The basic idea is that magical power comes from meaning. It's the sentient process of seeing stars and turning them into meaningful constellations that makes magic possible. (And thus doing magic is only possible for sentients. Being magical might be possible for non-sentients--not quite sure.) But the magical power of a meaning gets shared among the people who are using that meaning.
* In settled areas, magic might be common but weak, since there are lots of people around to attribute minor meanings to things. But there are also likely to be other mages around to bleed off these minor charges. And in fact, doing magic on people (illusions and so forth) is probably easier than doing magic on things, because people tend to carry a lot of meaning on their own.
* On the other hand, this also provides an explanation for remote places of power. Much of the wilderness is more or less meaningless "white noise", but if you find something like Ayer's Rock in the middle of the desert, or a cliff that look's like the Devil's Face, there's a lot of meaning there that other people haven't used--so this can be big magic.
* Ceremonies and great events create meaning. So burial grounds can be magical from the meaning they contain. Any place that gets referred to as "the place where <X> happened" is probably carrying some power of meaning.
* The sorts of magic you can do are influenced by the meanings that power that magic. So if you're using Gettysburg as your source of meaning, for example, the magic you create will tend to be magic of death and war.
* This notion of meaning fosters a certain secretive tradition; if you have words whose meaning carries magic, you get more power from them if you share those words.
All in all, this theory of magic seems to explain a lot of the ways magic tends to behave in stories. I like it.
So I was toying with this idea as I drove into work, and thinking about writing a journal entry on it. And then I came up with a twist on this notion that turned it into a conceptual Pyramid article with an emotional twist that brought a lump to my throat.
Now I feel that I've got to write this up as a Pyramid article. And so I don't want to pre-publish it in my journal, at least not publicly, since I don't want to damage the chance that Pyramid will buy it.
Any of y'all want to read a first draft (if/when I manage to get one done) and comment on it?