I don’t believe in magic. Much less “magick”: you’re about as likely to get yourself a pot of cash by sitting around the house in your underpants watching Trisha as you are by prancing around a green candle under a waxing moon. Rather, hard graft is going to land you the lucre; failing the shock death of a hitherto unknown wealthy relative. Earnestly sending your “healing energy” isn’t going to be a factor in Auntie Maggie’s cancer remission, and raising a cone of power for World Peace at Mabon isn’t going to stop the conflict in Darfur. Ultimately, in my opinion, it’s all an advanced case of self-delusion.
My impatience with (or even intolerance of) neopagan magic is, of course, not simply due to my being a rational human being. It is instead the reaction of a disillusioned convert: like most of us who came to paganism in our teens, I have dabbled extensively in “magick”. I used to own books by Scott Cunningham, Edain McCoy and even Silver RavenWolf; and I performed numerous “spells” in my teenage bedroom. Quietly, of course, so that my parents wouldn’t find out. Once my father walked in on me “charging” a runic talisman that I’d made: I subsequently claimed to have been masturbating, seeing that as the less embarrassing route to take.
However, scoffing at pagans who believe in “magick” (that is, magick tout court, not some quasi-Rosicrucian system of self-actualisation) does at times make me feel like something of a hypocrite. I believe strongly in intercessionary prayer, and the efficacy of sacrifice. The latter in particular is a cornerstone of my personal theology: by right sacrifice one engages in a hospitality relationship with the gods, a gift always demanding a gift in return. However, I reject the notion of theurgy, whereby interactions with the divine (whether this be “Spirit” or actual gods) are reductible to little more than a computer program: I perform X, Y and Z actions and thereby necessarily receive A, B and C in return. I accept that in an exchange of gifts one might not always get exactly what is requested: while I prayed to Ogmios for decent grades in last semester’s classes and promised a sacrifice of mead and honey-cakes in return, I realised that I would actually have to work bloody hard and that the result was not a given. In my experience, the feeling that you have a god on your side is enough to provide that extra psychological push, rather than abrogating responsibility and expecting manna to fall from heaven because I’ve invoked the Tribble Goddess using the correct candles and ritual knives.
Of course, it is undeniable that those who do desperately believe in magick are frequently those who desperately want to feel some kind of power over their lives: particularly teenagers and other associated layabouts who refuse to accept that their crappy lives are ultimately their own fault. It therefore occurs to me that teaching people how to do magick could actually be a very useful kind of psychological therapy: a case of giving a man who believes he is being hunted by a ten-horned monster a big stick, rather than attempting to convince him that said monster doesn’t exist. Setting hexes on those who have wronged you may well be very cathartic for those with anger issues, while the paranoid might find spells for “psychic self-defence” to be of particular use. It would certainly be cheaper for the NHS than providing cognitive-behavioural therapy and its attendant after-care.
1) The two appear to be intimately connected.
2) Feel free to shun me in the street, spit at me and warn your children about “the creepy Wicca Man”. I deserve it.