Defining Magic

There are many words in the English language that have multiple meanings depending on who is using them and in what context. One of the most ambivalent of these words is magic.

There are many definitions of the word magic, some of which have to do with tricks and illusions, others that have to do with apparently supernatural forces, and others that involve psychological or emotional experiences. I want to talk a little about all of these, how they are related, and how they are all essentially true.

The magic of magic tricks is basically a choreographed performance that creates the illusion that something unusual or even impossible is happening. What is actually happening is quite logical and well known to the performers. If seen from a different angle or from a wider focal point, the illusion ceases. This is similar to the idea of supernatural magic, because the word supernatural itself means anything that cannot be explained by the laws of nature, or that which is beyond nature, and therefore outside of our focal point.

From a scientific perspective, everything in the known universe is inherently natural and therefore abides by natural laws. We may not know or understand all of these laws, nor every aspect of nature, but just because we don’t understand it does not mean it is beyond nature or unnatural. So if we were to pair the concept of magic with science, then supernatural magic is basically another kind of illusion – not on a stage hidden by a performer, but in the universe hidden by our current limitations within the realm of scientific discovery and understanding. Perhaps what occurs when people witness strange and seemingly supernatural phenomena actually does have a scientific explanation, but we just don’t know what that is yet. Some people argue that in many cases these are illusions created by our own minds.

The human mind is incredibly powerful. Our brains are quite large relative to our body size, and we have evolved both biologically and culturally in very complex ways throughout the lifetime of our species. Many studies have been done on the impacts of thought and emotion on our physical bodies. This idea has also been practiced by spiritualists for millennia in the form of meditation, exercise, and healing. So although we still do not understand everything about the human brain and how it works to impact our thoughts, feelings, and even our bodies, we know that in many ways it can and does. We also know that each person’s perception is individualized based on nature (genetics) and nurture (social and environmental factors).

With this in mind, it is plausible that when a person witnesses or experiences a seemingly supernatural phenomenon, they are really either creating it within their own minds for some psychological benefit, or they are interpreting a more natural phenomenon as magical, again most likely for some psychological benefit. Whether this is a benefit solely for the individual or a capability that has evolved within humans for the survival of the species as a whole is a debate which I won’t get into at this time. What I do want to emphasize is that many people, regardless of their religious backgrounds or philosophical ideologies, have confessed to feelings of delight at the wonder and excitement of “magical” experiences.

This was not always the case, however. Historically, magic has been seen as the cause of havoc within certain societies. In some it is viewed as the work of demons or the Devil itself. In others it is the unnatural work of malevolent sorcerers and witches. Most modern witches profess that magic is really just a greater understanding of nature and using natural energies to attain particular goals. These contrasting ideas lead to a religious, philosophical, and scientific discussion which I don’t have time for here. The point is that magic has been viewed throughout history as all sorts of things – natural and unnatural, beneficial and malicious, a force that occurs on its own and an action that someone can perform, something which exists throughout the entire universe and an illusion which is created within our own minds. With so many contradictory definitions, how do we practically utilize such a word?

I will explore this topic in more detail in future essays, but for now I want to offer a simplified and broad definition which encompasses as much as possible: Magic is the invisible and ineffable source of energy in the universe; the conscious mental, emotional, and spiritual engagement with the flow of various forms of energy; and the process by which a person, creature, or thing can intentionally influence or be influenced by these energies in a physical or psychological manner. The idea of  consciousness and intent is one that I will elaborate on in future essays, and I may modify or add to this definition at some point, but it sets the groundwork for several subjects I want to write about that have to do with magic and magic-doing.


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