Among Polynesian and Melanesian peoples, a supernatural force or power that may be ascribed to persons, spirits, or inanimate objects. Mana may be either good or evil, beneficial or dangerous, but it is not impersonal; it is never spoken of except in connection with powerful beings or things. The term was first used in the 19th century in the West in connection with religion, but mana is now regarded as a symbolic way of expressing the special qualities attributed to persons of status in a hierarchical society, of providing sanction for their actions, and of explaining their failures. Seealso animism.
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In anthropological discourse, mana as a generalized concept has attained a significant amount of interest, often understood as a precursor to formal religion. It has commonly been interpreted as "the stuff of which magic is formed", as well as the substance of which souls are made.
The magazine Maori Law Review suggests two essential aspects to a Māori person's mana:
Examples of such objects would be charms or amulets. For instance if a very prosperous hunter used a charm that had mana and he gave it to another person then people believed that the prosperous hunter’s luck would transfer to the next holder of the charm.
The magic of mana was embedded into all talismans and fetishes, whether devoted to ancient Gods, Roman Catholic saint relics, the spirits of the ancestors or the underlying element that makes up the universe and all life within it.
Analogies to mana in other societies include:
Also related are the philosophical concepts of:
Mana came to the attention of the anthropological community with the English missionary Robert Henry Codrington's (1830-1922) work The Melanesians (1891). It has since been discussed by anthropologists such as Emile Durkheim (1912), Marcel Mauss (1924), Claude Lévi-Strauss (1950) and Roger Keesing (1984).
Many subsequent fantasy settings (role-playing games in particular) have followed Niven in his use of mana. In the comic version of Archie Comics’ Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, for example, the Mana Tree is the source of all mystical energy in the Magic Realm. Some of the first computer games to adopt mana as a term for magic points were the role-playing game Dungeon Master (1987), and the god game Populous (1989), where mana is the resource used by gods (such as the player) to make divine interventions. The regeneration rate of mana in this setting is proportional to the god's number of followers. Other later games to include mana as a source of magical power are Secret of Mana, EverQuest, Warcraft, Tales of Symphonia, LostMagic, and Diablo as well as their sequels. Mana is also a key resource in the card game Magic: The Gathering.
The article about magic points lists more games, and examples of the use of mana in games.
Mana has also been a small but noticable factor in the japanese Daiei Studios' Gamera Heisei series' second and third instilments.