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
- The data must be explained to fit within the paradigm
- The paradigm has to be expanded to fit the extra data
- 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:
- Internal: Energy raised from within us through any of a variety of means.
- External: Energy given from entities on non-physical levels of existence.
- 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.