What is Magic(k)?


1280px-Great_Sphinx_of_Giza_0912I’ve been involved in magic(k) since the age of 12. That was the first year I had a run of nights where I only had to sleep 2-4 hours, so there was all this alone-time when I could read and investigate with no interruptions.

This may be impossible to comprehend now, but we’re talking 1972 – no cell phones, no email, no personal computers – NO INTERNET (gasp). So the middle of the night in northeastern Vermont was very quiet, very dark, very alone – perfect for reading and learning.

So in that solitude I ran out of interesting books about science and dinosaurs. The next day I went to the library (yep, actual books!) and stumbled on the section about magic and the occult. Seemed like a second home. So I took out my usual four books and hoped I wouldn’t fall asleep at 10PM.

Needless to say the books were captivating. They weren’t great books in the grand scheme, but good enough for a 12 year old to get his feet wet and his imagination soaring.

Since then I’ve probably read over 500 books specifically on magic and occult topics, with and without an ending K. That seems like a huge number – did they help?

Yes and no.  Most of the ones specifically about “magic” were more like technical manuals.  This is how you do this.  Things work this way, so you work with them that way.  Very few addressed the big question of What Is Magic? And those that did defined it in ways that put up a divide between a “magickal world” and the “normal human world”.  Kinda like the Muggles in Harry Potter.

So there are several definitions of magic out there. And some dubious ones addressing “occult”. Even the scientists got in a definition.  It’s not really a definition of magic at all, rather it’s a comparison.  But it gives us a good insight if we don’t quite take it at face value.  Here it is:

Any sufficienty developed technology will appear to be magic.
– Arthur C Clarke

To me that says more about the level of development of the people looking at the technology than it says about what magic is.  This definition is all about appearances rather than substance.

The usual, street-person definition of magic is “getting something for nothing or without effort.”

And, that magic is somehow “bad”.

I think this definition is a relic of an outdated judgment system.

After 40 years experience with various and sundry “magickal” systems and people (yes, with and without the K), I’m here to tell you that doing any magic takes effort. Serious effort. There is no such thing as something for nothing – the old judgment got that right.

What they got wrong was lumping magic into the “bad” category. After all, if technology looks like magick, we can use the words somewhat interchangeably.

And technology sure doesn’t happen without effort. Just ask any electronic engineer who worked on the Apple watch day and night for 6 months straight. There was a lot of effort – you just don’t see it when you look at an iWatch in the store.

What magic is all about is LEVERAGE. Every system of magic I’ve seen is about applying force and effort in specific ways to get a bigger result than the force or effort you put in.

That’s the textbook definition of leverage.  Force multiplied to produce a larger result.

Magick is not something for nothing.  It’s learning to apply leverage in the right place at the right time in the right direction, so you get the most. In other words, it’s being smart so you get the biggest bang for your buck.

We all do this every day in a million ways in our own lives. Think of the mother who asks her 5 year old daughter to watch her 3 year brother old while she puts another load in the laundry machine. For the effort of asking, her 5 year old will (hopefully) watch her brother. Mom got more out than she put in – magic!

Or, you go to school for 4 years to qualify for a well-paying career that will last for 25 or 30 years, and (hopefully) get paid more than if you didn’t go to school. Again, magic.

Generally when we think magick we think of black-robed characters dancing around, chanting in strange languages, drawing weird symbols, conjuring demons (well hopefully not that).

Really, most “magicians” spend most of their time hitting the books studying.  Yep. Putting in effort. Learning different languages and systems of related symbols takes a lot of time and effort.

In my experience, it’s more like grad school than brewing a stew in a large iron cauldron.  Which by the way doesn’t happen very often at all, Shakespeare just used that image to get theatre-goers into the story.

The part where magickal folk “do magic” is usually fairly brief, maybe a few times per week.  Far more time is spent figuring things out, drawing diagrams to make sure they understand what goes where and who relates to who, learning and memorizing sequences of foreign words just like actors learning a new play.  All this so when they’re trying to lever their own energy to produce something useful, they don’t bung it all up by having the wrong hair color for Archangel Michael.  (Which really can stop things up faster than a pan of lard down the kitchen sink.)

Why put in all this effort?  What are most magicians trying to improve?

The vast majority of magickal folk I’ve met are working toward one of two things:

  1. Make themselves better people.
  2. Improve mankind.

I see nothing wrong with either of these.  I also know lots of non-magickal people who are working toward these same goals.  Just through more conventional means. Nothing wrong with that either.  Just a conventional, socially-normal approach with the same goal.

I think it’s time we de-mystify what magic really is, so we can all use it better.  I propose this definition:

Magic (n): (a) Magic is leverage.  (b) Magic is learning new technologies.  (c) Magic is finding out how things work and putting such knowledge to use.

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