Let’s look at some of the ones that have shaped my Craft:
“The Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.”-Aleister Crowley
“Magic is the art of changing consciousness at will.” –Dion Fortune
“Magic is, as I understand it, the art of getting results.” –Gerald Gardner
There are many other definitions available, but these have three have both informed by own ideas about magick and the whole Contemporary Pagan movement to the extent that I feel it a disservice not to delve into them.
There are several commonalities to be found in each of these. It would appear that magick is an art, that change happens as a result of it, and that the will is involved somehow. That sounds easy enough. Dion, however, also mentions consciousness.
The consciousness at hand is dually understood. On one hand it is our own manner of thinking, and yet on the other hand it is the Mind of All. One of the core principals in the Art of Magick is that the universe is the manifestation of the mind of the divine; also we are the expression of that mind. So magic is the art of causing change to occur in our mind and as a byproduct the whole of existence as well. On the surface it all sounds very Existentialistic. The Witch functions magickally as the center of the universe, meaning that our perspective is that from which we view the world. This does not mean that existence is dependent upon the Witch to view it. BUT, the Mind that is the universe and our own as the expression of it are not disguisable. I am quite fond of a saying of Lon Milo DuQuette’s, “It’s All in your head… you just have no idea how big your head it.”
I feel at this point as if I have muddied the waters of defining magick… oh well, the water is nice and the swim fun.
Types of Magick
In the adventure of defining magick many have attempted to define it my categorizing it. There are typically two methods of dividing magick up; approach and source. The approach split is just that, the attempt to define magick based upon the approach or use of magick of the individual practitioner. Source on the other hand is based upon the believed source of the magick. Here are a few, but by far not the only ones.
High / Low Magick
High and Low Magick are perhaps one of the oldest splits defined in magickal practice within the Western Mystery Tradition. Subsequently, this rhetoric has found its way into the Craft, as least in some currents.
High Magick is usually used to refer to the ceremonial magick traditions that descend from the aristocrats… and likewise, Low Magick is the folk practices of the common folk. I am sure anyone can see the marginalization that exists in this split. It is further compounded because High Magick is usually considered to be the magick of spiritual advancement and Low Magick is the magick concerning itself with the “profane” desires of body, comfort, wealth, etc.
That is the original thinking behind these categories anyway. I personally don’t care for this division. It smacks of too much of better versus lesser, educated versus ignorant, and holy versus damned. There, however, are times when there is a need to be able to discuss the magickal methods that different people developed, which I feel can better be done by actually using the name of the group or individuals that employ it. Plus if truth be told, all magick is so deeply rooted in spirituality and the mundane that dividing the two is not really possible. There are some today that use the terms out of this context but are instead pointing out the amount of formality involved.
White / Black Magick
The division of White versus Black Magick is one where the moral motive the practitioner is called into question and the result assigned a corresponding color to represent good and evil. Nowadays this is a division that rarely gets lip service in the Craft, but on occasion it does arise. The Craft rejects the paradigm of good versus evil as a model of the universe, though both exist within the universe, we simple don’t see them as a matter of physics but of the human condition instead.
Magick is neutral in morality and whether or not the practitioner is ethical is irrelevant in understanding what it is. The subject of ethics is highly subjective to begin with and to try and pin labels of good or bad upon magick is impossible universally. With that said, it is part of the Craft for the individual Witch to continually shape, understand, and embody their morals in accordance with their ethics, magick aside.
Energy / Entity Magick
As you may have noticed we have moved on from the approach methods and into the arena of source. This split quite frankly is the argument between energy or entity, whether Gods or other, as being the source of how magick works. There are some very talented Witches in both camps.
The Craft affirms that various forms of energy reside in the universe. The energy model is one that seeks to directly tap into and direct these forces. Animistically the Craft also affirms that there is a spirit within everything. The entity based model argues that the methods of magick simply put these spirits to work for the Witch. Everything according to this model is the result of some entity to include any energy. For this reason, so the argument goes, the other camp is really just dealing with spirits.
But wait, there is a third camp. Magick according to some is purely and completely psychological both in effect and source.
Usually though, any given Witch stands in more than one of these groups. It is rare that one view is held exclusively. In fact, there are many that take up all three banners.
To me reading old books on magick is fun, and mulling over their contents a favored past-time. Similarly, I enjoy learning about all the different viewpoints on it. Maybe the different definitions I offered up earlier or the ways in which different people classify it help the curious passerby to better understand magick. Regardless though, magick according to the Craft does have a purpose. Magick is all about applied change management.
There is only one constant in life, and that is change. Change brings many things with it, and it takes just as many with it too. Magick then is the application of managing the change of life; and that is the point.
The magick that one finds in the praxi* of the various Contemporary Pagan Witchcraft currents is more specifically wrapped up with spiritual goals in addition to mundane ones. The Craft teaches that there is not a separation between the sacred and the mundane. All of life is sacred. The Witch chooses to engage with this sacred rhythm of change and to purposely shape their place in the universe. It is the Self for which the Witch applies their magick, and it is the Self that is managed.
It does not matter if it is the lighting of candles, smiling when the breeze brings relief on a warm day, chanting during an archaic evocation rite, praying for a loved one, or some other simple or elaborate act, each and every one of them is the application of magick and the reason for why Witches bother with magick.
“Lost in a thicket bare-foot upon a thorned path.”
*Is the plural of praxis ‘praxi’? Or maybe it’s ‘praxises.’ I dunno… but I like ‘praxi’ so that is what I am going with.