Upcoming classes and events: "Living More Magically", Sun, November 6, 2-5pm, on-line or in person in Catonsville. Friday Nov 24, 4-5pm, "Black Friday" meditation, Revolve Wellness Studios in Catonsville. Contact me to register or for more information.

What Is Magic(k)?

This is not a book about the sort of magic David Copperfield or Penn and Teller perform. If you picked it up looking for card tricks...sorry. (No disrespect to the arts of prestidigitation and illusion.) It’s about magic in the sense of rituals, spells, and enchantment.

The objective of this booklet is to give you a framework for thinking about this art of magic, and for thinking about art in general. It’s not a detailed how-to guide – there are hundreds of “Introduction to Witchcraft” or “Ritual Magick 101” books already on the shelves, and countless such pages on the web.

Instead it’s meant as a guide to turning whatever basic skills you may have or learn, into a complete personal magical system.

Sometimes people spell magic in the sense we’re talking about here as “magick” or “magik” to distinguish this ritual practice from the performing art. But not always, or even usually. So there will be differences in the sources we quote, and while we used the K in the book’s title as a clue to the reader as to what kind of magic the book is about, we generally won’t in the rest of the book.

What is this magic(k)?

Aleister Crowley: “Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will….Every intentional act is a Magickal Act.”
Aleister Crowley again, this time writing with his mentor MacGregor Matthews: “Our Ceremonial Magic fines down, then, to a series of minute, though of course empirical, physiological experiments, and whoso will carry them through intelligently need not fear the result.”
Dion Fortune: Magic is “the art of changing consciousness at will.”
Margot Adler: “Magic is convenient word for a whole collection of techniques, all of which involve the mind. In this case, we might conceive of these techniques as including the mobilization of confidence, will, and emotion brought about by the recognition of necessity; the use of imaginative faculties, particularly the ability to visualize, in order to begin to understand how other beings function in nature so we can use this knowledge to achieve necessary ends.”

Maybe this almost sounds like some sort of self-help gimmick. Like we might have a “The Seven Magical Practices of Highly Effective People” book on the shelves of corporate managers across the country.

And that’s not entirely wrong – you can help yourself with magic, even use it at work. Daniel Lawrence O’Keefe wrote that part of magic is “speaking in the management voice before you belong to the management.” There is a practical, getting-shit-done side to magic. A lot of folk magic is about that.

Traditionally, magic also bumps up against organized religion; while one doesn’t need any religious belief to do magic, it helps to understand that relationship. O’Keefe defined magic in anthropological terms:

What, then, is magic? If religion is the projection of the overwhelming power of the group, and if magic derives from religion, but sets itself up on a somewhat independent basis to help individuals, and is, at the same time, frequently reported to be hostile to religion...then is not the answer apparent? Magic is the expropriation of religious collective representations for individual or subgroup purposes—to enable the individual ego to resist psychic extinction or the subgroup to resist cognitive collapse.

So we can look at magic from a practical, let’s-get-things-done angle; or an anthropological, how-do-other-societies-get-things-done angle.

But magic is something deeper. It is intimately bound up with spirituality – with our relationship with ourselves and with the universe.

Because magic is also about poetry. One of my favorite definitions comes from Ross Nichols, who was the founder of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids:

“Ritual is poetry in the realm of acts.”

And speaking of poetry, Charles Leland wrote in his preface to Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches,

And so all was, and is, in sorcery a kind of wild poetry based on symbols, all blending into one another, light and darkness, fire-flies and grain, life and death.

But yes, you can use magic on the job! Depending on your profession, you might not choose to tell your colleagues about your workings. But as you let more magic into your life you may find that it pulls you down an entirely different career path than anything you imagined.

Magic Doesn't Care About Metaphysics

Imagine that we could travel back to the Golden Age of Athens to grab a musician — say, a lyre player — and bring them forward to today, to talk with a modern musician — say, a guitarist.

Let’s call our lyre player Alcaeus, and our guitarist Betty. (And let’s imagine that we traveled by TARDIS, a la Doctor Who, and that the TARDIS also handles the language problem as it does on the show.) Alcaeus might marvel at the idea of a fingerboard and frets, while Betty might be amazed at what Alcaeus could accomplish on a few open strings by skillful picking and muting.

They would have different ideas about musical scales. Betty might always sound a little out of tune to Alcaeus’s ears, trained before the invention of equal temperament. But with a little patience they could have a fascinating jam session.

There’s a good chance that Alcaeus would believe in the literal existence of Apollo and of the Muses. He might believe that when he was playing at his best, a supernatural being was “playing through his hands” in a literal sense. But Betty might be a hardcore atheist and metaphysical materialist who believed that what she played was part of the universal dance of atoms, forged in the Big Bang and in the death throes of stars, moving to the melodies of the four fundamental forces.

Their metaphysical views about music might be completely irreconcilable! But they could still play together. Music doesn’t care about your metaphysics.

And neither does magic.

Some believe that there are supernatural beings made of substances not subject to the usual physical limitations (”spirits”), and that magic works by influencing these beings.

Some believe that ESP and psi phenomena are real and function through physical laws that we just haven’t figured out yet, and that magical workings are a way of accessing these abilities of the human mind.

Some believe that magic works entirely within ordinary physical law, more or less as we already know it; that it sharpens the intuition and will and works psychological change on us; and then we make that psychological change manifest in the universe through “mundane” means. (As if there were anything “mundane” about the cosmos that science reveals to us! But that is a rant for another time.)

For our purposes, we don’t care by what metaphysical means it works. We assert that it does work, and invite you to try it yourself and see.

But if a non-supernaturalist take seems strange to you, seems to be outside of what you’ve heard or read about magic, consider what MacGregor Mathers and Aleister Crowley, two of the most prominent modern occultists, wrote in a preface to their version of The Lesser Key of Solomon (Goetia). We excerpted it earlier but here’s a fuller quote:

…What is the cause of my illusion of seeing a spirit in the triangle of Art?

Every smatterer, every expert in psychology, will answer: “That cause lies in your brain.”

The spirits of the Goetia are portions of the human brain.

…There is no effect which is truly and necessarily miraculous.

Our Ceremonial Magic fines down, then, to a series of minute, though of course empirical, physiological experiments, and whoso, will carry them through intelligently need not fear the result.

Magic does not ask you to “believe” anything to practice it, any more than music does.

To summarize all this, I’d like to propose these…

Five Principles of Magic

1) Magic is distinguished by the intentional use of imagination to raise and direct psychological energy in order to alter consciousness in a way that will help bring about a specific desired change.

2) Magic has an external side, where the desired change is a visible result, the achievement of some practical end.

3) Magic has an internal side, where the desired change is a matter of self-cultivation, of contemplative understanding: the quiet side of magic.

4) Magic is a subtle practice, in which we leverage small forces and seemingly minor matters to produce large results.

5) Magic is an art, operating in the realm of the poetic and the beautiful, of metaphor and symbolism.

So, practically, how does it work? How do you do it?

There are many answers to that question, from the shamanism of a gatherer-hunter tribal society, to the intricate ritual magic of literate, highly structured civilizations.

How can you figure out which is right for you?