I need to make a character, who is agnostic of electricity, electromagnetic fields, and any modern age theories, refer to electromagnetic phenomena.

Ancient cultures, like greeks, chinese, were somewhat aware of electricity and magnetism. Few examples are: thunder and yellow amber, which has an electrostatic property.

Right now, I'm using yellow amber to refer to the phenomenon. But I'm not very satisfied.

"There is no yellow amber in the region.", says a character who sees an improbable electromagnetic phenomenon.

To clarify: we're in an ancient civilization. The character is aware of some electromagnetism effects, like electrostatic field effects, or thunder. He does not fully understand why these effect happen, in details. But he understand that in certain conditions, it happens. Now, he sees these effects happening in a situation where those conditions are unmet. He is confused about it and in his thought he needs to refers to electromagnetism using words of his culture.

His culture is theocratic and is known as the most technologically advanced culture in the world. It is said that they have no new discoveries to do : they think they know everything there is to know.

The character, here, has a proof that they don't. Hence, he will need to say something like :

"I have found the proof that something about [electromagnetism] cannot be explained by our current knowledge, despite our belief that it is complete".

A replacement for "electromagnetism" is this sentence is what I am looking for.

That said, I can probably invent some word refering to a wrong, imaginary, inexistent cause for electromagnetism effects. But I would like to avoid referring to some God of Thunder. Their religion is monotheistic.

So, what I need is a somewhat realistic term to replace "electromagnetism" in the bold sentence, that would refer to an misbelief about the causes of electromagnetism effects.

  • Are you researching what word was actually used? Or are you assuming that in RL, there was no such understanding in ancient cultures, and you're looking for help coining a new phrase?
    – Standback
    Oct 19, 2014 at 11:35
  • Either way, this might be a problematic question for us - both research and brainstorming/rephrasing are off-topic here. Anybody got an opinion on whether this question fits on Writers?
    – Standback
    Oct 19, 2014 at 11:36

2 Answers 2


The explanation I loved most is from Terry Prachett's "Discoworld" universe.

Magnetism: "See this metal? It is special kind of metal which is loved by all other metals. So when other metals are around, they are atracted to it."

Electricity: "I finally bound the lighting to the metal and can produce my own small lightnings."

So, if you want your character to speak about it, you should say: "I found out, that we know that this metal is attracted to other metals. But our knowledge cannot explain why"

Or you can give to it in-universe explanation - for example alchemy would be best to apply in this case (essence of metal is bound very deep to this piece)


I'm not entirely sure what you are aiming for here, but it sounds like you need people in an ancient culture to refer to electricity and magnetism without actually using those words. Describe the effects. Is the piece of metal moving? The reader will probably come up with magnetism. Is there a spark? The reader will probably guess electricity.

If this is not what you're after, I might suggest adding a few details to the question. What is the context for this?

  • These effects are well known, but the causes are really not well understood at all. How a character would refer to the causes of these effects ? How would he attempts to give an explanation without refering to some god ?
    – davcha
    Oct 18, 2014 at 8:46
  • Right now I'm confused as to whether or not the character is of the ancient civilization himself. If he is from the future, that changes everything. Oct 18, 2014 at 22:11
  • Let me get a few things straight. Correct me if I'm wrong. We're in an ancient civilization. The character understands how and why magnetism works. He needs to explain how and why it works to members of the ancient civilization without using terms that they would not understand. Is all of that correct? Oct 18, 2014 at 22:21

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