What If Magic Worked? | Unveiled

VOICE OVER: Noah Baum WRITTEN BY: Dylan Musselman
What would you do if you suddenly had magical powers? Join us... and explore!

What would happen if magic wasn't just a mystical power from stories of old, but a real life ability in the modern world? In this video, Unveiled tears down the curtain and enters into a magical realm... full of spells, charms, curses, Gods and monsters.

If you could choose one magical power, which one would it be? Let us know in the comments!

What If Magic Worked?

How often have you wished that you had magical powers? That you could make things disappear, move things with your mind, walk through walls, change your shape, fly…? The list of seriously cool stuff you could do is endless. So, what would happen if it was all possible?

This is Unveiled and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; What if magic worked?

What exactly is magic? The general concept dates back thousands of years, with one of the earliest documented mentions of a magician relating to the ancient Egyptian Dedi, who in the year 2,700 BC was said to be able to decapitate animals' before reattaching their heads. It isn’t always quite so gruesome, though. A show magician apparently sawing someone in half, an illusionist levitating off the ground, and a psychic supposedly foretelling your future could all be considered examples of magic in modern society. Trends and descriptions vary between cultures and time periods, though. The ancient Greeks, for instance, mainly performed binding magic like curses to condemn their targets… or charms to bring fortune.

Specifically, we can say that magic is the using of spells (or other supernatural means) to obtain control over some aspect of the natural world. To achieve something otherwise labelled as physically impossible. And many people have claimed to be truly magical in the past… but, so far, all assertions have gone unproven. The stage magician James Randi even created a cash prize, back in 1964, to be awarded to anyone who could prove their magic under observation. By the mid-1990s, the money on offer had grown to one million dollars… but the competition was eventually closed in 2015, having run for more than fifty years with no-one even coming close to winning it.

One problem with magic is that the term itself is so broad. But it can, in a number of ways, be broken up into different categories. For example, some refer to white, gray, and black magic. White magic being for altruistic or good reasons; black magic being cast with the intention to harm; and gray magic being a neutral middle ground that doesn't especially harm or especially help. Then there’s high and low magic, medieval classifications to split between high, complicated rituals performed by enlightened scholars… and low, short-term spells used by gifted peasants. In fiction, magic can be divided into hard and soft systems, too. A hard magic system has rules and limits, while soft magic is generally unlimited in its potential.

There are, then, a number of criteria points to today’s question. First, we’re talking real magic. The sort of stuff that James Randi was searching for, and not trick-of-the-light illusions. Next, we’re imagining that any form of magic is possible. And, finally, that it’s a generally soft magic system, where casting magic is free and requires little to no energy output.

So, that’s the world we’re living in and magic works. It perhaps wouldn’t take long for chaos to unfold. In the event that everyone could use it, then suddenly none of our trusted laws of physics can be trusted anymore. In the event that only some could use it, then having the power of magic could be both a blessing and a curse. We know from history that witch trials were popular (if harrowing) methods of dealing with seeming magic in the past, mostly between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. The Salem witch trials are among the most infamous, taking place in 1692 and 1693. But would something similar happen in a world where magic worked? Thankfully, it’s unlikely.

First of all, if everyone’s magic then no one’s unusual enough to be tried. Here, magic is accepted fact, and not the basis for mass hysteria. But, even if only some people were magic, the political landscape is different now. Traditionally, supposed magic and witchcraft was aligned with the devil, thanks in large part to a potentially mistranslated quote from the Bible; “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”. In regions across Europe and America, the Church outlawed magic and ultimately executed many suspected of partaking in it. Today, though, the Church doesn’t wield the same power, and the Bible quote in question isn’t so readily accepted, so hopefully history wouldn’t repeat itself in that regard.

But that’s not to say that magic wouldn’t still cause division. It likely would still be labelled as heresy and unholy in nature, and a harsh gap could form between those who can and can’t use it. People without powers might become envious or fearful of anyone with them, all while the police and the courts could try to regulate the use of magic - but really, how do you possibly control someone’s ability to defy the laws of physics? It depends, again, on how the population is split. If magical people are a minority, they could be shunned. But ultimate power would surely lie with them above the standard, non-magic human.

Irrespective of how society might reshape itself, though, what would it be like if magic worked for you in particular? With actual, provable magic flowing through your veins, you’d instantly put all those shiny stage magicians out of work. And you could find fame as a performer, yourself, wowing crowds with your abilities to genuinely go invisible, read minds, or zap yourself from one side of a theatre to another. But, again, your success could have a dark side, with security lining the sides of your stage, ready to restrain you in an instant - all in the interest of audience safety.

Elsewhere, there could be jobs in high level government. In espionage, where covertly gathering information might be a lot easier with magic at your disposal. Psychics and future-tellers could become law and policy makers, granted status akin to what the Oracles once had - the Oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece being the most famous, who was by some measures the highest authority across the entire civilization. On the plus side, people would travel from all over the world to seek your wisdom. On the downside, whatever magical insights you could impart might quickly be misused and even weaponised. If magic worked, and it worked for you, then you could quickly find yourself at the centre of international diplomacy, or even a war.

It’s not as though your life wouldn’t also be amazing, though. In fact, depending on the scope of your magic, it could be so amazing that you wouldn’t even need technology anymore. In our normal lives, technology is the carrot dangled in front of our faces, dragging us into the future… but now, it would be irrelevant. Magic and technology broadly share similar purposes. Both are tools to make life easier and more efficient. It’s why Clarke’s Third Law states that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

But while technology is always striving to catch up with our idea of magic… magic just is magic. You might hone your skills and experiment with new techniques, but it doesn’t get any better than being able to actually bend the very fabric of time and space. No gadget, gizmo, or far-future breakthrough can beat that. And, so, technology becomes redundant, and anyone with magical abilities can ditch things like keys, cars, toasters, elevators, computers… because the function of most tools or machines would be covered by their powers.

For as long as magic isn’t universal, however, there would be a kickback. Non-magic scientists would work tirelessly to investigate the phenomenon… because magic would only remain magic for so long as it couldn’t be explained by science. And we’ve seen in history how this shift has occurred time and again, with past societies once believing that natural disasters, for example, like earthquakes and storms, were supernatural or acts of God… only for science to eventually explain them.

In this hypothetical world, then, physicists would struggle to incorporate magic into their equations, but this could lead to the formation of completely new theories. We’d have to rethink even gravity, for instance, as soon as someone could prove that they were immune to it. And we’d be back to square one with even physical states as soon as anyone genuinely walked on water. Suddenly, the world and the universe would be an all-new prospect, and we’d almost certainly be better placed to explore it all.

So, while magic is a general term that encompasses many different abilities, if any aspect of it were to suddenly be inherited by human civilization then it would be a huge, incomparable turning point. If all aspects of it were to suddenly reveal themselves, then the foundations of reality really do move. But this alternate world isn’t without its dangers. There’s fear, social tension and envy to contend with… plus the fact that accidents happen. Give people magical powers, and some will get hurt (and die) trying to work out how to use them!

But quickly, magic could grow to be accepted, much as new technologies are. And whenever a magical event occurred, we’d all inwardly chuckle and think to ourselves; that’s life. And that’s what would happen if magic worked.