What do you think of when you see the word 'magic(k)'? Perhaps a witch with a pointy hat, wand and broom standing over a cauldron? A group of kids in a graveyard drawing pentagrams at midnight performing some sort of seance? Men with beards and pony tails playing card games at the local comic shop? A lady in a weird hat at a carnival offering to read your fortune with the help of a giant crystal ball?
Magic(k) is potentially all of these but let's set pop culture aside for a moment and take a deeper look at the more traditional perspective.
The British spy, poet, mountaineer and occultist Aleister Crowley classically defined magick as "the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will". Many individuals since have used a slight variation of this definition but one I particularly like is one by the late Donald Michael Kraig who said, "Magick is the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will, using means not currently understood by traditional Western science". It is about changing one's universe miraculously and, more importantly, changing one's self to be the greatest expression of one's deepest will. In addition, one of the most important distinctions about modern magick is that, although it deals with metaphysics, angels, demons, gods and goddesses, it's systems have little interest in contradicting science or it's findings purely for the sake of ancient dogmas. One is encouraged to keep a magical diary in which all experiments are meticulously documented to discover what is true and the best conditions for success --much like a scientist. In Crowley's Equinox publication was coined the phrase, the method of science, the aim of religion which sums up the basis of magick in a nutshell, in my opinion.
Divisions of magickThere are several divisions of magick but they generally fall under the following categories:
White magick is primarily concerned with magical acts that bring a person in closer union with the Divine or True Self (also called the Holy Guardian Angel).
Gray magick is more concerned with magical acts causing beneficial outcomes for one's self or someone else.
Black magick deals with magical acts causing harm to one's self or others (intentional or otherwise). Curses fall into this category, obviously.
Zoning in a bit more we have the specific systems of magick. Wicca is by far the most well known system but it has many cousins to include Thelema, Kabbalah, Neo-Shamanism, Alchemy, Hermeticism, Chaos Magick, etc. It is not my desire to go into all the details and differences of these systems here in this post; I wouldn't even say that I am qualified to do so. However, it is interesting to note that much like the branches of Christianity and other religions, the branches of magick grow in, out and around each other on a good many points and practices.
What does magick consist of?There are various practices involved with magick and the following are just a few:
Divination uses anything from tarot cards to crystal balls to tea leaves in order to peer deeper into a particular situation.
Evocation deals with calling forth certain 'entities' to do thy bidding.
Invocation involves invoking the specific qualities of a particular god/entity/being to use in one's life.
Astral travel includes any technique used to separate the spirit or mind from one's body temporarily to roam different dimensions of existence.
Banishing is used to cleanse one's surroundings and self of any negative energy or entities.
Talismans are created and charged to attract love, ward off negative things or bring about some other desire.
Is magick evil?Some would of course argue that magick is "evil", although I suspect most of that is due to the fact that most people's sole association with occult themes is entirely defined by cheesy hollywood horror flicks or a slumber party involving a Ouija board. To that end I will merely state the obvious which is that pop culture is merely made to sell --not to introduce or accurately represent the truth of certain subjects. Of course, there is also the religious (namely Christian) side of it that tends to view virtually all things outside of itself as evil. To that I can say little other than that one should try to be more open-minded and not limit one's thinking to such dualistic absolutes as light/dark or good/evil --life will always transcend the simplistic conceptions we place upon it. Although there is something awfully ironic about a religion which so blatantly shuns magick yet centrally worships a man who reportedly walked on water, spoke with sprits, healed the sick and raised the dead. Not only that but he even told his followers that they would do even greater things than he! If Jesus was a real individual that did even half of what the gospels claim, he was clearly one of the greatest magicians of all time.
All that aside, to call magick evil is the same as calling evil a gun or a hammer or any other tool --it's pointless. It can only do what it's wielder decides at the end of the day, no more and no less.
Is magick real?Magick is a very interesting path to study but unless it is real, it is nothing more than entertaining fantasy and is better left in the realm of movies, books and video games. However, to ask if it is real is itself a complicated question: for in what way might it be real? There are various magical models to address this which, again, is not the aim of this article. But suffice it to know that there are many models which are used to view and explain the phenomena of magick: for example, the spirit model says that deities and spirits have factual existence outside of ourselves. The psychological model, on the other hand, says that all perceived beings and events are merely psychological results and nothing more. So, much like the concept of "God" it is not enough to simply say that magick is real or dismiss it as false --for there are countless ways in which it is being perceived and all are worth investigating and testing in regards to their validity. I think many magicians would agree, however, that what really matter's though is not the beliefs or perceptions we place upon magick but what the results are. If the experiments are performed and the results appear to be real as anything else in our lives then that is all that matters as opposed to our explanations of the phenomena. Perhaps mainstream western science will explain in due course what is happening in such magickal experiments in generations to come (some would say they already have begun to with the advent of things like quantum physics)
I will conclude my thoughts here with a quote from Dumbledore when Harry Potter asked him if what was happening "real" or just happening inside of his head: