Since the old times, even before the Sealing, philosophers have been trying to ascertain the nature of the world. The most prevalent school of thought is that everything is composed of four fundamental elements.
These four elements as natural philosophers understand them are Order, Chaos, Creation and Destruction. Every object is made of a unique proportion of each of the elements and the proportions determine all of the external properties that people can interact with, such as shape, colour and function. This also holds for more ephemeral effects and concepts. For example, the feeling of affection could be said to be made up of Chaos and Creation. There are a number of concepts that strongly associate with only one of the elements.
While some take a pragmatic view of natural philosophy, for others the pursuit of Natural and Spiritual Philosophy are inextricably linked.
Natural philosophy is divided in to the study of magic, and of science.
The magical side of natural philosophy is almost entirely devoted to thaumaturgy, the art of multiple people using ritualistic gestures, symbols, intonation and actions to work in concert to effect changes on the world.
The scientific side of natural philosophy is more varied. Some look towards how they can fuse elementally active ingredients together to get interesting properties, which is the study of alchemy. The other side of science is biology, and those that study the human body have learned to perform great feats of surgery, and even limited reanimation of the dead.
It’s not really known why, but it seems that magic and science are somehow incompatible ways of looking at the world. Those that dive into understanding one discipline find themselves unable to properly comprehend the other.
While thaumaturgy and alchemy can produce somewhat similar effects, they seem to do so by completely different methods. What is known is that thaumaturgy is more flexible, but is considerably less efficient, and has great difficulty creating effects that are long-lasting - almost all thaumaturgical effects break on sunrise. Thaumaturgy is however good at affecting areas. Alchemy on the other hand can efficiently create powerful focused effects, and they can be bottled to be recreated on demand even quite some time later. Alchemy is, however, very inflexible in comparison to thaumaturgy.
Related, but slightly apart from both is invocation, the use of alchemy and thaumaturgy through specialised Focus items to produce small, short-lived elemental effects.
The element of Order is one of stability and permanence and dislikes change. It also encompasses hierarchy, social propriety, politics and control of others. It’s the element of truth and facts, but also intrigue and misdirection without lying. It’s also the element of discovery by logical deduction, as opposed to the intuitive approach of Chaos. It is associated with the colour blue.
Chaos is the element of social revelry, freedom, individualism and wanderlust, but also of lies and outright deception. Chaos likes for things to change, to be in flux and motion. Chaos is the element of discovery by inspiration and lateral thinking. With unconstrained freedom also comes savagery and uncontrolled violence. It is associated with the colour red.
Creation is the element of life and growth, and also of personal growth and self improvement. Creation is direct. It’s the element of strength and victory, of having power and wielding it. It also encompasses healing, and building items. It is associated with the colour green.
Destruction is probably the trickiest element to grasp. Most superficially it is the element of death, destruction, weakness and ruin, but Destruction is also the element of difficult choices and survival by any means. Destruction is the element of wisdom and skill winning out over strength. It is associated with the colour grey or white.
Even at the height of magic, some things are known to be impossible with either magic or alchemy.
Compulsions are possible, but the target will always be aware of the compulsion.
Compulsions can always be forcibly resisted by becoming incapacitated.
Influence is possible without the subject necessarily knowing it, but then the influence cannot be powerful enough to be a true compulsion.
It is impossible to magically or alchemically conceal something from mundane detection - invisibility is impossible, as is blocking sound, and disguising something so it appears totally different to what it is.
It is possible to conceal something from divination, but not to give a false result. Divination on a concealed target will yield information about the concealing effect.
Both magic and alchemy seem to need an act of will to set off their effect, otherwise they remain inert. Trying to apply any sort of automatic condition, trigger or time delay is simply impossible.
Affecting a target at range is incredibly difficult. Affecting an area centred on your location is much more feasible however. Very simple effects can be stretched to up to 5m, such as with the Ruination and Abjuration rituals.