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Paths, processes and systems - part 3: sources

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Aug. 3rd, 2010 | 08:40 pm

Part three of the emails I sent to M - about sources of magic. It's an attempt to summarise, as before it's not intended to be a perfect laying out of the options but as best as I can come up with given my own understandings. Feel free to add any comments or opinions or discussion, all welcome.

I thought about it last night, and I think I know what the third email should be about.

Where does magic come from / what is it?

Seems like a basic question, but when you live and breathe it you forget that it needs to be asked sometimes.

There's several different takes on it, which I'll attempt to briefly summarise.


Note that science doesn't actually have a mechanism whereby magic *can* exist - there's no known particle that can transfer it and the concept of "ether" went out the window a long time ago! So the more scientific magical practitioners tend to have a fluffy wall up inside their head that might say something like "I have evidence that this works, so I'll ignore the question of how in case it stops me believing that it's working". Or maybe "Science doesn't know everything yet so that's OK, this is another one of the unknowns". I have trouble with the last one sometimes because people then conflate magic with quantum mechanics. And as a physicist I feel that just because you don't understand quantum mechanics doesn't mean it isn't fairly well studied and observable, dammit. Me, I think of magic a bit like field theory, and skim over the fact that I don't have any good explanation for any of it while happily dissing any explanation of how it works that I consider scientifically stupid. (Yes, astronomy has proven that Jupiter has a measurable effect on the human body even though it's so far away. It's called gravity. That doesn't mean that astrology is proven true: the "measurable effect" is about the same gravitational pull as a fat person on a mobility scooter sitting next to you in a lift, and I'll bet you didn't map *those* into your birth chart. So nyeh nyeh.)

OK, takes on what it is and where it comes from. There's really three main ones, and most magical systems accept two or three of them.

1. Divine Power

Magic comes from God or Gods or Goddesses, or in some cases demi-gods, saints, angels and other lower-level divinities. It is channelled through you to affect what you aim it at. Limits include how much power you can physically allow through yourself ("the size of the pipe") and limitations on what that particular god/goddess permits. Those limitations help define differences between "good" and "evil" or "black" and "white" magic etc. Often the difference is whether or not the practitioner accepts the limitations on what and how much they can do.

Some examples. The Christian God encourages a priest to use God's power to bless a congregation or to imbue the sacramental wine with the nature of the blood of Christ but most modern Christian forms would look askance at attempting to raise the dead and some won't allow women to channel even the permitted uses. It was a big day in W.A. Anglicanism when the female bishop out at the Goldfields finally got permission to bless the sacrament herself and stopped having to do a regular 500km drive to get a male bishop to do it for her. I also had a lady minister of another church tell me that her husband (also a minister) had offered to go to the bakery where they made the sacraments and bless the packets as they came off the assembly line so then no-one would have to worry about her giving the blessings, but he was turned down as it was considered "cheeky".

Wicca also uses this concept of Divine Power, as does Druidry. Within the pantheistic set there's a broader range of options available for what you can do, but you would pick the god/dess/divinity that seemed most aligned with your purpose out of the set you preferred to work with. So someone with a preference for Egyptian symbolism would ask Isis to bless her children rather than Set, a Celtic practitioner would ask Epona to help her learn to ride and not Brigid. The pantheistic groupings tend to cover a fairly wide range of purposes within each group. Some people see them as simply metaphors for a single divine power that comes from one source and that we then channel in different "flavours" depending on purpose/desire, others see them as actual gods or entities and treat with them individually.

Some lower-level divinities you'll encounter people working with: the archangels (eg Gabriel and Raphael), the saints (McKillop is notable for her current progress towards canonisation and beatification, and don't forget your St Christopher medallion when you get on the plane), folkloric semi-divine figures such as Puck, Dionysius or Pan.

Magical practitioners with this basic belief about magic tend to style themselves as priests or priestesses or similar wording, reflecting faith in divinity. The smarter ones are also conscious of their own physical and mental health and maintain them as best they can, because that affects your "pipe".


2. Within yourself

This is simpler than it sounds. You generate the magic, you direct it. The main limit is how much you can generate and how fast. Many magic systems include this concept, because it seems to work. We are as much magical creatures as any other living creature on this planet (apart from having shut our minds away from it all, but that's my personal rant). However people who rely on it quickly discover that their own internal resources aren't nearly as deep or large as they would like. Most humans are about the equivalent of a C-cell battery, and you'd need eight of the things to run a heater. When you draw on magic from within yourself you either have to wait for it to replenish naturally (imagine yourself as one of those "shake-to-charge" torches strapped to the arm of a jogger!), or find ways to replenish it quicker. Quicker means you get it from somewhere else: 1) from a divine power, 2) from an artifact or source you've previously charged up yourself or 3) from other life and substance around you (see the pattern? :-). There are "good" ways to do this, as in what's acceptable in your beliefs and system, and ways that are more problematic. In less "good" systems you will at this point discover the concept of sacrifice, which is a negative ("black") use of 3. Unless it's a type-2 sacrifice, which is where you draw power from sacrificing something of yourself, usually a cherished and deep-rooted but outgrown belief (eg "I am not a child who needs to be protected anymore") and that's widely considered acceptable and often encouraged.


3. Within all life and all things

It's in the rocks, in a scrap of rust on the railing, the tip of a leaf and the raindrop that just bounced off it. Welcome to Jedi-land.

Seriously, the Force is the best example of this one, though clairvoyance or any of the animistic religions would be a fair example too. Everything has a magical/spiritual essence that can be tapped into and that is all connected. This allows you (for example) to know things that are going on in far places, to do "sympathetic" magic, to call on well spirits and lake spirits and other spirits of place, to heal torn and damaged soil (or ask it to heal itself). It lets you replenish your own energy/magic by drawing on tiny bits of everything around you, or provides a deeper source for you to channel into your working. It's why hunter-gatherers thank the plants and animals that they take for food, to acknowledge that their life and magic is being gifted onwards and not just stolen.

The dark side of this concept is sacrifice as I mentioned above - the "black magic" where you hear of people killing chickens or beautiful young maidens is an attempt to claim their life/magic essence for someone else's working. Which is silly, because it's basically unnecessary as well as lazy and greedy. (Plus it is technically just as possible to gain the magical energy from a beautiful young maiden by having extended passionate sex with her, so killing her is a waste as well as not nearly as much fun. :-) Some belief systems tend to sacrifice more than others, and that's as much a consequence of social and historical circumstances as anything I suspect - if ritually slaughtering a chicken to deflect hunger from your village results in a large pot of chicken soup, well then. Or maybe folk beliefs grew up around blood being most effective for something, and that then limits the way people conceive of possible actions when a new problem arises. Within this no.3 concept you find a lot of the folk magic rather than the ritual magic (which is mostly in no.1), and folk magic has a lot of nonsense built up within the "wisdom of the ages" as well as the truly useful understandings. The human brain is a truly fascinating thing, when it's not being frightening.


OK, so there's the three basic sources. Divinity, yourself, and a universal energy in everything. Each has different techniques. You might want to think about what you're most comfortable considering, and if you already have any beliefs about the world and universe that will affect what you're able to conceive of yourself doing.

Happy reading and thinking!

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Bunny M

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from: bunny_m
date: Aug. 3rd, 2010 03:09 pm (UTC)
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*has happily read and is/will be thinking over this*

Thanks for this series of posts, BTW.

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