What is Magic? (Part II)
Article ID: 2904
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 5,986
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Posted: July 16th. 2000
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"What is Magick? How do I do a spell? What part do these workings play in religion?" These are some questions that The Witches' Voice is asked every day. While we do not teach Witchcraft on this site, we DO try to provide information that helps to dispel misconceptions concerning the beliefs of our ways. This series of articles addresses some of the aspects and ideas surrounding Magick and Spellwork. They are not the final word on the subjects by any means and we encourage everyone to continue to study and investigate these areas for themselves.
Let's work forward now from the basic of idea of magick and into the realms of the practical world. If you have been led to believe that the physical world is far and away much different than the magickal one, you may be surprised to learn that others do not always share that point of view. In actuality, practicing magick is for many people not the domain of some mysterious force 'out there somewhere,' but rather merely the utilization of a skill.
Your own skills may be the results of an affinity, a gift, an interest or something that you have learned. So it can be in magick. Some people have an affinity for it, some people seem to have a natural gift of it, some people have always been interested in it and some people have been trained to develop it. Whichever path led you into the workings of magick, there is another component to magick that you may have not considered before-the role of religion.
Throughout the ages, magick has been practiced. The reason for this is not because it makes people cool or different, better or worse than anyone else. People work magick because magick works. It is just as practical to use spells and charms as it is to use any other skill that you may possess to make your life better in some way or to help someone else in theirs. 'Practical Magick'-it's not just a movie title anymore! (Besides, we like to think that we had it first.)
While it is true that 'throughout the ages', people have indeed practiced magick, it is also true that not all peoples have practiced magick in the same way or in the same context. That is still true today.
Some folks practice magick with no inherent religious element. These are the practitioners who consider magick to be entirely neutral. Some may go a bit a further and attach their own religious components to it, but some always just stay 'generic.'
Witches and Magick
The words 'magick' and 'Witch' seem to be forever linked, yet it is also true that some Witches, Wiccans and other pagans use magick as part of their religious practice and some do not. Some Witches, Wiccans and pagans use magick as a tool for divination or spellwork for such things as healing, etc, yet do not consider magick as a religious practice, but rather as a practical utility tool. Heathens, like many others in the Northern traditions, acknowledge the existence of magick, but generally leave the workings of it solely to the office of a special person, usually a diviner.
In describing those who use magick as part of their religious practice, it is often almost impossible to say exactly where the magick leaves off and the religion begins (or the reverse). Religious belief and magickal workings weave together physical, mental and spiritual threads in a way that the single strands of any one element can no longer be distinguished from the entire fabric. Hence, the religious tenets held by these magickal practitioners and the magick that they employ are-at least to them-inseparable and that is the only way that they can describe what it is to them or pass what they know about it along to someone else.
Ethical considerations, such as we understand them today (example-Wiccan Rede), may not have played the same function in past ages. Certainly, there are many existing examples of spells and curses from very ancient times that can only be described as 'nasty.' Whether the societies in which they were formulated held different standards when it came to manipulative or malignant magick than we tend to hold today is unclear. The archaeological examples of these 'nasties' that have survived the centuries do tend to point to the fact that this sort of spell and charm were-if not acceptable-at least widely practiced.
Perhaps the best way to leave the religion/magick connection is like this: In those people (or those traditions that teach this concept) for whom the separation of magick and religion is impossible to define, ethical considerations become very important. The values that the religion embraces will be the same values that the magickal aspect will be defined with. Hence, for the people who uphold certain religious ethics to be sacred, magickal workings will be defined as 'bad' if they break from these ethical standards. Conversely, the closer to the religious ethical ideal that a magickal working is perceived to be, the more 'right' or 'correct' or in harmony with the religion (and the person) that it becomes.
If you are confused, you are not alone. Because of the sloppy language usage prevalent in modern societies (especially in the United States), general 'short cut' words are often used to describe an action or event. Thus the words 'magick' and 'spell' are tossed about as if these words always mean the same thing to everyone who uses them or anyone who hears them. They do not, and-given the diversity of magickal practices and beliefs-they simply cannot. Not all spells are created equal.
Religious magickal practitioners and those who do not attach any (or alternative) religious ethics to spellwork may both use the words 'spell' and 'magick', but they are really talking in different languages. No wonder folks will get into raging debates over what is 'right' or what is 'wrong' when it comes to working magick and spells! The differences in 'where they are coming from' are very real.
Wiccans will almost always have a problem with someone practicing what they perceive through the eyes of their religious ethical system as manipulative magick. Those who see magick as a neutral force- and whose own ethical system perhaps does not embrace the 'harm none' tenet- will (at the very least) tell the Wiccans to 'loosen up already' and stop with the 'white-light fluffy bunny' stuff. From that point on, the language can become very 'common' indeed as each side heaps abuse upon the other.
No one has to (or should be expected to) compromise their own personal position on magick or what it may mean to them, but it could help to normalize relations a bit if we all simply realize that not everyone else views or employs magick as we ourselves may do.
Perhaps considering the points outlined above may help to better clarify-or rather encourage pagans engaged in discussions with one another to better clarify-the various and individual positions, outlooks and assumptions that surround magick, magickally based systems, religious beliefs and practices in our communities.
Maybe then, we will not only be able to say that we have 'embraced diversity', but also that we have actually learned to live within it as well.
Walk in Light and Love,
(Chairperson - Witches' Voice)
Location: Tampa, Florida
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