97
votes

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?

locked by Ash May 25 '18 at 23:57

This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here. This question and its answers are frozen and cannot be changed. See the help center for guidance on writing a good question.

Read more about locked posts here.

  • 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
  • 13
    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
  • 5
    @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 – Ritwik Bose Feb 24 '11 at 2:17
  • 1
    According to wiki article 'mana' origins from Oceanic languages not European/Asian (specifically Hebrew) – Meta Feb 24 '11 at 4:49
45
votes

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.

15
votes

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.

  • מאן הוא in Aramaic means "who is he" more than than "what is it" - as far as I can tell anyway. +1 though. – einpoklum Nov 28 '17 at 22:02
13
votes

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.

3
votes

"Hawaiians and other Polynesians believed that their kings and queens had a concentrated sacred energy called mana, which common people could not share. To maintain this sacred energy, the rule for a king was that his most appropriate wife was his sister. This set of cultural beliefs illustrates the manifest function of royal endogamy"

Found this while studying for my anthropology exams.

2
votes

Not neccesarily a real reason for this, but this piece of mythology bears a strong resemblance to the way that magic is used in current fantasy fiction.

Finnic mythology also has a concept of "mana". First it was "Maan ala", meaning a place underground. Then this name evolved shorter, turning into Manala. But finnic languages have the property of suffixes adding additional meanings. And "-la" is usually used to turn non-locations into location names. Usually it can denote someone's place of living. So, it was only an unescapable conclusion that Manala is the place where Mana lives.

Mana then evolved to mean the ruling spirit of the otherword(place where the dead go). Then the word "mana" evolved to mean stuff, which must have otherworldy origin. For example extraordinary deeds - shaman performing a ritual(to mana(action)), a person winning a fight of extraordinary odds(mana is strong in him or he has lots of mana(desciptive)), a person being with exceptionally good personality(hes like a child of Manala(descriptive)).

1
vote

The japanese word まなぶ (manabu) meaning "learn" is also related to words like "school" and "science". Given the character limit on older games, especially console games like NES and prior systems, one could imagine manabu abbreviated to mana. This is just my speculation given the popularity of early RPGs (aka JRPGs) being of Eastern/Japanese origin.

1
vote

I'm aware it's an old post but I'm gonna give an answer anyway. From the Wikipedia entry on Mana:

Mana is a word found in Austronesian languages meaning "power, effectiveness, prestige," where in most cases the power is understood to be supernatural. The exact semantics depends on the language.

In Polynesian culture, 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—peoples, governments, places and inanimate objects can possess mana. 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. The word's meaning is complex because mana is a basic foundation of the Polynesian worldview.

-2
votes

Mana is defined in English as authority, control, influence, prestige or power. It is also honour.

This word is a Maori word from New Zealand..Traditionally there are three kinds of Mana.

  1. The mana a person was born with.

This mana is the mana that comes from whakapapa, or the genealogy of the person. This could be the rank of the parents, grandparents, great-grandparents right back to the people who came across on the waka (canoes).

There is also mana from being decendants of tupuna (ancestors) who are well known for their deeds.

  • I do not know where you copied these defenitions from, but they don't seem to hold any connection to the way "mana" is used in gaming. – DJ Pirtu Sep 7 '15 at 5:51
  • I second @DJPirtu , but I would also point out that the history of the word would be interesting if such a connection could be shown. – Svj0hn Sep 7 '15 at 6:04
  • @DJPirtu source: Dictionary of the New Zealand Language by the Bishop H. W. Williams. The 1844 edition says about "mana": "power, influence". The 1917 edition says "authority, control, influence, prestige, power, psychic force". The 2001 edition says "authority, control, influence, prestige or power and honour" - oddly enough the book "New Zealand 2016: Have an Adventure!" has a direct quote: "Mana - is defined in English as authority, control, influence, prestige or power. It is also honour". – Theraot Aug 28 '16 at 11:24
  • @Theraot Yeah, my objection to this answer was not so much the lack of source, but that it didn't seem to have anything to do with how and why the word is used in gaming. If such connection exits, it certainly wasn't drawn here. – DJ Pirtu Aug 28 '16 at 11:49

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