This is the third part of an introduction to basic Neo-Paganism and Wicca. Previously discussed was an overview of what constitutes a Neo-Pagan faith path, the incredible variation of these religions, and a discussion of Wiccan and Neo-Pagan beliefs/ethics.
In this section, the focus is on Wicca, specifically what constitutes magic and/or magick, and how it’s most frequently used.
First, let me restate that Paganism refers to an old and ancient number of religions predating Christianity by thousands of years, which have not survived in their original forms. Neo-paganism refers to a group of modern revivalist religions and religious practices based on those ancient faiths that include Wicca, Druidism, Santeria, Voudun, Christo-Paganism, Dianic Wicca, and many others. In fact, there are so many new faith paths that have sprouted from Wicca’s branch of Neo-Paganism that they are sometimes referred to as Neo-Wicca! (I myself am an Eclectic Wiccan, meaning that I am a Solitary Practitioner who has adapted a variety of Neo-Pagan beliefs – Celtic, Druidism, and Native American primarily – into the basic Wiccan religious model.)
In general, I’m using the term magic throughout to refer to non-religious acts, like slight of hand or other stage productions. I am reminded of the classic Bullwinkle and Rocky cartoons of my youth. Bullwinkle J. Moose, dressed in various magician garbs, says, “Nutin’ up my sleeve,” “Next, I’ll pull a rabbit out of my hat – presto!” but instead, he pulls out a lion (see illustration above) who tries to eat him. “No doubt about it, I’ve got to get a new hat,” he tells his buddy Rocky. My favorite is Bullwinkle dressed as a mentalist proclaiming: “Eeenie-meanie, chili-beanie, the spirits are about to speak!” But, in this kind of magic, sadly they never do.
Magick, on the other hand, is the real thing – and it definitely works. Practitioners perform rituals or spells to move or increase energy in religious or non-religious contexts for a specific purpose.
Technically, anyone who practices natural, earth or folk magick performs witchcraft and can be a witch, but not all witches are Wiccans, and not all Wiccans practice magick. Confused?
While Wicca is a religion, the practice of witchcraft and magick does not have to occur in a religious setting. Anyone can learn to practice magick, atheists included. Using the natural energies within, along with the energies of herbs, stones or other elements naturally found on the planet to make changes is considered magick. Many Wiccans divide their practice of magick into rituals and spells. Most Wiccans incorporate magick into their religious practice, but some choose to omit it entirely and remain Wiccans.
Just because magick isn’t fully understood doesn’t mean that it doesn’t operate according to existing universal laws. Correctly performed magick does indeed work, much the way a properly performed science experiment does. Thus, magick is not a matter of belief.
According to the famous occultist and Ceremonial Magician Aleister Crowley, magick is, "the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will."
In fact, Crowley added, "Every intentional act is a Magickal Act."
Following that reasoning, “Magick is the science and art of causing change (in consciousness) to occur in conformity with will, using means not currently understood by traditional Western science,” writes Donald Michael Kraig in Modern Magick (Llewellyn Publications.)
Thus: Magick is an act of will to bring about a desired result/change utilizing energies and the practitioner’s own abilities.
These definitions pretty well sum up the view of Ceremonial Magicians – but not the view of most Wiccans. Because Wicca is a religion, Wiccan practitioners of magick add a moral basis to that equation.
For most Wiccans, the above definition would be slightly altered in phraseology, but substantially altered in content to: Magick is an act of will to bring about needed results to effect positive change utilizing Divine energies and the practitioner’s own abilities.
Another way to express that idea is: "Wiccan Magick is change, directed by the Self, empowered by the Will and decided by Morality."
Wiccan morality is primarily based on the Wiccan Rede, the pertinent part is the last stanza, “Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfil: An It Harme None, Do As Ye Will.”
In other words, utilize free will fully and enjoy and relish life, but stop short if your actions will harm yourself, or any one else. Or according to Mnemosyne's Realm: "Spells are not about turning people into frogs or granting wishes..."
In addition, most Wiccans also adhere to the Law of Threefold Return, or the idea that anything done may be returned to them but three times as strong. It is similar to karma, but here positive actions are magnified back to the performer, as are harmful deeds. The Threefold Law is generally explained as:
“Ever Mind The Rule Of Three,
Three Times Your Acts Return To Thee.
This Lesson Well, Thou Must Learn,
Thou Only Gets What Thee Dost Earn.”
At this point, it seems important to discuss how Wiccan magick differs from practices within other religions. For example, if someone is ill, many faiths petition Deity to help the sufferer. In Wicca, if a friend is ill, the practitioner first asks their permission to perform a healing ritual. Once permission is obtained, the practitioner gathers healing energy from themselves, the earth, along with healing energy from the Divine, and sends it out joyfully to help the sufferer. In other words, it is an active practice, using magick as a tool to help or improve life, while growing ever closer to the God and Goddess.
Devotees of Wiccan magick use spells, rituals and ceremonies to harness the energy and power of the natural world and their own minds. Magick is nothing more or less than that energy, combined with their relationship to the Divine. There are many ways to direct those energies around and within. These “powers” can be learned and used by anyone, whether or not they are Wiccan. Some will find the practice of magick easier or more natural than will others.
With practice and patience it can be used in the same manner by anyone. True followers of the Ancient Path were considered healers, medicine men, seers, and were respected, even revered because they were so in tune with Nature.
It is believed that this natural energy/power has three main sources – personal energy/power, earth energy/power, and Divine energy/power. Thus, all energy/power generally comes from the practitioner, the earth, or the Divine.
Personal Energy/Power: Can be defined by the energy/power that resides within the body of the practitioner. This energy/power comes from many sources, and most don't notice they even possess it. This energy/power is absorbed from the sun, moon, and stars, and from the food and water. (A small amount even comes from the air when it is inhaled, though this is lost during exhale.) This energy/power, whatever its source, is released during movement and exercise. In general, the energy/power naturally absorbed is much greater than the energy/power we naturally expend, and so is available for use in magick.
Earth Energy/Power: Is that energy/power residing within the sacred earth, its energy and natural objects including all animals and creatures, trees, herbs, stones, wind, fire, and water. All these things have their own specific, unique energies that can be accessed during magick. Items may be dipped into water to cleanse them, or herbs can be burned to produce a certain affect, or a simple crystal can be used to effect healing, while an image or symbol of an animal or creature can be added to an altar and meditated upon.
Divine Energy/Power: Energy/power that comes directly from the Divine, is also referred to as religious magick. Though both personal and earth power are comprised of divine power, they are indirect manifestations. But, Divine power is pure energy/power that exists within the Goddess and God. The life force, the ultimate source of all things. Wiccans can invoke the presences of the God or Goddess during any type of rite.
The "casting of a spell," frequently misunderstood as a means of having power over people or nature by the use of supernatural forces, is actually a form of ritual and meditation very similar to prayer in other religions. But in Wicca instead of beseeching the aid or intervention of an external deity, the indwelling Divine energy is drawn outward to manifestation in the world through a harmonious interaction with the Divine presence that most Wiccans know is constantly present.
The steps of basic Wiccan magick are:
01 — Identify a Magickal Need
Wiccans try never to use magick for frivolous reasons, so they really mean it when they say: “Need.” (This is the change portion of the definition of magick.)
02 — Draw/Raise Energy/Power
This is a critical step. Many utilize magick visualization to accomplish this. A common visualization is to see the energy/power in a particular color as it builds. Practitioners reach out to the earth around them, and to the Deities to increase the energy/power they are holding. They may also choose to ask for energy/power from earth’s spirits for help. The idea is to feel all of the energy/power gradually building within, and to hold it there. (It is the self portion of the equation that directs the energy at this stage.)
03 — Directing Energy/Power
Continue holding the gathered energy/power while clearly focusing on the magickal goal in as much detail as possible. This is deceptively difficult. Keep the mind from wandering, and focus on the goal like a laser beam. If this is not done correctly, the energy/power will be diluted, or drained away, and will not accomplish what it is intended to do. (This is where the practitioner’s will comes in to play.)
04 — Releasing the Energy/Power
When the practitioner can no longer gather any more energy/power, they should concentrate on releasing it. They might take a breath or two, then release the energy/power within their body, sending it, directly and completely at their magickal goal. (It is the practitioner’s morality at this stage that ensures the energy has been directed in a positive fashion.)
05 — Grounding
After the energy/power has been directed at the magickal goal, it is important to return any unused energy that might still be within the practitioner’s body to the earth. The easiest way to do this is for the practitioner to stamp their feet several times. As they do this, they should visualize any energy/power still within leaving their body through their feet and returning downward into the earth.
06 — Give Thanks
After the practitioner has grounded any remaining energy/power, they should give thanks to the Deities for their participation and the success of the rite. Also, they should give thanks to any of earth’s spirits that they may have called upon for help.
These six steps may seem easy, or they may even seem very far afield from living up to the promise of “magick.” Like all true and ultimately mysterious religious practices, Wiccan magick has layers of complexity that are never completely understood. To successfully perform magick consistently takes a great deal of practice and skill. Remember, for Wiccans, the Deities involved are actually present with them each step along their magickal way.
It may be obvious at this point why a lot of Wiccans, and non-Wiccans alike, practice sex magick, since the building of sexual energy and its release has similar basic stages as do most magickal rites.
The problem is that it takes extreme control to utilize sexual energy effectively, and is also very, very difficult to direct successfully – but it is also way more than fun to keep trying!
Many early Wiccans, such as Alex Sanders, Sybil Leek and Doreen Valiente (the author of The Charge of the Goddess and former High Priestess of Crowley’s Coven,) referred to their own magick as "white magic," which contrasted with "black magic," that they associated with evil and Satanism.
Donald Michael Kraig, a philosopher and Certified Tarot Grandmaster, states in his book Modern Magick – Eleven Lessons in the High Magickal Arts (Llewellyn 1988), that “black” magick is “the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will, using means not currently understood by traditional Western science, for the purpose of causing either physical or non-physical harm to yourself or others, and is done either consciously or unconsciously.”
Others shortened that definition to be “any type of magick that interferes with the free will of another person.”
Likewise, any spell that directly or indirectly and either intentionally or unintentionally harms another person is also considered to be an “evil” spell. Thus, even protective magick can fall under the realm of “black” magick. The most constructive protective magick does not send negative energy back to the practitioner or responsible party who cast the harmful spell, but either ends it or turns it into a more positive form of energy.
Magick that controls spirits, demons, angels and so forth is also so-called “black” in nature. Again, this type of magick interferes with the free will of another.
Some also used the similar terminology of "left hand path" to describe malevolent magick, and "right hand path" to describe magick performed with good intentions; terminology that originated with the occultist Madame Blavatsky in the 19th Century. Many modern Wiccans have stopped using the white-black magic and left-right hand path dichotomies, arguing that the color black should not necessarily have any associations with evil, nor the color white with good.
In general, Wiccans do not believe in Satan, nor do they believe that a single "evil" entity exists. Most see evil as imbalance, and the result of people making mistakes and choices that lead to their own suffering, and the suffering of others. Wrongdoing occurs when people forget, or sever, their sacred connection and relationship with the earth and the universal Divine Spirit.
When Wiccans adhere to their moral code they choose not to use magick to harm or manipulate others. Those who choose to ignore any moral code and intentionally or unintentionally perform magick for ill, will gain a three-fold payment.
“Magic(k) is dependent on our relationship with the Divine. As much as ceremonialists tell us that magic(k)al power is neither black nor white and can be used for anything, anyone practicing an ecstatic religion like Wicca knows that magic(k) is inherently positive and holy,” writes Dianne Sylvan again in The Circle Within.
What would Wicca be without the possibility of magick? Magick is at the heart of Wicca for most followers, because the essence of this rich Neo-Pagan path is sacred transformation.
Next: Wiccan and Ceremonial Rituals and Spells
— Danu’s Daughter