Safety First — The first lesson of Magic 101 at the Wizard’s University

Note: This text originally appeared as an answer on Worldbuilding Stack Exchange

Finally the professor entered the room. Before he turned to the audience, he muttered “abra”. Now this was to expected; it was a strange tic shared by all wizards that they every now and then muttered, without evident reason, “abra”; indeed it was such a common occurrence that “abra” had become a synonym to “wizard”.

Now the professor turned to the audience: “Good morning, dear wizard candidates. I’m your professor of magic spelling, and today you’ll learn the most important spell of all.”

The candidates got excited: The first lesson of the first course, and they already would learn the most important of all spells! What would it be? The tension became almost unbearable.

The professor continued: “You’re certainly eager to learn that spell, but you should know that I’m going to keep an important part back until the end. I know the magic students; after all, I’ve been one myself, and I’ve got a host of experience in teaching. Abra I know, you’ll be eager not only to try it, but to try variations of it. But small variations of spells can easily be very dangerous. Abra You may have heard about the large flood five hundred years ago. What is less well known is that it was the fault of a single wizard. He was experimenting with a spell to turn stone to meat, and thought he might be able to make better meat by changing the spell a bit; abra well, it turned out that instead the change made the spell incredibly more powerful, turning the wall of a nearby mountain lake to meat. The meat could not hold the water pressure, and the flood was released. The wizard turned the meat back to stone, but he couldn’t stop the flood he started. Abra

The audience got impatient. They were not here to learn about the dangers of magic, they were here to learn how to apply it!

Fortunately the professor now came back to the spell: “OK, so after the word of warning, I’m going to tell you the main part of the spell. It’s actually quite short: “ab”. That’s the active part of the spell.

One of the students asked: “What do you mean with active part?

The professor answered: “That’s what I was coming to anyway. Abra A spell consists of three parts: An opening, an active part, and a closing. This is very important, because anything you say between the opening and the closing part is part of the active part of the spell. Abra So if you happen to say something in between that’s not part of the spell you want to cast, that means you’ve got a different spell; quite possibly one you’ll regret to have cast. This even includes a repetition of the opening part. Therefore you have to be very careful what you say when casting a spell.”

“So whenever I say something wrong, I’m immediately doomed?” the student asked.

“Oh no, fortunately not; that would be terrible.” replied the professor. “No, as long as you didn’t utter the closing formula, the spell will not go into effect, and therefore you can still correct your error.”

“But how would I correct that mistake?”

“That’s a good question. There is a spell word for this, that cancels everything between the opening of the spell and that spell word. Abra That is, after uttering that word, you can start over as if you had just uttered the opening. Abra And if you continue with the closing, it means you’ve completely cancelled whatever spell you were starting to cast. Therefore this spell is known as the spell of cancelling. Abra Indeed, that is the most important spells of all. I already told it to you: It’s “ab”.”

So that was the most important spell the professor was talking about. The students were somewhat disappointed. On the other hand, that safety was valued that much showed that it would be a powerful art they were learning.

The professor continued: “Abra Now as you know the active part of the most important spell, it’s time to teach you the other parts. One part is the closing. The closing is the part that finally releases the magic. Be always sure that you don’t utter it before your spell is complete. Abra The closing of a spell is “ra”. So whenever you started a spell, even if unintentionally, you just have to say “abra” and the spell is cancelled and finished, so you can continue to speak normally as long as you don’t utter a starting formula. Abra

Again, the same student put his hand up. It had to be a very intelligent and attentive student. His question was: “You said, a starting formula. Does that mean there are several?”

“Indeed.” the professor replied. “Abra Actually, for a long time we thought there were just one, but fifty years ago the great mage Hudus found a second opening. It’s a very useful one, and the one I’ll teach you today. Abra But we don’t know if there are others we haven’t yet found. For this reason, it is a good idea to cancel a possibly ongoing spell you are not even aware you’re casting. Abra You may have wondered why wizards constantly say “abra”. Well, that’s the reason. We protect ourselves against unintentional spells. Abra Also, it’s a good idea to prefix each of your spells with “abra”, to prevent it to become part of an ongoing spell you were not aware of abra. You better also get into the habit of saying “abra” from time to time, so you don’t get caught by surprise.”

“Ah, “ the student replied, “but if you can utter a spell by accident so easily, then why do non-wizards do it all the time? After all, they don’t know how to avoid it!”

Abra Well, a spell only works if you own a magic staff. It doesn’t matter if you have it with you, but you have to own it. Abra All of you will be given a magic staff soon; until then, you should get into the habit of saying “abra” frequently. From now on, I want you to start every sentence you say here with “abra”.”

“And …”

“Start wit “abra”!”

Abra And what’s so special about the newer opening that you said it’s so useful?”

“Well, if you cast a spell with that opening, it doesn’t actually happen. But you immediately know what would have happened if you had cast the same spell with the standard opening. Therefore it allows you to safely test spells. And to safely learn them, I want to add.”

“Ok, so …”

“Start with “abra”!”

Abra so you say we won’t be able to actually do magic?”

Abra Well, not until you learn the standard opening formula. Which you will as soon as you’ve passed the first exams and proved that you can indeed be trusted to cast your spells responsibly. Abra For now, you’ll only learn the newer opening, known as the dry run opening. It’s “kad”. Abra And remember, you should always cancel a possible ongoing spell first. OK, you” — he pointed to another student — “please tell me, what would be the correct way to dry-run cast just the cancelling spell?”

The student thought for a few seconds and then said: “Abra kad abra.”

“Exactly” the professor said. “Abra.”

Heidelberg, Hörsaal in der Universität, Quelle: Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F079100–0022 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 obtained via Wikimedia Commons,
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