Your browser does not support script
TWV Presents...

Articles/Essays From Pagans

[Show all]

Views: 18,413,345

September 16th. 2015 ...

Sacred Lands, Sacred Hearts

Nature Worship: or Seeing the Trees for the Ents

Vegan or Vegetarian? The Ethical Debate

Weeds and Seeds

August 6th. 2015 ...

Lost - A Pagan Parent's Tale

July 9th. 2015 ...

Love Spells: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

The Magic of Weather

June 7th. 2015 ...

A Pagan Altar

The Consort: Silent Partner or Hidden in Plain Sight?

A Minority of a Minority of a Minority

Why I Bother With Ritual: Poetry and Eikonic Atheism

May 6th. 2015 ...

Sex, Lies, and Witches: Love in a Time of Wiccans and Atheists

Gods, Myth, and Ritual in Naturalistic Paganism

I Claim Cronehood

13 Keys: The Crown of Kether

March 29th. 2015 ...

A Thread in the Tapestry of Witchcraft

March 28th. 2015 ...

On Wiccan Magick, Theurgy, Thaumaturgy and Setting Expectations

March 1st. 2015 ...

Choosing to Write a Shadow Book

Historiolae: The Spell Within the Story

My Concept Of Grey

February 1st. 2015 ...

Seeker Advice From a Coven Leader

The Three Centers of Paganism

Magick is No Illusion

The Ancient Use of God/Goddess Surnames

The Gods of My Heart

January 1st. 2015 ...

The Six Most Valuable Lessons I've Learned on My Path as a Witch

Manipulation of the Concept of Witchcraft

Publicly Other: Witchcraft in the Suburbs

Pagans All Around Us

Broomstick to the Emerald City

October 20th. 2014 ...

Thoughts on Conjuring Spirits

A Microcosmic View of Ma'at

October 5th. 2014 ...

The History of the Sacred Circle

Abandoning Expectations and Remembering Your Roots

September 28th. 2014 ...

Seeking Pagan Lands for Pagan Burials

Creating a Healing Temple

September 20th. 2014 ...

GOD AND ME (A Pagan's Personal Reply to the New Atheists)

September 7th. 2014 ...

Deer Man- A Confounding Mystery

Web Oh-oh

The All

August 31st. 2014 ...

Coven vs. Solitary

A Strange Waking Dream


August 24th. 2014 ...

Thoughts on Cultural and Spiritual Appropriation

The Pagan Cleric

A Gathering of Sorcerers (A Strange Tale)

August 17th. 2014 ...

To Know, to Will, to Dare...

On Grief: Beacons of Light in the Shadows

The Darkness

August 10th. 2014 ...

As a Pagan, How Do I Represent My Path?

The Power of the Gorgon

August 3rd. 2014 ...

Are You a Natural Witch?

You Have to Believe We Are Magic...

July 27th. 2014 ...

Did I Just Draw Down the Moon?

Astrological Ages and the Great Astrological End-Time Cycle

The New Jersey Finishing School for Would-Be Glamour Girls and Boys

July 20th. 2014 ...

Being an Underage Wiccan

Greed, Power, Witches, and the Inquisition

Malleus Maleficarum - The Hammer of the Witches

Thoughts on Ghost Hunting

July 13th. 2014 ...

A World Of Witchcraft: Belief Is Only The Beginning...

From Christian to Pagan (Part III)

Being Wiccan

My Wiccan Ways...

July 6th. 2014 ...

Keys: Opening the Portals into Other Worlds

The Lore of the Door

Leaves of Love

June 29th. 2014 ...

What Does the Bible Say About Witches and Pagans?

Everything's Alright, Yes: Mary Magdalene

Are You My Familiar ?

Invocations of the God and Goddess

Results Magic and the Moral Compass

June 22nd. 2014 ...

Witchcraft vs. Religion

Christianity and Paganism: Why All Of the Fighting?

Norse Mythology

June 15th. 2014 ...

Becoming Your Own Wise One

Canine Familiars: Role of the Alpha

June 8th. 2014 ...

Moral Relativism and Wicca

Paganism in Cebu, Philippines

Color Infusion

NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.

Article Specs

Article ID: 10055

VoxAcct: 206828

Section: words

Age Group: Adult

Days Up: 3,656

Times Read: 8,702

RSS Views: 66,959
Magic: A Cornerstone of Pagan Identity?

Author: B. T. Newberg
Posted: October 9th. 2005
Times Viewed: 8,702

Have you ever wondered why Pagans use the term "magic?" After all, outside the community it is generally met with derision. It means stage magic, or child's play, or fantasy. Anything but a mature approach to living in the world. Yet Pagans are taking this demoted term, grown small as the elves and faeries that used to wield it, and reclaiming it for respectable use. There are good reasons for this, for magic glues together crucial elements of Pagan identity.

There are two major ways that magic functions in Pagan identity: as a bridge to past cultures, and a boundary to present ones.

First of all, magic is a link to the past. Virtually all forms of Neo-Paganism depend to a greater or lesser degree on the past. Reconstructionists seek explicitly to re-create what was historically practiced. Others are less concerned with historical accuracy but still draw the greater part of their inspiration from ancient ways. Yet in most cases there is a gap of over a thousand years between ancient and modern practitioners. Pagans need ways to bridge that gap. Magic is one.

The peoples of pre-Christian Europe were magical peoples. They had magi, sybils, druids, seers, shamans, oracles, cunning folk, diviners, and many more serious users of magic. They were not cheap fortune-tellers nor thrill-vendors. They were mature professionals and community helpers who saw magic as a way of engaging a deeper reality. When Contemporary Pagans adopt magic as a serious path, they draw an analogy. That analogy allows modern folk to assert a certain continuity between old and new. It allows Pagans to carry on in some sense the ways of their ancestors. By the same token it invests Pagan identity with a measure of age, tradition, and authority. Sometimes this effect falls flat, and in such cases people get accused of "playing dress up." But the attempt is there, and within the right groups it has powerful effect. Magic is at such times a link to the venerable past.

But there are many other ways to achieve that link: revived festivals, myths, prayers, and so forth. Magic is but one among many ancient practices, some of which have been left behind intentionally. Why bring it back now that it has fallen into derision? Why not leave it behind? With this question, we come now to the second major way that magic functions in modern identity: its relation to present cultures.

Frankly, magic is an anomaly in present Western culture. As mentioned earlier, it has dwindled to such a dwarfish form that most consider it an unreal fantasy fit mainly for entertainment. In the popular mindset the idea of taking up magic as a mature spiritual practice is not credible. Thus when someone does in fact take it up as a mature practice, it is a firm statement against the norm. And it is a firm link to others of like mind. To affirm magic is to affirm one?fs identity as Pagan, and to distance oneself from non-Pagan identities. It is a powerful sign to both self and other that one is Pagan.

This sign reads in two ways: in reference to out-group relations (that is, with non-Pagans) , and in-group relations.

As far as out-group relations are concerned, it must be recalled that most Contemporary Pagans live in areas dominated by either Christianity or some form of scientific rationalism. Both of these cultural paradigms more often than not give a cold shoulder to magic. Thus to practice magic is to be unique and different. It must also be remembered that many converted away from Christianity, and magic serves to emphasize the break with that tradition. Others just find the current paradigms unsatisfactory, and therefore take up magic as a hopeful alternative. In these ways magic defines a person against the scientific rational- or Christian-dominated out-group.

But magic also defines the in-group. As previously stated it makes a strong link to others of like mind. Since the majority of non-Pagans do not accept magic, while the majority of Pagans do, it becomes a defining characteristic. Pagans can talk with each other about magical experiences in a way they cannot with outsiders. Just the ability to decode the "k" in magick (as it is often spelled in Pagan discourse) connotes a savvy not possessed by 99% of the out-group. In this respect magic is not unlike a secret handshake. Magic is thus a vital tool of in-group identification.

At the same time, there are times when it is used for in-group control as well. While it is jarring to think of conformity pressures in a community so individualist as Contemporary Paganism, they do exist. Magic is one area where they manifest. For example, questioning the validity of another Pagan's magic is a major faux pas. Any one who gallantly charges against another's belief is bound to get a frigid response. Persistent critique may cause a person to be frozen out of the community. So-called "Witch wars, " in which rivals disclaim the validity of each other's traditions, have made their way into the top ten list of disdainful behaviors. In older days of Occultism it may have been different, but today an unspoken code of interpersonal relativism is the norm (note: Heathenry may be an exception--for a comparison of Heathen and Wiccan communication styles, see ?gThe Pentagram and the Hammer? by Gillette and Stead, .

The effect of this relativism is not only respect for individual beliefs but also suppression of critical voices. Rather than risk offense, many Pagans will decline to offer critical reviews of another?'s magic, or will phrase it in vague terminology that leaves open many possibilities. While social harmony is thereby preserved, a certain precision of thought may regrettably be sacrificed. This is the case at least so far as communication concerns the feelings of another person. In the name of mutual respect, the critical voice all too often falls silent.

On a less dramatic level, there is also the matter of just maintaining smooth relations in the community. Just as Christians of most sects can hardly disbelieve the afterlife without encountering friction from their follows, so Pagans must show at least tacit deference to magic. While there are Pagans that do not believe in magic, it is not something one loudly decries without appearing obnoxious. So as not to offend others, magic is usually left unquestioned. In this way in-group conformity is maintained.

These points make clear the functions of magic in managing group relations. It defines against the out-group, while simultaneously exerting pressure on the in-group. From this it can be seen how significant magic is to Pagan identity. Why do Pagans insist on using the derided term? It functions so well in prescribing group boundaries that it is apparently worth the risk of censure from a hostile out-group, Christian or otherwise.

Perhaps it is even by virtue of the risk that it functions. It is tempting to speculate that sometimes Pagans sign-up for the censure. After all the most explicit target for suppression, historically, was "Witchcraft." And what is today the most popular of Pagan groups?--the Wiccans, who also call themselves Witches. There is often in Pagan discourse a note of defiance, linked to empowerment, which seems to goad on the rancor of the out-group. Do Pagans sow unity by cultivating the perception of a hostile out-group? Perhaps this is but one more way that magic cements the group together.

Indeed magic is a glue that pieces together Pagan identity. It connects modern practitioners to their distant forbears. The link to the past created by magic brings to modern Paganism heritage and authority. At the same time it offers effective means of defining the community against a paradigm dominated by Christianity and scientific rationalism. Finally, it acts as a medium for in-group control.

Whether magic takes the form of spell-casting, divination, worship, meditation, self-help, or alternative medicine, it fulfills these functions. To return to the original question: why do Pagans use the term "magic?" Perhaps it is because it is so useful to Pagan identity. Through wielding a term that is nearly impossible to wield in any other group, Pagans forge for themselves a clear and unmistakable identity. They create a sense of shared experience, and a feeling of belonging. Other terms could have been used, but the one embraced was magic.

Though magick, in each side and face displays
a crystal's facets of the ancient ways
as light refracted in another's eyes,
our kinship emanates more radiant rays
by simple truth our truest sight espies.

Against bleak prospects, magick is the art
with which to prove with true and trusting heart
within the earth our roots are intertwined
though in the grove, as trees, we stand apart
and by no judgment shall be undermined.

(Poem contributed by Bard Oskan--to see more of her poetry search her profile here on Witchvox; also look for her new fantasy novel: Becoming the Crane, by May Oskan) .

Copyright: Article copyright Brandon, 2005
Poem copyright Bard Oskan, 2005


B. T. Newberg

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota


Author's Profile: To learn more about B. T. Newberg - Click HERE

Bio: Brandon?'s essays have been featured at major academic conferences, including the Conference on Current Pagan Studies at Claremont Graduate University, California, and the Victorian Queer Spirituality Conference in Melbourne, Australia. His magical flirtations draw mainly on Wiccan and Shamanic influences.

Other Articles: B. T. Newberg has posted 8 additional articles- View them?

Other Listings: To view ALL of my listings: Click HERE

Email B. T. Newberg... (No, I have NOT opted to receive Pagan Invites! Please do NOT send me anonymous invites to groups, sales and events.)

To send a private message to B. T. Newberg ...

Pagan Essays

Pagan Web
8,000 Links

Pagan Groups
Local Covens etc.

80,000 Profiles

Home - TWV Logos - Email US - Privacy
News and Information

Chapters: Pagan/Heathen Basics - Pagan BOOKS - Traditions, Paths & Religions - Popular Pagan Holidays - TV & Movies - Cats of the Craft - Festival Reviews - Festival Tips - White Pages (Resources) - Issues/Concerns - West Memphis 3 - Witch Hunts - Pagan Protection Tips - Healing Planet Earth

Your Voices: Adult Essays - Young Pagan Essays - Pagan Perspectives (On Hold) - WitchWars: Fire in the Craft - Gay Pagan - Pagan Parenting - Military - Pagan Passages

Pagan Music: Pagan Musicians - Bardic Circle at WitchVox - Free Music from TWV

Vox Central: About TWV - Wren: Words, Wrants and Wramblings - Guest Rants - Past Surveys - A Quest for Unity

Weekly Updates: Click HERE for an index of our weekly updates for the past 6 years

W.O.T.W. - World-Wide Networking

Your Town: A Link to YOUR Area Page (The largest listing of Witches, Pagans, Heathens and Wiccans on the Planet)

VoxLinks: The Pagan Web: 8,000 Listings

Your Witchvox Account: Log in Now - Create New Account - Request New Password - Log in Problems

Personal Listings: Pagan Clergy in Your Town - Adult Pagans - Young Pagans - Military Pagans

Events: Circles, Gatherings, Workshops & Festivals

Covens/Groups/Orgs: Local Groups Main Page

Other LOCAL Resources: Local Shops - Regional Sites - Local Notices - Global/National Notices - Local Skills & Services - Local Egroups - Political Freedom Fighters

Pagan Shopping: Online Shops Index - Original Crafters Sites - Auction Sites - Pagan Wholesalers - Pagan Local Shops

Web Site Content (including: text - graphics - html - look & feel)
Copyright 1997-2015 The Witches' Voice Inc. All rights reserved
Note: Authors & Artists retain the copyright for their work(s) on this website.
Unauthorized reproduction without prior permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Website structure, evolution and php coding by Fritz Jung on a Macintosh G5.

Any and all personal political opinions expressed in the public listing sections (including, but not restricted to, personals, events, groups, shops, Wren’s Nest, etc.) are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinion of The Witches’ Voice, Inc. TWV is a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization.

Sponsorship: Visit the Witches' Voice Sponsor Page for info on how you
can help support this Community Resource. Donations ARE Tax Deductible.
The Witches' Voice carries a 501(c)(3) certificate and a Federal Tax ID.

Mail Us: The Witches' Voice Inc., P.O. Box 341018, Tampa, Florida 33694-1018 U.S.A.
Witches, Pagans
of The World

Search Articles

 Current Topic
 Editorial Guide

NOTE: The essay on this page contains the writings and opinions of the listed author(s) and is not necessarily shared or endorsed by the Witches' Voice inc.

The Witches' Voice does not verify or attest to the historical accuracy contained in the content of this essay.

All WitchVox essays contain a valid email address, feel free to send your comments, thoughts or concerns directly to the listed author(s).