A related definition might be how I see most people use it in terms of spellwork. “Magic is doing a spell and getting what I want without having to do any work.” I think the idea is that you set your intention, light the right colored candle, and the universe brings you what you want if you’re cool enough.
Obviously there are some problems with that concept. But if you haven’t read Part 1, you might want to go to the previous post and check that out so that this one makes a bit more sense.
I tend to use the definition that magic is science we don’t understand yet. It’s science, it’s just science we can’t readily perceive or see. If you want to know more about what I mean, watch the show “What the Bleep” for some pretty cool science that sounds an awful lot like magic.
I suppose one way to put it is that some of us can more easily see this type of magic because we’ve trained ourselves to, or because we have particular psychic abilities like precognition. But, the more we know about magic and how it works–the more it seems to become science and technique–the less magical it might seem. We’ll just chalk that up to paradox.
Ultimately, what I’ve come to is that magic is a lot like the Matrix code. In the ritual I mentioned in Part 1, there was that moment where I realized that so much of what I thought was magical in ritual was actually just ritual technique. It was like that moment where Neo wakes up and realizes what’s actually going on. It’s not a comfortable moment.
But understanding magic is going that layer deeper when Neo sees the underpinnings of the Matrix, when he can look at an object in the Matrix and see its underlying code. I think that that begins to describe what a skilled magician is doing and perceiving. They see/sense the underpinnings of the world, the energy, the physics, the quantum entanglement. I suppose it’s a general axiom that you can’t really manipulate/transform things unless you can see/perceive/feel them.
I think some of the common connotations of the word magic include cool, powerful…and the sense of control.
And I think it’s the idea of control–of power–that is where we start to run into some problems.
Illusion of Control
Imagine we live in a world where the elements can rip your house apart with a tornado or cause a tsunami or crops fail in drought…wait, we do live in that world. Ok, imagine that it’s 4,000 years ago. When the sun starts to go south it gets cold, and every year we wonder, will the days ever grow longer or will we all just freeze in eternal night? When the sun is blacked out in an eclipse or a comet appears in the sunset sky, we wonder, is this a portent of doom?
Now–you’re probably thinking, none of that is magic. True, it’s science. But at that time, it was part of the unseen, terrifying world. If you didn’t know why something was happening, or how you could fix that, it fell into that realm of the magical, the terrifying.
The druid/shaman/witch/wise person who knew the cycles of the seasons and the solstices, who knew the phases of the moon and when the eclipses happened–they held the magic. The wise one who held the mysteries knew what signs preceded a drought, what signs would lead to water or to game. They knew how to heal with specific herbs. None of this is magic, unless you don’t know the mysteries.
But I think part of what gets woven into our idea of magic is the idea that we can control these vast forces with enough magical juice. By vast forces, what I mean is the weather, for instance. The idea that we can end a drought, that we can turn aside a tsunami.
I’ll be honest. I believe in a lot of specific types of magic, and I believe in the power of intention, but for the really big stuff like that, I think it’s a lot of hubris on the part of the magical workers.
Though, I believe that a lot of magical beliefs and religious beliefs are actually social controls. The idea that if you live a good life and give to the church and follow the rules, that you’ll get rewarded in heaven…that’s a social control. Similarly, humans don’t cope well with feeling like we can’t control what’s going on, so the idea that we can do spellwork to break a drought or to turn aside a storm is also something that I feel falls into the category of social control.
Some of our ancestors certainly spent a lot of effort making offerings (including the occasional human sacrifice) to appease the gods and shift the weather, or end a war. Do I think it works like that? Not really. I think that everyone stays a lot calmer when we feel like we’re doing something.
We humans just don’t cope with the idea that the earth could shrug and we’re wiped out and we have no control over that. So I think in some cases, magic becomes an illusion of control.
I’m not saying that magic doesn’t ever work–I’m just talking in terms of perception and scale. And keep in mind, I’m also looking at magic from the perspective of, it’s working with the universe, with physics, with energy…and ultimately a lot of things that once were considered “magic” are now things you can do on your cell phone. You can tell the day/time of year, you can tell the compass points, you can tell what the weather is going to be like this week.
Internal And External Magic
Let’s take a step back and talk about some specific types of magic framed as internal and external magic. In Part 1 I referenced how many of my mentors put forth the idea that the only “real” magic was doing personal work, in other words, transforming myself.
Now–you could do worse as far as an approach to magic, because most people come at magic from the more external-focused perspective. They are trying to impact the world around them without having done the personal work to become the person who can manifest that work. Much less, the personal work to approach magic without being egomaniacal about it.
And let’s be frank; in the Pagan and magical communities, there is no lack of egotistical “I’m a powerful magician” types.
Internal magic is basically working on myself, working to become a better, stronger person. The idea with this flow of magic is, by transforming myself, I can become the person who manifests my dreams. That the magic works on my consciousness and identity so that I myself, physically and through my actions, can manifest what I want.
Taken to an extreme, the idea is that no external magic works, ever. I’m not in that camp, I just tend to believe that the bigger and more physical an external magical working is, the more I’m swimming upstream against physics.
I want to make a brief re-mention of Dion Fortune’s definition of magic. In Part 1, I pondered whether the idea of “Changing consciousness at will” was a reference to being able to get into an altered state to be able to do magic, or, whether the magic was the change in consciousness, the change in self identity. Again, I think it’s both. If we’re talking about getting into a trance state/altered state, that certainly makes it easier to see the underlying “Matrix code” of the universe.
But, it’s also worth pointing out that internal magic–actually hacking your own personal programming to transform yourself and heal yourself–is some of the hardest work there is. Just because it’s internal doesn’t mean its easy.
Getting back to external magic, I do believe that it is possible to influence the world around me with magic. But, again, I also believe that the more of an external physical result I want, the harder I have to work.
I also believe that a lot of people want to light the pink candle and wish for love and bam, the universe drops someone on their doorstep. Whatever spellwork you’re doing, you still need to do the physical, mundane work.
Too many people look at magic as “that thing that happened because I wished for it and I didn’t need to do any work.”
I believe that external magic requires an external action. Will is powerful, but without action, nothing happens. I look at a lot of the magical work that I do externally as changing consciousness. It’s actually fairly easy to change the consciousness of others just through writing. Posting a blog like this one, posting on my Facebook, I have the power to bring up ideas, to potentially change minds.
And if you think that isn’t magic, remember–changing consciousness is a part of magic. For that matter, think about how Bards and Poets were part of the druidic order.
Words, stories, and storytellers have always been a part of magic. So has music–think of the word enchantment. En-chant-ment. Chanting is a powerful technique for changing consciousness; I use it every time I facilitate a ritual.
I think that magic is easiest to achieve in ways that are more subtle, but the problem is, those results aren’t very flashy, and if you’re looking for big flashy results, internal magic/personal work isn’t what’s going to get you there. But then you have to ask yourself, why do you want the big flashy results? I know that once I did a lot of internal magical work, I had a lot less need for flash. The more self confidence I built, the less external validation I need.
Magic works really well for changing myself. It works well for changing the consciousness of myself and others where I have that influence. But the more specific external physical results I want, the more I’m swimming upstream against the nature of physics. Or, the more physical work I’m going to need to do to take it beyond just my intention and my will.
Magic and Self Identity
I have used magic to change my life, to become the person who can do the things I want to do. I have used magic to become the person who isn’t crippled by depression. This took will, it took focus, it took transforming my deepest programming about who I was.
I often refer to this type of magic as breaking the spell.
Every time someone repeats words to us, particularly those hurtful words like, “You’re fat, you’re ugly, you’re worthless, nobody likes you,” or whatever we’ve suffered in our past, that becomes a spell that binds us. See what I mean about the power of words? This is what I meant in my article on hexes and curses.
It’s pretty easy to hex someone, just keep repeating something until they believe it. (That’s also called emotional and verbal abuse.) But it’s a pretty powerful form of enchantment–I say this because it obviously works.
All the little things that we think every day, all the negative self talk…it’s all a spell that was cast over us. And then we keep casting the spell, over and over. I’ve written a bit more about this on the Pagan Activist blog http://paganactivist.com/2013/12/02/media-mind-control-myth-and-magic/
By shifting those stories, we break the spell that we–and society–have placed on ourselves. There are so many ways that we keep ourselves stuck in the role of victim, and then we contribute to our own problems, our own self image.
It’s powerful magical work to transform ourselves. To move past an addiction, to move past a damaging behavior. In my case, I can see the clear results of years of hard work and internal magic.
In March of this year I wrote 100,000 words, and I have several books published and more on the way. The me who was stuck in the pit of depression couldn’t have done that. My work paid off, but it’s not as flashy as what people have come to expect with “magic.”
Divine communion is probably the most common type of magical work that I do besides internal magic. This type of magic falls under the category of theurgy.
Magic to connect to the divine is also often about changing consciousness. For that matter–I actually have a difficult time getting into a deep enough trance state to connect to the divine, which has frustrated me for a lot of my life.
In my tween and teen years, I felt like the divine was just beyond my fingertips. I had visions, I had dreams. The dreams got more intense in my 20’s and I began to experience something I called the Water Temple. It was like the Grail, but an entire temple, and I would connect to the flowing water and know that it was my goddess/angel. I’d feel that resonant sense in my chest, that tear-bringing sense of union.
And when I finally gained access to the kind of leadership training I had been seeking…those dreams and visions went away. I wrote about this at some length in my essay in the anthology “A Mantle of Stars.”
I don’t have words for the aching frustration of the years without that divine communion. That connection was what had called me to spiritual service in the first place. Now I was serving–but I was cut off. I could get other people into that headspace, but not myself.
Taylor Ellwood wrote something on his Facebook that resonated a lot with me. “The genuine experience of magic is something which changes you and your relationship to the universe. It’s not a result. It’s an ongoing relationship that informs how you experience the world and your place in it, as well as how you change it.”
That made me think for a good long while. I started to wonder, what is the difference between magic and mysticism? What’s the difference between magic and divine communion?
That’s when I went back to what I had been taught at the Diana’s Grove Mystery School and I had to acknowledge that some of their definitions of a Magical vs. a Mystery tradition (as I referenced in Part 1) were not really working for me, and were in many ways inaccurate.
Divine communion is a magical experience. In my essay in “A Mantle of Stars” I reference how I eventually found my way back to divine communion. I found myself at last in a weeping rapture, complete love and connection with that divine I had found just out of reach.
And there isn’t much point in putting it into words because that’s the nature of mystery–I can talk about it, but I can’t give you the experience. A mystery is something only you can live.
What is Magic?
And maybe that starts to get at what we want magic to be. We want proof. We want flash. We want miracles. And when we don’t get those, we wonder what magic is. When we see how magic works, it doesn’t seem very flashy…or, we realize how unimportant the flash really is.
To be continued in Part 3…
** If you’re interested in exploring your own relationship to magic and getting a good baseline of training, I do recommend Taylor Ellwood’s class, the Process of Magic.