When someone asks me what magic is, I’m always tempted to adapt Severus Snape’s famous introduction to Potions Class speech from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone into something like: “There will be no foolish wand-waving or silly incantations in Wiccan magic. As such, I don’t expect you to appreciate its subtle science and exact art.”
The stereotype of new magicians is that they expect magic to resemble what they’ve encountered in fiction where it’s often depicted as wielding some magical talisman and saying a few arcane words and then–poof!–someone’s been turned into a toad. However, it’s been my experience that few newbies really have such expectations. Yet, many do struggle with the idea of what magic actually is.
The early twentieth century gave us two basic definitions of magic that have both had major impacts on how Wiccans have come to view this ‘power.’ Aleister Crowley wrote that “Magic is the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will.” For all of Crowley’s notoriety, I do think this succinct definition is very apt and enduring. At it’s heart, magic is just change and transformation–and that is a universal power. Everything in our lives changes from one moment to the next. Magic is just our ability to direct that trend to a desired outcome. Under this definition, even mundane actions can be considered to be magical works. For example, if you desire more money, you can take up a second job. Poof! You now have more income than you previously had, and you got it by changing your life to conform to your desire. While I think only the most callous people would argue that there’s no magic in such mundane workings, I think that most of us also consider ‘magic’ to involve more than purely mundane actions. This is where Dion Fortune enters with her definition, which Starhawk later popularized: “Magic is the art of changing consciousness at will.”
We can definitely take Fortune’s definition at face value, for there is certainly strong magic even in simple meditation. But when we combine that consciousness shift with specifically-crafted visualizations of what we want the outcome of a specific change to be, we can work powerful magic. I rather like to think of it as a cosmic highlighter. Once you’ve done such a working in a shifted state of consciousness, your ‘every day’ consciousness tends to retain that working, and it will notice things in support of that working. Again, say that your net desire was to earn more income. If you did a magical working to that end, you might turn to the job notices and pay more attention to a listing you might otherwise have passed by–one far better suited to you than the pizza delivery job you’d had in mind. It might also make you more confident and give you the gumption to apply for a position you didn’t think you’d get, or ask for a raise you thought was a longshot. It might well also be that working in a shifted consciousness might influence those around you, especially if you believe that there is a universal consciousness connecting all beings. A working then might make a human resources manager look more favorably upon your application than he or she otherwise would.
For me, this last idea of a universal consciousness gets much closer to what I think magic is about. In my beliefs, I say that magic is tapping into the divine. I believe that the divine energy connects all beings and objects together in that wonderful, beautiful universal energy, and catching glimpses of this energy is a deeply magical act in itself. But working with this energy in the pursuit of a specific change is also a very specific type of magic. Phyllis Curott in her book Witch Crafting wrote that “Making magic is a dynamic process by which you co-create reality with deity. And ultimately, all real magic is a manifestaion of the divine.” In other words, magic is an action by which we shift our consciousnesses to acknowledge the divine immanence within us–which is also the divine transcendence around us–and join in a creation (that is, a change) with it.
This creative action, as Timothy Roderick notes, is certainly not “grandiose, sparkling, and flamboyant”, and it certainly doesn’t secure quick fixes to life problems. Wiccan magic is subtle, and much bigger and more complex than anything we can really fathom. What it often looks like in practice is symbolically bringing energy like what we want to manifest into the equation. Therefore, in that working for increased income, we might choose to use a lot of green (a color conducive to prosperity) in different aspects of the ritual, as well as using certain herbs and stones that are conducive to fertility or prosperity. We might even do it at a time of day ruled by Jupiter, who looks fondly on workings related to luck, prosperity, and growth. We bring like to like and try to focus it to a specifically visualized outcome, while giving the whole system a sort of “jump start” with our own channeled energy. And then, after all that, we try to act “in accordance”. We fill out those job applications and work our networks. We need to put ourselves out there so that the change we’ve sought can find us.
It is common for first-year Witches to experience dramatic change, and to experience something else altogether. When your magic appears not to have taken effect, keep reminding yourself that magic is equivalent to the changing of season; it is slow and organic. First comes the planting of seeds, then tiny roots form, tender shoots appear, and gradually blossoms appear. For today’s practice, contemplate the following questions:
- Is magic what you thought it would be?
- What were you hoping you would be able to do with magic?
- What influences do you think might have shaped your ideas about magic?
It has been a very, very long time since I first stepped on the pagan path, and I honestly don’t know what I initially expected out of magic. My initial attraction to Wicca was its visualization of deity and as a religious practice. The idea of working spells was attractive, but not terribly important. I’ve always been very practical, and I create a lot of change for myself mundanely, so I’ve never really felt much of a need to run a million spells and delve very deeply into the “woo-woo” part of the Craft. These days, I would like to work magic more effectively so that I can draw closer to deity and manifest a healthier, more fulfilling life.
Since I have been on the pagan path for awhile, I have definitely been influenced by a lot of magical practioners. I obviously find Phyllis Curott’s work influential, as well as Deborah Lipp’s focus on ritual. T. Thorn Coyle’s emphasis on living one’s craft is printed on my soul. I aspire to live up to the ideals these women have set forth, and I think that when I get closer to those ideals, I will be living a wonderful, magical life.