/|\ PRELIMINARY NOTE
This page offers a rationale, some definitions, one way of looking at magic, some observations on the pattern-making at the heart of magic, a short excursion into magical philosophy, and a bibliography of books I can recommend from personal experience.
/|\ WHY MAGIC?
I mention magic often enough on this blog, and there’s enough confusion and misunderstanding about it, that it deserves its own page here. This is just a starting point, of course: magic is a vast and fascinating study and practice, and you’ll find other and sometimes conflicting explanations and definitions from those who know something about it — and far more nonsense from those who know nothing at all. (Try defining “music” or “art” in greater detail than the average sound-bite, and you may begin to find out why this is so, even with two human skills that are more generally known and accepted in at least some of their forms.)
In one sense, you can certainly practice Druidry — or any spiritual or philosophical discipline — and never concern yourself with magic. Some of my friends who are long-time members of OBOD, the Druid order I belong to, quite sincerely acknowledge they have no interest in magic at all. But in another sense, everything we do involves magical energies and practices, whether we’re aware of them or not. For myself, I prefer awareness. (See “Unlocking a Locked Consciousness” below.)
/|\ SOME DEFINITIONS
First let’s look at some definitions. What is magic?
Dion Fortune gives this definition: “the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will.” (If you know of old “Uncle Al” — the infamous Aleister Crowley — you know his definition is similar. No surprise there, since Fortune was a student of Crowley’s for a time.)
So why does will or choice matter so much? Author, Druid and magician John Michael Greer explains it like this:
… most of us, most of the time, are content to use the imaginations of others to define the world around us, however poorly these may fit our own experiences and needs; most of us, most of the time, spend our lives reacting to feelings, whims and biological cravings rather than acting on the basis of conscious choice; most of us, most of the time, remember things so poorly that entire industries have come into existence to make up for the failures and inaccuracies of memory (J. M. Greer, Circles of Power, pg. 52).
We can, however, choose to imagine – and remember – ourselves differently. When we do so with focused attention, especially when we practice this over time, changes happen, both subjectively and objectively.
/|\ A FACT, A GOAL, A TECHNIQUE
I like to put it this way: Magic stems from an experiential fact, an experimental goal, and an endlessly adaptable technique.
The fact is that each day we all experience many differing states of consciousness, moving from deep sleep to REM sleep to dream to waking, to daydream, to focused awareness and back again. We make these transitions naturally and usually effortlessly. They serve different purposes, and what we cannot do in one state, we can often do easily in another. The flying dream is not the focus on making a hole in one, nor is it the light trance of daydream, nor the careful math calculation. What we do mechanically and often without awareness we can learn to do consciously.
The goal of magic is transformation – to enter focused states of awareness at will and through them to achieve insight and change. “The major premise of magic,” says author and musician R. J. Stewart, “is that there are many worlds, and that the transformations which occur within the magician enable him or her to gain access to these worlds” (R. J. Stewart, Living Magical Arts, pg. 7).
The technique is the training and work of the imagination. This work typically involves the use of one or more of the following: ritual, meditation, chant, visualization, concentration, props, images and group dynamics to catalyze transformations in awareness. “… [O]ur imagination is our powerhouse …” says Stewart. “… certain images tap into the deeper levels of imaginative force within us; when these are combined with archetypal patterns they may have a permanent transformative effect.”
/|\ PATTERNS AND MAGIC
Magic, according to R. J. Stewart, is also “a set of methods for arranging awareness according to patterns.”
We live our lives according to patterns. Some patterns are limiting and may be unmasked as restrictive. Other patterns can help bring about transformation. “[T]he purpose of magical arts is to enable changes within the individual by which he or she may apprehend further methods [of magic and transformation] inwardly” (Stewart, Living Magical Arts, pg. 3)
Often pop culture images of magic and magicians tend towards romanticizing such practices and figures, or else painting them as “evil.” Stewart points out, “There are powers in Magic, very potent powers indeed, but they are the common energies and property of all humankind, of all life, and are not part of any shadowy and ignorant conspiracy” (Stewart, Living Magical Arts, pg. 13).
In this sense, the common definition of magic as a practice and belief dealing with the “supernatural” is misleading. We all both practice and are subject to magical forces every day of our lives.
“Contrary to popular fantasy,” Stewart reminds us, “magical arts are not employed to ‘get whatever you want’, but to unlock whatever you are not, thus revealing or releasing whatever you may be” (Stewart, Living Magical Arts, pg. 20).
/|\ UNLOCKING A LOCKED CONSCIOUSNESS
Much of the popular distrust of magic comes from its power to release us from habitual strong inhibitors and restraints which over time have become familiar, then comfortable, and then at length the only right and acceptable way to perceive. This narrowing of awareness closes us off quite effectively from a much wider range of possibilities and discoveries.
With each phase of culture in history, the locks upon our consciousness have changed their form or expression, but in essence remain the same. Certain locks are contrived from willed patterns of suppression, control, propaganda, sexual stereotyping, religious dogma; these combine with and reinforce the old familiar locks restraining individual awareness; laziness, greed, self-interest, and, most pernicious of all, willful ignorance. This last negative quality is the most difficult of all to transform into a positive; if we truly will ourselves to be ignorant, and most of us do in ways ranging from the most trivial to the most appallingly irresponsible and culpable, then the transformation comes only through bitter experience. It may seem to be hardship imposed from without, almost at random, but magical tradition suggests that it flows from our own deepest levels of energy, which, denied valid expression by the locks upon our consciousness, find an outlet through exterior cause and effect (Stewart, Living Magical Arts, pg. 20-21).
Below is a modest gathering of worthwhile resources I can recommend for their insights, including the two authors cited above. Everyone has their own list. These are simply titles I return to repeatedly. [Search for them under different publishers — many of these have been reprinted several times in different editions. You can often find the same book used, in an older edition, for just a few dollars. With care you should be able to locate many of these titles quite cheaply.]
The resources below favor the Western magical tradition. It’s been the most visible, though that’s changing, and it’s also the tradition I’m best acquainted with. The bibliographies in these books will lead you further.
Ashcroft-Nowicki, Dolores. (1998). The Ritual Magic Workbook. [Online version of a text first published by Samuel Weiser, Inc., York Beach, Maine. Ashcroft-Nowicki is current head of Servants of the Light.]
Butler, W. E. (2001). Magic: Ritual, Power and Purpose. Loughborough, Leicestershire: Thoth Publications. [Butler headed the still-flourishing Society of Inner Light/Servants of the Light after its founder Dion Fortune passed.]
Butler, W. E. (1969). The Magician: His Training and Work. N. Hollywood: Wilshire Book Co. [A continuation of Magic: Ritual, Power and Purpose.]
Dukes, Ramsey. (1979). SSOTBME (Sex Secrets of the Black Magicians Exposed), rev. ed. London: The Mouse That Spins. [From his title on, Dukes is simply unlike anyone else you’ll read. Among many other things, his work launched modern Chaos magic.]
Dunn, Patrick. (2005). Post-Modern Magic: The Art of Magic in the Information Age. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications. [An emphasis on verbal magic and spells.]
Fortune, Dion. (2000). The Training and Work of an Initiate. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc. [Title says it all.]
Fortune, Dion. (2003). The Sea Priestess. York Beach, Maine: Weiser Books. [A marvelous novelization of magical practice, in the voice of Morgan LeFay — continued in Moon Magic.]
Fortune, Dion. (2003). Moon Magic. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc. [The sequel to The Sea Priestess — the inimitable Morgan LeFay works a great rite of polarity magic.]
Gray, William. (1990). Magical Ritual Methods. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc. [Gray knows his stuff — and so will you.]
Greer, John Michael. (1997). Circles of Power. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Greer, John Michael. (2008). The Druid Magic Handbook: Ritual Magic Rooted in the Living Earth. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications. [Druid magic from the Druid Revival, by the modern reviver and archdruid emeritus of the AODA.]
Lipp, Deborah. (2006). The Way of Four Spellbook: Working Magic with the Elements. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications. [A more Wiccan-based focus — good concrete practice.]
McCarthy, Josephine. (2012). Magical Knowledge Book 1: Foundations/The Lone Practitioner. Oxford: Mandrake. [McCarthy is both wise and funny as she guides you past many pitfalls.]
Skelton, Robin. (1997). Spellcraft: A Handbook of Invocations, Blessings, Protections, Healing Spells, Love Spells, Binding and Bidding. Phoenix Publishing. [Skelton takes you into a thorough understanding of verbal magic and spellcrafting with diverse examples.]
Stewart, R. J. (1987). Living Magical Arts: Imagination and Magic for the 21st Century. London: Blandford. [In his many books, workshops and techniques, Stewart clears away much nonsense about magic and provides powerful ways of thinking and working.]
Tyson, Donald. (2001). The Magician’s Workbook: Practicing the Rituals of the Western Tradition. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications. [Tyson provides a “magical program” or curriculum of practices to develop magical skills.]
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Updated 2 February 2016