Over on Nettle’s Blog, a friend of mine Meme asked a few questions about her Definition of Magic. Here’s my thoughts, with his permission. These answers were written up without reading Nettle’s answers, though there does appear to be a good deal of similarity. Great minds, and all that, perhaps… 😀 I will use the term Magick, with a K, to mean what seems to be the implied concept of esoteric alteration of the universe through directed willpower, which is what Meme appears to be asking about. This differs slightly from my own definition, so my answers may reflect that difference.
Sorry for getting this post up so late. We went camping and I was off work a few days, so was online less than usual to do bloggy-type stuff lately. Most of this was written in notebook and later transcribed to e-format here.
1) Do you believe in chance? Does the fundamental nature of the universe include chaos and randomness? If so, how do you distinguish between answers to “prayer” and random occurrences?
I do believe in chance, and the answer of discerning the difference between prayer and chance boils down to awareness and internalized perception. Since Magick to me is not so much the action and result-based fulfillment of prayer, and is more the personal awareness of potentials, even random chance holds magick, like how one of those magic-eye images appear jumbled, but if looked at differently, may contain a hidden image/message. Chaos in it’s truest form IS the magick; that unbounded potential for anything to happen. Thus, as Einstein has been quoted, “Everything is a miracle, or nothing is”, and I prefer to choose the inclusive side of things.
2) What, if anything, makes your version of magick different than a christian who prays to god? Is it only a difference in who you’re supplicating? Would you say that Christians everywhere are practicing magick then?
My magick is not so much spellcasting or energy manipulation, and haven’t gotten a good definition of THAT type of working myself yet. however, I understand many people ascribe such workings as “Magick”. In that regard, I do think that most devout christians (my younger self included) practice a form of magick if defined as seeking change from a Higher Authority in their lives. Myself, I do not count that as magic, and prayer is a completely different beast than the more esoteric concept of my Magick. Not saying prayer serves no purpose, of course. Creating a pot-roast on the stove, and slapping cold meat between bread both make food to sustain our lives, but are not “cooking”, if that analogy helps, yet both provide foodstuffs in different ways.
3) If magick consists of praying or asking for intercession, why then all the other trappings? Why the ceremonies and meetings and dress and altars? Is it to put you in a state of mind to ask properly? Is it to put the intercessionary being in the proper mood? If so, why do you think you need to approach your higher power in a certain mindset or vice-versa?
Going with the definition of magic as a ritual, I ask why catholic Mass, or other liturgical trappings are useful? I think (personally) the whole showmanship aspect is more important to get your own mind “in the zone”, but are ultimately for the public. Such rituals if done in a group help to unify the group dynamics, and if done in a solitary manner simply help the ‘performer’ concentrate on the task at hand and direcct energy in a more efficient manner. For such circle-work, having the tools and trappings is simply more efficient, such as using a hammer instead of a rock to drive nails. Additionally, it shows a certain level of respect and commitment to the Otherbeing, if you use things they might like, similar to me visiting a friend to ask a favor, and bringing a bottle of wine or a freshly baked cake. The cake is not so much a “bribe” as it is a gesture of good-will or ‘bartering of energies‘, if that makes sense.
4) In your experience and estimation: Can magick produce any reproducible result? Is there any working or spell or prayer that always results in the same effect?
This one is tough, but my first instinct would be to say “no”. Magick as it seems defined here is a personal change or perception. Casting a healing spell may help the person get better, though no one can say with Absolute Authority that they might have gotten well without the prayer, or that knowing others were praying caused a “placebo effect”.
The hang-up here is that the “reproducable effects” are mainly internal/personal. If I meditate every day, I may lower my levels of stress and lead a generally healthier lifestyle as a result. My own health has nothing to do with an outside observer. Likewise, a “Healing magick” may improve the health of the sick person OR if they get more ill and die, the effort involved may allow the people praying for healing to accept the larger picture that this person is now at peace.
Either way, the effect is not directly reproducible in the same way that a chemistry experiment is reproducible. It’s more probability-based or personal-driven, which is hard to quantify except in the large-scale. Each situation is different, and only aggragate results show a hint of “reproducible results” to outside observers. You can’t measure a single prayer or spell and extrapolate to include all prayers or spells. The nature of the thing being measured makes such an attempt invalid, like using a metric ruler to guage your favorite shade of green. Green can be measured, in some other form, usually by comparing other types of green, but not by itself.
5) If the answer to 4 is no, then how do you personally determine whether something happening was caused by Magickal intervention or pure chance? I’m sure you are familiar with experiments on human pattern matching. Why do you think what you experience is magick and not chance or luck that anyone could have? Why do you think that some people get what they desire/need/want without prayer or intercession?
This is a tough one, mainly since I define magick differently from the assumed topic being questioned here. However, I would answer that I simply do not determine the difference between chance and magickal intervention. If I pray, or enchant some trinket to get a result and it happens, then I do not automatically assume it was purely because of my efforts. I merely assume that I MAY have helped that outcome by my efforts. The converse of that still fits my worldview, and if everything is random, then our own personal mission in life is to make sense from the cards we are dealt. Some folks try to play the cards one way, some folks just play them as they are dealt, and neither is “correct” in the larger scheme of things. For the individual, though, I feel it means more if you try to be smart about which card is played next, but there’s nothing stopping others from simply letting them fall. Also with this view, I may not get the ace of spades, and you might, which fots the analogy of why some folks get lucky or unlucky, even with their [lack of] efforts.
6) Does magick demand faith? If so why?
Absolutely, though again, it seems Meme’s questions include a definition of magick=Prayer. However, faith, being a belief in some higher power, or a certain aspect of Reality, would be a type of magic in my definition, in that it allows the forming of a relationship with something Outside our own selves. Creating that bond is the magick, just like that indescribable feeling when you meet a new friend. Wether that Otherthing be a god, a spirit, or science, the fact that is exists beyond our humble human bodies, is the important magical part.
I read somewhere, “If you believe a truck is coming toward you, you will jump out of the way. That is belief in the reality of the truck. If you tell people you fear the truck but do nothing to get out of the way, that is not belief in the truck.” Having faith in something means you act according to that faith. If magick exists, then you have faith that is does. You could be deluding yourself, of course, but Faith in and of itself, is a type of magick, so exists for me and is esssential for the thing itself. Sorry if that makes no sense. Even if your magick is the fact that invisible electrons flow through metal and make sparks, you have faith that each time electrons flow, you get a spark somewhere. Faith in electricity does not exclude faith in hydrodynamics, or esoteric Faeries in the woods. Apples and oranges, they are. The Magick in my worldview is that you have absolute Faith in something, and it works for you. The details are merely details.
7) Would you agree with the statement “Magick is whatever you want it to be.” ?
I would have to disagree with this statement, but not quite sure why as it seems like an invalid question. I think my issue is a difference in semantics with our concept of “magick”, but am unsure how to answer this properly. I defined my magic elsewhere, and in defining it, automatically negates your question or answes it in the negative.
That said, I think you were asking something deeper here, but can’t wrap my head around what it could be…. sorry.
8) If any type of prayer to any being/force/power is magick, would you say that everyone has access to magick to the exact same depth as everyone else? Do some people have more? if so why?
Again, slightly differing definition I use, but appealing to an Otherbeing is possible by anyone equally, at first. I say at first, because it is absolutely permissible to try and establish a relationship with that person. Like any random peson you meet on the street, though, some folks you’ll get along with better than others. It is the same with Faeries, Gods, Goddesses, or spirits. You can ALWAYS say hello, but some folks will always have a different rapport with certain ones and shy away from others.
I suppose it’s like our jobs. Anyone could try to learn program-code, but not everyone has the natural aptitude or mindset to get really into machine-language, and stops are learning BASIC or C++. With effort, anyone probably could program in PASCAL, but not everyone will ‘want’ to.
This means, while anyone can potentially have deep relationships with a certain deity or Otherbeing, it takes work, (and a bit of Faith that it works.. see what I did there?!) and a natrual inclination to persue that to begin with.
And lastly 9) So my question is, do you apply your skeptical thoughts to your own experiences or do you accept them as they are? Was there a point when you did critically examine whether they could be something other than magick, whether pyscological, neurological, pysiological, etc?
This question was more specific to Nettle, but I understand where it’s coming from. For myself, I am skeptical of everything I do, to a point. More specifically, I ask myself at times “Does this work for me?” and if the answer in my head is affirmative, then I act accordingly.
Your second point, I can answer better. In my youth, I was an assistant minister. I felt the communal energy at church, how the gathering of people there for worship made me feel somewhat in awe or at least ‘different’ than when I sat at home and tried to pray to God. I figured, if I noticed the power of my congregation affecting me on some physiological level, then there must me soemthing to this God/prayer thing. It felt more “Real” in church than alone at home, so I started studying ministry on my own and eventually got to read lessons and hand out communion wafers.
Yet, the more I read about the bible, Koran, and other sacred texts (since I was taught a bit about other monotheistic religions so I could argue my own better with ‘non-believer’ skeptics) the more I started to notice that there were inconsistancies, or flaws in the ‘logic’ of my church. I understood that the church congregation itself was a useful SOCIAL construct, for everyone to gather together, but my core Faiths were starting to be shaky. I started to essentially phycho-analyze my relationship with God, and about this time discovered neopagan concepts.
I didn’t entirely believe them either, but it was the first non monotheistic faith-based lifestyle I stumbled across, and as such, allowed me a borader framework to critically examine my beliefs, and restructure my own thoughts into something resembling my current Spiritual Outlook. I still believe in God, but added a few other concepts to that belief, magick being the biggest one.
Even today, any new thing that I come across, be it Qaballah, Hindu, Jewish, or any other spiritual practice, I am willing to do a bit of reading and see if anything sounds logical. Mainly, it doesn’t. But as you probably guess from the last two years of blog-posting, I periodically still question things and turn a critical eye on what I’ve been believing, which will never stop. Questioning myself (or ones-self) is an important part of any spiritual practice, so you can tell if it’s not working right.
Unfortunately, such critical navel-gazing doesn’t lead you to a better path, but at least lets you know you may need to step off the current one.
Hope that helped you get a different viewpoint. 🙂
PS: I do also enjoy philosophical debates on the nature of spirituality. (See God’s Debris, which is a cool little read that I dont’ agree totally with, but does have nuggets of Truth-for-Maebius inside it’s pages) My wife will also tell you how much I banter and scripture-quote with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I do it not out of spite, but to show them I’ve thought of their message and can not bring myself to join it. Knowledge is power, and all that.