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Magic, Spells, and Sorcery: High Strangeness, or Hocus-Pocus?

It has been an art employed by some of the greatest minds and practitioners of the sciences over the centuries, as well as many of the more nefarious names in history as well. From scholars like Pythagoras in Ancient Greece, to medieval wizards like John Dee and, much later on, the controversial occultist Aleister Crowley, magic has been heralded as a force by which man can connect with the parts of reality beyond which most mortal men could otherwise reach.

By the standards of most today, what we call “magic” involves archaic processes of trying to utilize spells and sorcery–in addition to belief that such things can prove effective–in an effort to change or bend the forces of nature. Due to the perception that such things are indeed remnants of what are now outmoded ways of thought and belief, the idea of using magic for practical purposes today has lost much of its appeal. And yet, there are still many that do act as proponents of the use of ritual magic for bettering their lives, and changing the world around them. Is their belief in such ancient arts completely in vein, or are there elements to the mystery of the modern magi that do make their esoteric practices worthwhile?

Webster’s Dictionary defines magic as “the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.” Even while looking up this definition, I began to notice my own preconceptions and biases toward the word all unto itself; immediately, I envision either a corny series of silly images involving spellcasters and sorcerers, or conversely, I’m reminded of the darker perceptions attributed to “black magic” and the dark arts.

But in truth, there are a variety of practices maintained today which, in essence, seek to influence the course of natural events by utilizing the supernatural. In fact, given this definition, how can we really differentiate something prayer or meditation from magic? They certainly utilize supernatural forces in an attempt to influence the outcome of events to come, and yet it could be argued that perhaps a majority of Americans, for instance, either employ one or the other of these in an effort to better their lives or those of their loved ones.

In fact, to further our comparison between magic and prayer, I’ve often considered how such things might have risen from people in ancient times, and their belief in (if not outright projection toward) anthropomorphized gods that resembled the various elements of nature, which in their extremities could make life very hard on societies more primitive than those today. In all likelihood, use of ritual practices by ancient people stemmed from attempts at reconciling with these things that threatened their way of life, and thus, they were carried out in order to appease their presumed nature-gods. Taking this into consideration, it is interesting to note that in modern times, our ideas of an “angry God” have softened somewhat, and people now, thanks to the ease and simplicity of modern life (particularly here in the West) pray to a creator that is generally viewed as being more loving and gentle. And of course, our sense of there being a necessity for such things as magic rituals has lessened considerably, also.

But does this remove entirely the potential that magic may hold some relevance in our lives nonetheless? Perhaps not, since even our present studies pertaining to quantum physics show us more and more with time how perception alone is capable of influencing the outcome of events. Perhaps the use of focused rituals have a greater promise for effectiveness than most of us realize… putting it out to the Mysterious Universe readership, do you feel that magic and ritual bear any relevance in modern times, and if so, in what ways?


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  • Ancient Greece? Why are writers so lazy so as to ignore the many civilizations before the Greeks?

  • Travis Nobles

    As someone who has practiced prayer, meditation and magic, I can say that, to me, they seem very much like different aspects of the same thing. I like John Michael Greer’s assertion that Magic is primarily a tool for changing your consciousness, and what he calls the “Harry Potter” style of magic is usually better accomplished by technology. Now, to what extent a change in consciousness can affect the “outside” reality is debatable, but we all know that our experience of the world is very much affected by our perceptions of it, so changing your perceptions and changing the outside world may sometimes end up being the same thing….

  • BurningPrairie

    “in vain” unless you meant it actually runs through the blood vessels.

  • Jules

    You betray your christian bias by qualifying “nature gods” with the word “presumed.” Your “angry god” or your loving god is just as much a presumption as any other diety.

  • alanborky

    “do you feel that magic and ritual bear any relevance in modern times, and if so, in what ways?”

    The first thing to note Micah is magic and make come from the same ancient root and mean essentially the same thing.

    Magicians’ve always been makers and the greatest of our makers’ve always seemed like magicians.

    As for ritual our entire existences’ve always depended on ritual.

    The magician-maker the carpenter brings a plank into existence by the ritual of repetitively planing away at trees.

    The magician-maker the builder brings houses into existence by ritual acts like repetitively banging on a nail until it’s flush with the wall.

    And the magician-maker the Higgs bosonist collapses Higgs bosons into existence (Rupert Sheldrake style?) by the rituals of repetitively whirling hadrons round colliders for decades on end then flinging open the Schrödinger’s box into which the resultant data is deposited.

    As for the magician-makers who bring Micah Hanks and alanborkys into existence they do so by the ritual of repetitively telling the child it’s Micah/alan and they’re his parents until finally Micah/alan begins reciting the same lines back at them.

    This’s where I suggest ritual in magic’s often misunderstood.

    It’s assumed there’s something in particular rituals which if only they’re performed correctly’ll bring about particular magical effects.

    But I suggest to you what really happens is something like this.

    We learn to drive by repeating certain sub-rituals until finally the sub-rituals meld together and suddenly we can perform the magical act of driving.

    And it is magic. Our elation confirms this. But quite quickly we get used to it and driving becomes a robotic chore we hardly notice ourselves doing until a kid suddenly dashes in front of us.

    Ditto when we’re first born we’re in that state Jesus alludes to when he says “be as little children” or as the Koran puts it we’re born true Muslims ie conscious of what ‘submission’ really means until someone comes along and performs the ritual of repetitively telling us we’re Christians or atheists or their particular take on what a muslim is until slowly but surely we become beguiled into believng what’re actually only mental equivalents of the security passes we use getting in and out of offices’re actually ourselves.

    And it’s because this ritual repetitiveness goes on all through our lives counter-rituals’s evolved like tai chi or yoga.

    Ditto magical rituals. The rituals don’t actually create the magical effect. They disrupt the mechanical continuity of the enormous build up of rituals unwittingly trained into into our minds and bodies allowing just enough of our real original selves to briefly stir from the hypnotic sleep they’ve been put into as a result of the endless mechanical repetition to bring into effect the true magic of consciousness of awareness.

    But if I’ve understood you aright Micah you’re saying pretty much the same thing.

  • ferdinando


    thank you for the wonderful post.

    I deeply believe that magic still has a place in our society, in private settings, as well as in the corporate world. Here’s a TEDx Talk to add my “2 cents” to the conversation:

    Waving from Italy!


    magic experience designer