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What is Magic?

This article was written by Donald Tyson on May 10, 2002
posted under Magic

Magic is an art. In common with other arts, it draws its power from a deep well in the center of the human soul. Within this well are the waters of the unconscious, and below the surface dwell all possibilities and potentials, awaiting their turn to be pulled up into the light and made real. So long as they remain under the surface, they do not exist, but the moment they are captured and brought forth they come to be.

This act of pulling a possibility from the well of potential into being is an act of creation. Every creative act is magical. And every magical act is creative. The difference between magic and painting is that the painter creates the canvas, while the canvas of the Magus is the world.

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. This includes each human soul. This passage between manifest and Unmanifest, which I call the Veil of Unknowing, is completed by ideal forms, not material substances. The soul comes into being and passes away—the body is built from clay, and to clay it returns.

It follows that every magical act is a communion with God, however the deity may be conceived or defined by the individual. In fact it is not necessary to talk about God in connection with magic, which is a technique for causing real change in the world that has little to do with common religious sensibility. But it must be stated that magic taps this ultimate source of creation and power. Magic has been trivialized precisely because this fundamental connection has not been grasped.

Many common events that are not considered to be occult are magical. All artistic creation, for example, draws upon the hidden well of potential. Even more everyday occurrences, such as the sudden unexpected awareness of the beauty of a sunrise, or a completely unpremeditated, generous, and loving action, or the sense of absolute inner peace and rightness, are magical happenings in the true sense.

Once the nature of magic is understood, several important insights follow. Since magic reaches beyond the limits of the natural world, it transcends cause and effect. For this reason, magic cannot be predicted with certainty. The same magical ritual does not always produce the same result, or a result at the same time and place. The uncertainty of magic makes it impossible to verify by the scientific method. Attempts to pin down magic with experiments and machines are doomed from the start. What can be predicted is not magic—what is magic cannot be predicted.

Magic in action looks like luck. Those who practice ritual know that it works, but cannot always say where or in what manner the working will take effect. This is very frustrating to scientists, who are inclined to dismiss the entire subject. The psychiatrist Carl Jung came close to understanding the mechanism of magic with his examination of the phenomenon of synchronicity—the seemingly chance co-occurrence of significantly related events. Such fortuitous coincidences, for better or for worse, indicate the working of magic, which is usually unconscious on the part of the worker.

Magic, like water, always seeks the easiest course to the sea. It is seldom spectacular because it seldom needs to be. Once a desire has been formulated, and a ritual conducted to bring it about, magic acts in the simplest and most mundane way to allow the fulfillment of that desire. The Magus must then follow up the possibility for fulfillment that magic has opened, or it will be lost. If you desire to eat an apple, magic can put the apple into your hand, but you have to bite it yourself. If there is an obstacle in your way, one that you cannot physically surmount, magic will make it possible for you to bypass that barrier in some manner or other, even if the obstacle seems impassable. If spectacular results are absolutely necessary, magic is spectacular.

Another interesting aspect of magic is that it is unbounded by time. A magical effect can actually take place before you work the ritual; nonetheless the working of the ritual is a necessary part of the fulfillment of the ritual desire. The late Aleister Crowley noticed this curious effect, and commented upon it:

"I have noticed that the effect of a Magical Work has followed it so closely that it must have been started before the time of the Work. E. g., I work tonight to make X in Paris write to me. I get the letter the next morning, so that it must have been written before the Work. Does this deny the Work caused the effect?"

—Magick in Theory and Practice
Chapter IX, Dover, New York, 1976, pp. 74-5.

It may sound fantastic to those who have not personally experienced the effects of magic, but after occult meditations, I occasionally have found myself thinking forward in time. An idea will come into my mind, often a new and subtle philosophical concept, and I will have no notion what can have sparked it; then a few days later I will be reading, and there is the idea, which I had several days before plucked out of the future of my mindstream. This serves to emphasize the unpredictability of magic while underlining its astounding potential.

It is not necessary to know how magic works in order to work magic. In diverse cultures around the world, magic is practiced by simple people who are not philosophical in the least. They use magic to help them overcome the practical everyday problems that arise in their lives, or to help others around them solve similar problems. Magic is an art that can be employed for both exalted and crass purposes. To use magic to charm away warts, for example, is like playing "Chopsticks" on a Steinway concert grand piano. But the warts will vanish. The work that is done within any art depends on the ability and intention of the artist.

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