mana: see animism; taboo.
Mana is the concept of an impersonal force or quality that resides in people, animals, and inanimate objects. The concept is common to many Oceanic languages, including Melanesian, Polynesian, and Micronesian.

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.

Modern fantasy fiction and computer and role-playing games have adopted mana as a term for magic points—an expendable resource out of which magic users form their magical spells.

Mana should not be confused with the Biblical manna (also spelled mana or mannah), which, according to the Bible (Exodus, chapter 16), provided sustenance for the Israelites.

Mana in Polynesian culture

In Polynesian culture (for example, Hawaiian and Māori), mana is a spiritual quality considered to have supernatural origin – a sacred impersonal force existing in the universe. Therefore to have mana is to have influence and authority, and efficacy – the power to perform in a given situation. This essential quality of mana is not limited to persons – folks, governments, places and inanimate objects can possess mana. In Hawaiian, mana loa means "great power". There are two ways to obtain mana: through birth and through warfare. People or objects that possess mana are accorded "respect"; because their possession of mana gives them "authority", "power", and "prestige". In Māori, a tribe that has mana whenua is considered to have demonstrated their authority over a given piece of land or territory. The word’s meaning is complex because mana is a basic foundation of the Polynesian worldview.

The magazine Maori Law Review suggests two essential aspects to a Māori person's mana:

Mana in Melanesian culture

Melanesian mana is thought to be a sacred impersonal force existing in the universe. Mana can be in people, animals, plants and objects. Similar to the idea of efficacy, or sometimes better known as luck, the Melanesians thought all success was traced back to mana. One could acquire or manipulate this luck in different ways (for example through magic). Certain objects that have mana can change a person’s luck.

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.

Universal archetype

A concept analogous to mana has been in various other cultures the power of magic. However, it was not the only principle and others included the concept of sympathetic magic and of seeking the intervention of a specific supernatural being, whether deity, saint or deceased ancestor.

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.

Similar cultural concepts

The concept of a life-energy inherent in all living beings seems to be a fairly universal archetype, and appears in numerous ancient religions and systems of metaphysics.

Analogies to mana in other societies include:

Also related are the philosophical concepts of:

Mana in anthropological discourse

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).

Mana in fantasy

Fantasy writer Larry Niven in his 1969 short story Not Long Before the End described mana as a natural resource which is used or channeled by wizards to cast magic spells. He expanded on this idea in other works, notably his 1978 novella The Magic Goes Away. Mana is a limited resource in Niven's work, a fact which eventually will lead to the end of all magic in his antediluvian fantasy setting when all mana is depleted.

Many subsequent fantasy settings (role-playing games in particular) have followed Niven in his use of mana. In the comic version of Archie ComicsSabrina, 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.


  • Codrington, Robert Henry. 1891. The Melanesians.
  • Keesing, Roger. 1984. Rethinking mana. Journal of Anthropological Research 40:137-156.
  • Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1950. Introduction à l'œuvre de Marcel Mauss.
  • Lévi-Strauss, Claude; Baker, Felicity (translator). 1987. Introduction to the Work of Marcel Mauss. ISBN 0-415-15158-9
  • Mauss, Marcel. 1924. Essai sur le don.
    • Mauss, Marcel; Halls, W. D. (translator). 1990. The Gift. ISBN 0-393-32043-X

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