Magic theory

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A researcher of the Pathfinder Society.
This article is about the academic study of the nature of magic. For the research-oriented class, see thaumaturge. For the prestige class, see thaumaturgist.

Magic theory is the academic study of the nature of magic. With the nature of magic not fully understood by mortals, there are several prominent theories of magic and many more obscure or nascent theories, with contemporaries constantly developing or refining them. The practice is also known as thaumaturgy,1 a term sometimes used to describe a magical effect or object affected by magic, such as a construct or metamagical effect.23


Related to magical traditions

Each magical tradition bears its own theories or beliefs about the nature of magic. The Principals of Elementary Thaumaturgy by Acadamae Headmaster Toff Ornelos, the seventh edition of which was published by the school in 4720 AR, opens with a summary of several theories and approaches to the nature of magic that particularly appeal to practitioners of arcane magic.4

  • The Tools of Creation approach of the Arcanamirium, also referred to as the Nexian Understanding, theorizes that magic is composed of residual forces from the Universe's creation. The theory suggests magic is inherently limited, if vastly, by the scale of the observable Universe itself.4
  • The Soil and Path approach of the Magaambya, also referred to as the Channeling Method, posits that the Universe is an inherently malleable entity, and that magic is the practice of molding it repeatedly over time, forming channels of arcane power. It suggests the potential of magic is infinite, and that any limitations on it result from a lack of creativity.4
  • The Constructivist school of Kelesh approaches magic through symbolic logic.4
  • Dr. Si-Dao Yi of the Imperial College of Lingshen proposes an elemental grammar for magic.4

Additionally, the Unified Magical Theory is a hypothetical conceptual understanding of the ideal nature of arcane magic.5

Theories by practitioners of divine magic focus on their deity's teachings,6 while occult magic practitioners delve into research of forbidden knowledge and psychic aspects within.7

Primal magic practitioners connect magic more to the cycles of nature, to which practitioners listen to, observe, and respond to rather than dissect and investigate. Such practices include the passing on of knowledge but are less focused on theory than a personal connection.8

On the fundamental nature

A representation of the wheel of magic bearing the four essences, quadrants of the four magical traditions, and rings surrounding them of the eight schools of magic.
See also: Four essences

Other theorists attempt to deconstruct magic to understand its more fundamental nature, such as Marquise Cordelia Perseis, whose essay On Essences proposed a relationship between the four traditions of magic and the four essences of matter, spirit, mind, and life.910

Since before the founding of Thassilon, spellcasting has manifested visually in the appearance of runes near the spellcaster. Xin, Thassilon's founder, investigated these phenomena when developing rune magic and theorized that they represented the language of creation and the nature of magic.11

Obscure and fringe theories

Classical theories

Older theories, such as the types of magic and schools of magic, still hold relevance in modern theory but their practice has waned over time.15


Geb, legendary necromancer.
Hao Jin, the Ruby Phoenix.

Every wizard authors an arcane thesis as part of their studies, with subjects ranging from familiars to spellshaping.16 Bronze17 and green dragons18 also gravitate toward theoretical study. Likewise, many individuals, institutions, nations, and organizations on Golarion have researched and published significant advances in magic theory:

Notable works

In addition to Principals of Elementary Thaumaturgy and On Essences, prominent works of magic theory include:


Paizo published a sourcebook titled Secrets of Magic that contains in-universe texts on the nature of magic.

  1. Logan Bonner, et al. “1: Essentials of Magic” in Secrets of Magic, 8–12. Paizo Inc., 2020
  2. James L. Sutter. “The City” in City of Strangers, 11. Paizo Inc., 2010
  3. John Compton & Mark Moreland. “The Spells” in Pathfinder Society Primer, 12. Paizo Inc., 2013 specifically, the collaborative thaumaturgy spell.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 Logan Bonner, et al. “1: Essentials of Magic” in Secrets of Magic, 8–9. Paizo Inc., 2020
  5. Logan Bonner, et al. Classes” in Player Core, 200. Paizo Inc., 2023
  6. Logan Bonner, et al. “1: Essentials of Magic” in Secrets of Magic, 11–12. Paizo Inc., 2020
  7. Logan Bonner, et al. “1: Essentials of Magic” in Secrets of Magic, 13–14. Paizo Inc., 2020
  8. Logan Bonner, et al. “1: Essentials of Magic” in Secrets of Magic, 15–16. Paizo Inc., 2020
  9. Logan Bonner, et al. “7: Spells” in Core Rulebook, 300. Paizo Inc., 2019
  10. 10.0 10.1 Logan Bonner, et al. “1: Essentials of Magic” in Secrets of Magic, 16–19. Paizo Inc., 2020
  11. 11.0 11.1 Logan Bonner, et al. “5: Book of Unlimited Magic” in Secrets of Magic, 242–243. Paizo Inc., 2020
  12. James L. Sutter. “Adventures on Castrovel” in The Seventh Arch, 75. Paizo Inc., 2023
  13. Owen K.C. Stephens, et al. “Adventure Toolbox” in Fires of the Haunted City, 74–75. Paizo Inc., 2019
  14. Logan Bonner, et al. “5: Book of Unlimited Magic” in Secrets of Magic, 210. Paizo Inc., 2020
  15. Pathfinder Second Edition mechanically recategorized spells from the three types of magic into the four magical traditions, while the Pathfinder Second Edition Remaster Project removed mechanics for the eight schools of magic. PathfinderWiki retains information on these subjects since they remain relevant to works that remain canon to the Pathfinder campaign setting.
  16. Logan Bonner, et al. “3: Classes” in Core Rulebook, 205. Paizo Inc., 2019
  17. Mike McArtor. Copper Dragons” in Dragons Revisited, 25. Paizo Inc., 2009
  18. Mike McArtor. Green Dragons” in Dragons Revisited, 41. Paizo Inc., 2009
  19. Erik Mona, et al. Wise Quarter” in Absalom, City of Lost Omens, 231. Paizo Inc., 2021
  20. Thurston Hillman, et al. “Bestiary” in Beyond the Veiled Past, 89. Paizo Inc., 2018
  21. Thurston Hillman, et al. “Corruptions and Haunts” in Horror Realms, 62. Paizo Inc., 2016
  22. Amber E. Scott. “The Six-Legend Soul” in The Six-Legend Soul, 34. Paizo Inc., 2018
  23. Richard Pett. “The Whisper Out of Time” in The Whisper Out of Time, 28. Paizo Inc., 2016
  24. Jason Bulmahn. “Occult Writings” in Occult Mysteries, 58. Paizo Inc., 2014
  25. Jason Bulmahn, et al. Book of the Dead, 4. Paizo Inc., 2022
  26. Alex Greenshields. Tapestry's Trial, 15. Paizo Inc., 2019
  27. Graeme Davis & Robert G. McCreary. “The Thousand Fangs Below” in The Thousand Fangs Below, 51. Paizo Inc., 2011
  28. Paizo Inc., et al. Magaambya” in Adventurer's Guide, 116. Paizo Inc., 2017
  29. Paizo Inc., et al. Magaambya Academy” in Character Guide, 96. Paizo Inc., 2019
  30. Alexandria Bustion & Eleanor Ferron. “Kindled Magic” in Kindled Magic, 20. Paizo Inc., 2021
  31. Neil Spicer. “Rise and Fall of the Shory Empire” in The Slave Trenches of Hakotep, 67. Paizo Inc., 2014
  32. Tim Pratt. City of the Fallen Sky. Paizo Inc., 2012 Ch. 16.
  33. John Compton, et al. “Appendix: Special Abilities” in Inner Sea NPC Codex, 62. Paizo Inc., 2013
  34. Benjamin Bruck, et al. Paths of Prestige, 52. Paizo Inc., 2012
  35. Logan Bonner, et al. “1: Essentials of Magic” in Secrets of Magic, 12–13. Paizo Inc., 2020
  36. Brandon Hodge. “The Dead Heart of Xin” in The Dead Heart of Xin, 31. Paizo Inc., 2013
  37. James Jacobs. “The Shattered Star” in Shards of Sin, 67. Paizo Inc., 2012
  38. Dave Gross. Lord of Runes. Tor Books, 2015 Ch. 1.
  39. Larry Wilhelm. “Vault of the Onyx Citadel” in Vault of the Onyx Citadel, 21. Paizo Inc., 2017
  40. Logan Bonner, et al. “1: Essentials of Magic” in Secrets of Magic, 20–27. Paizo Inc., 2020
  41. Logan Bonner, et al. “1: Essentials of Magic” in Secrets of Magic, 10–11. Paizo Inc., 2020
  42. Dave Gross. Master of Devils. Paizo Inc., 2011 Ch. 17.
  43. Adam Daigle. In Service to Lore, 9. Paizo Inc., 2011

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