Magic is a supernatural force in the known world. It is rare enough for many to doubt its effectiveness or even existence, particularly in Westeros and especially in the Citadel, where it its known as the higher mysteries.
Types of magic
Magic is a little-understood force in the world. It has been so long since magic was truly potent that most understanding of it only lives on in superstition and rituals of questionable validity. Blood, life and death seem to be keys that can help unlock the secrets of magic.
In Westeros and most of the lands west of Valyria, magic is held to be a mythical force only. The maesters of the Citadel may apply for a Valyrian steel link for the study of magic, but they believe it to have faded away following the Doom of Valyria, since there has been no record of its use in Westeros since that time.
Magic has remained a potent force in Qarth, where the enigmatic warlocks of the House of the Undying are said to possess great powers. All manner of wizards, sorcerers, necromancers, spellsingers, aeromancers, bloodmages, and more are said to gather and practice their arts in the lands by the Jade Sea and Asshai by the Shadow.
Some of the abilities exhibited by those who practice magic are:
- Elemental control allows practitioners to manipulate elemental forces. Firemages and some red priests of R'hllor can evoke fire with their bare hands in order to engulf their weapons in flames, to use the fire alone as a means to attack enemies, or just to amaze crowds. The wizards of the Rhoynar were able to use water magic to manipulate water, such as the river Rhoyne. Aeromancers are known to practice their art in Asshai. It is possible that other wizards and sorcerers know ways of using other elements.
- Divination is the ability to see the future either through dreams or looking in the fire in the case of the followers and priests of the Lord of Light. This is called greensight if following the way of the old gods or dragon dreams if it is done by a Targaryen.
- Skinchanging is the rare ability to enter the mind of an animal and control its actions. Having the blood of the First Men may make it more likely for someone to be a skinchanger.
- Raising the dead is an extraordinary feat performed by some followers of R'hllor after performing the last kiss. However, the reborn person may have difficulty remembering parts of their past life or exhibit a change in personality. The revived still have any wounds incurred before their passing.
- Necromancy is the ability to raise the dead as mindless automatons bound to serve a specific purpose. Necromancy is said to have been practiced by the Bloodstone Emperor, Dagon Drumm, and Morgon Banefort.
- Glamoring is when wizards and sorcerers change their appearance or the appearance of others by using light and shadow. Some glamors are associated with specific objects. Years of practice can be needed for effective glamor use.
- Bloodmagic is said to be darkest and possibly the most powerful of magics. Practitioners of bloodmagic have dark spells to save a man from death, though some say death is cleaner.
- Alchemy is a diverse range of practices involving the creation of substances or materials with magical powers. The Alchemists' Guild in Westeros specializes in this, claiming that in the past they were able to transmute base metals into gold, along with other powers. In recent centuries their power has waned, and they focus on creating the incendiary substance known as wildfire, which burns much hotter than pitch and cannot be extinguished by water. They claim that wildfire's power is magical in nature, though the exact ingredients are a closely guarded secret. Most surviving books about alchemy have been distorted by amateur practitioners, and study of them rarely yields practical results. King Aenys I Targaryen dabbled in alchemy, astronomy, and astrology.
Other than the children of the forest, who are said to have been strong in magic, native magic in Westeros is rare. In days past, the greenseers of the children possessed incredible powers over nature, including skinchanging, slipping into the minds of beasts, and greensight, the power to foretell the future. Though the children of the forest and their greenseers have long passed from Westeros, there are still descendants of the First Men who possess those powers. The knowledge of the existence of skinchangers is exceedingly rare in Westeros, except perhaps among the free folk who live beyond the Wall.
All Valyrian magic was rooted in blood and fire. It is said that they could set dragonglass candles to burning with strange, unpleasantly-bright light. With the obsidian candles, they could see across vast distances, look into a man's mind, and speak with one another though they were half the world apart. It is often said that the old wizards of Valyria did not cut and chisel stone, but worked it with fire and magic as one might work clay. The people of Valyria were strong in magic, and they used their powerful wizards and their dragons in conjunction with their armies to conquer most of western Essos. Dragons were controlled by whips, dragon horns, and sorcery.
Ordinarily, the Dothraki despise maegi, believing them to be women who lay with demons and practice the blackest of sorceries. Their powers are said to be vile and soulless. However, according to Mirri Maz Duur, there are women of the Dothraki who know magics of "grass and corn and horse".
In Qarth, the enigmatic warlocks of the House of the Undying practice curious rituals. Qartheen warlocks once bathed Samwell Tarly in aurochs blood to make him brave. Shadowbinders, spellsingers, and aeromancers from Asshai are capable of great and terrible feats.
There are firemages who can conjure ladders from the air that are made of fire and can stand forty feet high. The mage can climb up the ladder, each rung disappearing behind him, leaving nothing but silvery smoke. When he reaches the top, the ladder and he are both gone.
A Game of Thrones
Mirri Maz Duur sacrifices Drogo's stallion and, unbeknownst to Daenerys Targaryen, the unborn Rhaego in her attempt to restore Khal Drogo. Daenerys then burns the maegi on Drogo's funeral pyre and wakes dragons.
A Clash of Kings
In Qarth Daenerys sees a firemage creating a ladder of flames that stands up to forty feet high and then dissappear along with the ladder. Quaithe explains that, half a year before, the man could bare wake fire from dragonglass and perform tricks with powders and wildfire until Daenerys, by hatching the first dragons in centuries, has caused the firemage's powers to grow.
A Storm of Swords
A Feast for Crows
A magical Valyrian glass candle in Marwyn's chamberas at the Citadel has ignited anew and it seems that the potency of magic in Westeros has increased. Miracles and abilities that were long thought lost now appear to be returning, although this is commonly neither known nor accepted.
A Dance with Dragons
Perhaps magic was once a mighty force in the world, but no longer. What little remains is no more than the wisp of smoke that lingers in the air after a great fire has burned out, and even that is fading. Valyria was the last ember, and Valyria is gone.
Fantasy needs magic in it, but I try to control the magic very strictly. You can have too much magic in fantasy very easily, and then it overwhelms everything and you lose all sense of realism. And I try to keep the magic magical — something mysterious and dark and dangerous, and something never completely understood. I don’t want to go down the route of having magic schools and classes where, if you say these six words, something will reliably happen. Magic doesn’t work that way. Magic is playing with forces you don’t completely understand. And perhaps with beings or deities you don’t completely understand. It should have a sense of peril about it.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 64, Daenerys VIII.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 72, Daenerys X.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 24, Bran IV.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 23, Daenerys III.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 40, Daenerys III.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 76, Jon XI.
- The World of Ice & Fire, Ancient History: Ten Thousand Ships.
- The World of Ice & Fire, The Bones and Beyond: Asshai.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 34, Bran III.
- The World of Ice & Fire, The Bones and Beyond: Yi Ti.
- The World of Ice & Fire, The Iron Islands.
- georgerrmartin.com: WORLD OF ICE AND FIRE SAMPLE
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 22, Arya II.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 36, Cersei VIII.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 20, Tyrion V.
- Fire & Blood, TSOTD.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 45, Samwell V.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 54, Davos V.
- The World of Ice & Fire, Beyond the Free Cities: The Basilisk Isles.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 61, Daenerys VII.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 26, Jon IV.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 68, Daenerys IX.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 33, Catelyn IV.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 42, Davos II.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 64, Arya X.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 39, Arya VII.
- A Feast for Crows, Prologue.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 42, Brienne VIII.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 31, Melisandre I.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 66, Bran VII.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 2, Sansa I.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 73, Jon X.
- Meduza: ‘Fantasy needs magic’ An interview with George R. R. Martin, August 22, 2017