What is magic?

Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.

This is one definition of magic, by Aleister Crowley, from his book, Magick, Liber ABA, Book 4. While I’m not a fan of Crowley, I do have respect for his daring and determination to push the boundaries of magic. Or magick, with a k, if you prefer. Which I don’t. But I do agree with this statement on magic.

Is it magic when I pick up my cup because I want a drink of water? Not really, even though it fits a literal interpretation of the definition. Will is spelled with a capital W. Will is the intention of our highest selves, it is the force that pursues our Work, as opposed to will, which is a lot of wants and needs and desires that are important for doing our daily work of living. Causing change, and Big C Change, perhaps more like evolution, is a very important part of the magical life – of any life! The Buddhists will tell us all is change, nothing is permanent. One of the things I like about Paganism/s is the embrace of that in its theologies; for most strands of Paganism, the gods evolve too. We all want to feel that we have some power in our lives, some control over a life of constant change, and I think this is where an understanding of magic comes in.

For me, I view the world and my life through magical lenses. I see the world as enchanted. What I am about to say may annoy more than one hard scientist, but I totally think that science is magic. Am I confusing a sense of wonder with the idea of magic? Absolutely. I am a fan of science. I think it is a Good and Right Thing. Perhaps what we think of as magic now will have rational explanations next year. I know that a thousand years ago if I had talked about washing one’s hands regularly to avoid the germs we can’t see in order to maintain health, I would have been mocked as a weirdo or witch or worse! But let’s talk about two things, two every day items that I always use in this sort of discussion: airplanes and eyeballs.

Airplanes fly all the time and almost never fall out of the sky. I’ve flown more times than I could possibly count and I know they are completely safe. I know that air currents blow over the top and bottom of the wings and cause lift. Engines propel us through the air. And yet I still cannot help but think that physics are part of magic. I mean, a huge metal tube weighing a ton manages to fly through the air, transporting hundreds of people from one side of the world to the other in less than a day, and does not just fall out of the sky.

The eyeball is another amazing, biological creation that makes me gasp in wonder. You can talk all you want about neural synapses and retinas and optic nerves, but let’s just get real: this gelatinous ball allows me to see bright colors, shapes, textures,  and actions far and near in consort with their occurence.  I think that’s pretty damn magical.

Do not even get me started on the cycle of life and death! There is nothing like growing a human being in my own body and birthing it into the world to blur the connection between science and magic.

Our everyday, biological existence is pretty darn magical. Life perpetuates itself and struggles to thrive.

I think this carries over into our energetic and spiritual lives as well. Some people are psychic, and I think this is a form of magic. Sometimes I just know things, but I’m not psychic. I don’t hear or see dead people or spirits. I know several people who do, some by no effort of their own and some using magic: using their will and skills to make it happen.

Spell and ritual magic are techniques to hone one’s energy and Will to cause change in the physical or spiritual or energetic worlds. There are many different kinds of spells and rituals. The skeptic might insist that this is just psychological games and the effects are nothing more than placebo effects or mere coincidence. I disagree. Even if the only person or thing changed is me, then Will has caused change. I think prayer is a form of magic too. I’m reminded of the quote from the CS Lewis movie, Shadowlands, where he says, ‘I pray, not because it changes God, but because it changes me.’ My family uses magic in the forms of prayer, intention, and spells to make our way forward in the world. We have most certainly been changed by doing it, and for the better, and that alone is pretty magical. But we’ve also seen the manifested fruit of our magical workings in the larger, physical world, and that’s pretty exciting.

Humans want to control their world in the face of so many forces, like Time, over which we have no to little control. It’s a human desire – whether we use magic or science – or both! – we work toward changing our world. I like to think of magic and the magical world view in terms of re-enchantment, bringing the numinous to the forefront of every day. It’s hard to do. There’s a zen book titled, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, and that title about sums it up. My next post is going to talk a little bit about how I try to connect with the numinous in the midst of the everyday.

For further reading, here is a great article called ‘To Re-enchant the World’ by Sharon Knight.

6 responses to “What is magic?

  1. Namashkar ,
    I would be interested in whether you saw a correspondence between the idea of Magik in PAganism and Tantra in Hinduism. Some Hindu traditions emphasise Tantra more than others, though the general idea is that by ordinary actions affecting prana or energy flows in the universe we can attain super-ordinary results. Most mainline traditions confine tantra to the use of sounds, vibrations, light, ceremony, and sunstance to prepare us spiritually for meditation or prayer, but there are some sects that attempt use tantra to curse, cure, or bring about material effects.

    Also, the idea of Gods evolving has paralels in Hinduism, though most traditions have one ultimate unchaging God as well as many Devas who do change and evolve.

    • I see a very strong connection between Tantra and much of the witchcraft I am familiar with, particularly left-hand path magic. Left hand paths have much in common: mystical theories and practices, not afraid of dark deities, concerned with esoteric knowledge, not afraid of power or the possession of ‘supernatural’ abilities. I can see why many Hindu traditions discourage their followers from getting too involved in yoga and/or Tantra, because siddhis are considered a distraction and too many consider them the end point, rather than pushing on. I can see getting caught up in power for power’s sake or for ego’s sake. I think that magic is useful if we consider ourselves part of the world. If we want to escape the world or consider ourselves ‘not of it’ then magic in all its forms might be seen as mingling too much with the world.

      My personal belief is of One Ultimate Ground of Being from which all the Gods spring. Yet, it makes sense to me that even that all encompassing All must be changed by our existence. Process theology has done a lot of work in this area. Are you familiar with this stream of thought?

      What are your beliefs around Devas?

      • I’m not familiar with process theology. I just had a look at the Wikipedia page and I see a lot of similarities with what we call the “Cosmic dance of Shiva” or Tandava, in which we all take a part. I see God as unchanging like an ocean, not unchanging like an invulnerable block of stone. There are seasons, storms, tides, waves, and currents. Constant change but being the same.

        I see the devas as wide ranging spiritual beings. Some are not very far above human level. I can sometimes sense these less powerful devas. I get a feeling that there are a number following us around at any time, acting benevolently. When I visit temples I sometimes have the impression that some have left and others have joined me. Most of the time I am unaware of them.

        Others are more powerful – spirits of places. These are often present at temples, mountain tops, and special places like waterfalls and pools.

        Then there are the great Devas, At the top are Ganesha and Murugan. These are so wise and so in tune with God that their actions on behalf of God are almost like God’s direct action. I am told that though they are recreated at each greater cosmic cycle (mahapralaya) they have knowledge (memories?) of their previous selves in previous cycles so they are as close to being unchanging that any created thing can be.

        • I really like the comparison to the sea for the Great Ground of Being. Perhaps using Ground as a metaphor encourages a more static understanding, and yet – the ground moves and changes too!

          The concept of devas feels very similar to some of the ideas of spirits, the Fey, the Gods, etc that some Feri initiates and practitioners have shared with me. This is one of the ways that both systems feel compatible to me.

  2. “Perhaps what we think of as magic now will have rational explanations next year.” Perhaps, but what a boring world that would be!

    Magic cannot do the impossible, but it can make the improbable more likely. And that’s important when you’re a tiny creature in a very large, very complicated world.

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