I think that, with magic, 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.
Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to put my finger on magic. Because magic is, at its core, one of the mysteries. You can’t work it til you experience it, and it’s really hard to put it into words.
People try. They write spell books that read more like recipes, they create informational graphics like the Kabbalistic Tree of Life to explain how the universe works…but that doesn’t teach what’s going on beneath. It’s a map, but it’s not the terrain. Nor is it the only map. It’s not the actual underpinnings of the universe, just one map to it that may or may not work for you or for me.
And at the core, I think that word magic has so much bound up in it. It’s a powerful, loaded word all on its own.
I think we desperately seek magic. We humans desperately seek that unexplained, that enchantment, that thrilling delight that there’s something intense below the surface. We seek that breathtaking reveal…and that’s the essence of the mysteries.
Once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it. But it also isn’t something you can readily explain to others–that’s the nature of one of the mysteries.
Some people want to be part of the in-crowd that understands these mysteries, wanting that power, wanting to be special, wanting to control the forces of nature. I think magic will always have that inherent fascination and attraction. Take the word charisma; I talk a lot in my ritual classes about what charisma means and how to be a charismatic facilitator, but the word alone has that magical quality to it–a sparkle, a charm.
I think that what a lot of other folks want out of magic is to believe in miracles. To believe that there is something out there looking out for them, that’s going to rescue them in a time of need. Or perhaps we’re just looking for proof that there is some order to the universe and that we have some control over that.
I think perhaps it’s a little terrifying to think that we are alone on a floating marble spinning out in the blackness of space and that we’re on our own, that there’s no divine plan, no divine beings to rescue us, no powers to control all the things that could go wrong.
External Magic and Need
That’s also some of what I mean with what I wrote earlier…the more out of control I feel in a situation, the more I feel that I’m powerless and things are happening to me, the more I want something magical, mystical, and unseen to be able “rescue me,” in the case of working with the divine. Or…the power to manipulate the forces of the universe to rescue myself.
Now, again, that doesn’t mean that I don’t believe external magic is impossible. I have done the occasional specific, focused magical work to solve a specific problem. In the class, Taylor spends some time talking about the difference between magic that is more reactive to fix a problem, vs. magic that is more intentional and by design, more proactive.
I think that it’s the easiest to see the direct impact of magic when we do the big external magic spell…but I think that the magic that has more power and more lasting impact tends to be more of the internal magic and magic by design.
I liken it to a laser beam and a tsunami. The tiny earthquake can cause the tsunami; that’s magic by design, working the subtle energies that have a bigger long-term impact. But most of the magic people talk about in the Pagan/magical communities and in books is more of the “laser beam” magic. People want to be able to light a specific candle and incense, chant specific words, and target their laser beam and have phenomenal immediate results.
What I think is really core to making any magic work is need. Deep need. The deeper the need, the more juice there is.
We start with that deep need. We need something to fuel the change. But we also need perception. We need to be able to perceive at least a little bit of that Matrix code of the universe. In many cases I think we do this by instinct. But one core piece of this is, we can’t ask for an outcome if we cannot perceive that outcome. The need leads to a focused intention. A lot of magic really boils down to, what do you want? And what are you willing to do to get that?
Through the popularization of the law of attraction, most folks probably already know that a positive intention works better than a negative one.
Most magical texts focus on the process in the form of spellwork. In other words, it breaks magic down to the recipe. But, a recipe is not a cake. Various functions are broken down into tactics, logistics, steps…use this incense, light that candle, use this sigil, do this only when the moon is ___, speak exactly these words…
Need Vs. Tactics
What I can tell you is that the most potent external magical work that I’ve personally done–the stuff that clearly had a particular external outcome–I wasn’t thinking too hard about the steps. It was pretty primal stuff; I was filled with a specific, driving need. I wasn’t lighting blessed candles and burning incense or looking at correspondence tables and spellbooks.
Sometimes I was rocking back and forth, weeping, burning things someone had given to me…breaking a symbol of someone else’s power over me…tearing apart a piece of furniture or a shirt to move past my rage…drawing symbols representing a particular intention in my own blood.
….And if bodily fluids gross you out, keep in mind that a lot of old magic uses urine, blood, and other bodily materials. I know candles and incense are “prettier” but the deep magic often requires that we move past “pretty.” I’ll write more about that in my Hexes Part 2 post coming up.
For that matter, I’ve used modern tools and woven magic into some of my graphic designs and artwork, or even into Facebook posts and blogging. Use the tools that work.
Specific tools and scents can become a mnemonic, but I don’t tend to believe they bear any power on their own, they just anchor the intention and are important because of their connection to me and my association with them. And not to discount that power–since I believe that most magic really is about intention. My associating a power with an object becomes part of the intention package.
We each are going to have our own associations with those things–candles, colors, sigils, tools, scents. It’s also utilizing the idea of what Starhawk calls Younger Self, Thorn calls Sticky One, or just going with the more visceral aspects of ourselves, working with the learning modalities that take us into our deeper self, getting at our subconscious.
I find that my talky self/conscious self doesn’t do great magical work. Me crying and rocking back and forth in front of a fire? Yes. Me trance dancing for hours til I’m sweating? Yes. Me zoned out working on a photoshop file for ten hours straight? Yes.
How Does it Work?
It’s not the candles doing the work, it’s not the incense or the athame. It’s your need, your juice, your focus. Your will. I think that’s probably half the battle–because, I work with a lot of people who genuinely cannot articulate what they want. Sometimes they can articulate what they don’t want, but often they can’t even articulate that.
I think that’s a lot of how external magic works. By perceiving that reality, that dream, that goal, you make it more likely to occur. If you can’t perceive the goal, you can’t reach for it very effectively.
I think rather a lot of magic, internal or external, is ringing the bell of the universe, if the universe were music. It’s saying, “Hey, I need it to happen. Pay attention to this, this is the outcome I want.” And sometimes, the Matrix code of the universe is going to be in alignment with that and the synchronicities will start to fall into place.
Sometimes, you are swimming upstream. Like if you are trying to levitate a rock.
People ask me all the time if I believe in energy healing, and I suppose the best answer I have is a quote from the movie Deep Impact. “Sometimes, the answer is no.” I believe we can pray and ask for healing, we can do energy healing, and sometimes it’ll work. And sometimes, it won’t.
I can say this though; if you don’t ring that bell, if you don’t imprint what you want into the probability field, it’s even less likely to happen.
What I think gets in our way is our ego hangups. I see a lot of people trying to do magic who get caught up in wanting their magic to work. And, it sounds pretty reasonable–of course you want that thing to happen, otherwise why would you be doing magic for it.
But, what seems to happen is that a lot of people chasing after magic are looking to be acknowledged as badasses–and that’s a problem, because ultimately that’s poor self esteem, that’s a hole in the ego. Thus, while I don’t believe internal work is the only magic, I do believe it’s the best place to start because if you have all those holes in your ego, it’s hard to hold water–hard to hold the spiritual juice that fuels your magic in the first place. It’s hard to have enough juice to make things happen; you’ll be spending all your energy on looking like a badass.
I have noticed that the healthier my self esteem got, the more true confidence I gained (vs. arrogance,) the more energy that I had for the work that called to me. I didn’t have to be defensive all the time. Being defensive takes a lot of energy.
Values, Beliefs, Ethics, and Morals
I find myself in agreement with Taylor’s writing on this topic–that our personal beliefs and ethics will significantly impact what type of magic we can do, or feel that we can do. If we’re trying to do something we genuinely don’t believe in, that isn’t really going to work. And if we’re going against our ethics, we’re going to be worrying about that and that’s also pretty ineffective for magical work.
Harm none is often the one ethical rule that’s cited for Pagans, though it’s actually something that comes out of modern Wicca and I have a feeling it was more of a PR move to make people feel more comfortable with the word “Witch.”
Though harm none is something that I think is good to aim for, I don’t really believe it’s possible. For that matter, I’ve written in my Pagan leadership articles that I see Pagans work out elaborate phrasings for their spellwork so that it serves the highest purpose and doesn’t hurt anyone…and then I’ve later seen that person doing incredibly harmful things to people. I don’t believe there’s much purpose in separating out what I do ethically in my magical/spiritual life and my mundane life; my ethics are my ethics.
Harm happens, and it’s a part of the cycle of life. When I eat fruit or vegetables or meat, I’ve contributed to the death of that plant or animal. When I brush my teeth, I’m killing millions of bacteria. When I apply for and get a job, I’m taking that job from someone else. When I fire someone from a job–even if they did poor work–I’m definitely screwing up their life. If I remove someone from my group for bad behavior, even though there is cause, that may be causing them harm. But it’s a choice that I’m comfortable making because it’s the right thing to do.
For me, my own ethical approach is trying to avoid harming whenever possible, but when I have to make a choice, I go with the Vulcan “Good of the many outweighs the good of the few or the one.” It’s a rule of thumb…and sometimes the path to hell is paved in good intentions. But I do my best; I still screw up sometimes.
I think that the essence of my belief as a Pantheist is that I can’t know every single impact my life will have. My stepping on this bug here may flap a butterfly’s wings there, and so on. The nature of God/The Divine is that there’s a pattern to it all, but it’s a way bigger pattern than I can encompass, and that’s about the place where I lean into agnosticism–there’s stuff I just don’t know. Can’t know.
I can strive to do the least harm possible. And sometimes, I need to hurt someone to prevent further harm. What I mean is, perhaps you come to me with a broken arm. I need to set the bone, and it’s going to hurt you. But, it’ll heal straight, and that’s what you really want.
I face situations like that all the time where I need to do or say something (like offer direct constructive feedback to a team member) that may cause shorter-term hurt and distress, but it’s in the interest of longer-term good.
What is Magic?
I think that magic is at its essence energy and shaping energy. And if I want to take the word magic out of it for just a moment, if I look at energy, I can look at how I can shape someone’s day with my intention. I get onto a city bus and smile, and thank the bus driver. Or, I get onto the bus, scowl, and berate him for the bus not taking my card.
I look at the way we each can impact each other’s energy, and how people can either work to make people’s day better with a smile, or work to make people’s day suck just by scowling and berating service employees.
That may seem pretty unmagical, but it’s energy, it’s intention followed through by action, and it’s largely unseen. In fact, going back to the example of charisma, one of the ways people try to encapsulate what makes someone charismatic boils down to, “They just made me smile, I felt good being around them.” That feels like magic, but really, all you need to do to have that kind of charisma magic is smile, and genuinely thank them for their work. That’s all it takes.
Not very flashy–but pretty effective.
What is magic for me?
Magic is the ability to tap the unseen. To change myself, to change the world around me, with my will. It’s also the ability to connect to that greater divine, to reach a fingertip past the veil to connect to that something larger. It’s the ability to inspire, to enchant, to bring the power of hope into people’s lives, to help others connect to that something larger, something deeper.
It’s the ability to focus on a particular intention, a dream, a goal…and to manifest that through my will, through my actions.
In my specific case, any of the magical work I do, I ultimately hold the the goal of bringing positive change to myself, to others, to the world around me. I look at speaking the truth as a form of poetic magic. I speak the truth and my words have power. And I speak the truth of what I will to be so, and my words have power. My upcoming Hexes and Curses Part 2 article will touch on truthspeaking as a form of hex or curse. Truth is my very favorite form of hex–or of any form of spellwork, for that matter, and I’ll explain more what I mean by that.
I think magic is, by its nature, mystery–something that is experienced and hard to explained. It’s power–the ability to take an action. And it’s in human nature to envy someone with a power we want.
Magic isn’t “making things happen without work.” It’s not levitating stones. Magic is the hidden, unseen that not everyone else can see, and so there is a mystery to it. When you see the unseen, you can shape it, reach for it, shift it. But you have to understand the language–magic has both an art to it, and a science.
Magic is still that thrill up my spine when some synchronicity falls into place or I connect to the divine. But it’s also technology.
Magic is shaping the world around me with my intention, and working to bring that into being.
** 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.