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What I Am Not: A Magical Practitioner

April 26, 2010

[If you need context, please see the intro post to this series.]

Unlike many folks in the greater NeoPagan community, I have never seriously pursued the study of magic.

What I mean by “magic” is essentially spellwork: collecting components and using them in a ritual designed to advance a particular personal goal using the focused intention and energy of the spellcaster.

I went through a phase of studying basic spell components for a year or two after I shifted from being solitary to working with others.  I researched the properties of crystals, aromatherapy oils and herbs because I had the impression that this knowledge formed the core of a basic vocabulary with which to speak to other Pagans. It was more from a sense of due diligence and an attempt at subcultural ‘literacy’ than out of inclination.

I did actually use some of this knowledge in a spell – once. I wanted something very particular very urgently. I decided to try a spell in addition to doing everything possible in the mundane world, praying, and making offerings. It didn’t backfire per se, it just emphatically failed. The telling signal was that I turned out to be allergic to the special incense I looked in three states to find, and quickly had to stop, mop my eyes and air out the apartment. Following the spell session cut short, I was politely asked to not muck about with such indirect and manipulative methods again, and told that things would go much better in future if I’d ask for help finding the best solution rather than seeking divine aid manifesting what my particular choice was.

(Note: I am NOT saying, and I do not believe They were saying, that magic is inherently indirect and manipulative – simply that it was a means of communication that quite displeased the entities in question coming from me in particular.)

Some people would consider discussing the matter with spiritual allies and negotiating offerings in exchange for their assistance to be magic as well, because it employs non-mundane or non-corporeal influence towards a goal. That’s a fair argument, and under that definition I would actually be considered a magician.

My view of the matter is that such action is a matter of being in relationship with others, with others simply being more broadly defined than is common. Is offering to do the laundry if my husband cleans up the kitchen “magic”? If not, how does that substantially differ from offering to write a poem on a topic of Bragi’s choosing if He helps me get good tickets to a concert?

I guess the reason I choose to consider the two non-mundane ways to influence reality as magic and non-magic is that I get the impression that a fair number of folks in NeoPaganism also draw a distinction, and make the opposite choice. They pursue the spellwork without calling on spiritual beings, or if they do, not working on the relationships outside of their specifically magical activities. Maybe they call on powers they don’t consider to be fully separate and autonomous beings, such as archetypes or principles.

Sometimes, looking from the outside, it seems that this approach is the “mainstream”, the default position, and that the path of devotion and mystic relationship, if included, is subordinate to the spellwork.  Pursuing it as one’s primary focus and excluding spellwork entirely probably seems to some people to be rather missing the point.

(Note: this isn’t so much the case in reconstructionist paths.)

If there’s a Venn diagram with folks who are Pagan and only do magic on one side, and folks in the middle who are Pagan, magic users and devotees, that tells me there’s another section with folks who are Pagans who are only devotional and relationship-based. We’re all just as legitimately Pagan – simply different.

The division isn’t my invention, and it suits me just fine to take things I don’t do off of the list of defining characteristics of my personal spiritual path. So, for a variety of reasons listed above, I do not include myself among the ranks of Pagan magicians.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. smolderingwick1220 permalink
    April 28, 2010 12:28 PM

    Hey! Just found your blog. I used to be involved in paganism and did try magic on occasion. It worked out quite well for me in the sense that I got the results I asked for but I did not get what I really wanted. After a few tries at that I began to emphasize relational aspects. Now I cannot even imagine going back to that. I found the relational path so much better suited to my understanding of reality and the more I learn the more satisfied I am.

  2. April 28, 2010 3:59 PM

    Hello – thanks for reading and commenting!

    In reading what you said I’m thinking more now about what would inspire preference for the magical over the relational approach, what would make sense for starting points on that journey. . . (I so often hear it the other way around, but that may not be the majority experience).

    If I may ask, what prompted you to shift to the relational aspects instead?

    • smolderingwick1220 permalink
      April 29, 2010 6:48 AM

      As you can probably imagine that’s kind of a complex question. I’d be happy to go into that in a slightly more private medium. My email address is:

      Send me an email and I’ll try and fill you in on all the gory details!

      • May 4, 2010 10:15 AM

        Well, sometimes the story’s simple, as illustrated in my post. ;) I suspect that it’s rarely so clear for most people, though.

        E-mail sent.

      • May 4, 2010 10:32 AM

        The e-mail bounced, Hotmail reported mailbox as unavailable. :(


  1. What I’m Not: Vox Ecclesiae « Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous

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