Magic & Religion
One thing that attracts many people to Paganism(s) is a curiosity about magic (sometimes spelled magick). Magic is a common practice among many religions that fall under the Pagan umbrella. But you don’t need to be Pagan to practice magic, and not all Pagans practice magic. Many Christians and Jews have practiced forms of magic throughout history and still do today. You also don’t need to practice or believe in a religion to practice magic.
I don’t practice magic (being rather skeptical of it, in fact!) so this post will be briefer than some of the others. Mainly I wanted to clear up the distinctions between magic, religion and Paganism, and discuss different types of magic. If you want to learn more about *what magic is* from someone who practices it, check out Jenett’s page.
Folk Magic– magic as practiced by regular common people, handed down orally, folk magic traditions typically survive most strongly in rural areas that are more isolated from outside influence. Folk magic is often associated with folk religion- beliefs and practices of regular people that are not officially endorsed by religious authorities. Regular household objects and ingredients tend to be used, saints and plant or animal spirits might be asked for aid. Some traditions of folk magic are more open to people from outside the culture, others are much more secretive. Spiritual practices that are often labeled as “shamanic” in nature are often interrelated with folk magic and religion. (See future post on shamanism)
Witchcraft– a wide variety of magical practices, arising from Western cultural contexts. Witchcraft can be religious or non-religious, it includes Wicca but is not limited to it. That is- most Wiccans are Witches, but not all Witches are Wiccan. The word “witch” when translated into most languages generally comes off as very negative even in cultures where the practice of magic is quietly accepted. Just as it does in American and European cultures- typically in spite of public relations efforts! Therefore I would recommend if you speak another language, rather than directly translating witch, look for words that mean something like healer, wise one, herbalist and so forth. Though most self-identified witches are Pagans of some variety, there are also Christian Witches, Jewitches, atheist or agnostic Witches and yes, Satanic or Luciferian Witches. (See future post on syncretism)
Ceremonial magic– this body of magical arts and philosophies that underpin it are part of what is called the Western Mystery Tradition, that draws from many sources including the Hebrew Kabbalah, esoteric and mystical forms of Christianity- such as Gnosticism, medieval & Renaissance lore about angels and demons, Greek and Roman philosophy- especially Neoplatonism, which had a major influence on Kabbalah. Tantra, a branch of Hindu philosophy & practice, and Egyptian religion are also influences. Ceremonial magic is typically practiced by secret societies or lodges, that require initiation. Freemasonry, though less magical in nature, is a related philosophy and order, and Gerald Gardner was a Mason, which accounts for Masonic influence on Wicca. Individuals also can practice ceremonial magic alone. Some examples of groups who practice ceremonial magic include- off-shoots of the Golden Dawn, Ordo Templi Orientalis- the order devoted to Thelema, the magical philosophy developed by Aleister Crowley. Ceremonial magicians may or may not choose to identify as Pagans- it often depends on if they have a desire for community outside of CM, or religiously identify as Pagans or have close associates that do so.
Chaos Magick– If you’re a fan of Dungeons & Dragons- while Ceremonial magicians are like Paladins or Wizards, Chaos Magicians (or chaotes) are the Rogues! Chaos magic is much more free form, sees belief as a tool and an active magical force. Chaotes typically draw freely from many sources, from traditional religions to pop culture. Use of technology- computers and the internet is very common- technomagick and technopaganism overlap quite a bit with chaotes, though technomages/technopagans are not necessarily chaotes. Discordianism– a part serious, part parody religion or philosophy- is also a big influence.
Pop Culture Magic– use of characters, concepts, symbols and phrases from popular culture (TV, films, comic books, manga, anime, video/computer games) in magical spells and rituals. This is usually an outgrowth of the ideas of chaos magic- the idea that “hey, if it works, use it”. Pop Culture Paganism or Polytheism is related, though I get the impression most people who engage in pop culture-influenced magic, don’t necessarily incorporate it into a religion. See my post on Pop Culture Paganism
Entry filed under: Approaching Paganism. Tags: ceremonial magic, chaos magick, folk magic, folk religion, Golden Dawn, pop culture magic, Satanism, technomagick, technopaganism, Thelema, Western Mystery Tradition, Wicca, witchcraft.