Fantasy series The Witcher premiered on Netflix on December 20, 2019. Based on a series of books by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, the Witcher saga follows Geralt of Rivia, a wandering proponent of witcher magic. As a witcher himself, Geralt developed his supernatural abilities at a young age. Though his is considered a primitive form of magic on the Continent, Geralt's powers help him to make a living by hunting down the beasts and monsters that plague the land.
While the Netflix series has earned tons of recognition, the world of The Witcher existed long before Henry Cavill's portrayal. Beyond the novels, The Witcher also boasts a Polish film adaptation, followed by a short-lived Polish TV series, and three video games - including The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, widely regarded as one of the greatest computer role-playing games of all time. However, all this begs the question - how does magic work in the world of The Witcher? While the rules of magic bend slightly as in any fantastical world, The Witcher boasts a unique system with its own sources, rules, and procedures.
Magic Involves Harnessing The Power Of Chaos
To understand Witcher magic, we first have to know where it comes from. In this universe, magic results from harnessing the power of Chaos. However, Chaos isn't just disorder and confusion - it's a mystical power all its own. Chaos, the confrontational and aggressive element, directly opposes Order, which needs to be protected and defended.
Chaos developed after a catastrophic event called the Conjunction of the Spheres filled the Witcher dimension, which mostly consisted of gnomes and dwarves, with uncommon creatures the inhabitants had not faced before. This cataclysmic event also prompted the rise of Chaos. Joining the other new inhabitants, humans entered the realm during the Conjunction and learned to harness the power of Chaos, thereby creating magic.
Sources Possess Innate Magical Abilities, But Their Intense Power Is Difficult To Control
In the Witcher universe, anyone can use simple spells to harness the power of Chaos. However, certain people have innate magical abilities that far exceed the power of a simple spell. These people are known as Sources.
For a Source, magic is more a burden than a benefit. When a Source triggers their abilities, usually through a stressful situation, their magic is difficult to control. If they fail to receive the proper training to manage their abilities, they can easily go mad.
While Sources' power is extensive, it's also unreliable. It often takes on a life of its own as the Source struggles to keep their abilities in check. While Sources can be incredibly powerful with the proper training, their abilities also make them very dangerous.
Trained Sources Are Called Mages
Sources who receive proper training become mages. Also known as wizards, sorcerers, or sorceresses, mages are rare and powerful. Of those who can actually become mages (the Sources), only a few will learn to harness their ability quickly enough to avoid madness.
Sorcery schools were created to transform Sources into mages. Sources attend these schools as children and acquire the knowledge and skills they need to effectively use their magic. When they've cultivated their abilities, mages can teleport across long distances; heal themselves and others; take lives in the blink of an eye; and much more.
Magic Power Can Be Drawn From The Four Elements
In harnessing the power of Chaos, mages can also draw magical energy from the four elements: earth, air, wind, and fire. Each of these signs has a particular brand of magic that involves the physical manipulation of the element (such as physically controlling the air around you using aerokinesis) or communicating with and interpreting the element (such as learning a person's fate through hydromancy).
Since water lies beneath most surfaces, though it may be deep underground, it is the easiest to draw from. Earth requires strength and power, making it a difficult element to use on a regular basis. Air can be either difficult or easy, depending on your propensity toward using it. Fire can be very dangerous if not used expertly and correctly.
Different Groups Embrace Different Philosophies Regarding Their Magic
Although all magic stems from harnessing Chaos, different groups in the Witcher universe have different philosophies regarding their magical abilities. While mages learn to harness an innate ability, priests believe that their magic is a divine gift. They credit all their magical abilities to a divine source, rejecting all other notions.
Druids, on the other hand, understand the source of their power, but use their abilities in a different way. Forest dwellers and students of nature, druids are pacifists who generally use their power to help others. They heal animals and humans, focusing their abilities on ending suffering. Druids wish to preserve life instead of taking it.
Witchers Use A Rudimentary Form Of Magic Called Signs
Unlike Sources, who have an innate ability to use magic, witchers like Geralt undergo extensive and intense training to learn how to harness the power of Chaos. The ultimate goal of their instruction is to become monster slayers who will travel the Continent and get paid to deal with dangerous beasts.
Much like mages, witchers begin their instruction at an early age, and many don't complete the process. Their training begins with The Choice, in which the children make the voluntary decision to embrace the harsh diet of a witcher. If they survive The Choice, they're taught herbalism, sword skills, and monster lore. If they continue to succeed, the trainees go through the Trial of the Grasses, in which they eat various alchemical ingredients that alter their nervous system. If they make it through that stage, they complete the Trial of the Dreams, which mutates their eyes, bone marrow, and hormones. The last stage, called the Trial of the Mountains, is a test to determine the subject's ability to become a witcher, often used on trainees who aren't likely to succeed. Only 30% of potential witchers survive the entire process. Their genetic mutations, however, lead to enhanced eyesight, agility, and reflexes, as well as superhuman speed and strength, an increased lifespan, and a range of other abilities.
In addition to their enhanced forms, witchers also rely on Signs to hunt their inhuman prey. These Signs are essentially simple spells that utilize a rudimentary form of magic far below that of the mages. In the book Blood of Elves, Yennefer explains the Signs, saying, "The witchers adapted the spell, making use of the fact that it does not require knowledge of a magical formula - concentration and the gesture are enough. That's why they call it a Sign." Each Sign requires a specific gesture that can be cast by arranging the fingers or drawing the symbol on a solid surface.