Take the 2-minute tour ×
Arqade is a question and answer site for passionate videogamers on all platforms. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In today's field of gaming, the humble mana bar has become nearly as widespread as the health bar. Everywhere from MMOs to flash games, to traditional turn-based RPGs, Mana exists as a finite consumable resource (often a blue bar) used to cast spells and/or abilities.

And yet, the biblical definition of mana has little to do with the term as it exists in modern-day vernacular.

Tolkien or Dungeons and Dragons are the usual culprits for widespread fantasy terms (dwarves come to mind), but neither Tolkien nor any version of Dungeons and Dragons make mention of mana (Tolkien downplayed magic in general, and D&D has traditionally used the concept of "spells per day"), so the origin of the term remains unknown to me.

So where or when did "Mana" first become used in this modern, videogame-inclined sense?

share|improve this question
    
The farthest back I traced it was Populous. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_point but I doubt they started the term. –  AndrewKS Feb 23 '11 at 17:20
3  
So, this is about the word, not the concept. There's a high chance that the answer will probably be a boring "designer used thesaurus". Mana is a short word, has a spiritual feel, and importantly sounds more exotic and less statistical than MP. Because it isn't otherwise used in popular vernacular, it could spread like wildfire unlike the otherwise used things like TP, Essence, Spirit, Arcana... Of course, I lack any concrete date as to the origin (and remain curious to see if anyone can pull up an answer), but its popularity can be figured in from this. –  Grace Note Feb 23 '11 at 17:22
5  
the wiki has a nice lore on it en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mana, if that is true it could be that the first uses came from there. –  Andy Feb 23 '11 at 17:38
7  
Nitpick: The biblical word "manna" (two n's) is neither the same word or the same concept as mana (magic). –  user351 Feb 24 '11 at 2:01
4  
@Jokkey the biblical word meant 'Food from heaven' and was later used to mean 'spiritual nourishment'. Henry Lovelich's Merlin refers to Merlin's Manna at least a few times. Lovelich is circa 1450 –  Mechko Feb 24 '11 at 2:17

3 Answers 3

up vote 32 down vote accepted

It's almost certainly derived from a pan-Polynesian idea of "that which makes something effective" - usually, what makes magic effective. "Mana" tends to travel in the company of the idea of "taboo", the complex of rules that distinguish something as sacred. Mana comes from obedience of taboo, from the performance of certain rites, from pleasing the spirits of ancestors, or from other sources, depending on the particular island whose mana/taboo complex you're studying. (Keesing's Kwaio Religion is probably the most readable account, and recommended reading - the Kwaio have a verb that's a cognate of "mana", and their practices revolve around satisfying ancestor spirits who can in turn "namana"-ize their descendants' activities, mundane and magical alike, so that they meet with success.)

Larry Niven is probably the writer who brought the idea into Western fantasy literature, as the Wikipedia article indicates, and it spread in that millieu during the 1970s.

share|improve this answer

First time I heard of it was in Dungeon Master on Atari (1987), one of the three resources (health, stamina,mana)

EDIT: prior to Populous 1989.

share|improve this answer

The word Manna exists as far back as Hebrew, first seen in the book of Exodus referring to the food that God produced out of nothing to feed His people. As Colin Creitz points out, the word Mana exists in the Austronesian family. However, the Hebrew Manna may in fact originate as a word play on the Aramaic 'Mann hu' meaning 'what is it?' and the ancient Egyptian word 'Mennhu' meaning food. The suggested meaning is that 'Manna' is an inscrutable gift from God (a dew found 6 mornings a week in the desert with the taste of honey)

Later references to Manna come in Roman Catholic lore as a fluid constantly exuding from the tomb of Saint Nicholas. It is also suggested by some Christians that God intended us to be vegetarian and cite the existence of Manna as proof.

From the late 14th century, Manna was known as a spiritual nourishment to scholars. The word Manna appears in close proximity to Merlin in Henry Lovelich's story Merlin. I don't know exactly when that came out, but its in proper old English, so I suspect it is old.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.