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How Magic Works

By Raene, Sibylline Priestess, ©Raene 2001

There are two things you have to ‘buy’ to rationalize a belief in magic. These two are, 1) The doctrine of organic evolution (see Darwin); and, 2) That energy is neither created nor destroyed (see the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics).

The doctrine of organic evolution allows us to posit the existence of the universal mind, thus: it says that life consists of an orderly progression from relatively simple structures to man himself. (OK, I lied, there is one other assumption you have to make - that man is the highest expression of evolution - and believe me, some days I wonder!), and therefore those attributes, both physical and mental, that make up man have to exist, to varying degrees, all the way back down the chain. One of those attributes is the one most readily identifiable with man, the rational Mind. The Second Law of Thermodynamics kicks in here, reminding us that if energy cannot be created nor destroyed, all life (and its attendant energy) must come from pre-existing life, and therefore blurring the line between ‘alive’ and ‘dead’ considerably. The distinction between living matter and dead matter being a vague one, it is safe to assume the existence of that universal mind stretching out into all of nature, not just the part of it we identify as ‘living’.

"Because he knows that Mind characterizes the entire universe, the magician is able to enjoy what we may call a unitary view of nature. For him the universe is exactly what the word implies - a unity. This in turn leads him to postulate that a law manifestly in operation in one part of the universal system is equally operative throughout the whole. The consequence of this last premise is that, since the universe is in itself a complete whole, some characteristic of the major components must be shared by the lesser components, animal, vegetable, and mineral....This universal ‘oneness’ is the secret of nature." - Conway

Once you have accepted the unity of nature, it is a logical step to the idea so often referred to in magic of ‘as above, so below.’ Basically, this idea states that because all of nature is ‘one’, we can look at any part of nature (in microcosm) to understand all of nature (macrocosm). It makes the most sense to look at the most complex part of nature of which we have a good, working, understanding - ourselves. If the universe is man on a gigantic scale, the mysterious forces that move it may be equated with those that move man, in order to make them easier to comprehend. To that end, different systems personify these forces in different ways (i.e. pantheons). All of these systems are just means of identifying the unidentifiable - of bringing the vastness of “God” (here defined as the One, the Life Force) down to the level on which our minds can even begin thinking about it. There is some debate about whether or not these personifications, over time, take on actual semi-material form. This debate centers around the concept of ‘thought-forms’. The forces can also be classified as positive (‘angelic’ in some systems) and negative (‘demonic’) based on not a moral judgment, but whether they sponsor growth or decay, conservation or destruction. Both types of forces are necessary to balance the system! In any event, all that these forces really are, underneath all the trappings we assign to them, are different aspects of the universal mind.

The power that is used in magic is derived from these forces, and so comes from both inside and outside of ourselves. Basically you link one aspect of your personality with a corresponding aspect of the universal mind, setting up a current of power that you are free to draw on for your own purposes. To continue using that analogy, ritual, then, becomes the conductor of the energy, and the correspondences, whether the traditional ones that have been built up over time, or ones of your own creation, are the building-blocks of ritual.

"Almost every magical-religious ritual known performs the following acts: Emotion is aroused, increased, built to a peak. A target is imaged and a goal made clear. The emotional energy is focused, aimed, and fired at this goal. Then there is a follow-through; this encourages any lingering energy to flow away and provides a safe letdown. Where the stress is upon achieving the plug-in to the deity we label it a ‘religious’ ritual, and the target is a theurgic one - that of the ecstasy of possession. When the stress is upon wielding the powers obtained by a plug-in we call it a ‘magical’ ritual, and the target is usually a thaumaturgic one - a particular objective result." - Bonewits

Bonewits goes on to put his two cents in about the energy thing, thus:

"Any change in the electrochemical balance of the human metabolism affects and modulates the radio waves broadcast and received by the nervous system, thereby affecting other patterns of energy whether minds or matter. And emotions as we all know have a tremendous effect on the workings of the body and its nervous system. Therefore, a ritual for the manipulation and control of emotions is really a ritual for the manipulation and control of changes in the neural system."

He recommends, as I would, that the best rituals are those written by you, and designed to affect you personally. The study of rituals from ancient or alien cultures is useful only because it reveals the basic patterns that shape magical ritual.

"In magic, the immediate psychological benefits of ritual arise from the fact that every object in range of the adept’s senses has a symbolic connection with the idea behind the ceremony. This symbolism may not always be apparent, but you may be assured that having evolved over hundreds, nay thousands, of years, it is already well known to those deeper levels of your mind that are in communion with the collective unconscious." - Conway

The collective unconscious stuff gets us into the realm of thought-forms. The idea is that thought, being energy, cannot be destroyed, and that particularly powerful thoughts leave imprints on the ‘ether’ or ‘astral plane’ or whatever you choose to call the notion of the non-material or possibly semi-material dimension that is not normally recognizable by our senses. The thinking process is accompanied by tiny rhythmic variations in the electric charges that go on in the brain. It is possible that these charges may somehow mold the ether into what we might call a thought form. These thought forms may in and of themselves provide the images that make up the group mind which is so important a feature of Jungian psychology. Thought-form theory is also the basis of an explanation commonly given for the characteristic atmosphere surrounding certain places, for many hauntings, and for the concept of the astral body, and, therefore, bilocation and ultimately a form of immortality. But, for our purposes, thought-form theory would hold that the correspondences that have been built up over time to symbolize the underlying similarity between different things (remember that universal oneness concept?) and used over and over again by practitioners of magic have built up their own semi-material validity on the etheric plane, and that these forms are accessible by that portion of your own mind that is in contact with the collective unconscious

So, finally, what have we been talking about? My favorite definition of Magic, though a bit unwieldy, comes from Bonewits:

"Magic is a science and an art comprising a system of concepts and methods for the build-up of human emotion, altering the electrochemical balance of the metabolism, using associational techniques and devices to concentrate and focus this emotional energy, thus modulating the energy broadcast by the human body, usually to affect other energy patterns, whether animate or inanimate, but occasionally to affect the personal energy patterns."


Magic: An Occult Primer
by David Conway
Published by Vintage/Ebury (A Division of Random House Group) (January 1972)
ISBN 0224005995

Real Magic: An Introductory Treatise on the Basic Principles of Yellow Magic
by Isaac Bonewits
Publisher: Weiser Books; Revised edition (February 1, 1989)
ISBN 0877286884

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