Defining Magic

There are as many definitions for magic as there are people that practice it (and those that don’t).  Etymologically speaking, the word magic potentially has a number of origins and influences that seem to have reshaped and redefined the ways in which the word is used.  When it comes to modern, Pagan ideas of magic, many start with the definition of Aleister Crowley, who defined magic as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will”.  Oh…and Crowley also spelled it “magick”*.  Even scholars, elders and practitioners that define magic differently often assume or start with Crowley’s definition.

Some other definitions of magic:

Magic is an individual action, undertaken because the cosmos is not believed to be benevolent by nature, or, at least, not benevolent enough to that person. (Maya Deren, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti)

The movement of natural (but little understood) energies from the human body and from natural objects to manifest change. (Scott Cunningham)

Magic is like wine and if you are not used to it, it will make you drunk (Susana Clark)

Magic is the ancient and absolute science of nature and her laws. (A. Constant, The History of Magic)

The whole aim of magick is the stage by stage development of the entire human being. (Stewart Farrar)

Magic is not just something you do, or make. It isn’t something one does to the Univers; magic is what a living Universe does with you once you have awakened to its divinity. (Phyllis Currott)

Magic is the art of affecting the manifest through the Unmanifest. The manifest is all that can be seen, touched, perceived, manipulated, imagined, or understood. The Unmanifest is none of these things. It is the place, or rather the non-place, from which everything issues. All that comes into being comes from the Unmanifest. All that passes away goes back to the Unmanifest. (Donald Tyson, Truth about Ritual Magic)

(Magic) is a creative act, fusing our desire and will and vision with the Divine energy within/around us to reach a specific goal. (Diane Sylvan, The Circle Within)

Magic is a convenient word for a whole collection of techniques, all of which involve the mind. In this case, we might conceive of these techniques as included the mobilization of confidence, will, and emotion brought about by the recognition of necessity; the use of imaginative faculties, particularly the ability to visualize, in order to begin to understand how other beings function in nature so we can use this knowledge to achieve necessary ends. (Margot Adler)

Magic, the art of sensing, and shaping the subtle, unseen forces that flow through the world, of awakening deeper levels of consciousness beyond the rational, is an element common to all Witchcraft traditions (Starhawk)

Man’s most determined efforrt to establish an actual working relationship through himself between his inner and outer states of being.  By magic, man shows that he is not content to be simple a pawn in the great game, but wants to play on his own accord.  (W. G. Gray)

the art of changing consciousness at will
(Dion Fortune)

My definition of Magic:

Magic is the Mystery of our interaction with Nature and with the Cosmos to coax the manifestation of what is in our heart with the will of our minds and the actions of our bodies.

Magic is not defined by any particular methodology, though practitioners of magic have their preferences.  It is  not governed by any particular set of ethics or morality, though practitioners and practices generally have their own.  And it is not bound by any particular belief system–magic is found in nearly every religion (the Eucharist is divinity magic) as well as non-religious settings.  Magic is simply a tool. Magic is a tool box, full of tools.  And like a tool box full of tools (might as well continue with the analogy), the tools themselves are neither good nor bad and the worth of their use is purely dependent upon the person using them.

There are a number of broad categories that have been used to categorize types of magic.  One of the most basic ways that magic is often subgrouped is as “high” versus “low” magic.  This division is often used to differentiation ceremonial-style magic from folk magics, though it really is a differentiation of magic meant to develop some sort of spiritual ascension versus practical, every day magics designed to help one along through life.   Another common classification is that of light/white magic versus dark/black magic.  Definitions and opinions on these these classifications differ and sometimes include the term “gray magic” as a  third classification that acts as a sort of middle ground, but for the most part, they define dark/black magic as one of a maleficent intent or morally objectionable methodology.  Additionally, some individuals and paths do not acknowledge this dichotomy at all.

When it comes to magics, there are other ways to describe and differentiate between ideas and practices.  Banishing, invoking, evoking, divination, consecration and purification are some classifications that differentiate between type of purpose.  Additionally, magic can be classified by how it is “fueled”–as a few examples, divine magic is that which is thought to be worked in conjunction with or as a gift of the gods, while elemental magic is that which is thought to be worked with the energy of the elements or the assistance of elemental entities, and necromancy is considered t the communication with the dead and magic worked with their assistance or coercion.   These are just a few ways to classify magic.  Other groupings include techniques associated with a number of rules associated with how magic works (this isn’t definitive or universally accepted, but its fairly well accepted and worth considering) or of the various magical systems that have been developed by various cultures or groups.

Magical Systems/Philosophies/etc:
FYI–This is not a comprehensive list (yet) and I’m planning to add some links after I review sites for what I think are the most complete and accurate representations.  Also, some of these are historical and not active (though their writings and teachings are often still accessible), some of these are also religious systems, its not in any particular order and some of the terms overlap a bit or are analogous.

  • Thelema
  • Enochian Magic
  • Golden Dawn
  • Chaos Magic
  • Green Witchcraft
  • Kitchen Witchcraft
  • Thaumaturgy
  • Kabbalah
  • Alchemy
  • Hoodoo
  • Hedgewitchcraft
  • Curanderismo
  • Italian Folk Magic
  • Stregheria
  • Traditional Witchcraft
  • Psionics
  • Heka (recreation of ancient Egyptian-based magic)

*Magick, majik, majix, majyc, magix, majick, fiddle-faddle.  You won’t find any of that here, I personally find the alternative spellings of magic to be juvenile pretentiousness (and I know this will offend some, though I’m not saying it to be offensive–I was once an offender).

2 thoughts on “Defining Magic”

  1. Hi, I’m trying to source the definition of magic from W G Gray above (Man’s most determined efforrt to establish…) could you kindly tell me where it comes from – I can’t find it in any of my books & I’ve put it in a new MS, so publishers will demand origin. Many thanks, Penny

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