So, magic. Or magick, depending on your spelling preference. I think I will go with “magick” here, come to think of it, just to distinguish the circle-casting, incense-burning, symbol-carving, herb-gathering type from the James Randi type (and to make it clear I am talking about the former).

I always wanted to believe in magick. How great would that be, anyway? Magick being real, I mean, not just believing in it. Mix the correct ingredients, recite the proper incantations, and watch all the forces of the universe align to, I dunno, cause that guy who kept making fun of you on the bus in middle school to suffer permanent incontinence. It would be fantastic!

But I didn’t believe in magick, because it was preposterous. I didn’t think anybody believed in magick, because it was preposterous. (My tendency to assume people apply the same sort of logics I do to life is probably one of the reasons I am not bothered by the idea of people applying critical thinking and choosing to remain religious.) Imagine my surprise, then, when I finally started reading those books on Paganism (that I’d been aching to do my whole life, by the way) and found out that yes! People do believe in magick! In the 21st century even! I was intrigued.

Or, rather, I was intrigued until I started reading some of those people’s writings about magick. Pretty much always “magick”, which is the other reason I’m using that spelling here. Annnnnnd it turned out to be pretty much “the power of positive thinking”. That is a massive simplification, yes. But I think it’s a very serviceable one. I have not yet seen any explanation of why any given person believes in magick that really sounds like magick.

The example that comes to mind immediately is one I just read a few weeks ago: a woman, thoroughly convinced of the existence of magick, I mean all out “those who question if we really believe are just scared, and they’d be more scared if they knew what we can really do!” sort of convinced, shared that her moment of conviction was the result of having done a ritual focused on water, and then noticing a lot of people at work either crying or getting angry (because apparently getting angry has to do with water, now?) and then, a week later, it rained. In Great Britain. I’m reading this story and thinking, “No! It rained? In England?? Get out! Hey, I saw a deer in my neighbor’s yard last night! It must have been a sign from Artemis! Or maybe it’s because I LIVE IN FREAKING PENNSYLVANIA AND WE HAVE MORE DEER THAN PEOPLE HERE!” (PA ecology statistics source: me.)

What I’m trying to say here is that the concept of magick as a way to make changes in reality is not a convincing one to me, no matter how much quantum physics you try to dress it up with.

Magick as a psychological tool to help make changes in your own consciousness? That concept I can get behind. I found this blog post quite a while ago and in it he sums up a view that makes a lot of sense to me. From the post, “Magic changes my mindset; my mindset changes my probabilities of successfully manifesting my will in my life.   It works by reconciling the rational and the irrational parts of myself.” The way I see it, that works.

Now one other thing that you see a lot of from magick-users is a heavy emphasis on the importance of developing your own rituals. This always struck me as silly. If you’re going to buy into this concept, shouldn’t you stick with the traditional, the tried, the (presumably) true? (This attitude is probably a holdover from my days with a set of extremely Evangelical youth leaders, and the corresponding “We know this is true because a LOT of dead guys thought it was true, and they wouldn’t have thought it was true if it wasn’t true, no?” logic.)

It was a different story, though, once I finally got to the point where I had something where I could benefit from a significant symbolic gesture like that. I’m not going into the details. But suddenly the DIY ritual instructions made sense: if the only thing you’re changing is you, then why would you want to use anybody’s plans but your own? Trying to perform a ritual that you didn’t have a hand in constructing now seemed like trying to run your relationship based on doing exactly what your older sister does, in spite of the fact that her boyfriend likes football and reality television while yours likes chess and baking brioche.

And that thought circles right back to those evangelical days. The thing about evangelicalism is that it’s very definitely a one-size-fits-all approach to religion. And even though our church was Methodist, these particular youth leaders (who, as the cool active adults, obvs had much more influence on a teenager than the religious leaders for the adults) were decidedly evangelical. Also possibly crazy, but that’s probably just the retroactive bitterness talking. Their very clear message was that this religion was right for every single person on earth and if it didn’t feel right for you then A) feelings are ephemeral and not important as an indicator of faith and B) there’s just something wrong with you.

This led to some fun cognitive dissonance for me at times, such as the Sunday School session where they brought an African convert in to speak to us and tell us how freeing Christianity was after being raised in his native culture’s terrifying animist traditions. There was much discussion afterwards about how gosh, wasn’t it horrible how he used to live, and wasn’t it just so wonderful that he’d found Jesus and been freed from all that? Except I didn’t participate in that discussion because I was thinking, “You know, animism sounds like a much more rational way to approach unknowns than Christianity does.” I didn’t say anything, of course, because as a good little Christian I knew that thought meant there was something wrong with me.

What I always found ironic was that these particular leaders always encouraged us to actively engage other belief system as a way of strengthening our Christian apologetics muscles. I.e., if you find a certain argument tempting, you should go learn more about it so you can properly understand why it’s horribly, horribly wrong. (As a high school graduation gift, they gave me a copy of the book Defeating Darwinism.) I knew this wouldn’t actually work that way though, since I knew if I read about paganism I’d just convert, since it seemed about a hundred thousand million times more appealing than Christianity.

I still wouldn’t have believed in magic, though. I either roll my eyes and shrug or laugh derisively, depending on my mood, when I hear atheists talk about how you just CAN’T be religious and hold a scientific worldview at the same time, because there’s just no way you can hold the two different mindsets in your head. Well, you can, because I did for quite a few years. If somebody had told desperately Christian high school me that they didn’t believe in evolution because the Bible told them not to, my response would have been, “Wow, you are made of pure, unadulterated idiocy.” (High school me was not known for her tact.) But I still fell in line with the C.S. Lewis-style apologetics, because they were given to me by intelligent people who I trusted, so I figured they had to work together even if I couldn’t personally explain how. Also, all the miracle stuff had happened in the past.

Ok, I think I have wandered away into another post entirely. Quite possibly one that I’ve already written, back in ye olde Livejournal days. So I’m just going to stop now, because I can’t quite figure out what the purpose of all this was.