What is magic?

I’ve been reading with interest ideas about magic on Cat’s Blog and Red’s Blog this week. Red’s really got me thinking about how we square honourable relationship with magic. Now, what is normally called ‘white magic’ could be described as ‘asking for something nice magic’ while going round cursing people would be ‘black magic’ being horribly simplistic for a moment. But take apart ‘white magic’ and what are we doing? Asking for something we haven’t worked for, maybe something we want and can’t have. Nothing comes without consequence, even prayers for healing. If we all lived forever, magically, this world would not be viable. If we use magic to violate the laws of nature and the natural cycles of life and death, how can we square that with the idea of honourable relationship?

If we pray – let’s imagine that’s for a miracle to save a dying person – we are inviting a deity to look over the idea and, from their more enlightened perspective, figure out whether it’s a good idea. Sometimes the answer to prayer is a ‘no’ which is as well. Humans do not make decisions for the best reasons. We never see the bigger picture, it is inevitably beyond us. Driven by fear, hunger, greed, loneliness and all manner of things, we can and do want things we should not have, that aren’t good for us, and that harm others.

The more I think about magical acts that are basically demanding something be different, the less I like them. I don’t work that way myself, I’ve moved away from ideas of spells. Mostly the transformations I seek to achieve are within myself, where, as Red points out, I have every right to make change.

However, a magical perspective of the world has always been intrinsic to my paganism. I believe in the transformative magic of ritual and bard craft. I’m increasingly fascinated by prayer as a concept. I believe in the power of oath and pledges made to the gods. I also believe that magic flows and exists in the world – if I didn’t, there would be precious little point considering the ethics of using it!

I went down to the Severn this morning as the tide was turning. I watched the muddy curve of the river start to refill with water. There were seagulls, and an egret. The reeds were rustling and talking, the wind soft, the air warm. Everything was very alive, me included. The sheer intensity of presence intoxicated me. I sat for some time, just being there, and a thought began to formulate in my mind.

I don’t want the kind of magic that gives me the power to step outside of nature. I don’t want fireballs to zoom from my hands, I don’t want to live forever. I absolutely reject the magic of high fantasy. But when everything is humming with life, there is magic. Everything is full of it, me included. I am recognising what is. What if I understand magic as the means to enter into a dialogue with everything else? Much of ‘everything else’ couldn’t care less how I feel, or what I want. I would have to listen and give at least as much as I asked for things. There would be scope to learn, to deepen understanding. I might not change what is happening, but I might instead learn why it is happening and through that be better able to work in harmony with it.

I think about the people who firewalk, able to do it because they trust that the fire will not harm them. That’s a kind of magic. I think about asking the hills if I can share in their slowness and peace for a little while, or sitting with a tree and listening. That’s magic too. It has the power to transform. We can change each other by mutual consent. I can give, or receive. I can ask for help or guidance. I’m not asking some external force to obey my will or forcing anything to give me what I want. I may be asking for a favour, a kindness, conscious that ‘no’ is an answer that I might be going to hear. I might also hear ‘here is the thing I want in return’. I would also need to be open to the idea that other things could come to me for help in just the same way. The creature in the canal calling out for rescue. The land that wants litter removing. The air that wants to be clean. Sometimes I’m going to have to say no, too.

I think I’ve been trending this way for a while, between the prayer work and the contemplation of relationship, but between Red’s words yesterday, and the river this morning something has come into focus in my head. I have changed, consentingly, to a magic that has been worked upon me from outside. Red’s magic did not require me to change, but it gave me the opportunity to do so, and from here on, that’s the magic I am dedicated to working with.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

11 responses to “What is magic?

  • jmalzone

    I like your post and the ideas you share. Prayer is powerful as it sets proper intentions. I was inspired by Cat’s Blog as well it was very good. http://moderndruid.wordpress.com was my post on magic

  • A Need for Magic « The Catbox

    […] really has snagged in people’s heads, hasn’t it… reading Nimue’s lovely words today, I’ve found myself pondering magic yet […]

  • Brigid, Goddess of Flame

    Reblogged this on Searching For Brigid and commented:
    Wonderfully written and full of rational thought, which is often lost on part-time and pseudo- practitioners.

  • corvusrouge

    I have never held with the idea of “willfull” magic as such. My reasoning was, and still is, is that I don’t believe that I am necessarily in the absolute best position to determine if my momentary will is the best course of action at any one time. I have boundaries that I work within whereas experience and evidence suggests that my decision making is adequate but I try to remain as neutral as possible in most things, which I find helps the lines of communication open better. Once the choice is made though, I do tend to stick with it, which probably says something about my character insomuch as I enjoy the constant challenges thrown up by this methodology.

  • Jennifer Tavernier

    Such a clever word, that- and a thousand connotations to be had! It seems to me, that it is simply always there, And though many may have different ways of attempting to call it, simple or complicated. Sometimes, the best is simply being, sheer clear head &knowing you are there, and it is all open before you. Call it life, aliveness, awen, etc.Intention may bring an answering. – but I honestly don’t see it as something that needs to respond to complicated “manipulation”. I think the more simple it is, the closer one is with it.

  • Will

    What you wrote is what I’ve been feeling for a while myself. Magic isn’t about getting what you want, it’s a type of interaction with people and the world around you. How you interact with what is around you is important, be it words, actions, or intentions. It is those interactions where the magic lives.

  • Tony Taylor

    Excellent thoughts and ideas. Rather than basing magick upon intent, because all intent is some shade of grey, we look at it in terms of four types of magick. Considering Crowley’s definition, “Magick is the Art and science of effecting change in conformance with Will,” defining types of magick becomes based upon the type of action used to effect change. We use:
    Mundane Magick – Simple everyday actions that we all do that effect change that are fully understood and explainable.
    Natural Magick – Actions that we don’t understand but do have effect for example stone magick and some herbal. Sometimes things which are natural become understood and become mundane.
    Transformative Magick – Actions that change the spirit and your perception or the spirit and perception of others. (psychology magick or music that changes the mood of the listener) – think of Dagda and his harp.
    Intercessionary Magic – The Gods are involved. Think of Prayer where the Gods do respond and take action.
    Good magickal ritual or practice involves all four types.
    So, if you need a job, update your resume (mundane magick),
    psych yourself up for the interview – you will be the best candidate and you really can do the job (transformative magick),
    bring that rabbit’s foot or lucky stone to the interview (natural magick),
    and ask the Gods and Goddesses for their support in your endeavor (prayer – Intercessionary magick.)

    Tony Taylor, HoK

  • Nimue Brown

    Tony, this is a brilliant line of thought, thank for sharing it. If expanded out and explored in depth, this would be the makings of a really good book.

  • Alex Jones

    The magic that attempts to interfere with the nature of the thing being acted upon is at least bad action, at worst it may be unworkable; every object in the cosmos works according to its own nature, and no external force can interfere without destroying it.

    My research into Ice Age cave art has come up against the issue of magic. Ice Age, and indeed Druidism is shamanism, thus it is a magic that involves spirits and alchemy.

    One observation I make is that the Mother Goddess is the source of all the spirits that emerge as rocks, trees and animals; these spirits hide within themselves gifts, but each comes with a test. The classic image in cave art is the Bison that is killed, and then emerges gifts of food, clothing and tools for the tribe. The act of releasing those gifts from Bison is an act of destruction followed by creation.

    If an individual has a goal, they can journey to find the spirit that will assist to manifest that outcome, or they can seek to attract the spirit to them. There is going to be an element of communication, interplay, a test and creation in each encounter with a spirit. Thus magic must have a spirit involved to work.

  • silverbear

    I recently discussed this in my own blog (something I have been remiss in attending to recently). I like many of the points that you make here and feel as though you have touched on a lot of my own musings regarding the subject. I would classify “White magic” as when a person returns some of their energy to the universe with an intended purpose that is “good” where “black magic” is the same thing with a more selfish intent.

  • owlhealer7and7wolfwarrior

    All magic lovers, please visit my blog! It explains about magic also!

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