Magic was a vague term used by mortals to describe powers they did not fully understand. While great spirits such as the Ainur did possess immense powers, understood by Men as "divine", also Elves and Dwarves had abilities appearing to Men as magical. Even a few men seemed to have had great powers and were therefore considered Magicians by their kin.
Elven and Dwarven Magic
Elves distinguished between different sorts of greater abilities: while Curu referred to great "Skill" or "Cunning", Sairina referred to "Wisdom", Ingole even explicitly meant "Science" or "Philosophy", and Ista "Knowledge".
This elven-magic meant on one hand abilities inherent to the Elves: greater strength, dexterity, intelligence and will; on the other hand it meant deeper lore and knowledge obtained by the Eldar from their insight into nature and their teaching by the Valar. A different category of magic seemed to be the art performed by the Thothweg (S."Magician"), whose title seemed to be derived from thosso ("fear") or thosta ("put to fright, terrify") and seemed to refer to power that was terrifying or laid fear even upon elves.
While elvish abilities could not be obtained by men (or only to a very limited degree as far as men could approach elvish way of life, nourishment and closeness to the Immortal Lands) deeper Lore and insight might be learned by talented and committed Men.
The same thing was true for dwarven magic, which was based for the most part on dwarven skill, dexterity, endurance and their teaching by Mahal. While Hildor (Men) never could match the dwarven dexterity and endurance, a committed mortal might learn a little of their craft, lore and insight.
- Blessings (Q."Almë") - usually not regarded as "magic" in the close sense, blessings were praisings of worship or consecrations by Eru or the angelic powers (Valar). Blessings could function as protections from evil: warding off of evil magic, curses, or fell spirits or misfortune; as well as healing and requests of favour from the powers. But while all names had inherent powers on their own, to work blessings required true and deep faith.
- Charming (S."Lûth") - charming originally referred to the use of charms, magic song, spells or lamentations but later acquired the meaning of seducing, bewildering, influencing by tempting or flattering words, subtle doing and presence.
- Conjuring of Spirits (Q."Fëantúrë") - Bodiless spirits could be conjured or even controlled by a greater Will. Usually this form of magic was connected with the Dark Lords who could call upon spirits and force them into living creatures: (Dragons, Werewolves), as well as dead matter (Statues, Weapons, Rings). A lesser form of Necromancy could even be performed by powerful Sorcerers such as the Witch-king who had the ability to summon Wights (who again also had the ability to turn other beings into wights and animate soulless Corpses). The original meaning of conjuring was to swear together, to plot, or to conspire, and referred to the act of making a pact or contract between conjurer and conjured spirit. Yet a different form of conjuring spirits or transferring spiritual power was known to the Drûghu whose craftsmen had the ability to transform their own lifeforce or spirit into artificial effigies as the Pûkel creatures.
- Curses (S."Rhach") Curses were expressions or wishes which aimed to hurt and/or harm a person, place or object. Usually curses were seen as a form of dark Sorcery, as Morgoth cursed the fate of Hurin's Children, and Mîm cursed Androg; but sometimes also invocations of higher powers for justice or judgement were called curses, for example Isildur cursed the Oathbreakers and Mandos cursed the Feanorians. In any case the Curse brought ill-fate and misfortune upon it's victims.
- Enchantment (Q."Lúcë") - enchanting originally referred to the chanting of runes or magic spells, later it came to mean the transferring of magical power to artifacts and bewitchment and even manipulation of the mind by flattering, seduction and deceit.
- Foresight (Q."Apacenyë") - foresight was the ability to see in the future, to gain visions of things yet to happen, or to prophesize coming events. Foresight was a gift given to many Ainur and Elves but occasionally also to gifted mortals. These were known as Seers.
- Hag - hag may originally have referred to a person or spirit who "cuts" or wounds via magic or who tries to appease or pacify a spirit or entrap a spirit via a magical bound or trap. It however evolved to designate a malevolent person, one who is probably in league with evil spirits or tries to harm people via magic or poison: a witch.
- Illusion Weaving - Illusions were trickery and misleading of the senses. By concentrating their will, magicians might force false perception upon weaker minds, powerful Sorcerers might even manipulate forms to appear different from their true nature or create Phantoms, or skilled Singers, Dancers and Musicians could evocate Visions and Dreams. Illusions were however never truly corporeal and always relied on beguilement.
- Incantation - incantation originally referred to the singing/muttering/calling "in" of a spiritual being, in which a spirit was summoned into a focus, object, body via words or song. It later became analogous with enchantment or spell.
- Magic (Q."Sairina") - magic originally referred to a special ability or power, but came to designate the art or craft of the ritual of magician-priests. Astrology, Astronomy, and Alchemy were seen as aspects of this special kind of knowledge. This knowledge encompassed the skill to use the natural magic embedded within all things of creation. Later it became an umbrella term.
- Magical Artifacts - Skilled Craftsmen might create things filled with power and even will on their own. Magical weapons, Rings, Statues, Armour, or even Doors and Stones.
- Magical Healing (S."Athae") - Magical healing incorporated both knowledge of healing plants and their hidden traits, and powers of the will and power to manipulate or strengthen bodies. A magical Healer might even be able to transfer some of his own Life Force to restore a weakened person, creature or plant.
- Magical Machinery (Q."Enya") - The Dwarves had knowledge about machines, mechanisms, and technical devices, alien to any other culture although similar profession existed to a degree among Orcs and Númenóreans. Also Saruman was a master of technique. This mastery surpassed any common knowledge of men and might be regarded as some sort of Magic although it was truly just deep knowledge and skill.
- Magical Songs (S."Lind") - Magical songs were not really a distinct form of Magic but often accompanied magical acts. A Necromancer might sing magical chants when summoning spirits, a Smith might sing the name of Runes or magical names of materials while working on a magical Sword, also an Astrologer might sing the names of the stars or call upon the Dwellers of Menel, a Berserker might intone war-cries to get into a cultic Rage, and a healer might sing secret names of the plants or call upon the Valie of Healing while taking care of a wound. The same could be true for Machine-magicians who invoked spirits inhabiting engines, or Illusion-weavers who incantated songs that created images, dreams and visions for their listeners. However especially among the Elves, song and music also had a special power or quality of their own. They would encourage and empower listeners, bless, heal wounds, frighten enemies and influence bodies, places, enemies and plants by creating a bond or tie to the living substance of Arda.
- Magical physical abilities - Many races of Middle-Earth had great physical traits. Dwarves could live exceptionally long without food, light, and air, could operate in complete darkness, walk great distances and carry immense burdens without exhaustion. Also elves were nearly inexhaustible, could see and hear for about hundreds of miles, balance on the smallest ropes, even walk on snow without leaving a simple footprint, withstand great cold, heat, hunger, and pain. Even Halflings had seemingly magical abilities: they could move exceedingly fast and silent, hide themselves easily, and were hard to be influenced by magical powers or the will of other beings. Although most of these powers seemed to be inherited abilities of distinct races much of it was truly grounded on a strong will and the way of living in harmony with Arda and even mortal men who trained their spirit and mind might make some efforts in exceeding their usual natural possibilities.
- Miracles (Q."Elmendar") - miracles or "wonderworking" refers to the supernatural powers of angelic beings such as the Valar or even Illuvatar himself. On rare occasion the Valar or lesser spirits would even take possession of the hroa of eruhini and speak or work through them. In his form of the Airëfëa, or "Mān," Eru Illuvatar could inspire or control His children to their benefit and work miracles through them.
- Necromancy (S."Gûl") - Necromancy, in the closer sense, refers to the conjuring of the spirits of the dead in order to gain information from them, in the wider sense it is also used in general for conjuring the spirits of the dead, forcing dead spirits into creatures or artifacts, or reviving dead bodies by will or forcing spirits to animate these.
- Prophecy - Prophecy originally referred to fore-telling, or speaking out and proclaiming the will of the gods to the people, but sometimes it became synonymous with sooth-saying and fortune-telling.
- Sigaldry - sigaldry originally referred to the chanting of victory runes and spells in magic battles, later it came to denote magic damage, battle-magic and finally dark sorcery.
- Sorcery (Q."Núlë ") - sorcery originally referred to practices aimed at influencing fate or finding out about fate, for example by making pacts with powerful spirits. Or alternatively it might refer to binding-magic, for example the binding of a spirit to one’s service, the binding of oneself to a spirit in exchange for power, or the binding of a person via the help of spirits. The term is often used in a derogatoty sense for dark or evil magic, though not exclusively.
- Space-Time travel - considers various forms of traveling in mind through space and time, whether by "twilight-walking" or entering the spirit world, dream travel, connecting to the spirits ancestors or previous incarnations or "object-empathy", the reading of the history of a specific artifact or thing by spiritually connecting to it's essence. Sometimes the assistance of spiritual-powers is needed for the more "physical" forms of traveling. (See:lost road, olórë mallë)
- Summoning (Q."Yalië") - summoning originally referred to the whispering of magic formulas or spells, later it came to denote the summoning of spirits, ghosts or demonic beings.
- Witchcraft (Gol."Curusôn") - witchcraft originally referred to the "bending" or "twisting" of things, people, creatures, life, or fate via a special craft or knowledge or possibly trying to influence spirits via sacrifice and consecration of life-force. This could encompass means of foretelling or divination, summoning and pacting with spirits, special knowledge or wisdom gained from higher beings, and not to the last inflicting magical damage via cursing, execrating and raising terror, fear and fury in battle-magic.
- Wizardry (Q."Istya") - wizardry originally referred to the art of the wizard, the "bold wise" who has deep insight and knowledge and knows and dares to use it in a bold and wise way. It is used as synonymous with magic.
- Words of Power - within Arda not only in spirits, bodies, and matter there existed some inherent power or quality; but also in language, in words and names. Calling out, speaking out, singing or whispering specific words or names could have quite great effect if done with the right inner demeanor and true, deep faith. Sam calling out the name "Elbereth" would be an example of this, part of Elbereth's great power even dwelt in just her Name.
- Dwarven Constructors
- Morgoth Element
Apart from the "divine Magic" of the Ainur and the "Magia Naturalis" of the Elves and Dwarves (or Hobbits if one wants to count their natural abilities as a form of "magic") Tolkien never actually describes how exactly "magic" does work or what other types of magic do exist among men. In accordance with Tolkien's cosmology all magic basically would fall into two categories: Theurgy and Demonology, that is working magic by invoking either angelic or planetary powers; or evil entities, devils. In theory perhaps two other categories could exist, that is "fairy-magic", as the "quasi-pagan" equivalent to theurgy, working magic with the help of nature-spirits, and Thaumaturgy, that is "blessing" and "miracle-work" through the powers of piety and faith.
All types of traditional folk-magic, shamanism, fetishism , talismans, amulets, potions, sigils, runes and ritual-magic could well exist within that range, the main difference between other common types of "fantasy-magic" is that the "magician" does not have any magical abilities, power, mana, astral energy, whatsoever by himself. He only has traditional, intuitional or occult "knowledge" or "capabilities" and has to call upon other, higher powers and either bid them, invoke them, bind them, or make a pact with them, to enact magical work for him. Technically all of these practices would fall under "channeling". The real efficiency of these practices would however be doubtful at best, as true divine intervention is rare in Arda and the greater angelic powers or planetary entities are quite reclusive and usually reluctant to actively intervene.