Religion, Magick and Spellwork
Article ID: 9058
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 3,197
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Author: RuneWolf [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: March 6th. 2005
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What is the relationship between my spirituality, my religion and my practice of magick and/or spellwork? Well, that depends on how we define the two latter terms. And I’m not trying to be coy here, at least no more so than usual.
But first, let’s dispense with that pesky spelling issue. Frankly, I don’t agree that so-called “stage magic” is any less “magickal” than the occult practices of the Pagan/Heathen community at large. A very important component of stage magic, legerdemain or sleight-of-hand is “selling the gag;” that is, convincing the audience/mark that what they think happened, happened, and what really happened, didn’t. This involves various techniques for taking control of the attention, focus and perceptions of the audience/mark, and I for one think that when this is elegantly, deftly and successfully done, it constitutes a very magickal act. It is at least as powerful, in my experience, as a well-done ritual. (It is also interesting that a body of these techniques is referred to as “misdirection, ” while a fundamental principle in the practice of aikido [see below] is “redirection.” The terms could, in a sense, be interchangeable…) If one wants to vary the spelling to distinguish magic in a secular context from magick in a spiritual or religious context, that seems more appropriate to me. For myself, I’ll be honest: I think it just looks cooler with the “k” on the end, and that’s that.
Now…where was I?
Magick, as any dedicated reader of The Witches’ Voice can tell you, has many definitions, and depending on which of those definitions you choose, the answer to our first question changes. (We won’t even get into the various definitions of “religion, ” but simply take it as it is commonly understood…)
If you define magick as working with the fundamental, unseen energies of the multiverse to achieve some definable, objective result, then there is no de facto relationship between my “magickal” practice and my religion. If I had never set foot upon the Pagan/Heathen Path, I would probably still be practicing “magick, ” as I just defined it above, because in the martial arts, we call that working with chi or ki. Nor is it to be assumed that someone has to be “spiritually oriented” in the least in order to access the power of ki; while that is often the case, I know several very secular martial artists who nonetheless are masters of ki, and feel that it is no more “spiritual” than a good stout bo staff. (And if you, Gentle Reader, don’t think that the use of ki is “magick, ” then I challenge you to get your butt out on the mat with an advanced aikido practitioner. Trust me: you will take flight - sans broom - and if that ain’t magick, I don’t know what is…)
Looking at this from the other direction: If there were no magick, would that adversely affect my spirituality or religion? Not in the least. If, tragically, I had to have some kind of “magick-ectomy, ” and was unable to henceforth practice any form of energetic manipulation, it wouldn’t change my spiritual or religious practice one iota. Bottom line, I am still eminently capable of serving the Gods whether I can “do” magick or not. In fact, one school of thought would have it that picking up litter along the neighborhood nature trail is more profoundly in Their service than all the “Drawing Down’s” I could ever hope to do.
The point of all this is that my spirituality/religion and my practice of magick are not necessarily interdependent. I can be a “non-magickal” follower of the Old Gods, if I choose, and I can also be a “secular magician, ” if you will, again at my choice. If the martial arts are too distant an analogy for you to swallow, look then at our cousins in Ceremonial or Chaos Magick – I think some among them have proven satisfactorily that one can be a very powerful magus without being especially religious or spiritual about it.
That having been said, when I do practice “magick” (in a context other than the martial arts), my practice is in fact heavily informed by my religion. But this, again, seems to be largely circumstantial for me. I predominantly practice rune-magick at this time, even when I am doing “hands-free” magick (see below). In my mind, it would seem difficult, if not futile, to practice any magick associated with or dependent upon the runes without doing so in a “runic context, ” which is as much as saying in the context of ancient Norse cosmology. I suppose, in keeping with the principles of Chaos Magick, one could work rune-magick with nothing more than an academic understanding of the primary texts, but for me the power of the runes comes more through experience of Ur-Runa or the Primal Mystery (referred to by Stephen “Edred” Flowers simply as RÛNA), which is for me an experience that can only take place within the context of my contemporary understanding and practice of the principles and beliefs of old Saxon and ancient Norse spirituality and religion. If one does not embrace, at a profound level, the Sacrifice of Wöden upon the World Tree, how can one claim any understanding of the runes? And how can one embrace that Sacrifice in a purely mundane or secular manner?
The short answer to this question, then is that I believe magick can be practiced in a non-religious context, but that with one notable exception, I do not choose to do so. Therefore, my practice of magick is heavily informed by – if not dependent upon – my spiritual and religious beliefs and practices.
As one may gather from the above, I do not consider it necessary to work with “material components” (thank you, Gary Gygax…) – or any objective manifestation, for that matter – in order to perform magick. But one must understand that it took ten years of Pagan/Heathen magickal practice, on a foundation of decades of martial arts practice, meditation and visualization, in order for me to get to the point where I can manifest “change in conformity with my Will” without the use of “props.” Even coming into Paganism with years of ki work under my belt, and the fundamental and unshakeable conviction that it is objectively “real, ” I still needed to learn the matrices of “Pagan magick” from the ground up, and that included all the usual accouterments. It is a truism in the martial arts that one must learn how to strike someone “mundanely” before one can strike them “with ki.” That is to say, one must experience the physical mode of striking a person, before one can assay the creation of an energy matrix that accomplishes the same thing. So I had to experience casting a Circle many times before I could effortlessly replicate that process in a strictly non-material matrix. But that was, perhaps, one of the most profound epiphanies of my Pagan journey. Having read in some book or other that a good test of one’s Circle-casting skills was to cast one mute and without a single “material component, ” I set out to do just that. And I found it to be an incredibly powerful experience…and also damned difficult!
Kerr Cuhulain addresses this subject quite well in his book Full Contact Magick, and it is, in fact, the essence of the title. Full contact magick is magick that can be deployed in a heartbeat, at “full power, ” without the least bit of preparation and no props, tools, “material components, ” incantations, etc. It is, as he says, analogous to the “one-inch punch” of the late Bruce Lee – a strike of devastating power from a dead stop and a distance of only one inch. But “without the least bit of preparation” is perhaps a poor choice of words on my part. The preparation is not, of course, in the moment before the punch or the spell, but in the years – or decades – of diligent study and dedicated practice prior to that moment.
(One might reasonably ask: “How can you do ‘rune-magick’ without the ‘runes’?” The answer, of course, is in the esoterica. The “runes” are not the little stones or bits of wood with the angular characters on them. Those are called “staves” or “stavs, ” and are simply material pointers to the archetypal forces and concepts that are the true runes, or Mysteries. In order to access the energies of the runes in “hands-free” magick, one really doesn’t even need the image of the runestave – one simply needs the somatic key [the “name” of the rune] and an understanding of and connection to the energies one is attempting to access.)
Once again, the short answer: Spellwork, i.e. structured rituals, the use of tools and incantations, proper attire, correspondences, etc., are, I feel, crucial when learning a particular system of magick. In the end, however, my personal belief is that one should be able to practice that system buck-nekked and empty-handed in the middle of nowhere in particular, with no foreknowledge of the time of year, phase of the Moon or anything else that might be “relevant, ” except one’s own Will and intention.
I’m not sure if too much emphasis is being placed on spellwork in our community, or if we are simply – and more likely – experiencing a temporary imbalance. Teaching or emphasizing spellwork without the underlying concepts and techniques of energy work and without the proper ethical structure – let alone the proper mythic context – just seems unbalanced to me. But I have seen its like before, again in the martial arts community. Trends come and go, and I can’t tell you the number of times the trends have changed in the American/European martial arts community. They have meandered from hard-core traditional to “California freestyle” and back again, and the emphasis has changed from speed to power to flexibility to full-contact to forms to… Well, you get the picture. In the end, what balance there is asserted itself naturally and organically, depending on what the community – as a living organism – wanted for itself. If our community wants the emphasis to be on spellwork, then so be it. It doesn’t mean that those of us who believe in the “total package” should stop practicing that or advocating for that; we simply have to acknowledge the right of the Pagan community to grow as it Wills, and to be a participatory and formative part of that process.
Cuhulain, Kerr Full Contact Magick: A Book of Shadows for the Wiccan Warrior (Llewellyn, St. Paul MN, 2002)
Flowers, Stephen Edred Rûnarmal I (Rûna-Raven, Smithville TX, 1996)
Copyright: © 2005 C.S. Norris
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