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How Magick Works

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on April 16, 2012 | Comments (58)

One of the most common questions I receive seems to be the most basic: How does magick work? Why is it that when you properly perform a ritual or spell you get the desired results?

The simplest and most honest answer is: I don’t know. It seems weird, then, that we should literally depend upon something when we have no idea of how it works. However, we do this all the time. We depend upon gravity holding us firmly to the Earth without knowing how it works. Oh, we may know that large masses have a quality of attraction, but this really gives us no more information than knowing if we properly perform a ritual we get results. We may somewhat understand how Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity or modern quantum mechanics and superstring theory gives us an understanding of gravity, but these still don’t explain everything.

Many people reading this know how to drive a car. But do you know how things like oxygen sensors, distributors, and power steering actually work? For most people, the answer is “No,” but we still use the car.

The ability to use something even if you don’t know how it works is often called “black boxing.” You put something into a metaphorical black box and from that box comes the results you want. You push down on the accelerator pedal and the car goes forward even if you don’t know all of the intricacies that go on within the engine and gears. For the most part, a car is just a big black box.

The Black Boxes of Magick

Over the centuries, people have come up with explanations for how the black box of magick works:

Effective Ritual/Spell—>Magickal Black Box—>Desired Result

Probably the earliest explanation of what goes on in that black box is the animist explanation. This paradigm gives life and some degree of consciousness to things most today consider inanimate. The rain and water and fire are, for example, living entities. Appease them and they will give you favors. Anger them and they will respond fiercely.

The next explanation of the workings of the black box is the deific explanation. This paradigm explains the workings of magick by saying there are unimaginably powerful beings—deities—who interfere with human lives on a fairly regular basis. Appease them and they will give you favors. Anger them and they will punish you.

The next explanation of the workings of the black box is the hierarchical explanation. Imagining that the deities have qualities and limitations much like our own, it was difficult to believe that one deity could do so much on its own. Therefore, a hierarchy of beings developed. The deities didn’t do the work for or against you. They had assistants who would do the work. Often, the assistants had numerous assistants themselves who would do the work. This can be seen as having the hierarchy of an army with the commander giving orders to generals, generals giving orders to majors, majors giving orders to captains, captains giving orders to privates, and privates doing the actual work. From a magickal standpoint, this gives you a lot of entities to work with, depending upon how you want to approach the magick.

The next explanation of the workings of the black box is the demonic explanation. As formalized and structured religions developed, it was a natural evolution to remove the magick from the practice and give power to the human leaders. For example, the Roman Catholic belief in transubstantiation (the wine and wafer become the blood and body of Christ) evolved into the Protestant belief in consubstantiation (the transformation of wine and wafer is only metaphorical). So being able to perform magick outside the confines of what is considered acceptable within the structure of a religious paradigm means that something other than the deity/deities of that religion must be responsible. Thus, magick within the religious structure is referred to as a godly miracle while outside of the religious structure magick is associated with the actions of evil demons or devils.

Some practitioners of magick are bored with trying to explain to people following certain religions that no, magick is not evil and not demonic. Wiccans often begin explaining their religion (which includes the belief in and/or practice of magick) by saying that they don’t follow the devil or even believe in the devil. Unfortunately, the people they’re trying to convince of this will most often not believe them (or may simply agree to the Wiccan’s face while later claiming that the Wiccan was just deceiving himself or herself) because they so strongly believe in this demonic explanation of magick.

The next explanation of the workings of the black box is the spiritist explanation. This is the belief that spirits of the deceased somehow gain magickal powers after their physical deaths and can use them to benefit or harm.

Although the next explanation of the workings of the black box in this quasi-timeline order should be the energetic explanation, I’m going to leave that for more in-depth discussion below.

The next explanation of the workings of the black box is the psychological explanation. This paradigm is based on the idea that everything we experience comes through our senses and our senses are interpreted through our minds. Change our thinking and we can literally change our reality. There’s no need to do rituals and spells—we can just think about what we want and create it. In practice, using rituals and spells helps in this mental creation, but theoretically they are unnecessary. All deities, subdeities, and demons are nothing more than manifestations of our inner qualities.

The next explanation of the workings of the black box is the quantum explanation. People look at the world of quanta, which is so tiny it can only rarely be seen through our most powerful microscopes, and relate it to our physical world. In the world of quantum mechanics, phenomena that seem impossible on the physical plane occur normally. So we just shift to the quantum world and that is where the magick in the black box takes place, eventually manifesting back in our physical world. How this shift back and forth is made is usually glossed over or ignored.

The next explanation of the workings of the black box is the postmodern explanation. This explains magick forms of communication. By matching your communication to the communication style of the results you want, you create the results. Well, actually, its more complicated that that. A better introduction can be found in my Modern Magick, and if you want a greater explanation of this approach, see Postmodern Magic by Patrick Dunn.

So which one of these is the correct one? All of them. And none of them. These are all only paradigms: worldviews that are used to explain the theories and methods of a structured endeavor. If the paradigm explains all of the data, it is correct for the person who believes in that particular paradigm. If it doesn’t explain all the data, either

  1. The data must be explained to fit within the paradigm
  2. The paradigm has to be expanded to fit the extra data
  3. The paradigm has to be abandoned and another accepted

The black box of how magick works, in my opinion, may forever remain a black box. How we work with that black box within our paradigm determines the degree of success we have with magick.

The Energetic Theory

The next explanation of the workings of the black box is the energetic explanation. This is the idea that there is a physically unmeasurable energy (the definition of energy is simply “the ability to do work”) which can be empowered with a goal (the desired work) and achieve it. This is similar to the way a radio wave is the energy and the music or words attached to the wave is the “spell” of the radio. Indeed, 150 years ago, turning on a device and hearing music being played in another part of the world would be considered magick of the highest level!

This is the most popular paradigm for understanding magick. There are three types of this magickal energy:

  1. Internal: Energy raised from within us through any of a variety of means.
  2. External: Energy given from entities on non-physical levels of existence.
  3. Natural: The equivalent of internal energy but from physical sources outside of us. This could include the energy of herbs, gems, water, fire, etc.

In the next few posts I’ll be describing how to generate or work with some of these energies.

Where I’ll Be

The next event I’ll be attending is the Florida Pagan Gathering on May 3–6. It will be held at Camp Ocala in Altoona, Florida, part of the Orlando-Kissimmee area.

This is a beautiful site in Florida to celebrate Beltane! Featured speakers include myself, Orion Foxwood, Raven Grimassi and Stephanie Taylor Grimassi. There will be lots of music at FPG including Skinny White Chick (one of my favorites) and several rituals, including a main ritual for “Energizing Our Desires.” There will also be drumming nightly at the fire circle, a healing circle, special events for kids and teens, Celtic games, swimming and canoeing in Lake Sellers, lots of venders of Pagan crafts, and a nightly body painting tent. This is a great family friendly event and you can tent or rent a cabin bunk bed.

I’m going to be giving three workshops. The first two are connected:

Healing with Hypnosis

Part One: The Basics of Hypnosis
In this workshop you’ll learn two basic things: the nature of hypnosis and how to hypnotize. Covered will be the basics of hypnosis history, the myths and truths about hypnosis and how it works. Then you’ll learn a quick method of hypnosis as well as deepeners and fun tests to assure yourself that the person is hypnotized. Also covered is how to deal with common problems. People under 18 may attend with at least one parent. You will have the chance to hypnotize another person and be hypnotized. At the end of this workshop each person will receive a token, allowing him or her to attend part two.

Part Two: Using Hypnosis to Heal
Prerequisite: having a token from instructor. Either earn it by taking part one or talk to instructor before the workshop starts. In this workshop you’ll learn what you can do with hypnosis and what you can’t do. You’ll learn how to give suggestions that will help people permanently change behaviors. Nothing here will replace any licensed medical or therapeutic treatment, but may complement such treatments.

And the third workshop I’ll be giving at FPG is…

Mudra Magick—The Power in Your Hands
The energy flows of the body can be directed through the hands. Each of the fingers is associated with different energies, and the positions of your hands can be used from everything from calming you down and finding spiritual peace to healing your physical ailments. In this workshop you’ll learn several of these mudras or hand positions and how to use them.

If you can make it I really hope to see you there!
Here is a LINK to the FPG website.

Reader Comments

Written By Random
on May 21st, 2012 @ 11:40 pm

Something else occurred to me in the arguments…
Let’s calm down from ‘serious life-threatening disease’,,

Let’s say you have a headache.
The Western Medicine approach to ‘curing’ this symptom is administering a pill, ‘Aspirin’ (which they stole from ancient Herbalists = ‘willow-bark tea’);
90% of the time, the headache goes away;;
The Eastern Medicine approach to ‘calming’ this problem is briefly pinch the thumb-to-index-finger web of the left hand by the thumb and index finger of the right, and vice-versa;
90% of the time, the headache goes away.
This can be tried and repeated innumerable times.
Each solution does a similar thing – – – the aspirin thins the blood, allowing more oxygen to get to the muscles of the head, relaxing them; the thumb-web acupressure point sends more blood to the head, carrying more oxygen to the head’s muscles, relaxing them.
Which solution costs more? Which solution creates and supports more jobs at the expense of the patient?

Written By mist42nz
on May 30th, 2012 @ 2:36 am

It “works” by being correlative. Action A happens (ie a ritual is done) and we notice that Result B occurs (a predicted result appears to have occured). There -is- NO inbetween created cause.

If there was an inbetween “it connects this to that”, then it would be a cause, ie a causal relationship. And we call the line of causal observations, “science” (even when only predictive or wrong).

You can’t prove the magical cause – if you can its not magic. Nothing stops you making up whatever you want, and testing it – in fact we encourage it highly (and often find it effective – until you start trapping yourself inside your own magical “reasoning”)[step 2 is learning how to get back out ;)]

Written By mist
on June 1st, 2012 @ 1:52 am

“This is what I’m talking about: in order to follow this advice, someone would first have to be able to tell that a ritual actually did “work” and cause the result (and that it wasn’t just a coincidence that their minds interpreted as a “hit”).”

This is where you’re making your error.
This is -your- belief structure, but it is not correct for magical work.
“first have to be able to tell that a ritual actually did “work””

Magic _does_not_have_a_causal_link_.

Understanding this is imperative to the topic at hand.
To give a parallel – we are discussing science to magic. The parallel belief structure, in religion to science would be a religious person wanting to know what scripture supported the scientists measurements.

Written By catrenn
on July 20th, 2012 @ 5:53 pm

Can I just make a point here? Arthur C. Clarke said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Meaning, people have called magic, Magic, because they don’t know how it works. And I know of a number of magicians for whom knowing how it works would prevent their being able to do it. Having been through that caterpillar’s dilemma and out the other side, I now know both THAT it works and HOW it works from personal experience, and I have enough background in science as well that I could probably design studies in which it could be proven.

The main reason science does not know how it works is that they begin with the assumption that it doesn’t, and they refuse to look. The studies which could prove OR disprove it have yet to be done. The scientific community felt the same way about herbalism until enough studies were done to prove that old wives mostly really did know what they were talking about.

When you are talking about a science in which the human mind is the operating mechanism, and belief is one of the keys of its operation, there are a lot more variables involved than simple Newtonian mechanics. Gravity was “provable” because on Earth, every time you drop something, no matter who you are or how you do it, it goes down. Doesn’t work in space, but that doesn’t disprove the law. It just shows that there are places beyond its reach.

Put another way, if I push the button on the microwave and nothing happens (and it occasionally doesn’t), I don’t claim it invalidates the entire scientific method. Similarly, when I push the button on the microwave and it does what I expect it to, maybe that’s just confirmation bias.

Written By deb
on October 8th, 2014 @ 9:35 am

I know I’m late responding to this… Lol
LOS, (if your still around, here in the future) the proof that magick works can be seen clearly by the fact that a person/people continue to practice it.
If it were not working, wouldn’t the people who practice it simply discontinue its use for the purpose of achieving their goals?
Do you assume that those who have been practicing their whole lives merely continue to practice even though it accomplishes nothing?
People usually do something else to achieve their goals if the thing their doing just isn’t working…
Doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results is said to be insane…
Are you suggesting that these thinking people cannot tell the difference between what is working and what is not?
Are they all crazy?
Idk… The proof is in the pudding…
Try some magick, see how it tastes to you, and go from there…
Some ppl don’t like pudding, so it can never accomplish for them what it will for those who do…
Just saying 🙂

Written By Brigitte
on July 7th, 2016 @ 10:33 pm

Believing Is Seeing

Written By wei wei
on December 3rd, 2016 @ 5:02 pm

Do you guys have a video for your magic rituals or magic so i can see?
Thanks 🙂


  1. More Dish on the Disbelievers  on May 29th, 2012 @ 10:03 am

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