Magic and Religion

What’s the difference between magic and religion? After all, as a magician, I believe in an unseen world, and use verbal formulas and ritual actions to influence that world. That sounds like a Christian praying, or any other member of a religion interacting with his or her concept of the divine. But while magic does fulfill most of the functions of religion for me, it’s still feels a little different.

First, it’s orthopractic, not orthodoctic. It doesn’t matter what I believe; it’s what I do that counts. Of course, what I do influences what I believe, but I don’t go to hell if I think X or Y about the gods. Sometimes, it’s easier for me to imagine that the gods are aspects of my psyche. At other times, it’s more useful to recognize their cosmic aspect. It’s hard for me to imagine that either of these two rather incompatible views of the divine represent a heresy.

Second, it’s very practical. It’s about living a good life, both in the mundane sense and in the moral sense. Some religions offer spells or rituals to influence the world, but with magic I get a whole toolbox. Light a novena? Sure. But if that doesn’t work, I’ll create a servitor. If that doesn’t work, I’ll summon an Olympick spirit. If that doesn’t work . . . well, that usually works.

Finally, magic doesn’t tell me what my salvation is. For me, it’s henosis, but no one said it had to be. I know very good magicians whose entire raison d’etre is to get laid and make money (or at least, that was what they were into in the 90s. I mean, we were all in college then, and that’s what you did).

I know that anthropologists have, in the past, laid out the distinction as one of “magical thinking.” But affirming the connection between signifier and signified is hardly exclusive to magic: if we adopt this as the definition, then we have to include religion under the umbrella of magic just as we have to include advertising (cars = sex), professional sports (animal totems, anyone?), and fashion.

Ramsey Dukes has a take on it that is a little more useful, and I’d encourage you to read SSOTBME Revised – an essay on magic

if you’re interested in thinking about this idea further.

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One Response to “Magic and Religion”

  1. Reblogged this on Weaving Among The Stars and commented:
    Ooo, this is great food for thought. And excellent book recommend as well

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