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What is Magick?
Article ID: 12561
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I was having a discussion with a friend about Magick, with or without the extra K, and describing what I believe to be the correct definition. Now many people have different ideas, both within Paganism and without, of what magic or magick is. It usually runs the gamut somewhere from illusion and sleight-of-hand to the control of cosmic forces and the channeling of the divine. To define magick as used by the mainstream of Paganism, however, I thought it would be worth going back to the source for a view. That would be the person who first defined Magick, with the K, and that, of course, is good old Aleister Crowley.
Now Aleister is an interesting study to say the least. He contributed much to the study of many branches of Paganism. Gardner, for example, drew heavily on Crowley’s work when he created Wicca, and of course there is Crowley’s own branch of Paganism. On the other hand, Crowley is hardly the poster child for why your son or daughter should become Pagan. He was, for example, kicked out of Italy for “behavior that would have made a Roman Emperor blush”. I forget where I read that quote, but it’s a great one. Given the decadence of the Empire in its glory, making a Roman Emperor blush would have been a neat trick to say the least. Nevertheless, Crowley, himself drawing on many sources that came before him, left us a rich legacy especially concerning magick.
So what does Crowley say about magick? In his book “Magick In Theory and Practice” he begins with an introduction describing magick, why he chose that spelling, and what it means. He added the k, of course, to differentiate his version of magick from stage magic. This is not such a bad thing, and while the spelling may seem a bit silly today, like faux old English, the distinction is important. It might have been better if he had simply coined a new word altogether, but he didn’t.
Crowley begins the introduction to his book with quotes from a number of sources including Pythagoras, “The Golden Bough” by J.D. Frazer, St. Paul, etc. so we see that he, too, drew from many classical sources when creating his work. Magick, as defined by Crowley, is “the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will.” This is a famous definition and, since Crowley himself created the term
magick (with a K) , we can certainly say that his definition is the correct definition.
What is particularly interesting is that the definition does not say anything about divine forces, spiritual intervention, or occult phenomenon. All it really describes is a cause and effect relationship, initiated by the practitioner.
If I want to make something happen, and I will it to happen, then it will happen, but this can be something as simple making breakfast for myself. Crowley even uses example such as publishing a book, or mixing chemicals, as examples of magick. He postulates that “Any required change may be effected by the application of the proper kind and degree of force in the proper manner through which the proper medium to the proper object.”
There is a great example of this in the movie “Bedazzled”. Liz Hurley is the Devil, and Brendan Fraser asks her to prove it by granting a wish. He wishes for a burger and fries. So she takes him on a bus, drives to McDonalds, she orders the meal, and even asks him to pay for it. He complains that she didn’t use magic (k) and she points out that he didn’t specify how she was supposed to obtain the food, so she did it the easiest way.
This is huge! Crowley further states quite simply that “every intentional act is a magickal act.” We have become so wrapped up in viewing magick as something belonging to the hocus pocus realm that we forget what it is really all about. It is about controlling our world. It is about molding the world to our desires. This application of will may be to control our own selves. We may wish to lose weight, stop drinking, and get more exercise. No hocus pocus here – this is about well-understood cause and effect. Not that these are easy, far from it in most cases, and they do require a strong application of will. We can further argue that if we cannot exercise some level of control over ourselves, we are certainly not ready to exercise control over cosmic forces. Magick begins within.
O.k., so far this doesn’t sound all that interesting, does it? Work hard and you will achieve something. Not particularly revolutionary. But there is an important lesson here. This is where the classical attraction to magic starts to lose out. Everyone would like to be able to learn a few simply phrases and wave a wand and have the universe dance for us. It is so simply – just learn the right spell to say!
But magick doesn’t work like that. There are no free passes or shortcuts.
It begins with our will, and our will alone. Without being able to control and exercise our own will, we can not move on to controlling the truly cosmic forces that are available to us. For some this is an easier task, for others it is a very hard path to follow.
Crowley then goes on to describe how we each have a true nature and a true place in the universe. If we act in accordance with our true nature, the universe will assist us. If we act against our true nature, the universe will block our progress. He further expands the definition of magick by saying “Magick is the science of understanding oneself and one’s conditions. It is the art of applying that understanding in action”.
So what makes this a book about “magick” and not merely a self-help book? Crowley essentially relies on science as the tool for helping us to impose our will. The key difference, however, is that he also allows for forces far beyond our current understanding. Today we understand electricity, which, a few hundred years ago, was considered magic (thunderbolts of the Gods, for example) . What we call magic or witchcraft today may well simply be taping into scientific principles of the universe that we just do not understand yet. Here we add access to forces beyond our understanding to impose our will. Call them what you will: divine, supernatural, spiritual, whatever.
So yes, we do cover magic, or witchcraft, in this as well but only as one end of a spectrum. The beauty of Crowley’s magick is that it covers a whole spectrum of forces at our disposal. We use our will directly to make changes in ourselves. We use our will and employ the tools of science to make changes. We use our will and employ the tools of witchcraft to make changes. To improve our health, we might use our will to exercise more. To travel from Boston to New York we might use our will and the tools of internal combustion in the car we drive.
Crowley also goes on to define and defend discovering and acting on your true nature, and we see here the beginning of a defense for his outrageous actions. Let’s not forget that Crowley said “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” This differs quite dramatically from the Wiccan Rede that adds in the responsibility to not harm others. This strays from our discussion of magick, however, so we’ll leave that alone for now.
On the other hand, true nature is important for the use of forces at our disposal. We do not hammer nails with a screwdriver, which would be ignoring its true nature. This reminds me of the old joke about the man who repeatedly asks God to let him win the lottery. Finally God speaks to him and says, “Help me out here – at least buy a lottery ticket!” We do need to be aware of what forces, tools, or even spells are correct and whether we are trying to violate the true nature of the universe. It is easy to make a dog bark. It is difficult to make a cat bark.
So if we can boil this all down to a sound bite, Crowley said that you, and you alone, make things happen for you. And making them happen is performing magick. Everyone has a true nature that they must discover and be true to, or you will never be effective (or happy!) . You have a range or tools available to you to carry out your will: some are well understood (self-change, science) , some are not (witchcraft) , but they are all part of our toolbox for changing the world.
What I find particularly appealing to this definition of magick is that it complete removes from the table any argument about whether magick works. Of course it does, no question. I can change myself if I exercise the proper will. I can change my environment by using the forces of the universe at my disposal.
Now we can always get into a discussion about the exact scope of forces available to us and argue if we wish about any of them that are not well understood (like witchcraft) , but that in no way invalidates the concept of magick. You do not, strictly speaking, have to believe in witchcraft to believe in magick. You should be at least open to the possibility of things you don’t know and forces that are currently not well understood. But magick, with a K, cuts right to the heart of our lives.
We each have the power to control our world, but it all begins with the control and application of our own will. No one is going to do it for us – we need to make it happen. We can make it happen. We will make it happen.
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