A question of static

Came up at my house the other day, and we thought we'd get weigh-in from additional people (and see if the answer was covered in a book we haven't looked at).

What form of magic encompasses static charge? While modern physics is aware of electrical energy, lightning, and generating static charges, the Mythic Europe mindset doesn't have the same, eh, physics. We came up with a few possible answers.

  • Auram, obviously. Lightning and electricity are similar, and should be lumped together. This is working on the idea that static electricity are remnants or pieces of lightning that fell to earth and sometimes spark people.
  • Terram, because static comes from the ground; Similarly, some ancient Greeks studied static charges rubbing amber rods over wool.
  • Imaginem, because static charge is easily described as a sensation with no physical impetus behind it.

What does everyone think? Is there some text somewhere I've missed?

I would say Terram. "Static charge" was believed to be a form of magnetism (the capacity to attract other objects): while some materials like magnetite were "naturally" magnetic, others like amber (in greek "elektron", hence the name electricity) were "made magnetic" by rubbing.

Static charge was not considered related to lightning and to electric fish (these were well known: Socrates was often compared to one by his contemporaries, for his unorthodox views and great eloquence could "shock" the listener). In fact, it seems to me that, at least to the ancient greeks, lightning and electric fish were not considered related phenomena. Lightning was considered a form of "fire": rays of the sun intercepted by the clouds (Empedocles), fiery ether (Anaxagoras), "dry exhalation" from the clouds that burns, producing light, and hits other clouds producing lots of noise i.e. thunder (Aristotle). Then again, apparently (I am citing wikipedia on this) the Egyptians called their electric fish "thunderers of the Nile", so...

Have a look at this, especially

Of course, few magi read Augustine De civitate Dei, XXI, Kap. 4. Did Bonisagus? Did he even know of the experiments of Augustine's contemporaries?


With regard to what makes sense to me, I'd say that hermetic magic doesn't have any way to manipulate static directly. Hermetic magic is very broad but it can't cover everything. I'd put static in the same category as luck - something that's not restricted by any of the limits of magic, but isn't addressed by the magic of the order of Hermes.

Of course what makes sense in the setting might not be what makes for the best game. If you have a player who really wants to do magic based on static electricity it might make more sense to find a way than to say no.

Note that "clear differentiation between electricity and magnetism" is only in the eyes of the (modern) writer. St. Augustine never claimed anything as such; it is grossly misleading to quote the text above in this fashion. Unless what's meant is the difference between the "attractive/repulsive" properties of a lodestone (stone from "Magnesia") and of amber ("Elektron"): both attract/repel stuff, but different stuff with different strengths. But the notion that the underlying force is of a fundamentally different nature never, ever appears to have struck st. Augustine or the ancients.

Don't get me wrong. It was well known that some substances attracted others, but not all others. This is an issue considering even magnetite on its own, and one with which the ancients wrestled. Why does it attract iron, but neither gold nor wood? The common explanation, in various forms, for magnetic phenomena (as in "attractive/repulsive" - including static electricity!) was that the "magnetic material" emitted a stream of particles that "did stuff" (e.g. shoved away air between the two bodies, sucking one towards the other: Aristotles explanation). Epicurus, according to Galen, had the bright notion that particles from lodestone neatly match those from iron, so they attract iron well, but other materials not so well or not at all. This notion of "affinity" is a perfect theory to explain why amber attracts stuff that magnetite does not, and it attracts stuff with different strength.

This had the obvious defect of not explaining why iron can be magnetized itself to attract other iron. But note that the similar phenomenon is observed with amber: if you induce "magnetism" in it by rubbing it with fur, and then touch it lightly to some small body, say a hair, the hair becomes "magnetized" itself, i.e. capable of attracting other light objects. Of course today we know it's simply transfer of static charge, but ... the point of all this is: there was no differentiation in the ancient world between magnetism and static charge (as we know them today): in both cases you had the property of some materials to attract (in some rare cases, repel) others, a property that in some materials was intrinsecally present, and in others it could be induced (by rubbing, or by interaction with other magnetic substances); and this property manifested differently between different pairs of materials, so it had something to do about their mutual "relationship" (an obvious idea for the alchemist and proto-chemist).

Indeed, This is utterly obvious from Michael Fowler's terminology: "electricity and magnetism" are no terms of Augustine's texts. And obviously Augustine also did not create a theory of either, but uses them as examples of so far unexplained - or clearly not sufficiently explained - phenomena.

Apparently you mislead yourself here, for which I need to reject any responsibility.
Michael Fowler summarizes several observations reported by Augustine and then remarks, how these reports already in the early 5th century cover very typical facts later used to differentiate between electricity and magnetism.


I wonder if we don't go about this question from entirely the wrong angle. We are discussing how to magically mimic a natural physical effect in the modern world. Is there really such a natural effect in Mythic Europe? Maybe every instance of static charge or magnetism in Mythic Europe is a magical effect. Maybe all the electric fish are magical creatures with a power. Maybe ...

Creating the effect of a static charge with Hermetic magic, I think, can be achieved in several different ways. The discharge, I think, may be an Auram effect (as a lightning). An Imaginem effect can obviously mimick the light, sound, and/or feeling of the discharge. Could Muto change any material into a charged material?

I agree: The ability of lodestones to create magnetism in other pieces of iron, is ripe for investigation of the contagion of arcane and or sympathetic connections.


Having forgotten about electric eels, you could add 'Animal' to that list, since the amber+wool version also uses wool, so it could be a property of the wool rather than the amber. Though I think I still like static zaps as Terram for simplicity, or imaginem for the cleverness of it.

Hmm. I ... doubt it, unless every piece of amber (and similar materials) is supernatural. Then, you'd probably want to make flint magical too (you can get fire out of it!), and poetry (it manipulates emotions), and certainly yeast (bread and beer!) etc.
It's certainly a fine game, but I would not call it Ars Magica.

However, I agree that "static charge" should probably not seen as "electricity" but as a property (intrinsic or coaxed out) of a given material. Affecting it would take the Form of the material in question, plus an appropriate Technique to manipulate it; with the change being natural, slightly unnatural, or heavily unnatural depending on how significant it is, and how "normal" it is for the material.

Static is Ignem, released suddenly from materials that do not generally burn.

Static is a fluid vis discharge of Vim.

Static is Aether, a mysterious luciferous effect that you cannot otherwise see.

I suspect the subject is a matter of some debate among magi, although I'd also think that they'd be able to readily analyze it with Intelligo magic.

Assuming that static behaves much the same way as static electricity:

It 'pools' in some objects or places before draining suddenly.

It appears more readily in dry places. This may be more a function of Aquam,which absorbs heat and light and fine earth and other materials, than of static.

It emits light.

It appears briefly, then vanishes.

It can ignite dry material.

Before manifesting as a spark, it causes fine threads and hair to separate. Therefore, it has a material effect and is physical.

Yet, it seems to have no weight.

It delivers a sting or prick to bare skin, not usually powerful enough to penetrate cloth, although experiments might show otherwise for powerful concentrations.

It gathers or pools, or at least appears, when some dissimilar materials rub.

Evidence of the mysterious and highly theoretical Aether? A strange Vim phenomena?

Aeter of course, is one of the few missing arts in Bonisagus theory. A mere oversight, of course, an Hermetic breakthrough could add the eleventh form to allow such manipulation.

(That's one interpretation, anyway.)

I'm sure there's at least one religious Tytalus who believes that as Hermetic research deciphers the truths of the universe, God adds more mysteries for us to unravel.