Magical Powers– The use of arcane energy to get results and effects.
Psychic Powers– The use of mental energy to get results and effects.
Those are the two fields boiled down to their basic definitions. You can have some overlap in the effects, but the difference is in what they stem from. For example, a pyrokinetic can create and/or control fire with their minds to unleash a firestorm. A caster can summon and transmute arcane energy to unleash a firestorm. Same result, but the motions and origins aren’t the same. Unfortunately, this has led to people using the schools and terms interchangeably. This has caused confusion and I’m going to try to clarify.
Same Difference #1: Training
Casters and psychics (or psionics) both need to have some form of training. With a caster, you will need them to study magic and practice with spells. This will be done through schooling or working in the field with a mentor. Psychics either have their powers from birth or develop them at a later age, but they don’t (or shouldn’t) have ultimate control of these abilities. They usually don’t have a place to go to for training, so it is a lot of self-taught effort and experience. There is more suffering involved for a psychic too because their powers tend to leave them open to the thoughts and emotions of others. Normally, a caster doesn’t have this problem unless they fall into a special class.
Same Difference #2: Reading Minds
I’m putting this separately because it is what most people think of when they hear the word ‘Psychic’. Telepathy is probably the most common power that we give psychics. So much that many have this and then extra. Casters are able to do the same thing through various spells and artifacts. This is another clear case of how they can get similar results from different sources. Another reason I mention mind-reading separately is that I think this power is the reason people get confused. It could be telekinesis as well since I’ve noticed fiction has casters just launch things with a wave of their wand or hand.
Same Difference #3: Backlash
Because of the level of power and destruction that comes with both groups, they are susceptible to forms of backlash. For a caster, they can run out of magic and be left defenseless. They may also get hurt or killed if they attempt too powerful of a spell or run into an anti-magic countermeasure. Psychics can overextend their mind to the point of physical injury, mental damage, and even death. Their inner defenses can collapse as well if they are pushed too far, which opens them up to losing control of their powers. It’s actually more common for a psychic to lose full control than a caster because of the level of inner focus needed.
Same Difference #4: Focus
This one will be quick. A caster needs to focus on gathering magical energy and then transmuting it into what they need. It’s a pull in and push out type of thing, but only when they want to cast a spell. Psychics typically need to always remain focused to keep their powers within unless they need to use them. For this, it’s more of a pull in and unleash with direction.
Same Difference #5: Awe or Fear
I’m sure one can say this goes for anyone with a superhuman ability, which magic and psychic powers fall into. That means casters and psychics can be met with awe or fear when they reveal themselves. You see more of the latter with psychics because they are typically in a world where such powers are only found in fiction. A long history of using these types of characters for out-of-control threats doesn’t help either. Casters can be seen as dangerous too if the world has magic, but it’s frowned upon. Yet, they do have an easier time being used in a more positive and accepted hero role. This is really dependent on the world that you build.
So, I did my best to show how these two categories are both similar and different. One could say that the psychic is the more reality-based version of casters since you find them more in science-fiction/superhero stuff. Though, both tend to get a lot of attention in superhero stories. Still, they are not interchangeable like some people think. That’s a key point that one has to keep in mind when using them. At least that’s my opinion on the whole thing. What do you think?
Another great post. I think a lot of this goes to the world building the author put into the story. Some might sluff it off without a backward glance. Others might make the rules clear to the readers. I think the psychic character has a lot of merit in a story, because emotions are good for fiction.
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You have different limits with psychics too. It can more invasive than magic since most can use telepathy. People can have more fears of mental intrusion than getting blasted by a fireball. You can dodge the second thing too since it’s visible. My only issue is when people use the terms as synonyms outside of a world that establishes them as the same thing. I’ve had people call Dariana a caster and Sari a psionic, which aren’t right because of how Windemere works.
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That’s an author conundrum. Are you willing to let some readers misunderstand, even if they enjoy the story, or would you dedicate more words to explaining it so everyone understands? I don’t think there is a correct method, just curious.
I’d try to explain if they’re talking in a way that requires it. Maybe. I think the mixing up of terms is a pet peeve. For example, I get really annoyed when people use Jew and Israeli as synonyms.
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That one I can understand. I never gave much thought to the psychic character, but my mind is racing right now. Mostly about the cost of using that ability. The vulnerability and possible mental anguish could be golden in a story.
Backlash and loss of control are the big ones. With telepaths, there’s always the threat of being bombarded by thoughts from others. Another issue is that psychic powers tend to be tied to emotional states more than magic.
I’m going with magical. There is a cap the mind can handle so I believe that magical would be a stronger and has unknown limits.
Depends on the world. Every mind has a different cap too. I would also argue that a mental cap would determine the amount of magic you can use too. Magic may be unlimited, but the caster usually has a power ceiling.
Interesting point. Definitely a snowball effect because that introduces magical items or garmets. This could go on forever.
Up to the author to make a stopping point then.
Wow. You brought up a great topic. I really enjoyed this post, especially your comparison and contrast. Besides Professor Xavier and Jean Grey I can’t help thinking of Commander Deanna Troi in Star Trek: Next Generation. But in the Fantastic Beasts movie, Queenie’s psychic ability was considered magic.
I think they only have magic in Potter. So, it’s seen only in those terms. Not sure I remember Queenie. As for Troi, it makes more sense for her to be psychic since magic isn’t really a thing there. Much more science based in Star Trek.
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I can see they are not the same. Thank you, Charles. I never thought about magic and psychic before.
Glad you enjoyed it.
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It’s really common in fantasy fiction for magic/psi powers to be known as “real” but hated or feared at the same time. Partly because of the unknown — what is this person capable of? Sometimes because of a religious conflict, where one faith teaches that only God(s) should have such power.
In the case of psychics, particularly, I think people around them would be wary of their thoughts being known. We all have moments were we think certain things, maybe something rude or bigoted, but we maintain civility and don’t act on them. It would be really difficult to know there are people who could bust you in front of the world.
It’s interesting how so many of the earlier fantasy series didn’t make magic something to be feared. It was more of a legend or rare, but still respected. Not sure when it changed, but I think you have a point about religious conflict being a source there. Our world would certainly label magic and other powers as sinful.
With psychics, I think it depends on the world too. We have a lot of fictional that depicts them as one step away from going berserk. We assume that psychics would have no respect for boundaries and bust us on things we don’t say out loud, which isn’t always the case. If the psychic is a jerk then it could happen, but you still get into a he said/she said. How could they prove you actually thought such a thing? Still, fiction loves to depict psychics of all types as living time bombs and intruders of others’ minds.