All right, I’ll jump on the energy talk bandwagon.  Obviously, since I’ve written two books based on an alternate interpretation of magic, I’m not a fan of “energy” talk.  Actually, unlike Frater R. O., I don’t have violent thoughts when I hear it, but I do tend to think it’s a bit sloppy if the person using it doesn’t recognize it as a metaphor.

For example, Frater P. O. S. (who, despite the unfortunately abbreviated magical motto, is a clever guy), posts a list of ways of “raising energy” at his blog.  But about half of them have little to do with “energy” at all, and thinking of them in terms of energy is clumsy, awkward, and obscures their differences.  For example, he includes things like invocation and prayer, which are so evidently and obviously acts of communication, in which information, not energy, is moving, that I can’t see what benefit speaking of them in terms of energy might have.

Imagine you’re a computer scientist, and someone comes to you and says “I need you to make me an application that will make it possible for me to communicate more effectively with my suppliers and customers.”  And you say, of course, “Well, then we’ll need to up the current.  I mean, to do that, you’ll have to pay special attention to what sorts of outlets you plug the computer into, and . . . ”  No, of course you don’t say that.  Because the way a computer manipulates information, and even the quantity of information is moves, isn’t proportional to the amount of energy.  Yes, there’s a relationship — if you don’t plug your computer in or have a working battery, you’ll be disappointed.  But upping the amount of electricity getting to your computer won’t make it faster; it’ll make it broken.

To those who believe in a literal, actual energy moved by thought and used in magic, let me offer you a few questions:

1)  How many joules does the Middle Pillar raise?  If you do the ritual of the movement of the body of light, or something similar, how many Watts can you move?

2)  Energy, as Fr. R. O. points out, is really a mathematical reality, a characteristic of mass.  As such, it can be transformed easily — in fact, we can think of work as the transformation of energy from one form to another.  For example, if I pick up a rock and set it on a table, I’ve performed some work.  I’ve taken chemical energy locked up in ATP, transformed it to kinetic energy to move the rock, and now that energy is in the rock as potential energy (minus waste heat).  If I tie a string to the rock, wire a bulb to a motor, and wind the string around the shaft of the motor and let it fall, I’ll transform the potential energy into kinetic energy, and then into electrical energy, light energy, and heat energy.  So here’s my question: if magical energy is energy, transform it.  Move this rock with your mind.  Turn on this light.  Light a candle.  The usual excuse for why we can’t easily do telekinesis is that it “takes too much energy.”  Really?  It takes a joule to lift an apple a meter.  I can do that without breaking a sweat.  If breaking the bonds in a few sugar molecules is enough to power that kind of motion, then what a feeble thing is magic.

Of course, sometimes people say “it’s not a physical energy.”  At that point, I usually have to wonder if I want to continue talking to that person.  I tend to change the conversation to something more harmless, like macrame or health reform.  All energy is, by definition, physical, because energy is a characteristic of mass.  (Actually, it’s the same thing as mass — look at R. O.’s post for the explanation)

“Magical energy” is a habit of thought.  It can be useful, like all habits, but like all habits it can be dangerous.  Can we break the habit, and start talking about what is manifestly and obviously occurring in magic: the manipulation of symbols to communicate intent?

3 Responses to “Energy”

  1. I am not defending the energy model, I tend go with a cognitive psychology approach to magic. It is why I like your communication conceptual framework. My background is chemical engineering so I have had to take more courses in thermodynamics than I care to remember but it does give a bit of training in energy.

    Each information transaction will require a certain amount of energy – whether it transmission or storage there is a finite expenditure and so the amount of information will be proportional to some of the energy expended. Now in your desktop most of the energy is lost as heat in the power supply and resistive losses in the CPU and motherboard so the small fraction of power from actual processing is small in comparison. A heavily used PC will use more power than one idling. If you switch to a transmission system such as old fashion telegraphy you do need to expend a lot more energy to do a lot more transmission. The energy expended for various mental manipulations should be available in the scientific literature.

    I am not sure what Fr. R.O. is intending to mean by mathematical reality. You can use mathematics to create models to describe measurable phenomena – that is what almost all science is based on, but mathematics as we have it is a construct used to describe stuff. If you can’t measure and verify the mathematical model then it is just conjecture, and because of precision and accuracy in the measurement system you pretty much always approximating the “reality” of the thing you are investigating. (writing that seemed rather Taoist)

    Work is not the transformation of energy between forms as he describes. That’s kind of an overextension somewhat like saying entropy is the measure of disorder. Sounds good in popularized science but is still incorrect. Closest definition to that one is that work is the exchange of energy from one system to another with heat being the energy that is lost and unavailable to do anything. The exchange of energy is accompanied by a change in physical parameters in both systems.

    In the lifting the rock example – the work done can be measured by the force on the rock multiplied by the distance traveled. The energy spent is the added potential energy plus all of the losses within you and the rest of the surroundings to lift the rock the losses are heat which you can then use to calculate the entropy change in the whole system. From the chemical thermodynamics side work is from a number of changes pressure-volume, surface tension-area, chemical potential-concentration, etc. and you can add other physical parameters as needed (magnetic and electrical, elastic, and so on).

    Sorry if I am being a bit persnickety but if you want to address the inadequacy of the energy metaphor from a scientific basis it seems like the argument would need to be accurate.

    • pomomagic Says:

      I actually appreciate the persnickitiness, if that’s a word (is now). I think it’s important to be accurate, even though I simplified to some degree for the sake of argument. And you’re right: processing information requires energy. I think the energy, the actual literal energy, used by magic is the same exact energy I use to write these words, walk across the room, and keep my heart and lungs working. You want to raise more energy for magic? Eat a sandwich. It’s that simple. The stuff magicians visualize in the Middle Pillar ritual and so forth isn’t “energy.” It’s an idea, information. It takes real energy to make it — but that energy is just the usual chemical energy a body uses to run a brain, no more and no less.

  2. Hello Patrick. I just discovered this post, and wow is my face red. 😉 As one who uses the word “energy” for just about everything that irritates you here, I must provide my theory on why it’s so popular. It’s pretty simple, actually. When a magician or in my case, a mystic, moves things from within to without, and receives them from without to within, in a form/force that has never been satisfactorily labeled, and when those experiences are primarily kinetic — felt, rather than seen or heard — the natural inclination is to call those things “energy.” If you suggested (and I gather you do, in your books) that these were simply communications, in my case at least that label would fall short of describing the experience itself. There’s more to them than intelligible information. Much of magick is intuitive and even instinctual, and those feelings don’t jibe well with something as refined as intellect and lucid communication.

    Just my two cents for the day.

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