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As Scott Cunningham says many times in his books, magic is real. We might not be able to explain it, but it's real.
A lot of modern magical theory is premised on the idea of sending your intention to the universe, and if you direct your intentions properly, the universe will respond by manifesting them. I don't subscribe to this particular theory. I think it's incredibly arrogant to believe that humans have the innate willpower to control the universe. We are not gods, as much as we might believe we are, and I've concluded the belief that we can be gods is a very dangerous one. It leads to a lot of really destructive and dangerous behavior, when one thinks one can control nature itself.
If what you desire is righteous and true, it will happen. It might not happen when, where, or how you anticipated (or hoped), but in the end, you don't control the universe, you only control your own feelings and perception of immutable reality. When what you want is actually good and true, it's much more likely to happen - not because you want it, but because it's the direction the universe was already headed.
Good magic is about aligning your own desires to the rest of the universe, which in turn makes you more perceptive of the world around you. Like answered prayer, magic is about you consciously thinking about something that concerns you, and seeking solutions here in reality.
Bad magic exists, but most modern Wiccans and the like aren't really a threat. I do believe in the existence of malevolent spirits or entities - after all, who's to say there aren't ghosts of psychopaths and sociopaths hanging around, waiting to latch on to someone interested in dark magic? That being said, if significant numbers of Wiccans were interacting with such entities, the world would be far worse than it actually is. Generally speaking, malicious magic is no more a threat than screaming into the void when you're angry about something. The real danger in such magic is that it feeds your desire for revenge.
All humans have this desire. It's stronger in some than in others, and while it's a natural response when you're victimized by some injustice or material harm, it's unhealthy to feed it. Dark magic feeds the vengeful part of your human soul, and once you get into the business of revenge, it turns sick and twisted shockingly quickly. It's like opiates - don't even try it. Learn to cope and move on when life throws you curveballs, and wait for the universe to mete its punishments to those who truly deserve it.
From my perspective, magic serves a few important purposes:
- Ritual causes the mind to slow down and focus, which helps alleviate anxiety and stress. The ritual of a magic spell is a psychological tool for sharpening emotional control.
- Working with natural materials, and working in nature itself, is a wonderful reminder of the power and beauty of our world. Much like Christians view the world as their god's creation, natural magic is a helpful avenue for connecting with the world around you, outside of technology and modern, industrialized life.
- Focusing your intent manifests unconscious and subconscious changes in the psyche. I believe that a signficant component of magic is in the mind and how you perceive the world around you. When you're hopeful and believe in your own ability to confront what lies ahead, life's curveballs are much easier to handle. The directed intent behind many magical rituals and spells cultivates such a mentality.
The world around us is a representation of the power that created it. It goes without saying the universe and all it contains have been created by great intelligence and power. Chaos does not beget order. Rather, order is the intentional, deliberate creation from chaos. Everything we can see and touch in nature is part of this. That doesn't mean you can become a powerful god through harnessing nature. It means that nature has its own power, and that power should be respected by those who recognize it.
Natural disasters are far more powerful than anything man has created or committed. Nature winds its own path through time, and humans are merely along for the ride. In this view, magic is a practice that allows us to more easily flow with nature's plans. By finding magical energy in nature, we learn to see nature for what it is and to use it in a way that is responsible and thankful. Natural magic is a life practice that cultivates the kind of personal behaviors and characteristics that make our society better, stronger, and more cohesive.
One of my core life principles is this:
If what you wish for is righteous and true, it will happen. It may not happen as you wished, and it may not happen in your lifetime, but it will happen. Truth prevails in the end. Seek truth, and you will find yourself much more satisfied with your life outcomes.
The forces of the universe - including magic - follow this principle. Resist this law, and you may find short-term success and happiness, but in the longer term, you will find only misery and despair. Magic responds to humility, not arrogance. If you believe the universe should, can, and will bend to your desires, you're not going to find what you're looking for on this site. My philosophy of magic is about going with the flow of the universe, not trying to divert and direct it.
Working With Magic
Most crucially, magic is not a tool to be used to control others. It is not to be used to “bind” others or to prevent others from doing something. Irrespective of how honorable you feel your intentions are, an intent to control another is never righteous or pure. Your magic should come from a place of humility and a desire to better yourself, not to change others to suit you. Magic that comes from your selfish humanity (we are all selfish, and that's okay) is ineffective at best and maliciously dangerous at worst. Like divination, magic that seeks to control is best left alone. When it doesn't work, it's a distraction, and when it does work, its promises of power are unavoidably addicitng for even the most pure of heart.
This may seem like an overly passive, pacifist view of magic, but I view magic as seriously as anything else that can hurt someone. Guns are tools, but in the wrong hands can become tools of mayhem and death. Magic is no different. If you are to use magic, you have an obligation to yourself, your loved ones, and your people (that is, your nation) to use magic responsibly and appropriately.
Use magic to better yourself and to help you understand how to control yourself and your own reactions to the world around you, and magic will serve you very well. The energy of the universe has its own mind and will - never forget this.
I'm not a practicing Wiccan myself. There are elements of Wiccan doctrine that do not align with my philosophical views, at least as far as Wicca is a defined religious orthodoxy created primarly by Gerald A. Gardner. Gardnerian Wicca is essentially a contrived set of beliefs informed by Jewish Kabbalah, some Christian mysticism, and a healthy dose of creativity. My own research has led me down the path of natural, green witchcraft, rather than any organized doctrine from a central body.
Not only that, but the core tenets of Wicca and the specific ritualization (the use of specialized equipment, and the idea that the ritual has to be done just so for the spell to work) are very Kabbalistic in origin. While rituals can be an excellent tool for clearing your mind, focusing, relaxing, etc., I think the credibility of the ritual as the source of the effect is thin at best. It's easy to become too focused on “doing it right”, rather than focused on the why of what you're doing.
I don't begrudge anyone who has found a measure of happiness in organized Wicca. I do, however, caution you to be mindful of the deeper teachings of any organized doctrine - including Wicca - as it is in the root teachings one can find the motivation for humans organizing a religious body in the first place. Wicca brings with it a thread of philosophical belief that teaches humans can tap into great power and use it to our own advantage.
I do not believe in this principle. It is a false one - and a very dangerous one. The section on Magic goes into more depth on this subject.
To me, Wicca is a distraction. It misdirects an earnest desire to learn about one's own ancestral folk beliefs into a belief system that is contrived, and therefore false. Although most modern self-identified Wiccans aren't part of any organized coven or hierarchy, the undercurrent in a lot of modern writings about witchcraft favor Wiccan magical theory.
My other beef with Wicca is in its view of humans and our relationship with divinity (whatever you want to call the intelligent force behind the creation of the universe). In Wicca, the human body contains an immortal soul that is reincarnated repeatedly, much like Hinduism, in an effort to become one with divinity. This is philosophically similar to Christianity's belief that the human body contains an immortal soul, which is meant to be reunited with divinity.
Both of these beliefs are based on the pursuit of perfection. This sounds like a worthy pursuit, but it's an impossible one, which means it's just an esoteric distraction from the troubles of reality and our human existence.
Cunningham's writings on the magical uses of natural materials are invaluable. He did extensive research, combined with his own practical knowledge and exploration, which for me lends credibility to his encyclopedias. For Magic itself, I prefer to take a more nuanced approach that acknowledges and embraces the inherent limitations of being human.
One other note: Wicca establishes its own holiday calendar, based on what we know about ancient European seasonal festivals and celebrations. The names of these holidays are invented, although they sound very Celtic (and therefore credible). The western holiday calendar is as Euro-folkish as it is Christian, and I think it's just a lot easier to integrate our existing holiday calendar into a folkish spiritual worldview.
Christmas was the Catholicization of Yule, Easter a reworking of the vernal (spring) equinox. Rather than try to move family traditions to new days with new names, incorporate new meaning into old holidays. This way, you can observe your own annual holidays without imposing or causing problems (which is useful if, for instance, you have religious family members who might not be very happy about your beliefs).