I’ve been asking the question “What is magic” for rather a while now. I tried answering it over a series of blog posts (referenced at the end) but I still come down to some challenges with the word. Then I asked myself, “Well, what is a magician?” And for me, that question is far easier to answer.
What is a magician? A magician is one who understands the inner workings of the universe. Magician, wizard, shaman, witch, priest, priestess…there are a lot of words for this. However, overall it’s someone who knows the mysteries. Let’s look into what that actually means.
There are times when people ask me, “Do you have a spell for ___?” Or, I’ll talk to seekers who are really sure that they have Phenomenal Cosmic Power because they read a book of spells and rituals, or because they had some psychic experiences. Or, because they are convinced that they are under psychic attack. (And I have a whole separate blog post on that.) The point is, a lot of people associate magic with power. Specifically, with wanting to gain power and control.
And with magic, it seems like the appeal for many is the power and control over this invisible mysterious force.
Knowledge is Power
Let’s take things back a step to a very old axiom. Knowledge is power. Let’s take things to a very pragmatic place. Most of the words we use these days like wizard, witch, druid, all likely hail from root words that mean, in various form, “wise one.” Though these days the word “wizard” often has a bit of a silly connotation, it comes from an older word, vizier, which was a term for an advisor and leader.
Let’s look at that word “occult,” which is often misused. Occult means “hidden.” Now, when you see pictures of the Medieval-era occultist, magician, or alchemist, what do you see? Often it’s the iconic images that share rather a lot with a wizard’s study or a mad scientist’s lab. Books, scrolls, test tubes, and usually the token skull on the desk.
In fact, skulls and other remains are generally used as a visual trope to imply “creepy” when used in context of a magician. But why?
Let’s go back to an iconic mad scientist, Leonardo DaVinci. Stacks of books, secret lab, inventions, human remains? Check, check, check. Human remains are thought of as creepy, but the people who were getting in trouble for studying these things were the original scientists. Many of these magicians, alchemists, occultists, and explorers were studying human anatomy back when that was still illegal (not to mention grounds for serious consequences from the church). These were the folks studying chemistry before it became chemistry. In short, these were scientists, but they got labeled as being “creepy.”
Sound familiar? Pagans and witches and magicians have born the brunt of that branding campaign as well.
Science is Magic
The more you know, the more it’s science. And the word science seems to take the wind out of many a seeker’s sails. “But, if it’s not science, then it’s not magical!” And yet, here’s the irony. Science implies that a theory was proven, and thus, the experiment can be reliably repeated. And what many magical seekers want is a spell that is reliable and repeatable. They want to read a spell and know the exact words to say, what oil to dress the candle with, what color candle to use, what color cloth, and what herbs to burn, in order to get the desired result.
If you are looking for precise instructions and repeatable results, you’re looking for science.
And guess what. A lot of the ancient so-called “lost” mysteries of our ancient Pagan ancestors? Science again. Our ancestors tracked the four directions before they had a compass. They tracked the equinoxes and solstices in stone. They tracked the cycles of the moon and the stars. They learned how to sing and dance to go into a trance state, they learned how to use particular herbs to heal people. They knew when the drought was coming by the signs they read in the earth and the patterns of the animals. They encoded some of that knowledge into songs and stories and traditions.
Guess what all of that is? Science. The shaman/witch/druid/medicine man of the tribe was the one who knew the mysteries, the magic. They were the one who understood the deeper underpinnings of the world. What they did would seem like magic to the uninitiated. Mysterious, unknown, hidden. If you don’t know how it works, then it’s magic.
And therein lies the rub. To be a magician is to understand how much of this is actually science. And initially, that may take the magic, mystery, and power out of it. It might be deflating to see the Matrix Code underlying the universe, to understand that what you’re doing is ultimately science.
Science is Beautiful
I know what fire is. I know that it’s a chemical reaction. But, looking into a candle flame is still magical. I know what a shooting star is. I know that it’s a meteorite burning up in the atmosphere. That makes it no less beautiful to me. I know why the moon cycles, I know why the stars twinkle. I know what is happening during an eclipse. None of these things make it less cool for me. In fact, knowing the science of what’s happening sometimes makes it more fascinating. To think of the layers and layers of math that it took for that moment to occur. That this planet, our bodies, our very universe, all are a factor of physics and math that seem infinitely complex.
I sometimes think that magic is science, and spirituality is putting the art back in.
Skill and Talent
These words get conflated a lot, but there’s a core difference. A talent is something you are born with. Some people are born with artistic talent, or are born with the ability to sing with perfect pitch, or a talent for math. A skill is something you can develop. A musician may be born with talent, but they still need to learn how to sing–how to strengthen their voice, how to improve their breath control, how to use particular vocal techniques. They may need to learn how to read music, or how to write music to compose.
If you attend a concert, it might seem magical…effortless. But, it takes rather a lot of work, thought, and planning. There are the various musicians who have worked together to make the music happen, practicing day after day. There are the lighting and sound crew, there are special effects.
What does that have to do with magic? Well…if magic is something you want skill at, you have to practice. You have to learn. You have to understand. A magician sees how the world works and can use that to manipulate an outcome. The more skill you gain as a musician, or a magician, the less what you are doing feels like an invisible force. It feels like hard work that is paying off.
You may have an affinity for magic or spiritual work, a talent for it. But if you really want magic, it’s going to require developing a lot of skills. It’s going to require practice, and learning. And ultimately, it’s going to require understanding how the universe works. The more you learn, the less it’ll feel like magic, and for many this is kind of a let down.
What is a Magician?
I believe that a magician is one who has gained knowledge and wisdom. One who knows the mysteries of science and of spirit/the unseen. A magician can effect change, they can cause ripples and shift currents. The universe has places where it is liquid, changeable if you know how.
What I find to be more of a pressing question is, what will you do with your phenomenal cosmic power when you gain it? Are you just out there to put a patch job on your ego to soothe the wounds of your past, to make you feel like you are important, to make you feel that you have power over others? If so, you’re not going to get very far. That’s why so many programs of magical and personal work put a focus on personal transformation. Why, indeed, I would go so far as to say that most magicians aren’t going to be very effective until they’ve faced a number of their own shadows. None of us are ever going to be “perfect” but if you’re out there doing magic because you’re afraid everyone’s out to get you, that you’re under psychic attack, or that you have to prove something to people…that’s not going to get you very far.
It’s also not to say that every magician “must” focus their work on making the world a better place. Magic is no more good or bad than a screwdriver is good or bad. It’s science, it’s the way the world works, and it’s gaining an understanding of that. However, if you are seeking to learn magic, especially in connection to taking on a role of serving community, then you have to look at what impact you are having on the people around you and the world around you.
Below are a series of articles I’ve written mulling the idea of “what is magic.” But here’s another article that might be tangentially of interest; it’s breaking down the Egyptian word “Heka” which is usually translated as “magic” but actually tends to mean “Authoritative speech.” I’ll be exploring that more in a future post.