Magic, properly known as Gramarye, is the manipulation of energy. Users of Gramarye have an innate power that allowed them to use their energy, directed by thoughts (though most people believed it was directed through spoken words), to manipulate the nature of the world. Casting a spell with magic costs as much energy as would be lost to do the task by mundane means. Magicians were able to also draw energy from their surroundings with the proper knowledge, though few knew of this. The Dragon Riders used the gems in their swords as stores of energy. Dragons, as well as other magicians, could supplement a spellcaster's strength when needed.
Magic was the art of thinking, as Brom mentioned that a true master of gramarye could use the word for "water" and create something that appeared to be entirely unrelated, such as a gemstone, though the relation would be clear in their mind. Such an accomplishment would be completed by taking the similarities between water and a gemstone and using them as a focal point. A magic user's abilities were limited by their knowledge of the Ancient Language: the smaller their vocabulary, the fewer feats of magic they were be able to perform, or so was the common misconception. In truth, a spellcaster's abilities were limited only by their inventiveness: the smarter the spellcaster, the more they could accomplish with one word plus what they could do without the structure of the Ancient Language.
As explained by Oromis, sound itself had no control over magic. Most magic users, however, continued to speak words aloud, ensuring that stray thoughts did not disrupt the spells they cast.
A person's ability to use magic was often characterized by a specific color. For Dragon Riders, this color was very often the color of their dragon. Eragon's color was blue, matching Saphira; Murtagh's color was red, matching Thorn; Oromis's color was yellow, matching Glaedr; and Arya's color was green, matching Fírnen.
Riders usually directed their magic using their hand with their gedwëy ignasia.
Since magic depended upon the caster's life energy, a spell beyond the caster's capability would either kill them, whilst a spell close to the limit would render them unconscious. Also, when the magical energy was released, it couldn't be undone. Thus, if a caster was to formulate a spell so that there could be only two options (success or death) and a stronger adversary could prevent the spell from succeeding, the caster would invariably die. This could be circumvented by formulating spells as processes which could be cancelled at will.
History of Magic
Magic existed since the beginning of time. It was hard to control, however, for it was then only controlled by thought and not bound to a language. A magician nearly destroyed the world when they used a spell improperly.
To ensure that such an event never happened again, the Grey Folk bound their language, the Ancient Language, to gramarye. This made the use of magic much easier. The cost of this spell was so great, though, that the entire people were diminished greatly and supposedly wiped out of existence.
Dragon Rider era
Few know it, but every Rider could use magic, though with differing strengths. They kept the ability secret, even at the height of their influence, because it gave them an advantage over their enemies. Had everyone known about it, dealing with common people would have been difficult. Many think the king's magical powers come from the fact that he is a wizard or a sorcerer. That's not true, it is because he's a Rider.— Brom
The Dragon Riders found that they had a special ability to control magic, due to their binding relationship with their dragons. As a result, the Riders would become a symbol of magic during their time of influence.
To teach new Riders how to use gramarye, they would have them do impossible tasks, like filling a jar with stone by using only their feet. This would get the young Riders to such an emotion point that they would use magic almost accidentally. During the prime of the Riders, many secrets were learned about magic which had been previously unknown. Some Dragon Riders would devote their entire lives to learning about the strange arts of magic.
Rule of the Broddring Empire
Galbatorix's new Empire was ruled with an iron fist. From this, the risk of rebellion was always high. The king feared that if too many of his subjects had magical powers they could overthrow him. With the exception of proven loyalists, Galbatorix outlawed the use of magic.
People found with magical abilities were either killed or forced to join the Imperial Army. This law created a void of magical learning during the rule of the Broddring Empire. Galbatorix himself learned many secrets during this time, but he did not share them, except with trusted servants like Durza and Murtagh.
Galbatorix rationalized this saying that the danger of magic users was not to himself but to his empire. He made himself believe that by limiting the use of magic, so that he may study for the problem that magic users presented, he would limit the damage that they could cause. This was just a lie as he was simply consolidating his power to absolution.
There were a variety of different magical powers.
- Scrying was the art of seeing far-away objects. This art required focus of the mind. It was only possible to scry an object or person that one had already seen before.
- Element transformation was the art of changing one element into another. Attempting too drastic an element change could result in the death of the person trying to transform the object.
- Physical transformation was the art of altering one's physical appearance. This art was often practiced by the elves.
- Teleportation was the art of mentally transferring an object from one location to another instantaneously. The advantage of this is that it will take the same amount of energy, no matter the distance you transport the object.
- Mental communication allowed magic users and those that were trained in this to communicate using thoughts. There is a limit to distance, though with Riders the distance they could mentally communicate with their dragons and other people increased over time.
- Mind reading allowed a magic user to read the minds of most people who could not recognize when someone was in their mind and could not keep them out.
- Mental shielding was the art of shielding one's mind from a mental attack by another magic user, this worked by the defender concentrating on one thing in exclusion of all else.
See also: List of spells
The broad term for anyone who used magic was "magician".
All Dragon Riders were able to use magic: this ability was born when they bonded with their dragons. The elves also had great magical abilities, including the instinctive knowledge of their true names. Certain other, lesser magicians - such as the Twins and the Du Vrangr Gata, were also able to use gramarye.
See also: List of magic users
Other forms of Magic
There were other ways to perform the arts of magic. These included:
Sorcery was simply the art of summoning and controlling spirits, bidding them to do your will. The details of this skill was not known. However, it involved calling upon spirits to perform tasks. If the spirits were too strong for a magic user to control, or if they were evil spirits, they may posess the user's body, turning them into a Shade.
Use of a potion, a combination of various herbs and other organic products, were often used by witches and wizards, lesser magicians.
Dark magic is a term that others use as a simplification. Magic is neither evil nor good. Those who use magic mailiciously are called dark magic users but this is simply a misunderstanding: the word dark is referring to their personality, not the magic itself. The most skilled "dark" magic users, such as Selena, could use spells such as "heal" to kill.
Wild magic was magic that occurred naturally in Alagaësia. It was described as being mysterious yet extremely powerful.
Wild magic holds no boundaries.
All users of magic are capable of tapping into this magic but such can hold dangerous results. Few are aware that they can do so, mainly due to the widespread use of the ancient language.
Singing is commonly mistaken as a different branch of magic but is in fact a chanting of the spell in place of the words of a song. Elves do this, as Elves are lovers of art and grow up using art in even the daily aspects of their lives. All spells that Elves sing can be done without actually singing just as all spells can be sung.
While impossible by using the ancient language, necromancy is the art of speaking with the dead. While little is mentioned in the books, Angela mentions that it is a particularly foul art, worse even than the variation of sorcery used by shades. Brom believed it to be completely impossible.