all things absorb magic. We don't know yet what rules how some things absorb magic and others don't. But there are definitely things that are not and never will be magical.
The Red Comet
The question will be asked; does anything add magic to Planatos? It's possible. Planatos is not a closed system. Just as in the real world Planatos exists within a wider universe. That universe, as exemplified by the Red Comet, might very well interfere with the planet. Check out Lucifer Means Lightbringer to find out more.
Is the Red Comet effecting magic on Planatos? I have no idea. The Red Comet definitely means something, but I don't think enough information has been given to us to know for sure.
Daenerys requires a heading all her own. Of all the people on the planet she contains the most power of any. She became a focus from the moment she was born, literally. It's all in her name - Stormborn.
The more titles she acquires the more power she contains. It is for this reason that Euron wants her. It is also because of this that she was able to hatch three dragons.
This is literally the only instance of this happening. All other dragonriders mentioned in the lore hatch only one. It is possible others prior to Aegon's conquest managed it, but we have no information.
The hatching of the dragons is almost certainly NOT the last occasion that she will cast a spell. The reason for why she used a ceremony to hatch them was likely because the eggs were petrified and required more magic. Other dragons in the lore did not require such effort.
Dany will be casting another spell when she tests Jon. She will be testing his blood to ensure that he is really Rhaegar's son.
More importantly, she has to do this in a way that puts his heritage beyond question. This means a large number of people will be witness to the event. All of this will be part of the ceremony.
The ceremony will take place on Dragonstone and will involve the dragons. Dany will probably trick Jon into a trap. I'm guessing that this is the purpose of the Bloody Mummers. Dany's men will have captured them, or however many of them are left. She will ask Jon to execute them as an act of friendship. She will then have Drogon set the trap on fire with Jon in it. People will no doubt ask how Jon could survive this given that he has been shown not to be fireproof. That is where the spell comes in. Jon will be protected by the sacrifice of the Mummers and the audience's shock. But he will also become a focus for power in his own right, assuming he isn't one already. Given that everyone will know, unlike in the show, that he will be resurrected, it is probable that he will be.
Jon lacks the sort of self-confidence needed to become a magic user. But that doesn't not mean he might not acquire that confidence in the future. He will obtain the confidence to bond with a dragon. As with spells, bonding with dragons requires confidence. The lore has examples of Targaryens failing to bond and what is noteworthy about most of them is that they lack the confidence to face the dragons. When Dany loses control of her own dragons is when she herself suffers from a loss of confidence. When she regains that confidence she will control her dragons just as her ancestors did.