What is Religion's Place in Magic?
Article ID: 9029
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 3,442
Times Read: 3,888
Author: Taylor Ellwood
Posted: February 20th. 2005
Times Viewed: 3,888
The other night I got into a long conversation about the difference between magic and Paganism. In the discussion, my friends and I basically asked what, if any, difference was there in regards to magic and Paganism. My conclusion on this issue is that there are differences between Paganism and magic. Now Pagan and Paganism are ambiguous terms, and can describe a lot of people, or not. For the purposes of this article I use Paganism to describe people who voluntarily identify themselves as Pagans or Neo-Pagans. Likewise the term magician is applied to people who voluntarily identify themselves as magicians. Oh, and this is just my opinion. Iím not speaking for all of you, but I am expressing my opinion.
So, for me, Paganism and magic are not one and the same thing. In other words, just because someone is Pagan doesnít mean that person practices magic. I know several Pagans who donít practice magic, but do believe in ideas that are often associated with Paganism. These ideas can include, but are not limited to, worship of nature/Mother Earth or worship of a polytheistic pantheon. Likewise I know many magicians who do not call themselves Pagans or consider themselves Pagans, but they do practice magic. And of course I know many people who are both Pagans and magician and identify themselves as both.
The question then is: What is magic? If magic is not innate to Paganism, then what is it? Often it seems that magic is viewed as being synonymous with Paganism. If youíre a Pagan you must do magic seems to be the view of what Paganism is, in pop culture, and yet what happens when we do magic? What are we really doing? Are we praying to a god, burning a candle for a specific desire, or making a spell to help someone? That can be one definition of magic, but Iíll admit itís not my definition of what magic is. In fact, I would probably say thatís more of a religious approach to magic. But again, thatís my opinion. I am sure there are readers who will say: ďNo Taylor, this approach is very magical for me.Ē
Nonetheless I will share with you my definition of what magic is. For me, magic is an exploration of as many different systems of belief as possible and belief, in this case, is not limited to religions or spiritualities, but also includes scientific paradigms, paradigms of art, writingÖanything really. Magic is this exploration of these systems of belief, and it is also an assimilation of all of those systems into oneís personal way of shaping reality to oneís will. But magic is also a discipline. Itís not a hit or miss affair and itís not something to be done only when you really need something to happen. Magic is something you do every dayÖitís a way of life and it requires discipline and focus. The ideal magician is always working on and perfecting his/her techniques and experimenting with how to do magic, to understand the why behind it. The magician is not praying to a god (though sometimes one will be worked with as an equal), but is shaping reality for him/herself, through his/her own abilities and s/he is constantly seeking to improve on those abilities.
Magic doesnít need any of the props that are often associated with it, though those props can be useful for illustrating the purpose of what one seeks to accomplish. Such props include athames, wands, spellwork, but can also include paint brushes, glue, scissors, etc. I donít always use props in my magical workings. Sometimes visualization is enough. Sometimes the body, with its various fluids, is the tool for the purpose at hand. But when I do use props, I use them because they help me do magic and the whole point of doing magic is to do it and to understand the method behind the act. If props are part of that for you, use them. I use paintbrushes, glue, scissors, newspapers, magazines, body paints, and watercolor paints for my props because those props are the ones I identify with. Someone else will likely find an athame, wand, sword, and/or cup just as useful for that person, as my tools are for me.
I donít consider magic a religion. I do consider it my way of life, but if I were to say what religion I belong to, my answer would be none. I donít belong to or have strong feelings for any particular religion. Iíll sample them all if they will help me understand my practice of magic, but for me that practice of magic is what spiritually matters. It is my quest, first and foremost, to be a practitioner of magic. The magic is what matters and if I were to worship anything it might be that force we identify as magic. I do consider myself a Pagan, however, in the sense that I do draw on a lot of Pagan perspectives when it comes to my practice of magic.
I donít think thereís too much focus on magic and spells in the community. I do, however, think there are a lot of books out there, which donít really teach what magic is actually about. Unfortunately the majority of occult/New Age publishers focus on what will sell, and more often than not what sells are books that give out spells, but donít explain the process behind the spell, the dynamics involved in manifesting a particular reality or the consequences that can occur, as well as the necessity to be responsible for such consequences. We have large quantities of books available to anyone, but the quality suffers when such details, as mentioned above, arenít attended to.
I think to get a really good perspective on magic, a diverse understanding is required. Itís not enough to read up on Wicca and presume that books on Wicca detail anything and everything about magic. Nor is it enough to solely be Wiccan and do Wiccan magic and think that those experiences alone will give you a full understanding of what magic is. Likewise this is true with other magical traditions. Any one perspective is not enough, in and of itself, to provide an understanding of what is involved when we do magic.
How you get that understanding, though, is the hard question to answer. Partially you get this answer through experience. Explore other beliefs, try out new ideas, and talk to people who practice a different form of magic than your own. Also do some research. Thereís a lot of history behind magical practice, but it always amazes me how few people actually take the time to really dig into the history behind a particular belief system. Itís a sad state of affairs that many Pagans/magicians donít know the history behind magical practice. Iím not just talking about Gardner or Aleister Crowley either. Iím talking about people such as William G. Gray, Franz Bardon, Julius Evola, Peter Carroll, Stephen Mace, Phil Hine, Nick Farrell, and other writers who have helped shape magical practice into what it is. Iím also talking of exploring different forms of ceremonial magic, chaos magic, Tibetan, Tantric, Quabala, Norse, and Shamanic approaches to magic, etc. If you read some of the authors I mention above youíll find that they have disciplined, rigorous approaches to magical practice. These approaches emphasize the process, and not just the results, as opposed to a lot of the modern books that emphasize results over process.
Maybe what really needs to be changed is how we understand magic, how we approach it. Do we approach it as something which gets us result, or do we approach magic as a discipline which can inform our spiritual/religious practices, whatever those may be? I opt for the latter choice. By focusing on magic as a discipline and a process, we can use it to not only inform our spiritual and religious practices, but we can also use it to achieve a better understanding of the consequences of our actions, the need to be very responsible and honest in the actions we choose to take.
Copyright: © Taylor Ellwood, 2005
Location: Portland, Oregon
Author's Profile: To learn more about Taylor Ellwood - Click HERE
Bio: Taylor Ellwood is the co-author of Creating Magickal Entities and Pop Culture Magick as well as the forthcoming Space/Time Magic (Aug 2005) . He is also the host of the Occult Author Resource page which can be found at http://taylorellwood.chaosmagic.com
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